Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Prayer

Help me be a better man in YOUR eyes today than I was yesterday, and a better man tomorrow than I was today.

In the name of the Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Lights

I love Christmas lights. I really, really do.

I don't love "holiday" things that, in my opinion, have nothing to do with what Christmas is about. Certain Christmas songs, certain types of decorations, really get on my nerves -- probably far too easily! -- if they're not "really" about Christmas. About God. About the birth of Christ into this world. (That, or the songs are just old and I get tired of listening to them!)

But I LOVE Christmas lights! And here's why...

Christmas lights remind me of hope. They bring me comfort, and help me find peace.

My freshman year of college was, in many respects, a very difficult time in my life. (And, by extension, a difficult time in my parents' lives... sorry Mom and Dad!) Without going into too much detail, I really struggled with what it meant to follow God, where I was meant to be in the world, and by some stupid choices I made, my own health. But I remember, near the Christmas break, they set up a "holiday" tree in the student center. It was in a large alcove, surrounded by chairs where students could sit, and I remember one quiet night going down to that room. I was the only one there and, in the midst of my troubles, I remember just looking at that tree. Looking at the small lights. And somehow, someway, feeling better. Those lights brought me more than a measure of peace. I guess, more than that, God used those lights to bring me that peace.

Even earlier than that, I remember being really young and spending time in my living room. We set up a tree every year, and my dad strung it with lights that sometimes blinked in patterns, quickly or slowly, or simply stayed lit. I remember laying on my back with my brothers in the darkened room, watching the light from those blinking bulbs dance around the ceiling, casting shadows of branches in reds and blues, and loving every moment. Everyone came to my parents' house this year and did kinda the same. The lights didn't blink, but looking at the bulbs is still a wonderful experience. And so Christmas lights remind me of family, too.

Even driving from place to place, when it's cold and dark seeing hundreds of tiny lights, white or colored, covering houses and trees or simply draped over a bush or two, makes me happy in otherwise cheerless winter nights.

In John 8:12, Jesus says, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life." When I think of this verse, I think of all that light does. We see where we are going by it. We are warmed by it. Without light, life as we know it could not exist on this planet. Just as light guides, and warms, and gives life, so does Jesus. And when I see lights at Christmas time, in my best moments I'm reminded of this guidance, this warmth, this life that Jesus gives, and I'm comforted, given peace, and sometimes even happiness by all these tiny lights shining in the night.

It reminds me right now of friends, like lights shining in my life. Of God, the ultimate light.

Yeah... I LOVE Christmas lights!

What gives you peace or hope or comfort around the holidays? Or anytime?

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The weather, as I write this, is as follows.

Telford, PA. Cloudy, and 36 degrees. (It feels like 31, though!)

Mechanicsburg, PA. Also cloudy, but a mere 34 degrees! (It feels like 28!)

This reminds me... two people can be going through exactly the same day, in nearly the same place, but it can feel quite different to the two of them. You may be having a great day... but I may not. You may be having, in some ways, a better day, a better year, a better life than me. And I may be struggling with a lot right now, and taking it pretty hard.

I don't always understand what the people around me are thinking... or feeling... or going through. But one thing I've found to hold true: Treating people with love with do more to smooth over the differences in our days than anything else. Just giving someone the time of day, listening, caring, is huge.

If your weather is a little different than mine... or the same... or whatever. I love you very much. And my life is a little better for having you in it.

Special thanks to the two friends who inspired this post! May the weather of everyone reading this be bright, and even if it's not, can I pray with you through whatever life is throwing your way? God's Peace everyone!

Praying After a Meal

I once heard, I'm not sure where or from whom, about a particular group who prayed AFTER a meal was eaten. We as Christians seem to always pray BEFORE a meal, so the thought of praying afterward intrigued me when it came to mind again recently. I seem to recall the point being to show God gratitude for the gift received... Now that you've eaten the food, to give Him thanks for it.

I thought the custom mentioned might have been Jewish, and a quick Google search tonight led me to an article on Wikipedia on Birkat Hamazon, a particular type of prayer after meals involving some types of bread. Wikipedia says the custom is based on Deuteronomy 8:10: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you." The prayer is actually made up of four blessings of thanks: for the food, for the land of Israel, for Jerusalem, and for God's goodness. You can read the whole article here, it's pretty interesting:

So, the thought of showing gratitude to God not just before a meal, but after had been bouncing about my head today. I realized after eating most of my dinner that I hadn't, so I said a quick and probably not very sincere prayer to God of thanks. And shortly thereafter, I heard my mom calling from the kitchen. And it didn't sound like good news.

Running to the room, she said someone was bleeding, and there were small tracks of blood across the entire kitchen floor. We quickly found our dog Tyson had an injured paw, bleeding not heavily but well enough to be scary. Something didn't seem right about the way the paw looked... one nail was oddly bent. My dad and brothers were quickly involved, we were trying to stop the bleeding, call the vet, clean up the floor, and I found myself praying a quick, probably not very sincere prayer that God would help this poor little dog and that everything would be okay.

Well, we took a trip to our wonderful veterinarian, who opened her door for us on a Saturday night and bandaged up his paw. God willing, the little guy will be okay, and he was romping around the house again by evening's end. Which was about when I realized...

I never thanked God for answering my prayer and bringing him home safely.

So very often, I pray to God before a meal, but I don't think to thank Him after it's done. And when an emergency arises, I most usually go to Him in prayer (with varying levels of sincerity, but still I do). But then I don't often thank Him afterward. I am thoroughly lacking when it comes to gratitude in my life, in little things and in big. So close on the heels of Thanksgiving, can we be thankful... even after the meal is over?

What are your thoughts on gratitude?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Something Different

Today, I was driving home (I now realize a lot of my posts seem to start this way!) and the song "My Last Amen" by the band Downhere came on the radio. It is a wonderful song, and I highly recommend it. I wanted to write about some of the lyrics, specifically:

"Somewhere in the grand design
It's good be unsatisfied
It keeps the faith and hope a little more alive"

 These words struck me, perhaps especially on the day after Thanksgiving, where a big meal was shared with family and friends and in general it was a time of plenty. Good to be unsatisfied? I wanted to tie it somehow C.S. Lewis' essay "The Weight of Glory," probably where Lewis writes,

"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

The two thoughts reminded me of each other. It's good to be unsatisfied here on earth; it keeps us longing for those greater rewards that God has offered us. Now, granted, we are to be thankful for what God has given us here. Indeed, some would say the pleasures here on earth are a foreshadowing of what God has promised, a glimpse of the pleasures to come, and not all of them are bad. I think I agree. However, a healthy dose of the knowledge that this place and time are indeed not our home is, in my humble opinion, not a bad thing.

In preparing for this blog, however, I think God threw something different in my path. In looking for the lyrics to "My Last Amen," I also wandered into the lyrics to another Downhere song I was not familiar with, called "Cathedral Made of People." I find the lyrics both challenging and amazing, and so, in lieu of needlessly expounding upon the thoughts above, I will simply share the lyrics to this song and encourage you to give it a listen. Enjoy!

If they shut down the churches,
Where would you go?
If they melted all the stained-glass windows
Replaced every sanctuary with a condo
Where would you go?
Where would you go?

We are a cathedral made of people
In a kingdom that the eye can't see
We're a house, we are the bride
Where God's Spirit lives inside
And nothing ever could stand against her

If they burned every Bible
What would you know?
If they tore your marked-up pages
How would you grow?
And declared your devotion to be criminal
What would you know?
What would you know?

When they throw you in prison
What will you do?
When they hate you for the things that you know are true
They can tear down this temple,
But they can't touch you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Greater, and also Closer

Have you ever thought about criticizing God?

It is, perhaps, a little bit like the tip of a needle criticizing the Sewer, because it cannot see the tapestry being formed, but only the swirl of seemingly random colors of the thread that it moves about.

It is maybe even a little bit like the tip of one strand on a paint brush criticizing the Painter, because it cannot see the picture that He is painting. All it can see is a little of the paint. And all the while, the Painter smiles and bears with this strand, even loves it. And He knows what He is using that strand to form.

When you look at the heavens, the sky, this vast creation full of stars and planets and nebulae and things bigger and brighter than we have ever imagined, just know that the Sewer, the Painter, the Artist behind it all is bigger and greater and more glorious than you can imagine.

But He is also closer.

You see, this great God, who sets planets in motion, also knit together each atom that forms your body, and the computer screen you see before you, and each planet and each star that He has spun in motion.

And He abides in you.

This God, this Artist behind this unspeakably large creation, behind the light years of artistry that form His canvas, also lives in you. Inside you. Think about that for a second.

He made the stars and the planets.

He lives in you.

He walked on this earth as a man, and died for you.

And now He... is... inside... you.

He knows how many hairs are on your head. He knows your each and every thought intimately. He is a great God, a jealous God, a pure and Holy God, but also a compassionate God, a God who is love, and a God who wants you, who wants me, who wants all of us, to walk a little more in step with His love each day. To love Him. To know Him. To love others. To know others. To admire His creation, and work to better His creation, because we are fellow workers with the Sewer, the Painter, the Artist.

He is greater than you know.

He is closer than you know.

And He loves you.

Chris Tomlin said it right. How great is our God!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It Doesn't Take Much

I went to a concert tonight with my friend Sherry. It was slightly outside my comfort zone; I think you would classify the music as folk, which is not my usual style of music. It turned out to be a ton of fun, but one of the more interesting parts of the night happened before any of the music started.

Sherry and I got there early, and went into the small lobby of the building. Standing by a table finishing our coffee and hot chocolate, the people who had been standing about the room began to form a line. Sherry suggested we get in line too. The move from hanging around to standing in line required maybe six steps, and Sherry turned to me with a smile and quipped, "It doesn't take much."

"It doesn't take much." My first thought was either, "There's something about God in there", or, "Wow, that would make a great blog post." Leaving it at that for the time being, a little ways into the concert the question finally came to mind, "What exactly does that have to do with God?"

In Acts chapter 2, Peter gives a great speech on Pentecost about Jesus being the Messiah, and states rather forcefully that the people he is speaking to killed Him. Convicted, they ask him, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter answers in verses 38 and 39, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."

That is an amazing passage. The people crucified Christ Himself, and what are they to do? Repent. Be baptized in Jesus' name, and they will receive the Holy Spirit. This promise is for as many as the Lord will call to Himself.

You: Repent. Turn away from your sins. Be baptized. God: Saves you. Forgives you. Gives you the Spirit. It's even God who has called you. For all that you receive... it doesn't take much of your own effort.

In Luke 3, Christ hasn't even begun his ministry yet. John the Baptist is preaching, rebuking a crowd, saying things like, "Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." The crowd seems a little concerned, asking, "Then what shall we do?" John's answer?

Starting at verse 11: "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise." To tax collectors: "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." To some soldiers: "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." Bear good fruit for God. Do works of charity. Do what's expected of you. Repent. And that leads us right back to Acts.

It doesn't take much.

This idea is really hard for me to accept. I do struggle with a lot of sin, and so I feel a lot of guilt over not being repentant, not turning back to God. But if and when I do, do I realize that it doesn't take much? That God asks me to keep turning to Him, to treat others with love, to do what's expected of me in my job and my family, and to trust that it is He who forgives, He who saves, He who promises. That for me, it doesn't take much. Jesus has been crucified and raised from the dead. What's left for me to do but believe? What's left for you? Does anyone else struggle to accept that when you turn, ask forgiveness, and believe, the rest is taken care of? What keeps you from coming to God?

Sunday, October 31, 2010


  I like to write about sad things sometimes. One of the reasons I started a blog was to write about my struggles in walking with God. Sad kind of comes with that territory. But I was lying awake last night and one of my favorite words came to mind, and that's what I want to write about today. One of the best words I know is...


  Anyway. As in, God loves you anyway. In the midst of every struggle, God loves you anyway.

  Think of this. Most of us have lied. (I have.)

  God loves you anyway.

  Most of us have hurt someone with something we've said or done. (I have.)

  God loves you anyway.

  Most of us have hated someone, which Jesus equates with murder. (I have... are I think that goes without saying from now on!) God loves you anyway.

  Most of us have lusted, which Jesus equates with adultery. God loves you anyway. Most of us have a hard time forgiving, which we're commanded to do. God loves you anyway. Most of us have failed to read the Bible when we should, failed to pray constantly like we should, outright ignored God, outright ignored our neighbors in need, not given enough, been selfish, stolen, cheated, slandered, hurt...

  And God loves you anyway.

  Now, is the "anyway" on the end of that sentence license to go on doing all these things? Of course not! Let's strive to be better, and not hurt our neighbors or our God more than we already have. But for every moment we fall short... God loves us anyway.

  Loves you. Loves me. Loves all of us.

  And that's a beautiful thing.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Why is it that there is so much conflict in trying to live the Christian life?

I'm not a super-Christian. I don't have a loving heart like I should, I don't pray like I should or read the Bible like I should. And maybe talking to God more would answer my questions, but I feel like I have to ask...

My conflict right now is about love. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, to love all of those around us. I like that... I agree with that. I may not live up to that, but it is the second most important commandment (behind loving God with all your heart), and it's one that we, as a church, forsake too much.

But what about when love comes at a price? Well, the easy answer, the answer I think is right, the answer I'd probably give, is to err on the side of love. To love too much. To give until you've got nothing left to give, and then keep giving love. But what about when you feel like you just can't?

My issue revolves around time. I feel seriously pressed for it. If I was better organized and better motivated, this probably wouldn't even be a concern. But balancing all of the things I have to do is hard for me. So what do I do when people around me need love, and I need to get my job done? What do I do when I feel like I can either fail at my work and give people the time they need, or get my job done and people around me don't have somebody to lean on?

Not to elevate my role in the lives of those around me past any reason. I know the world doesn't turn on me. But I've had times recently when it seemed like people needed someone there, and I've had work to get done. And what if... what if I'm a high school teacher? What if my job is, in some ways, a labor of love and service? What if my choice is... do my best job for my kids? Or give people the time they need? Do I really have to decide? Do I trust God to give to those people, and trust that the job will get done? (I'll just sleep a little less... He will carry me through...)

What do you do when love brings conflict? What is the greatest conflict in your walk with God? And... can we maybe all pray over what we struggle with just a little bit more today?

Saturday, October 16, 2010


In the Bible, the analogy is often used of God being our Father. I think there is more than analogy to this description, but what a great analogy it is! As children, we don't always like or understand what our parents are doing, but it is often for the best, and we come to understand only later what they were up to! Same thing with us and God. While I love this comparison, it means more to some people than others. Every analogy does. The following analogy is another one that makes sense to me... what do you think?

We live in an age where, for many, pets are part of the family. I can't imagine my house without a cat or a dog around somewhere, and I really do miss them when they or I are not around. Do you think, in situations where pets are part of the family, there is some analogy between the Owner/pet and God/us relationship?

We take care of our pets. We give them food and drink (not always when or of the quality that they want), but we know what's best for them. God provides for us as well. We do things our pets love (give them attention, talk to them), and things they hate (take them to the bad place... the veterinarian's office!), again, all for their good. Sometimes the blessings God gives us are less than obvious... until later. We see things much "bigger picture" than our pets do. Same thing for God. Not to say that our pets view us like God, but it's interesting to think about the position He has put us in with animals!

My parents have a cat named Thomas. They adopted him from a shelter a few months ago. We think he was abused, and he gets spooked by simple things: if we pick up a newspaper too quickly, or just the sight of a fly swatter. He doesn't always trust us, because he's been hurt by too many things in this world before. Sound familiar, for you or those around you who have been hurt and struggle with believing in or trusting God?

Now the most important part: Have you ever had a pet that comes to you only when it wants to eat? Then that pet pays you some attention, and acts like it's done nothing but love you its whole life! Has your pet ever sulked and avoided you for no good reason? Do you do this to God? Sadly, here's where I have to be really honest: I do. Just like a moody pet, I will get upset or distracted, and not talk to God or read the Bible or anything... until I need something. Then I'm quick to pray! I guess, in the end, I long for faith and love for God like the love some pets have had for me... Will I keep avoiding God until I need something? Or will I crawl in His lap or sit down at His feet, just because He is my Master, and I love Him and trust Him?

Does this analogy ring true for you? How do you see God in the pets He gives us?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Two sides of the world

      I was driving home earlier on a rather long drive, thinking about... well... the world. I found myself wondering, how do people see it? How does God see it? I guess what follows is an attempt to make some sense of it all.

     First of all, I have to admit that I was taken by the fact that there is a lot that is ugly in this world. There is a lot that is saddening. There is a lot of poverty. A lot of hate. Slavery. Child labor. The sex trade, and slavery and child labor form parts of that. Hate and crimes of hate. Wars. Arguments. Broken families. And in the midst of it all, apathy persists. In a world where our human relationships and society are badly broken, a lot of people very simply don't care.

     Now, there is also a lot of good and a lot of beauty in the world. There are acts of extreme love and sacrifice. There are gifts to alleviate the pain of others. There are relationships so dear to people, so beautiful, it's hard to put into words. Friendship, charity, love, and those working for peace are all still very much alive and well. The natural world is full of beauty, too. I saw a photo earlier that a friend took of a rainbow, and it was stunning. And it was a reminder of the fact that God works in the midst of all the wonder and all the tragedy that meets our life.

     How do you see the world around you? Do you see acts of horror and sadness? Do you see hope? Do you see God working? Do you see it as your job to be a part of God working? Do you see it as fundamentally good or evil? Do you see it at all? I know some days my so-called busy life prevents me from thinking about what I'm doing, why I'm doing, and what God is doing, too.

     There's a lot more I could say or ask. I know very little of this world, after all. I do believe that there is a lot of ugliness and a lot of beauty in the world, and in each individual one of us. But I believe that God is a master artist, and I don't doubt that He is using all of those various elements to compose a work beyond all our imaginations. Sometimes you are the paint He is using, one of the dark or light colors on His canvas. And sometimes you are the brush in His hand, moving around those colors. What most needs healing in this broken world? In your relationships with those around you? In you? And what are you doing about it?