Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chasing the End of the World

Rode the motorcycle this morning on the nice straightaway at Shelby Farms. Clouds were shrouding the sun and cast a nice, calm glow through my shield and glasses. One of my favorite things to do since college is to ride west and look at the horizon and the shifting colors and mazes of the sky. This morning as I was riding eastward I glanced in the side views as the west was darkened but beginning to wake up. I whispered to myself, "There's something about moving westward; it's like chasing the end of the world." Let me begin there.

I have felt for several years that I'm in a pursuit of something meaningful, powerful and noble. Though I would love to slay a dragon I realize it is not that. Anyway, I have felt for a while that God was slowly and methodically calibrating and recalibrating my heart, mind and values toward something that I would spend the rest of my life cultivating. Through job searches, job changes, massive transitions from university, to seminary, to working multiple jobs, to moving across country to perplexing disappointment - it has felt like I was moving westward; chasing the end of the world. Life is a mystery, no?

Well, I have begun the process of pursuing ordination in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America). After almost a year of deliberation and conferring with those who know me well and books, books, books I decided that as far as theology goes, the PCA is the better fit. Specifically covenant + reformed theology and church governance (elders and deacons). I could possibly write a lot on each one of those, but for brevity's sake I won't.

Next step is licensure, which means I take 3-4 exams on a wide swath of topics. This will then give me the clearance to preach in the PCA and then pursue ordination. I'm very happy about this decision; it's been a very tough road, venturing out into the winding and disorienting wilderness of parts unknown. And after 5 years of thinking, studying, talking, praying and occassional fasting God has been generous to open up a wide vista in front of me. And there I am able to see the goodness that is to be enjoyed.

We have found a great PCA Church, Redeemer that's about 5 minutes from our house. Violet loves it and Barb and I are thrilled to be a part of what God is doing there. Years ago if you were to have asked me, "What do you hope for?" I would've given you an answer that is very similar to what Redeemer is - theologically conservative and missionally motivated. There's a lot more to it than that, and I hope to add more later on, but what God is doing in Redeemer is wonderful and exciting.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Tomatoes, Cake and Happy Birthday

Yesterday we celebrated my Mom's birthday. She's well above the speed limit on rural roads. She's still probably a harder worker than me. Is sweeter than ice tea. We stopped and got her some flowers and a card, which I subsequently forgot. Btw, for those of you who will be attending my funeral, please make sure I remember to bring my shoes. If anyone would forget it would be me. Anywho, Barb made a stellar chocolate cake - recipe from America's Test Kitchen; we don't cook from any other cookbook.

Violet loves her Mammaw. She giggles as we come down the driveway. We are inevitably greeted by at least 3 of the neighbors 5 dogs with howls. My sister, Lori, comes out immediately and Mammaw gets the 30.8 pounds of crisp, bubbling, joy. It's wonderful seeing Violet interact with Mom like that. Moreover, to see how my Mom treated me whilst I was a youngin.

Violet loves her cousins. At one point the shrills from the kids running, yelling and playing hard was a bit more than my old dad ears can take. I'm seriously turning into the old man now. When I sit down a majority of the times I make the old man, "Ooohhhwahhh" sound. Kind of like when 18 wheelers release the hydraulics.

We enjoyed the 90 minute drive home. We listened, as usual, to an episode of the White Horse Inn. The topic was justification, which I've been studying about lately. It has opened my eyes to the grace of God and the reality of ongoing sin in the life of a Christian. I hope to follow this topic in the upcoming days.

About to sit down with Barb and watch an episode or three of Scrubs. We need to laugh and laugh a lot. Gotta post some pictures of my 2 tomatoe plants that are taller than me. Less handsome.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Considering a New Beginning

Wow, so I have taken a much needed break from writing. It's been over a year since my last post, and needless to say, a lot has taken place. A change of job, an ever-changing two-year old, and a lot of internal switches that I'm struggling to figure out. So, over the past month or so I have been giving some deliberate thought to kick starting this thang again and see how it goes. Barb talked to me the other day . . . "Why don't you write anymore? When is the last time you wrote?" And I kind of realized that personal writing is a monitor for me. It means I am taking time away from the hustle and grind to be reflective and by so doing, to be creative. So, hopefully very soon I will begin posting a series of updates for our family and then build a skeleton of how it might work.

So, good bye for now.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Driving this Blog into the Ditch

About 3 and a half years ago I cranked up my ole technology box and landed on Blogger. I had been wanting a forum to write my thoughts and wanted to sharpen my writing skills. This blog morphed into several things including a way for family to keep up with our goings on on the West Coast, an avenue for people within the church I was serving to read what's going on behind the sermons, and a way for Anonymous to at once encourage me and to harass me. But, alas, the time has come to put it to bed.

But, why, Jason? You might find that question and consternation bubbling up within you right now. I've been mulling this decision because I didn't want to pull a Michael Jordan and retire and unretire several times before sunrise. I pastor a great church in Memphis--Neighborhood Church--and I need to give more time to reading and writing for the tasks at hand there. If I have anything worthwhile to contribute, then it'll probably show up there. Since I am bi-vocational I have another job too, which is going to be asking a lot out of me. I need to give myself fully to both of these ventures.

I believe in simplicity and try to live it. And driving this blog into the ditch is a way for me to achieve it in some small way. If you would like to contact me you may do so through Neighborhood Church's website You'll find me on the staff page, of course.

So, now, may the Lord bless you and keep you and cause his face to shine upon you. May he give you grace all the days of your life.



Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fire Museum

This is Violet and her buddy Lyndon, who turned two this past week. He invited her and a bunch of his gang to the Fire Museum downtown. What a blast it was! Lyndon is a big brother now, so you can see that he is learning to be very gentle with someone smaller than him.

God has really been gracious to us since we have moved here. We have almost been here 2 years and last summer we were just getting grounded in the 'hood. By the end of the summer people recognized us, would stop and talk with us, and were extremely friendly. We have grown in friendships here, and glory to God for that!

Yesterday was unbelievable--it is February and the temperature was over 70 degrees. So we loaded up the stroller and leashed the dog and headed out for a great walk around Cooper Young. We were stopped by a few people who were interested in our dog. And then we ran into some neighbors/friends and met someone else who has 7 week old twins. Had a great conversation with them. In November the 'hood goes into hibernation and we haven't seen our neighbors almost all winter. Yesterday, though, a neighbor ran out to greet us as we were walking. Extraordinary to live here now.

The church is growing and is doing well. We are very confident that God has big things in store for us this year. We'll have 2 more babies by the end of summer, which will almost mean that there are more babies than adults. Our hospitality team is probably the youngest of any church around! Robert and I are preaching through Genesis. The audio and/or the sermon notes will be available through our website: Look under "Featured Audio" under the picture or "Resources."

Please continue to pray for Bob Griffin and his daughters, Basia and Bo. He is on our hearts constantly as is his and Linda's family.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Please pray

Here is a link to the updates about our friends in California. Please pray for them.

Thanks be to God for the great care Bob, Basia and Bo are receiving. Thank you so much for praying for this family that is loved by us and so many others.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

How Faint a Whisper

In mid-February I'm traveling to CA to speak at a church retreat. A friend of mine from seminary who is a pastor of a church in San Jose asked me to come. The theme is ELEVATE. My friend's desire is that their church would elevate their view of God in 2008. That, of course, is my hope too for me, my family and the church I get the privilege of pastoring. I must say, though, that is is quite humbling when someone says, "I want you to give five sermons on God. We want our view of God to be elevated." That's a lot of material! I've been working and reading and writing on it for a month already and it's been quite enlightening. And it's also been humbling. Actually, I think a better descriptor would be humiliating, which I think is good.

How is it that one can be a believer for so many years and pastor for several years and yet open the Scripture and say, "I don't even know a tenth of one percent." I can tell you how. It is because God, the God who revealed/s himself in Scripture, the One True God, is holy, magnificent, infinite, immortal and beautiful. I think that Job said it really well when, speaking of God's creating and sustaining powers, says "and these are just the outskirts of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who can understand the thunder of his power?" (Job 26:14).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Woman rejected by hospital and dies

A woman in Japan, elderly, ill, but beloved by God died because she was refused treatment at 30 hospitals. Here's the story. Why should this ever happen? I'm sure that this happens more than it makes the news. Japan has a shortage of doctors? Yikes. People getting turned away from medical care happens in America all of the time. I know someone personally who went to the ER for chest pains and because he didn't have insurance they didn't treat him. He died of a heart attack IN the waiting room. What is the right thing to do? What if the woman wasn't Japanese, but was, say, American? What if she was turned away and died? Should it matter if a person has insurance or not? Should we all not help take care of one another?

We say America is a Christian country yet other "pagan" countries have free, universal health care. I did mission work in Canada. That great country is 2% and has universal health care. I would talk to people who didn't know Christ and this was their mindset, "We need to take care of the least. So what it isn't me. One day it will be me. It's the right thing to do." 10 years ago this conversation took place and I still think about it.

I am lucky to have great servants in my city and church who work in the medical field. I hear their stories about the men and women of all ages who come in. Our city, Memphis, is hurting. She is hurting physically, spiritually, psychologically and relationally. I hear these stories and I am befuddled, saddened and deeply disturbed. If we really believed, as Christians, Jesus' teachings I really do think we would seriously reconsider our views of health care.Is it socialized or is it Christianized medicine?

Someone reading this might say I'm liberal. Well, apparently I'm in good company. Below are just SOME of what God says about the poor. As I have reflected on these passages I can't help but to see my shortcomings in relating to the poor and ministering to them. One of my prayers for the past 18 months has been for God to open my eyes to the plight of the poor in Memphis, this city he loves. I have prayed for a heart of compassion, a head of discernment, and hands of charity. As we read this list I pray that God would teach us both, give us grace and not guilt, and help us to take care of the least and the well-off.

Luke 4:16-21. And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read... "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He appointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD... Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Ps. 140:12. I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor.

Is. 25:4. For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress.

Ps. 10:14. The unfortunate commits himself to You; You have been the helper of the orphan... O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed.

Is 41:17. The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will answer them Myself, as the God of Israel I will not forsake them.

Luke 6:20-21. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

James 2:5. Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?

Deut. 26:12. When you have finished paying the complete tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied.

Lev. 19:19ff. Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.

Prov. 31:8ff. [Commandment to kings.] Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.

Is. 58:66ff. Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Jer. 22:3. Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Luke 12:33. "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys."

Luke 3:11. And [John the Baptist] would answer and say to them, "Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise."

Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Best 2 Paragraphs I Could Possibly Write Today

[I'm currently working on a number of sermons that I will preach in 2008. Some will be with my church and some will be in other contexts. I think I have about 18-24 sermons in the works. The excerpt below is one on the Spiritual Discipline of Confession. At this point in the sermon preparation I gather notes from authors, construct paragraphs, jot down notes that I think are applicable, write down passages that come to mind as I think, write and pray. This paragraph may or may not end up in the sermon in the long run, but it is something that I hope permeates all of what I do.]

As a pastor I have a look into the lives of others that many don't have. Sometimes it is a great blessing and burden, a burden not necessarily being negative. I get to share weddings, births and even funerals with people. I get invited into the personal lives of strangers and friends. People tell me things they wouldn’t tell Oprah. At times I have received phone calls in which people tell me they’re about to give up on a relationship that means a lot to them, or hat they have committed a sin they need to confess. At times I’ve been in my office and someone has come in with a frightful, panicked look on their face and they begin to lay bare their very deep hurts. With many experiences and failures I have had to come to grips that some people just want to temporarily ease their guilt. Some don’t want answers; they want a listening ear. Some want answers, but I can’t give it to them (people want to change overnight, not over time). I can be quite passive in these events and just sit back and listen. But I have become convinced that I have to put that aside and really step up and proclaim the gospel to them as they are on the phone or two feet away from me.

I have begun taking people to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I like to preach; I call it the ministry of proclamation. I have learned too that it is appropriate to preach to people, to declare to people one-to-one, even if they are Christians already. When someone sins and has unconfessed sins they really have unresolved guilt and shame too. They need to have their minds captured by the gospel again. I need it too. If I am completely sure they understand the gospel I preach to them, it goes something like this:

“Let me tell you something right now. I’m so glad that you felt like you could come to me. I’m glad that God has opened your eyes so that you can see you are wrong and that he is right. I’m very happy that you are following the Spirit’s prompting. God is not mad at you right now. He is not angry with you right now. He placed his anger on Jesus and turned away from Jesus so that now in your sin he could turn his face toward you. He placed his wrath on Jesus so that your life would not grow dim like that the day at Calvary when the sky grew dark as God turned his face away from Jesus. God is not abandoning you. He abandoned Jesus for you. You might feel that right now you have been at your worst, but God is at his best. You might feel that you are very far from God, but God has moved your sin very far from you, from the east to the west. When you walk out that door in a moment you do so under the forgiving and cleansing blood of Jesus. When you go to church and worship you can do so under the satisfaction that your sins are forgiven. . . let me tell you about the power of Jesus' forgiving blood. . .”

[I try to explain, when I can, how Jesus’ blood is different from Abel’s. Abel’s blood cries out for vengeance and justice. Jesus’ blood cries out for mercy and forgiveness. Jesus’ blood atones and advocates for us. That is what I tell you today.

Have a Merry Christmas and let us not forget that the Jesus in the crib is the Jesus on the cross. Both crib and cross are evidence that God loves us and came down to redeem us. . .Peace on Earth and Mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.]

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

From Crib to Cross

What a great worship gathering we had Sunday evening! It was one of my favorites thus far, with or without the Baklava or soups. Our church celebrated our first Christmas together with a meal, emphasis on Advent Conspiracy and then looked at the birth of Christ.

Jesus is the reason for the season, cliche but true. But I think that we often make the mistake this time of year by isolating the manger, the crib, from the rest of the story, including the cross. Picking up at Luke chapter 2 is like starting with Heroes season two not knowing that they did indeed have to save the cheerleader to save the world. There's so much to it. We opened with John 3:16, that great verse, which explains that God sent Jesus to the crib and to the cross out of love. So, instead of just isolating a few passages about the birth of Christ we looked at prophecies that Christ fulfilled. There are many people who can out think and out write and out speak me about prophecies (why or why they are not true), but we have to admit that it is difficult to manipulate how/where we are born and how/where we will die.

I ran across this great resource from Rich Deem, whose website is packed with info. I haven't read but a small percentage of his site (it has over 1,000 pages), but it is a great resource for those wanting to know a lot more about various topics.

Using Deem's resource we looked at some of the qualities of Jesus. It's wonderful. We talk about how the gospel is supposed to not just be information but transformation. We are discovering that they are both linked. We need to be renewed and transformed in our minds by the truth, the information of God's word. My hope on Sunday evening and now as I write this is that this would humble whoever reads it and would pull us into a deeper desire for worship.

Here are a few things that the Scripture foretold about Jesus. Jesus would be from Eve, the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, tribe of Judah, from the family of Jesse. He would be a shepherd to his people and not only to his people but to all ethnic groups. He would be anointed and eternal, born of a virgin, worshipped by shepherds and honored by kings. He would be declared teh son of God, speak in parables and arise like a prophet from among the people. The blind, deaf, and lame would be healed. He would be meek and mile and would minister to the Gentiles. He would bind up the brokenhearted, intercede for people, give rest to souls. He would also be rejected by his own people, not believed, betrayed by a close friend, and while being accused and spit upon, he would remain silent. He would subsequently be scourged and hated without reason. He would be vicarious sacrifice and crucified with malefactors. Pierced. Sneered. Reproached. He would be forsaken by God but would be resurrected. He would establish a new covenant, ascended to the right hand of God and be sought by all people groups.