Tuesday, April 27, 2004

post-preaching praises

I just finished preaching in chapel. I love to preach. I love to be up there trying (however poorly) to articulate the truths of the gospel. But let me share with you my favorite parts of preaching in chapel this morning:

- It was great to look out into the crowd and see friends that were there just because I was preaching.
- It was great to see beloved professors smiling back at me from the pews.
- It was great to have a church in Maryland that barely knows me, praying for me while I preached.
- It was great to have my preaching professor come up to me before the service begin to tell me that he has been praying for me.
- It was great to hear students say after the service that they "needed to hear that message this morning."
- Most of all it was great to know that God could use even me to speak to a room full of critical seminary students and brilliant professors.

Father, all blessing and honor, all praise and glory go to You. Truly You use the foolishness and the weakness of this world to do Your ministry. Of all the people I want to make proud of me, Your approval alone is what matters. Father, when You smile upon me, my heart is glad. I give to You an offering of praise. I collect all the "good-jobs" and "well-dones" and I give them to You. For You alone are worthy. Thank you so much for honoring me with your love and your grace. These are the greatest honors I could ever receive.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

middle school note passing: the spice of spontaneity

I just wanted to let you all in on a fun occurrence tonight. I went to the library to do some commentary research for a sermon. I first had to go to the bathroom, number 1, and quickly "drain the weasel." As I left the bathroom a strikingly beautiful brunette passed by me on her way to the women's lavatory. My exact thought as we passed and made eye contact was, "Wow!"

So then I go roaming around the library trying to find a seat next to an electrical outlet. I needed to use my computer to take notes. I sat at a completely empty table and sure enough, it has an outlet nearby. I get to working when I notice the girls to my left. There is three piles of books and two studying girls. I pay no attention to the numerical imbalance and begin to crack open the commentaries.

Well, wouldn't you know it, the beautiful girl I had just passed resumes her seat at the next table over. "Oh boy...." I think to myself, "Am I going to be able to get any work done?" But I press on and focus my brain on the task at hand. Over the next hour and a half she shifts from her table, to the table diagonal from mine and then finally to the one just across from me in my line of vision. Her excuse to her friends was that they were being too loud. Maybe so....or maybe she was strategically placing her beautiful person just where my eyes will have to fight to stay on my computer.

I make it to the end of my research and begin to pack up. I can't let this opportunity pass by. I was a little hesitant at first, but then she looks up and asks if her friends were bothering me. I didn't say anything, I just smiled back at her and shook my head "no". I half-way pack up and then decide to go and get a piece of scrap paper from the printer area and jot down a short note.

Here is what I wrote:
Outside - "A little note reminiscent of middle school." Then I make a little arrow pointing toward where she should open the note.
Inside - "I couldn't help but notice you from across the table. I am not trying to hit on you or weird you out. I just need you to know that I think you are beautiful. (drawn smiley face) I hope you have a great night!" Then at the bottom of the inside I signed, "The Random Guy from the Library."

I continue to pack the rest of my stuff and I put away the commentaries. I slip the note in my pocket and put on my backpack. Her face is down toward her homework as I approach her table. She is there by herself as her friends are all at the other table not paying attention. I walk up to her and say, "Hey". She looks up and replies "Hi." I say, "My name is Mark" as I put my hand out in handshaking formation. She shakes my hand, smiles and says, "My name is Brittany." Her face begins to turn red and she looks back down at her work. I pull the note out of my pocket and place it on the table in front of her saying in a whisper, "I wrote this for you. Have a great night." She takes it and says "thanks" as I walk away into the rows of stacked books.

SO MUCH FUN!!! I didn't stick around to see her reaction. I didn't stay to see the reaction of her friends. I didn't want to. That is not what that little note-o-fun was about. It was about me telling her what I thought without any strings attached. I left no number. I left no name. I didn't even try to make awkward, "I am trying to hit on you" small talk. Nope, I just turned around and walked away. And I couldn't help but smile the entire way out to my car.

To the degree in which I hate letting those moments slip away, is to the degree in which pure joy floods my cheeks when I actually step up to the plate. It is moments like these which flavor life with that spice of spontaneity.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

getting there

I just finished my fourth paper of the week. Altogether I have typed up 44 pages of paper. I had 6 major projects to do and only two weeks in which to do them. 4 down, 2 to go... Not bad. I have a sermon that needs to be done by Tuesday. That is, the sermon brief (all the research work) and the actual sermon, which needs to be written as well as sufficiently rehearsed.

Another sermon needs to be ready to preach by Thursday. I am not sure if I will preach a different one than Tuesday's, or the same sermon just tweaked a little. And finally another sermon brief due Friday. So in total, two sermon briefs and two sermons ready to preach (unless I preach the same one twice, which isn't likely). The two sermons will probably add about 20 pages to the total by the time I am finished with all the research.

I have that tired feeling that is accompanied by the satisfaction of work accomplished. Mixed with that feeling is this internal drive that is well aware of the many tasks ahead. "No celebration just yet", it tells me. So after each paper was done, I did a mini-celebration dance and then moved on.

These next two sermons will be no easy task... Especially having to preach the first one in Truett chapel. Its one of those honors that you are truly honored to receive, and at the same time, part of you wishes someone else got the award. It seems to me that this is evidence of the human desire for recognition without the accompanying responsibility. When in reality, the two always coincide.

After completion of next week, the finish-line will be in sight. There will only be four hurdles in my way. Each one a big, fat final. But no worries. God has brought me along this far, I know He will see me through to the end.

Father, I thank you for all the work of the last 7 years which has helped to prepare me for what lies ahead.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

a letter and a prayer

I sent the letter today. My main prayer is that God would bring someone alongside of Stephanie who is a follower of Christ. Someone to listen, someone to feel what she feels, someone to be Christ to her in these moments. I am also praying that not only would she draw near to Christ in the midst of this trial, but that in Christ, we would be drawn closer together as cousins. I invite you to join with me in these prayers if you would like.

Sunday, April 18, 2004


My cousin was in a car accident a few days ago. Her back was broken. Today I found out that she is paralyzed from the waist down. She is in her early twenties. I am going to attempt to write a letter to her. A letter of warmth and love. How does one go about writing such a letter? (By the way that question is rhetorical. Please don't respond to it. Most of our responses to such a question end up being about as trite as most of the letters that will be sent to my cousin in the hospital.)

Her life was spared. Thank you Lord. Her legs were not.

Some questions she may be asking:
Why me?
Why me?
Why me?
Did I deserve this?
Will I be able to function now?
Will I ever be able to have kids?
Will anyone ever fall in love with me ever again?
Can I forgive myself for drinking and driving?
Why me?
Will people think less of me now?
Will people look at me weird in a wheelchair?
Should I just kill myself and get it over with?
Why me?
Why didn't you protect me, God?
Are you even there, God?
Why did you do this to me, God?
Why can't I just walk again?
Why me?
What now?
Where do I go from here?
Where do I work?
How do I shower?
How do I go to the bathroom?
How do I reach the top shelves?
Will I ever be independent again?
Will my boyfriend leave me now?
Can I blame him if he does?
Will I ever be able to drive again?
Should I ever drive again?
Why did this happen to me?

Monday, April 12, 2004

renew a right spirit...

Once again I have come to the stark realization that I have such little faith in God. There is a lot on my plate these last few weeks in April. I would list them only I am sure those of you reading this have plenty of your own work over which you are stressing. Last night in my time of prayer I had to ask God for forgiveness. For the last week or so I have been freaking out about how much work needs to get done before I graduate. And instead of actually working on it, I have just been lazily pissing and moaning about it.

As I look at the mountain of tasks which seem insurmountable, I am reminded that even just a mustard seed of faith can move mountains. Then I realize that I even lack that much faith. The truth is not that I have "too much" work to do. The truth is not that I have "so many" bills to pay and loans to pay off. The truth is that God has provided for me time and time and time again. Yet every time I get out into what even appears to me a little sand, I think its a desert. My foot sinks into the sandbox and I think I am in the Sinai peninsula. I daily receive more than enough bread and quail and yet all I want is my Egypt back. I want the constant security of the Nile. I want to farm my own land rather than wait on God's provision from the skies.

Then God gives me the grace to see each assignment, one at a time. Each day, one at a time. This truly is a grace because my worrisome heart wants to process everything all at once. I like to get ahead of myself. I like to worry about tomorrow, forgetting that today has enough trouble of its own. This grace reminds me of the lilies and the sparrows. It reminds me that this last month isn't Nascar but a Sunday drive. "Enjoy the view," God tells me, "because it is all over soon." "Yes, even enjoy the papers and the projects. Many people around the world are giving their lives to learn about the things you complain about." Grace. This grace turns my book reviews into blessings, my papers into prayers and my sermons into sanctuary.

Father, forgive me for my attitude toward my school work this past week. I thank you for all the opportunities for learning. I thank you for life circumstances which allow me to exercise faith. My faith needs working out. It has become weak, fat and lazy. Strengthen my faith, Lord, that I might be able to see you work in ways that are beyond my doing.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

get involved

Check out these sites online. These two organizations are touching on what that last blog was about.

Bread for the World: www.bread.org

Witness for Peace: www.witnessforpeace.org

Maybe all of us can become just a little more aware of how to offer justice, hope and peace to a broken world. Another organization of which I am a part is Compassion International. That link is to the right if you want to help a child on the other side of the world with food and education.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

reigning myth of redemptive violence

It seems to me that we haven't been given non-violent options in our search for solutions to problems in the world. In our history classes, did we ever explore non-violent options to the Revolutionary war? No. We simply celebrated our "freedom" won by war. And this pattern has continued in the American history classes around the country. In our high schools and universities we grow up "proud" of our "freedom." And since we are told that "freedom" has a cost, namely the lives of soldiers, we exalt violence in the name of liberty.

Have you discussed non-violent options to WWI or WWII? Have you even thought of a non-violent option instead of dropping the atom bomb on Japan? Did we ever learn that Japan was so close to surrender that an invasion of the island, which the bombs were supposed to save us from, was probably not going to be necessary anyway? Did we learn about how Philadelphia non-violently and peacefully rejected the East India tea company? Because we sure did hear plenty of stories about the "Boston tea party."

And I am not talking about pansy, indifferent, inactivity masking as peaceful, non-violent resistance. No, I am talking about active pacifism in the world. I am talking about people giving us options. Its amazing that in such a consumer culture full of options for the buyer we haven't been taught more non-violent ways in which to resolve problems. And not just playground problems, although that is a good start. I am talking about national and international issues.

Shouldn't it be the great Christian minds of our day who are providing these alternative ways to resolve problems peacefully in the world? Why have so many of us Christians bought into this "reigning myth of redemptive violence" (Must Christianity be Violent?, p.111) If anything, we should have learned from Jesus that violence isn't redemptive. Christ showed us that obedient suffering is redemptive. Love is redemptive. But violence? No, violence is not redemptive.

And we live in the midst of this "reigning myth" because we have no truth to set us free. We have bought into this lie because more powerfully creative, non-violent means have not been given a voice. Where are our prophets of peace? Where are our teachers of truth? Where is the Kingdom of God among the kingdoms of this world? I long for a voice of non-violence in the name of Christ to help guide our thoughts and actions in the future.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

lessons from Benny

A jobless and homeless man approached me and my friends last night. His name is Benny. We got to talking and ended up spending an hour just hanging out. It was awesome, troubling, humbling and inspiring all at the same time. He was a strong Christian by any definition of the word and had a faith that was deep. Daily he trusted on God's provision. Daily. He shared with me how he never asked for more than he needed from people because if he took advantage of people he would have to deal with God on that. This from a man who was doing fine in life until he lost his job because got shot while being robbed. This from a guy who sleeps in an abandoned warehouse. This from a guy who's wife has left him for another man and who's 5 year old daughter has to stay with his in-laws. Brittany Lee is her name. He told me that he hopes to get her an Easter gift if he can manage it.

Why is Benny poor and homeless? It is because his has a mental illness? No. Its it because he is an alcoholic or a drug addict? No. Its it because he is black or hispanic and can't get a decent job in a racist society? No. Its it because he isn't smart? No. He tries to read left-over newspapers when he can to stay up on what is happening in the world. I am sure there are many complicated reasons why Benny is out on the street. But the most obvious is that he got robbed one day. He got shot during the robbery. His leg still hasn't fully healed. Due to medical bills, most of his major possessions were taken. Due to an injured leg, he lost his job. Now because of the leg and not having a place of residence to put on the applications, he is having trouble getting a new job. Are not all of us a few bad circumstances away from poverty and homelessness?

But does all this get Benny down? Sometimes it does, he admits, but not for too long. He figures just because life is tough doesn't mean he needs to get involved in bad things (like drugs, alcohol and stealing). He reminds himself that he was not guaranteed anything in this world besides death. He attends "church under the bridge" and goes to a weekly bible study with some of his student friends at Common Grounds. He prays daily for God's provision. And he trusts that God will take care of him. And so far, Benny tells me, God has taken care of him.

I learned a few things from Benny last night. Most of all I learned how weak my faith was in comparison to Benny's. The richness of his heart dwarfed the wealth of my middle class possessions. And yet the poverty of my faith resembled quite well his living condition. If for just the briefest of moments, I saw the world through the eyes of God.

Luke 6:20-21 makes a lot more sense to me now:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." Maybe I have been spending too much time in Matthew 5 in order to justify myself.

Father, thank you so much for letting me meet and hang out with Benny. I thank you for the example he is to me. I pray that you would continue to heal his leg. I pray that you would continue to provide for him daily. I pray that he would get to spend some time with Brittany this Easter. Father, would you help him to get a job soon so he can move out of that warehouse. And would you continue to open my eyes and help me to see how you see.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

violent disciples

"Must Christianity Be Violent?" This is the title of the book that I am reading. Its very interesting though I am not even half way through the book. It begins to try to answer this question by giving the history of oppressively violent actions all done in the name of Christ. In the first chapter, I am reminded that the Crusaders slaughtered Muslims and even many Byzantine Christians all in the pursue to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. To rid the region of the unholy "pagans" was in itself a holy act, done to the glory of God and for the sake of Jesus' name.

In the second chapter, I am reminded of the mass murder of the Native Americans by the Christian "Conquistadors." Though there were prophetic priests such as Las Casas who condemned the brutality, warrior clergy such as Cortez dominated the scene. The rule was convert or die. The Americas of the southern region belonged to Spain and the rule of the Queen meant the rule of Catholicism.

Likewise, chapter three reminds me that in the name of Christ slaves were owned. And in the name of Christ a bloody war was fought for their freedom. Brother killing brother, North raping South. Murder and war in the name of freedom and God. This too is a harsh reminder as it hits home in the US. I cannot remove myself so easily from this picture because it happened upon the soil on which I now stand.

Worst of all the Holocaust. Recent in the memory of history and still impacting world-views to this day. Not only a country but a continent full of Christians, both nominal and devout, who either participated in the horrific genocide of the Jews or stood by and watched. To this day, the Holocaust museum in Israel has on record 14,000 names of "Gentile" people who took part in helping to save a Jew in the midst of this nightmare. Of that number only about 20% considered their faith as one of the reasons for their heroic action. An even lower percentage considered it the prime reason for helping to save the life of another.

These are wonderful reminders to me. Especially in a day and age when it is so easy to point the finger and be utterly astounded at the devastation brought about by "jihad." When we study history, Christians have been involved in more gruesome and prolonged "jihad" than any other religion this planet has every known. Historically, the only theology more destructive to life has been Marxism. My heart grieves over this horrible history of Christianity.

How can we begin to paint a picture of Jesus as the "Prince of Peace" with a backdrop like this? How can we ask the world for forgiveness? How can I be so angry at "jihad" when we have been the prime examples for their model of "ministry?"

Even worse than the past may be the present. Christianity has been the backbone of morality in America, until recently, since the Declaration of Independence. And our fruit as a nation is consumer capitalism, quite possibly the most oppressive economic structure since Lenin's Communism. Though capitalism is quite a bit more intelligent about its oppression. We tend to oppress the nations which grow our food, sew our clothes, and mine our diamonds. That way, it is out of sight and out of mind.

We, as a nation, avert our eyes while we buy our double, decaf, non-fat latte. But the coffee bean farmer in Latin America who can barely feed his family knows of the plight of capitalism. I wonder if this is what it was like to be a German "Christian" at the brink of WWII. Its that feeling of being a bug drawn to the blue light of the bug zapper. Part of you wants to do something to correct the injustice and the other part of you realizes that it is just easier to go with the flow.

Though we are not a Christian nation, I dare say that plenty of us Christians fully support our "American way." We give capitalism God's blessing and wave our flag at our shopping malls. After all, God is for us so who can be against us. God will certainly bless our wars against the evils of Islam. They may have Allah on their side, but we have the mighty warrior Jesus. If that is not a misnomer I don't know what is: "mighty warrior" Jesus?

While the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. "And what of the middle class?" we ask ourselves. But only the rich have the luxury of this question. We like to think we are middle class because of the harshness of scripture toward the wealthy. Indeed, in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of God we are the wealthy. But lets hangout in this fiction a bit. Lets assume we are middle class. It seems that we are just rich enough to live without too much pain and yet just enough in debt to be distracted. Its the bills of the middle class person that often blind us to oppressive systems of which we are a part. But is blessed ignorance violence? It seems to me that the means by which the ends of oppression are accomplished have to be violent.

I have gone a bit off course. In the end, the reality is that the violent history of Christian people is present today. The past stories which we hate to hear about are the same stories being made today for the next generation's history books. How will my story be told? Will I be just a modern day Crusader or Conquistador? Or will I follow in the prophetic line of Christians like Las Casas and the German Christians who risked their lives for another? Though my story is not yet finished, I fear that my bug eyes have stared at the blue light for too long and I will only "stay the course" until my death.

Father, forgive us...we know not what we do.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

a short vent

Have you ever read a 260 page biography in a 24 hour period, then presented it in class that afternoon, whereby another presentation on another book (which you haven't started) is due the following morning? That is were I am right now. I am about to begin this book, which I must finish reading and write a book review on. Then I have to present it in class tomorrow morning. Not to mention I got very little sleep last night because of the prior assignment. Needless to say I shouldn't even be on my blog right now. But I am generally in a pissy mood and need to vent a little. Thanks for being here blog. I can always count on you to listen quietly and patiently.