Thursday, April 4, 2013

a story about corndogs, diet coke, and generosity

This past Wednesday night, just before our youth service was beginning to start, I thought I would run across the street to the QT (Quik Trip) that is conveniently located a stone's throw from our church.  My stomach was reminding me that I had forgotten to pack my dinner for the night and my nutritional/health conscious side of me was yearning for a corndog and a diet coke (minor sarcasm intended) from the most amazing gas station convenient store ever created.  So, off to QT I went.

Now, if you don't know me, I love starting conversations with random people.  I feel like so often we go through life avoiding eye contact with people so we don't have to engage in human interaction.  I even catch myself doing this at times.  However, something I enjoy doing (generally) is finding ways to talk and engage with people.  I have had dozens of interesting edifying conversations with people by doing this.

Back to the story.

So, I am next in line getting ready to purchase my healthy cuisine when the cashier calls me up.  The gentleman next to me had already paid for his gasoline but was still fiddling with his wallet.  As I walked up to the counter I showed the QT employee my two items and delightfully told him that the gentleman next to me was going to pay for them.  This is an example of one of the many awkward ways I talk to people.

That is when something pretty cool happened.

With a complete straight face, the man said, "I would be glad to do that, I got ya."  I was surprised by his words and immediately told him I was joking and proceeded to take out my wallet.  He continued, "If you don't have the money, I would be glad to purchase your food for you."  Again, I assured him I was only joking and apologized for the confusion.  As I paid for my food, I turned to him and said, "Wow, you must have a pretty good heart to be willing to do something like this."  He responded by saying, "I just know there are a lot of people who are hungry in the world and I wanted to help you out if you needed some assistance."

I patted the man on the back and said, "God bless you brother, that is a great attitude," and I walked out of the store.

And that is my corndog/diet coke/generosity story.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Along the way

A good friend and mentor of mine was sharing his heart with me the other day.  I could tell something was weighing on him.  He told me about the unrest that he was experiencing in his life and how he felt God may be calling him towards pastoral ministry.  While I may be a little bias, my friend would make an excellent pastor.  As I questioned him a little more about his thoughts and feelings he told me about some investigation he had already done into serving at a church but his efforts did not seem to be resulting in any concrete progress.  This yearning within him had been there for almost four years and he couldn't help but feel a little discouraged that nothing seemed to have manifested from the steps he had already taken in this process.  He was beginning to question the significance of what he was doing with his life.

What you also need to know about my friend is that he and his wife are amazing people.  They are the kind of people you wish you could 'copy and paste' and give to every single church in the world.  You know the kind of people I am talking about. And while I could very easily go into great detail about all the ways my friend and his wife serve God and serve others through countless ways, I will remain vague to protect his identity.

As my friend continued to share his heart, I resonated with the different things he was feeling and thinking.  He had dreams of where he could be and what he could be doing but felt discouraged because those dreams still seemed quite far away.  As he shared his heart, I couldn't help but think to myself that I've been there.  I've felt and experienced very similar things in my own life. 

And while my friend is much wiser than I am, I felt the need to remind him of a truth that God has been reminding me of lately.  It can be very easy to look down the road at the things we dream about and wish for and think, "If only I was there and doing this, THEN I would really be doing something significant with my life...Dreaming, wishing, and hoping are all great things.  However, sometimes we can get lost in our dreaming, wishing, and hoping and forget that God desires to use us here and now as well. Sometimes we can get so caught up in 'what could be' that we don't do a great job of being present here and now.  While God may have specific things in store for us down the road, I believe that God does not sit back and wait for us to reach that destination in order to use us to do his work. God desires to use us in and through the journey, whether or not we ever get there or not.

Here is a prayer that I have been striving to live out and pray in my life:

'God, help me to be 100% available to you in any and all things.  Help me to be present and faithful where I am right now... And if you should ever desire to have me do different work in a different place, help me to have a sensitive heart, open ears, and open eyes so that I may recognize and respond to your prompting.'

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


In light of the incidents in Newtown, CT over the last few days I have heard several people ask me and others, "Why? How does something like this happen? If God is good/real, why didn't he intervene? etc."
During times like Newtown, CT, 9/11, the atrocities of war, and even throughout the daily rhythm of life, there is something, I believe, that all people yearn for and dream of, and I believe that thing is 'hope.' Hope that what I see and hear around me isn't the end of the story. Hope that one day all the things that are broken, shattered, and wrong in this world will be made right. Hope that Shadow, the golden retriever, will come limping over the hill and be reunited with his family. Hope that the Cubs /Pirates will actually know what it means to wear a World Series ring. Every person yearns for this kind of hope and redemption. It is in our DNA.
I believe that there is coming a day when God will condemn evil for what it is. I believe the words of Revelation 21 that talk about a day when “there will be a new heaven and a new earth… and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more mourning, crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” We love and serve a God who hates evil. We believe that one day he will judge between good and evil and finally condemn evil and those who embrace/choose it. As a Christian, I find that hope in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But, until that day comes, some men and women will continue to do evil acts. These evil acts are an outward sign of an inward reality (the condition of the heart) and it is our responsibility to work on our hearts and ask God to change them… but at the end of the day, some people will still choose evil. Christ calls his followers to embody a servant-like love by how we give, serve, sacrifice, and extend hope to others through our words and actions.
So, let us mourn, let us ask 'why', let us remember, let us take action, let us debate, etc. But above all, let us remember that hope is real and let us work towards embodying that hope in our world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Lord, have mercy on us

*Warning: Graphic Story*

I just finished reading a story on CNN that caused me to weep out loud.    A 14 year old girl somehow managed to hide the fact that she was pregnant from her parents.  She would later admit that she was scared her pregnancy would have a negative effect on her relationship with her folks.  After giving birth to the baby in her bathroom she immediately strangled the baby's neck for 60 seconds.  She made sure the baby did not have a pulse.  After making sure the baby was dead, she hid the body in her clothes hamper, which her mother later went through and discovered the baby.

My son just turned 4 months old the other day.  I never imagined being able to love a child the way that I love my son.  He is so beautiful and precious to me and I would do anything for him.  I think part of the reason I feel the way I do about Sawyer is because I know that he couldn't make it without his mommy and I.  He needs us to survive.  While his crying can be difficult and stressful to hear sometimes, I know that many times those cries are his way of saying, "I need you mommy and daddy."  Having a baby has warmed my heart in a way I could never have imagined.

When Jesus talked about caring for "the least of these," I think he was talking about a wide range of people: the lonely, the imprisoned, the hungry, the naked, the mocked, the helpless, the widow, the helpless child, the enslaved, the forgotten, the newborn, and so on.  To faithfully follow after Jesus requires that we willingly and continually sacrifice for 'the least.'  To follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to sacrifice and confess, "my life is not my own."  And I believe I shed tears for this newborn baby for a few reasons: First, every little baby deserves to have at least one parent that would march through hell and back on their behalf.  My heart breaks for this helpless creation of God who was subjected to awful suffering for its short little life.  Secondly, as I read this story I am reminded of my own sin.  While I've never made it on CNN for the things I've done, I know that I turn my back to 'the least' in less noticeable and less obvious ways through how I spend my money, how I spend my time, things I do and don't do, etc.  And finally, I weep because I know we serve a God whose loves his creation far more than I do and I know his heart breaks when he sees those whom he loves suffer, especially the helpless... And the only prayer that I find to be appropriate when I hear stories like this and have an awareness of my own sin is, "Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us."

If you call/consider yourself to be a Christian, let me ask you this: In what ways does following Jesus cause you to sacrifice your own comfort and well-being for the sake of others?  Does following Jesus cost you anything?  It should.

May our hearts continue to break on behalf of 'the least' and may we respond faithfully.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dave Matthews and Love

I’ve been a pretty loyal Dave Matthew’s Band fan for 15+ years.  As I have listened to the band and various interviews that Dave has given over the last few years they/he have become much more vocal and outspoken about what they believe to be the main issues and tragedies that humanity has fallen victim to and faces today.  Some of these issues that Dave mentions in his songs and interviews are greed, war, religion, poverty, the power hungry, and so on.  One thing I appreciate about Dave is that he is not one to simply point out what is wrong but he also talks and sings about what he believes to be the solution and hope for humanity as well.  In many of his songs (most recently ‘Mercy’), Dave talks about how ‘love is the answer’ and how people need to ‘get together and begin loving one another.’  Who could possibly disagree and say that the world needs less love?

            But as I listen to Dave’s words and songs and many others who express similar thoughts, I am again reminded that love can be a very vague word.  Love needs definition.  If I told you I painted an ‘incredible picture’ or baked ‘an amazing meal,’ my words may sound exciting but you still don’t know what the picture looks like or what the meal tastes like.  My picture needs to be seen, studied and observed.  The description ‘incredible picture’ is not enough.  Likewise, my meal needs to be experienced and tasted (preferably my barbeque hamburgers) to understand what I mean by ‘an incredible meal.’ Similarly, love needs true, honest, and complete definition and without that definition we are left with lofty undefined hopes and emotions.

How do we know what love is?  Through the life, teachings, words, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As 1 John reminds us, “How do we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”  We come to know and understand true sacrificial servant love when we come to know Jesus.  The Church, the Body of Christ, is then called to go forth and embody that love through the way we serve, the way we give, the way we sacrifice, and the way that we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Christians on the Internet

A few weeks back I had an absolutely crazy idea... While watching a video that addressed a comical yet controversial issue in the Church I thought I could share a few things that I had been questioning and wrestling with while hoping to hear some intelligent/thoughtful responses.  My goal in doing so was by no means to 'stir things up a bit.'  I enjoy listening and hearing other people's views and stances on things.  Silly me for thinking I could honestly share from my heart some of these questions that had been resonating inside me and engage in some helpful/meaningful dialogue.

Over the course of a couple weeks, I would get an email notification every time someone responded to my questions.  Out of the 15 or so responses I got, 12 of them were from fellow believers that used a variety of vocabulary to let me know how pagan my questions and thoughts were.  "No real believer who actually has read the Bible would ever ask such a stupid question..."  A few even informed me about their thoughts on where I would be spending my eternal destiny.  All that to say I deleted my question after about two weeks because I would actually find myself discouraged when someone would write something hateful or condemning.  

While this was one of the few times I actually posted some of my own thoughts on this particular website, I think I should have known better.  There must be a hidden verse or passage in scripture that says something like, "...And when you go on the internet and engage in controversial topics and conversations forget everything I ever said about loving others and extending peace and mercy...  In fact, be a complete tool."

'Defending your faith' does not justify hatred.

Who are you extending the love of Christ to?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Good Theology

Theology: The study of divine things and/or religious truth.

I would like to think I have 'good' theology... I would like to think that when I speak about my faith in God, the scriptures, and how we ought to live that I do it with consistency and faithfulness.  My hope is that when I  preach, teach, and enter into conversation with others regarding the faith that God affirms what I am saying (to some level)  as 'good.'  N.T. Wright has said (paraphrased), 'If I had to guess, I think what I teach/write and have to say about God is generally accurate about 80-85% of the time and the other 15-20% is off in some way or another.  The only problem is, I don't know what that 15-20% is.' What I don't want is to have bad theology and I think you know what I am talking about.  

The other day I was watching TBN and one of the preachers/teachers was telling her listeners that the reason she got breast implants is because God told her she should feel beautiful.  We've heard other televangelists talk about how God wants to double and triple your income so you can get another Mercedes.  Or how about those teachers/preachers that tell people, "If you would pray enough prayers and give enough money to my 'ministry' the cancer will go away."    Some more subtle examples of poor theology and praxis are when we justify our hatred and prejudice in the name of God and the faith.

But here is what I believe to be true.  No matter how long I live, my guess is that there will always be a part of me that 'never fully gets it.'  If I lived to be 150 years old and was asked to teach a study on any book of the Bible, I can guarantee I would say/teach something that would cause God to say, "Eh, nice try Jay but your way off."  I'm sure as long as I live there will be signs and symptoms of false beliefs and understandings that I have picked up along the way... And to a certain extent, I am ok with that.  Why?  Because above all the nooks, crannies, and truths I will strive to articulate, discover, teach and preach throughout my life lies the greatest commandment of all: to dedicate my entire life to loving God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength while striving to love my neighbor as myself.

My mother is 64 years old and has MS.  Walking is becoming more and more difficult for her.  She is a sweet woman who loves the Lord with her whole heart.  Over the last couple years I've heard her articulate some thoughts and beliefs that, my guess, she has picked up from the media that I do not agree with.  But at the end of the day, here is a woman who regularly visits other people who are suffering from Alzheimers, MS, cancer, and other various disabilities and serves communion to them.  She sits with them for hours and loves them with the simple/extravagant love of Christ.  In the end, it is her love for God and others matters most.

God would rather someone who is wrong now and again that commits their life to loving God and others as oppose to the articulate scholar that fails to embody the love of Christ towards others.

The practice matters most.