Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I used to always have a yo-yo with me. I walked to class in college, and when you're walking 30 minutes two to four times a day, you look for things to keep your mind occupied. Rather than thinking about things like class or what I was going to do with the rest of my life, I thought about the yo-yo, and how difficult it was to make it do what I wanted. I have a doubt that this guy learned all this stuff walking to class and back with a free yo-yo.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


20% of Pakistan is under water. 

1400 people have died.

900,000 homes have been damaged.

20 million people have been affected.

3.5 million children are at risk of cholera.

And monsoon season is about half over.

  It's been a strange season for floods.  Nashville, Tn was decimated by flood waters.  Iowa has been hit as well.  It's strange to remember back a few years ago, when Atlanta was crying out for water, and a dirty car was considered something to be proud of. 

  We can't live without water.  Yet, often we can't live with too much water.  We pray for rain, but not too much!

  Not sure how to help?  I prefer to give to Doctors Without Borders, which is usually one of the first groups in to devastated areas.  Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is also at work.

  For those who cannot give money, and even for those who can, may we pray for the victims of this tragedy.  In lives constantly bombarded with the latest news on Lindsay Lohan's jail time and what movie made the most money this past week, it is such a powerful act to remember the things that truly matter, those who are in need, who are crying out for help, for someone to weep with them while they suffer.  So many of the Psalms are filled with lament--may we lament the loss of life, the loss of home and of stability, and may we lift up each individual in Pakistan who suffers and pray that they mind find the peace of God in the midst of this watery chaos.

Soldiers Coming Home

This is the good thing about everyone having video cameras on their phones and cameras!

Monday, August 16, 2010


  So I recently came across this story of a bear cub with its head stuck in a plastic jar.  It was near death, having had this jar over its head for at least ten days, rendering it unable to eat or drink.  For some reason, I thought this was one of the saddest stories I've ever read.

  I don't know what it is with animals and me lately.  I'm just turning into a sap.  We were driving home the other night and a frog (I think it was a frog.  It was dark and small, so it may well have been a leaf blowing in the wind, for all I know) seemed to appear for a moment before my car, and I spent the rest of the night feeling terrible that I might have run it over.  Any more, when I see animals on the side of the road, I just feel sick for them--some animal was out wandering around, having no idea what a car or a road was, and next thing you know, it's dead.  (For some reason I don't feel sorry for possums.  I don't know why, but they don't get much pity from me.)

  I think all of these feelings are a result of feeling like this world is simply spinning too quickly for me to hold on.  Life is moving too fast for these raccoons and cats and dogs that are trying to cross the road, so they get caught up underneath us as we fly by to our next scheduled event.  In the same way, we're moving too fast to care for the natural world, for bears and pelicans just about every other animal God has created.  They're simply getting in the way of our 'progress'.

  Perhaps what we truly need is to slow down.

  Take a breath.

  Say a prayer.

  Walk a labyrinth.

  Thank God for life, not just our own but the abundant life that surrounds us.  Perhaps if we spent more time thanking God for creation, being still and acknowledging God's gracious abundance, we'd be a little grateful for all the life God has made, and in doing so, we'd be better stewards of the world that surrounds us.  Perhaps if we weren't in such a big hurry, but rather reorganized our priorities to put worship at the top, we'd slow down enough to care for one another, for a hurting world and our hungry souls, and life would be treasured as the precious gift from God that it is.

  Slow down.  Breathe.  Open your eyes, and watch as God's hand sweeps some of the dust from your vision, that you may see with new eyes this day that God has set before us.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

Luke 9:18-22

18Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” 20He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” 21He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”


Imagine with me for a moment—imagine that tomorrow morning, a total stranger showed up at your door and was going to accompany you throughout the day. They wouldn’t interact with you, but rather would simply watch as you went about your day, making observations and notes about how to spent your time, your energy and your money.

Set aside the total creepiness of this idea for a moment—but think about how fascinating it would be to hear what they had to say at the end of the day. They would have this window into who you were—they would notice behaviors and habits that you probably completely ignore. They would be able to say things about you that you might not be comfortable with. I imagine many of their findings would be surprising. But they would, like it or not, have an image of just who you were, and there wouldn’t be much you could say to debate about it.

I find it to be an interesting, and yes, creepy, idea. It would provide some answers to that age old question of identity, of who we truly are. It would be true evidence of the person that I am—and I am totally willing to bet that there would be things in there I wouldn’t be very happy with. I imagine that I would want to debate points they observed, but it’s tough to argue with the truth. How strong of a Christian would they say that I am?

Even Jesus, here in today’s text, displays a curiosity about what the crowds are saying about him. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” he asks the disciples, wondering what they might say. Clearly they don’t have much of an idea, as they guess John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other ancient prophet, returned from the dead. When you start guessing dead people, that means you’re pretty lost.
In a way we’re all searching for the answer to the question, “Who are you?” We’re building identities every day, making choices that determine who we are. Much of our life is spent determining exactly who we are.

Anybody remember William Howard Taft? At 6’2” and over 330 pounds, he is better known for getting stuck in the white house bathtub than anything else. He was the 27th President, serving from 1909-1913, and some time ago his great-granddaughter said: “My name is Martha Bowers Taft. My great-grandfather was President of the United States. My grandfather was a United States Senator. My daddy is ambassador to Ireland. And I am a Brownie.”

She had the fortunate gift of knowing exactly who she was. When someone stopped to ask her who she was, she knew exactly who she was and where she stood in the order of things. There was no debate with Martha Taft.

We, too, are blessed with the chance to be able to claim the core of our identity. But in order to do so with integrity, we have to be willing to answer another question first. The only reason we can say who we truly are is because we have first answered Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?”
It’s a strange idea, thinking about beginning our identity with someone else’s.

It’s not very American. Today, our culture is often defined by how popular one’s image is, and it doesn’t matter how it becomes popular. The number of Facebook friends or YouTube videos is important in much of culture—it’s about defining an identity, a brand, as some would say. Recently LeBron James announced he would take his talents to South Beach in an hour long egotistical television special that was all about furthering the brand of his name. It doesn’t matter much why one is popular, but simply that one is.

So we Christians are going a bit against the grain by beginning our quest for identity in someone else’s. But most of what Jesus did went against the grain a bit.

Think for a moment about this question Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?” Now, in today’s text he asks the disciples the question, but in reality he asks each of us. He doesn’t just ask the pastor, or the session—each of us are given the opportunity to answer this question. We do it every day, with the way we live. Who is Jesus Christ? There are entire churches who proclaim that he exists to offer material wealth and good health to those who pray in the right way. Others believe he is some supernatural security blanket, keeping away the demons of hell as long as we have a Bible within arm’s reach. Some think he’s a great moral teacher, but nothing more, while some churches don’t bother to talk much about him at all. They’d never admit to this, but if you followed the members around for a day or a week, this might be what you gathered. What do we believe about Jesus Christ? Well, how do we answer the question? We believe that the church is more than the building, that during the week the church exists wherever you work, wherever you are at school or at rest or at play. So how are you answering the question with your life? How is your identity rooted in Christ?

It’s not easy to determine how best to answer this question. When I began to turn my life from seeker to follower, my first question was—what does it mean to die to oneself and live for Christ? In other words, what does it mean to set my own identity aside and claim Christ as the root, as the core of my true identity? How do I do this? How do I live this?

It’s a hard question to answer, especially when the world that surrounds us is so busy trying to give us alternative answers. The world wants us to define ourselves, our identity by the things we own, by the car we drive and the people we associate with. But Christ has other ideas for those ready to follow. Just listen to the response that Peter receives after he correctly answers Jesus’ question, identifying Him as the Messiah, the Chosen One of God, the Savior:
“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

That doesn’t sound much like a Messiah—he’s going to suffer and die? What kind of a Messiah is this?

What kind of a Messiah, indeed! In order to follow Jesus, it takes a little sacrifice. For us to follow, we have to be willing to put down the desire to lead. For us to receive his teachings in our hands and hearts, we have to be willing to put down some of the other things that define our identity. For us to correctly answer the question about who is Jesus Christ, we have to be willing to be quiet long enough to hear His voice speaking to us. It was never going to be easy to follow Jesus—anyone who says differently is lying, or not actually reading the Bible—but Jesus knows that He is the only path that leads to life.
He knows this because he walked it. He walked into the hands of those ready to kill him, because he knew that life was waiting beyond the cross. He knew that his death would bring salvation, as hard as it would be.

And he knows that salvation is there for all of us as well, if we will only choose to root our identities firmly in Him. Again, it will not be easy, but it is worth every drop of sweat, every minute we spend on our knees in prayer, every battle we fight against the devil to resist temptation. Jesus shows us the hope in the light that bursts forth from the tomb, and he is begging us to follow his path, his life, his truth. He asks each of us the question, every single day: “Who do you say that I am?” In our answer, we define who we are, for when our identities begin with Christ, that seeps into every action, every decision, every interaction we have in this life. We begin to look like disciples when we answer anew each day: You are the Messiah, the Son of God.

May that be the light and the hope that leads us forward each day.

Let us pray

Friday, August 13, 2010


What is Inception?  A great movie, to start with.  I loved this movie--it engaged the mind and made me think, as well as being an intense, action-packed drama that I was never sure exactly where it was going to end up.  My expectations were through the roof when I walked into the theater, and it exceeded every one.  It even made me like Ellen Page, which is quite a step for me!

  Inception is the process of planting an idea inside of someone's mind.  The entire movie is based upon dreams, and how one can invade dreams and steal ideas.  Leonardo DiCaprio is the main character, filled with grief for his former wife, longing to see his children, and surrounded by a team that plans to construct dream worlds to plant an idea in their target's mind.

  The debate I've had ever since I saw this movie has been this:  what was true, and what was a dream.  I'm not sure where the line was.  And I believe this is where the movie becomes more than just idle entertainment.

  What is Truth?  Jesus Christ--I am the way, the truth and the life--it's right there in John 14:6.

  So what is the dream?  What is not real?  How do we ensure we are following Christ and not living in some dream world?  That is where the question hits home for me--how much of my life is centered upon the reality of Christ, and how much is a constructed reality, a dream world, in which the object of my worship is not Christ, but rather some carefully substituted idol, but I haven't even noticed the change, and live comfortably unaware of Christ's presence in my life?

  I think the way to ensure that we aren't wandering in some dream world, ignoring the Truth of Christ, is to continue to study the Scriptures.  The best way to know how our life reflects God is to hold up the stories of God to our life and see how they match up.  Do we reflect the love of God, as God has revealed to us throughout our history, throughout the Gospels?  Or are we a poor reflection of what a disciple should be?  In the Bible we see what Truth is--and it lights the path before us.

  We also need to pray.  In our prayers we ask for the strength to continue to fight, to struggle for God.  We confess the times in which we have turned astray, and we set aside some time to be silent and listen.  In prayer, we communicate with God, and we re-align ourselves to God, to Truth.

  Inception is a great movie, but I think it is made richer by the fact that it points me to examine my own life, to see where I am falling for dreams and not pursuing the true reality of life in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Driving Test

A teenage boy had just passed his driving test and inquired of his father as to when they could discuss his use of the car.

His father said he'd make a deal with his son: 'You bring your grades up from a B to a A average, study your Bible a little, and get your hair cut. Then we'll talk about the car.'

The boy thought about that for a moment, decided he'd settle for the offer, and they agreed on it.

After about six weeks his father said, 'Son, you've brought your grades up and I've observed that you have been studying your Bible, but I'm disappointed you haven't had your hair cut.

The boy said, 'You know, Dad, I've been thinking about that, and I've noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, John the Baptist had long hair, Moses had long hair...and there's even strong evidence that Jesus had long hair.'

The Dad's reply:
'Did you also notice they all walked everywhere they went?'

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

  This movie and I had a history.  This is the second time we got it through Netflix--I don't remember what the first one was, but I think we decided it was too depressing at the time.  We received it again in the mail about three weeks ago, and only just now got around to watching it.  It was one of those movies that everyone said was great, but I had a hard time believing.

  It is the story of Jean-Dominic Bauby, the editor of the magazine Elle.  He has a massive stroke, and it results in a rare condition where the only thing he can do, other than think, is blink his left eye.

  His first reaction, predictably, is to want to die.  I can only imagine what the horror of the realization was like, being trapped inside one's own body.  It is interesting that his father has alzeihmer's, and cannot leave his apartment.  At one particularly poignant moment, his father calls Jean-Dominic and compares their imprisonments.

  Eventually, Jean overcomes his desperation, with the help of a particularly determined speech therapist, and begins to write a book, dictating by blinking his left eye when the therapist says the correct letter.  It would take hours for him to write a few simple sentences.  It was a herculean task, to say the least.

  He comes to the realization that his memories and his imagination cannot be taken away from him.  He lives within those, interacting as richly as possible with his children, with those who surround him, with life itself.

  It is a beautiful tale, one that haunts the viewer long after the credits have ended.  How it all went so wrong for this rich and successful man--so suddenly, so unexpectedly, so painfully.  Everything was wrenched apart in a moment, and never would it be the same.  Was it better?  In some ways, perhaps.

  This movie leaves me with a sense of desperation, to treasure the moments in which I reside, to love those closest to me and revel in the abundant grace of God that surrounds me.  Life is a precious gift, and may we not underestimate the glory of a simple hug, the wonder of an autumn walk, and the pure blessing of feeling the wind whistling through our hair.  May we thank God for what we have today, and while we dream for tomorrow, may we not forget that life is a pure gift.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thursday Morning

Holy Lord,

On this day, as the sun ascends its ladder to claim its lofty position in the sky, illumine our hearts, that we may not wander in our own darkness but rather dwell in your light. Teach us to be made new, to wonder at the beauty of your creation, to notice the poor and the hungry among us, and to live your Gospel message. We stand before you a humble and sinful people, yet we are filled with a great love for you. Send your Spirit to animate this love, that it might fill our hearts and our lives, and in so doing, proclaim to the world how awesome you are.