Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Smart Phone Detox

Over three years ago I got my first smart phone - a first-gen Apple iPhone. Two years later I switched to an Android phone on Verizon. For three years, I've carried one of these handy little devices that have allowed me to take mobile communications to a whole new level. Internet and email would magically download to my pocket, no matter where I was. Calendars and contacts sync with multiple computers. Even my tasks and to-do's would sync wirelessly between phone and office. I was consumed by the marvel of mobile telecommunications.

Three months ago, I did something some would consider drastic and reckless: I turned the data connection on my smart phone off. That's right. No more email beaming to my phone on a whim. No more cloud sync over 3G. In fact, I've reduced my phone to a... well... a phone... with the occasional benefit of WiFi sync and internet browsing.

It occurred to me on my drive in to the office that I can't remember the last time I heard that little "bleep" indicating a new email on my phone. It also occurred to me that I don't miss it. It still houses my calendar and contacts. But all other smartness has been deactivated. And I'm okay with that.

Let the revolution begin.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Memory Lane

I was on the south side of town today and decided to take a drive down Memory Lane. It doesn't seem that long ago, though it was fifteen years, that I was a student at Taylor University Fort Wayne - a school that was closed last year and now sits empty. I drove down the streets where I had walked so many nights as a 19 year old kid heading to open dorm. I drove around the soccer field where I played for two years, the buildings I roamed for four years. I sat in the parking lot of the dorm where I lived for three years, learned how to skate, and met some of my best friends. I looked over at the former student commons where my first band played its first gig. I drove past the building that was married student housing, where Amanda and I had our first apartment.

I glanced back at so many scenes that had been so familiar to me during a very formative stage of my life - perhaps one of the most fun stages of my life - and I was filled with sadness that it was gone. The dorm has been closed for years - though it still stands, it was destroyed by fire several years ago. For the most part, it's all still there... but it's empty, like a corpse, void of the life that it held as my school. The buildings no longer belong to the institution that claimed a special place in my life, and many, MANY, thousands of my dollars... which are still being claimed every month. Even just to see it still teeming with life would have been far better. But it's empty; it's gone.

The older I get, the more I realize that life will bring more and more changes like this. It's a weird sensation... in my mind, it doesn't seem that long ago. Of course, it doesn't seem like that long ago when I was the youngest guy wherever I worked. Not anymore. Seriously, where did the last fifteen years go? If I stop to recount them, it actually does seem like a long time. But what shocks me is how fast it went by.

Regardless of the changes that may take place, and the things we may lose, a thought occurred to me during my reminiscing: Life is about what we gain through the things we lose. There's a chapter of my life that's gone. Taylor Fort Wayne no longer exists. I can't send my kids there. I can't walk through the halls anymore. I'll never have a hall named after me, which would only be appropriate after the many thousands of dollars I mentioned earlier. But I can look back on all that I gained through those years, my education being the least of them. I gained life-long friendships. I gained my best friend and life companion. I gained a depth of spiritual and emotional growth that has profoundly shaped who I am today. I gained a lot of awesome memories. They were good times. I wish it hadn't gone so fast.

Ready. Set. Focus.

Luke 12:40
You also must be ready all the time, for the son of Man will come when least expected.
I read a great quote from Chambers this morning (by the way, if you read my last post you may be wondering how this is possible. Well, I discovered that my Bible study software, QuickVerse, includes My Utmost for His Highest in its library. Technology saves the day again):
"This battle is not against sin, difficulties, or circumstances, but against being so absorbed in our service to Jesus Christ that we are not ready to face Jesus Himself at every turn."
I think a lot of us think that being ready means we have to be doing something. We have to get ready, Jesus is coming! We focus on getting our lives in order, our doctrine in order, our Christian check-list in order, and our lives become more about doing than being. Ultimately, our being requires our doing. But when doing is our focus, we have a tendency to make the Christian life about the destination - getting things in order so we can enjoy the benefits of eternal life.

But here's the deal: my readiness is less about my eternal destination and more about my moment-by-moment focus on God. I want to be ready to face Jesus at any moment of any day. I believe that's the way He wants us to live - to be responsible with that which he's given us. To serve faithfully, but not at the expense of our undivided focus on him.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Perils of Technology

My plan was to take the morning, study a little bit, get my head clear and my heart centered... and then begin to plot out my calendar for the next several weeks, and even months. That was my plan. However, it's 2:30 in the afternoon, and I haven't even started. My excuse is pretty weak... want to hear it? I sold my Nook. I know... pathetic. (for some odd reason I feel the need to pronounce that word with a British accent)

I'm a sucker for technology. And what I'm finding is that means I'm a slave to it. Which is, again, pathetic. You see, all my devotional reads were on my Nook... and since I no longer have my Nook, I no longer have Chambers, which has been a big part of my study time for the past four months. My response: no Nook, no Chambers, no study. WHAT! Why? Why don't I just pick up a good ol' fashioned Bible that was printed on paper and read it like I did in the old days (four months ago)?

That's what I'm going to do.

I just needed to think this out through my writing to kick things into gear.

I'm ready to start, now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


So, it's my last day of my little mini vacation, and I thought I'd escape the house while Amanda and the kids work on their homeschooling. I headed to Higher Grounds with my laptop, ready to write like the wind. Unfortunately, there's a guy sitting in here who happens to look and sound exactly like Andy Bernard from the Office, and he's talking rather loudly on his cell phone.

UPDATE: He just ended his phone conversation, but now he's whistling... whistling! I hope I have my ear-buds handy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Burning Hearts

Luke 24:32
"They said to each other, 'Didn't our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?'"
I think we've all had these experiences - maybe at a camp, or a special worship service, or on a missions trip - when we encounter Jesus in a special way, and we come away with that feeling that our hearts are on fire! Those are good! They shape us and form us spiritually. Isn't it tempting to want to stay there, to live in that moment? I can tell you, for me, those moments always seemed to happen at church camp as a kid, or on missions trips as an adult. The passion, the excitement, the thrill of seeing God move in profound ways - it all creates this powerful mountain top experience.

We crave those experiences; we may even seek them, or attempt to recreate them. But is that the point? The mountain top may be good for us, but what good can we do the mountain? Life happens in the valleys, but God also moves in the valleys - he's with us in the valleys. We don't need a super-charged emotional experience to see that. Chambers writes:
"We cannot stay forever on the 'mount of transfiguration,' basking in the light of our mountain top experience (see Mark 9:1-9). But we must obey the light we received there; we must put it into practice."
That challenged me this morning. How have I encountered God in the mundane of everyday life that has set my heart on fire? I don't want to seek the emotional experience, but I do want to keep my eyes open... 'cause when he shows it to me, I don't want to miss it.

Creative Writing

For several years, I've toyed with the idea of writing a novel. Writing has always been something I've enjoyed, and something that has always been affirmed in me. Teachers all through school, even into college, always told me I was a writer. I didn't know what to do with that until about six years ago. That's when I got my first story idea. I went so far as to write out a brief synopsis, but it never went beyond that. I still have those notes, and I may do something with it at some point. Who knows.

About two years ago, however, I came up with a new story idea. It started with a simple idea: what would it really be like to know how your life would play out? Would this be a good or a bad thing? And from there, I began to dream up a story about a man who was granted that very gift. The story intrigued me, and I actually tried to hand it off to a friend who's a much better writer than I am. But then I realized that this was my story... if it was to be written, I would have to do it.

So here we are, two years later, and I'm nearly halfway there. It's been a learning experience all the way around. I've written creative stories before, but never to this scale. To date, I've written 32,000 words, which, as I understand it, is less than half of the 80,000 words that most would consider the minimum length of a novel. The exciting part is that I actually think I have at least 48,000 more words of story to tell. We'll see.

This week I actually took some time off to resume writing. Here's a brief excerpt of what I wrote yesterday:
The next four years passed like the turning of more pages. And there was that thought in Oliver’s head again: pages - crisp, prophetic pages. The thought of it haunted his dreams every night since that conversation with Jon. There was that name again: Jon. The name of a friend he hadn’t seen or talked to in over six years; the name of someone who had loved him more than anyone else, and yet walked away from him like everyone else.
Writing is fun. It's therapeutic. I may stink at grammar, make a few rookie mistakes in story-telling, and will likely never get published. But that's not the point for me. I just enjoy the process. I'm very much looking forward to the day when I can step back and say, "It's finished." Who knows... I may even start another one. I just hope it doesn't take another two years to get to that point.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I No Longer Live

Galatians 2:20
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I read this passage, and pondered on what it was teaching me - what God wanted me to discover through this - and a simple question popped into my head: "Am I living, or is Christ living through me?" Even as I wrote that question, the implications flooded my mind. Sure, there's the "sin factor" that Paul is writing about - the things that would immediately surface... and those can't be ignored. Chambers writes:
"The inescapable spiritual need each of us has is the need to sign the death certificate of our sin nature."
The selfish, hot-tempered, impulsive, and fearful ways of our past (and sometimes our present) must cease to be... they have been crucified with Christ... we have been freed from those things. We no longer have to live as slaves to our own lusts, but as free men (and women) to experience all that God desires for us.

The reality for all of us, however, is that these do show their ugly faces from time-to-time... even after we've given our lives to Christ. I think one thing that Chambers helped me discover this morning is that Paul wasn't talking about the level of Christianity that many of us may assume... he didn't say in this passage that he would work hard to "imitate Christ," or that he was devoting himself to "following Christ." He said that he had been crucified with Christ - that's a level of surrender that goes beyond imitation and following, and implies a complete death to self... and only then can, as Chambers puts it, "all that Christ accomplished for me on the cross (be) accomplished in me."

Am I living, or is Christ living through me?

Let's get beyond the typical and obvious "sins" that we tend to focus on, and explore something a little more cloaked by the justification of the American Dream. If Christ is living through me, how does that impact my priorities? Specifically, my time, my money, the things I set myself toward to achieve, accomplish, and attain? It's easy to read this passage and think, "Okay, I need to stop cussing, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. etc." But what if Paul is also teaching us that we need to stop living in the sense that we strive to achieve that quality of life that society tells us we deserve. Instead, let Jesus Christ live through us, as we have been crucified with Him... it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives through me. It's no longer my goals, agendas, material wants, and status that drive me - no longer my sin and selfishness that define me - but the life-changing, soul-saving love of Christ that moves me.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Motives Behind My Prayer

Chambers challenged me this morning with this quote:
"Think of the last thing you prayed about - were you devoted to your desire or to God? Was your determination to get some gift of the Spirit for yourself or to get to God?"
When I approach God in prayer, what are my motives? Is it only out of a need that I trust God will fulfill, or is it simply because I love him? Am I hoping to gain something other than God himself?

God - forgive me... I know too many times I approach you only at the prompting of a need. I want to be more than a follower, God... I want to love you in a deeper, fuller way. I want my life to be marked by that love in all that I do - both publicly and privately, may my life exude your love, the depth of my relationship with you. Amen.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pastor or Planner? Yes.

 Lance Witt/REPLENISH 
 by ericdunaway
"the vocation of pastor has been replaced by strategies of religious entrepreneurs w/ business plans" Eugene Peterson from book The Pastor

I came across this quote on Twitter a week or so ago, and it really challenged me. God called me to be a pastor. There was a time when that meant I was available to serve people, and that was what ministry was all about. I met with, prayed with, served with, grew with... people. It seems like a lot of that has been replaced by, as Peterson said, plans and strategies. I actually love to plan... and I enjoy strategy. I think both are important. But if I'm choosing strategy planning over being with people, then I can't help but feel that I'm missing the point. And honestly, I'm missing one of the most rewarding things about being a pastor. That's what God called me to be... a pastor. Not a strategist. Not a program planner. Not a graphic designer. Each of those are skills I contribute to my ministry... but they are not my ministry. Thanks, Peterson... for challenging my socks off. And thanks, Lance Witt, for throwing it in my face. Seriously. I needed that.

Blind Faith

Hebrews 11:8
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.
It seems like a lot of my study has been focused on faith, lately. Maybe God is trying to teach me something. Several years ago I found myself in a place where God was challenging me to step out of my current circumstances - a career in advertising - and move into a new life of vocational ministry. This was scary for us. It was challenging on a number of levels. I had to eat a few words of earlier claims I'd made - that I'd "never be a youth pastor." And yet, I was certain that God was calling me into youth ministry - more certain of this than anything I'd ever felt before. I'd have to defend this before my wife, my relatives, and even some of our friends. If this was what God was calling me to do, I had to be sure... and I had to move. This certainly was a point in my life where my faith was tested, and I had to be willing to put it into motion.

But I knew where I was going. I knew I was leaving one thing behind, and moving to St. Marys, Ohio, to begin my youth ministry. I knew the salary I'd receive, and the home we'd be living in. I was moving out in faith, but I had the destination all mapped out for me.

Abraham moved in his obedience, but didn't know where he was going. His faith moved him to step out in total dependence on God. Every step, he required God's guidance to know if he was moving in the right direction. He wouldn't even know that he'd arrived until God revealed it to him. Chambers writes:
"Living a life of faith means never knowing where you are being led. But it does mean loving and knowing the One who is leading."
Even in my attempts to live a life of faith, I wonder if I'm really depending on God for everything. As long as I know that everything will be fine, I'm ready to move... but if there are any questions lingering, I find myself saying, "I don't have a peace about this." Is my faith deep enough to move me in spite of that restlessness? Am I willing to blindly step out in obedience as Abraham did?

God, lead me... move me... and give me the strength to follow, even when I can't see the ending. Amen.

Friday, March 18, 2011

To Please Him

2 Corinthians 2:9
So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him.
I set up my little end of the dining room table to do my study this morning and was mildly devastated to discover that I'd left my composition note pad, otherwise known as my journal, on my desk at the office. Journaling is a major part of my quiet time routine, and has been for the past five or six years. I was actually tempted to skip my quiet time in response to this little mishap. Then I remembered this blog. Heathenism averted.

What does it mean to please God? Is this about doing stuff for him? Is it about checking everything off the spiritual "to-do list," and leaving everything unchecked on the "do-not-do list?" Is it my ministry, my "sacrifices," my giving or volunteering that please God? Or is it my willingness to just be still in his presence that truly pleases him?

The first of this year I started working my way through Oswald Chamber's devotional book, "My Utmost for His Highest." Chambers writes on this passage, explaining that pleasing God is the servant's primary goal:
"It means... not making our first priority to win souls, or to establish churches, or to have revivals, but seeking only 'to be well pleasing to Him.'"
Recently God revealed to me that I've had the wrong focus for a very long time. My focus was on being a good dad, or a loving husband, or a devoted pastor, or a good speaker, or a strong leader. He revealed to me recently that he just wants my undivided focus on him; he has to be my first priority. That's what pleases him. And when my life is focused on him, the rest will follow. I will love my wife and children more; I will serve him with more passion and devotion; I will live a life that reflects the holiness to which I've been called. It's my focus on him - the priority of my life - that truly pleases him.

God, help me keep my undivided attention and focus on you in all that I do. My life isn't about designing programs, leading people, or achieving anything, but simply focusing all of me on you. Remind me to hold all else in the light of my love for you. Amen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Faith Moves

Last weekend I preached at Pathway. For whatever reason, it was a tough message. I wrestled with it quite a bit. In fact, I would say that it wasn't really until sometime on Friday or Saturday that I really connected with the message - I just really struggled through this one.

The message was on James 2:14-26, in which James addresses the delicacies of the relationship between our faith and our works. It all really boils down to this simple idea: faith moves. Here's a link to that message:

A New Way to Express Myself

I'm no stranger to the blogging world. At the moment, I run two different blogs, and this being my third. Do I really need ANOTHER place on the internet to share my thoughts? Will anyone ever read this? Does anyone care? Probably not. Needless to say, the necessity of this blog is debatable, and the activity may be limited. And yet here we are.

The truth is that I like to write. One blog allows me to write on a more ridiculous note, while another offers more of a ministry focused outlet. This one, unlike the others, is a place for me to share my thoughts, journal entries, things about me. It may not be funny; it might be somewhat serious and of the "deeper" variety. It really doesn't matter. Unlike the others, this is a blog without the confines of a personality. It will be whatever I feel like at the moment I post. That, in and of itself, may be the only thing that justifies its existence.