Monday, September 29, 2008

Trip to Alabama

At the beginning of September, we took a vacation of sorts to Alabama to visit my parents. They are house parents at Big Oak Ranch for Girls in Springville, Alabama. We got to spend some time relaxing at Lake Guntersville in Northeast Alabama as well as spending a few days in Springville. We also took Claire and Charlotte to the Birmingham Zoo for their first trip to the zoo. We met one of Cyd's friends, Kimberly and her two girls for our day at the zoo. Kimberly and Cyd used to work together at M-Power Ministries in Birmingham, while Cyd and I were students at Beeson Divinity School. We enjoyed spending time with our parents and getting to rest and relax, although Claire was up every morning by 6 AM, so sleeping late never really happened.

Cyd and I love getting the opportunity to travel together. Ever since college we have enjoyed the car conversations that occur when you travel together. I'm not sure if having two kids in the car is quite the same thing as those early days, but a few speed bumps along the journey didn't spoil all the fun. Claire also got to go on her first boat ride! You can tell by the pictures that she fell asleep from not having had a nap that day. She wasn't quite ready to try tubing though! I always enjoy getting to spend time with my family so the trip was a blessing in many, many ways.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Shack

I recently finished The Shack. It seems that everyone else around was reading it, so I decided to (but only after someone gave me a copy) I tend to stay away from books that everyone else is reading until well after the popularity has waned. I must confess it wasn't that great to me. The story line was intriguing but as far as literary quality, lacking. I do think that the book offers what I look for in books, an author that is willing to stretch their own faith for the sake of his or her audience. I measure books by how much they make me stretch my faith, by how much they make me question my own life and heart, not to cast doubt but so that my faith can be strengthened. Young accomplished that with his human portrayal of the Trinity! The promise of hope and grace was what I most took away from the book. The danger of The Shack is reading it as non-fiction or theology rather than a work of fiction. People have responded to this book the same way people responded the Left Behind Series, love it or hate it. If you have the time The Shack is worth a look, just remember that it's not theology, but like a good sermon it points to the reason for theology.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Living Unloved

I have been reading, experiencing, and contemplating numerous things in the last few weeks all with good intentions of sharing some thoughts here, but time hasn't been my friend lately. I have found myself using the few extra moments to soak up time with Claire and Charlotte, which is definitely a good thing. Perhaps this week I will have some time to catch up on my blogging. I did want to share one story that I read in e-mail preaching journal sent out by Walter B. Shurden, Minister at Large, Mercer University. Buddy Shurden was the chair of the Christianity department when Cyd and I were at Mercer. He holds a special place in our hearts as a teacher, a mentor, a pastor of sorts, and a friend. The following is actually his response to a section of The Shack. His thoughts on living unloved spoke to me when I opened the e-mail last week. I have already used a variation of it twice in preaching and teaching, it's that good!

Years ago when I was a very young pastor, I encountered a college student who had been sent my way “for counseling” by a member of my church who was also the dean of students at the local university. I know of no other way to describe the college student: she was a wreck of a human being.

For an hour I made absolutely no access to her soul. But as she grabbed the door handle to leave, I said, “Let me ask you one more question.” “Shoot,” she arrogantly shot back. In as pastoral a way as I knew how, I quietly asked, “Who loves you?” “That’s a stupid damn question,” she countered; “Why do you ask?” “Because,” I said, “My business is to tell people that they are loved.” I pressed the issue: “So tell me who loves you.” Long, long pause with obvious pain and then sadly: “My brother . . . maybe.”

When we live unloved lives we end up overreaching like Adam, lying like Eve, manipulating like Jacob, being fearful like Saul, living unbuttoned like David, amassing like Solomon, denying like Peter, boasting like Paul, and killing ourselves like Judas. Living unloved, we end up puking in alleys, bed-hopping, living self-destructive lives, buying till it hurts, climbing ladders made of others’ heads, building barns too big to live in, confusing ambition with vocation, hoarding rather than sharing, hating folk who don’t look like us, driving by Lazarus, and using rather than serving people. To tell the truth, we end up on trash heaps on the southwest corner of Jerusalem. They called it Gehenna. We call it Hell! We end up as waste, and we waste the only life given to us. That is hell: waste.

But here is the Good News: God is for you! God loves you! You don’t have to live your life hating yourself! To believe all of that is much harder for most people to believe than doctrines of the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, etc. God welcomes you! God accepts you! And Fred Craddock closed his sermon on this theme with: “Can you BELIEVE THAT?”

Powerful thoughts indeed!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thoughts on God

The prophet Hosea provides a challenging look at faith. Some scholars believe Hosea's marriage to Gomer is purely metaphorical, representing the waywardness of Israel and their affairs with other God's particularly Baal. What strikes me most is not a matter of interpretation in terms of historical event or hyperbole but the ever-true message of God's faithfulness in the midst of our unfaithfulness.

Hosea 13:4-6 (The Message)

4-6"I'm still your God,
the God who saved you out of Egypt.
I'm the only real God you've ever known.
I'm the one and only God who delivers.
I took care of you during the wilderness hard times,
those years when you had nothing.
I took care of you, took care of all your needs,
gave you everything you needed.
You were spoiled. You thought you didn't need me.
You forgot me.

God proves himself true over and over again as he demonstrates his faithfulness in our lives daily. We take for granted the little things, like breathing each morning when we awake, even if the wake-up call is because of aching muscles, alarm clocks, or an energetic 3 year old. What about food to eat each day. Or perhaps an encouraging word from a friend or a smile from a stranger as you pass them in the grocery store. God is faithful to provide for us and meet us right where we are.

Hosea 14:4-5 (The Message)

4-8 "I will heal their waywardness.
I will love them lavishly. My anger is played out.
I will make a fresh start with Israel.
He'll burst into bloom like a crocus in the spring.
He'll put down deep oak tree roots,
he'll become a forest of oaks!
He'll become splendid—like a giant sequoia,
his fragrance like a grove of cedars!
Those who live near him will be blessed by him,
be blessed and prosper like golden grain.
Everyone will be talking about them,
spreading their fame as the vintage children of God.
Ephraim is finished with gods that are no-gods.
From now on I'm the one who answers and satisfies him.
I am like a luxuriant fruit tree.
Everything you need is to be found in me."

There is this print my mom has in her house of a historic oak tree in Savannah. The oak has this huge sprawling canopy of branches complete with Spanish moss hanging from the limbs. The beauty and grace of the Majestic Oak above ground is only made possible by the deep roots beneath the surface. Roots that run long and deep down in the fertile soil of the Georgia coastline. That root system serves at least 2 purposes. 1) It provides the groundwork for the beautiful vegetation of the tree and 2) a strong support system so that the tree isn't toppled by winds and rain and other potentially dangerous elements. Isn't it great to know that God provides the strong support system we need to face each day of life! He is our protector, our shield, our defender....He is our REFUGE!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Helping Mom Ice Her Birthday Cake

Claire's 3rd Birthday

I can't believe that Claire finally turned 3!! I feel like we have been celebrating her birthday for a month. We had a great day on Monday. She and Cyd made a chocolate cake, then Claire licked the icing until she had it all over her face. The pictures are great. I will get them posted soon. Then we had some company. Kate, our family friend and the former Assistant Student Minister at FBC came over for a few hours. We hadn't had a chance to catch up with her lately so it was good to do so. Claire loves to spend time with "her Kate!" Then Cyd's parents and aunt Carolyn from Texas came over for a birthday dinner. We had a wonderful time together.

There's lots on my mind but not much time to share it right now, so I will hopefully get caught up soon.