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.

Monday, December 03, 2007

I'm a Hero

Hey, I'm a hero. No, not that kind, or this kind, (I wish I was this kind) but today I was this. Like LifeBlood's site says, if you give a unit of blood you save the life of 4 people. Memphis has the eighth largest medical center in the nation and its busiest trauma center. They now have this frequent donor card that you can redeem for things other than t-shirts. It's a token of their appreciation. Great facility. I was even able to surf the internet while give a nice fist every 7 seconds. Very friendly. Check out LifeBlood, RedCross and while living in California I was able to give to the Blood Centers of the Pacific. It's the holidays and they all really need the donations. Oh, a dessert comes with! Perfecto. It took me less than 30 minutes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lord of a Winter's Heart

Man, dude, today proves that I am pretty much like everyone else. Slept 5 minutes too long, which somehow made me 10 minutes late. Kinda sleepy. Beyond grumpy. Blew my horn and almost my top at this guy who only had about 1/4 of his automobile in my lane. Just in a mood. If I was a mood ring I would be amber, but maybe tettering into gray. The gas needed was basically laying in the fetal position so I stopped at Ike's and filled up. As I was standing out in the chill and smelling the scrambled egg mixed with exhaust odor from IHOP a few blocks away I said to myself, "Hey, guess what moody Jane? You have to go up and study Scripture and write about it!" Nice. Nothing like being convicted by your own internal voice. Should he speak so loud so early in the morning? He gets up before I do apparently. Grumble.

Have you ever felt like that? Yeah, who hasn't and who doesn't? Sometimes it takes a night's rest to kinda restart the engine, reboot the hard drive, or cause the sun to rise again. But that's life, ya'll. Even when we feel this way we need to drag our sorry carcass to Jesus, confess our stuff and sit in silence and let him wash it away with his word. That, incidentally, is supposed to be how I interact with Barb. Hmm, more conviction. Yikes. This day is in need of grace and it's quite early yet.

It's in these moments that I need God to come to me more than ever, not to say I don't need him when I'm mood ring blue. I need him to come when I'm not looking for him and not looking forward to seeing him. I need him when I'm disappointed with myself or let down because things aren't running as smoothly as I wish they would. Sometimes being faith-full is a lot harder than being faithful.

And then there was Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, who had been with her husband about the same amount of time I've been with Barb. He died and left her a widow. Luke 2:36-38 says she spent the rest of her life worshiping God, fasting and praying. What do we do when life becomes difficult? Though we are tempted to withdraw and shrink into ourselves we need to place ourselves in the community of faith and in the presence of God, cultivating the soil even when it seems rocky, bumpy or frozen over. So I'm hoping that this frost can thaw under the hand of the Lord of the Winter's Heart.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What Napoleon Said About Jesus

I love going into bookstores and libraries. I'm a bibliophile. I love books. I love to simply browse and read the titles, as a matter of fact, many times in college I would go to a large bookstore and read the titles and write them down and kind of sketch what I thought would be in the book. It was good for my writing and for my imagination . . . and pocketbook.

I also love history but if you are like me (read American) then you don't have a great grasp on history or people who constitute at least one page in our high school history books. A person I wanted to read about was Napoleon, not the fluffy haired guy who dances and has a pet emu. The guy who stands awkwardly and tried to take over Europe, bless his heart. So I began searching for the best book to read about it and I decided to read Les Miserables, a short book of sorts. Of course it is four books now published as one, so I'll be reading it come Valentines. I'm neck deep into it now and of course Victor Hugo, the author, goes into asides that seem really worthless, BUT he has this great (read size) section on the battle of Waterloo. Eye opening.

Billinglsly was right, a book is a friend; a good book is a good friend. It's amazing how a writer can open your eyes to so many details: a personality, the color of a mood, the wrankled and weathered tree upon the barren hillside, the feeling of evil, the folly of life, etc, etc, etc. And you just never know what someone might say that sticks to you, like Napoleon. Now, of course he did say that religion is what keeps poor people from killing the rich and that religion was a good way to control the masses, but I think if you were to set down with him in his small, one room studio on St. Helena island over cheese and wine you would probably find he's kinda right. Thinking of the religious and societal context he was living in, I'm kinda empathetic with him.

Anyone's opinion can change over time, but read what Napoleon said about Jesus. As I was reading this morning and was reading Luke chapters 1 and 2 it only served to quicken my interest to the question we must come to: who do I say Jesus is? Simeon, the priest who blessed the infant Jesus, said that Jesus would be a sign that would be spoken against and that he would reveal what's really in our hearts. I'm going to have to always realign myself with Jesus and align myself with what he says about himself.

The quote is below. Enjoy and have a blessed winter day.

"Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him.... I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man: none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than man.... I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me.... but to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lighted up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts.... Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. . . . (source here and here)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Luke 1 Servants of the Word

Luke 1:1-4
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write and orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

I began reading the Gospel According to Luke recently. Chapters 1 and 2 are brilliant as they tell us more, it seems, about the events leading up to the the birth of Jesus, which we are celebrating this season. Luke, to my knowledge, never saw Jesus, but he had been around plenty who had. He was a doctor who ministered with Paul and undoubtedly heard many stories from eyewitnesses. He, probably being interested in hard facts like most physicians, began going to eyewitnesses and writing down their accounts. You will notice in his writings more of the personal encounters that Jesus has with people. There are interesting details you won't find in the other gospels, read and see.

At this moment I am planning to spend a significant time in the Advent stories from now until Christmas. I'm hoping to spend time reading, reflecting and writing about what I have gained from it. I won't necessarily go in order of verse, but will focus on what spoke to me that day. I hope it is edifying and encouraging to you. Last night in church this was reinforced. Robert led in a discussion of Colossians chapter 1, verses 9-14. Paul had never met this church but his prayer for them was that they would know God's will so that they would live a pleasing life, which was made possible through the death of Christ, through whom we have forgiveness of sins. Someone commented that Paul had never met them but he wanted them to know Jesus above and beyond anything else. I want to spend this Advent season focusing on the reason for it all, Jesus and God's profound love for us.

Luke 1:2: The eyewitnesses are called servants of the word. The eyewitnesses had seen Jesus in the flesh and had seen him live perfectly in the midst of tremendous difficulties. They had subsequently believed and began to tell others. They didn't have the stories written down yet so they told the stories verbally.

Even so, today, those who are followers of Jesus are servants of the word. I have to ask myself if I am being a good manager of what I learn or hear from God. Do I tell others? Do I devote myself to learning about it, embracing it, internalizing it and then living in alignment with it? Am The first Christians weren't able to cloister themselves and read many books and keep it to themselves. They heard many stories and were able to speak with them. I think that maybe that is what is missing from a lot of Christian churches--dialog about our faith in Jesus. I believe there is a prominent place for the ministry of proclamation (a typical sermon on Sunday is what I have in mind) but there is also a need for us to speak together about what we are learning from God. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a church where this is practiced. We are novices, of course, but God seems to always speak to others and through others, to me and through me. Last night, once again, my heart was stirred as I heard others talk about how the passage of Scripture ministered to them.

We have proclamation and we have dialog. Both are needed. It is through this serious and devout study of Scripture we can come together and, like Luke says to Theophilus, "know the certainty of the things [we] have been taught."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wanna Change Your Life

Me too.

Richard Foster writes, "To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. the closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ."

I agree. Now if only I will do it. I mean, it's up to me, right? No one else is responsible for my life but me. Not the gov'ment. Not my pastor (actually, I'm a pastor, so yes I am, but you get the point). Not my music leader. Not my mayor or school board representative. I am responsible. I'm responsible for me. And the best thing I can do for me is to pray, which happens to be the best thing for us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Of Abraham and Home

This morning I dropped Violet off at the daycare and walked back out the main hallway and I noticed the sign on the wall, which I had read scores of time already, "God Bless America, Our Temporary Home."It reached me this time and the needle in my mind began threading together a series of conversations and thoughts of times recent.

In Genesis 12 God comes to Abram and says these fantastic and frightening words, "Go from your country and kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you." There is ascending sacrifice, a sacrifice of degrees: leave your country, leave your people, leave your nuclear family. Then there is the vagueness of it, "Go to a land I will show you." Calvin said that Abram believed the "verbum nudum," the naked word of the Lord. Abram was not told that Canaan was indeed the land until he got there.

The sacrifice was great but the promises even more so. Abram will become a nation, his name would become great and he would in turn be a blessing. His wife is barren; they would be happy with one kid, but a nation? They lived among moon worshipers, people who sacrificed to the earth for blessing and fertility. And as Abram stood outside his tent and breathed his cloudy breath into the chilled night air he would see the moon, the stars and even our galaxy. And I'm sure the vastness of time and space and the brevity of life came to mind. Can you imagine the emotions evoked when he was told, "You live among those who prize the moon and the earth for fertility, but I'm going to number your children like I've numbered the stars."?

How would this be accomplished? He would become "great," and this is the same sense and the same word that the people at Babel used. They wanted to grow big and prosperous and make their names great by gathering. And Abram? He would become great by scattering, by going, by living sent. He takes a 800-mile trek which would have taken him through the Promised Land and through some of the urban centers of the day. How, God, will this take place? I'm a country boy. I wrangle livestock; I know nothing about nation building. I know my family, my people and my country and that' about it. I've never lived with the notion of being sent. I've never lived "sent" before. How will this be?

Recently Barb and I have been talking about home and place and what makes a space meaningful. She and I grew up with families who didn't move, but stayed in the same home even until today. There is a familiarity and a rootedness in that that's hard to explain. Home is a space on Birch or just off Highway 30. Our life is different though, as Barb and I have moved 6 times in 7 years. It's an interesting dichotomy.

I guess what makes this story of Abram so radical is that it challenges me to rethink the dominant notions we all have, that deep yearning for settlement, security, for a place. Isn't there a piece in all of us that wants to hunker down, to feel like we belong, to have a history and people who share that history with us?

Abram had that too. And he had more. We all want to be useful in this life. We all want to have meaning and purpose. Don't we all want to stand under the bowl of stars and hear God exclaim, "Yours is a bright and bountiful future. You will change lives." Yet Abram knew of the future but the promise was more for his family tree than for him. It wasn't a delay in fulfillment as much as it was a grace to know God is true and will remain so even if it is not for him.

Man, this just grinds into me and pushes so much out. Why do we long for stuff, STUFF!, on earth that we know we will one day have to replace? Why do we long for the best location, the best landscaping, the best decor, the best . . ." And we are Christians! We have Jesus, the soul-reviving, all-rewarding, all-fulfilling Savior and yet our hearts still crave for STUFF! This is definitely a signal that something is not right, something has gone awry. Something tells me this has something to do with 2 people in a garden way back when. I'm like them. Honest, I am.

Even so, God says in Hebrews, that Abraham obeyed and went and made his home in tents (nothing to permanent about that). Why? Why would he leave his country, his people and his family? Why would he go to a new place and live a life of being sent? Because "he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."

Friday, October 26, 2007


Tomorrow we are having Violet's baby dedication at our home, which will be packed with family and friends. It's a time that Barb and I can set aside and publicly proclaim what we internally know, "She is not ours ultimately; she is God's. She has been given to us briefly. We must prepare her for the life God has for her." We can't prepare for all of the questions and situations, but we can prepare our hearts and souls to trust God.

Trusting God is a topic that has come up for me in my readings and prayers for the past two months. As I read Genesis and Exodus and now Deuteronomy God has used his Word to bring some thoughts up that I really needed to spend time with.

I remember talking with a friend one day while we were in seminary. I was walking to class and he just got out. He was beaming and I was surprised because it was a Hebrew exegesis class. He said, "Exodus is the most beautiful book." He went on to tell me how Exodus is about God literally delivering a baby nation of worshipers. The Red Sea separates like the birth canal and God delivers them and the rest of Exodus is about God, the proud parent, teaching his child to trust him in good and bad circumstances. He wants them to trust him in the desert, in the hard times, in the really hard times when the first hard times (like Egypt) seemed okay, and when the landscape looks foreign and unfamiliar.

That's life. We are to trust God our Father in this whole process. Yeah, but that's tough at times. It's tough to leave the land of the familiar for the land of the unknown, even if the familiar land was a land of slavery and hardship. We would rather have, it seems, a life that is painful but certain than a land that is possibly better--a land where we can worship God freely and know him intimately in ways never known in Egypt.

Deuteronomy 1:29, "Then I (Moses) said to you, 'Don't be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.'" What a beautiful picture. My friend with one "L" in his name was correct. God the Father carries us on his shoulders, not like we're a burden but like we are a bundle of joy! He carries us so that we can see further and better if we look with his eyes, the eyes of faith.

I hope during this season that you find yourself being carried on the shoulders of God. May you know that profound and deep joy of being rescued and redeemed!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stomped like a Mud Hole

A dark morning and early too. There's nothing like waking up to the sound of the radio, unless it is a song by Journey or Megadeath. That's like a slap in the face with a wet glove, and just about as comfortable too. It has finally started to rain here and I really welcome the gray clouds dotting this river city sky. It helps me be more contemplative, otherwise I want to play in the sun and shadows all day, when my nose should be down in the books.

A month ago I decided to begin reading in Genesis and at least read the first five books of the Bible in order. I went and got a Moleskine journal that fits in my back pocket. My game plan was the read a few chapters a day and then briefly write one thing God has shown me either in prayer or in reading the Scripture. A friend turned me on to the idea of leaving the first few pages blank to use as a table of contents, so that when I wanted to briefly see what God's been trying to teach me I can easily see.

Not that you want in on the secret life of the bees in my head, but here's a few themes: trusting God fully with every aspect of my life, leaving the familiar, God leading and refining through difficult circumstances, and being prayer-dependent. Oh, there's also one entry about goat demons, which was on September 27 when I read Leviticus 17:7.

One of the goals that I had was to take my time and try to relate what I read to Jesus, because if Jesus is God and the One chosen by God to be the redeeming sacrifice, then he should show up throughout the Bible. Of course he was active in Creation says the Gospel of John, chapter 1 and so does Colossians. But the promise of Jesus as Redeemer is made as early as Genesis 3:15 when God verbally curses (not swears) Satan, who had used a snake to beguile and deceive Eve, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal." That right, one day Jesus is going to come and strap on his black leather war boots and is going to look for a skull to crush. In my local vernacular we'd say, "Jesus is going to stomp him like a mud hole," and that is what Jesus accomplished on the cross!

Jesus is a pacifist and will end all war. Itworks like this--he comes and stomps the heads of his enemies and then there's peace. Nice. Heroic. Of course Jesus suffered great pain--it was exCRUCiating (from the cross), but he was resurrected to new, enduring life that redeems the sons and daughters of Adam + Eve. How amazing and that is given as a promise on page 3 of my Bible. If this was my first time reading the Bible I'd say to myself, "Man, if that's the promise, then this story is going to get really good, really fast."

And it does, but you think it's going to be solved quickly, but in the next chapter we have a brother who kills his sibling, someone who institutes polygamy against God's intentions, and then Noah gets drunk and gets naked. And then I say to myself, "This story has gotten interesting, but is not really what I expected from people God uses." And then that's another point that I've picked up too--God doesn't use perfect people. He uses imperfect people so that when it is accomplished in their life they don't say, "It's because I've got so much integrity that God let this be done." But rather that when they look at us they say, "Dude, the only way for them to have accomplished that is divine, mysterious intervention."

I'm only 6 weeks into this, but every time I open it I learn something new and amazing. So, between now and Christmas imagine what you and I can learn together! Adios. Have a good, gray day.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Voting in Memphis

Several years ago my father ran for public office and I would spend evenings and weekends knocking on doors with him. We spent a lot of time talking, speculating, and hoping. One day we knocked on the door of an elderly gentleman we had never met. He was cordial, intelligent, articulate and very hospitable. My dad asked him for his support and his vote. The man turned pensive and said, "To be honest, Mr. Elder, I can't read. I've never voted. Though I would support you, I can't vote. I can't read." My dad replied, "Well, I can't go in there with you to help you cast your vote, because I'm running for office, but my son can help you. You can vote for me if you want, but you should vote. It's important." It was Presidential election time too, which made this a very significant time for this man. Here was man who loved his country, but who had never been to vote. Astonishing for a twenty-year old. I remember it so well. Almost as well as my first kiss.

Election night came and I drove over to the gentleman's house and took him to his polling place. We went to registration and he "made his mark" and then went to his booth. I got to read the names off to him and he would give his brief opinion. I said, "If you want to vote for that person, just check this box." And in a few moments we made history together. My dad didn't win that election, but a brilliant gentleman was able to experience what billions of people in this world have yet to experience.

I, like you, have a lot of concerns about our country. I'm sure that some who read this have a differing viewpoint on health care, taxes, our current foreign policy ethos and what it means to even try to have a war on an inanimate object like terror. Personally, I believe that war is a symptom and not a cure and I'm really concerned about the war debt that we are accruing. We spend $16 billion each month on the war. That's $92 billion a year. Given how much Americans spend on Christmas, we could have this and the next 5 years of this war paid for in cash by December 26th. Dave Ramsey would be proud.

I love this country so much. We recently voted for who should be our Mayor for the next 4 years. I got my voter registration card, got directions to Rozzelle Elementary and got my pointer-finger ready to do some touch-screen voting. I walked into the school and saw a room dotted with various races, each giving their time to help me and others vote. I showed my drivers license (the best dmv picture of me yet, btw), gave them my Jason Hancock and got to vote for who I thought could do a better job of leading us forward.

I voted, spoke briefly to a neighbor, and walked to my car feeling a surge of pride. Almost 40 years ago some of those same African Americans who helped me were unable to vote. They had just helped me enjoy that which I had never been deprived. How wonderful. How beautiful. How American.

Though my candidate for Mayor didn't win, there are no riots in
Memphis. Grenades and tear gas aren't filling the streets, filling the air or filling the hearts of citizens with fear. Mayor Herenton will be able to serve his term without any undue external duress. The press and media can critique and report as much as they want without fear of reprisal. This morning I am disappointed how so many tens of thousands of people couldn't be as brilliant as me (smile), but I am safe and free just like you.

Next November we will vote for who we think should be our President. We get to reach out and touch the name of that candidate to whom we look for leadership. Like the last Presidential election and the 54 elections before that, the government will not experience a coup and the military will not intimidate us. Thank God that now every eligible person will be able to tell the rest of the nation their opinion, and not just the few, the proud, the white. Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian or Independent--it doesn't matter. Any eligible person can vote! No race, color, or creed disqualifies you. You don't even have to be literate to vote, but you'd be stupid if you didn't.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

4 Days to Launch!

It is only four days until Sunday, when we will have our first public worship gathering as Neighborhood Church. I'm so excited, antsy, and, hhhhmmmmmm, happy. We've been here over a year as learners and God has taught us so much and has refined us. Of course, we are refined by fire, so it's been tough in a lot of ways, but we are the better for it.

We meet at 530 on Sunday evening at the Skinner Center at Peabody Park, which is less than a mile from where we live. It's a park and rec center that's got a great facility. We are so appreciative of the director or assistant director. They have been kind and generous to us.

Of course our prayer and hope is that people feel welcomed and that they would sense the love of Christ as we gather together.

Four days!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Genesis of Grace

On a normal night I will lie down in bed and be asleep in less than 4 minutes. Recently, due to issues with my shoulder, which I dislocated a few years ago, I've not been able to fall asleep for about 2 - 3 hours. So, I've been staying up later and reading, while ironically nodding off mid-sentence. I decided I would re-read the second part of Genesis, beginning a little before Abraham comes on the scene.

Yesterday I finished Genesis and found myself captured once again to the Word of God and the themes throughout the stories. First off, as I was reading how Abraham told his wife, Sarah, to pretend to be his sister when they interacted with Abimilech and when his son, Isaac, did the same thing with his wife, I said out loud, "Man, it is very apparent that God uses broken, messed up people." I've had the assumption at times that if a person was a "hero of the Bible" then they had a clean record and was morally spic-and-span. That's why God used them--what a better way to show that 'being good' counts and will get you somewhere. And I would assume that if God used anybody today then that person had to be perfect. Further, if I wanted to be used by God then I had to earn it. If I was "human" for just one minute then God would turn away and leave me in the dust. Now, don't hear what I'm not saying. I'm not saying we should pursue holiness and discipline, which God does honor. What I am saying is that sometimes we emotionally disqualify ourselves, thinking God will not use us because we've messed up.

Then I read about the brothers, Jacob and Esau. Good grief. Sibling rivalry at its finest, or worst. Esau is born and Jacob comes right after him, grabbing Esau's foot as they are both delivered. And that's Jacob's character--the "tripper upper." He is sneaky, dishonest, and seeks ways to manipulate situations so that life turns out his way. He manipulated Esau and got the birthright, he manipulated the livestock so that he ended up lording over his brother-in-law, Laban, and he ended up having children who acted the same way. His conscience bothers him so much and he is terrified to meet his brother, Esau, because Esau is incensed about the birthright situation and said, "The next time I see you, Jacob, I'm going to get you for what you did to me." Jacob probably spends some time wondering if he will ever really amount to anything, if he will be great like his father Isaac or his grandfather, Abraham. And the promise comes that he will, but only after he wrestles with God and comes up limping.

After reading that I came to the conclusion that there are times in our life that God graces us with wounds, especially wounds to our pride and our self-reliance. God graces us with finiteness and with the ability to realize we cannot do it all ourselves, that it is wrong and unhealthy to manipulate others, life and God. We easily make messes of our life and then the web becomes so intricate that we end up endangering ourselves. We need supernatural intervention from outside. And that is why I am so thankful for the grace of God.

There's the story of Abraham and Isaac too, where Abraham is told to sacrifice his only son. Isaac was an answered prayer and God asked him to give up the answered prayer. God subsequently provided a sacrifice and the Scripture states that in that act, Abraham proved how much love it takes to be willing to sacrifice a son. Scripture says that God gave up his son, Jesus, on a hillside like Abraham did Isaac, and proved his love for us. How magnificent and wonderful, mysterious and powerful that is.

I guess that's the summary: we are broken, whether it is apparent to others or not, and yet God graciously comes to us to purify us and to subsequently use us in this world. God does not come to just purify us, to "save us" and take us to heaven one day. Nope. That's very important but that's not all of the story. God graces us in the here and now so that we can be a blessing (Genesis 12; Galatians 3:26-29) and that blessing extends to the ever after. Being graced is not the end; it's only the beginning. Isn't it nice to be welcomed to the genesis of grace?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Essence of Infant

Today is Violet's first sick day from "learning center" or "daycare," whichever, I don't really mind. I just sat in the rocking chair with her in my lap and rocked for about 30 minutes, neither one of us saying or mumbling anything--quite a rarity for both of us. We just watched the sunshine dot our arms as back and forth we went. There was a point of terror when I thought that one day my head could possibly look like hers--balding, peach fuzzy, and, God forbid, soft spots!

I like her sick stage right now--she's mellow and just wants to lounge around and hack, like she's someone who's been smoking for 8 decades or so. But the one thing I'm having to get used to is the constant spitting up. I think I agree with the great Southern Philosopher, Jeff Foxworthy, who put forth the theory that babies are actually nauseated by the smell of a clean shirt. Judging by the incessant knocking of our washer, I've got overwhelming empirical data.

Setting that aside for the moment, last night at church Robert lead us in considering Jesus' words that we must receive the kingdom of God like children. The point was made a subsequently agreed to that children have nothing to give except themselves and have to rely on someone else bigger than them to provide for them and to take care of them. How many times have you received from God only to feel the need to reciprocate? Yeah, me too. And that actually works against grace when I do that. What if I just simply received instead of trying to pay back? Now that's a point worth thinking about while doing the laundry.

Wishing you a fresh, spring freshness,


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tonight the doorbell rang

One week into year six of marriage and things are still rockin'! Though my wife isn't my most faithful reader, I must say that it's very cool to be married to someone like her. Last weekend we were able to spend our anniversary in a friend's cabin on the TN river. It was such a wonderful time. But I was a new kind of widower that has originated over the past several years due to mystical influences arising out of western Europe. That's right, I was a Harry Potter widower. Barb spent more time lamenting the possible fate Harry than Mattel has over the toy recall.

I just spent time with the Idiot. I mean, that book written by Dostoevsky. I've started that book twice and finally finished it 7 months and 701 pages later. I'm like that, once I start a book I must finish it. That's why I never get the Guinness Book of World Records or a set of Encyclopedias or Owner Manuals. It literally makes me nervous to have a book unfinished. Oh, by the way, The Idiot is not worth the effort. Just read a summary on Wikipedia.

The short of it: Violet is 4 months old and is laughing now. Our schedule is changing and we are getting the worm, as the adage goes. Barb is going back to work and my work load is full tilt. Life is good; the dog's asleep; this heat is ridiculous. Tonight the doorbell rang. I opened the door and it was the katydids; they were all asking to come in from the heat. Today I think I literally saw heat dripping from the trees.

Just wanted to let you know my keyboard works.

Hollar if ya have the chance.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Among Other Good Things

"Life is difficult" are the first three words in M. Scott Peck's book, The Road Less Traveled. That is the angst and essence of Douglas Coupland's book, Life After God. That is the silence between the clanging of the guitars in Adam Duritz's songs. And that is the blaring and recurring phrase in Ecclesiastes. Yet, though life is difficult it is also mysterious, wonderful, beautiful. I am reminded of this as I watch my garden grow, my little girl wrap her tiny fingers around an object on purpose for the first time, or when I contemplate that we are god-like in our capacities (created in the image of God) and yet are mortal. We are capable of such artistry seen in architecture and fine art and yet eat other animals and tear their flesh with our teeth after heating them with invisible fire in our kitchen. We are the only animals that are aware that the world will continue without us when we die and perhaps that is the what all our heartache and longing is about. Maybe that is why life is difficult--life is so short and death so long that it frustrates us that we should experience hurt during such a short stint.

I think that I agree with the apostle/pastor/church planter and believer, Paul, when he talks to a church in Colossae--that thankfulness can pull a disparate group of individuals out of their self-defeating (a group defeating), cynical thinking and push them toward unity that is found in Christ Jesus. That's an extremely long sentence and I'm sure that my editor, if I had one, would send it back to me with a lot of markings. However, the point stands, thankfulness is good for the soul--the soul of the person and the soul of the church. I'm not talking about the superficial way that we often go about it--How ya doin? Well, can't complain. I mean, I could, but what good would it do? Or: How ya doin? Pretty good all things considered. Or the best one: How ya doin? Fine. Now, I understand that there are appropriate levels of disclosure and that sometimes it's ok to express cultural niceties without becoming a skeptic but I still think we glaze over our problems because it bothers us to acknowledge it.

Anyway, back to the point. Thankfulness is good for the soul. Why? Because it acknowledges that God has been good to the soul through redeeming us from our selfish, morbid, limited-in-scope kind of life, where I used to think it was about me and my feelings. It's not about me. It's about us before it's about me. But it's about the goodness of God providing the way back to him through the atoning work of Jesus upon the cross before it's about anyone else. And that is true no matter how I feel about it. God doesn't need to authenticate his existence to the world through me as if I'm the last bastion of hope and that he is real, that this isn't some cosmic fluke. I'm mean, if scientist studied me I don't think I'd be a good case for intelligent design, but I digress.

But perhaps thankfulness is about acknowledging the bad, the bad and the worse that lies below the silent surface of decorum. That underneath my fickle facade is a soul that is broken, tarnished, faded, rightfully hurting and in need of cleansing. And not just of cleansing, I am in need of being used, used for good purposes that would bring fame to God, meaning to me and thankfulness into the lives of others. And that is good for the soul--mine and yours.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Facet of the Brilliance of God

Good-bye's going already?

We are approaching our 1 year of life in Memphis, and what a year it has been! From the ocean breeze of the West Coast to the Swamp East portion of the nation, as I recently heard it called, with it's popcorn thunderstorms and leaf wilting humidity.

When we first landed here we crashed at Robert and Mandy's house for 5 days as we hunted and gathered an apartment, just like in the olden days. We are very appreciative of their friendship then and now as it continues to grow through the various troughs and crests that is life. In California we had surrounding us a great social and spiritual network of people who loved us, cared for us and knew us, and after a year here we are beginning to see sprouts and shoots of similar things here, the soul sustaining vegetation of friendship. Whatever that means.

Undoubtedly it was tough last year to pack up all of our stuff on the moving truck and to watch all of the familiar scenery of seven years recede into the rear view mirror, perhaps telling us we will only see our California life in retrospect while continually moving forward to a new goal and gift given us by God. Last month Barb and I packed up our bags and flew back to NorCAl for a week and found ourselves appreciative of our friends, our church and the Hollywood-movie-set-like scenery that is Marin County. We were able to stay at the house of friends who were out of town, which was an unbelievably great blessing--though the man of the house would snicker at me for calling it that. We were able to see so many of the people we still think about and pray for and we were also able to worship with Hillside Church, who has been a bright spot on my spiritual map for years. And while we were there we became homesick for that place that was no longer home and friendsick for people who will remain fixtures in our lives. God has carried us and has carried on well in our lives and theirs. Our lives are resplendent with his grace.

After arriving back from CA we heard the news that an anchor within Cooper Young, Rosemary West, passed away. When Robert told us the news Barb and I both were saddened at the loss of this kind and cheerful neighbor who loved her family and who could be considered a garden-guru. She is and will continue to be missed.

A few weeks ago I was driving through the east side of our neighborhood and noticed that the house of an acquaintance was for sale. They had bought the house about the same time we bought ours and we were nevertheless surprised by the for sale sign. Barb called Jamilia and Jamilia let us know of their going away party, which we went to last night. There were people we had meet before, had dinner with or had seen at other parties. We were laughing, meeting, eating and drinking with strangers who are neighbors, who seemed to be enjoying a nice evening with Jamilia and Simon and their extended network. By the end of the night emails promised and cell numbers given, hand shakes and see-you-laters, drop on bys and give us a calls. You've had this happen too; I'm not living a surreal life. It's very common.

Though common, don't you think our human experience is so mysterious and captivating--the bonds we make, the importance of saying good bye, the crucial nature of letting go, of being willing to start over or of simply saying, "I'm so glad I met someone like you."? I absolutely believe that this shows us a facet of the brilliance of God. We long for deep, enriching relationships because we are created by a relational God. It's in our spiritual dna; we can't help it. It helps us.

Relational: interesting to think about how God reaches us with his grace. It is rarely through a dream, though I've had that happen, but only once. It is rarely through a miraculous sign. It is more often than not through another person. I mean, think about, for centuries God had been speaking through prophets and holy men and writing things on parchment and then finally he dressed himself in skin and moved into the neighborhood and we called him Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

No matter what prestige I put upon the Word of God (and I place a lot), God seems to also incarnate grace to me through others-- even in the little sparkly eyes of an infant, the wily smile of a two-year-old, or the weathered face of an elderly friend. It is much more than human companionship, it is the truth that when I look at another I see the handiwork and genius of God whose character and love has more glimmering angles than a diamond.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Anemic, Imitative, Impoverished

Perhaps it is due to the new smell of fatherhood that now permeates me or the fact that I am now what I considered at twenty-three to be "old" (30), but I have become thoroughly grouchy in regards to popular culture lately. Need I say more than faux hawk, Paris in and out of jail, and now the Spice Girls might, just might, rejoin for a world tour. And all of this made major headlines on "Yahoo."

Yet that is not what bothers me the most. Several years ago I stopped going to a major Christian bookstore because it was filled not with books about Christ-centered theology or developing one's faith, but was frothfully filled with holy trinkets: necklaces, "Christian picture frames," items here and there that were intellectually and artistically anemic. There was no John Owens, Calvin, Luther, and really nothing dating back beyond the last 20 years, except the NIV Bibles for sale. I agree with whoever said it first, "Christian culture doesn't battle pop culture; it is pop culture." Mindless and soulless. And I also agree with historian Mark Noll, "the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is so little of the evangelical mind." It is a parallel sub-culture that is almost entirely imitative.

I do not consider myself a sociologist of any sort but over the last several years I've noticed this talk of "transforming culture" and yet I am becoming more convinced that today's superficial Christianity is incapable of producing a rich, thriving, transformative, deep culture. And the question I have is how do we plant a church in Midtown Memphis that is intellectually, artistically, relationally, and spiritually sound? That produces more than spiritual consumers who want to shop the "spiritual mall" of what passes for church these days? That produces followers of Jesus who discern the world they are in and who don't seek to disassociate from it? I mean, isn't it true that when Christians cocoon themselves from culture, they actually violate the example and teaching of Jesus and limit his ability to work through them to produce a rich, intoxicating, vibrant and deep culture?

And then there is this squishy kind of spiritual stuff going on in churches where if one is definite on a theological topic--that is, if one has a conviction borne out of facts and not feelings--one is seen as intolerant or judgmental or close-minded. We want a God who doesn't demand anything of us and that is quintessentially narcissistic. C.S. Lewis said it pointedly when he said, "We don't want God to be Father, we want him to be Grandfather." Dick Staub writes that Christian teens and, I'd say, other age groups, "believe in an uninvolved, undemanding God who is watching everything from above and is drawn into their lives rarely and only if necessary. In such a world, religion is inclusive yet peripheral, beliefs are held inarticulately and loosely, and each individual is the arbiter of what is true for them; there is no right answer. 'Who am I to judge?' they might ask."

Is it true that the rich presence of God will only be found by those who seek with the aim of finding? Is it true that today most of what is called spiritual searching is in fact a sham and a vain exercise? Do we seek and not find because we seek a God who will improve our life and make us happy without making us uncomfortable by making demands on us?

I read last night in Culturally Savvy Christian, "Each of us must decide whether we will embrace a real existence by undertaking a rigorous pilgrimage toward wellness or settle into a pseudo-existence by being satisfied with the shallowness and spiritual impoverishment of the typical life."

Anyone ever had these thoughts?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Hoping for the Best 4 Hours of My Life

This Wednesday is a momentous day for the Elder family here on Felix Avenue. That is the day we board an airplane and fly toward the Pacific and introduce Violet to California for the first time. We are there for Shawn and Loren's wedding and will making a lot of effort to see our other friends.

Everything has worked out: credit card miles providing us with 1.5 free tickets, a home to stay
in not far from the wedding venue, free transportation and the honor of speaking at Hillside Church on Sunday morning. Now we are hoping the luck continues with Violet and the flight, a direct flight totaling 4 hours. We are, like the title says, hoping and praying for the best 4 hours of our lives (8 hours if we include the return). And if we have the best 4 hours then those seated around us will have a good 4 hours, which when you add 4 hours per person around us that totals close to 70 good hours. You see, we're not selfish with our prayers. We are praying that God would bless us and through us bless others 4, 16, 32, yea, 72 hours-fold.

Here's a pic of Violet and my Mom from our visit a few weeks back.

Friday, May 18, 2007

One Rod, 2 Things

I don't know what's up lately but it seems like I've been a lightning rod of sorts lately. Indulge me. I decide that I'm going to pull some weeds, clear growth from around our fence and WALA, a few days later I am stricken--horribly, horribly stricken--with poison ivy. It appears on my side and spreads like butter across my torso, complete right forearm and right leg. Really fun stuff. Imagine the most itchy clothes you've ever put on. Now imagine someone setting you on fire instead. See, maybe poison ivy's just not that bad!? It has led me to my first dose of steroids. Perhaps many Major League Baseball Players have just been doing yard work the past decade. Hmm.

Then, as noted by a post a few weeks ago, my "y" key on my keyboard is jacked up. It kept falling off and I made a comment about how living without one letter is more difficult than ou would think.

Tonight I'm at that savory, culturally enlightening environment called Wal-Mart to get some lotion that would prevent me from getting horrible rashes due to exposure to pollen from poison ivy. I am approaching Poison Ivy with the Bush-doctrine approach: I will preemptively seek to attack it before it attacks me; I will bombard it with Roundup and the best choppers (or garden shears) gift cards can buy. I will them walk into the house and say, "Mission Accomplished," only to later find out that poison ivy is still considered toxic and potentially damaging up to five years after you've mutilated it.

After exiting Wal-Mart I was greeted at my car by a guy who saying, "That lady in the Cadillac hit my car and slung my car into yours." She's okay; so is her kid. Everyone's okay. So I chilled with them for a nice hour, on the phone with claims, and chatting it up with the officer doing the police report. My car's been hit more times that Whitney Houston, so this is an old bag for me. So, looks like Jason is getting a new bumper for Father's day.

But honestly, nothing like coming home to a great meal, a good looking wife and a daughter that's healthy and beautiful. I'm also a lightning rod for blessing.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Derby, Blush and 2 Uncomfortable Moments

Today we went over Dave and Miriam's for the Kentucky Derby--a day of firsts. The Queen. Mint Juleps. Swanky hats. Bow ties. Street Sense. That Chocolate dessert. Violet's entrance into our friendships here. She's not good with small talk yet but she likes to bounce.

Hard to believe that it's been three weeks of fatherhood. Funny to think it but it seems to feel like she just belongs with us, like she's been a part of us since Barb and I spent that birthday party on the beach, after which I bumbled around and finally asked her for a date. Hemming and Hawing, as they say. "I was wondering. I mean. If you wanted. I was thinking. You know Friday night is coming in a few days and . . . I'm a nerd and I'm acting a fool but you gotta eat, so why eat along? I mean, along. Why eat alone? If you don't eat with me then we'll both go hungry." That whole scene still makes me blush a little. Ask Barb to tell you. Okay. I'm over that now.

I finding myself in the middle of a few books right now that I'm really enjoying. I've been moving slowly through the denseness that is Ernest Becker. It's rewarding. Harold Kushner, rabbi in New York, has some interesting thoughts about forgiveness, the types of loves (plural) God gives us, and the life of Jacob. I don't necessarily agree or see everything that he sees but it is intriguing nonetheless. Just finished Andy Stanley's book on how to communicate better, which I could surely use (see second paragraph with pink in it). I just got my copy of my favorite journal so I'm spending time with those people, reading about one topic I'm absolutely fascinated with, and then there's this whole concept of Ars Moriendi, "The Art of Dying." I've been camping out with it for a while, mulling it over, trying to integrate it, give it some glue.

An aside but perhaps the impromptu purpose of this post, here's my philosophy on reading. My time is valuable. I shouldn't waste it. I have too much information flying at me, nagging me for attention, not to mention those freakin' task reminders Outlook keeps throwing up in my face. Holy Cow, if it's 6 weeks overdue shouldn't this software get the hint that I'm not interested in pricing light fixtures? Anyway, I'm not interested in reading just to know. I search to read something, break it down into digestible pieces and then take it in. I might spend, believe it or not, six months or so with a book, even a brief one--writing notes, arguing with it, letting it sit and stare at me. I think one of the biggest myths is that we need to know everything (lesson from Steve Samples in Contrarian's Guide to L'ship), especially when it comes to ministry and the spiritual life (lesson from experience). Let's face it, you probably have enough Bible facts crammed into your head to choke the Scarlet Whore. Our problem, ech um, I'll speak for myself, my problem is that I need to integrate it into my life. We have enough information already. We need people who will help us synthesize it not add to it.

Simply said, about to make this conversation circular, we not only need book sense, we also need Street Sense. We need theory and practice, and friends from what I've read, when I stand to give an account of my life I'll not be asked about my theories and that is really something to blush about.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Violet Simone Elder

I thought I was finished with all-nighters when I graduated seminary. Not so. Not so at all.

Last Wednesday the alarm clock went off and, as is our custom, we snoozed once. I rolled over and Barb looks at me and says, "I've been having contractions for 2 hours."

"Well, I'm awake now!"

She went to work and got home about 11 and I finished up a meeting and got home around 1. We took a walk around the block to help the contractions increase. Boy, did that work! We arrived at the hospital at 430pm, some twelve hours after the contractions began. Germantown Methodist Hospital astounded us with their knowledge, efficiency and care. It gave us confidence in the midst of all that is called "Labor and Delivery."

Barb was fantastic and must have one of the greatest levels of pain tolerance I've ever seen, perhaps rivaling that of Jack Bauer or Curly on the 3 Stooges. We felt so blessed that Barb was able to go natural. Dr. Anderson said, "Violet was good to your body." Barb and I were musing one early morning how much pain she had been in but yet knew that c-sections were so much worse. Blessings. Blessings. Blessings. Oh, and coffee.

Several people said, "Look at Violet now and remember her, because in two weeks she will look like a different baby." So I've decided to take a picture of her a day for at least two weeks just to see the development. Besides her skull bones are floating according to the doc, so it'll be interesting to see her head move toward pangea.

Six pounds, 10 ounces and 20'' of greatness.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Where Nothing is Missing

Alrightie, it seems earlt in the morning (it reallt isn't) but I'm feelint the hankering to blurt out some thoughts about a subject that has been circling the airport for a while. Bt the wat, it is quite difficult to blurt out something via blog because it takes cranking up ole Lappt 3000, loggint in, and clicking away, which has been more difficult since mt "y" key cover came off the other day. Tou don't reallt know how much tou miss one letter until tou are forced to work without it. I promise tou this: below tou are going to find some messy, clangt thoughts, but I hope to get it out in at least one sentence. So without further adieu . . .

Believe it or not Walmart, or as most in the South say, "tha Walmart," plays a significant role in my spiritual formation. It was my last year in college and I was seeking/praying about what I should do next. Should I seek a job pastoring somewhere (thoughts had led me all over the region), just find a job and recover from college or move to California and start seminary (which is what I decided to do)? I was rebounding from a series of bad decisions over a few bad years and 0ne night after hanging out with some friends in New Albany--I think it was David, Danyel, Wint and Vicki--I found myself standing in the middle of WalMart wondering why I was even there. I didn't need groceries, didn't need music, didn't need clothes, and didn't need a 50-pack of Wrigley's gum. I remember kinda snappin' out of it and saying to myself, "Something feels like it's missing. What am I looking for?"

I subsequently had a few speaking opportunities with a number of student groups and began talking about this and in every group I heard responses like, "Yeah, me too." Those responses were also coming from the older adults present.

But why is this? Why is it that when we gaze up at the stars from time to time there is this feeling deep within that we have trouble articulating? Why is it that our hearts burn when we hear our favorite song? Why is it that when we read something good we keep it, re-read it, bookmark it, print it out, or print it in our journal? What are we striving for? Is it because something is missing? I mean, haven't you walked down your block, looked up at that tree that you've seen so many times and said, in an instance, "I've never seen such beauty."
I assume that since I am an average person that you too or others like you may have felt this way before.

This past weekend our church went away to a ranch about an hour from here. We were able to listen to one another, ask questions, and get to some good stuff. I think we did some good work as we talked about how God has graced us with various giftings for the common good, about loving Jesus but hating "the church," (another topic for another time) and had some points in our worship where there was some vulnerability and truth.

Sunday morning I looked out of the kitchen window as the cabin was quiet with peaceful rest and the fog was sitting in layers over the water and hillside. The coffee pot's stomach was growling and I picked up a magazine I'm reading in which there is an interview with a former novice under Thomas Merton. At this point in the story Merton has died and the interviewee is speaking about Merton's disposition, "I asked myself, 'Why is this place holy ground for me?' And I realized it wasn't because the man who lived in this place had the answers; he never claimed to have the answers. It wasn't because he did it right; he never claimed to do it right. He never said, 'Do it like this.' But, rather, I think he gave witness to the ultimate irrelevancy of our failures and shortcomings when we live in the radical confidence in God's love for us, which implies the moral imperative of doing your honest best to work on those things."

It was then as the morning was young and the were mistakes old that the fog lifted and I said, "Nothing is missing here."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Much to say

Just f.y.i., I've never allowed myself to be censored and at times I have been known to cross lines and been a little liberal with my speech and writing. I want to state for the record that I have been prevented by the powers that be from posting any visual representation of Barb being pregnant. She says it's dumb and she's fat. I say it's elegant and that, of course, she's bigger because she has a human inside of her--head, shoulders, knees and toes.

Soon and very soon we will be seeing our daughter. Can't really imagine what that'd be like. Just visited my old friend's myspace page and saw his two boys and 6 month old daughter. Quite a family.

Trying my hand at gardening this time around. I'm growing about a dozen or so strawberry plants, which are doing quite well, watermelon, bell pepper and something else I can't remember. I guess I should throw away the seed pouches so quickly. Well, if you see me on the news you'll know it was the forbidden plant.

Much is going on but it's too much to say right now. Learning brand new things--home ownership, starting over in an unfamiliar city, becoming a better pastor/teacher, starting insurance business too, and becoming a daddy. I think this is the perfect time for a vacation . . .or to grow a forbidden plant.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


The Bible says that God is omni-present, that is to say, that God is everywhere at once. This to me is astounding in and of itself, but when I think about the graciousness of God it makes it even more so. For if God is gracious and God is omni-present then that means that God is with us not matter the circumstances. God is with us when we worship, when we work, when we need consoling, when we need encouragement or even when we do wrong. God is there, waiting, patiently waiting.

That is not to say that God is not disturbed by our wrong doing. The Bible clearly states that our wrong doing, our sin interrupts our relationship with him. Just as I can't be with my wife in the closest sense relationally and at the same time be rude, arrogant or condescending to her, so it is with our relationship with God. But God doesn't walk away. He doesn't hide. We do that. We do that just like Adam and Eve did. We are afraid of someone knowing us completely, sin/warts and all. We hide out of fear, shame and/or guilt. Yet God habitually comes to Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening, even after he knows they have sinned, to converse with them.

Could it be that we could actually take such a risk and be known, utterly known by someone, even God, and still not be weighed down by guilt? But we put on the veil and mask ourselves. We maintain the veil that separates us from God like the Old Testament picture of the Temple, that gigantic curtain separating us from the holiest of places? Interesting that at the substitutionary, atoning, reconciling death of Jesus, Scripture states that the curtain was ripped from top to bottom to signify that God himself was stepping out from the veil to be with us. Hebrews says that we have an anchor behind the veil/curtain and that it is Jesus. No hands are big enough to remove that curtain except the benevolent hands of God. God wants to be known. He is in his nature one who reveals. The Apostle Paul calls Jesus the "mustarion," the "open secret." And God wants to know us.

That's so profound. Some people want to be free. Some want to be known. I think that all want to be both to some degree--to be known and free. That to me is the beauty of it: it can be, it should be, it is.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Lost Art

Thursday was Barb's birthday. She is very young still. Her parents drove down from Plattsburg, Mo to be here and to help us with a home project. They are very giving, self-sacrificing individuals. I have known them for 6 years and they have consistently proven this. I am very blessed and thankful to have in-laws of this stature. We sent them off last night completely appreciative of the time well-spent with them. Can't wake 'til we see them again. The next time we see them they will have another grand-daughter.

During our prepared birth class on Thursday night we took a tour of our hospital, Germantown Methodist. We have been impressed with the class, hospital and doctors, oops, I mean "health care providers" thus far. There are about 15 other couples in the class: some beaming with excitement and others already tired with the preparatory work that is necessary. It is great to be surrounded by such excited people, each couple encouraging the other, swapping war stories. I can imagine that more stories will come.

The due date is April 17, so we are only 6 or 7 weeks away from Violet's birth. We are so excited and nervous! The thought of having the child, staying in the hospital for a few days and then being allowed to go home with the child seems like it should be illegal! Wait! I haven't done this before. Are you kidding? You should send her home with someone who is experienced! Ha.

Some people have said to us, "Oh, just wait. Your life will change so much. You won't get any sleep . . ." They go on to list several negative things about parenting. I know that their words are well meant, but I wonder why they think we haven't considered that yet, as if we get a lot of sleep now or haven't suspected that things will change. We have seen many friends have children and have seen their selfless giving in order to rear their child. It is not like we are living on a deserted island where no children dwell. The typical situation in some cases is that they highlight the negative and hard aspects but then say, "Oh, but it's worth it . . ."

This is the same thing that occurred when we were engaged. Numerous people felt like they needed to say, "Marriage is extremely difficult . . .but it's worth it." Most of these people, then and now, are believers and seem to not grasp the Scriptural concept of rejoicing with those who rejoice. I just don't get it. Why must there be so much party-poop from these people? Perhaps these people are frustrated and tired and want their sacrifices known, which is understandable. But to pile a bunch of negativity when we are celebrative is not only inappropriate but rude, calloused, and stupid. At times it seems like parents talk down to couples without children like married couples seem to talk down to singles who are engaged. I just don't get it.

There have been bright spots, though. We have talked with several parents who rejoiced with us without turning the situation to themselves. They shared with us their joy of discovering they were pregnant, asked us questions about our experience and gave advice when asked, a lost art it seems. Through the example of these couples I have learned a lot about relationships and how to not only listen to people but to hear them as well. I hope that God shapes in me more of that and helps me rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Snow birds and No Babies

Last night it was rain. This morning it was sleet. And now it is snow. Winter is fun here in the Mid-America because it doesn't stay around too long. It passes through in two months. I forgot how Winter can be here and also how inept Southerners are at driving in this weather.

Last night Barb and I went to our first prepared childbirth class. We went out to Germantown and sat in a cozy room in a Manor than our hospital owns. We met about 15 other couples who are due from late March to early June. It is quite fun to compare stories, see the various women all carrying their babies in their bodies in different ways. Quite interesting that as we went around the room and told everyone basic info about ourselves and then about our favorite things/worst things and greatest fears, that we are all in the same boat. The fears and worries of the women are usually body related and the fear of the guys were mostly finance related. Although I must say that we guys had to admit that we really resented the fact that the class was on Thursday nights, thus causing us to miss The Office and Scrubs.

All the dads agreed about our similar struggles and about the adaptations we're learning to make. But above anything and everything else is this--the love of my life is in pain and discomfort now and will continue to be, and I can really do nothing about it. I feel helpless. I have known for quite some time that my mom was sacrificial with her body--not just pregnancy of me, my two brothers, and my sister--but also with working, cleaning, and providing for us in the hundreds of ways moms do. But now I am seeing in differently, just how painstakingly slow the hurt and the process can be. I am truly awed by the sacrificial nature of moms. Of course, all love is sacrificial, especially the birth that leads to new life.

The baby is due April 17 and at one and the same time it is too close and too far away. Although many of our friends from California will not be here for that God has given us a whole new set of friends to share this with. It is a great thing to have caring people who will help care and influence our daughter.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Chattanooga, A Diversion, A Vision

Several weeks ago Barb and Mandy decided that they would spend this past weekend at a spiritual retreat in west Arkansas, which turned out to be a great experience for them both. Since I don't want to be home alone I decided that I would drive down Highway 61, which I would catch here in Memphis and take to Natchez or Vicksburg, hitting some major Delta Blues territory. I was planning on spending some time with strangers or in a very cheap motel, thinking about the next 12 months, setting goals, and praying. However, a few weeks ago I caught up with a friend via email and decided to head east.

I found myself just north of Chattanooga, spending time with 2 friends I haven't seen in about 5 years. These friends are the type where you always leave better than you did before, although that might mean you are challenged at some very deep level, though unknown to them. These are friends who have sold their house, gotten out of consumer debt, have given an enormous amount of stuff away and are seeking to move to Asia to share the love of God with people who haven't even heard the word, "Bible, Jesus, or Crispy Cream." Well, I just made up that last bit about Crispy Cream, but to them, seriously, "Jesus," makes just about as much sense. He is not even on the radar.

Several years ago I did summer missions in Vancouver, BC, an experience that really formed, in part, who I am. As I was working under one of the best pastors in Western Canada I just listened to him talk about his friends all over the world who were serving Jesus in thoughtful, genuine, and gracious ways. Deep inside I wanted that. I wanted to have friends all over the world who were serving God faithfully and sacrificially for multiple reasons, most of which are selfish. I wanted to have a global perspective with my faith. I wanted my experience and knowledge to include other nationalities. And later on, which was also rekindled this past weekend, I wanted a heart for the unreached people groups around the world. Believe it or not, there are people groups who do not have a Bible in their own language, who do not have access to the gospel, and who do not know even the word, "Jesus." Think about it: they have neither heard nor said that two syllable utterance Je-sus. And what's really troubling--even if they wanted to know about Jesus they have no way to know. Jackie Pullinger, who worked with drug addicts in Hong Kong, said it best, "They are not going to come here (the church) to hear. We must go to them."

So, I am troubled today. Here I sit in a safe house, living a safe life, in a relatively safe city with all of this going on in my heart, hoping to start a church. Is is possible for God to grow a church here that would have a heart and soul for the nations? Who would seek out God's glory in sacrificial ways? There must be. There has to be hope.

On Sunday I worshipped with my friends and we read this quote by David Brainerd, missionary to the New England Indians 250 years ago. [He subsequently died through his service to the Indians. Many forget that while some were formulating how to take more land, some were crossing cultures to serve and love]. He prayed once, "Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am."

So my plan was to go it alone--to ride and enjoy music and downloaded speeches, to see the scenery and think of me and my goals. And then God took the wheel and steered me in a completely different direction. And yet I cannot complain. I'm so thankful for friends who seek God with all of their hearts, though imperfectly at times.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Fog Sits Heavy

Is it possible to travel thirty years in life and wake up one day and feel lost? Is it possible to one day wake up and look in the mirror and say, "Boy, you're handsome, but you also have problems?" Don't you think it's a mystery that life's a mystery? That we can ponder infinity and yet know of our own limitations? That we can relive what has passed and project ourselves into the future (with our thoughts, of course) and modify our behaviors accordingly? And as the fog sits heavy on the trees like they are leashed to one another, I realize I need a sunrise, a guiding source, of sorts. . .something to direct me in this new year.

The past year was the hardest one in a while from forward to finish. Yet it was the most rewarding as my character was developed (in part) through grueling circumstances where I was pushed beyond my known limits, to face the truth no matter how ugly. On the last night of the year as Barb and I sat on the side of the bed with our heads resting on our hands, we both agreed that it would be best to let the old year go. It had run its course, had served its purpose, pulling the hands of the clock round and round, leaving a well-worn path around our eyes. But sometimes it's hard to let go of something that's hurt you so deeply. Perhaps that's why we stay up so late on the year's last day.