Sunday, December 14, 2008

Disciple's Heart Graduation

Tonight was the graduation supper for the 40th School for Christian Workers.

I know I haven't posted much about the Disciple's Heart class while I was taking it... but it wasn't because there was nothing to say. Really, it was because so much was happening that it would have been tough to do justice to it in a blog.

It was also tough to write about because the class was really just one part of what God was doing in my life. Everything was so interconnected... I never knew where to start. Even tonight at the graduation when they asked us all to share a little bit of what God did in our lives through the class, I found myself stumbling over my words. So I'm gonna give it another shot here!

The Disciple's Heart class was a much-needed push in the right direction for me. I can never read the Bible the same way again. I've started to look at myself and others differently -- learning to forgive myself and be vulnerable with others. I will never look at God the same way again. I've learned how to climb up into His lap and let Him love me. I'm learning how to let Him be my defender. I'm longing to see others with His eyes.

In a nutshell... the person who graduated tonight was completely different from the one who started back in September.

The kewlest thing about this whole experience is how God used a number of different folks to teach and re-enforce the things I was learning... I have been blessed to have so many folks in my life who are discipling me on some level. The person who moved to Louisiana 7+ months ago was still fiercely independent and not very willing to learn from others. The person who graduated tonight is starting to understand that God is constantly working through our relationships with eachother to bring us all closer to Him.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The power of a compliment

I'm doing some temporary contract work right now at a military hospital. It's a big, busy place and try as we might to work around the schedules of the various staff members, it's pretty common for us to be working on their computers at a time when they'd like to be using them.

This morning, I was working my way down one particular hallway and everyone was just incredibly negative. They had nothing good to say about eachother, the government, or us as technicians. They were quite vocal about these upgrades being unncessary and just a waste of time and money. I continued to do my job, but it was hard to keep a smile on my face while I was doing it.

I emerged from that hallway and entered another office. Just as I was beginning to work, one of the occupants of that office came in. I explained what I was doing and apologized for any inconvenience. This particular person came back with a cheerful response. "Inconvenience? Oh no! We've been waiting for this. We're excited!"

It's amazing what a difference a compliment can make. I still ran into other "less than satisfied" folks, but that one compliment carried me all the way through the rest of this morning.

God has been doing a lot in me... and a big part of it has to do with how I relate to others. My natural tendency is to get negative and critical. Most of the time, I don't even think of it that way -- I'm just "calling it the way I see it." I think maybe God wanted to show me that words really do have a significant impact... not in a "name in and claim it" funky metaphysical way, but because words have an impact on people.

It was a good illustration and reminder for me to watch what I say!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

God at work

I had been letting my hair grow out since I moved to LA because I wanted to be able to wear it in a pony tail again... and because some folks in this area prefer that ladies have longer hair... but Wednesday, I got it cut SHORT! And I love it! And I think it helps me look a little more "professional," which will be important this week...

A few weeks ago, I had updated my resume because I wanted to start looking for some new part time / consulting jobs. The very next morning, I got a phone call with an offer for some temporary contract work. I love how God puts things together!! The timing was great because the job starts Monday, and my pastor is out of the country this week on missions so the church office won't be so busy. There is also the possibility of more work with these folks in the future if this job goes well... and that would be a huge blessing. I'm a little nervous, but also pretty excited to see how things will work out.

On another note, the "lessons from an airline terminal" that I blogged about a few weeks ago have continued in other places. I've had folks approach me to ask questions in stores, in parking lots, and at the hospital where I take baby pictures a couple of days per week. So far, I've been able to answer every question I've been asked. It's happening so much now that I guess the airport wasn't just a fluke after all...

Exciting things are happening! Can't wait to see what's next...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Grace... one year later!

It's hard to believe... but it's been over a year now since a trip to Starbucks literally turned my faith upside-down.

(If you haven't been following my story that long, check out my Nov 2007 archive page.)

Grace is still amazing to me!

That doesn't mean that it's been smooth sailing the whole time. There have been times when I still had twinges of legalistic guilt. But the one thing that I have held onto is the relief of knowing that my salvation is secure, even when I mess up.

Last year, I began to understand that God really truly loved me. In more recent months, I've grown even more in my relationship with God... learning that it really is OK to get close, that He really can "speak" to me without it being a hyped up emotional thing.

I still make mistakes... and I still tend to go pretty hard on myself when I do... yet, I've learned that God loves to show me His grace when I mess up.

There have been a couple of times in the past year when I thought I had totally missed God... and I probably did, at least in some of the details. But instead of "rubbing my nose in it" the way I used to believe a legalistic God would do, God always provided a way for me to get back to where I needed to be and learn from the experience.

I've also been blessed with an amazing group of role models, mentors, and friends -- awesome relationships that have been a tremendous blessing to me. I've been able to share things with them that I never dreamed I'd share with anyone... and they've helped me learn that God gives grace and healing when we're open about our faults.

Last year on Thanksgiving, I couldn't imagine ever being more thankful than I was at that moment. Yet this year, I feel that I have even more to be grateful for.

Thank you God!!!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Lessons from an airline terminal

I'm writing this from a nice quiet corner of the B terminal at Dallas Fort Worth airport... in the middle of a nice long layover, waiting to go home to Louisiana.

I usually think of my air travel time as "down time" -- I don't expect anything productive to come of it. But on this trip, God taught me some things...

I'm hardly a frequent flyer... in fact, this is only my second or third plane trip in 2008. But even though I'm far from being a travel veteran, I was able to help a few folks find their way today. They just happened to ask me about things that I had seen or was familiar with from the first leg of my trip. It felt good to help!

I took two lessons from that... or actually, three:

1. Even if I don't know a lot and haven't gone very far myself, there's still someone else that I can assist along the way.

2. Wow... people were actually asking me questions? Approaching me? Either they were desperate or I'm not giving off that "stay away from me" vibe quite so much anymore!

3. God can talk to me even when I'm not trying very hard (if at all!) to hear His voice.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Extreme Makeover

A few nights ago I was watching a re-run of the show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." They always have a neat story line, and the change from before to after is always incredible. What makes the show even more amazing is that these radical changes all happen within the space of a week.

I've been through quite a week myself... it feels like I've been through "Extreme Makeover: Heart Edition." Something significant happened in the space of a few days, but the story actually began weeks ago with the "gem" I described in my last post -- when God challenged me to invite Him into the painful and messy parts of my life.

That led to some great conversations with my pastor & his wife. I'm extremely blessed to be in a place where I can admit that I've messed up or I'm not as mature as I'd like to be (or like others to think that I am)... and not feel condemned.

Well, a little more than a week ago... I blew it. Someone pushed my buttons and I reacted out of proportion. At the time, it was easy to justify it to myself because I felt that I had been wronged more severely, but I knew in my heart that I had blown it.

The next day, my pastor gently confronted me about it. It was not fun... but instead of just correcting me and sending me away with my tail between my legs, my pastor offered to "mediate" the situation and help make things right again. He also listened when I shared about things that had hurt me... and helped me see it in a different light. I realized that I was taking offense at things that were not meant in a hurtful way -- it was just a culture / personality clash. He also showed me how things I was doing could be taken in a hurtful way even though I never meant it that way. It was an eye-opening experience.

A couple of days later, the three of us met and I had a chance to apologize to the person I had offended. That was incredibly difficult for me -- on many levels -- but it was also a huge relief.

Someone once told me that "perception is reality." In this case, I'm very glad that my perceptions were challenged... and corrected. I kinda think my reality will be a lot better for it too :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My first big "gem"

I've been writing and re-writing this post for a long time now... It actually happened back in September when I was still struggling with the "Gems for Jesus" devotions. I referred to it in a previous post... it was what happened that third morning... the "gem" that jumped out at me and has stuck with me ever since. I want to share it now, because so much of what has been happening in my life since then is directly related to that "gem."

I was reading in Matthew 8 where Jesus finds the Gadarene demoniacs. He casts the demons out, they go into a herd of pigs, and the pigs run into the ocean and kill themselves. This doesn't go over real well with the folks in town... and it says that the whole town came out and implored Jesus to leave their region. So He left.

A couple of things jumped out at me from this passage that morning:

First, when Jesus does something, it can be messy and inconvenient and even seem to be destructive.

Second, if we ask Jesus to leave us alone, He will.

And this is how I applied it to my life: When God wants to do something in my life that will bring healing -- but could also be very messy / disruptive -- would I trust Him or ask Him to leave me alone? I knew that there were some areas where I had definitely asked Him to just leave it alone... but I felt like He was challenging me to trust Him, and instead of imploring Him to leave that area alone, invite Him right into the middle of it...

That was my first real "gem" moment. I knew that God was up to something, but I had only the vaguest idea of what it was or how far it would go...

There's so much more I'd like to share, and hopefully over the next few days I'll be able to get my thoughts together and share some of that here as well.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Pursuit of God

The Disciple's Heart class is still going well. I'm learning a lot... but it's not just through the class itself. I'm getting a lot out of my devotions, at times I feel like the Sunday sermon is aimed right at me, and conversations I've had with others are all pointing me in a common direction. It's funny how God weaves things together in His own way!

We're required to read a few books from an approved list during the course. The first book that I chose was "The Pursuit of God" by AW Tozer. I've read it before -- about 8 or 9 years ago -- but this time I noticed things that I don't remember seeing before. Of course, whenever we're focused on something we're going to see hints and reminders of it everywhere we look, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised!

At the very beginning of the book, Tozer talks about receiving Christ but having no hunger for Him -- how folks are taught to be content with little in that regard, how we need "conscious personal awareness" of God. I love that phrase... and it really sums up what I've been learning over these last few weeks. I can have a "conscious personal awareness" of God without being flakey!!

Tozer also likes to draw contrasts between the way secular folks view things and the way Christians ought to view things. I was amazed by how often I lined up more closely to his secular model than I did to the Christian one.

Another great quote was "He meant us to see Him and live with Him and draw our life from His smile." God's smile? Over the last few months I've thought a lot about getting closer to God... but I never pictured finding a smile on His face when I got there...

That's neat...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Disciple's Heart

The Disciple's Heart class started this past week. I was excited about it and nervous at the same time. I've been looking forward to being in this class since before I moved here... and it's already stretched me quite a bit, after just one session!

We were given a devotional workbook on our first day of class. Bro Buddy wrote it. It's called Gems for Jesus. OK... I have to be perfectly honest... the title *does* make me cringe, especially in light of all the gemstone nonsense that's been popular in some charismatic circles. But it's just a word association thing... the book itself has nothing to do with all that & predates it by a couple of decades.

Basically, it gives some guidelines for having a morning devotional time and provides space to record what you're reading and what you're learning.

No big deal, right?


The guidelines were a little intimidating to me. I'm used to reading the Bible every day and checking off a few chapters in my Bible reading plan... but the Gems thing is a little more involved than that.

First, you're supposed to get quiet for a moment and focus on God.

Quiet doesn't come easy for me! My mind wants to go in about a million directions! It's been taking me about 15-20 minutes just to get to where I can stay completely focused for about a minute.

Then, you're supposed to spend some time in praise and worship. I still find my mind wandering...

Then, you're supposed to "sense God's timing" to open your Bible. That was also a challenge. I mean, isn't pretty much ANY time a good time to open your Bible? I understand what we're trying to accomplish -- to actually spend time with God rather than rush through some assigned Bible reading -- but this has proven more difficult than I had anticipated.

Then, when you're reading the Bible, you're supposed to watch for something to jump out at you or grab your attention -- then focus on that, because that's probably what God is trying to show you in that passage. So... what do you do if you're reading and reading and nothing "jumps out"? I've read the Bible and had something "jump out" at me before, but honestly it hasn't been an every day thing. Maybe that's just because I wasn't looking?

Part of my problem, tho, was just fear. I still don't fully trust my ability to know what's God and what's not when there isn't a black-and-white directive from the Bible. So this devotional excercise -- looking for one particular thing that "jumps out" at you and focusing on it as something that God is saying to you right then -- that's a little scary to me. I've been involved in some churches in the past where a lot of things were based on what God supposedly told the leadership to do... so I'm still a little gun-shy about saying that God showed me something, even if it was in the Bible. After all, how would I know if it really was God showing me that, or just me wanting to see it?

My first morning of doing these devotions was pretty discouraging. My mind was constantly wandering and nothing "jumped out" when I was reading the Bible. The second morning, I was a little less nervous so it didn't take quite as long to get focused. Something caught my attention in the Bible, but I wasn't really sure if it was "jumping out" or if it just resonated because it's something that my pastor has been teaching on lately. But the third morning, something definitely *did* jump out at me, and it was completely relevant to where I was and what I've been struggling with. (Maybe I'll share some specifics in a future blog.)

I'm looking forward to my next class tomorrow... can't wait to see where all of this goes!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Déjà vu all over again

We're feeling the effects of hurricane Ike here... not nearly to the extent that Houston is feeling it, but this storm is massive. We had some pretty good rains last night, and this morning there's more wind than rain... but judging from the projected track, we'll be back into the rain soon enough.

I woke up again at around 5:00 am to a rather loud "crack." I'm sure a tree limb went down somewhere close by, but it doesn't appear to be in my yard. It's just now getting light enough outside to see things clearly. All in all, it doesn't look bad here, but judging from the latest radar it looks like we'll be dealing with some degree of wind and rain all day. The primary concern here is that more trees will come down. The ground was still quite wet from Gustav, and we have a lot of oak trees around here that simply came up roots and all during that storm.

I slept with my cell phone next to me. Several times throughout the night I received tornado warnings for my parish (county), but for the most part they were off the south of me.

I had the option of spending the night with friends, but decided to stay at my place. My cable went out briefly a couple of times, and the power blinked, but so far so good... One of the fringe benefits of having power is that you can drown out some of the other storm noises with your AC and TV!

More later...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Looking up - Remembering 9/11

Like many of you, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on this day 7 years ago. In the days following the attack, I wrote this on my website... and I wanted to share it again today:

I don't remember exactly how old I was the first time my dad took me to see the World Trade Center "up close." I couldn't have been more than six or seven. My parents tell me I was only 3 or 4... I certainly look young in these pictures that they found. New York City was so big and so strange--fascinating and frightening at the same time--but my father's firm grip on my tiny hand gave me the confidence to keep moving forward in this intimidating new world.

When we emerged from the subway station beneath the Twin Towers, my dad led me out to the plaza and turned to face one of the outside walls. "Look up," he said. I looked, and the vertical lines of the buildings' outer structure drew my gaze upwards, mouth gaping and head tilted back, until I nearly fell over backwards! It was so big, and I was so small, and somehow in that moment my perspective was forever changed.

Over the next 20+ years I visited the World Trade Center many times. Often, I had the privilege of bringing other first time visitors to that same spot where my father had first told me to "Look up." It was an experience that never lost its power for me, even as an adult.

I was living in New York City during the 1993 Trade Center bombing, but never imagined that I'd live to see the horrific scene that unfolded on September 11th of 2001. I found my way to a television set just in time to watch the second tower collapse. Once again, I felt so very small and helpless... and in that moment I realized that my perspective and the perspective of an entire nation was forever changed.

Like many others, I've been struggling to grasp the reality and magnitude of these tragic events. I don't have any profound answers... nor am I expecting any. I don't understand it... I may never understand it. But as overwhelming and frightening as it is, I am still confident that my Heavenly Father has not loosened His grasp--and when I put myself in His hands, I can face anything in this intimidating new world.

We no longer have the striking architecture of the World Trade Center to draw our gaze upwards, but now more than ever we must "look up." The pain and the loss are beyond description... but the strength of this nation is beyond estimation. So look up... and encourage others to do the same.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Returning to normal -- Quick update

Saturday morning, a bunch of us got together at Christian Challenge to clean up a bit after the storm. There were some branches down on the property, and the contents of the kitchen fridges and freezers had to be thrown away. As we were eating our lunch Saturday afternoon, the power came back on! Our phone lines and Internet connection were still out, but at least we could have
services in our own building Sunday morning.

The Sunday service was great. Pastor Nathan gave folks a chance to (briefly) share some of their storm stories and how folks had reached out to eachother in the midst of it all. It was neat to hear those testimonies!

Monday, we had partial phone service restored... and yesterday, we got the Internet back. So slowly but surely, life is returning to some sort of "normal."

And... it looks like hurricane Ike won't be hitting us. That's a huge relief.

After a week's delay, I finally spent my first night in my new place on Saturday. I still have a lot of work to do here, but it felt really really good to be back in my own bed, getting settled in after such an unsettling week!

BTW, I just wanted to say a big "Thank you" to everyone out there who has been praying for me & for the folks at my church!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gustav Update

I'm back in Pineville!

I was very grateful for the chance to get away from power outage, heat, humidity, and lack of water for a few days, but it felt so good to get back!

There is still a lot of damage, lots of trees down, and many folks without power... but there are electric company trucks out everywhere, and it has been neat looking at where they are all from. There are folks here from hundreds of miles away to help us put our power system back together. I've read in some news articles that the people of Louisiana have been rude to these guys, yelling at them and pitching fits because the power has been out for so long. That's really sad... but I believe it. Unfortunately, for every vocal rude person out there, there are probably dozens of grateful folks. I wish there was a way to express my gratitude to these guys... it's a shame that they would come so far to do such good work and have to leave feeling abused by Louisiana's lunatic fringe.

I usually don't stop to talk to workers on the road... I feel like it interrupts them. Perhaps I should make a point of stopping and saying "thanks" as I go about my business today.

I spent last night with friends again. I didn't have a chance to really clean my house before the storm hit, so between the "stink" of a house that had been sitting empty and needed cleaning and the "stink" of generator fumes, it just wasn't going to be a pleasant evening at my place! But today I start to tackle that head-on.

As of late last night, the church still didn't have any power. It was kinda eerie driving past with everything dark. Our sign is always lit up out front, and there are plenty of lights on the outside of the building as well. Seeing the church like that... it's just kinda sad.

We've made arrangements to have services in another building downtown if the power doesn't get restored today, but I'm really hoping that the power will be back by then. I'll be grateful to be with my Christian Challenge family no matter where we meet, but having the services in our own building would be so much better!!

Pastor Nathan has been doing an amazing job. He has been checking up on folks from the church and helping them with cleanup, minor repairs, food, ice, water... even temporarily hooking them up with generators. And that's all on top of his responsibilities for the city! When I left town Tuesday morning, I gave him my keys. I figured if the power was still out after a couple of days, he could raid my freezer and maybe a few folks could eat it rather than let it all go to waste. I also wanted to know that while I was out of town, someone could get into the house in case anything else happened.

In the grand scheme of things, my little freezer was such a minor thing. I didn't have any leaks in my roof, no trees down, no flooding... I wasn't facing many of the things that other families in the church were dealing with. I certainly wasn't expecting anyone to bring a generator to my house to keep my freezer frozen... but that's what Pastor Nathan did! I've also received several phone calls from folks at Christian Challenge over the last few days -- just calling to check up on me! And many of those folks were dealing with situations far worse than mine.

You know, it's one thing for folks to check up on you and express their concern for you when nothing is happening in their lives... But when their lives are impacted, and they are still reaching out to others... that's something special. It's really neat to have a church family like this! I've been in Pineville for a little less than four months now. I'm still very "new" to this church. I've struggled a bit with some aspects of southern culture... some things still make me a little uncomfortable... but after what I've experienced in the last week, I cannot question the fact that these folks love eachother, love God... and even love me.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gusty Gustav

Sorry for the delay in posting an update, but this is my first opportunity to get online since Gustav hit.

I'm doing fine, although I have temporarily relocated to a place with power and water that doesn't have to be boiled!

The rain from Gustav's outer bands began early Monday morning. I tried to secure things as best I could around the house: bringing small things in from the yard, making sure doors and windows were secure, making sure I had adequate water and food, making sure my gas tank was full before the city shut down... And WOW things shut down fast! By around noon, it was like a ghost town. Even Wal-Mart was closed!

By about 1:30 the winds were starting to kick up and the heavier rain bands were beginning to arrive. I made it to my pastor's house at around 2. The power went out early in the evening -- I think it was around 5 or 6 pm -- so for a while we sat around looking out the window as things flew past. We could hear the wind and the sound of tree limbs breaking.

It was kinda weird, just sitting there listening to the wind and rain and low hum of other peoples' generators. The scariest part was not knowing what was going on... no TV reports, and even the radio signals were often interruped. I woke up early Tuesday morning and everything was pitch black. No one else in the house was awake yet. My cell phone had no signal.

I guess that's when it really hit me: that feeling of isolation, the dread of not knowing, the helplessness of being completely cut off from communication with "the outside." I sat at the window for about an hour, until it got bright enough outside for me to feel safe venturing out on the roads.

Eventually, I got a weak cell signal and was able to receive my text messages and alerts. Even then, I couldn't complete many calls... I got the "network is busy" error. By morning, many landline phones were down too and the radio stations had very little outside news or even "official" news from the local authorities. They simply opened their phone lines for folks to call in damage reports, road blockages, and let others know if a business in their area (especially a gas station) was open.

It was a really weird feeling -- I'm so used to being so connected to the world, and for a couple of hours at least, I felt extremely disconnected. Even though I spent the night with friends, I felt vulnerable without my high-tech safety line(s)...

During my morning drive, I saw lots of trees down, a lot of broken power poles dangling precariously from their wires, and plenty of debris on the roads. But on the positive side, there was no damage to my house or to any of my friends houses (at least nothing I'm aware of at present).

More than 24 hours after it began, the rain was still falling... and so were the trees, weakened by the storm and no longer able to hang on to the saturated ground. Since it didn't seem likely that we'd have power back any time soon, and there wasn't much that we could do to help the situation, I accepted an invitation to wait out the power outage with folks who weren't impacted by the storm.

I haven't gotten a lot of rest over the last few days... so I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep, even if I am getting a late start on it! I'll post more later.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The amazing folks at Christian Challenge

Yesterday was quite a day!

A few brave volunteers from my small group showed up bright and early to help me move the first load to my new house. They were awesome!! They made it look easy! I can't even begin to tell you how much it meant to have these guys give up their Saturday morning for me... especially since I just met one of them for the first time through this new small group! Christian Challenge is AWESOME!

After they left, I was doing some minor things around the house (without Internet access or TV) when my cell phone rang. It was my landlord. He had just gotten word that a family was evacuating from south Louisiana and needed a place to stay. He had another empty house, but it REALLY needed to be cleaned. It had been rented to some college kids who had a dog (and heaven only knows what else!) in that house. It was filthy. I went over to check things out... but I knew I'd need some major help. One couple had already told me that they were going to help, but they were running late... so I called another couple from the church, and they came pretty much immediately!!

By the time my landlord arrived to check on us, we had five adults and a handful of children working on it. I wish I had taken pictures... but there just wasn't time! We threw a ton of junk away, swept up loads of dirt, cleaned windows, scrubbed a kitchen and bathroom, and even cleaned up the dirty window air conditioners. In around three fast-paced hours we had the whole thing done. Just as we were getting done mopping our way out of the house, the landlord came back. The family from south Louisiana was just a few minutes away on the highway! We couldn't have timed it better.

Cleaning out that house was hard work... but it felt really good! I was grateful for the opportunity to do something for the Gustav evacuees... but I was also very much impressed with the folks at my church who came together on very little notice to tackle a huge project. It made me proud to be a part of Christian Challenge, and it was fun to work alongside others with a true heart for serving others.

But in all the excitement and Internet / TV deprivation, I missed the news about Gustav's development. I knew that Alexandria / Pineville would be hosting many folks from the coastal areas... but as the day went on yesterday it became clear that we would also be getting hit. As my pastor put it this morning, we're in the impact zone. That's a scary thought... I hope that the "worst case scenario" does not materialize, but everyone here is planning as if it will.

I've been planning and preparing as well. I have plenty of water and food. They're not expecting a lot of structural damage, but limbs / trees down could make travel difficult and there's the potential that we'll be without electricity for an extended time. That's the part that makes me most nervous. So, just to be safe, I'll be spending tomorrow evening with my pastor's family... if I'm going to be stuck somewhere in the dark, at least I won't be stuck alone!

I'll post more tomorrow...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Another moving experience

I went to my first Christian Challenge Small Group meeting Wednesday night. I think we all had some butterflies, but in the end everyone had a great time!

During our orientation sessions, we watched a funny video about how *NOT* to have a small group. One of the humorous situations involved a group member asking if anyone could help him move that weekend. One of the other group members kinda gave him the brush-off and told him "Just Google movers." We've made quite a few jokes about that line...

I knew that my latest move would probably happen around the same time as the beginning of small groups... and I knew that I'd need help moving a few big things that I just can't handle on my own... so I had kinda been looking forward to prefacing my request with "Now, don't anyone say 'Google'..."

But I was also a little nervous about asking, because I joined a group with some folks that I don't know really well yet. It's a little weird asking for help the very first time you get together as a group! I wasn't sure what kind of response I'd get. Of course, my small group came through! I shouldn't have expected any less. Christian Challenge is a whole church full of "extra mile" folks!

On a somewhat related note, if you'd like to see pics of my new place, check this out:

(I've never posted a Facebook photo gallery before, I usually do that kind of thing on my own servers, but I decided to play with that yesterday!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I've been neglecting my blog, so I thought I'd post a few quick updates before I get going today!

The "right hand of fellowship" was a little intimidating / uncomfortable, but overall it was a positive experience. I'm probably just not "southernized" enough yet to truly appreciate it!

Small groups start this week. My small group will be meeting on Wednesday nights. I'm a little nervous about that too... we've had a couple of weeks of "orientation" and a kickoff party, but tonight will be the first real meeting. I was spoiled in Florida -- CATB had the best small groups!! So my expectations may be a little high...

The Disciple's Heart class starts in a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to that. Bro. Buddy will be teaching the class that I am in. He's the one who developed the class, even though he hasn't taught it in a while... so it will be a real treat to get to hear him teach it. I'm sure it will be a bit of a "stretching" time for me, but excited about that.

I've picked up some freelance jobs, including a part time position taking baby pictures at one of the hospitals. I spent Thursday, Friday, and Monday in various training and orientation meetings. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun... but after the hospital orientation session, I am a little concerned. A couple of the administrative-types at the hospital told me that they seem to have new photographers every two months or so... and that makes me wonder if there are issues with the company that I'll be working with. It takes a week for folks to get trained, then they are required to give two weeks notice... so that would mean that folks are burning out after about a month. That can't be good. Only time will tell I guess... but fortunately, I've only committed to two days per week at this point. We'll have to see how it goes!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Making it official

I "officially" become a member of Christian Challenge tomorrow!

Membership here is a little different than what I've seen at other churches. There's no paperwork to sign, you don't get a membership card or certificate... but what you do get is a handshake (well, MANY handshakes!). They call it "the right hand of fellowship." At the end of the service tomorrow, they'll call a bunch of us down to the front and introduce us to the church. Then the rest of the church can come up and meet the new members and shake their hands.

It's going to be interesting... I've only seen it done one time, and that was my very first week here. Not sure whether I should be nervous or not!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch died today

Randy Pausch died today. That name might not mean anything to you... but I first heard his "Last Lecture" late last year through some of my connections at Toastmasters.

This guy found out that he had terminal cancer. When he received his diagnosis, he was given 3-6 months to live. Within a month, he gave a lecture that became known as "The Last Lecture" and took on a life of its own on YouTube.

You might expect that someone who has just been through the horrorof receiving a death sentence would be depressed and somber. You might expect them to be gloomy and pessimistic. And most folks probably would react that way. I think it's human nature for us to focus on the negatives and get "stuck" there. We dwell on thepast, worry about how things will play out in the future, and just generally focus on the wrong things.

Randy Pausch was different. Aside from just plain being an EXCELLENT speaker, the lecture itself is truly amazing. Rather than focusing on the negative, he talks about how to truly acheive your childhood dreams. He doesn't talk about how unfair life is. He doesn't focus on his negative diagnosis. He's not living in dread of the next thing that his cancer is going to take from him. He talks about how he reached some his goals, how he DIDN'T reach some of his goals, and what he learned along the way.

The lecture is posted in its entirety here:

It's an hour and 15 minutes... but definitely worth watching.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Twelve Nuggets

I feel like I got a glimpse into Christian Challenge's past last night at midweek service!

Bro Buddy led worship and gave the message... and that's pretty much the way it was when Christian Challenge got started 32 years ago. He sang some of the old songs that he had done way back then. I didn't know the songs, but it was neat to hear them. The style of the music that they do at Christian Challenge has certainly changed since then, but the message in the lyrics is much the same.

Here's the words to one of those songs that I'd never heard before:
I'm singing the songs of Zion today
And rejoicing in the Lord
For I have found out what life's all about
God's peace now is ruling my heart

The title of Bro Buddy's message was "Twelve Nuggets of Gold." He also posted them to his blog today. Every one of the "nuggets" is something that can help us live in God's peace.

They're all good, but here are a couple of nuggets that jumped out at me:

#2 -- Learn to live daily from God's renewing mercy and grace

I think that one grabbed me because it is so easy to do it... in short spurts! But living it consistently is difficult.

#5 -- Retake lost ground - Never underestimate the blessing of repentance and reconsecration.

This one got my attention because sometimes it's just easier to "write off" lost ground. Sometimes it is painful to revisit places where we've failed. But if we don't face it and re-take it, we'll allow ourselves to be fenced in by failures.

#11 -- Live by your last instructions - When you lose your peace this means you have crossed a line.

I like this one because I think I've crossed quite a few lines in my life... but I can still go back to the last thing that I really had peace about. And Bro Buddy shared one other thing last night that didn't make it into his blog: He said that if you *really* got off track, you can always go back to the cross. I like that!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I'm a little ashamed to admit it... but I set up my Wii console yesterday evening and stayed up past 3am this morning playing and exploring the different options.

I can remember playing the old Nintendo Entertainment System and SuperNES when I was younger and loving it. But a few years ago I tried to play one of the newer gaming systems. I found myself completely lost in all the buttons and graphics. I felt... well, OLD!

The graphics on the Wii are amazing, and the games are just as easy to play as the commercials make them out to be. I spend most of my time sitting in front of a computer, so having a game system that gets me up on my feet and moving around is really nice. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that many of the "classic" games from the 80s are available for the Wii. They're as cheap as $5 each and can be downloaded instantly to your console. I picked up a couple of my old favorites! You can download stuff instantly because this thing connects to the Internet. The console even has its own email address.

But... I didn't mean to create my own blog-commercial for Wii. I wanted to throw this out here in case anyone out there also has a Wii and would like to be "Wii Friends". Apparently, you can connect to other people's consoles and do some things over the Internet. I haven't figured it all out yet... but I'm looking forward to it! So if you're out there and also have a Wii, feel free to add me. My console number is 3944 9834 4370 9654.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Cardboard Testimonies

We had a great service yesterday at Christian Challenge. Pastor Nathan shared a video of a neat illustration from another church. He also posted it here on his blog. (Check it out! Really!)

I really like the idea of a short-n-sweet, one-liner testimony. I've spent a lot of time telling my story on my web site. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback, and the process of journaling everything has been helpful to me personally... but it isn't very helpful when you only have a couple of minutes to make an impact on someone.

So I've been thinking about how I could express the things God has been doing in my life in "cardboard testimony" format.

This is what I came up with:

Before - Isolated and lonely
After - Part of a loving church family

Before - God seemed harsh and distant
After - God was closer than I thought

Before - Caught up in legalism
After - Free in Christ

Before - Felt like I could never measure up
After - Secure in God's grace

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

God Whispers

I saw this phrase at a friend's house and it has stuck with me:

"Make time for quiet moments -- God whispers and the world is loud"

I haven't been very good at that lately. Even in the physically quiet times, it's hard to quiet the noise of things competing for my attention -- the endless mental to-do list that plays like an incessant news ticker in my brain........................................................................

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Grace & Encouragement

God must have a sense of humor.

Yesterday evening, I had yet another opportunity to be frustrated... and to work on my "un-gracefulness" problem! Since I had JUST written the Grace & Forgiveness post earlier that afternoon, I was very much aware of how I was reacting to things. I did a better job of "biting my tongue," but... lets just say there's still a heart issue here that needs some work!

This morning at church we had a celebration for the kids and the workers who participated in our soccer camp this week. Everyone got a little award certificate. The kids were excited! Then Pastor Nathan taught about "Shooting for the Goal" (with a lot of great tie-ins to what the kids were taught during the week).

One of the verses he used was Hebrews 12:1 - "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Pastor Nathan said that he imagined the great cloud of witnesses to be kinda like a big stadium or arena packed full of fans. They're watching... but they're also cheering us on!

(As an aside... I never thought of the "cloud of witnesses" that way. I saw it more like a bunch of judges evaluating our performance here on earth. I kinda imagined them like "big brother" -- watching to make sure we don't mess up! It's neat to see that part of the passage in a more positive light.)

During soccer camp, there were a lot of folks on the sidelines cheering. People were just looking for excuses to praise the kids, and the kids would light up and smile every time. It made them want to work harder and get right back up when they fell down. At one point, one of the kids was trying to make a goal. He kicked the ball, and it hit a post on one side of the goal and bounced back to him. He kicked it again, it hit another post and bounced back. Then it happened a third time! But everyone was encouraging him to keep trying, and he kept his eyes on the goal.

That really hit me.

What if the soccer camp workers had reacted to a missed goal the same way I react sometimes to a missed order a restaurant?

More importantly... what could happen if I reacted to the waitress who missed my order with encouragement instead of criticism?

God really nailed me on that.

When I reserve my praise and encouragement only for those who make the goal, I'm missing an opportunity to help someone else turn a "loss" into a "win." So I'm going to try something this week: I'm going to make a conscious effort to find things to praise... even when it would be much easier to criticize.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Grace & forgiveness

I've been thinking about Matthew 18:21-35 this week. It's the story of a slave who was shown awesome mercy. His master forgave a huge debt that he owed... but then that same slave refused to show any mercy to a fellow slave who owed him much less. I'm beginning to realize just how easy it is for me to be like that unmerciful slave...

Life has been pretty busy lately. I moved here just in time to get involved in a couple of really interesting (but pretty intense) projects. Any time you start something new, there's a bit of a learning curve... and always a chance that you'll make a mistake while you're coming up to speed. I've made a few of those already! It's embarrassing! Thankfully, there's plenty of grace for that sort of thing here. It's a great place to be. There's a kind of security and safety here that I'm only beginning to understand.

So you might think that such an awesome, grace-and-mercy-filled atmosphere would have an impact on my attitude towards others. I wish I could say that it has! But the truth is, I've caught myself being completely un-graceful towards a lot of folks here. I've had no patience for waitresses who got my order wrong. I've snapped at some folks who didn't know the "right" answer at the "right" time. Little things -- stuff that is insignificant compared to some of the mistakes I've made -- still have a way of getting under my skin and generating a reaction within me that is out of proportion to the offense... and the exact opposite of the grace/mercy that I have personally received from God and from others.

It's not like I set out to be that way... I'm not out there looking for opportunities to *not* show grace to others. Many times, I'm not even aware that I've done it until after the fact. That's frustrating!

Things didn't turn out so well for the unmerciful slave in Matthew 18. When his master found out what he had done, he threw him in jail to be tortured. Verse 35 kinda bothers me: "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

I tend to think of forgiveness as applying to the really big things. But I guess forgiveness would apply in any situation where you've been wronged, no matter how small. If I truly forgave the incompetent folks at the drive through who never get my order right... well, I suppose I wouldn't feel quite so passionate about calling them incompetent! And the truth is, regardless of how competent or incompetent they are, God still loves them. Jesus died for them. When I react to them in a way that doesn't honor God, what message does that send? What will they think if they visit my church or see me during a water outreach wearing my church tee shirt?

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I've been an official resident of Louisiana for one week now. When I first got here, things seemed vaguely familiar (since I lived here before about 10 years ago), but it didn't take long for those vague memories to come into focus. So in a way, coming back here has been like coming back home. I'm going to enjoy my time here!

Sunday, there was a guest speaker at Christian Challenge -- Bro. Dale Chapman, Pastor Nathan's father-in-law. The message was definitely not what I had expected. He opened by saying that he was going to address the ladies in the congregation, and that sometimes we accept the norms of our culture/tradition as truth rather than looking to the Bible. With an opening like that, I seriously wondered if he was going to launch into a message on holiness standards... and I was glad I had worn a skirt that morning! LOL! But fortunately, that wasn't the direction that he was headed at all. Instead, he spoke about women who had a tremendous impact on his life. It was good!

Sunday afternoon, a bunch of us went up to Red Dirt in the Kisatchie National Forest. I used to "escape" to Red Dirt fairly often when I first lived in Louisiana. I was eager to get back out there. There had been some fires in the forest, so I wasn't sure if it would be anything like I had remembered, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was better than I had remembered! I'll definitely be headed up there again!

Here are a couple of pictures:

It was such a beautiful day... and I'm looking forward to many more beautiful days here!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Moving week

I am now officially a resident of Louisiana.

My last week in Tampa was very busy -- I tried to connect with a lot of my friends here for a final lunch / dinner before I left. Wednesday night, my small group had a little send-off for me. (It was a BEAUTIFUL evening, gorgeous sunset, great weather to be outside...) It wasn't easy -- and there were a few teary moments -- but there were no guilt trips, no harsh warnings, no power plays... in other words, it was nothing like leaving an unhealthy church. I know I'm going to miss my friends & pastors, but we'll keep in touch.

Thursday morning at 4am I was on my way. It was a 12+ hour drive, and I was nervous that perhaps my car was overloaded... but I had great driving weather, no traffic to speak of, no construction delays... it was about as pleasant as a 12+ hour drive could possibly be.

It's been a little unreal so far. I've been trying to get unpacked and organized. I still have quite a few boxes that I need to sort through. It hasn't quite sunk in yet that I'm here for good... and I don't think I've quite caught up on all my sleep yet! I have to keep reminding myself that I'm really here... and it isn't just a visit this time.

Yesterday morning there was a Servant Evangelism outreach at my new church. About 20 of us handed out 1000 water bottles in a little more than an hour. It was hot (and I got a bit of a sunburn, I didn't even think about putting on sunblock) but it was a GREAT time. I got a chance to meet some more of the folks from the church, and it just felt good to be out doing SE again. It was different -- I'm not sure whether its just the southern culture, or the fact that pretty much everyone in this town knows & recognizes Pastor Nathan... but folks sure seemed a lot more friendly and open here. In Tampa, when we did SE at an intersection like that, there was a pretty good percentage of folks who wouldn't even make eye contact with you, let alone roll down their windows and talk. Here, it seems like nearly everyone rolled down their windows and they were genuinely grateful for the water...

In a lot of ways, I feel like I've moved to Mayberry. The pace of life and the accents definitely remind me of the Andy Griffith show!

I'm excited to be here. I can't wait to see what happens next...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Last Straw

Does God really care about the little things?

I've just arrived back in Tampa after a long weekend in Louisiana. I got into town a little past lunch time, and after I had run a few errands I was ready for a quick meal. I drove through a local fast food place on my way home.

Unfortunately, they forgot to give me a straw.

Now, normally that's not a big deal. I usually have a handful laying around at my house--in the "junk drawer". But... since I'm in the process of moving, the "junk drawer" has already been purged. So it's still not a big deal--I mean, you can still drink a soda without a straw... but there's just something about drinking a nice cold fountain soda with one of those nice wide straws... and I'll admit, I was a little dissapointed.

So I get home, bring my straw-less meal to my room... and there in my pen cup, standing tall compared to my collection of ballpoints and highlighters, I see a lone soda straw, still in its wrapper! I don't remember putting it there. I don't know how long it's been there. But today, it was a very small (but very refreshing) "Godwink."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mixed emotions

I've made a couple of big decisions... and this week (especially) has been an emotional roller coaster ride!

I'm moving to Louisiana. I went out there this past weekend. It is amazing how much it already feels like home -- how comfortable I am at Christian Challenge (where I will be attending church when I move). It feels like every time I turn around, another little piece of the puzzle is falling into place. Everything is coming together much more quickly and favorably than I could have ever anticipated.

I turned in my resignation to my current employer. I was nervous about that. I wanted to give them more than enough notice, but at the same time, I knew that they could terminate me on the spot once I gave them notice. Fortunately, that didn't happen and they're willing to let me work (even partial weeks) up until I move. So that's a blessing.

I also let my pastors & friends at church know about my plans. When I first broke the news to them a few weeks ago, I thought that I'd be moving sometime over the summer -- definitely not before June. But now, I'm looking at May... and that's not a lot of time. I don't even want to think about my last week at Church at the Bay... that's going to be really rough.

But... even though it is going to be rough, it's going to be rough for good reasons (if that makes any sense!)

When I left the last unhealthy church that I attended, I was told that I would be out of God's will, horrible things would happen to me, and I was in rebellion 'cause I wouldn't listen to the pastor. But this time, leaving my church isn't at all like that. My pastors love me and don't want to see me leave... but they want God's best for me, and they're praying for me. They're not trying to guilt-trip me into staying. And you know what? In some ways, that makes it even more difficult to leave!

It also means that any church I attend after CATB is going to have to meet some pretty high standards! Now that I know what a healthy church looks like, I can never settle for anything less.


More later...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Palm Branches vs Perfume Boxes

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, and Pastor Nathan Martin from Christian Challenge preached an interesting message on the difference between Palm Branch praise and Perfume Box praise. (The recording is posted to their website. I listened to it tonight...)

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the people worshipped him with Palm Branches and shouts... but they did it because their expectations of Him were different than what He really was. They worshipped Him because they thought He would rescue them from their political and economic situation. These same people, not long after, call for Jesus to be crucified.

Palm Branch praise was loud and demonstrative... and cheap. Not only was it shallow, the palm branches probably didn't cost people anything, they just ripped them off the trees.

He contrasts that with Mary's worship -- breaking the perfume box and washing Jesus' feet with it. The perfume was expensive. The expression of worship was not public, not loud, not meant to draw attention... but it was real. It was personal.

There's a lot more to the message, but I'll let you listen for yourself and find that out!

I'm getting ready for a big weekend at my church. We're having five services this weekend -- five separate Easter Egg hunts for the kids -- five separate times for folks to get baptized...

And you know what else? At least five opportunities for me to lose sight of what Easter is really all about... at least five different opportunties for me to choose whether I worship with a Palm Branch or a Perfume Box.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Amazing Grace

I spent this weekend with a wonderful group of people -- a bunch of other recovering Pentecostals, folks who have all been a part of the United Pentecostal Church at some point in their past. We shared testimonies, meals, lots of laughs, and a few tears. Before this weekend, many of them were perfect strangers to me... but it's funny how a shared struggle can make perfect strangers feel like extended family in no time!

It was interesting (though sometimes difficult) to hear others share their experiences in the UPC. It brought back a lot of memories: some good, and some not so good. It was encouraging to hear how so many different people had made the journey from legalism to grace in many different ways.

But one of the things that struck me the most was the fact that the hosts of this meeting -- Bro Buddy & Betty Martin from Christian Challenge -- were celebrating the 32nd anniversary of their church this weekend. Of all weekends, this one should have been all about them... yet they opened their church, their home, and their hearts to a group of virtual strangers and ministered to them instead. They invited us into their home, let us keep them up late (even though they needed to be up early in the morning), and shared a lot of encouragement and wisdom. They demonstrated great grace (which also happened to be the subject of the of the service this morning) towards all of us!

I used to live in Louisiana, not far from Christian Challenge... but I had some bad / painful memories from my time there. I hadn't been back since I left many years ago, so I was a little apprehensive about going. Just thinking about the trip was bringing up some things I would have rather not stirred up... but I had to face it / deal with it / get it out. I was able to do that here in a "safe" place with folks who understood and could help me. I thought that if I just ignored this wound and avoided talking about it, it would go away on its own... but after 7+ years, that didn't happen. Now, after all that time, it's finally starting to heal. I finally have a "peace" about the whole thing... and if I hadn't confronted it, I don't think that would have happened.

This morning during the worship service, I sang Chris Tomlin's version of Amazing Grace. It's basically the familiar hymn with an added chorus... but that chorus is powerful. As I sung it this morning, those words were especially meaningful to me:

My chains are gone, I've been set free
My God, my savior has ransomed me
And like a flood, His mercy rains
Unending love, amazing grace...

In many ways, that old wound was a chain holding me down... and now it's gone. It's still a little sore, but now that the wound has been cleaned out, it can heal properly.

More later!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

More thoughts on God's will

I stumbled on this quote tonight in another forum, and it goes so well with what I've been blogging lately that I had to share it here:

"MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"

Purpose & Obedience

My small group has just started working through a curriculum called "Breakaway" from Andy Stanley. It's interesting how the same "theme" can pop up again and again in different areas of my life. There are some similar things in this teaching at the Mark Batterson book I recently finished. The "Breakaway" series talks about how we all started out with big dreams about doing big things, but in the end we wind up living pretty ordinary lives. It talks about how to live an extraordinary life without running away from relationships or responsibilities -- by changing our beliefs and attitudes instead of our circumstances. Stanley says that our life is the result of the decisions we've made -- and our decisions are the result of our beliefs. Bad beliefs lead to bad decisions and bad outcomes... so we neglect the root of the problem when we try to change our circumstances without addressing the underlying beliefs that brought us there in the first place.

On the surface, it might seem that the Batterson book is actually encouraging the opposite of what the "Breakaway" series teaches. He talks about chasing lions and getting out of our comfort zones -- making the kinds of radical decisions that can change the course of a life. In fact, he highlights the stories of several individuals (including himself) who uprooted their lives, took dangerous risks, and came out on top. After reading some parts of Batterson's book, I imagined myself quitting my job to pursue some dormant dreams... chasing my own lions.

But here's where my "lion chasing" comes to a screeching halt: I've made a lot of big decisions (that wound up being bad decisions) because I thought that God was leading me in that direction. If I was wrong then... what reason do I have to be confident now? It all goes back to that idea of destiny that I blogged about...

So how does this tie in to the "Breakaway" message? Here's another Batterson quote:

"Obedience is a willingness to do whatever, whenever, wherever God calls us. And that looks very different for each of us. It doesn't always necessitate going halfway around the world. Often the most courageous actions only require us going across the room or across the street."

Maybe "big obedience" -- at least the way Batterson writes about it -- is not an option for me right now. But what about the smaller things? I don't need some earth-shaking revelation from God to tell me that I'm supposed to share my faith with others. How am I doing that in my everyday life? Is my restlessness and desire for "bigger" things clouding my vision so I miss a million smaller opportunities that present themselves every day?

Or, to put it in Stanley's terms from the "Breakaway" series: Can I identify a faulty belief that resulted in a bad decision and a bad outcome? Perhaps my "faulty belief" is that true obedience must take the form of lion-chasing: if it isn't radical, it isn't God...

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Every once in a while I get an opportunity to truly shine… or at least, it seems that way at the time. In my mind’s eye, I see the plan unfolding flawlessly. I anticipate a need, meet it perfectly, and in the process, I earn the respect and admiration of all who are involved.

It’s a good feeling.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually happen that way!

No matter how simple or fool-proof it might seem, these things have a funny way of backfiring on me.

Last year around this time I had just joined Church At The Bay. I was still getting to know people and looking for opportunities to get “plugged in.” So when I heard that a group would be getting together to stuff eggs for the Easter Egg hunt, I signed up & even volunteered to bring some of the supplies!

I love Easter Egg hunts! I love stuffing the eggs – I even love picking out the candy and toys and other special touches. I love hiding the eggs. Most of all, I love watching the kids find the eggs.

So I went shopping. I picked out some cute little toys, and my cart was overflowing with candy. I even managed to squeeze in a couple of small boxes with 250 eggs inside. Unlike the large bags of plastic eggs that you normally see, these eggs were taken apart and neatly stacked. What an ingenious idea! What a space-saver! I imagined myself cracking jokes about bringing “egg-stra.”

That night about a half a dozen of us showed up to stuff the eggs. All of the other eggs were in those large bags of 48, and we went through them all in no time. In less than 40 minutes, we had stuffed over 1200 of them! Everyone was in a great mood.

Then we broke out one of my boxes. The first egg that I grabbed just didn’t want to snap together. Well, that was odd… but it must have been a dud. But one after the other, NONE of the eggs would close easily. It seems that having the halves stacked on top of eachother like that made the inside lip “stretch” just enough so that it wouldn’t fit easily into the other half anymore.

After 5 minutes I had managed to wrestle ONE egg closed. No one else on our egg-stuffing team was having any better luck. All of a sudden, my brilliant space-saving idea didn’t seem quite so brilliant. In the next half an hour, we managed to get maybe half of those eggs stuffed. It was discouraging! Instead of feeling like an egg-celent church member, I began to wonder if this incident would lead to my egg-scommunication instead. How embarrassing!

My ego (or should I say, my “egg-o”) was bruised.

Someone took a few of the really bad ones into the church office the next day and let the rest of the staff try to put them together. That weekend, those pastors showed me the results of their efforts – shattered egg halves, some deformed, some duct-taped together…

It wasn’t the outcome that I had desired, but now… my “bad eggs” are almost part of the church “folklore.” None of the folks who were involved will ever forget that night… and they probably won’t forget me either. It was embarrassing, but if everything had gone according to plan and there had been no "bad eggs", it wouldn't have been such a memorable evening. So even though it didn’t work out as planned, in the end… it did work out OK. And that’s no yolk!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

For such a time as THIS?

I finished the Mark Batterson book In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day today. It's a really good book, and it has given me a lot to think about. As it "sinks in" I'm sure I'll be posting more here. I already have a number of quotes marked for this very purpose :)

If you haven't read the book, here's the basic premise: Benaiah gets mentioned in 2 Sam 23:20-21. It's one of those obscure passages that usually gets skipped over, but Batterson focuses on one little part: the part where it says he killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day. It was not a "normal" thing to do. It was a situation where most folks would have run the other way. But Benaiah saw it as an opportunity rather than a problem. Batterson suggests that we miss out on our greatest divine appointments when we try to "play it safe."

He ends the book by re-asserting something that he said at the beginning... but of all the things he says, this is probably the one that makes me the most uncomfortable. Here's the quote:

"God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time. A sense of destiny is our birthright as followers of Christ. God is awfully good at getting us where He wants us to go. But here's the catch: The right place often seems like the wrong place, and the right time often seems like the wrong time."

I think I gave up on having a "destiny" when I was in my mid twenties. The dream was very much alive when I was younger, but the dream I was chasing wound up being an empty one. In many ways, I made it further and faster than I had ever dreamed possible... but I was running in the wrong direction.

Batterson believes that God will get us where He wants us to go... but I don't really feel any sense of "destiny" about being in Florida. I don't believe that God called me here. I called myself here. I made a judgment call based on the openings that were available to me. I could have just as easily wound up somewhere else. I can't even say that I came here chasing a dream. I came here because I was running from a nightmare.

But even more, I can't say that I really believe in that sort of "destiny" anymore. In Pentecostal churches, we often talked about being "in the center of God's will" or His "perfect will" for our lives. That's a very romantic notion when you're young and have your life ahead of you... but as time goes on, you can't help but feel as though there are no more golden opportunities waiting in the wings for you. Once you're out of that "perfect will," everything else is somewhat less than perfect. So if you don't do everything perfect, you blew it... God had to find someone else.

I don't believe that sort of thing anymore. We make choices--some of them good, some of them bad--but God doesn't give up on us. There are consequences, but there is also grace!

If I look at my circumstances, there are certianly many things that I can say were God-ordained. For example, everything that fell into place at just the right time for me to grasp the concept of God's grace for the first time... a lot of things had to line up just right for that to happen. It started with a short memory verse that was actually a little discouraging... that set me up to read a short book that challenged what I believed about grace... and that set me up to have a life-changing conversation.

I'm extremely grateful that things worked out the way that they did... but I can't say that it absolutely had to happen in here Florida. If I had chosen to run to another city, I believe that God would have set up an alternate set of circumstances to bring me to the same realization about grace... I just probably wouldn't have gotten baptized outside in December if I was living in Colorado :P

So am I in the right place at the right time? I don't know. If the right place seems like the wrong place... how would you ever know for sure anyhow?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Key Differentiators

In my "work life," I've been looking into a number of software packages (CRM/ERP for those who are curious). There are many to choose from, but these vendors are in a rather peculiar position. In order to succeed, their software must be easy to use. To accomplish this, most have chosen to mimic the universally familiar layout of Microsoft Outlook. At the same time, they must distinguish themselves from their competitors... who are also mimicking MS Outlook. So how do you stand out in a crowd of look-alikes?

These software demos nearly always start and end with "Key Differentiators:" the software vendor's answer to the question, "What sets this product apart?" They don't waste time laying the foundation of why CRM/ERP is important... they assume that by the time you're looking at a demo, you're already convinced of its value. Each vendor is convinced that his/her product serves one particular market better than any other. Their job is not to show you that you need software, but to convince you that their version of the software is better.

I've been thinking about this in relation to evangelism and church marketing. It's probably safe to say that most churches promote their key differentiators (the nonessential things that make them unique) rather than their core functionality (the message of the Gospel). And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the Gospel message isn't hidden under all that nonessential stuff & there is a clear presentation of it during the services. We can't assume that everyone who comes to check out a church understands the Gospel message.

But things start to get weird when a group sees some of its key differentiators as absolute essentials. A new Oneness Pentecostal association formed recently. One of their "key differentiators" is a very strict set of holiness standards. The founders left the UPC because they felt the UPC was too liberal in that area. Issues of outward appearance and behavior are extremely important to them--important enough to form a splinter group--and probably important enough to be a life-or-death salvation issue in their eyes.

Then there's "caste" Christianity, where the key differentiators aren't absolute essentials... but embracing them makes you a higher class of Christian. For example, most Word of Faith folks don't believe that speaking in tongues is essential for salvation, but if you don't speak in tongues, you don't have the "full Gospel." You're a second-class Christian. Because you don't embrace what they teach, you can't possibly understand the deep things of God...

Thankfully, all churches aren't that way... and I really appreciate that about my church. It isn't a "traditional church" the way most people would imagine it -- no stained glass, no smells-n-bells, no pews -- so our promotional stuff (mailers, touch cards, etc) isn't "churchy." It isn't a Gospel tract either. But if someone sees one of our mailers and comes to a service (or even listens to one on our website), they will hear about Jesus and have an opportunity to begin a relationship with Him.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


This month, I started reading In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day by Mark Batterson. There are a lot of good quotes in there that have stuck with me. If I ever have time to stop and write, I'm sure this book could generate quite a few posts!

Here's one where he talks about unlearning:

"Half of learning is learning. The other half of learning is unlearning. Unfortunately, unlearning is twice as hard as learning. It's like missing your exit on the freeway. You have to drive to the next exit and then double back. Every mile you go in the wrong direction is really a two-mile error. Unlearning is twice as hard, and it often takes twice as long. It is harder to get old thoughts
out of your mind than it is to get new thoughts into your mind."

I get frustrated sometimes because I'm not "unlearning" as quickly as I'd hoped. I feel like I'm playing a game of mental whack-a-mole: just when I think I've banished an old thought pattern from my mind, it pops up again...

Batterson also says: "Faith is unlearning the senseless worries and misguided beliefs that keep us captive. It is far more complex than simply modifying behavior... Faith is rewiring the human brain."

Rewiring the brain... that's what I need. And I guess the idea isn't too far fetched: the Bible does talk about "renewing our minds..."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Am I becoming a cessationist?

I had an interesting conversation over the weekend. Someone asked me if I had become a cessationist. That's an interesting question... the more I think about it, I guess it depends on how you define "cessationist."

I suppose a "true cessationist" believes that the miraculous gifts which were in operation in the early church are no longer given today. They have ceased. If that is the case, I don't qualify...

Healing is deal-breaker for me on that one. I still believe that God can heal people. I don't believe that He absolutely must heal them if we meticulously follow a faith formula (that's a Word of Faith thing), but I do believe that miraculous healing can still take place. A true cessationist would probably deny that.

But the issue that prompted this conversation was tongues. I was talking to some people who, as far as I know, have never spoken in tongues themselves... but they are open to the possibility of it being "real" because they know & respect a few people who do.

I've been thinking about that. I know & respect some people who have had powerful experiences in Hinduism, the new-age, and even Islam. I've listened to their stories. I don't think they're making it up... they are sincere. But even though I believe that they experienced something, I do not believe that it is what they THINK they experienced. And honestly, I feel the same way now about some of my charismatic and Pentecostal friends who speak in tongues. I believe that they are sincere... but I don't believe that tongues (at least not the way it is practiced in the churches I used to attend) are real.

So does that make me a cessationist, at least on the issue of tongues? Well... not really. I don't believe that the "tongues" I witnessed in my charismatic/Pentecostal churches were even remotely close to the tongues that are described in the Bible... so in that sense, I cannot say that those "tongues" have ceased because I don't think they ever began in the first place.

So what about the genuine article, the way it happened in the book of Acts? Could that still happen today?

I suppose it could.

I also suppose God could part Tampa Bay so I didn't have to wait in traffic on the Howard Frankland Bridge...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Seed time?

I've been wondering about this today.

We have one minister who has admitted to "seeding" his meetings -- putting stuff in place naturally so that it would appear supernatural. The idea behind it really just a variation on a 'classic' Word of Faith teaching: if it happens, people will believe it... and if people will believe it, it will happen. So... the rationale for "seeding" the meetings is that when people saw the gems, they'd think God put them there. Their faith would be built up... and then gems would actually appear.

That's the rationale.

In other circles, they call it "priming the pump." It's the same reason why ministers have someone share a testimony or call out a few "lightning rod" people and pray for them in front of the whole congregation... they want to demonstrate that something is happening, because if people will expect something to happen, it is more likely that it will.

But something specific about "seeding" still bothers me...

Consider this: if the idea of "seeding" could enter the mind of a minister who knows that he will be under scrutiny, couldn't it also occur to someone in the congregation? I know that there were faked healings in many of the churches where healing crusades took place. The same thing that motivates a person to fake a healing could motivate a person to fake any of these other things. So... someone brings a handful of little 'gem chips' with them to the service. Maybe they just "seed" them for themselves to find... or maybe they spread it around...

I vaguely remember an episode of The Brady Bunch that does a good job of illustrating this idea. One of the boys--I'm pretty sure it was the youngest one--wanted to "stretch" himself out so he could get taller. He measures his height against a wall and marks it there. Then he goes and literally "hangs out" on the swingset all day. During the course of the day, three well-meaning family members secretly move the mark down by about half an inch each. So at the end of the day, when he measures himself again, it looks like he has grown a staggering 1.5 inches! Then, one by one, the family members admit to what they have done. There's been no growth afterall.

The moral of the story: if you want to measure your growth, don't measure yourself by something that is so easily moved :)

But back to the "seeding" issue.

So... the minister throws out a few "seed" gemstones. Then another person spreads a few around. Then another... Each of these individuals notice that there are stones present in the meeting which they themselves could not have planted... therefore, it's a miracle after all! Their seed multiplied! Not only is the whole thing validated, but they can feel justified in that they obeyed God and He multiplied the seed sown.

If EVERYONE who "seeded" stuff in these meetings came clean--if they were all 100% honest--would we be forced to conclude, as the Brady's did, that nothing had really happened after all?

I don't have anything personally against the Smiths. And if people really want to comb through carpets for crystal chips, that's their business. Personally, I do not believe that we should be looking for this sort of stuff... but is God capable of doing it? Of course He is. I just tend to think that He does things for a reason, and I've yet to hear of any good reason for this. It certainly isn't a good idea to use this as a measure of your spirituality.... that's a mark that is far too easily moved.

Faux Faith

A little more than a week ago, I started hearing rumblings that Glenn Smith from Shem Ministries (aka Gemstones Ministries) had been caught "planting" stones in a recent meeting. I checked their website, only to discover that they had taken it down for "personal and technical reasons." Although there is still no official public statement from the Smiths at the time of this writing (or at least none that I am aware of), other information has been circulating... including an email from one of the pastors who was co-hosting the meetings where the questionable behavior was discovered.

My first response was definitely not shock -- I was around during the gold dust mess back in the 90s... (remember my souvenirs from the fringe?) I wanted to believe it back then--I had friends and leaders telling me all sorts of things about how God had worked in their lives through this and stranger things. But still... it never quite felt right... and even though I defended it at times, I wasn't truly surprised then either when its main proponent was exposed as a fraud. In that case, both the natural origin of the "gold dust" (being planted in her hair before services started) and the actual authenticity of the "gold dust" (which was craft store glitter) was exposed.

This case is a little different. The people who have called Glenn Smith to account over this apparently still believe that the gemstones are actually from God... but also believe that he was "seeding" them into the meetings and leading people to believe that God had put them there, not Glenn. In other words, what is being admitted is not outright fraud... but exaggeration. Some might even call it evangelistic license.

From where I stand today, the whole gold dust / gemstones / "orbs" of light / and anything else even remotely similar just don't appeal to me. I'm not even tempted to wonder if God is really doing that stuff. Even if He is involved... I'm not worried that I'm "missing something" there.

But this does bring up an uncomfortable issue for me: how do I tell the genuine from the false?

Some things are easy to explain naturally -- craftstore glitter, cheap cut stones that jewelers can purchase in bulk, lens flare and dust in a picture... but what about the testimonies of those who claim to have been touched by these things? Can it all be attributed to hypnosis / suggestion / or the placebo effect? I tend to think now that it can...

But then what about the less extreme stuff?

I've seen some very convincing faux finishes--paint jobs that make a cheap material appear to be a higher quality, much more expensive material. It's hard to tell the difference if you're just looking at it. But once you touch it you can feel the difference in the weight and the texture. It might have wood grain... but when you knock on it, it doesn't sound like wood. It might have a marble finish, but when you touch it, it isn't cold like marble.

So what's the test for separating faux faith from the real thing?

To be continued, I'm sure...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

No Laughing Matter

So far on this site, I've dealt with what happened once I was in an unhealthy church, and how I ultimately got out of it... but in the last few days, I've been thinking back to how it all started for me. This link was posted in a forum, and that's what instigated this trip down memory lane:

It's a couple of clips from a meeting with Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland, two icons of the Word of Faith movement. That's the sort of thing that we used to consider "a really good meeting."

Of course, the video doesn't really do it justice. It is another thing entirely to be in a meeting where all this is happening. What looks ridiculous on tape can seem very plausible in person. My first taste of anything even remotely charismatic was back in the early 90s -- a "holy laughter" experience at a church not far from my college.

The charismatic stuff was new to me, but laughing was easy. I didn't have to be taught how to laugh. It wasn't something out of the ordinary in and of itself -- like speaking in tongues. Laughter is naturally contagious. It releases tension and makes you more comfortable. It's a generally positive thing.

Did you ever dare a friend to make you smile or laugh, and then try desperately to keep a straight face? It's hard. The harder you try, it seems, the harder you laugh when you finally let go...

In that first meeting, I tried very hard not to laugh... but I couldn't help it. I sat there as long as I could with everyone around me laughing. Many people were rolling on the floor and doing other ridiculous looking things that would have made me laugh even under normal circumstances. I was trying desperately to "stifle" my own laughter, hold it in, but I was doomed to fail!

By the time I finally let go and started laughing, it was truly overwhelming. When one of the leaders asked if they could pray for me, I could hardly even answer because I was laughing uncontrollably and trying to keep from falling out of my folding chair. To say that things were "emotionally charged" would be a tremendous understatement. When that leader laid hands on me, it felt like electricity... and I wound up on the floor. I must have looked nervous, because the leader told me, "It's OK, that's just the Holy Spirit. Soak it in." That leader stayed with me "soaking" me for a while, mostly repeating things like "More" and "Fill." So I learned to equate that sort of experience with "feeling God's presence."

The experience was real... I felt things and did things that were out of the ordinary for me. It actually happened. I did not make it up. I didn't do it because I was flakey or wanted attention. I didn't go to that first meeting with the intention of winding up on the floor. (In fact, I went to the first meeting looking for evidence that it was a cult...)

I've often wondered what really happened to me in that meeting (and subsequent meetings). My initial conclusion was that this HAD to be God. What else could it be?

This is another video, in two parts, that offers a different answer to that question:

Could it be that so much of what I used to attribute to the supernatural power of God was really just the power of suggestion?

To be continued...

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I subscribe to the "Insight for Today" daily emails -- they're excerpts from one of Charles Swindoll's books. These last few weeks they've been talking about lessons from the life of Joseph. One of my New Year's resolutions is to read the NLT cover-to-cover, so I've also recently (re)read Joseph's story in Genesis.

Joseph is a charter member of the original "dream team." (Laugh. It's a joke.) His brothers can't stand him, but his father favors him. He gets special treatment and a special coat. He has strange supernatural dreams, and he is mistreated because he shares them. Later, his God-given ability to supernaturally interpret dreams lands him a "dream job" with high visibility. He winds up in the right place at the right time to save an entire nation (and his family) from a famine.

Back in the 90s, Joseph had a surge of popularity in some circles. It was common to hear folks talk about a Joseph vision, a Joseph project, a Joseph anointing... Everyone saw themselves as God's special servant, treated wrongly, but destined to rule. I'll admit, I pictured myself that way too. When I read Bible stories like this, I think I've always had a tendency to cast myself in the role of the hero--it has only been in more recent years that I've begun to recognize myself much more in the villains.

If I had grown up in Joseph's family, I don't think I would have liked him any more than his brothers did. I would have thrown him in to the cistern too! Serves him right... but then as a slave and later as a prisoner, he shows amazing maturity, restraint, and strength of character... qualities that seemed to be lacking when he was telling his family that they'd bow down to him some day.

The subject of the "Insight for Today" email was "Grace to Endure." It talked about how Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's baker and cup bearer... but then the cup bearer forgot about Joseph for two years. And the Bible emphasizes that it was two full years! There is no record of Joseph complaining. I'm not convinced (as Swindoll is) that this silence means Joseph was at perfect peace and never questioned God during his time in prison. But it does seem clear that Joseph handled himself well, even while he was imprisoned.

I've always secretly wanted to be like Joseph when he was the second in command over all of Egypt... but I can't say that I've ever wanted to be like Joseph when he was the wrongly convicted and forgotten prisoner. That wasn't part of the dream... but it was essential to the dream's fulfillment.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Doing "great things" for God

There was another interesting purpose-driven life devotional this morning--"Mundane." It talked about how the shepherds were given tremendous news -- in charismatic/pentecostal speak, a 'fresh divine revelation' -- and they glorified God, but afterwards they went back to their fields.

I always thought that was kinda sad. Why would you go back to your boring, everyday life after such a powerful encounter with God and angels? I guess part of me always assumed that the shepherds were just not too bright. After all, some 30 years later, another group of men would leave everything behind to be with Jesus... and they didn't even have the benefit of the angels and heavenly light.

Why didn't the shepherds abandon their animals and camp out around the manger? Why didn't they form an organized group of followers and transform their world with the "The Stable-Driven Life" message? If this had happened in modern times, the manger would have been turned into a shrine or revival "hot spot" overnight... someone would be out there collecting "holy straw" and including it in a direct mail campaign... by the time the wise men showed up, the stable would have had indoor plumbing and seating for 3000. But I digress!

I always thought that the shepherds had missed the point. They were given this awesome divine opportunity, and they blew it! But Jon Walker (the writer the of the Purpose-Driven devotional) looks at it from a completely different angle. He sees the shepherds as a model for us today. He writes: "Yes, [God] takes us to the mountaintop; he shows us great miracles and wonders, but he doesn’t leave us there because he knows the strength of our faith grows in the day-to-day, mundane work required in the fields and among the flocks we tend."

This morning, I realized that I've had a tendency to misunderstand this verse. I think I imagined the shepherds to be a little too much like me. I imagined them coming to this awesome place, worshiping and glorifying God while they were there, and once they were done with their worship service, they went back to their normal lives. But that's not really what it says: it says that they returned to their flocks glorifying God. They went back to their responsibilities, but they were changed.

Those shepherds were smarter than I am sometimes...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happy New Year!

I received some very useful feedback on the site over the last couple of weeks, so I spent a some time during my "holiday break" revising and clarifying things there. Writing is so much more difficult than speaking... no one can see your facial expression or body language, so it is very easy to be misunderstood online.

I'm sure I'm not done yet, either! I definitely don't want to leave people with the impression that I hate Pentecostals today, even though there was a time when that certainly would have been true. I just see things differently now, and while that is an amazingly wonderful thing for me, I understand that others will see it as a negative.

Sharing my story online has also helped me when I share it offline. Writing something down (or in my case, typing it up!) forces you to express yourself more clearly. At the end of the LifeStories book (from my home team this past fall) there was a place to write out your testimony. At the time, I thought it was a little corny... but now I see the value.

I'm a member of an organization where I give short presentations from time to time. I've also conducted some training sessions at my office. No matter what the subject, I always like to write it out ahead of time. It's just so much easier to give a clear and concise presentation when you've planned ahead. Why should our testimonies be any different? So if you're up for a challenge... write out your testimony. If you're really up for a challenge, blog your testimony! And feel free to send me a copy, I'll read it!