Friday, December 30, 2011

2 Years of Northshore Vineyard's History in 20 Minutes

This coming week we will be celebrating the 2 year anniversary of Northshore Vineyard Church.  To commemorate our first two years I have put together a short film containing photos, video, and comments from members of Northshore Vineyard.  Take some time to watch it when you get a chance.

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From Church Staff to Church Plant

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Does Christmas Really Mean?

photo by Crispin Schroeder
This time of the year it is quite often to see the phrase "Keep Christ in Christmas" on church billboards and even commercials.  This phrase is no doubt a response to much of the consumerism that surrounds the advent season in modern America.  But what does that sign really mean?  What does Christmas really mean?

As a pastor who is now responsible for putting on Christmas Eve services every year I often finding myself wondering which aspects of the Christmas story to emphasize and which aspects of our culture's version of Christmas to incorporate.  Let me say from the outset that I love the season of Christmas, the lights, the music, the parties with friends and presents on Christmas morning (which is a lot funner with kids of my own now).  I realize that the above are all pretty much cultural aspects of the season which have little or no attachment to the actual story of the advent of Christ but they are fun anyway.

When it comes to the actual story of Christmas I am struck by several aspects:
1. God With Us - I love what Christmas says about God and how he loves us not from a distance but by entering the world we live in the humblest of ways- by being born to a teenage couple in a stable. Christmas is the very first act of God removing the distance that has separated us from Him and His purposes.
2. The Incarnation - I love that the Christmas story speaks of God being formed in Mary as well as pointing to a spiritual life in which Christ can be formed within us.
3. The Characters - I love that the cast of characters gathered around Jesus are not the powerful or rich or well to do but rather shepherds, and astrologers from the east.  Not the type of folks that anyone would suspect getting in on the birth of Christ.  I often wonder what this might look like today.
4. The Glory of God - In the Christmas story we get a glimpse of God's glory, which for the first time is not in a tabernacle or temple but rather in human flesh.  Like the cross 30 years later the wisdom of this glory eludes many as God's glory isn't demonstrated in smoke and fire or even physical might rather in humility and love.
5. The Response of Faith - What's amazing about the humble cast of characters involved in the Christmas story is how they each responded with a "yes" to God's invitation.  Nowhere is this more apparent than when a teenage Mary, after hearing the words of Gabriel telling her she would be pregnant with the savior replied, "may it be to me according to your word."  The Christmas story is only compelling because the cast of characters said yes to what God was doing.  God invited them into the story of setting the world right and of transforming them within and they responded in faith.

These are a few of the aspects of Christmas that really get me excited.  What about you?  What does Christmas mean to you?

Related Post:
They Kept Shopping

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some Good Friends Working Together for the Good of Others

Conversations Along the Way...: Working Together for the Good of Others: This is a blog about a good friend of mine who has started a non-profit in order to provide food and critical vitamins to malnourished child...

The Unspectacular, Mostly Hidden In-Breaking of God's Kingdom

For the past 2 months the community of Northshore Vineyard has been going slowly through the Gospel of John.  2 Weeks ago we looked into Jesus' first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding feast.  One thing that struck me about this miracle was how the kingdom of God was how the kingdom of God showed up and the relatively small group of people who were even aware of the miracle.

In the story (John 2) Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding when Jesus' mom tells him that they have run out of wine.  So Jesus tells the servants to go fill up 6 ceremonial washing pots with water.  The servants do that and then Jesus tells them to take some of the water turned wine to the head of feast. They follow his directions and the head of the wedding party remarks about how amazing the wine is saying, "normally people at a party serve the good stuff first and then when folks have had plenty to drink they bring out the cheap stuff and yet they saved the best stuff for last."

In this story the bride and groom, the head of the feast, and the rest of the guests get to have really great wine but none of them realize the miracle that produced it.  In other words, the kingdom broke through in their midst and they didn't even know it.  The wedding party got to benefit from God's kingdom in their midst though most didn't even realize what God was even up to.  What's more is that the ones who were used to perform the miracle were the servants.  The servants weren't wedding guests or in any place of honor.  Like any wedding reception they would have simply been in the background serving people and cleaning up after the important guests.  Yet these are the very ones by which Jesus worked his miracle.  Jesus didn't lift a finger to fill the pots or touch the water.  He simply told them what to do and in doing so he performed a miracle through their obedience.  And when God's kingdom broke in it was these humblest of people at the party who got a front row seat.  Even Jesus' own disciples were more bystanders in this particular miracle.

In the past week I feel like I can truly identify with these servants at the wedding feast.  I have been witness to God showing up and meeting people's needs in so many amazing ways that have nothing to do with my resources, gifts, or talents.  I am feeling both humbled and awed by what I see God doing.  Like the wedding party I see the kingdom of God  breaking through and people benefiting from what God is doing though many don't even have a clue as to the miracles happening in their midst.

Jesus once said that the kingdom of God is like yeast in a lump of dough.  The dough is obviously rising and changing as a result of the kingdom but the process remains hidden and mysterious.  The more I look at the ministry of Jesus I realize that this is the case time and time again.  Even in the birth of Jesus we see that the ones who get in on the incarnation are not the rich, the powerful, or even those who were looking for Jesus but rather humble shepherds.  So often we expect for the breaking in of God's kingdom to be spectacular.  And though it some times does come spectacularly, I believe that God is often moving in much more hidden ways that we miss in our busyness.

I pray that you and me both would have eyes to see the in-breaking of the kingdom all around during this season of advent.  As the humble shepherds or servants at the wedding that we may be made aware of what God's presence in our conversations, our time with family, and the seemingly random encounters with those who cross our paths.

Audio related to this post:
Water Into Wine

Sharing Struggles - How to Teach the Bible Better Pt.5

One of the biggest difference in teaching the Bible verses teaching anything else is that the Bible is not simply a collection of historical facts but rather a narrative of salvation that invites us to both participate and be transformed.  One of the greatest temptations that is faced by anyone in the teaching ministry is that of simply conveying facts, doctrine, and theology apart from personalizing the truth in one's own journey.  The people who hear the messages we bring each week don't simply need to hear truth but to hear of how we have struggled and wrestled with the truth ourselves.  To hear of how we have found victory as well as how we have missed the mark in our own journey.

For most of my first decade as a Christian I rarely ever heard any pastors admit their struggles from the platform.  So I walked out of the shiny happy church gathering on Sundays thinking that I must be one of the only people struggling on the inside.  The truth of a transformed life seemed very illusive in part to the lack of being able to see the process behind the scenes.  I was listening weekly to pastors telling me what I should do with my life but rarely ever hearing of how they struggled with following Jesus in their own lives.  The reality is that every Christian struggles with faith and sin and working out their salvation but if this struggle is never mentioned it will make the very message we teach seem either theoretical or unattainable except for spiritual giants.

One of the greatest lessons I learned about speaking came from my time at the Kenner Vineyard.  Phil Jeansonne, the senior pastor, made a point to share his own struggles within the delivery of each weekly message.  I found that this was one if the biggest ways that the messages connected with myself and others because Phil wasn't portraying himself as someone who had it all together and had mastered spirituality but rather as someone who was struggling to work out his faith as much as anyone else in the room.  In fact when I first began to speak occasionally at the Kenner Vineyard, Phil would always make sure that I would share from my own personal wrestling with whatever was being covered that week.  I thank God for this part of my journey towards learning to teach better as it has truly helped me to connect with folks at various stages of faith.

I think many pastors want to be known as people of unwavering faith who pray all the time and never lack joy or peace or clarity on anything but that kind of thinking has more to do with ego and insecurity than wanting to connect people to God.  I am thankful that the New Testament is filled with stories of Christ followers who had all kinds of struggles in their journey towards Jesus and the kingdom.  Stories of men of God such as Peter who experienced great heights with God and amazing lows gives me hope that God can continue to form me into a "rock"no matter how much I fumble in my own journey.  The same can be said of our preaching and teaching.  If we never let people in to our own struggles with anger, lust, ego, jealousy, we will just be placed on a pedestal and are only setting up people for real disappointment when they realize that we are in fact human and still mess up as we follow Christ.  But when we share from our own struggles in the midst of teaching we are inviting people to journey after Christ from right where they are.  This doesn't negate the message of transformation, if anything it begins to crack the door of the heart open so people can truly experience truth and freedom.

How have you benefited from preachers and teachers who share from their own struggles as they teach?

Related Posts:
Bungee Jumping Feels Like Suicide
One Word

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Teacher as Pastor – How to Teach the Bible Better Part 4

One of my favorite books of 2011 has definitely been The Pastor by Eugene Peterson. In The Pastor, Peterson reflects on the joys, challenges, and trials of pastoral ministry.  One aspect of the book that I have found particularly insightful concerns the subject teaching/preaching the weekend sermon. 

Peterson writes of how he struggled with getting so caught up in studying and preparing his weekend message that he was not spending much time during the week with the people of his congregation.  Fortunately he caught this early on and made a habit of letting the relationships with people in his congregation inform his teachings.

This may sound like a simple no-brainer but I can attest that it is so easy to get caught up in studying the Bible or the busyness of life and forget that the weekend message is about connecting real people with God.  If I am not spending time with the people in the church I pastor it is so easy for my teachings on the weekend to become abstract and unconnected to real world issues.  However it is quite a different thing to walk with people through sickness, loss, relationship issues, and even joys and answered prayers during the week and to let those relationships inform my Sunday message.

It is one thing to preach on the atoning work of Christ, the incarnation or justification but it is quite another thing to wrestle with these concepts from the vantage point of the single mom working hard to provide for her kids, or the family that has faced the loss of a child, or the ones struggling with addictions or depression.  To allow the teaching process to be informed by the very people that will hear the message is a crucial part of not only communicating more effectively but of pastoring. 

Not all pastors are good teachers and not all teachers are good pastors but I feel that we must strive to see teaching the Bible connected to pastoring.  This does not happen by isolating oneself in a library of Bible commentaries but by immersing oneself in the very community of faith with all of its quirks and challenges.  

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Learning From Listening - How to Teach the Bible Better Pt.3

One of the biggest factors in my continual growth as a musician has nothing to do with playing music myself but rather listening to music.  Every time I go hear a good live band it inspires me to write better music, play better, try new things with my music.  In fact many times I find one of the most helpful ways to start off a band practice is by getting the musicians to sit down and listen to some good music together.  This has a way of waking the band up and getting us inspired to play music before we even pick up our instruments.  The same is true for those who wish to teach and preach, we must learn to listen to great speakers.

I read a book by Mark Driscoll a few years back in which he talked about this aspect of speaking saying that he became a student of the comedian Chris Rock (this may also explain why some of Driscoll's comments are so edgy that they continually land him in hot water).  As far as Driscoll is concerned good comedians have a lot to teach us about timing, delivery, and connecting with an audience and are thus worth serious consideration.  While learning from comedians is helpful I would also recommend becoming a student of the style of other preachers and teachers who inspire you as well.  Think about who it is that connects with you and take notes about why they connect with you.  You don't even have to agree with a persons theology to learn from their style.  In fact I would recommend listening to people you don't agree with theologically who are good communicators.  This aspect of teaching is about learning to connect better with your audience and there are plenty of amazing teachers out there from a variety of theological backgrounds that you can learn from.

In closing, here is a list of some communicators that inspire me for various reasons from various different fields.  I don't necessarily endorse their beliefs but learn a lot from the way they communicate:

  • Mark Driscoll - I love his way of connecting with a crowd.  He's edgy and brash and sometimes that works phenomenally.
  • Rob Bell - My favorite nonlinear communicator.  This dude speaks like an artist.  And his messages hit you with the same kind of power as art, much more subtly and subversively than typical messages.
  • Tim Keller - Keller has built a successful church in one of the hardest places to build a church - New York City.  Keller's style is conversation but chock full of well thought out theology.
  • Greg Boyd - Pastor from Woodland Hill Church in Minneapolis, Greg Boyd is a great example of being passionate about what you preach.  One does not usually associate passionate speaking with theologians but that's what you get with Greg Boyd - a brilliant theologian who is also a very passionate communicator.
  • Stephen Colbert - great inspiration on wit.  
  • John Stewart - Stewart has mastered the art of engaging with people (even those with which he disagrees) and saying so much without saying a lot.  He is brilliant in the way he communicates (much of this probably has to do with the team that works with him writing behind the scenes). 
  • Jimmy Fallon - This guy is just amazing at what he does.  
  • Ira Glass (This American Life Podcast) - Host of This American Life podcast Ira Glass is the moderator that makes me want to hear stories.  
  • Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich (Radiolab Podcast) - This duo really works well in hosting the Radiolab Podcast.
  • Martin Luther King - One of the greatest communicators ever.  King remains a fine example of connecting not only with those within the fold but the outside world as well.  He was a genius at connecting with the hearts of people in a way that was truly inspiring.  While he certainly offended some his style of communication invited many more in which is not easy to do with such volatile issues as with which he dealt.

What about you?  Who inspires you to speak?  Who have you learned from?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Preaching What You Practice - How to Teach the Bible Better Pt. 2

In the last post from this series I wrote about the benefits of a team approach to coming up with the material for the weekend message.  In this post I want to offer some insights from the world of music that have helped me become a better public speaker. 

I once saw a documentary on the legendary bass player Jaco Pastorius.  He talked about practicing bass in his head for several hours a day.  My bass player at that time used to joke quite frequently about how much he practiced in his head (his excuse for not picking up his bass an doing the hard work of actual practice).  The truth is that most of us aren’t at the level of musicianship of Jaco, so practicing in our heads won’t work nearly as well as actual practice with our instruments.  While practice makes perfect sense for musicians I don’t think it is nearly as common to apply this principal to the realm of public speaking.  But speaking in public is every bit as much of an art as playing music in front of people and it takes just as much work if one is to get good at it. 

In a typical week I will spend around 6-7 hours studying and preparing my message for the coming weekend and another 3-4 hours in practice speaking it.  Why so much time in practicing it?  Because it is only through practicing the message that I get a sense of how the thing actually sounds.  Practicing the message is particularly helpful for me because I developed much earlier as a writer than a speaker.  When I first started speaking at my last church 5-6 years ago I would frequently have 15-17 pages of notes; the words written out just the way I thought they sounded best.  The only problem was that I frequently sounded like I was reading notes (which is okay for professors or politicians but not so much for pastors.)  The same can be said of musicians who play with their eyes stuck to the page versus those who have practiced the music enough that they are freed from the page.   The later is free to express certain aspects of the music in the moment such as slowing down in certain sections or improvising over the melody in other places.  Practicing the message out loud over and over helps to internalize the message or to know the music by heart, so to speak, so that in the actual moment of delivering the message, the words can be liberated from the notes and delivered with spontaneity and care for that particular context. 

Practicing a weekend message will feel weird if you have never done it (my kids have walked in on me on many occasions when I am preaching to myself and I know I must look a little strange) but the repetitions will really help you identify the sections that are worded wrong or places in the message when things drag or if  there is just too much content. 

If I am going to play a new song at a gig I have no problem playing it through as many times as it takes for me to get comfortable before hand.  The same goes for teaching.  One must practice the message until it begins to feel comfortable.  This doesn’t mean you don’t need any notes but it will probably mean you don’t need as many as you think.  I have found in the last 2 years of speaking every weekend my notes have been whittled down from 15 pages to 2-3 pages of mostly bullet points.  I still think writing every word out can be helpful in the beginning but don’t underestimate the power of actually practicing what you preach or should I say preaching what you practice!

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Remembering Our First Christmas in Abita Springs

Last December we celebrated our first Christmas in Abita Springs after living the previous 7 years in the New Orleans area.  Though Abita Springs is not all that far from New Orleans geographically speaking it is a considerable distance concerning attitudes and culture.  This became very clear to our family when we pulled into our drive way on a Friday evening last December.  We noticed a minivan parked in front of our neighbors house and some people shouted out from the darkness to us telling us "Wait!  Don't go in your house yet!"  Our first thoughts were that there must be a break in or burglary in our home or somewhere in the neighborhood so our first reaction was to run inside and check on everything.  Noticing everything seemed alright we thought that one of our neighbors must have some kind of physical emergency.  So we ran back outside only to find that these people who had shouted out to us were singing Christmas carols.  We got a real kick out of that once the adrenaline settled down.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Teach the Bible Better Pt. 1 – The Teaching Team

I thought it might be fun to do a series of blogs on teaching the Bible, specifically how to teach it better.  I want to say from the outset that I am not writing this series of posts because I am some qualified expert at teaching the Bible but as one who has really been wrestling with this issue myself quite a bit in these last two years of being a pastor who teaches from the Bible on a weekly basis.  So, I will share some things that I have learned, some things that I am striving for, and some of the issues that seem the hardest to deal with when preaching / teaching each week. 

Today, I would like to toss out something that I have found to be very helpful in teaching from week to week—the teaching team.  During my first year as the pastor of Northshore Vineyard Church my messages were, for the most part, topical in nature and crafted alone.  The biggest challenge to me during the first year teaching/preaching at Northshore Vineyard was that my process of studying and putting together the weekend messages was carried out in so much isolation.  This was very difficult since I am such an outward processor who creates and learns from bouncing ideas off of others. 

In January of this year I decided to try something different.  I put together a teaching team made up of some of our core team members who had been very involved in planting this church (currently our team is made up of six people including myself).  We were getting ready to kick off a series on the book of Philippians so I bought commentaries on Philippians for all of the teaching team members and we began meeting one morning a week for a discussion around breakfast.  During a typical teaching team meeting everyone gives me feedback on the message from the previous weekend (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and then we have a discussion about the text for the coming weekend as well as any creative ideas on how to present the message.  We are now coming up on about a year of doing the teaching team and I have to say that this has been one of the most helpful ways to not only come up with teachings but to also get perspective on how I am communicating as well.   

Below I want to summarize what I see as some of the benefits to this approach.
1.     Feedback - I have encountered many folks in ministry who are not very effective communicators.  I believe that much of this is due to the fact that they don’t get regular honest feedback on how they are doing.  This is one aspect I really love about our teaching team.  We have such a diverse group of people on the team from various religious backgrounds, with very different personalities and giftings that provide me with a real good picture of how I am communicating and coming across on a weekly basis.   For instance, two of the members of our team grew up nominal Catholics who came to faith in Jesus only in the last 10 years as adults.  They both have a real heart for the unchurched or dechurched people that visit Northshore Vineyard each week.  If I communicate things in a way that only a seasoned Christian would understand they have no problem calling me on it.  I really appreciate this because as someone in ministry who reads a whole lot of theology booksI could easily find myself teaching in a way that alienates those who are just checking things out or who have no background in Christianity.  Some of our teaching team discussions become quite lively when discussing these aspects but I am a much better communicator as a result.
2.     Processing scripture together – If we truly long for folks in church to interact with others as they read the Bible it would make sense to interact with others as we pastors wrestle with the scriptures ourselves.  I love hearing how different people on our team process scriptures and what stands out to them.  It helps give me a more broad view of the different ways that people connect with the Bible outside of my own perspective on things.
3.     Equipping others – I would like to think that this team approach is equipping other team members to be good teachers of the word as well.  It is my hope that members of this team will one day be a regular part of delivering the weekend teachings and not just in emergency situations when I can’t make it but rather because we have been proactive in valuing team ministry.  I think this is ultimately better for the church for a variety of reasons.  First it fights against personality driven teaching.  Secondly it puts into practice the idea that kingdom ministry is about equipping and releasing others.  Finally it is healthy for the body as it brings diverse expressions and giftings to the role of teaching outside of the senior pastor’s giftings and personality. 

Summary: The way or process that gives rise to the weekend messages is every bit as important as the message itself.  I believe it does those of us in ministry well to wrestle with how we can incorporate central values such as community and equipping others for ministry into the very process of studying the Bible for teaching. 

Speaking of feedback, I would love to hear your thoughts.

  • How have you benefited from a team approach to ministry?
  • How have you grown by getting feedback from other trusted friends?
  • How have you found getting the perspectives of others helpful in the way you communicate?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making Room for Differing Opinions in My Life

I became a twit a few years ago, or should I say a tweeter.  While I have enjoyed Facebook, Twitter offers a different sort of charm as it is can be configured as a personalized stream of news, inspiration and opinions. 
When I first joined Twitter I followed folks that I respected, or who believed what I believed about the world, politics, and God.  But at some point I really felt like my personal news feed from selected sources tended to lead me towards a very myopic view of the world.  So one day I decided I would follow some people who I don’t really agree with on many things and to follow some organizations that hold very different views on what is important in the world.  I am amazed at how much I am challenged in a good way by some of the people that hold to a very different view of theology than I, as well as by looking at world news through the lens of other political persuasions or cultures.

What do you think?  Is it helpful or healthy to create space for differing opinions in your life?

I welcome your answers as long as you agree with me ;-)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Taking Care of the Temple

Over the years I have often heard Christians say, “I’m taking care of the temple brother!”  This expression, borrowed from 1 Corinthians is used as a scriptural justification for working out or eating healthy.  And while there are certainly benefits to working out and eating right statements like this make me kind of cringe because I think they are missing the whole meaning of what’s behind Paul’s use of the term. 

In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul writes:
 16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

I have used the NIV rendering of this verse because it makes it clear that the “you” here is really what we in the South would refer to as “Ya’ll”.  Paul is not making an appeal here for individuals to think of themselves as the dwelling place of God but rather the community of believers as the dwelling place, the temple of God.  Why is this important?  Because the bulk of 1 Corinthians is dealing with the very issues that separate believers from one another, the divisions that keep us from being a kingdom people gathered under the lordship of Christ. 

Paul goes on to write
 18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

The issues for the Corinthian church weren’t a matter of people not taking care of their physical bodies but rather operating according to a wisdom that is of the kingdom of this world.  Paul frames his argument with the very real divisions that had sprung up in Corinth by some being in the “Peter” club, some in the “Apollos” club and some being in “Paul’s” club.  Much like today groups were gathering around their favorite preachers of the word.  I can imagine the arguments that must have gone on between these groups:

“We follow Peter ‘the Rock’ the one who was with Jesus in his ministry who walked on water and on whom Jesus promised to build his church!”

“Well we follow Paul who encountered the risen Lord and had a life-altering change of heart and who has planted more churches than any of those other disciples!”

“Forget Paul and Peter!  Apollos is such a brilliant evangelist!  Have you heard him speak?  He is amazing!”

But as far as Paul is concerned this kind of “wisdom” is no different from the divisions one would see anywhere else in the world.  It is after all the way the world works.  The indictment is that these divisions are not simply a matter of personal taste but rather a barrier to people experiencing the life of the kingdom and even more so the world seeing the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. 

As Paul’s letter to the Corinthians continues he takes issue with them not only for their divisions around the leaders they prefer but around other divisions such as on the use of spiritual gifts in the church service, the way they practice communion in which some people were eating all the food and drinking all the wine so that when the poor showed up they are left out.   These are the things that destroy the temple because people are failing to act like a community and are instead just acting like a bunch of selfish individuals who are not even connected to one another.  In the end it is nothing but the plain old wisdom of the world repackaged in Christian jargon. 

You see when we begin to see the church as the gathering of believers around King Jesus, then we can’t simply treat our relationships with one another as if they are simply like any other relationships in the world.  We together are the temple!  This means that we must take great effort to keep our hearts free of offense, to seek to walk in forgiveness, to deal with our own selfishness because we are not in this alone!

Jesus once told his disciples, “The world will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.”  It’s no surprise that Paul delivers the famous “Love Chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13 as a summation of everything that he has been trying to say to the Corinthian Church.   When we as believers are walking in love with one another we are truly moving against the wisdom of this world and are beginning to show the world what it looks like when Jesus is king. 

I am convinced that this remains one of the most underrated keys to evangelism.  If the world truly sees a group of people who are living the love of God with one another will they not want to be a part?  Sadly much of the church has become known more for what it is against, for its divisions, for its mean spirit, for its holier than thou attitude rather than its love for God, the world and one another. 

I will close this post with the words of Paul to challenge us all (myself included) to truly take care of the temple.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Love one another.  Follow the king!

Audio on this Subject: Let Love Rule , One Mind

Thursday, December 08, 2011

God With Us

This is my first Christmas song I wrote circa 1999.  For those wishing to download the original studio version of this song by my band Mary's Den you can download in on iTunes

Two thousand years ago you came
Into our world as just a baby
To live and die just like a man
To show how much you loved us

You were light shining in the dark
And the darkness could not understand
You were far too supernatural
Wrapped up in ordinary man

You are God with us
Not God in the heavens with a stick
Waiting to beat us down
Every time we come around
You are God with us
Not some old statue in a church collecting dust
Or some fairy tale that someone dreamed up

Show me the way
Show me the way

I really cannot comprehend
The world you left behind
The streets of gold and crystal rivers
Angels singing in the sky

You traded in your kingly robes
For human flesh and dusty roads
You took the lowest path you could
But at the cross you won the world

You are God with us
Not God in the heavens with a stick
Waiting to beat us down
Every time we come around
You are God with us
Not some old statue in a church collecting dust
Or some fairy tale that someone dreamed up

Show me the way
Show me the way
Jesus would you show me
I believe you are the way

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Racism in the Church is Anti-Gospel

Luke 5:27-32   
27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. 29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

One of the most scandalous aspects of the ministry of Jesus was table fellowship.  Jesus had quite a reputation for celebrating the kingdom with the wrong kinds of people: tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners.  These meals were not random events for the Messiah who simply needed to eat but rather actions that revealed the kingdom of God every bit as much as any of the other miracles Jesus performed whether healings, deliverance, or the feeding the five thousand.  In celebrating these meals with the “wrong” people Jesus was making the statement that the kingdom was not simply for the followers of the Law or ethnic Jews but for anyone who would follow the king in his work. 

The apostle Paul picks this theme up as a main theme in the book of Galatians.  Paul writes in Galatians of a time when he, the freshman apostle, had to confront the senior most apostle Peter to his face.  The issue was Peter’s hypocrisy.  Though Peter knew the only identifier in his life that mattered was Jesus he was acting otherwise.  This was particularly evident when it came to mealtime.  Peter had no problem eating with gentile believers until Jewish Christians showed up from Jerusalem.  Then Peter would separate from the gentile believers so as to keep himself “pure”.    Paul has to call Peter on this issue because it is not a simple matter of doctrinal preference but rather it is fundamental to the gospel itself.

Paul sums this whole argument up in Galatians 3:26-28
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Jesus is the only identifier that matters!  Once one has been baptized into Jesus Christ every other identifier in life becomes secondary from race to gender to social status.  We all get in to the promises of Abraham through Jesus!  This is really good news!

In early November, Thompson [pastor of Glunare Free Will Baptist Church, Pike County, Kentucky] proposed the church go on record saying that while all people were welcome to attend public worship services there, the church did not condone interracial marriage…  The proposal also said "parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services" or other church functions, with the exception of funerals.The recommendation "is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve," the copy supplied to the Herald-Leader read.

I am really puzzled by the reasoning behind this decision being that it promoted greater unity in the church and the community.  Really?  It sounds more likely like the church is actually pandering to anti-gospel ideas both in their church community and in the surrounding community. 

These types of issues have been present since the early days of the church but we cannot afford to treat these issues of unity in Christ as peripheral for they are central to the announcement of Jesus as king.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Scot McKnight - Is the Sermon on the Mount Gospel?

Scot McKnight has an interesting blog on how we should read the Sermon on the Mount -- Is the Sermon on the Mount Gospel?  I have heard so many folks come up with vastly different approaches to how we should read the Sermon on the Mount.  McKnight suggest we approach it through the lens of Jesus as the Messiah who invites us as followers into his kingdom.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ghosts Upon the Earth, Gungor – A Review

Speaking of Theology through the arts…

Recently I came across another great example of a band that is not just producing good songs of faith but songs that are filled with well-thought-out theology.  While Gungor has released great albums in the past their most recent offering shows both musical and theological growth.  One of my biggest challenges when writing songs  of faith is how to catch some of the more epic themes from the Bible in a song that is only 3-4 minutes long as well as how to communicate these ideas not simply in words but musically as well.  Gungor’s Ghosts Upon the Earth deals with this challenges by arranging a collection of songs into the narrative flow of scriptures.  The resulting album is built around the themes of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation.  This approach has worked as well as anything that I’ve heard before. 

As for the music these songs are really creative in their instrumentation, arrangements and styles.  Gungor’s layering of diverse instruments from banjoes, acoustic guitars, cellos, and xylophones is reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens yet this is no Sufjan rip-off project.  In fact, Gungor actually succeeds where Stevens, in my opinion fails sometimes, by creating more depth and dynamics in their arrangements.  There are also moments on this album that seem heavily influenced by Nickel Creek, but again without coming off as a band with an identity crisis.  For all of their stylistic meanderings, Ghosts on the Earth is a much more cohesive set of songs than their last album—Beautiful Things.   

What I find fascinating is the compelling way that Gungor presents narrative theology (the understanding of the Bible as one cohesive story that finds it fulfillment in Jesus) throughout this album.  Since Ghosts Upon the Earth was more of a concept album there was no rush to get to the more hopeful and upbeat songs too early, rather Gungor takes their time in exploring all aspects of the narrative from creation to fall to redemption and beyond.  The resulting work rings with authenticity throughout and brings the listener gradually into a hopeful place of worship as restored people in a new creation.  While there are great moments throughout, this album is best appreciated as a complete work rather than as individual songs.  I would recommend setting aside a little time to get quiet, put some headphones on, and just listen.  You won’t regret it!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Theology Through the Arts

Here is a great video clip Jeremy Begbie on theology through the arts.  I have a few books from Begbie that discuss theology and the arts but I had never actually heard him play piano until I heard him play a piece by Frans Liszt to close out a theology symposium at Wheaton College on the work of Bible scholar N. T. Wright.  I was caught off guard by how the piece he played seemed to say something abut God and theology that the words of all of those amazing scholars couldn't.  I have really wrestled over the past few years with how bring to bear well thought out theology in the worship songs I lead and the songs I write and perform outside of church.  I see this as one of the most necessary pursuits of musicians of faith in our modern context.  The truth is most folks that walk into a church don't really care for wrestling much with theology and won't really respond that well to lectures on theology.  But music has a way of connecting with anyone at a heart level.  The truth is that folks who attend church likely experience as much or more spiritual formation by the songs sung in worship as they do by listening to a message from a pastor.  Begbie has some great thoughts here on music and theology that would do a lot of worship leaders and musicians some good to check out.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Ability to Choose Well

Radiolab has become one of my favorite podcasts in recent years with its variety of interesting stories on science.  Of particular interest to me have been the various episodes that have looked into the workings of the human mind.  One such episode entitled How Much is Too Much? looked at how our ability to make healthy decisions is greatly compromised when our minds are trying to hold on to too much information at once.  On the podcast they interviewed Baba Shiv of Stanford University who conducted a simple experiment which illustrates this phenomenon.  In the experiment subjects were asked to memorize a number and then walk down the hall to another room to recite it.  Unbeknownst to the subjects some were given a 2 digit number while others were given a 7 digit number.  But on their way to the other room they passed by a person sitting at a table who offered, as thanks for participating in the experiment, either a piece of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.  Those who were trying to remember a seven digit number were more than twice as likely to choose the chocolate cake as those who had memorized the two digit number.

The reason given for this phenomenon is that the rational part of the brain that would keep a person making healthy decisions is greatly compromised once a number committed to memory is seven or more digits.  When that happens the emotional mind takes over which is more concerned with immediate gratification.  This phenomenon can be seen in any area where humans are offered more than 7 choices at once because human working memory is only capable of holding up to seven numbers or ideas at once (this is one reason that phone numbers don't exceed 7 digits).

I can't help but wondering if this further illustrates why trying to live a deliberately simple and uncluttered life might not simply be better in financial terms but also concerning the emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of a persons life.  It also is no wonder why stress often creates such a hospitable environment for sins of the flesh.

Check out the podcast when you get a chance...

Monday, November 07, 2011

How Did the First Christians Read the Bible?

I love watching a good movie particularly when a movie involves an unexpected twist in the plot.  When the plot heads in a sudden and unexpected direction it causes the viewer to look back on the whole of the story up to that point in a completely different way as some of the basic assumptions held are turned up on their head.  A great example of this can be seen in The Matrix.  When Neo, a computer hacker living out a mundane existence in the corporate world discovers that what he thought was the real world was really an elaborate computer generated reality it becomes a pivotal twist in the plot that neither Neo or the viewer could see coming and it completely alters the way Neo will live his life from that point forward.  From that point on Neo can never be the same as that revelation has fundamentally changed his view of both reality and his own purpose.

One aspect of the scriptures that is lost on most folks in the modern world is just how unexpected the coming of Jesus as the Messiah was to the disciples in first century Palestine.  The authors of the New Testament whether Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter or even Paul had been raised in a religion that had saturated their imaginations and hopes in the story of God’s faithfulness to Israel.  They had grown up year after year with the rhythms of Judaism shaping their spiritual formation from Sabbath keeping (based not only on the Mosaic Law but on the creation story where God rested on the seventh day) to the festivals throughout the year such as Passover, the Festival of Booths, Pentecost (Festival of First Fruits) that celebrated how God had heard the cries of his people and intervened to rescue them.  On top of this there was the expectation and hope that God would send the promised Messiah who would set Israel free from here oppressors (at that time the Romans)—Someone like Moses to lead Israel on a New Exodus, one from the line of David who would rule in righteousness a kingdom without end.  But that hope for the Messiah was for a mere man who would likely lead an earthly rebellion against their oppressors.  Sure enough in the years prior to the first century there had been many would-be Messiahs, men who lead revolts and rebellions to set Israel free only to be crushed by the firm fist of the Empire. 

And it was in to this environment that God sent the Messiah.  Yet he was not anything that they could have ever expected.   A man?  Yes, but so much more than a mere man!  As the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:7-10

This is the wisdom God prepared ahead of time, before the world began, for our glory.
None of the rulers of this present age knew about this wisdom.  If they had, you see, they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of Glory.  But as the Bible says,
Human eyes have not seen,
Human ears have never heard,
It’s never entered human hearts:
All that God has now prepared
For those who truly love him.
And that’s what God has revealed to us through the spirit!

What Paul is saying here in these verses is that no one saw this thing coming.  Even though there had been a fervent expectation for the Messiah, everyone had been caught off guard by the wisdom of God in sending his own son into the story as the Christ.  While Israel had awaited someone who would set them free she got a much bigger Messiah with a much bigger mission coming to set not just Israel but the whole world free! 

If we are to be true students of the Bible we must ask the question, “How did the first disciples of Jesus read the Bible?”  The answer to this question would be similar to the way anyone reading a story or watching a movie is compelled to understand the story once there has been a major twist in the plot.  With the coming of God’s own Son Jesus as the Messiah, these thoroughly Jewish disciples could no longer view the story up to that point in the same way.  The disciples had to reconfigure their whole understanding of the story of Israel around the person and work of Jesus. 

For most of my Christian journey I have been encouraged to read the Old Testament and New Testament as distinctly different stories but this is not how the first disciples and the authors of the New Testament read the Bible.  The books of the New Testament are chock full of references to the Old Testament scriptures as well as parallels with Old Testament stories.  The disciples did not throw away the Old Testament because Jesus came on the scene, rather all of the sudden they began to see the story of God’s faithfulness to Israel with a whole new set of eyes—The story of Israel was a series of signposts pointing to an ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. 

Why is this important to understand?  Because we must learn to view the Old Testament the way the early disciples did, to see it through the lens of Jesus the Messiah, the resurrected King of all!  Apart from this understanding of scriptures we can make the Bible say all kinds of things that it was never intended to say.  The more I am coming to understand this way of looking at the scripture the more I see the Bible as a rich and layered story about Jesus.  What’s more is that this way of reading the scriptures draws one more into relationship with Jesus while keeping one from the pitfalls of both proof-texting to back pet agendas as well as a liberalism which would seek to make the Bible a set of inspirational stories only.  The Bible must be understood first and foremost as the story of Jesus.  My prayer is that this becomes more and more the way that the people of God learn to read the scriptures.

Note: I discuss some of these issues in a recent podcast from Northshore Vineyard entitled The Word that Transcends the Story   You can also download the audio from Northshore Vineyard Church

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Bible Made Impossible - A Review

“God said it, I believe it, that settles it!’
“BIBLE—Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth”
“Vote responsibly—Vote the Bible!”
“Confused?  Read the directions [picture of the Bible].
“Have you read my #1 best seller [picture of the Bible]?  There is going to be a test.—God
“Have truth decay?  Brush up on your Bible!
“Got scripture?”

You have likely seen one of the above slogans on a billboard or church sign at some point in your life.  While these sayings are no doubt a little cheesy, author Christian Smith sees them as symptoms of a problem that has become entrenched in the modern evangelical church—biblicalism.  Smith defines biblicalism as a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity (clearly expressed and easily understood), self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.  As Smith sees it, this approach to the Bible makes the Bible impossible to understand or apply and many times makes an idol of the very book that would point us to the God.  Smith takes on this subject as well as what, in my opinion, is a much better way to approach the scriptures in his new book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicalism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.

When I first became Christian I was taught (both by the words and actions of the Christians of whom I was around) that the Bible is the highest authority, that it is infallible, and that anyone can read it and hear from God with little outside help.  So… I jumped right in to reading what I could, which was usually a few verses here, and a few verses there.  Sometimes I even tried the method of asking God to show me something and then seeing what random page I would land on when I opened my Bible.  This worked particularly well one time when the Bible fell open to a passage from Isaiah 55:12 that said, “You shall go out with joy…”  Well, I did my best as a single college guy to follow the prompting of scripture by asking a girl named Joy out on a date.   

While this approach to reading the Bible seems kind of silly now, it was actually quite normal at that point in my journey.  Heck, I was just doing what I saw others do on a regular basis.  It was quite a regular occurrence to bump into people who had a real gift of taking obscure passages from the prophetic books of the Bible and turning them into personal prophecies of success, prosperity and healing.  I even have cassette tapes with many such words that were given to me personally. 

In my years as a Christian I have been around folks who have used the Bible to make a case that God intends that we all be vegetarians and others who say that God doesn’t want us to eat wheat (I guess we have to modify that part in the Lord’s Prayer about “gives us our daily bread”).  I have heard scriptural justifications for why we need to pay taxes as well as scriptural reasons as to why we don’t need to pay taxes.  I have heard those who use the Bible to say that America is the New Israel and others using the same Bible to make the case that America is the Whore of Babylon.  I have heard messages, again based on scriptures, on why dating is wrong as well as messages on why dating is perfectly acceptable.  These are just a few things that I have encountered personally but let’s not forget world history. 

Not to long back in our history some folks in the United States who owned slaves had very scriptural reasons for doing so (and not just from the Old Testament mind you) while others found a basis for freeing slaves in the same holy book.  There have been folks who have found reasons to take up arms and go to war as those who see passivism as the only scriptural option.  I could go on but the point I am making, which is made quite well by Christian Smith, is that Biblical authority isn’t nearly as cut and dry or black and white as many assume. 

Smith points to all of the division in the church over scripture to make the case that biblicalism is not only an erroneous way to approach the scriptures but also causing the fragmentation of the church.  In other words, if the scriptures were as easy to understand and as universally applicable as we have assumed then there should be less fragmentation and much more unity throughout the church.  And yet the biggest champions of Biblicalism seem to be the ones causing the most division.  Perhaps the problem has to do with the basic assumptions that people bring to the scriptures that don’t come from either the scriptures or from the authors from which they were written. 

Smith argues for a much more Christ centered and Trinitarian reading of scripture that grounds everything from the Old and New Testaments in the person of Jesus.  In other words, everything in the Old Testament is pointing to and finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus.  This certainly seemed to be what Jesus was getting at in John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (NLT)  In fact, as Scot Mcknight points out in The King Jesus Gospel, this is exactly how the early disciples learned to view the story of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament.  Though Peter, James, John, and Paul had all grown up with certain ideas about God from Judaism they ended up viewing them through the lens of Jesus Christ and his work.  For the early disciples this meant that everything from Passover to the Exodus, from the Law to the Temple was fulfilled in Jesus.  Sure this didn’t solve all the problems for how to read the scriptures but gave them a new framework on how to begin asking questions of what it meant to live as followers of King Jesus.  This helped the early disciples particularly when it came to matters of whether believers needed to be circumcised, keep Sabbath and issues of table fellowship (as presented in Galatians).  Christian Smith makes the case that far from being a “liberal” approach to scripture this approach is actually much more faithful to the intent of scriptures and much more evangelical (at its best).  

It was quite helpful reading this book on the heals of finishing Scot McKnight’s latest work, The King Jesus Gospel, and while in the middle of reading Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright (I would highly recommend reading all three together).  Reading these three books simultaneously is almost like sitting at a round table discussion with each author sharing their unique perspectives which are all united by both a highly Christological and narrative reading of scriptures. 

While this book was very insightful, I wished it had been a bit more concise and to the point (Smith certainly included a lot of research which made it thorough but a little too dense of a read for my taste).  Looking back on my own journey I really wished that someone would have given me a few of the simple tips mentioned in this book for how to approach the scriptures.  It would have saved me a lot of silliness and would have maybe gave me more clarity when I encountered Biblical abuse in the church as well.  It is refreshing to read the words of someone who, while believing in scriptural authority, also understands that the ultimate authority resides in JESUS THE MESSIAH.   

Continued Musings on Mumford and Sons...

So I was reading a blog post this morning on Mumford and Sons and got about halfway through only to realize that one of my past blogs Musings on Mumford and Sons and a Vineyard Conference was quoted quite extensively.  I had written that post shortly after being introduced to Mumford and Sons at a live gig in Phoenix, Az. and so the post was more of a first impression of an up an coming band.  So it was great to read A Deliberately Spiritual Thing today, an article that delves a bit deeper into the lyrics and spirituality of Mumford and Sons.  Check it out when you get a chance.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Pastor as Worship Leader

Over the last couple of months I have been slowly reading through Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor (slowly so I can allow plenty of time for reflection).  I find that Peterson’s observations on pastoring have a particular relevance in my life as I seek to live out the vocation of pastor in my own context.  I am particularly intrigued by the way he sees the primary role of a pastor as leading the congregation in worship of Jesus. 

Peterson shares a story of how he and about 15 other area pastors were invited by a psychiatrist to spend two years meeting once a week to learn the basics of diagnosing and helping people with emotional, psychological problems.  The psychiatrist invited the pastors to be a part of this mentoring group as he saw them as being on the front lines of encountering people with issues.  Peterson writes about how those 2 years were tremendously helpful in coming to understand some of the issues people were facing whether addiction, abuse, depression, or grief.  He even writes how at one point he was tempted to quit being a pastor so he could devote more time helping people overcome their issues.  Yet it was at this point Eugene Peterson had a sort of epiphany:

Peterson writes,
In the Tuesday chairs [the meetings with the psychiatrist and the other pastors] I was learning to understand people in terms of their problems; in the Sunday chairs I was learning to understand people in terms of God’s grace working in them.  The epiphany was not in the observation itself, but in the realization that I was gradually becoming more interested in my congregation as problems to be fixed than as persons made in the image of God, capable of living, just as they were, to the glory of God…
…Incrementally, without noticing what I was doing, I had been shifting from being a pastor dealing with God in people’s lives to treating them as persons dealing with problems in their lives.  I was not being their pastor.  I could have helped and still been their pastor.  But by reducing them to problems to be fixed, I omitted the biggest thing of all in their lives, God and their souls, and the biggest thing in my life, my vocation as pastor.
 Once Eugene Peterson began to embrace the calling of being a pastor he truly began to see one of the highest acts of that vocation in leading his congregation in worship, which for him included the whole of the weekend church service. 

Perhaps if I had grown up in a more liturgical tradition I would have naturally thought of the whole Sunday service as worship from the songs, to the sharing of the word, to communion, and prayer.  But somehow in all of my years in more nondenominational expressions of church I have somehow come to associate leading worship with just the songs of worship—The Pastor preaches and teaches and the worship leader leads people in worship!  Yet as I have pondered these reflections of Peterson I have found myself being challenged to look more at every aspect of a church service as leading people in worship.  So if I lead people in singing to God, then I am leading folks in worship.  If I lead people in reading aloud from the scriptures then I am leading people in worship worship.  If I share the gospel story with the people in the congregation then it is to lead them into worship.  This may seem like a no-brainer to some but has really been a great way for me to approach our weekly gathering at Northshore Vineyard. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I haven't been too active either following blogs or writing blogs lately as life is pretty hectic right now.  But I thought I would share a link to a story that came out in the Times Picayune on the subject of chili here.  Northshore Vineyard is in the process of putting together a chili cook-off for October 23.  Somehow word of this event made it to the food columnist of the Times Picayune and I got a call last week for an interview on the subject of chili.  READ THE STORY which features some musings on chili and if you scroll down towards the bottom you can find my recipe for Pork Chili Verde.  Or you can cut to the chase for the PORK CHILI VERDE RECIPE HERE

Friday, September 09, 2011

2011 Alpha Promo Video

The following is a promo video for our upcoming Alpha Course at Northshore Vineyard.  If you are in the area we would love for you to be a part.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Reflections on One Long Hot Summer and Romans 8

One of my absolute favorite chapters in the whole Bible is Romans 8.  If I was to be stranded on a desert Island and had to choose one chapter to take with me, it would be Romans 8.  Romans 8 has so many wonderful words on grace, creation, new creation, hope and of course—Jesus!  One of my favorite sections of Romans 8 comes in verse 22-23  

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

Something about these words of creation groaning and we ourselves groaning in the pains of childbirth seems to speak to me with a much greater punch in the dog days of summer of late August in Louisiana.  The first part of the summer is always hot down here but in July most of the really hot days are alleviated by afternoon showers, which, though making things steamier, provided a pleasant respite from the oppressive heat.  However the last few weeks of August seem to have a way of becoming nearly unbearable.  With the last days of summer comes a low level depression that sets in as people try to avoid being outside for more than a few minutes at a time and find themselves cooped up in homes and offices all day.

There have been several days in the last few weeks when I was bound and determined to do a little reading on the back porch and enjoy the sounds of birds and insects and the beauty of trees in the early hours of morning.  And yet my weak will gave in and retreated to more hospitable climes within just a few minutes.  And yet it is in those moments, sweating under the oppression of summer, that words penned by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 begin to speak to me with particular clarity… creation is groaning… I am groaning… all of us are groaning.  I find that by the last 2-3 weeks of August I am longing and groaning along with the world of nature around me for the cool of autumn.   I can’t help but wonder if this longing for summer to be over isn’t somehow part of the very narrative of redemption and new creation embedded in the very seasons of our world.  As the opening verses of Psalm 19 declare:

 1 The heavens declare the glory of God;    the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech;    night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words;    no sound is heard from them. 4 Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,    their words to the ends of the world. 

I am writing these words on that first cool day that has come in 5 months… that day that I have been groaning and waiting for.  And it is every bit as wonderful as I imagined.  Yet I don’t want to simply enjoy this day but rather to let it be a space in which I can remember the bigger narrative, the groaning of creation that will once be liberated by the return of Christ.  I wan to use this day as a springboard to join with creation in praising the King.  So here’s to a beautiful day at the end of a long summer and here’s to the beautiful day of which we still eagerly await when our King Jesus will once and for all set things right.