Saturday, May 27, 2006

On the Threshold

Yesterday I wrote about how I felt like things are coming together. Today I spent some of my rare free time poking around with my guitar software. And for the first time things are starting to make more sense. I see why we learn scales now because I can relate this to learning how to accompany music with the harmonica. The idea of learning some fingerstyle pieces now seems more accessible too.

But what I also realize is that it's all only accessible if I take the time to practice. And by practice I mean deep practice where I pay close attention to what I'm doing and really focus on breaking stuff down. There's that time thing again.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Coming Together

I'm exhausted today after not going to bed earlier last night. I've been mildly productive while working from home, but also feel distracted by the internet. But something dawned on me today as I was looking at a position in a chess game that I'm pretty sure I can't mess up. Things are really coming together for me this week.

First, I already wrote about how I've won a few games. This is in stark contrast to how I played earlier in the year. I think that I might actually have a chance to keep my rating above 2000. That would be nice.

Next, I finally feel like the history of the Jewish nation is starting to gel for me. I am reading through my Bible plan at 3x speed lately. I'm just voracious for the Word. And in reading through 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings much more quickly I find that it's all starting to gel. Now don't ask me to name all the kings of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. I know that Ahab was particularly bad and Josiah was particularly good. I knew that from previous readings. But I think this is the first time that it all started to make some sense. This is one aspect of Scripture that always seemed very elusive to me. It's kind of like when you have a hair hanging over your eye and you can't quite grab it.

Finally, I actually took the time to blow on the old harp a little bit. I think I quit it in favor of the guitar a bit too soon. I like playing melodies cross-harp so that they get a bluesy sound. But in order to do that you need to be able to reliably hit the 2 step 3 draw bend. That doesn't always happen for me. I realize now that it needs more work. Frankly, given where I am with music, it needs more work than my strumming skills since I know just enough chords to play just enough songs now.

What's also cool is that I can passably play Amazing Grace on the guitar and harp simultaneously. I think I'm ready to play for the family at the beach.

Don't get me wrong with all this. I'm not about to beat Chessmaster 9000. I'm not going to get an honorary PhD in Old Testament studies anywhere. And I don't think I'll get confused with Bob Dylan anytime soon (this may not be such a bad thing). But it's nice when some things that once seemed so elusive begin to come together.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Staying Sober

I am often amazed at how fickle my flesh can be. A few weeks ago I wrote about the rollercoaster ride that is the baseball season. One day your team is on a 4 or 5 game winning streak and everyone seems to see a beach ball coming to the plate. A week later they could be in the throes of a 5 game slide.

I play a lot of chess on Stan's Net Chess. I like this site because it's like correspondence chess, but it's done online. That means that it can almost be like live chess if both players are at their computers and have the time to make moves. If you'd like to challenge me to a game you can find me under "Scraptacular" (there's a story there).

I recently won a few tournament games. For whatever reason I think I'm seeing the board well and making some good moves. I find that playing people is a lot more fun than playing computers since computers have a tendency not to make mistakes or to make very obvious ones. But people have various reasons to make moves and sometimes we all make blunders. All the games would be drawn if not, right?

The title of this article comes from 1 Peter. There are a couple of times where he commands sobriety in our thought:

(1Pe 1:13 ESV) Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

(1Pe 4:7 ESV) The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

(1Pe 5:8 ESV) Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Of course, it's sort of ironic to read this command from Peter who was the king of doing before thinking. He turned impulsiveness into an art form in speech and action.

But what this tells me is that I should enjoy life. I should enjoy winning a few chess games. I should enjoy it when my team goes on a hot streak. And it's OK for me to be a little bit down when the opposite happens. We seem to thrive on competition given how big an industry sports is. And so many people (mostly men) love playing games so much that there are many websites dedicated to just that. I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with it.

But I hate to let all these things disrupt my sobriety. I want to be level-headed about life as I cling to the Rock. Christ was immovable. Yes, He wept when Lazarus died. He obviously felt some things because of the number of times when we read that He was moved to compassion. But I also know that He kept the Father clearly in focus at all times and that saw Him through. And I also know that I am to keep Him and His cross in focus at all times and that will see me through.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Strange Change

So I'm beginning to believe that I really can do this MDiv thing. Amanda is very supportive. I think I can hang at the Bank long enough to finish the degree. My hours are generally pretty stable and I think I can do it without having it get in the way of my studies. Life will be tough for a long time, but I think I can do it.

As I researched this I exchanged some emails with people at my church who have gone to seminary and made their careers in ministry. They told me that accreditation is important, but I trust Shepherd's when they tell me that they are pursuing it and should get it soon. So I feel like that will be covered.

But it felt a little strange to be near these guys today at church. I guess one thing I've longed for is a sense of legitimacy with anything I do. I really respect these guys and I automatically think that they're thinking, "Who do you think you are to handle the Word of God? What makes you think that you can care for the souls of a congregation?" I don't believe that they really think this. It's really just lies of the enemy trying to unseat my confidence.

I do have faith that God will take care of things if this is what He called me to do. And I also have faith that solid expository preaching will suffice. I don't have to tickle anyone's ears to build up a congregation. But I do need faith that God will take care of things if this is what I'm called to do.

The "good" news is that it will still be at least 6 years before I finish anything. I have time to see what happens and what doors open in the meantime. I do know that I want to know more about God's Word and spending time and money in seminary will never be a total waste of time.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Moving the Boat

I wonder if perhaps I'm at a crossroads. I've finally started making some serious inquiries about seminary. Right now I'm leaning toward Shepherd's Theological Seminary here in Cary. It's affiliated with the megachurch of megachurches here in the Triangle area, Colonial Baptist. I looked at their course catalog and I like what I see so far. I also spoke to someone on the phone and they seem to hold a very high view of Scripture. One of my fears of going to seminary is that I might be expected to explain how floods in the north caused the Nile to turn red and therefore look like blood, for example.

I try to imagine what life would be like if I were in full-time ministry. Obviously my schedule would change considerably since I don't think it's an 8-5 kind of thing. Your days are probably all over the place with various things to do.

It's one big dark area that I'm actually excited about. Normally I think about doing something and it just looks like a big dark spot. This feels like a big dark spot with a hole in the middle where I can see myself day-to-day doing what I'm supposed to be doing to serve the Kingdom.

Nothing is happening yet though. I think this is a matter that requires much prayer and of course discussion with Amanda. I won't be able to do this without her support.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fire Escape

I wrote previously about how we have the mantrap gates outside of our office. Today is an absolutely gorgeous day and we had a fire drill at about 10:45 this morning. It is a great day for one and we happily marched out of the building. Our fire marshalls ushered us through these gates that did open when the fire alarm went off. We all stayed outside and chatted for a few minutes and then we heard the whistle for "all clear".

Many then began going back through the gates. As I approached the gate I heard the beeping that indicated imminent closing. Our new intern got hit in the shoulder as the gate began to shut. I would estimate that 75 or so people got stuck in the mantrap while many of us then went around.

It's just sort of comedic when things like this happen. I realize that no system is perfect and I'm glad that the gates did open as they were supposed to. But it was still kind of funny to see so many people get trapped in that area. It's big enough for a whole semi to fit in there, so it's not like they were stuck in an elevator, so I don't feel guilty about laughing about it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Does Not Return Void

It's been a pretty wild week in SCF-land. Last week we had to deal with a prospective mentor who thinks that we are foolish for rejecting psychology and exalting God's Word. Then yesterday I had to deal with someone in the juice fasting email group who felt a strong prompting from the Holy Spirit to break the rules of the list. I ended up reading a note from her that was supposed to be private, but a dear supportive woman forwarded to me. This note showed that she had total disregard for rules where she feels like they are unnecessary. I guess she thinks of herself as kind of a Spirit-filled Jack Bauer. We had to unsubscribe her from the list. I ended up having a rather painful dialog with her today too.

Finally, I had to deal with a student who told me that he belongs to the Chruch of Christ, but his wife recently converted to Catholicism. He doesn't see a real problem with this since he thinks that Protestants and Catholics basically believe the same things. And as he put it, the differences are really just matters of interpretation. He got upset when I told him that they preach a different gospel and I told him I was sorry that he was turning his back on God's Word. That last part may have been too strong in retrospect. I have a tendency to jump hard when I feel like Jesus is getting attacked.

As I write this I see a theme in all three cases. The supremacy of God's Word was under attack. And the more I think about it the more I feel privileged to be put in this kind of a situation. It would have been easy to just "agree to disagree" and not make a stink. Of course, in the end we do just have to have that agreement. But given my roles in the various situations I believe I took the proper stand.

On a side note, I decided this morning to finish up May's reading in my one-year Bible plan. I'm in kind of a hurry to get through this reading of the Bible so I can start a chronological reading instead of just going from cover to cover, though I now do it with passages from 4 different sections each day. I came upon this in my reading:

Gal 6:7-9 ESV
(7) Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
(8) For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
(9) And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

I think this is one of those passages that everyone in ministry clings to from time to time. We all feel weary here and there. I sure do. I feel drained from all this battle.

But the really awesome part is that I feel myself drawn to do more reading as a way of compensation. Not playing an instrument. Not playing a video game. Not eating or looking at porn. But reading the Bible. I think maybe I'll get a head start on June now...

Friday, May 12, 2006


I just did the lesson for day 20 of The Lord's Table Phase II. The course has the title "Feasting and Fasting" and it most certainly was that. I wish every believe who is medically able would try this period of extended fasting. The trials are severe, but so are the rewards. I now have a much deeper hunger for the Word of God than I have in a long time. It's amazing how the things of this world can dull our senses for enjoying the Creator of all these gifts. Don't get me wrong -- I fully intend to enjoy food with thanksgiving and have done so yesterday and today.

What's interesting about this is that I'm not sure I would have written such a glowing testimony on Monday or Tuesday. Trials seem so awful when we find ourselves in the thick of them. However, in retrospect it was exactly what I needed to do.

This reminds me of getting my degree. I remember some pretty brutal quarters where it seemed like all I did was homework, go to class, and sleep. On a smaller scale I think of some runs I've had. I think of the hill on the way home that nearly broke my spirit so many times. And yet God sustains me through it. In the end it's worth the almost hyperventilating at the end.

This must seem insane to many of you reading this. There's nothing like a good trial to increase faith and deepen appreciation for all that life is about. Almost as if God knew what He was doing when he led Peter to write:

1Pe 1:6-7 ESV
(6) In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,
(7) so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Forbidden Fruit

The end of this fast taught me something about my flesh. I looked forward to this day for a while. Although eating salads and light meals isn't exactly filling, it's nice to chew on something savory. I look forward to putting some cheese on my salad tonight.

But what I learned is that I don't care as much about food when I can have it. I understand more and more what Paul meant when he wrote that everything is permissible for him, but not everything is profitable. Forbidden fruit seems to be the sweetest for the first bite, but in the end it leaves us cold. When I got up this morning I had my normal glass of juice and went for my run. While preparing for my run I realized that I just wasn't as excited about eating as I thought I'd be.

I'm glad to have made it through this by God's grace. I'm not in a hurry to do this again, though I suspect that I will someday. I just know that I need to do whatever it takes to "mortify" my flesh, to borrow an old Puritan word.

Forward Thinking

Well, we finally made it. Today is day 19 and our first day of solid food after 16 days of nothing but juice. Looking back I don't tend to focus so much on the tough days, but I know that I had them. I'm glad that I blogged about them as a reminder of just how fickle this flesh can be.

Today reminds me of how nice it is to have something to look forward to. I've been looking forward to today for a while, but of course actually getting here isn't as great as the anticipation. Nothing ever is. As I look ahead to my upcoming year I see:

Today - eating
Saturday - day with Lily starting with breakfast
Sunday - Mother's Day and hopefully a picnic if the weather is good
Tuesday - Ethiopian food
May 29 - day off for Memorial Day
June - Beach trip
July - SCF conference in Cleveland
August - Trip to KC to visit dad
September - Natalie's wedding
October - Columbus Day
November - Thanksgiving
December - Birthday and Christmas

I like having things to look forward to. And I think this is what separates Christians from everyone else. We all like to look forward to something. I'm glad that these things are not all that I've got. I really look forward to an eternity with God more than anything. And that's what gets me through a fast or any other trial.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Forgetting Hunger

I had a really wild thing happen to me today. I went for my morning run, but because I didn't get moving in time I only did 2.4 miles instead of my usual 3.3. I've done either during this fast with no problem, though I probably did drink a bit more each morning. Today I spent most of the morning on my feet working on various problems. I had a couple of small glasses of apple juice, but not more than usual.

Then at lunch I had my normal 10 ounce Tropicana juice blend. I still felt really awful. I set my alarm to take a 20 minute nap, but I think I napped right through it for a 40 minute nap. I still felt really terrible. Today is day 16 and I don't recall ever feeling that awful at any time during this fast. I drank another 8 ounces or so of V8, my other 10 ounce juice blend, and then started to feel good again.

What's wild is that I heard about this happening to someone else but never expeienced it. My hunger mechanism really did shut down. I was busy this morning and started to feel a little funny, but now I realize that I desperately needed some sugar.

I used to wonder how Ghandi could do those prolonged fasts. Now I see. I'm not saying this is a good thing, but it's a wild ride. I also realize that my body is probably about as lean as I want for it to be. On my scale I weighed in at about 157.5. On a normal scale that would probably be about 165 or so. Running causes almost no strain on my joints, which feels wonderful. And I can't remember ever feeling quite this hungry for God.

I'm still ready to tear into some meat though.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Different Tone

It dawned on me yesterday that my blog entries have a different tone this week. I don't have the usual whining about work. I guess what's missing is my angst. This is one of the great benefits of this fast we're on. Now I have a ravenous hunger for God and I'm actually doing things about it. For example, last night I actually spent time reading John Piper's A Hunger for God rather than playing video games or playing the guitar. This is pretty rare for me, especially on an evening when my wife was out.

I'm really digging this time with God now. Last week my attitude was terrible. This week it's much better. My body would still prefer to eat, but I'm glad that I'm doing this now.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Coming Out

I have an issue that keeps coming up time and time again in my work with SCF, so I think I should come out of the closet. It's probably obvious, but I'm a five-point Calvinist.

Now when someone declares that immediately he gets branded as unloving and cruel, and even possibly arrogant. How can I think that God only wants to save some especially in light of verses like John 3:16?

John Piper did a great job addressing this (as one might expect of him). Basically, this doesn't have to seem contradictory when you view it in light of the fact that some part of God's will must be supreme. Is it His will or man's?

So what does it mean to be a Calvinist? It means TULIP. That stands for:

T - Total Depravity. Man is completely lost apart from Christ.
U - Unconditional Election. Man cannot come to Christ apart from faith. That faith is a gift from God that He gives freely and unconditionally. In other words, there's nothing we can do.
L - Limited Atonement. Not everyone will be saved.
I - Irresistible Grace. If God elected you there is no getting out it -- He's going to win His own.
P - Perseverance of the Saint. Those God elects He sees through for the rest of their lives.

Most people get hung up on the "L", which is what the article above covered.

This has been a huge sticking point lately as we interview new mentor candidates for SCF. As a ministry we embrace this doctrine. However, we do not make it a requirement for joining us. We do ask that people be willing to examine this in the light of Scripture.

I embrace this doctrine for a few reasons. One is that the Bible seems to clearly teach this. That of course is the best reason to believe something. Another is that it puts God in charge and not man. I have a hard time picturing a God that bows to the will of man to govern how things will happen. Finally, my own experience bears this out. I see two men get exposed to the same teaching. One finds real repentance and lasting freedom, but the other returns to his life of sin. The same happens when two men hear a great presentation of the gospel. One believes and the other rejects it.

I do not embrace what is sometimes known as hyper-Calvinism. I believe in evangelism. I believe that God uses means to accomplish His will, as the article on the two wills shows. I am honored that He uses me for anything.

Tomorrow I'm going to write about how this helps me get through trials. I think this is enough for today. I just had to get this off my chest though.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Peeling off the Layers

Amanda and I made it to day 10 of our 20 day fasting course. We will eat something solid next Thursday and will start small with fruit and perhaps some salads. This has been quite a ride so far.

I've had a pretty foul attitude about this up until about today. I've spent the last week waiting to tear into a bacon cheeseburger with mushrooms. Now as I consider breaking the fast that doesn't sound so appealing. Perhaps it's partly because I remember how badly I felt when I ate too much too soon after the last time I broke this fast.

What's really awesome is that I finally am getting the spiritual benefits from this. I finally feel that closeness with God that I preach so heavily when I mentor other men through this. I'm really tired of drinking every meal. But I see each smoothie or cup of broth as sustenance. And, in the end, that is what food should be.

However, I also fear that I will fall into gnosticism. I believe that enjoying food is both good and right. God made it for us to enjoy it. However, the beauty of a fast is that we abstain from what is good in order to enjoy Something better. And nothing gets better than knowing that you depend on God to get you through every day.

More Automotive Theology

I took Lily for a little errand today. While in the parking lot at Cary Crossroads I saw an Excursion with a whole school of Jesus fish on the back. Again, what kind of statement does this make?

Now perhaps a family of about 8 own this truck. But if I drove a big, expensive gas-guzzler I'm not sure that I'd want to have everyone know that I'm a Christian. I suppose there's nothing inherently wrong with driving a big or expensive vehicle, but I just wonder what others think.

Then again, I guess no matter what we do someone will misunderstand us. I've worked in ministry and in leadership long enough to understand that all too well.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Getting What We Deserve

As a Christian in America I feel like I often get a sense of entitlement. I'm not sure if other cultures deal with this, but I know Americans do. And this is especially expressed when there is some kind of disaster like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina.

It's awful when so many lives get lost simultaneously. I think that perhaps I'm somewhat desensitized to it because it seems to happen more often than we'd like. And then we start to wonder how a just God can let something like this happen.

I think the best thing to consider is that we're fortunate for every breath we take. I know that I deserve death. Considering that is completely contrary to our nature. We have this sense like we deserve life. I just try to remember to be glad for what I do have.

Now if only I worked so hard as to show that I'm grateful for this job.