Merry Christmas


Here is a photo I took at a friend's wedding last weekend. Thought it turned out fairly well for my snap and shoot digital camera.

On a side note, you might want to check out http://myholidaysweater.com
It's pretty sweet.

Our Deliverer

"I love you, O Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whome I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies." Psalm 18:1-3

"From the Lord comes deliverance." Psalm 3:8

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift of deliverance that came through his Son, Jesus Christ!

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Peace.

The Kingdom of God is Like...

A place where the King and Lord cares about the oppressed, the marginalized, the fatherless and the afflicted and he gives encouragement, redemption, hope and freedom.



"You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,

defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more."
Psalm 10:17-18

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." 1 Peter 5:6-7

This is the kind of kingdom the world truly wants, but much of the world doesn't know that God's kingdom is truly like this. They haven't seen this light amidst the darkness.

"...but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." -Jesus

Random

I can't believe it's been nearly a month since my last post. I guess this month has been busier than I realize! So much going through my mind right now. Right now I am reading three excellent books. The Gospel of Mark. It is always a great read. I love Mark's overuse of the word "immediately." Ever notice that? I'm in the middle of Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale by F. Buechner. It's my first experience with Buechner, and I am quite impressed. He's such an artistic writer, he really brings the words to life. In the third book I am reading, a section of his book, Sacred Journey, was quoted and I was blown away. This third book is Simpler Living, Compassionate Life, which I just started, but I'm pretty excited about it. Simplicity is a subject that has been flodding my mind ever since I was in South Africa. I'll have an update on that one down the road...

And of course the biggest news is that I am less than 2% away from being done with my initial full-time support raising. 2%! That number is a ballpark, because some people have committed and not given yet and some have given and committed but have stopped giving already since they started. The bottom line: I am just about done with support raising! In fact, I am moving into a new apartment in Champaign on Friday. Suh-weet.

I am absolutely oozing with anticipation and excitement to be here in Champaign, working in ministry full-time, close to my friends and Amber. God has given me much more than I deserve, but that's what grace is. Looking forward to preparing for our spring break trip to Honduras...it's going to be an amazing adventure.

Oh, and I am fighting the urge to listen to the Christmas music that is already filling the airwaves on the radio. It's some of my favorite music, but I'll burn myself out before Christmas is even here if I don't hold back.

Give It All Up

A friend sent me the transcript from a message given by Billy Graham in 1957 at the University of Illinois. I just finished reading it and Graham's words ring just as true for our us today as they did nearly 50 years ago. He spoke about how Christ has called us to live committed, disciplined, self-denying lives (Luke 9:23) and about how we have become soft, particularly as men; hearers of the Word, but not doers (James 1:22). I don't have much time to write for now, but I want to leave you with one quote from his message that really stuck with me.

A young university girl said to a Christian worker in England, "I would give the world if I had the Christian testimony you have." The dear sweet old lady said, "My dear, that's exactly what it cost me, the world."

Frozen Pizzas and the Cycle of Poverty, Part IV

In Part III, I closed with this thought:

"Yes, on the global poverty stage, Americans do not struggle at the same level (millions upon millions living on less than a $1/day), but this does not justify ignoring or setting aside the mandate of scripture to care for the poor and needy (widows and orphans).

What does God's Word say on this topic?"


Well, if you've ever read the Holy Bible or have heard it read, it doesn't take long to recognize that God has a special place in his heart for the poor. There are hundreds of references to the poor in Scripture. And not just poor financially, but poor in spirit, as ones who are humble and recognize that we are the created and we have been created to fellowship with and glorify our Creator. But, I want to just highlight some passages of scripture that have impacted me on the subject of caring for the poor. We have much to learn from them (even as a one working in full-time ministry in the US, I am probably in the wealthiest bracket on the world's stage), and even as election time is rearing its ugly head, we have an opportunity to remember whose kingdom we are living in. (JR just posted an interesting piece on his blog about Sex, Economics and Worship and how the former two are expressions of worship to God in this world, the way we use our bodies and the way we use our resources, and how the political divide often falls between these two expressions).

As you read these passages I have laid out, maybe keep the following questions in the back of your mind: Have we become too dependent upon the structures of the world in regards to using and investing our resources? Does the way we care for the poor and needy look different from those around us who are not Christ-followers? How do/can we effectively communicate and live out the radical Gospel message through our simultaneous efforts to help break the cycle of poverty? Do you know any one in need?

From the beginning, the Levitical law directed the people of God to care for the poor and alien:

Leviticus 23:22
" 'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.' "

There is much wisdom to be found in the Proverbs on this topic:

Proverbs 14:23
All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Proverbs 14:31
He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Proverbs 19:17
He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.

Proverbs 21:13
If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 22:16
He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty. (American tax system? maybe?)

Proverbs 22:22
Do not exploit the poor

Proverbs 23:21
for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags

Proverbs 28:6
Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse.

Proverbs 28:27
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

Proverbs 29:7
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Words of Jesus:

Matthew 6:1-2 "Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them...So when you give to the needy do not announce it with trumpets..."

Matthew 6:19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal..."

Here are two passages that relate to our current context, the final act in which we live out the kingdom of God in this world. How did the early church do that? Where did they place their value?


Acts 2:44
"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."

Galatians 2:9-10 "
James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do."

And at the end of the day, we have this passage:

Proverbs 22:2

Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.

I'm never a huge fan of just quoting scripture without looking at the context that each passage is spoken within, but perhaps it's just a starting point for each of us. Thanks for reading this series of postings; I've really enjoyed it! I have only begun to touch the surface here, but I hope it has opened up doors of thought and communication that will hopefully "spur [us] on toward love and good deeds." (Heb 10:24)

In Case You Were Wondering

In case you were wondering what M.C. Hammer's two kids are dressing up as for Halloween tonight, the answer would be Superman and Urkel.

Having Beat the Odds


Cardinals nation is still rejoicing over the recent world series victory (500,000 attended the victory party in STL...500,000! It's amazing how sports will unite so many people), and having been a lifelong Cards fan (see photo...my last minute halloween costume), I can say that it is sweet. I grew up bonding with my grandpa via our shared love for the Cardinals, but I was born three months after the last Cardinals' world series victory, so this is the first for my lifetime. And now as Roland pointed out to me, I have a five year cushion period in which it doesn't matter what the Cardinals do :) But, with Pujols leading the way, I can't imagine us not being in the mix come next year.

In other news, St. Louis was just today named the most dangerous city/metropolis in the United States of America. Did the Detroit Free Press have a hand in taking this poll?

Beating the Odds

I was just over at ESPN.com and saw that 7 out of 8 baseball "experts" had selected the Tigers over the Cardinals, most often in five games or less.

But here we sit, Cards up three games to one. If we can hold off this rain tonight, our Redbirds will probably crack open the champagne this evening.

Go Cards!

Not of This World

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world."

These words spoken by Jesus in response to Pilate's questioning hold a wealth of truth, mystery, hope and power. These words will set us free if we seek the truth that motivates their utterance. How often we lose sight of this central fact--that God's kingdom is from another place--while living out our faith in a fallen and broken world! While reading Oswald Chambers yesterday morning, I was struck again by some of the ways in which I have allowed the patterns and attitudes of this world to influence the way I live out each day.

Take productivity for example. It can weigh me down like a wet blanket sometimes. I can feel so restricted by this feeling that I must always be a productive and useful individual. But where is that in scripture?

Chambers says that "an active Christian worker too often lives to be seen by others...In our Lord's life there was none of the pressure and the rushing of tremendous activity that we regard so highly today...the central point of the kingdom of Jesus Christ is not public usefulness to others...If you waste your time in overactivity, instead of being immersed in the great fundamental truths of God's redemption, then you will snap when stress and strain come."

In today's society of connectedness, long work hours, recognition and utilitarianism, as Christ followers, we can fall into these trappings quite easily if we are not continually "transformed by the renewing of our minds" with a refusal to "conform to the patterns of this world." (Romans 12:2)

As Christ-followers, throughout history we have regularly fallen into one of two camps when trying to reconcile "being in the world" with not being "of the world." These two extremes are isolation and compromise. Where do we fall today? In America, there are myriad ways we have gone to both extremes in one way or another, but mostly we have completely compromised so much and we are not living lives "worthy of the gospel." Many Christians do not have many close (or any?) non-Christian friends that they spend time with...there's isolation for you. And if we are spending time with them, how often are we embodying Christ, truly being his ambassador, a minister of reconciliation, salt and light, striving for peace and mercy?...that's where we fall into compromise. What about politics? I dare say that many Christians are compromising by seeking power in this nation through political institutions. Christ said that his "kingdom is not of THIS world." It is a daily battle to keep this truth in front of me, to not compromise according to the persuasions of this world, but to remain steadfast in the knowledge that Christ's kingdom brings true liberty, justice, peace and love and we are called to be bearers of his kingdom in this world.



Keep it Tight


I'm always up for discovering a new favorite artist, so I wanted to recommend one that you should check out. The guy is Amos Lee and he's from Philly. Think fusion of acoustic and soul. I dig the tracks Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight, Arms of a Woman, Give it Up and Colors; although, I can listen to this album straight through. I found his stuff randomly about a month ago, and I can't get enough of his self-titled debut album. You can check it out here. He just recently came out with a new album, Supply and Demand, but I haven't had an opportunity to listen to it yet.

You won't be disappointed.

Confession

This weekend, I visited an old friend, whose dad was my pastor during most of my childhood. I hadn't heard him preach in many years, so I visited his church this morning and while there, a very cool little story was shared by a member of that fellowship. This woman came forward to share about her many years of running from God and living in rebellion and ultimately how God had drawn her back into fellowship with him, and an event involving her son gave her the final push to come forward. And now I am going to retell her retelling of that event to you.

"A couple weeks ago, several of us from church were over at one friend's house, and the adults were chatting while the kids played in the pool. And as we were sitting there in coversation, my son Andrew, who is four, came up towards the adults and as he stood there, he just dropped his trunks. Right there in front of us all. I look over at the pastor, and he's averting his eyes, trying not to stare at it, and I'm embarassed, and I say to my son, "Andrew, you can't just drop your pants in front of other people like that." My son didn't hesitate, "But it's okay, mom, they're our church family." And I realized that if my son is so comfortable with you all, I have no excuse for not sharing my struggles with you."

Confession. It's a practice that we can easily pass over in the Church, as we spend so much of our time listening to sermons or socializing or faking a "life's peachy" attitude. I believe that we have so easily become tainted by the world that we have so many churches full of Janus-faced people, who are afraid to show their wounds and fears and outright willful sins that pull us down and out of fellowship with Christ. As the Church, we are called to the openly confess to one another the stains in our lives. James says to "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other." Open confession was something that I first experienced when I became a part of Illini Life, and it has become vital for growing in Christ and in fighting against my pride. But the temptation to float along, so as to not damper another's opinion of you is certainly real.

This practice is a huge hurdle for many (certainly some are more prone to being transparent than others), but isn't it liberating? Doesn't it help prevent others from placing us on a pedestal, because they see us as one who is also struggling to be obedient to Christ day to day? And most of all, doesn't it fill us with humility as we are forced to face ourselves and our pride in the mirror of another's forgiveness and grace?

How can we foster environments and communities where confession is encouraged and received with grace?

Frozen Pizzas and the Cycle of Poverty, Part III

Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows! Hard to say how far I could or will take this series of postings, because one could devote an entire blog to the issue of cyclical poverty in inner cities. But there has been some good discussion generated (for a novice blogger such as myself at least!) and I hope to continue posting on this issue in the future, although I may only carry this particular series on to one more installment.

So, what does Wal-Mart have to do with this? Well, let's make it clear that I am NOT saying that Wal-Mart is the answer to revolutionizing the purchasing habits of low-income & low-education inner city dwellers! Although, maybe that's what Sam wanted. Over the past few years, Wal-Mart has been making strides to enter the major American urban markets, a demographic that it had left virtually untouched for many years. Today, New York and Detroit are the only remaining untapped urban markets by the low-priced retailing giant. The main barriers for Wal-Mart entering these markets have been low wages, poor health benefits and its resistance to unions.

So, the resistance by city governments and citizens is understandable, but where do we make the compromise? The tried and true Wal-Mart (and similar corporate chains) will not only offer jobs but because of their lower cost consumer goods (particularly food items), the retailer could extend hope to the single mother of five children who is struggling to feed her growing kids due in part to her lack of shopping options (I recently read Nickel and Dimed, which sheds some light on struggling, low-income Wal-Mart employees). Here, the individual who normally shops at the convenience store has more options for purchasing more nutritional foods, right? So, does the government facilitate such endeavors or undergird the work of small mom and pop businesses? Which breeds more intelligent consumers? (The same questioning could be applied to the Church: megachurches or many, smaller neighborhood churches? I lean towards the latter.) Well, as Chairman pointed out, it is evident that low-income, low-literacy consumers are risk averse and not as likely to change their purchasing habits. But these habits would seem to come from paradigm of living paycheck to paycheck and less inclined towards long-term planning.

So, I imagine it is in the habits of the low-income, low-education individual that we should focus our attention. Do we seek to bring hope through public policy and government structures (big government) or do we leave the responsiblity to the private sector? I believe it is the responsiblity of any government to put into place structures to care for all of its citizens, rich or poor, Hispanic or Asian-American, Christian or Athiest, etc., but the more I think about it, the more I realize I am probably a small government proponent in regards to directly bringing redemption to our inner cities (However, it makes perfect sense in my mind to tax the wealthiest heavier in order to ease the tax burden on the poorest. This may seem to contradict my stance on small government, but if we educate the lower socio-economic demographic, it doesn't doo much good to teach them to fish, if we don't give them bait!).

Why do I take this view? Well, because I am coming from a biblical worldview, I see it as the responsiblity of the Church to care for the poor and needy. And I'm not just talking about giving handouts. This idea really sounds ridiculous to the majority of the world. But, take for example Samaritan's Purse. Look what amazing work they have done to bring hope to the Katrina-ravaged areas down south! The government can keep pouring out money, but if an individual or family has never seen or been taught how to use that money wisely, won't the cycle just continue? I'm in favor of supporting local businesses and all about raising the minimum wage and health benefit standards, but my heart lies more in directly impacting (somehow?!) the lives of inner city, low-income individuals...and not just their purchasing habits, but by bringing hope through Christ's love (it is impossible to ignore Christ's compassion on the poor) AND by doing life mentoring AND meeting tangible needs. So, it follows that I am more in favor of the government supporting and facilitating the private sector's efforts to shine light on the impoverished areas of our inner cities.

As a follower of Christ, I have to remember what James said in his letter, that "faith without works is dead." So, we must not only bring the gospel story through words, but also with our lives! I believe a huge portion of white, Evangelical America has lost this, because we are afraid (yes, afraid!) of those in the inner city who are different than us. If you can help me remember, when did Christ command us to only bring the gospel to the comfortable places of society? But, does this mean that Church can't partner with secular organizations seeking to bring social justice? The answer is no, but if the Church would heed the scriptures more pro-actively in regards to helping the poor, I don't believe we would have to.

When I think of some examples of this happening today, my mind drifts to my brother's church, a large Vineyard Church in Columbus, OH. Just off the top of my head, I know they have begun a large effort to reach out to the community through after-school tutoring and mentoring programs, interview training, free legal counsel, providing business attire to interviewees, and similar initiatives. I just know that a huge portion of this nation is living WELL below the typical means of the American middle and upper class. Around 12% of our country's nearly 300 million citizens live below the poverty line, which amounts to about a total household income of $2oK for a household of four.

As a nation that is viewed as "Christian" by our global neighbors (we may have a leaning towards Judeo-Christian values and lots of churches, but I wouldn't say we are a Christian nation. What would a Christian nation look like? What is the kingdom of God?), how do we reconcile the fact that millions are struggling to feed their families? Yes, on the global poverty stage, Americans do not struggle at the same level (millions living on less than a $1/day), but this does not justify ignoring or setting aside the mandate of scripture to care for the poor and needy (and widows and orphans).

What does God's Word say on this topic? I'll look at that in the finale of this here series.

Shoutout

I just wanted to give a shout out to o2thoughtful over at What's Your Point Caller in the UK. While on holiday, he's posted a few links for reading on the contemporary "missional" discussion.

Frozen Pizzas and the Cycle of Poverty, Part II

The beauty of "to be continued" blog posting is that it entices people to come back for a follow-up (as evidenced by my friend Christine's latest post on her blog). I mean, let's be honest here. I am not just keeping a blog for the sake of a personal online journal. Yes, it is nice to revisit my thoughts now and again, but part of my desire is to have an influence on visitors and meet bloggers from other parts of the world. So, the drawback is that there are no deadlines for blogging and therefore I can lose inspiration when I take a two or three day hiatus from a "to be continued" post. Note to self: when writing a post with the intention of drawing people back for more, write the follow-up immediately following the first post (or fairly soon thereafter).

Now, where was I. Oh yes, the pizzas, or poverty in the inner cities rather. Upon finishing Part I, I read through my thoughts again, which were more or less stream of consciousness, and I realized this: I bit off way more than I can chew. But, you know, that's okay. We've got to start somewhere. And my buddy, Roland, was quick to jump in with me and offer some initial thoughts and questions to deepen the discussion. If you haven't read his comments on Part I, I encourage you to do so now. Roland is a Marketing Ph.D. in Champaign and the thrust of his research is related to functional literacy and decision-making in relation to nutrition (correct me if I'm off). Now, the central questions I raised earlier were:

What can we do to bring redemption to our inner cities? To educate and enable and empower impoverished families in the inner cities to buy groceries at reasonable prices? To see the futility of spending each week's paycheck on overpriced food and other items at the local corner store? To break the cycle of poverty?
When spouting off these questions, I wanted to begin taking a serious look at how we can go about teaching people how to fish and to not just give them fish. My intention was and is to look at this within the framework of the following: government and public policy versus private sector (faith-based initiatives and philanthropic programs) and their role in impacting the poor in relation to nutrition, literacy/education and employment and the role of corporate America. Let me pause here and say that we have a lot to learn from impoverished as well.

I would be remiss if I didn't say that when I ponder these issues, I do so with a Biblical worldview. The Word of God is the paradigm with which I see and understand the world. As one who is seeking to follow Christ, I see him as the greatest source of redemption in these areas, because before we can ever find sustained hope in this life, we must find a restored relationship with our Creator. But I do not believe that Jesus only cares about our life after death; he desires for his followers to bring Shalom to this life as we proclaim the gospel in word and deed, to redeem the broken places of this world for his glory. And Jesus gave us the perfect example of what it looks like to step out and love the poor.

So my desire to bring redemption to the impoverished peoples of our inner cities...it can not stem from guilt or a desire to give handouts and "charity", it must be rooted in humilty and a strong desire to bring continued hope and renewal come to the marginalized and forgotten, to pattern myself after Christ. Now that I've established that I am incredibly wordy, I am afraid I must continue this on next time, because people are probably dropping like flies reading this rambling.

In Part III, what's Wal-Mart got to do with it?

You Never Know...


The first time I watched this I thought it was a hoax. Nope.

This is the Title Line

After several months (already?!) of blogging here, I thought it was time for a face lift. Hope you enjoy. If it isn't your style, guess you'll have to live with it. I've updated some links on the sidebar as well.

While I'm here, I'll leave you with a humorous and thought-provoking little story that I heard on the radio from the wisdom of Peanuts:

A Peanuts comic strip showed Linus and Lucy sitting indoors one day as it poured outside. Lucy exclaimed: “Boy, look at it rain -- what if it floods the whole world?" Linus calmly responded, “It will never do that. In the 9th chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” “Phew!” said Lucy. “You’ve taken a great load off my mind!” Linus explained, “Sound theology has a way of doing that.”

Frozen Pizzas and the Cycle of Poverty

I was struck with a realization recently and I thought I would share it with you today. That will have to wait, though, for I must fill you in on the story that was the impetus behind this post.

Not too long ago, Amber and I thought it was about time we actually have a go at a "dinner and a movie" (Can you believe that we've only been to the movie theater once now in about a year?). We were meeting in a neutral location to shave off some driving time for one of us; consequently, we found ourselves on a wild goose chase to find a movie theater that we didn't have directions for. As we were driving around--not lost, but not going in the right direction either--we wound up in an impoverished area of the inner city. Unafraid to actually stop and ask for directions (sometimes for the sake of time, you just have to ignore the testosterone), I suggested we pull off at the next gas station or corner store. At the first gas station, we rolled into the empting parking lot, greeted by a storefront with barred windows and doors. I wasn't even sure the place was still open for business, but after a closer look, we figured that the metal cage was simply protecting the gas station from robbers (and judging by the shear amount of protection, I think this gas station was safe from any kind of warhead or terrorist attack). Amber hesitated, but I assured her that it was perfectly okay. As we approached the door, I still had no idea what is behind it, because the place is blacked out. To our surprise, it wasn't just a cover for a strip club or a crackhouse and there were several people inside. I asked for directions from the first guy I bump into, who is taking a rest on top of a stack of 12-packs, but he's new to the area and didn't have a clue.

Another man, on his way out, stops. His face has patches of whiskers and bears the evidence of years of hard work. I notice that he had stopped in for one purchase: a frozen pizza. I ask the gentleman if he knows the way and he easily directs us to the theather--we were not anywhere close. Fifteen minutes later, a few miles away and worlds apart, I steered the car into the massive movie complex.

It was either on the drive over to the movie theater or afterwards that I turned to Amber and said, "Did you notice what that guy, the one who gave us directions, was leaving with? One Tony's frozen pizza."

I don't know why this particular interaction impacted me so. Maybe it was nothing. Or maybe I saw something seemingly meaningless that was really an tiny indicator of injustice. A frozen pizza? C'mon, lighten up, Jonathan. Give the guy a break. Oh, don't take me wrong, I'm not placing any blame on this chap. It was a frozen pizza for Pete's sake! I buy pizza all the time. So why all the trouble to tell the story?

When I saw that frozen pizza in his hand, my heart sank honestly. Not for the simple fact that he had a pizza, but because of what I knew that pizza represented for so many people there in that part of the city. Here is a guy, late 50s, or perhaps younger, but one wouldn't know it on account of his physical appearance, who has likely lived in the inner city his whole life, born into an impoverished family, maybe finished high school, definitely no college, has struggled through several jobs or maybe he's worked the same low paying job since high school. He may still live with his wife and kids, maybe he doesn't. Maybe he's happy and content. Maybe he's placed his faith in Christ. Maybe he's been to jail, maybe he hastn't. These things I do not know. My intention is not to build stereotypes, but to just be honest about what is true for many who live in the impoverished areas of America's inner cities. But, the frozen pizza...get back to the pizza!

So, the way I see it, this guy is paying 50-100% more for a Tony's frozen pizza at the local, innercity corner store than the typical suburban family is at their local Meijer or Wal-Mart. I have nothing against the latter's lower prices. But what about this guy who's never been free to buy groceries in mass quanitity and pay reasonable prices for them? Now maybe I just caught this man at a time when he was fulfilling a strong urge for a frozen pizza. I'm not foreign to such an urge. But, if you're honest, you know what I am talking about here.

What can we do to bring redemption to our inner cities? To educate and enable and empower impoverished families in the inner cities to buy groceries at reasonable prices? To see the futility of spending each week's paycheck on overpriced food and other items at the local corner store (this isn't a plea to close all inner city stores, please don't hear that)? To break the cycle of poverty?

Next time I'll visit these questions specifically. Until then...what do you think? Does it really matter? What's the bigger picture that I am talking about here? This is way bigger than just buying groceries.

One Little Word

What a difference a word can make. In. Take these two statements as an example.

"I believe in God."

"I believe God."

How about you. Do you simply believe in God, or do you believe him? There's a world of a difference. Don't you think? I should point out that I am thinking of the phrase "believe in" in the typical American English sort of connotation that people use when they say, "Oh yeah, I believe in God." Not the true essence of the phrase "believe in", which would probably be better stated as, "Oh yeah, I am staking my life on God." So what does it mean for you and for me to actually believe God? God has made a lot of statements. His Word is filled with his promises and his truth. In fact, his Word (logos) became flesh and blood and lived here on the earth in the person of Jesus Christ, and he made a heckuva statement about God's views on life, statements that literally turned the Jews world upside down. Love your enemies...what?! Do we believe him when he says that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that no one comes to the Father except through him? Do we believe him that he will love us with an everlasting love, a love that we cannot be separated from? Do we believe him that when we seek, we will find him?

Just some food for thought today.

Into the World

Here's a guy who's doing something right.

Damian Williams had a vision for what it means to be the church in an urban setting and today that vision has spawned the Steel City Church in Pittsburgh, PA. See http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06256/721297-51.stm for more about how this unique urban church is trying to live as followers of Jesus Christ in a very real way, right where they should be: where hurts, pain, emptiness and needs are, right on the main Strip of downtown Pittsburgh.

Here are a few thoughts that I grabbed out of the article that really spoke to me about how he envisions what it means to be the church--to live out the gospel.

"If the sermon's about loving one's neighbor as oneself, we might ask 'What does that look like?' 'How am I living that I can make that happen?' "

"The real church is what we do through the week."

"We want to build a community in which none of us can do it on our own."

"[Damian] spent the day after the church debut sitting in Market Square with people who smell bad, who ask for handouts, who sell drugs and sex -- people he said a traditional church would consider 'the unwanted harvest.' "

Jesus did not call us to withdraw from the world, but to be a light in the world. Light shines brightly in the darkness. So, one of the reasons this article really jumped out at me is because I love seeing men and women who are seeking to truly go into the world and be bearers of Christ's love and truth, evidences of His coming kingdom, when all will be restored to the way things should be.

"I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one...As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." -Jesus

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." -Jesus

-------------------------

Here's the Steel City Church website if you are curious about more http://www.steelcitychurch.com/who_mission.aspx

Too Good to Pass Up

Even though I link to JR's blog, I wanted to specifically point you to his post, Who Touched Jesus?, from a couple days ago. It was too good to pass up sharing with you.

Inspire Me

Three little critters. Snapped this one on Labor Day.

Derek Webb is Cool.

Well, I always knew I liked this guy. Derek Webb is giving away his latest album, Mockingbird, for free. Yes free. For download at least. Go to freederekwebb.com and be amazed.

Testing the Message

Either to my detriment or to my benefit (depending on whether you think it would be good or bad for me to watch TV and movies desensitized to the messages being given), I've noticed that over the past several months I've been watching the tube a bit more closely. Not more frequently. Definitely not that. Just more closely. To see what messages are really being given.

This morning, while doing some stretching after a short bike ride, I turned on Today, clearly the best morning show even w/o Katie. A minute in, the commercials started, this one for Botox Cosmetics:

"I did it just for me."

"It's time. I've waited long enough."

After the commercials, the first segment investigated a woman's midlife crisis and its difference from the traditional man's midlife crisis (does this happen all over the world or just in the West?). They called it an awakening for women as opposed to a midlife crisis for men, because they do more introspection through the process or something like that. Matt was interviewing some "expert" on midlife crises:

"It's a good time in your life to allow for spiritual growth."

So, what do you think? Do these message affect us? Do we test them?

The Mystery

Do you ever just become overwhelmed by something? Something grand. Something mysterious. Something beautiful. Something powerful. As I read the words at the beginning of Psalm 50,

"The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken;
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting
,"

an image of the earth penetrated my mind. An image of the earth as seen from space.


WOW. Just stare at that picture for a minute. How lucky we are to be able to see such a majestic image! But at the same time, how desensitized are we to such things?

"From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God." Romans 1:20

Now we can see the earth at our feet and from outer space. Looking at this photo, I am just overwhelmed with the awesomness of the inner workings of the earth. Atmosphere. Gravity. Weather. Light. Tides. Metamorphosis. Photosynthesis. Rain. The seas. And that is only the beginning, ignoring the pinnacle of all creation: us. The earth is an amazingly complex creation and this photo is evidence to that.

The Lord God calls to the Earth. He calls to the earth to know him. To know salvation through his Son. To know his glory and his power and his justice and his mercy and his love.

Photo Frenzy!

I've managed to pare down my 600 photos to around 140 and I have divided them into three albums for everyone's viewing enjoyment. Alright, I know the first step is admitting my addiction... :) Unfortunately, my snorkeling pictures are from an underwater camera, but I may scan some of those in.

The first is Island of Maui, highlighting the landscape in particular with a family photos thrown in.
The second is Flowers of Hawaii, no explanation needed. I was pleasantly suprised at the clarity of some of these considering I am using a fairly basic digital camera.
The third is Isabelle Fun in Maui, showing a collection of photos of my absolutely adorable niece who just turned one a month ago along with the rest of my fam.

Once I get my brother's photos, I may add some of his to my collection, because he's got a good photographer's eye. Then again, it's hard to take a bad pic in Hawaii, because it's so stunning. Hope you can enjoy Maui vicariously through these photos. :)

The poor


In reading the Psalms this morning (108-113), a couple themes kept arising from the pages and one of those is the continuing reference to the ways in which God will redeem and rescue the poor and needy on this earth.

Two excerpts:

Ps. 109:30-31 "With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the great throng I will praise him. For he stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save his life from those who condemn him."

Ps. 113:5-7 "Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap."

As I finished reading these Psalms and opened my browser to come jot down some thoughts on this blog, I was greeted with an additional reminder of realities of those who are poor and in need today in our world. The spotlight for Operation World today is Mozambique, one of the poorest nations on earth. Operation World is a website that provides demographical data and prayer requests for a different nation each day.

The Son of God, who's prayers and heart truly are reflected in the Psalms (as I am learning through reading Bonhoeffer), said that the "Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor." (Luke 4:18) And what good news it is! News that the troubles of this life are not to great to be overcome. That Jesus offers redemption and forgiveness and peace and hope to all.

I am reminded of a story I once heard from a lady who spent some time doing missions work in Rwanda. She was ministering to a woman in a village who had very little. Her daughter had just died of AIDS and besides the clothes on her back, she had only two possessions a tiny hut and a bucket to carry water in. One day that bucket was stolen and the rains were beating down on her hut. The winds had torn away one wall of her little hut and she sat inside cradling her grandaughter, who was facing a life withouth either of her parents. The missionary lady was talking with her about her life back in America and she asked the Rwandan woman, "If I could tell my friends back in America something, what would you want me to tell them?" She responded simply, "Tell them all that I really need is Jesus."

Stories like that sometimes sound far fetched for us in America who have so much, but it is the truth. And the point is not to paint a picture of all of life in Africa. I lived there for a little while and I know how much many of them don't want westerners to see only the poverty of that great continent. But the truth remains. Poverty and AIDS are rampant and I don't want to ignore it. UNICEF recently estimated that by 2010, over 15 million African children will have one or more parents who have died of AIDS.

Maui Travel Journal

I'm waiting on some pictures from my brother, before I put up the link to all the photos, but in the meantime...If you ever make it to the Island of Maui, I highly recommend checking out the following:

1. Snorkeling. Having never snorkeled, much less snorkeled in Hawaii, I didn't know what to expect, but I was blown away. Depending on the time of year, the clarity of water and plentifulness of fish will vary on different parts of the island. Summertime, the snorkeling is better in the upper west coast and north coast. These are the hot spots: Molokini Crater, Black Rock (Ka'anapali Beach), Turtle Town and Honolua Bay

2. Surfing. It's been a desire of mine for many years to give surfing a go and I never made it happen in South Africa, so I was determined to do it this time. All three of my siblings and I took a long surfing lesson and it was totally kiff! All four of us stood up nearly every time we tried to catch a wave. If I lived closer to a surfer's haven, I would definitely want to spend time getting better at this sport. Lahaina has many different beginner's surf schools and beginner waves. We did Maui Waveriders and were pleased.

3. Sunsets. Watch as many sunsets as possible. Being on the west coast of Maui offered the advantage of enjoying many gorgeous sunsets.

4. Beachtime. Duh. Ka'anapali beach is where we stayed and it was hoppin. Lots of activity on this 3 mile stretch of beach, but it is a bit narrow and has a steep grade at points. On West Maui, for a bit more secluded feel, check out Napili Bay and Kapalua Bay. In the southwest, Wailea and Makena have great beaches. If you make it to the east coast, check out Paia (they hold many surf competitions) and Hamoa Beach. Hamoa was rated one of the top ten beaches in the world, but it is not easy to get to. The sand isn't the pertiest, but the waves are incredible and the setting is very secluded.

5. Polynesian culture. Try and experience some of the local music, arts, festivals, food. Every Hawaiian native I spoke with was incredibly friendly and they give off an aura of peace and joy that is quite noticeable. We did a luau and it was great for the food and entertainment, but it didn't feel that authentic.

6. Calvary Chapel, Westside. The church meets outdoors, right on the coast in Wahikuli Wayside Park, Lahaina. I can't imagine a more beautiful setting to gather together to worship God. The pastor, Steve Santos, is this laid back islander who teaches from the Word for 45min to an hour. It feels long if you're not used to it, but I was really encouraged by his messages.

7. Flora. The flowers and trees of Maui are breathtaking. I have never seen so many different colored flowers, without being in a botanical gardens. You don't have to go far to find the diverse plant life.

8. Food. The fresh fruit is absolutely delicious, but not as cheap as I anticipated. Pineapple, passion fruit, guava, mango, papaya, bananas...mmmmm. Meals are about as twice as expensive on Maui as in the Midwest, unfortunately, but the food is incredible. Three of my favorites: Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina (get the Mixed Plate or Kalbi ribs), Hula Grill on Ka'anapli (check out the coconut creme brulee), Old Lahaina Fish Company in Lahaina.

9. Photography. THe whole island is one big postcard, so take a big memory card for your digital camera!

10. The Road to Hana. The so-called "Most Beautiful Drive in the World" is a windy, narrow passage along the lush eastern coast and it doesn't disappoint. One piece of advice, all of the best stuff is at the end, so make sure you allot enough time to enjoy the stops near Hana. Allow an entire day, literally 12 hours. The most beautiful stops are Wainapapana State Park (black sand beach and brilliant blue water with camp sites), O'heo Gulch (aka, Seven Pools, a series of waterfalls and pools that you can swim in, right on the coast) and Hamoa Beach. Make sure to stop at one of the remote coconut vendors and instead of turning around and driving the road to Hana in reverse, take the 7 mile unpaved road around the southern coast and drive back up Route 37 to see the sunset. The drive after Hamoa beach was nearly my favorite part, because you feel like you are the only person on the island and the road is so narrow and all you see are cattle grazing on the Haleakala foothills to your right and the endless Pacific ocean to your left.

11. Haleakala summit. The crater looks like the surface of the moon, or so they say. Take a short hike down into the crater, bringing plenty of water, and get a closer look at the diverse colors of the crater's surface. It's so different than anything I've ever seen and so dry, but so beautiful.

12. Entertainment and the Arts. I totally dig pacific islander music and you can find some great venues to hear local artists. Kimos in Lahaina was a great find for listening to live music on Friday nights. Maui is a great place to find some beautiful artwork. Lahaina has myriad art galleries to peruse and on Friday nights some of the artists show up to paint.

13. Last, but not least, Hiking. I'ao Valley is a lush green, rainforesty, mountainous area to hike. Hiking on Haleakala or at certain points along the Road to Hana are beautiful as well.

I'm sure I am forgetting some obvious things, but then again, I doubt anyone made it all the way through my list anyways :) THe proof is in the pudding, so you'll just have to wait for my photos to be uploaded soon.

Aloha


Two weeks. Two glorious weeks. God did a good thing when he dreamed up Maui. My holiday on the island was incredible and I can't wait to get my photos up online for all to see. Here's one just to get the ball rolling.

Well, guess it's back to reality. Thankfully, the midwest heat and humidity of August weren't too bad when we arrived home today. I feel invigorated and recharged, despite the fact that I am a zombie right now...can't wait for a good night's sleep tonight!

Corners



I heard something this morning that I thought was too cool and I just couldn't pass up the chance to make it blog-worthy. A nice, short and sweet post before I leave for the next 2 weeks.

As Michaelangelo lay on his back, spending countless hours painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, an observer noticed that he was going to great lengths to meticulously paint the corners of the chapel ceiling. The observed asked, "Why are you so worried about that. No one will ever see the corners."

Michaelangelo quickly responded, without missing a beat, "God will."

To have such integrity in all of my work. How sweet a day that would be... The Good Book says that we should work at all things with all of our hearts as if working for God and not men. Kinda goes back to my last post. It's all about Him, not me.

Well, I am signing off for a good while now. I am going on holiday to Hawaii and I will return hopefully rejuvenated in two weeks. No blogging while I am gone...I'm taking a holiday from my computer as well. You can count on some photos when I return, because picture-a-holic is my middle name. Here are some of my primary goals for the trip: rest, surf, snorkel, photograph, find hidden gems and people, marvel at God.

May he make his face shine on you and give you peace for the sake of his glory. Later dudes and dudettes!

Who is it all about?


I was reading some discussion online recently and one man in his comments recalled the following situation that unfolded while driving with his daughter.

My five-year-old daughter read a billboard this weekend for real estate. Their tagline:
"It's all about you."

A few minutes later we stopped behind a car with a similar bumper sticker. It read:
"It's all about me."

Those sentences...reflect the new age tendency that each individual can define his own God. Or as my daughter put it, "Those people are silly, Daddy. Don't they know it's all about God."
I've always heard that "kids say the darndest things," but I've also heard this one: "From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise." I think that little girl had it right and how often we lose sight of that infinte Truth. It's all about God. It always has been and it always will be.

I was reminded of the fragility of life this week when I got a call from a close friend that one of his close friends, a guy who I was around all last summer at Colorado LT, was killed in a car accident. 22 years old. The joy in the midst of this tragedy is that Tyler knew it's all about God. He was living a life that said so and I pray others may find Life because of Tyler's commitment to Christ.

It's not all about me.

I struggle when I wake up in the morning, when I stand in line at the supermarket, when I am working, when I am eating, when I am with friends and family, when I am having leisure time and when I go to sleep thinking that it is all about me. It's a daily fight for Truth. Why? Because media, Hollywood and advertising that overwhelm our senses on a daily basis say that it is all about me. And shoot, my own self says that it's about me. Why would I want to give up something temporarily good for myself or my pleasure so that another could have something they need? Or why would I want to give up something here and now so that I can have eternal life which isn't exactly something I can see with my physical eyes or touch or taste or smell?

Is this the language of someone who thought "it's all about me?":

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
"It is better to give than to receive."
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
-Jesus

Deep Breath


Several months ago, I began reading through the Psalms one by one with sort of an agenda to understand the truths of God's character a bit more. Yes, it is certainly a book filled with emotive poems that oft hold very raw, uncut words, but that doesn't dismiss the presence of God's tried and true character that is spoken of. As anyone who has ever read the Psalms before can tell you, the word Selah often appears. For the longest time, as I read the Psalms, I just assumed this to be some sort of musical notation for the guys back in the day when they put these poems to music. But I began to notice that this strange word usually appeared at very climactic points of the Psalmists poems. (If this is old news for you, feel free to stop reading).

So, as any good young pupil I began searching the depths of human wisdom...on, you guessed it, Wikipedia :) This is the beginning of the entry on Selah.

"Selah ( Hebrew: סלה) meaning "pause, reflection", within the context of a prayer or psalms, is similar in purpose to Amen in that it stresses the importance of the preceding passage.

In this way, Selah is thought to imply that one should pause and reflect on what has been said. Alternatively, Selah may be a musical notation (thus explaining its use throughout Psalms) or may mean "forever", as it does in some places in the liturgy (notably the second to last blessing of the Amidah)."

Another source says:

"Selah, [celah], is from the primary Hebrew root word [calah] which means 'to hang,' and by implication to measure (weigh). This is readily understood because in Biblical history, money, food and other valuables were 'weighed' by hanging or suspending them on a type of balance (the equivalent of our measuring scale) to determine their value. We find an example of this word [calah] as it is literally translated 'valued,' in the book of Job, indicating that which is measured...Selah...is an illustration that we should 'measure' or value carefully what has just been said."

It makes so much sense now! I'm not even trying to pass myself off as a biblical scholar, but, truly, if you read the Psalms with this understanding of what Selah means (at least I think so), then the Psalms hit you much more heavily. They carry more weight. Or maybe the Psalmist is just trying to prepare us for the weight of words to come?

Take this passage for example. Read it first by just passing over Selah. Then read it again, but stop and take a deep breath at Selah. A bit heavier, eh?

Psalm 3

3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD;
you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

4 To the LORD I cry aloud,
and he answers me from his holy hill.
Selah

5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

6 I will not fear the tens of thousands
drawn up against me on every side.

7 Arise, O LORD!
Deliver me, O my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.

8 From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
Selah

Orphans


Much of what I write on posts such as this is simply me collecting my thoughts and corresponding resources with the added benefit of you gaining some insight into what has been grabbing my heart. I do hope that you are stirred to action, to prayer, to conversation with friends.

The second greatest commandment that Jesus gave us was to "love our neighbor as ourselves," and caring for orphans seems to be a natural progression in obeying that command. True redemption and hope comes through Jesus, I believe, after all, I am staking my life on that. But what does it mean for us to carry that message of redemption to a broken world? Does it mean we only tell people that Jesus died for their sins and wants them to go to heaven to be with him and ignore their desires in this world or does it mean we focus on meeting the physical needs of a devastated world, rooted in a belief that God cares about the poor, but we leave out the important message of hope that God has brought to us through Christ's sacrifice? I think not. I truly believe there has to a harmony of these two. Yes, we will fail in this world to further the kingdom of God in a perfect manner, but I believe that Jesus wanted to see his kingdom come to our lives on this earth before we die and that not only comes through restoring us to a right relationship with him here and now for eternity but in showing his love in tangible ways to those around us. He did say that "let your light shine before men so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." So, ultimately it's all about bring glory to our God and one way that we can do that in the here and now is to care for orphans. How do we do that? Well, maybe we can figure that out together.

"Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles..." James 1:27, NLT

"Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 24 of the 25 countries with the world’s highest levels of HIV prevalence, and the fastest growing proportions and absolute numbers of orphaned children. Between 1990 and 2003, the number of children orphaned by AIDS increased from less than one million to an estimated 12.6 million...

In five countries in southern Africa, 15 per cent or more of orphans lost one or both parents in 2003, the large majority of them due to AIDS. Equally high numbers of children are now living with chronically ill family members and will become orphans this year.

Even without the impact of HIV/AIDS, sub-Saharan Africa already had the largest proportion of orphaned children. In 2003, 12.3 per cent (43 million) of all children in the region were orphans...

Botswana has the highest rate of orphaning (20%). In 11 of the 43 countries in the region, more than 15 per cent of children are orphans. Of these 11 countries, AIDS is the cause of parental death between 11 and 78 per cent of the time...

By 2010, more than one in five children will be orphaned in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe."

-2004 UNICEF Report on AIDS, http://www.orphansinafrica.org/

"The time has come for all of us to see beyond material possessions and geographical boundaries. We must reach out with helping hands to feed the poor, care for the sick, and deliver a true message of Hope." -Larry Warren, African Leadership

Hot Pockets

If you haven't seen this Jim Gaffigan bit on hot pockets and you are in need of a laugh then watch this video. It's scary how true it is!

Leatherbound Books


If you're into reading or just like thinking that you are, you should check out LibraryThing. Pretty sweet site actually. I have many leather bound books in my online catalogue. You can see for yourself: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/jdkinglt. The site allows you to see users who have similar reading tastes as you and then you can check out their book reviews and other reading selections. I didn't have time yet to upload the Bearenstein Bears books I read back in high scho...I mean kindergarten. Mostly--well entirely, actually--my catalogue is filled with some books I've had the chance to read since the start of college. The point when I began to take reading seriously. Useless site? Ah...I wouldn't say so. It may help me to broaden my reading intake a bit. Or, maybe I'm just a sucker for these novel sites that allow us to connect with others and share knowledge.

How to not get fireworks in your eye

Well, since I didn't have much planned here in Sparta for the 4th, I decided I needed a holiday up in Champaign. So, I drove up on Monday morning and chilled (or tried to at least, it was durn hot) with Fred all day. We sat in Aroma Cafe and I did a little reading and some people watching. I really enjoy sitting at a table at the window front to just watch the people striding up and down the sidewalks. Roland came over for dinner and the three of us ate meat. Lots of meat. It was such a fun, zero-pressure day and I also saved some money, too. Here's how. So, I've known that the gas mileage on my near 19 year-old truck has been steadily decreasing over the years (been driving it for 7.5 years). And to combat that with the near $3 gas prices, I decided to drive slow on the interstate. Sounds like a drag, eh? Well, it pretty much was, but decreasing my average interstate speed by 15 mph saved me like 10 bucks on gas. I figured it was worth it. We'll see how long my patience lasts.

Tuesday brought rain. This was the first time I had been in the Midwest for the 4th in about four years. Fred and I went on a run in the morning and then I had a chance to catch up with Casey. He and Brooke live on the floor below Fred (and soon to be, Erica)...how convenient. Wish I lived in that building. We went over to Espresso in Champaign, which was entirely dead. So, we had the place to ourselves and we sprawled out on the couches with some books. I soaked up four chapters of N.T. Wright's Following Jesus. It's a fairly easy read, but so insightful. He gives his views on the themes and motives of each Gospel writer on the person of Jesus...at least those are the chapters I've read so far.

Tuesday was destined to only get better because Amber was rolling through town with her family, which had been in Ohio for the weekend. After a long ordeal of my cell phone batter dying and me going on a hunt for a functional pay phone (What a difference ten years makes), we finally met up for dinner. After her family left, she and I went back to Fred's and then to the Dawg Haus, before going out to watch the fireworks. So, Chris had a great spot picked out to watch the show. And I have to say that Champaign's fireworks display did not disappoint. It was quite impressive! But where we lay happened to be the same place where all the fireworks shrapnel decided to land. And a few pieces decided to land in my eye. So, I missed the last five minutes of the show trying to wash out my eye. No worries. I've still got another one. So, in the future, when watching the fireworks directly underneath where they explode in the sky, take some old chemistry lab goggles. After the dust settled, I drove Amber to Bloomington to hang out with some of her friends who were in town. I topped the holiday off with a picnic with Amber during her lunch break at work.

I'm back home at the ranch in Sparta. Both eyes are functioning once again. All in all, amazing weekend. Very refreshing and energizing getting to spend quality time with friends up in Champaign.

Future President of the USA?

If you live in Illinois and you haven't been hiding under a rock the past two years, you are likely familiar with the name Barack Obama...he is one of your senators after all. Even if you aren't from the great state of Illinois, you may very well remember him delivering the key note address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. I just so happened to be living in Boston that summer, so I followed the convention very closely. Despite all the terrorist threats and Homeland Security color-coded warnings (it was orange, or mauve, or some color that is supposed to invoke fear and make us head for the hills), my brother and I survived and we even ventured down to the Convention to watch the picketers and the millions of armed forces trying to ward them off.

I listened to the freshman senator's address to the Democratic audience, and I have to say, he is one charismatic, confident and well-spoken individual. Let's be honest, his speech trumped any of the other political superheroes that made their way on stage. So, ever since then the guy has had my attention and has certainly pricked my curiosity. Today he stands as the only African-American US senator and many are touting him as a future President of the United States of America. One year ago, the polls showed that Hillary (please no) was going to be the top choice in '08 for the Democrats...but today many aren't so sure that Obama may be a better choice. He has the advantage of riding a huge wave of popularity and no shady voting record in the senate, but he also comes with a lack of experience under his belt. If history serves as a guide, Obama may want to consider waiting, because John Edwards ran too early in '04 and suffered the consequences. Obama doesn't have the advantage of being a Democrat from the south like Edwards, who could potentially bridge the gap across the Mason-Dixon line, but is from heavy-hitting Chicago-land and is a man with conviction and integrity.

So, love him or dislike him, the reality is I believe that we should get to know him. In an age when so many are too quick to judge, hold prejudices and swear off anyone who comes from the "other wing," I would hope we could have respect for our national leaders (that God has put in place - Rom.13:1) and seek to form an educated, well-rounded understanding of them. In light of that, I want to just share with you some of what I came across today about Senator Obama from a recent convention that was assembled to address the issue of poverty and injustice in our world. It was a faith-based convention with Sen. Obama giving the keynote address (again...I get the feeling some people might be trying to push him towards the White House).

For many, the words "faith and politics" stir anger and discontent, for others it leads to a heated discourse, yet others remain in complete silence. Sen. Obama walks the narrow road to address the marriage of faith and politics, suggesting that the Democrats have abandoned faith which motivated "great reformers" in our country, such as Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., and which they used "repeatedly" to "futher their cause." He states that "secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door when they enter the public square." Sen. Obama, in his speech, was quite open and honest about his personal testimony of coming to know Jesus Christ, but he is also quite frank about his convictions regarding finding a common polity in the midst of a pluralistic society. He has a point in that we'd be lying if we said trying to form a political agenda for the people of America based on Christian convictions would be an easy task (Obama says, who's convictions or which scripture passages would be our guidlines...Leviticus? Dueteronomy? The Sermon on the Mount?). What I love about this particular speech and this particular convention is that they are addressing poverty. Jesus did come to preach good news to the poor, after all. So, enough of my talking, here are the links.

The senator's speech in it's entirety (about 42 minutes). I listened to it and I encourage you to as well. Scroll halfway down to find the link for the streaming audio:
http://go.sojo.net/sojourners/notice-description.tcl?newsletter_id=3517400&r=

The entire transcription of Sen. Obama's address:
http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2006/06/obama_on_faith_and_politics_an.html

An article discussing Obama's stance on faith and politics:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/28/AR2006062801970_pf.html

PS, if you read or listen to the speech, you'll hear about an email from a doctor in Chicago written to Obama...I felt that I really resonated with his sentiments.

Say it ain't so, Illinois

Our corn-covered state is now home to a church in the small town of Harvey that is actually paying people to come to worship services (the first 75 people at least). For some reason, I get a feeling that Jesus might be overturning some money tables at this church. Or, there might not be any tables overturned at all...which should probably scare them even more.

Please note, this offer is only valid to those 16 and over. Seriously. It's in the article.

Remind me to never cheat in a cycling race

Bike Race Cheater and the Consequence

Comm-Unity

This morning I was reviewing some notes I had taken on Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church from a few months back, and I felt compelled to just share one passage and subsequent parallel passages (I don't like just grabbing verses out of context, I really don't, but I think these particular passages are fairly cut and dry) with you that really hit home on the subject of unity within Christ's body.

I was listening to a message by Rob Bell a couple days ago, and in it he was discussing Moses and Pharoah and why God would choose to work through a human man to free His people, the Israelites, and Rob used that scenario to springboard into a discussion of his belief that throughout history, since that moment in Egypt, God has been looking for a body to inhabit on this earth to display his glory and bring shalom to this earth. Today, after the resurrection of Christ, we the church are Christ's body and in order to reach a hurting, rebellious, lonely and hungry world, we must be unified. To be unified, we've gotta give and lay down our selfish ambitions (Jesus said that we have no greater love than when we lay down our lives for our friends!). So, enough of my chatter, here are the passages on unity:

Divisions in the Church

1 Cor 1:10 “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” NASB

John 17:22-23 ” The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” NIV

Romans 12:16 “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” NASB

Romans 12:16 “Live in harmony with each other. Don't try to act important, but enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all!” NLT

Romans 12:18 "Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible."

Phil 1:27 “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” NIV

A-ma-zing

Prepare to be dazzled. If you have five minutes to spare, watch this video about an autistic man from London named Stephen Wiltshire. You will not be disappointed.

Inspire Me

It's that Time Again

One year ago, I was living the high life--litterally--in Estes Park, Colorado. About 8,750 feet to be precise. And in the midst of that outrageously beautiful place, I wound up training for a marathon. (I'm going to spare you the details, but if you want to know how I got myself into such a ridiculous endeavor, drop me a note) Seven of us battled the hills of Colorado to begin training for the Chicago and Indy marathons. Despite the fact that just a few short weeks prior to this, I would have told anyone that I never had any itentions of running a marathon, because sprinting was always my first love. But low and behold, we ran and we ran and we ran some more and in the third week of October I found myself in Indianapolis with Bemi and Nick to face that giant beast. It turned out to the be the one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I had two primary goals: no walking (except at the water stations) and a sprinting finish. God must have given me an extra dose of his strength that day because even though I wanted to quit at mile 20, I sprinted through the finish line to complete my first race since my high school days. It was the greatest test of my physical and mental strength that I have ever faced and I've never felt so drained of every ounce of energy in my body.

And now here I am again, on June 20, commencing my training for the Chicago marathon in October. I'm pretty amped for the training, to be honest, but I can't believe I am getting myself into this again. What a bunch of crazy yard apes we are...five of us are doing it again this year. The first run was three miles today and my knee is already an giving me fits...

I'll say this much for the skeptics out there. It can be done and you'll be a stronger person because of it...and marathon training is a heckuva refinement for our spiritual lives as well. Don't say it can't be done!