Wednesday, June 23, 2010

U-S-A!! U-S-A!! (ONS - Day 3)

This is so tense.  Yes, i know it's 2:45pm and the US-Algeria game is already over, but here at ONS we've gathered in the main room to watch a delayed broadcast.  It's still 0-0, with about 17 minutes left, and the tension is so thick in this room.
It took me a few minutes to figure out that picture.  Only 15 minutes left now.  I can't take much more.

I will say it has been a real treat to be so invested in the cup this year--a first for me.  It's been great to have a more global perspective for a few weeks, and I love the conversations I've had with people from other cultures on the mere premise of soccer.  And I love that I'm joining up with an organization, InterVarsity, that it so dedicated to pursuing justice and reconciliation on all levels, in the same way that soccer can seem to do.  Even if it's only once every four years.

Bradley free kick--gotta go!!

ONS - Day 2

It's almost time to head to bed, but I'm fighting my sleepy tendencies to share a little about the day.  I just finished walking down by the lakefront on a beautiful Madison evening.  After a full day of seminars on topics like InterVaristy's vision for the campus and how to tell stories well about God's transformational work through IV, we got to debrief the day with my small group, who I'm growing to love more with each session.  We sat in the aura of the Wisconsin state capital building, talked, prayed, swatted mosquitoes, and even kicked a soccer ball on the plush capital lawn!  (go USA tomorrow!!)

Yesterday was a little overwhelming.  I showed up late, as you can read from earlier, and I missed the whole check-in/mingle phase.  Thus, I walked right into the opening address and found my spot amongst 130+ people at my small group's table.  Surprisingly I was initially uncomfortable sitting in silence at a table with eight strangers.  I would normally relish this opportunity, but something was different within me.  As I listened to Keith set the tone for what is slated to be a transformational ten-day experience, my pride immediately reared back at the idea of vulnerability, change and growth.  I found myself trying to isolate myself, judge my small group members, and categorize my surroundings into understandable, familiar values.

It's amazing to see how the Lord can tear down even the strongest defenses we put up.

Very quickly I found comfort here.  We finally got to break off into our small group for discussion, and felt so relieved to find out that we hadn't done introductions yet.  From this initial sharing, I felt immediately warmer, and have not stopped growing in trust and love for the brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I'm sharing this conference.

Today I've come to realize where a lot of these feelings were coming from.  I'm entering into a career where I'll be depending directly on God for my financial provision, through the donations of friends, family and churches.  Now, it doesn't sound so bad when you put it like that, but can I just plainly tell you something?  It's scary.  This past week in community group we talked about letting go of control, and if you want a tangible example of this idea, try raising support.  I'm not even very far into the process yet, but I can already feel the effects starting to work on me. 

We've received so much wisdom today, I wish that I could share it all.  I'll just say that there are people here with innumerable years of fund development experience, collectively, and tonight a few of them shared from their personal fears and even failures associated with the process.  They also cast hope and vision through the beautiful moments in their fund development stories where the only thing they could do was praise God for His provision and goodness.  It's scary, but it's exciting.  

I'm excited to really depend on God.  How incredible would that be?  What would I even look like?
I'm excited to be free of the illusion that I've earned everything in my life.
I'm excited to have the opportunity to share my passion.
I'm excited to give people the chance to build something bigger than themselves.
I'm excited to see God transform lives--those on the campus, and those I get to meet with, who make the work on campus possible.

Although I'm overcoming many of the insecurities and myths that I've fallen into recently, I know that it will be a constant battle to keep these forces at bay once I get back home and hit the work again.  I will need so much prayer in this area, along with others.  I really can't do it on my own.  If you're down, let me know.  I'll keep you updated on how you can pray for me throughout this process.

I probably don't say it enough, but I want to be praying for you, too.  Whether you're at summer camp, one of my family members, studying abroad overseas, working a local summer job, or even here at ONS with me, let me know what's going on and how to pray for you.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

ONS - Day 1

I pecked this out while flying into Madison, WI for a ten-day conference.  You've probably heard me mention it over the past few weeks (I've been pretty pumped):  it's InterVarsity's annual orientation for new staff (ONS).  Hopefully I'll have time to post more during the conference.  Right now is actually the end of our lunch break for Day 2.

Lake Michigan is really big.  I’m flying over it as I type this, on the third and final leg of my trip to Madison, WI.  Although I had a little anxiety when my first flight was cancelled from RDU, the day has been great--really.  This is by far the best seating arrangement I’ve ever had on a series of flights, the weather has been fair, and I found good company in my new friend, Jane, on our flight from DC to Chicago.  The only downer today was my own self-criticism and doubt.

After my flight was cancelled, I rebooked for a few hours later and was left with a lot of time to kill.  This was a recipe for time to relax before a busy travel day.   And I’ll mention that the RDU airport is one of my favorites--the new terminal, at least--so I was excited about a fun romp around the area.  All that said, it was a weird experience.  I was stuck between the indecision of napping, reading Scripture, watching the world cup, reading the Chronicles of Narnia.  Looking back, I feel like I spent the time well, but sometimes I just get down on myself, thinking I could've or should've been more productive.

All that said, I'm about to land in Madison, and I can't wait to see what the next ten days has in store.  Over the past few weeks I've been trying to take an honest look at my life, especially my relationships with others and my relationship with God.  Some of the conversations have been painfully revealing, some have been reaffirming, but all have been growthful.  I'm hoping and praying this will continue throughout ONS, and I look forward to sharing!  I hope and pray that all is well wherever you find yourself right now.  Cheers from Madison!

Posting this a day late, I can already attest that I'm experiencing through this conference more of this growth.  Will tell soon!

Monday, June 14, 2010


Today I start reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the second installment of C. S. Lewis' classic fantasy series.  The first book was a quick read, but it was great to go back and enjoy some parts that I had forgotten.  The first time I read The Magician's Nephew, I was so excited to read the entire series that I probably didn't give the first book quite the depth of read that it merits.  I had completely forgotten about the iconic scene of temptation at the climax of the plot.  In good allegorical form, it's complete with images of a mysterious garden, a sacred apple tree, and a character's test of faith.  I'll share with you one of my favorite parts, and one that I actually remembered from the first time around.  This is an excerpt from the scene where the two children, Digory and Polly (along with a few other characters) witness the founding of Narnia--a passage which serves as a beautiful, loose parallel to the creation story from Genesis.

 (We pick up this story in the middle of a dispute.  The characters have just stumbled into a darkness, presumably death itself.  The Witch says "This is an empty world.  This is Nothing."  The dispute is about which course of action is the best to follow next...)

"Hush!" said the Cabby.  They all listened.
In the darkness something was happening at last.  A voice had begun to sing.  It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming.  Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once.  Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them.  Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself.  There were no words.  There was hardly even a tune.  But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard.  It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it...
...Then two wonders happened at the same moment.  One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voice; more voices than you could possibly count.  They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale:  cold, tingling, silvery voices.  The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars.  They didn't come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening.  One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out--single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world.  There were no clouds.  The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time.  If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.

There's a lot more to this passage that I've left out.  It takes up about two chapters, so I figure I'll leave more of the mystery for you to enjoy yourself.  I would recommend this book as a light summer read, even just for the enjoyment and imaginative picture of the passage I just sampled for you.  And if you're looking for an easy series to get wrapped-up in for a few weeks (or however long you like to make it) then start with this one.

As for me, I'm on to book number two.  It's the one that most are familiar with, and I was tempted to skip it.  My memory tells me that I really loved the third book, but this morning my purism got the best of me, and I decided to read through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe despite my familiarity.  It shouldn't take too long, and normally a re-read proves to be pretty rewarding.  We'll see!

I can't resist.  Here are the final words of the founding of Narnia, spoken by Aslan the lion, revealed to be the source of "the First Voice, the deep one."

"Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake.  Love.  Think.  Speak.  Be walking trees.  Be talking beasts.  Be divine waters."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"what could a rabbit possibly be late for?"

Kaity and I are watching "Alice in Wonderland."  The old school, Disney version.  I can't wait for the Walrus and the Carpenter to come was always one of my favorite parts.

It's so nice to be home.  There's so much comfort and safety surrounding you.  What's different about this trip is that it's my first time being home since I've graduated.  I'm no longer a student.

What an exciting, volatile place to be.

I'm about to start paying my own cell phone bill.  My own rent.  One of the biggest blessings I've had over the past few years has been my dad's car, and he's going to sign over the title to me.  I'm going to have my own car--this is a first.  So many new things.  So much responsibility.

This is the departure point into my own life.   What's awesome is that although this life is mine to live, the impact, fingerprint, influence of so many people will be evident on how the next years unfold.  Although at times my life has seemed like the adventures Alice found on the other end of the rabbit's hole, I've always had a support net.  It was amazing to see many of these very people at church this morning.  After six months away from Waynesville, I was able to hug them and tell them about my path into college ministry, while presumably they remembered me as the timid, skinny ninth grader that they met nine years ago.

Six months from now, I'll be coming home after a semester spent doing full-time ministry with students at the College of Charleston.  In the meantime, I'll amuse myself with Disney movies.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


The first line of The Magician's Nephew, the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia.  Here's the full first paragrah:

"THIS IS A STORY ABOUT SOMETHING that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child.  It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began."

This series by C.S. Lewis first captivated me during my freshman year of college.  I'm really excited to say that today I start reading them again.  I can't wait to see again how Lewis paints images that reflect our relationship with the Father, this time with four more years of life experience.  I've learned a lot about myself, life, and God since then, but I also know that these books will activate part of my childlike imagination that sometimes I really miss using.  Some of you might scoff, wondering if I ever use anything other than a childlike imagination, but sometimes I just feel too grown-up for my own good.  I'm anticipating some fun, though stimulating summer reading.  Anyway, here goes.

PS - Join me in reading!  Especially if you've never read them before, or you have but it's been a long time--I'd love to talk about the books and about life with you.  I promise it will be fun.  If you really want to go old school with me, we can drink tea and smoke pipes as we read, paying homage to Clive Staples Lewis, himself.  (Austin, we can substitute coffee if that'll get you to read with me.  Or beer, for that matter!)

"You can never get a cup of tea large enough
or a book long enough to suit me."
 - C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

obedience. **(see footnote)

Not many people like that word.  Upon hearing it used, you may harken back to the days of your childhood and all of those silly rules your parents enforced.  Or, your first mental image may be the same as the first result from a google image search for "obedience"...

Either way, it's not exactly our favorite word, especially as Americans. But it's what God loves.

Sometimes when I think about God and hear other people talking about Him, there's a common view that you may be familiar with:  that the "Old Testament God" was all about rules and sacrifices, but the "New Testament God" is all about faith and the heart.  It's a pretty simple breakdown, but maybe too simple.  It seems to be a requirement that everything, even such weighty theological material, be categorized into bite-sized fragements for our society's fast-food consumption.  This accessibility has its merits, but sometimes this simplicity needs to be challenged.  For me, this bipolar, black-white view God was challenged today.

As I sat in Global Village, toward the end of an all-too-long computer binge, I was confronted* by a particular piece of Scripture that I'll share with you.  Colossians 3:16 says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly..."  Yes, it sounds so simple, but isn't that always the case?  After a few hours on the computer, and having not yet been in Scripture today, these words were incredibly convicting.  The illumination of my priorities was painfully life-giving.  I admit that I even reared back against the verse, not initially wanting to relinquish my perceived freedom.  I eventually packed up my bag and headed home to obediently spend some time in prayer and reading the Bible.  Looking back now, in light of the time I spent between then and now, I vocally stand behind the words of Psalm 19:7 "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul."  Before I get into my eureka moment from this evening (which is starting to seem much less pressing at this point), I'll ask one more question:
could you use a healthy dose of soul-reviving?
If you say no, I'd probably say you're lying.  No matter how good of a mood we may find ourselves in, or how blessed of a season we may be experiencing, I think we all yearn to have our souls be filled to the brim.  I'd say to you, follow the nudging of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of Scripture, and find a truer, fuller life on the other side--even when it doesn't look appetizing or as fun as say, facebook :)

OT God v. NT God.
Sacrifice/rules v.  Faith/heart issue.  What was this grand revelation I had?  Well, don't get too excited.  It was really more of a cool passage that I had never read before, that I'll share, and we'll be done (minus the extensive footnote--sorry about that one).

So, I've been reading in 1 Samuel this past week, and I'm at a part about halfway through, when Saul is chilling as the King and ruler of Israel.  God gives him another directive, via Samuel, to wipe out a people, the Amalekites, and all their possessions.  When God says "wipe them out," He means it.  Long story short, Samuel does what he thinks is holy, which doesn't happen to be the case.  Rather than completely wiping out the Amalekites, he kills them all but their king, plunders all the booty, and in true kingly fashion, takes the best of the best from the loot and sacrifices it to God.  Pretty good execution of the plan, eh?  God even got some pretty pimp sacrifices.

Well, it wasn't the plan.  That's the problem.  Let's hear from Samuel, after Saul starts showing off his victory bling:  "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (1 Sam. 15:22)

This is when I got thrown for a loop.  I was thinking that Saul was good-to-go with all that sacrifice, but God actually pushed him to forgo those practices in obedience to His specific calling.  Today, we would call Saul's actions legalism--a staunch adherence to an established guideline, preculing discernment and following of the Holy Spirit.  In our culture of Christianity in the South, I would go so far as to call it a blind adherence.  Not only do we firmly stand behind our rules, but sometimes we even forget why they're around.  This is very dangerous.  That said, I'm not going to go into a discourse on legalism, but I'll suffice to say that the opposite--rampantly sinning under an "umbrella of grace"--is equally destructive.  We have to live in the awkward tension that happens when something doesn't fit into our neat boxes.  And we have boxes for everything.  In high school you could see the boxes all around throughout lunchroom, and we called them cliques.  Churches are the worst.  When we meet another Christian, within 30 seconds of questioning we can categorize them into their church denomination, worship preference, and most-frequented coffeeshop. 

Basically, we want to be able to immediately categorize any new experience, to where we understand it.  I'm so bad at this.  I wish everything in my life had a big underlined hyperlink to Wikipedia.  My life would be so much simpler, yet I would miss out on so much learning.  Real, messy learning--the kind that never gets erased.  Just ask my co-workers:  I read so much Wikipedia to pass the time, and I feel so good about my pursuits of knowledge, but I find myself re-reading articles because it's never a deep-seeded, learned experience.  Real, messy learning happens when you're in a cross-cultural setting, and you get yourself into a situation that you have no business being in.  Real, messy learning happens when you've wronged a loved one, and you can't take it back.  How do you even take a step forward?

Real, messy learning happens when you've disobeyed God's direct orders, and you have to pay.  That's not the same as whimsically reading a Wikipedia article about how God deals with sin.  You're living it.

Today I was reminded that we aren't supposed to box God in.  Who wants to worship something that you can take out of a drawer when it's time to go to church?  "Just a second, sweety, I have to put my religion on before we get in the car." No.  God is real, and He demands everything we have.  "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it..."

If we want to follow Jesus, the cost is our lives.  We have to give up our comfort, our boxes, our control over awkward situations, and our dignity.  The reward is a new life--a true, fuller, deeper life.

"...but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mk. 8:34-35)

I'm praying for all of us, that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  And to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.  (Sounds pretty good, eh?  Paul's words - Eph. 2:14-21)

*Here I'll add a note about how exactly this verse came to "confront" me.  I was simply replying to some birthday love that I received on facebook, and the verse spontaneously popped into my head.  You know how?  Memorizing scripture.  It's legit, guys.  I mentioned this in a post on April 27th, and I'm glad to tell you today that it has worked for me.  If scripture memorization were a marketable product, call me Billy Mays.  After hearing the verse mentioned at church a few weeks ago, I made a point to intentionally repeat it to myself to the point of memory.  Now, I find myself being randomly assaulted by Scripture when I'm just trying to enjoy some free time, and not of my own doing.  It's what memorizing Scripture does to you, and it's incredible to see a personal discipline actually provide room for the Holy Spirit to work, even when you're not trying to.

**I started out writing inspired by Saul's disobedience in 1 Samuel 14-15, and my desire to box-in my religion just like he did.  I ended on a Gospel rant.  And I deleted a lot of stuff in between (you're welcome).  Thank you so much for reading--I really can't express how much it means to me, even if it's just a perceived audience.  The Lord is at work in my heart, especially when I read His word and live out the messes of life with His children, but you're helping me make sense of it all on here.  It's new to me, so I'm going to keep working on my editing, but every so often I'm afraid you'll have to endure one of these workings-out of my thoughts and heart.  Thanks again!

Monday, June 7, 2010

23 years.

What an incredible birthday.

- Serving alongside some amazing brothers and sisters at Vintage21 Church.
- Soaking up sweet summertime at the neighborhood pool with a handful of incredible friends.
- Grilling and chilling at the house with those same folks, and a few additions.
- Worshiping the one true God, back at Vintage21.
- Remembering my baptism into the death that Jesus died, and the true life I've found in Him.
- Walking around beautiful downtown Raleigh.
- And finally, back to the house to sit around, talk, laugh, and share life with loved ones.

I really don't understand how I can be so blessed.  And to imagine that all of these moments are mere glimpses of what will be.  Standing in God's presence, there will be no other response than to praise Him and his glory.  If we think we're worshiping now--just wait.  One of my new favorite images of this day:

When we arrive at eternity's shore, where death is just a memory and tears are no more, we'll enter in as the wedding bells ring--your bride will come together and we'll sing: "You're beautiful"
Phil Wickham, "Beautiful"

Go.  Look around and know you're blessed right now.  It's there, and yeah, sometimes it's really hard to see.  Let those glimpses remind you that there's a louder shout to come, that we have a more certain hope, and that our citizenship is in heaven. (Philippians 3:20)