Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Mississippi Delta

I had a great trip down south last week. I left Memphis around 10:00 on Thursday morning. I headed south on third street, which becomes Hwy 61. It was a good day for a drive: overcast, cool, and an occasional drop of rain. When I got to Greenville, my first thought was how quiet it was.
Here's a view from my hotel.

And here's the other side of the hill.

I had heard about a restaurant there in Greenville called Doe's Eat Place. Men's Journal said the following about Doe's: "the best thing to eat in America." I actually decided to skip lunch, and headed to Doe's at 5:30 when they opened.

The first room you walk in to is filled with people ordering hot tamales to go. I told them I wanted steak, not tamales, so they led me through the kitchen (nice) and into one of two dining rooms. There's no menu, and they pretty much just have steak, shrimp, and hot tamales. Once again, I wanted steak. The waitress told me that the steak comes with fries and bread. If I wanted garlic bread, that would cost me extra. If I wanted a salad, that would cost extra as well. Just steak please.
I have a theory that a good steak helps you do all things better, so the rest of my time reading, writing, planning and praying was very profitable and enjoyable. I plan on visiting the Delta again soon, but this time I will take Mandy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

5 Years of Blogging

Today marks five years of this blog. It kind of slipped up on me. I actually thought this was four years, but it turns out it's five. How about that? When I began blogging in September, 2004, I really wasn't sure if it would be something that I would be consistent in, and though there have definitely been moments where I slacked off, I'm pleased that I've kept going.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Luke 5

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

I love this story. The crowds were enamored with Jesus. They wanted to be near him. Luke says that they were "pressing in on him to hear the word of God." It's obvious that not all truly wanted to follow him. Some where there to watch a show. They had heard that he was healing people and casting out demons. But there were some who were drawn to him in such a way that they understood that their life was not as good as it would be if they were following him. This is true surrender, and it's true worship! We believe a lie when we simply think about sacrifice. Peter, Andrew, James and John all left their careers and family to follow Jesus. But they didn't spend their lives in regret. They followed Jesus because something inside them believed that it would be the best decision that they would ever make.

Our next teaching series is on the subject of worship, and yesterday I was re-reading John Piper's Desiring God. I first read it during my senior year of college. As I read it a couple of days ago, I wondered if some of my passion for God has waned. Am I responding appropriately to who He is? Peter's response to Jesus was complete humility. He didn't even deserve to have Jesus in his boat, yet here he was. Do I understand what Jesus has done for me? How often do I reflect on this? As I write this, I'm thinking back to Matthew 13:44, in which Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven (God) is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."

This is the response that I desire to have. Following Jesus is a treasure. I have been given this treasure. I definitely don't deserve it, yet it's been offered to me. Today I desire to follow Jesus more than I desire anything else. Thank you, Father, for your grace. Thank you for continuing to seek after me. I repent of my inferior desires, and want all that you have for me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Luke 4

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said,‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

I had one of those great aha! moments reading this. I've always been taught that one of the ways that we resist temptation is to quote Scripture, like Jesus did during His temptation. When Satan tempts us, his first goal is to get us to believe a lie. So we combat these lies, these false promises, with truth. But get this...do you know that Satan also quotes Scripture? Satan knows Scripture better than we do, and he knows how to twist Scripture. That's scary, isn't it!

The first step of fighting sin is understanding that Satan is so much smarter than I am. He is very clever, very sneaky. The Bible says that he's like a lion, prowling around looking for something to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Here's the good news, though. Just as Jesus resisted, so we are to resist. And I don't believe that God would give us this command if it weren't possible to obey it. Even though Jesus was weak, and even though Satan was coming at him quoting Scripture, he stood firm. He still responded with Scripture. Soon after this, Satan left. He knew that Jesus wasn't going to fall.

Father, may I never underestimate the power of Satan, but even more so, may I never underestimate Your power. May I continue to grow closer to You, and continue to become the person that You are calling me to be.

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Hwy 61 - Here I Come

Tomorrow morning I am heading down south to visit the Mississippi Delta. I try to take two overnight trips a year by myself for the purpose of prayer, study, planning, refreshment, etc. The past few have been times of seclusion, which have been very great for writing, but this time I decided to something different. I'm learning something about myself. In order for me to lead Neighborhood Church, I have to continue to find ways to fill myself up. I have to do things that are inspiring, that nourish my soul, that keep me passionate.

So this time, it's driving down the Blues Highway, Hwy 61. I know that I'm staying in Greenville tomorrow night, but other than that, there's not much of a plan. I want to listen to some podcasts, and of course to some blues! I'm sure I'll stop a lot. When I do stop, I'll probably do some writing in my journal. And I'm definitely going to eat some good food. Probably not any of these, though.

I want my heart to be at rest. As I said, I want my soul to be nourished. And I want to be in a place where God can speak to me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Luke 3

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

I wrestle with this passage alot. John the Baptist is hardcore. He comes on the scene after living for quite some time (Lk. 1:80) in the wilderness (in Matthew's Gospel we get more of a description of this peculiar man). The first words of his first sermon are "you brood of vipers." Nice! He tells them that repentance is required of all of them. He even throws out the name of their beloved Abraham, saying that they can't keep claiming to be his sons and daughters, but then not act anything like him.

The question I've always asked here is, why did they not try to kill him on the spot? I guess I ask this same question when Peter preaches at Pentecost. I believe that the answer on that day was the same answer on this day: they were cut to the heart (Acts 2:37). The Spirit of God was inviting them into relationship with Him. Their response was also similar to that day three years later: "What do we do?" John's answer was similar to Peter's answer: Repent. But John gives some very tangible examples of what that repentance looks like.

Here's where it gets tricky. How am I faring when it comes to John's response of what repentance looks like? John doesn't give one answer for everyone. Repentance is situational. For each person it looks different. It all depends on our sin (which, according to Tim Keller, can be defined as building your identity on anything other than God) . He told tax collectors not to collect more money than they were supposed to. He told solidiers not to use their power to extort money.

It's easy to talk about soldiers and tax collectors, but what about everyone else. John doesn't let them off easy, and he doesn't let us off easy. To everyone else he gave a blanket statement: share what you have with those who are in need. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has social dimensions. I'm intrigued with this phrase "in keeping with." The Greek word is also used in 2 Thessalonians 1:3. Here's my take: these types of good deeds (Acts 26:20), or fruit, as John puts it, ought to be a natural overflow of true repentance in the same way that Paul's giving thanks to God for the Thessalonian church was a natural overflow to what God had done in their lives.

Father, I ask that You search my heart. Am I producing the fruit that You desire, the fruit that should come naturally from a surrendered heart? If not, I repent. I receive Your grace and mercy, and I turn from leading my life. I thank You so much for Your love, forgiveness and mercy, and may my life reflect this in the way that I live today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Luke 2

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25-26).

Both of these passages reveal the great sense of anticipation that there must have been during this time. The angels must have no doubted anticipated the coming of the Messiah for a long time, and now it was finally there...though once again in a way that they would have never expected. The same can be said about Simeon. Here we have a human whom God has spoken to. God has told him that the promised Messiah will come during his lifetime. Luke doesn't say that God gives Simeon any details, though. No doubt like many Jews he imagined one resembling King David. Definitely not a baby! Yet when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus into the Temple, the Most High God whispered into Simeon's ear and said, "Your Messiah!"

With both the angels and Simeon, this anticipation has now given way to fulfillment, and the only response is rejoicing. The angels couldn't contain themselves, but, in keeping with God's plan, they revealed their rejoicing to a group of lowly shepherds. So picture that for a moment: when you see an angel walk up to you, you're definitely a little scared. But when you look up into the sky and see a multitude of angels praising God...that's got to be amazing.

God, may my anticipation grow as we draw near to Advent and Christmas. May I more fully grasp the magnitude of what happened 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. May I not miss it. And may my anticipation give way to rejoicing. Capture my heart with the majesty, humility and power of Jesus, and through it change the way that I live.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Luke 1

I'm planning on starting a teaching series on Luke's Gospel around Christmas, so I decided to blog my way through it as a devotional exercise, kind of like I did with Hebrews.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

John's role was to prepare God's people for what He was getting ready to do. This plan was truly going to be good news, but the way it would come about would baffle everyone. It would be truly subversive in nature. As I read this again, I'm astounded at the company that God keeps. He goes to a priest, yes, but it's a priest with flaws. This priest, Zechariah, cannot pass down his priesthood to a son. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have never been able to have a child, and at this point, they are too old.

I love Mary's visit to see Elizabeth. There is nothing special about these two, yet the Most High God decides to include them in His plan for redeeming the world. I think this scene is a great picture of the immanence and creativity of God. God is in their midst in a beautiful and profound way.

John's father, Zechariah, was disciplined by God for not believing that his wife Elizabeth could become pregnant. This seems a little severe, but part of preparation for this plan was, and still is today, faith. Do we believe that God can do the impossible (Lk. 1:37)?

Neighborhood Church is going to participating in The Advent Conspiracy for the third year, and the tag line that resonates with me so much is "Christmas was meant to change the world." Christmas did change the world, and Christmas does change the world, but it's changed as God's people partner with Him in His plan of redemption.

Oh Great God, how easy it is to miss what You are doing in our world. How easy it is to miss what You are doing in my life. You don't work the way I think You ought to work. You don't always use the people I expect for You to use. Help me to see things as You see them. Help me to see people as You see them. And help me to be prepared for the work that You are going to do. I don't want to miss it. Help me to believe with everything in me that absolutely nothing is impossible for You.

24 Hours in Cooper-Young

Check out Devin Greaney's 24 Photos of our neighborhood. Be warned, though. If you don't call CY your home, you may find yourself wanting to :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

New School for Adam

For the last few weeks Adam has been going to a preschool in our neighborhood. We were very excited when this door came open, and really wanted it to work. Unfortunately, it didn't, and so on Wednesday Adam started at a new school. Today I got to go with him. It was Daddy Donut Day, or at least that's what I called it. I got to meet some of Adam's friends, and their Dad's, and got to enjoy some yummy donut holes in the process. Definitely a good start to the day!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

You Might Be in Community If...

One of the things I'm most excited about when it comes to Neighborhood Church is the community that we're experiencing. It's been intentional in some ways, but it's also happened pretty naturally. Mandy posted a great reminder of the "life together" that we are sharing.

Fighting for One Another

Here's a quote by John Eldredge from Waking the Dead. Michael Frost quotes it in his books Exiles, which I'm currently reading as prep for Sunday night's message.

God is calling together little communities of the heart, to fight for one another and for the hearts of those who have not yet been set free. The camaraderie, that intimacy, that incredible impact by a few stouthearted souls – that is available. It is the Christian life as Jesus gave it to us. It is completely normal.

Friday, September 04, 2009

How Tim Keller Found Manhattan

Here's a great article on Tim Keller from Christianity Today. I've read a lot about Tim Keller and a lot from Tim Keller, but there were many new pieces to his story that I learned from reading this article. As a parent living in the city, it was good to read that he and his wife, Kathy, wrestled with moving their family of three boys from the suburbs to the city.

And terrifying to his wife, Kathy, who focused on their three boys, ages 5, 9, and 11, a.k.a. "the hellions." She couldn't imagine her unruly children surviving New York. "My mother said, 'All your kids will be in gangs by the end of the first week.'"

Kathy had a meeting with God in which she concluded that she would go and live in a cardboard box, if God told her to. The Kellers were finally ready to leave the suburbs and head for what they had thought of as hell.

But it wasn't hell. They had caught a vision for Manhattan as a place terribly underserved by the church, and a place with gigantic multipliers of influence throughout society. It was both needy and strategic.

Just as important, the Kellers discovered that they liked Manhattan. The kids thrived on the freedom of going anywhere by themselves via the subway. They were desperately proud of their dad and would tell checkout clerks about his new church. No longer was their rowdiness a problem. Kathy says they could never be the worst kids in their classes, "because the worst kids had jail time." They found a new group of heroes in the young adults who began attending Redeemer.

The other refreshing thing that came from reading this article was learning that the things that Keller knows now, he didn't know 20 years ago when he moved to Manhattan. There's no other pastor/teach/author I know that, after reading his work, I realize just how little I know. It's good to see that even Tim Keller is a work in progress!

One last quote from the article:

"The difference between a solid church and a terrible church is pretty much up to you," he tells one group. "The difference between a solid church and incredible success has almost nothing to do with you at all. It's like you are out there paddling on your surfboard, and suddenly the wave comes and you ride in, standing up like you're a Greek god. That has everything to do with the wave."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Fight Club

Last week I finished up reading Fight Clubs, by Jonathan Dodson. You can download it for free here. It's a quick read, but very helpful on the topics of discipleship, fighting sin, accountability, religion, and the gospel.

I also just came across audio from a men's conference on this same subject.