the blank page

There is nothing worse for a writer and yet there is nothing better for a writer than the blank page (not that I necessarily consider myself a writer…I just like to write sometimes). In that blank page is the infinite void and also the limitless potential. In that page universes spin out of control, fates are decided and yet in that page there is frustration and writer’s block. What possesses someone to come to that page and think, “yeah, I can do this”? Often times I stare at the screen in front of me or the blank page before me and just sit in despair. Who am I? Why would anyone listen to anything I have to say? What could I possibly put down that would make the world around me better for having read it? It almost seems to border on arrogance. But then I realize that I really am not the creator…I am simply the steward.

You see once upon a time creation happened. I don’t really care particularly how you think it happened (that is a different discussion for a different day), just as long as you agree that once upon a time something came from nothing; ex nihilo if you will. And out of this nothing, this blank page, life spun into existence. Some accounts speak of a Creator speaking into life all of existence and from that we eventually end up where we are today. Every atom, cell, cluster, fiber, muscle, breath, thought, expression, emotion, etc. eventually came from that nothing to something moment. And consequently every thought, expression, written word, played arrangement, and sung melody is really an act of co-creation, participation in that which was brought into existence at that creative moment. The poems, songs, prose, art, designs, structures, dances, plans and every  other creative achievement are ultimately an expression of stewardship in the gifts offered up in that original creative act. Although a rather negative expression of this partnership, the teacher in Ecclesiastes puts it this way, “What has been will be again,what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun.Is there anything of which one can say,“Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

But I don’t like to think of it in negative terms or as a means for despair. In fact, co-creating may be one of the most Holy things we get to participate in. Think about it. We are expressing in us the in-born imago dei (image of God) that seeks to create beauty where there is none. It seeks to create order out of chaos. It seeks to speak light into darkness and bring life where death previously reigned. Maybe this makes the blank page even more of a necessity to our lives. I share an office with another creative type at our church and above his desk he has a print of an amazing quote that goes a bit like this, “Look at the blank pages before you with courage. Now fill them with beauty.” – Blaine Hogan

Maybe that is where I find myself. In need of courage to participate in the creative act that happened so long ago. And maybe each of us find ourselves on the precipice of our own blank page as well. May we find our song, poem, dance, design, plan or whatever gift we seek to express and be the best steward we can be as we dance with the Divine.


good flintonians

The story goes a bit like this. I received a call from a mother of a student last Sunday as I was getting ready to head home. Evidently her son had gotten a flat tire and was stranded on the side of the road having never really changed a tire before. So I gallantly rode in to help out. Strangely enough he had made it down the road a ways and was parked in front of a church. So I jumped out to help out and found out we were in for more than we thought. Evidently the tire had rusted/froze onto the wheel well and there was no budging this thing. Although, we did have a couple of guys try to stop by and help us. The first, who was smoking like a chimney jumped out even though he was late to a meeting with some guys about a job. In his attempts to help us he even let a few choice words fly. And he apologized sincerely for his inability to help. The second guy who stopped by was covered in ink from head to toe and also had less than desirable language. But he even worked for a tire shop and helped us to realize our efforts were futile and we would be better off calling a tow-truck; which was the eventual solution. But the weirdest part about all of this is that it was 12:30 PM on a Sunday in front of a church, twenty degrees outside and not one person in “church clothes” stopped to ask what was going on or even offered help.

Kind of reminds me of a similar story. It goes a bit like this,                                                                                                                                                                                “Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.                                                                                                                                                           “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’                                                                                  “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”                                                                                                                                                       “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” – Luke 10:30-37 The Message

So my question is, what keeps us from compassion? Lunch appointments…the cold…not wanting to get our clothes dirty? I just hope that maybe the next time we encounter that moment for Christ’ action that the roast and potatoes can wait.


picking locks

There it was. In all it’s pristine glory. Okay, maybe most people would see a dingy closet door in the lower level of the downtown Flint YMCA. But to me, in a daze from finishing up my morning work out, it represented the entire world. There is nothing more fascinating to me than a locked closet door; okay, that may have been a bit of hyperbole. But don’t you just wander. I always have. My grandmother called me a meddler…I liked to think of it as a term of endearment. But I have always had this huge curiosity about what things lay behind locked doors, closed drawers and chests. In college this may or may not have even gotten me into a bit of trouble as I worked to perfect my skills at picking locks and getting where I obviously was not intended to go. I am just thankful that I am on this side of college without a criminal record. Although I am not sure I ever actually stole anything; I just wanted a look.

And I like to think that this approach to life isn’t altogether bad. I’ve always like J.R.R. Tolkein’s poem from Lord of the Rings in describing Strider, “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost”. I find myself often wandering about the things about me. I am curious about what lies not only behind closed doors, but what is around the bend. I like to marvel at the make up of planets spinning and the way trees grow and mountains dominate the landscape. And I think this Spirit may be of God. Not a spirit that causes one to get into trouble or mischief, but one that brings someone into a sense of wanting to know more about the world around them. And I think this may have been what the Apostle Paul was alluding to in his letter to the Colossians as well, “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” – Colossians 2:2-3. 

The mystery of God. I love that concept. And this isn’t the only place this is mentioned in scripture. God is the great mystery to be searched. The great locked door to be opened. And the best part about it, God can never be fully known, at least in this life. The best avenue we have for exploring the nature of God is the person of Jesus Christ and we know Him more fully through the presence of the Holy Spirit. And in Christ is all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge. And so we are encouraged to explore, seek, ask, knock and fully relish in the spirit of curiosity put into us to seek out God in everything around us and in the revelation of Jesus Christ. And for a meddler like me, this is great encouragement. So wander…and wonder as the mystery of God is always before us.


seed of doubt

Prepare thyself…at least that is what I had to say to myself a few weeks ago. I had a friend of mine from college message me and ask me to read and review his book. Not something I have ever done before, but it sounded like fun. After all, it was a novel and I love reading fiction. He offered to send me a copy, but being the ridiculously wealthy youth pastor that I am I refused his generosity and purchased my own copy on Amazon. And although it took me a while to get started reading I am now bringing myself around to the task of reviewing said book.

Robert Milton’s (a great name for an author, eh?) Seed of Doubt seemed to start off like most mystery/crime related fiction would. But before you get too far into the book you realize that this is not going to be fit your standard mode. The story lines focus around the lives of Connor Bryce and wife Kelly as well as John and Annika Mims. Connor Bryce seems to be an unassuming hard-working character whose innovation seems to be putting his family on the right track. The love story between John and Annika seems almost surreal as you see it laid out before you and find yourself captivated by their back-stories. But the intersection of their lives and the complex issues that come to life keep you spellbound as you find yourself lost in the tempo of Milton’s premier novel. As the plot unfolds you find yourself not even sure of who to root for. Do you find yourself sympathizing with the anti-protagonist or rooting for “justice” to be done?

Ultimately Seed of Doubt becomes a novel about all of us. Where do we find ourselves in the complexities of life and temptation? Do we live our lives out of a paradigm of guilt and deception or do we live in authenticity and freedom? I for one loved this book and am reluctant to admit, but even found myself tearing up in the conclusive scenes. This book would be a great read for anyone looking for a provocative yet intentional look at the power of the human heart and mind. I for one will look forward to Milton’s next book as I am sure this is just the beginning of an ongoing career.

If you want to know where to pick up Seed of Doubt, you can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Seed-Doubt-Robert-Milton-ebook/dp/B00H2Q2MKG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1394118364&sr=8-1&keywords=seed+of+doubt. And if you enjoy reading novels as much as I do, do yourself a favor and go out and grab it today. You might even have it just in time for that Spring Break beach read.


death to cynicism

This morning as I was pouring over my Twitter feed I noticed something aside from all of the tweeted pleas of school cancellations. I have a lot of cynical voices pouring into my life. Granted, most days I will read a lot of these updates, resonate with them and go on with my day, but today was different. Often times I can get behind the cynicism of the people I follow because I find myself to be cynical as well. After all, I am part of the generation raised on X-Files…”Trust no one”. And I like to think of myself as part of the “mosaic” or “millennial” generation of the church that is seeking change for the good of the Kingdom. But it seems to me that often this “change” that is being spoken of is being ushered in all wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always like some of the main stream methods of doing church or interpreting the Bible or even how Christianity is depicted to the masses, but is cynicism the only way?

In his letter to the church in Ephesus the apostle Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29. I have always loved this verse. And for the longest time I thought it referred to “coarse joking” or “harsh language”, but I think I have found that it really applies more to the disease of cynicism running rampant in some of the young leading voices in the world today. The word the writer uses for unwholesome is sapros. And it most commonly is defined as being rotten or putrid, but it can also mean corrupted by age or worn out. My problem with cynical talk is it is corrupted…worn out. Anyone can be cynical. Really! There is even a school of philosophy (and I know I am going to oversymplify this so forgive me all of my philosophical and theological brethren) called deconstructionism. And the gist of it is to tear down existing paradigms to get down to the root of what is being espoused. But the problem is they rarely have a better alternative.

And I think that is my problem with cynicism in general. It is very easy to tear down existing systems and paradigms. It takes a lot more creativity and work to provide a better alternative. But isn’t that what we are called to do. What comes out of our mouths is meant to be helpful and to build others up around us. Not alienate and destroy them. And that really is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Maybe if we learn to take on speech that is reflective of a hopeful eternal kingdom we would begin to see fruits in a new way. Jesus put it this way, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32) This is the fruit of Kingdom speech and life.

So I say Death to Cynicism. May our speech, posts, tweets, texts, etc. reflect the hope to which we have been called. And may we speak life into those around us for the sake of Christ who gave his life for us!


one night stand

I know what you’re thinking…well actually I don’t. This is kind of a weird title, but you will see how it fits in a bit; at least I hope so. A week or so ago we had an amazing service with our students and several of them went to the altar to pray. My wife and I both went and prayed with several students and afterwards she remarked about how awkward it sometimes seems afterward. You have had this amazingly intimate moment with someone, possibly even someone making the most important decision in their life and yet for some reason shortly after it becomes awkward. Not that either of us have ever experienced it, but it kind of sounds almost like a one night stand. Let’s all be honest for a minute…even though hopefully most of us have not experienced a one night stand we at least understand the concept. Guy meets girl or girl meets guy, intimacy ensues and then is shamefully broken off the next day. You can see how wrong and messed up that is without me even spelling it out. And yet for some reason I think that’s probably the same way I feel about those spiritual moments that somehow turn into a weird tension.

In his letter to the church in Galatia Paul puts this into a little better perspective. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1a-2) Now granted, Paul is referring to walking in restoration with someone, but I think the same can be applied for those intimate spiritual moments we have with others. The word for “carry” each other’s burdens is bastazō and the connotation behind it is a sustained carrying. A continued laboring with. Often times we pray with someone and think the matter settled. Or because we all of a sudden have this intimate knowledge of someone’s spiritual journey we feel as if we can’t be normal around them anymore. But truth be told we should actually become more intimate with them.

In reference to the above analogy of one night stands the reason these are so broken is because of the lack of sustained intimacy…it’s just awkward. But you look at those healthy marriages and relationships of those who have enjoyed marital bliss for years and the key to the health in the relationship is sustained intimacy. They walk closely with each other and there ultimately is nothing in the way. If we could understand/model this behavior in our accountability with each other in the Kingdom perhaps there would be a lot less stumbling, falling or failing and a lot more community. I for one am trying to eliminate the one night stand and begin the whole life journey with those around me. May we be so courageous as to get up from the altar and walk with those whom we are called to bastazo life’s burdens with.


a happy ending

Once upon a time this morning…

At least that’s how I would like for it to begin. As is sometimes the case my daughter and I began the breaking of the day with the viewing of a Disney Princess movie. However today was unlike any other because she had made up her mind that she wanted to watch it differently. She did not want to watch all of the adversity and drama, but rather skip to the very end when the bad guy is beat (Mother Gothel) and Rapunzel and Eugene get to live happily ever after. She said the bad person would give her nightmares (although this has never happened) and she just wanted to see her “get beat”. And of course I found an excellent opportunity to argue with my 3-yr-old about the reward of seeing adversity overcome and the persistence to chase after your dreams whatever hardships come your way, but I got the feeling it was falling on deft ears. Yet I think we all kind of share my daughter’s sentiments. We all want a happy ending and if it’s all the same we would like a happy beginning and middle as well. The problem is this isn’t really life.

One of my favorite versus of scripture to see quoted is Jeremiah 29:11. And a lot of people quote it, “ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And this is great. It speaks of hope, “a future”…in essence a happy ending. But if you’ve ever read the rest of the book of Jeremiah you realize that this verse is the exception rather than the rule. You see, Jeremiah’s prophecy to Judah was of destruction. Babylon is coming and they are going to destroy you. Life for you will literally become hell on earth. And yet in the midst of all of this there is this silver lining. God promises that even though all of this tragedy is coming there way that he will never forsake them. So it kind of looks weird when we live off of the promise alone and don’t understand the circumstances out of which it was spoken.

Life is hard. Look around you. There are people dying from cancer, war, disease, hunger, etc. every day. There is poverty, violence, oppression, slavery, injustice like there has never been before. And yet, God has not abandoned us. He is actually with us in the midst of all of this. I read a quote today from Dr. King’s sermon A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart , “God is neither hardhearted nor soft-minded. He is tough-minded enough to transcend the world; He is tenderhearted enough to live in it. He does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles. He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.” That is the God in the midst with us. Powerful enough to give us a hope and a future and compassionate enough to walk through the tragic with us.

I hope for a happy ending. I hope for a happy beginning and middle as well. But I take comfort in the fact that even if the beginning and middle are rife with life’s difficulties that I have a God who walks with me in order to bring me into His glorious future.


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