I grew up in suburban Charleston, with houses right next door and dirty city air.  My family often escaped to a vacation home my parents owned in North Carolina, and when we did, we found ourselves in wide open space, which is extremely exciting to a ten year old boy.

There was this time when my sister and I, as children, were riding bikes on my parent’s property in North Carolina.  A large hill emptied itself into a stream, and my father had cut out a trail on the hill: straight down from the top, into the puddles of the stream below.  

It began really innocently, fast and furious down the hill, through the mud, and back up again.  The mud began to accumulate, and when we came back up to the cabin on the property, my parents had to hose us off.  We were covered in mud.

There are moments in life where we’re reminded of how dirty we are.  Sometimes it comes immediately, but sometimes we’ve been playing in the mud for quite a while before we realize it.

Jesus calls us to be clean.  There is no doubt about that.  His standard is spotless.  His standard is perfection.  And we are faced with the reality that we are not meeting and cannot meet that standard.

Today is one of those days for me.  It’s not an easy feeling, or a pleasant one.  But, in the long run, this is one of those realities that draws me to Jesus.

I often think of this ride I took with my youth pastor several years after I had graduated.  My youth pastor, Jerry, was instrumental in communicating Jesus to me in a way that impacted my life.  I had never known Jesus before as wanting to change me; I only thought He was changing where I went.  Jerry was about as much like Jesus as I could imagine.  While we were riding Jerry sighed “You know, the longer I follow Jesus the more I’m convinced of how rotten and sinful I am and how much I need Him.”

I’m glad that I’m reminded of how dirty I am occasionally.  I’m glad, because it reminds me of how much I truly need Jesus.

Listening to: Aqualung “Pressure Suit”

Cold Medicine.

Pollen is out in full force.  If you lived in the southeastern portion of the United States, you would understand this.  My black Volkswagen is now distinctly lime green.  This is quite troubling, especially if your nose doesn’t get along well with pollen, as mine chooses to do.  

I wish the two could make up: the nose could somehow make nice with the pollen, but inevitably it’s not gonna happen.  Every year when my car changes color, my nose gets mad at the pollen.  One would think that a nose is not quite picky about the color of a car, but apparently mine has such appetites.  

During the seasons where my car changes colors, I am forced to take cold medicine.  Cold medicine is something just shy of crack to me.  When I take it, it’s a crap shoot as to the effects.  I can be lightheaded.  I could be moody.  I might be really happy or unbelievably depressive.  Today, I am neither, a bit indifferent.

I was just sitting here noticing that I was feeling this way, and when I say feeling this way I am referring to a distinct feeling.  Have you ever noticed that your moods, attitudes, and even decisions are being motivated by your feelings?  I notice that frequently.  

A few moments ago I was going down this inward, depressive road that I can sometimes go, and I realized, “I took some cold medicine this morning.”  I was immediately relieved.  I was off the hook of that ugly depressive path.

It’s moments like these that I am reminded that we need to be anchored into something bigger than ourselves, grounded by something thats outside of ourselves, and guided by something with a larger perspective than ourselves.  

Yet again, another reason I’m thankful for Jesus.  He reminds me that I just took cold medicine this morning and I need to eat some lunch.  He reminds me that peace is not something I have, it’s something He is.  And He is with me.

So, I’m gonna straight up drink some OJ, take this cold medicine, and trust Jesus with it all.

Listening To: “Who You Are” The Cary Brothers.
Stoked About: Working on my book tonight.

the Elevator.

I’m trying to live life on the elevator.

Elevators are automated devises that carry you upward (and maybe downward once they have already delivered you to your prior point of interest). 

Once on the elevator, you don’t really do anything to move, except possibly press a button.  Upon pressing the previously mentioned button, you are hurled seamlessly in an upward direction with a distinct amount of force, thrusting you in the aforementioned upward direction.

Jesus is an elevator.

He does the work to take my life beyond what it is normally.

Grace is extended with each floor that is passed, with each victory that is won.

So … I’m trying to live life in the elevator.

When McDonalds Makes You Feel Important.

I knew that I had received GREAT customer service at that moment. There was something about that moment that spoke louder than that. It was more than customer service. There was something about ME involved in all of that.
I had nothing. I got everything I asked for. I paid nothing. It was all on the house. I didn’t deserve it. I deserved to be hungry.

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White Station Wagons and Tractor-Trailer Trucks (or Trippin’ with Jesus)

As I drove to work this morning I passed by a little boy going to work with his mother.  He was sitting next to her in the front seat as they cruised down the interstate toward their destination.  He was staring in wonder at the other cars on the highway, especially the tractor-trailer trucks.  He was simply in awe.
This little boy wasn’t satisfied with just watching, he wanted to encounter the trucks, so he was making motions directed at the drivers of such trucks.  I’m sure you’re familiar with these motions. I did them when I was little.  Most of us did.  Let’s repeat the motions.  Take your right arm and form a right angle at the elbow with your hand facing the sky.  You must have the correct hand posture in this motion; nothing less than a fist would do.  To begin the motion, maintaining the angle at the elbow, pump your fist up and down violently and repeatedly.
Apparently this motion summons a sound.
The sound of the horn.
The sound of the horn is a coveted sound when you are five years old.  Especially the sound of a large motor vehicle.
I sat watching this young boy repeatedly, and without success, pump his fist at the large trucks that passed his mother’s car.  He was pouring affection and energy out on these large motor-driven contraptions, entranced to somehow provoke a response.
He forgot something.  Maybe he didn’t realize it.  Maybe he did, but he just didn’t care:
The car he was driving in had a horn.
Yes, three feet away from where this five year-old boy sat was a button that was controlled by his mother that fired their very own horn.  All he has need to do is ask, and there would sound the horn.
Forget they were driving a small, white station wagon[i].  Forget that tractor-tailor trucks are second only to Jesus when you’re five.  Forget all that.  His mother controlled a horn, and for some reason, that wasn’t enough.  His affection was being poured out on those who were oblivious to him.
I feel a little bit like the boy.
We all make a journey in life.  And we’re all making it in some version of our own small, white station wagon.  I find myself way too captivated by what appears to me to be large tractor-tailor trucks making the journey around me.  And all too often, I find myself pouring out my affection on them.
Really, affection is quite a commodity isn’t it?  A highly coveted commodity by God, himself.  Jesus longs to be the central object of our affection.
And yet, I realize that my affection is often spent in manipulative ways.  I spend it in other places somehow hoping that if I pump my fist long enough and hard enough, that those other trucks might blow their horn back at me.
My affection has become a commodity spent to get something in return.
That’s pretty sick.
A favorite writer of mine once said that love is not economic[ii].  You don’t spend affection expecting to get something in return.  That’s manipulation.
Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment in all of scripture was[iii].  There were a lot to choose from.  Some say He had command of thousands of different scriptural commands to pull up at that point.
Jesus simply responded with “Love the Lord with all your heart”.  He tacked on a second one “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  Then Jesus concluded his answer with two different responses “all the law and the prophets hinge on these two commandments” and “do this and you will live”.
Now, we are obviously called to love our neighbor.  No doubt about that.  But, what does Jesus begin this answer with? “Love the Lord”.  Loving God is primary command of the God of the Bible.
To live we have to love who is inside the car first.
Jesus highlights a significant truth in His answer: that how we distribute our affection affects every facet of life.  When God is not the primary recipient of our affection, then we are not really alive. When are not making Jesus our central affection, every other relationship becomes infected.
Let’s not forget that we are journeying with the Lord in our car.  To begin to live, to really live and not just breathe, we need to start looking at Him and letting Him be the central object of our affection.
Too often I feel like my affection has been spilled out of the window towards what appears to be a tractor-trailer truck journeying somewhere near me.  Too often Jesus has exactly what I’m hoping to get from them.
I think God wants to take a road trip with us.
The best road trips I took in college were incredible, not because of where we went, but because of who was in the car.  During those road trips, my friends and I loved each other through the journey.  We laughed, slept, and ate in the car and it was beautiful.
It was life.
And life begins when we realize that our car has horn, that all that we’ve longed for and needed can be found three feet away in the other seat.
That’s real life.

Heaven Is A Lot Like Sex and Chocolates

When everything around me sucks I like to think about Jesus.  When I’m not so consumed with the things around me that are sucking, I normally like to think about Starbucks or video games or some new album I purchased or something I have to do or somewhere I want to be.  Some times things suck, and some times the sucking is relegated for another moment.  When life sucks, well … it sucks.  I should know, I am a connoisseur of things that suck (I stole that term from a friend, but I like it so I’m making it mine).
I have been reading a bit of the brilliance left in the wake of C.S. Lewis.  Lewis is brilliant.  Brilliant enough to write a book that made it to the top 100 books of all time, as listed by TIME magazine.  Brilliant enough that that book was a children’s book.  Lewis has been talking to me about heaven.  Did I tell you he’s pretty smart? Well he is.
I think we need to think about heaven more during Christmas time.  It’s amazing that this portion of the year dedicated to celebrating Jesus distracts us from anticipating our reunion with him.
This morning I logged on to my favorite “stuff” website to see that the little guy on the homepage had a “photoshopped” santa hat on.  I regret to inform you that holiday shopping season is upon us.
On my morning drive to work I go past a Best Buy Electronic Store.  Tonight atmidnight the stores are selling the PlayStation 3 for almost 500.00 or more.  There were about fifty people camped outside to get one.  In the rain.  It was such a brilliant display of materialism.
I want a PS3, but back to my conversation with Lewis this morning.
Lewis was talking about chocolates this morning.  It was funny actually.  A bit perverted too.  He was really talking about sex and chocolates (I just realized I can’t spell chocolates very well, it brings up the spell check every time).  Lewis was English.  I guess they talk about sex and chocolates more than we do in the “colonies”.
Lewis said that if you told a child that greatest thrill in life was sex, he would ask you “Do you get to eat chocolates with that?”  Then Lewis said if you said “No, you don’t even think of chocolates when you’re having sex” then the child would walk away thinking that “sex cannot possibly be the greatest thrill in life if it doesn’t involve chocolates.” (reference a)
Did I tell you that Lewis was brilliant?  He still is, even though that seems incredibly perverted.
We only know what we know.  We approach everything with some sort of background knowledge.  See, if I was talking to you about the Cathedral of St. Kilian you may have an appreciation for my words and the imagery that I could convey as we talk, but you most likely would not have stood atop the mountain in that ancient church that overlooks Wurzburg, Germany.  I was blessed to go there, twice, and I can tell you that those moments cannot be expressed completely through language.  They were beautiful and sacred and meaningful.
When God talks to us about the life that he wants us to live that, too, is something that is so foreign to us that we walk away with appreciation, but often with sincere questions that say “life without that cannot possibly be the best life for me to live”.
When God mentions heaven, eternity in the presence of God and His Son, we like to think of it in Hollywood language, because we understand mansions and gold and diamonds and crowns.  Yes, we understand more stuff.  Heaven for most believers can be consummated with this: “We win and we get the most stuff”.  I don’t think we get more stuff in the end.
Lewis said something the other day is thought was pretty cool.  He was talking about heaven and the lives that we lead on earth.  We all use our life as a template for what it will be like in heaven, just a lot better.  Lewis said he thinks when stand in the full glory of the eternal presence of God that somehow this life and this earth most likely will seem like some form of hell.  I think he’s right. (reference b)
Some times we get small glimpses into exactly how broken our lives are and how whole and complete God is.  I think Lewis sees that, even if he can be a bit perverted.
In a book of the bible called Romans (in Chapter 8), the writer, a guy named Paul, talks about how much this world sucked after sin entered it and how there is a longing within us to return to wholeness of our created intentions.  (reference c)
I guess it’s on those days when everything sucks relentlessly that we are reminded that this world is not enough.
This holiday season you will have a few moments that suck.  Count on it.
Perhaps you will get that lime green sweatshirt with “St. Paul Minnesota” written on the front that you’ve always wanted from your grandmother.  It might be worse. You might get a fruitcake (I think I’m the only person alive who thinks fruitcake is good gift material).  Or it could be a real tragedy.  Some of the people you love will spend their first Christmas without their father, their mother, or someone they care deeply about.
When those moments come, realize that you are eating chocolate.  That you live in a world and lead a life that, no matter how hard we struggle, is a faint glimmer of the world and life that we are destined to in Christ as His follower.
One day we will see clearly.  One day we will be revealed.  Until then, we eat chocolates.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Reference A – C.S. Lewis “The Great Divorce” Preface.
Reference B – C.S. Lewis “Miracles”
Reference C – Romans 8:19-23

Bad Chairs. Hurting Butts.

My chair has no padding in it. Literally, I’m sitting on cardboard. Seriously. I think we bought this chair a year ago. Who knows. I like it. Its a good chair. It doesnt have armrests so I can play guitar without banging the guitar up. But it has no padding, which is a necessity for a chair, in my opinion. You know what I mean, a good chair has good padding. It’s supposed to. You sit in it, and it’s: “ahh, I sank for minutes”.

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Not Alone

I dont know how all this happens.  Influence is a funny thing.
Several weeks ago I met a guy at a meeting.  He has a cool name.  Oakley.  I wish I was named something cool like that.  Oakley has glasses.  Not just glasses, but cool, fashionable glasses.  He has curly hair too.  He glasses and hair would make nice for some kind of caricature.  Big head, Big glasses, Curly hair.  Thats him.
Oakley is the student ministries pastor at Northside (Northside is Andy Stanlys Northpoint in Columbia, one of the citys largest churches).  He just happened to be at the meeting that I was at.  He wasnt invited.  He just showed.  He can pull that kind of stuff off, I cant.  Some how, he noticed me there.  He called me the next day.  Someone gave him my number.  My cell, at that.  I hate it when people give out my cell number.
So, Oakley wanted to meet me.  I went to see him today.  We sat in his office, went through his youth building, and ate some Greek food at a little caf down the road.  It was nice.  But, what shocked me, I guess more than anything, was that Oakley wanted ME there.  He actually wanted to talk to me.  He was concerned with what I thought, about everything.
And whats really weird is what happened with Oakley, is what has happened a lot since Ive been here.
Over the last several months, my network has grown.  Quite frankly, Im really amazed that these guys even spend time with me.  I mean, I have like 20 kids in my youth group.  Oakley has like two hundred or something.  Everyones ministry has more kids than mine.  I mean, Im nothing as far as a significant minister.
I took an attitude when we got here that has taught me something about people: it was that I valued other Youth Pastors.  I mean, not as ministry partners, but as friends, as people to walk a similar journey with.  In a very basic form, I love them because we face similar struggles, challenges, and joys.
And you know what they love me back.  I mean they want me in their lives.  By invention last night we attended a surprise party with one of my other friends thats a Youth Pastor in our city.  Next Monday were having dinner with another Youth Pastor and his family.  And here is what Ive seen and learned when you love someone they normally give you a place of influence in their lives.
Let me just say this I didnt and do not want influence in all these guys lives.  I never sought that.  And honestly, its a little bit much for me to take on.  But, you know what, I see in them a desire that may be a tad bit repressed: a desire to be loved and appreciated.  And I do that.
So here is where it meets you.  You have people in your life.  People who are walking similar journeys.  People that share the same challenges, frustrations, and joys that you do.  Love them and walk the path together.  Let the beauty of your life give you a platform of influence in theirs.  And then use that platform to communicate the truth of Jesus.

Risk. Reward.

Tonight we watched the new show that is built off of the American Idol principle for inventors: aptly called American Inventor.  Theres one distinct difference, the people on this show have sold out to what they believe in.  A corrections officer and former soldier names Jerry Westley invented something called the Mobile X Gym, a set of bars and weights that are stored in a back-pack type container and are portable.
Tonight the show was dwindled down twice.  I think from 48 to 24 to 12.  James made it to the 24 and gave his pitch to the judges.  He has invested over 100,000 dollars over a 10 year period in his investment.  He started the pitch with this quote, which is not his: Its better to chaise a dream and experience failure than to have a dream and never know its possibility.  Im chasing a dream.  This dream is a lot bigger than where I am now and who I am now.
About two weeks about I met a man named Erwin McManus.  Erwin is a writer, speaker, and pastor (if you ask him, hes a cultural architect I love that term).  His message is what challenged Amanda and myself to reach for this.  I actually got to spend about 20 minutes with him, asking him questions and getting to know who he was.  The one thing that I walked away was hes 50.  Yep, that was the most significant thing.  Hes had about four years of significant influence.  Than means his influence started when he was 46 or so.  Thats twenty years away from me.  I have time.  I will need to continue to take initiative, create influence, and take risks, but in the end I am consumed with the fact that God has a profound calling on my life.  I will not be satisfied with anything less.
Tonight, the show showed that Jerry Westley made it to the round of 12 on American Inventor.  He received a check for 50,000.00, which half-way recoups the financial losses that he took in development of his product.  In that moment, he found out that there is no reward without risk.
In all moments that we face in life, there is a similar choice to make: to risk and reach for something great or to settle for what the moment is giving us.  For all believers this is decision that must be made constantly.  There is risk.  There is reward.

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