Happy New Year?!?

I was just listening to a message by Dr. Don Whitney to seminary students, exhorting them to care for their souls through practice of spiritual disciplines, particularly Bible intake and prayer. And as I was listening, I had the thought of, “Man, I need to make some changes. I need to devote specific daily time to my spiritual life. That would be so great. I should start that…sometime.”

If you’re like me, you tend to punt those kinds of changes in habit or pattern to the beginning of the new year. I need to lose X pounds. I need to start running. I want to start writing that book. I need to read the Bible more. I’ll get to it…sometime.

As soon as I thought that, I shook my head and thought, Why would I wait until then?

If you’ve struggled with putting off a needed change, the question I need to ask you–the question I’m asking myself–is this:  “Is that thing really worth doing?” Because if the answer is “yes!” — then it’s worth doing now.

It doesn’t have to be huge or world-changing. It can be something small. It could be a minor tweak in your daily routine that shifts things for the better.

So, I’ve got a wacky idea: no preamble, no build-up, no “I need to think about it for a few days”–let’s just do it now.

I say that TOMORROW is the start of a “new year.”  Why? Because the 1st of the month is as good a time as any to get things back on track.

So starting tomorrow, October 1st, I’m going to try reading the Bible for at least 30 minutes a day. And I want you to keep me honest about it. Hit me up on Twitter, ask me about it. I’m giving you permission!

Then, on October 31st, I’ll pick another new habit or practice that I want to try to incorporate into my daily life in November. (November, huh? Any guesses what that will be?)

And here’s the thing: I may try and fail. We may do well for a few weeks and fade. That’s totally okay. Why? Because we can get up and begin again. Maybe November 1st is the beginning of a new year, too.

Anyone want to jump on this with me? What do we have to lose, really?

So consider today New Years Eve, gang. What do you want to start? Post it below in the comments.

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Down in my heart.

This week, I have been thinking about joy. On Sunday, I was asked to give the morning Scripture reading and prayer of supplication during the church service. My text was the entire chapter of Romans 8. As I read, I felt myself pleading Paul’s words to my church family. I also felt myself getting more and more excited until I hit a crescendo with the last 9 verses of the chapter. I’m pretty sure I hit my “preacher voice” while doing so. I just got caught up in the proclamation.

The result was that my prayer was so long that I think the worship leader’s guitar went out of tune. (That’s a joke. He sounded fine.) As I rejoined my wife afterward, she leaned over and teased, “Longest prayer EVER.” I sheepishly whispered, “I know. I couldn’t help myself.”

For the record, it was the pastor’s fault for choosing that passage. (Sorry, Travis.) You can’t give me Romans 8 to read aloud to my church family, and then expect me to keep my prayer short.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with engaging my faith emotionally. I’m thankful for faithful brothers over the years who have challenged me to “get out of my head” more and let my heart connect to the truth and beauty of the Gospel. It’s always a challenge; I get so caught up in thinking about doctrine that I don’t give myself time or space to experience wonder at the doctrines themselves. I need more awe in my orthodoxy.

It’s an unfair stereotype of Reformed (and reformed-ish) people, this doctrinal dourness–especially considering that some of the figures in Reformed theology who are most passionate about doctrinal purity, like Calvin and Edwards, are also supremely aware of the joy that is found in a knowledge of the truth!

Thankfully (and providentially), my recreational reading this week compounded these thoughts. I had started working through The Joy Project by Tony Reinke, in which he argues that a proper understanding of the doctrines of grace (how we are saved by God’s sovereign choice, and kept in Christ by His faithful promise) actually can help to promote our joy. (If you haven’t read this book, I can’t recommend it enough; it’s short but powerful.)

While reading this book, I came to a difficult conclusion: I’m pretty much the world’s worst Calvinist. I have spoken and taught about the sovereignty of God for years. “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases,” says Psalm 115:3. I have over and over again affirmed that there is no detail of life, no atom of creation, that is not under the superintendence and control of God from one end of eternity to the other.

And yet, I still (almost compulsively) check and re-check the locks on the doors every morning when we leave and every night when we go to bed. And yet I still sometimes feel my pulse spike when I hear an unexpected creak or thump in the dark. And yet, up until just a few weeks ago, would struggle not to imagine scenarios in which wicked men could burst into our bedroom, catching us unawares.

My theology of God’s total authority and complete control of all of life had not yet penetrated the fearful corners of my heart. While things are getting better, and I am learning to confess and pray through the truths of God’s protection and power, I still wrestle with those fearful thoughts. Perhaps this will always be the case. This makes me all the more thankful for God’s grace over my weakness.

I bring this up to say: What I’ve been considering this week is that the way I battle against the faithless fears of the dark is not just with truth, but also with joy: delight in God and His Word, peace in faithfully believing His promises, rest in the comfort of His love. I might truly be able to conquer these anxieties through the joy that comes from knowing and believing the truth–and from knowing and believing the One who is Truth.

Maybe part of the battle is affirming in child-like faith, “Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so. All His sheep, to Him, belong; and we are weak–but He is strong.”

Not funny enough for the Bee.

One of the best things out of the “Stuff Christians Like to Rip-off” box is the Babylon Bee, a satirical news site patterned after the ever-popular “Onion” but with a decidedly conservative-Christian bent. 

Like many would-be (heh) contributors, I submitted a few articles to the Bee months ago, and never got any response. …I’m sure it was just lost in the mail. Or something. 

So, I present for (hopefully) your entertainment and (more likely) my ego enhancement, my two submissions that were clearly not funny enough for the Babylon Bee:

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Pastor Exasperated by Congregants’ Heretical Social Media Posts
Shawnee, OK — “Sometimes, it’s just a little hard to swallow,” sighs Shawn Allison, lead pastor of Copper Creek Baptist Church in central Oklahoma. “You labor week after week, preaching through Scripture exegetically, proclaiming the truths of the Gospel. When you talk to the folks in your church, you can tell they’re paying attention, engaging the text.
“Then, the next day, they’re sharing Benny Hinn videos on Facebook.”
Like many pastors, Allison tries to connect with his congregants on social media. While this has in some cases proven to be a useful ministry tool, Allison says, it can be a double-edged sword.
“I mean, this is from one of our deacons, for crying out loud. Why on earth would he post a video of that man knocking people out by waving his coat? And look at his comment: ‘Wow, imagine what the world would look like if the Spirit broke out like this everywhere.’ Are you kidding me?!?”
It’s not just sharing videos of faith-healers and other televangelists that has Pastor Allison upset. “The awful, out-of-context Bible verse memes really start to wear me down, too. If I had a dollar for every time one of my folks ‘claimed’ Philippians 4:13 out of context online, well, I’d be able to buy actual Folgers coffee for the church office, instead of that terrible generic stuff from Big Lots.”
Allison admits that he’s at a loss when it comes to his flock’s terrible online theology. “It’s not like I haven’t taught them better. It’s not like I haven’t stated in one form or another EVERY SINGLE WEEK that we read the Bible in context, and interpret Scripture with Scripture. But no matter how many head-nods and amen’s I get on Sunday, by Wednesday, someone has posted another ridiculous self-affirmation quote online.”
In recent weeks, Allison admits, he’s nearly reached his breaking point. “When you see one of your deacons sharing a “why-I-hate-the-Church” video–while you’re in the middle of teaching through the Pastoral Epistles–well, you start to second-guess your calling.”
At that point, Allison looked down at his buzzing phone. “Tagged in a picture? … Oh, COME ON, Mark! Rob Bell?!? …Know what? That’s it. I’m done. I’m just done.”
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Online Satirist Publicly Rebuked for Not Reaching Out to Public Figures Privately
Anytown, OH — Online religious satirist Seth Dodge, and his blogThe Gomorrah Gazette, have gained a readership of thousands in recent months for his pointed critiques of bad theology and false teachers. However, recent allegations made on Facebook suggest that Dodge has not met individually with each of the individuals he has lampooned.
Last week, in a public comment on the Gazette’s Facebook page, reader Ann Flamm alleged that Dodge “shouldn’t call people out by name.”
“I just don’t think what Seth’s doing is right,” Flamm opined in a general reply sent to the main website. “Isn’t there a verse in Corinthians about not criticizing other believers over stuff that doesn’t matter?  Because we’re family, you know!”
Flamm went on to suggest to her fellow commentators that, if Dodge and the other writers at the Gazette have not sought to meet with these public figures on a one-on-one basis (perhaps over coffee), in order to ask them clarifying questions about confusing or potentially heretical statements they’ve made in public gatherings, sermons, or published materials, “well–that just doesn’t seem very loving.”
Flamm reportedly repeated a shorter version of this concern on Twitter, retweeting the Gazette’s latest piece on Joel Osteen.
Reports indicate that Flamm’s comment struck at the heart of the Gazette’s senior writers. Two days later, Dodge issued a press release on the matter, which read as follows:
“In the last week, we at the Gomorrah Gazette have been called to account via social media and various blogs for not seeking to meet privately with certain religious celebrities we have critiqued and dialogue about our differences. This form of loving Christian rebuke online has been received in the spirit with which it was given, and the Gazette is now reconsidering its policy on how we address the public statements and published works of influential religious figures. We appreciate your prayers as we work through this process. We’re not perfect, just forgiven.”
The statement continued:
“Further, on behalf of the Apostles Paul and John, we would like to extend a public apology to the families of Demas, Hymenaus, Alexander, Phygelus, Hermogenes, Alexander the Coppersmith, the entire island of Crete, and Diotrephes, for any emotional harm the Apostles’ divinely-inspired comments have caused in the last two millenia.”
After issuing the statement, the Gomorrah Gazette website was immediately taken down for “maintenance.” When it went back online the next day, the only articles still available were the ones that gently mocked fundamentalism.

Weight, weight, don’t tell me…

My right knee started hurting a few weeks ago. I was walking upstairs to change after work, and I noticed an ache in the joint. Weird, I thought, as I continued upstairs. On level ground, I don’t feel pain. But going upstairs, it’s the same small stab in the same place.  This, in addition to the general ache I sometimes get in my left foot/ankle, from nagging tendonitis that I’ve been battling for six years.

My pants all seem to have shrunk, as well.  There’s something going on here…

At this point, you should be smirking. Ha ha, Dave, you know what’s happening.  

I do. But I don’t want to admit it to myself.

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When I was in high school, I weighed in at right around 250 pounds, but I carried it well. I have a big frame, broad shoulders. I wasn’t skinny, but I wasn’t fat. I was solid. Yeah, that’s the word. Solid.  And I was an athlete, so hours of practice and games kept me from putting on weight. That changed in college, where my eating worsened while my activity level significantly decreased.  Before too many years passed, I put on about 200 pounds.  I’ve been living in the 400’s ever since.

I’m about to turn 36. That means I’ve been obese (morbidly so, for most of that time) for about 15 years.

I had a few flirtations with weight loss. My best results were always with Weight Watchers–I lost the same 60 pounds twice, but always seemed to find it again (with some friends along for the ride) when I got tired of following the program.

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When I got married, I was at my all-time heaviest. I think this was itself a gracious gift from God, something to assuage the years-long fear that no one would ever love me or desire me as a fat man. Yet, amazingly, my wife did and does.  I still marvel at this.

During our first two years of marriage, I lost 75 pounds. My wife challenged me to do random, bizarre things like juicing vegetables for a week or trying a ketogenic diet for a few months. In the end, however, we fell into some bad habits. Turns out, we like food. Rich foods, sweet foods, savory foods, delicious fried morsels of goodness. Tacos. Cake. Ice cream. Fried chicken. Pizza.  …what was I talking about?

Fast-forward to now. I have gained back around fifty of those lost pounds. I’m actually a stone’s throw from 500 pounds right now (if I haven’t crossed over already–it’s been a week or so since I’ve last checked).  And I’m about to turn 36.

The knee was the first reminder that time was passing.  The tightening of the waistband was the second.  The recently-discovered scattered grey hairs around my temples were another. Turns out, I’m starting to get older.

I heard about a pastor a week or two ago who died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving behind a wife and small children. I don’t know anything about his fitness level or lifestyle, but I do know his age. He was 35.

I adore my wife. I want to spend another 50 years being her husband. Realistically, if something doesn’t change, I can’t guarantee I’ll get 15 more years. When I really make myself consider that, I feel revulsion. There’s something deeply wrong with that notion.

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I’ve written this post too many times over the years. I hope this is the last one, but I don’t know if it is. I want it to be the last one. In any case:

I want things to change. I want to be around to have kids, to see them grow up and start families of their own. I want to do church ministry for several decades. I want to write books. I want to be H.’s husband for 50 years.

So I’m jumping back on the Weight Watchers wagon, because I know it works for me when I commit to it and stick with it. Your prayers, support, and well wishes are welcome. If you want to share advice, that’s cool, but understand that I’m going to be following this program, so recommendations for other paths are appreciated but will be ignored. (Sorry.)

I’ll post updates from time to time (probably not as regularly as I have in the past), but once in a while, I’ll let you know. If you want to keep up with how I’m doing in real-ish time, follow me on Twitter. My meetings are on Saturday mornings, so I’ll likely post weigh-in updates then.

[And if you’re still reading at this point, thank you, especially. I appreciate every one of you.]

Here’s to my “after” pic looking like our boy Sullivan here.

sullivan-beef

Road trip snapshots.

My wife and I decided about a month ago to take a road trip up to Michigan and Illinois to see some of our extended family. She would be meeting my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Michigan; I would be meeting her aunt, uncle, and cousins near Chicago.

First stop: Louisville, so that we could visit the campus of Southern Seminary.

The weather was perfect for almost the entire trip.

We don’t have enough pictures together, so I decided to take advantage of the beautiful environs for a quick photo. (Pardon the hat-hair.)

One of the best meals we had on the trip was in Louisville, at Joella’s Hot Chicken. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Boy howdy.

After Louisville, we drove on up to Jackson, Michigan. Had great visits with everyone, and they all loved my wife and (rightly) insisted that I married “up.” I don’t disagree in the least.

Fun story: On Friday, we had finished having lunch with my grandfather and needed to kill a few hours before meeting my aunt and uncle for an early dinner. We drove around the small town where I was born, windows down, listening to music and enjoying the cool breeze. We came across an ice cream parlour (called “The Parlour,” naturally) that has been a landmark in that town for decades. I remember going their several times over the years, whenever we’d go up to visit as a family, and I have told my wife about it before. My wife suggested we stop in (why not?), so I figured we’d order a small treat. Surely that wouldn’t ruin our appetites, right?  Behold: her “one-scoop” and my “two-scoop” (which the picture doesn’t really show is easily about a pint and a half of ice cream).

My one regret on this trip? I only took one picture of the family members we visited. It just never occurred to me to pull out my phone during those times.  But here’s the one family pic I managed to get: my wife with her aunt Deb (while they were posing for a photo someone else was taking).

As it was, of course, college football kickoff weekend, I decided to send this shot to my dad (a die-hard Ohio State Buckeyes fan) from the Cracker Barrel gift shop. I asked if he wanted me to pick up anything for him. His response? “Matches.”

I wish I’d taken more photos in general. It really was a pretty trip, with the blessing of beautiful weather–highs in the mid-70’s, lows in the upper-50’s. Much better than the mid-90’s temperatures we have at home.

(You’d think this shot was from a barn or rustic-looking general store or something. Nope–it’s the ceiling of a rest stop in western Michigan. Well done, Michigan.)

All told, we covered just about 2900 miles in less than 6 days. Thankfully, my wife had the wise suggestion of renting a vehicle rather than taxing our minivan with such a trip. So we rode along in style, in a sweet Kia Sedona. #MinivanSwag

The best part of my trip? Sharing it with my travelling companion and best friend. This woman makes everything in my life that much sweeter.

2016 Reading Challenge: August Update!!!

Time for another update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress!

I think I have developed a bit of Literary ADD. I’m in the middle of several books and, despite my efforts, I have been slow to finish them. So, another month of slow progress. But hey, it’s progress, right?

So here’s a list of what I was able to finish in August:

A Book Written By Someone of the Opposite Sex: Star Wars: Bloodline, by Claudia Gray. Last year, I read Gray’s great Star Wars YA novel, Lost Stars, which took place shortly after Return of the Jedi. Bloodline takes place about twenty or so years later. Princess Leia is now Senator Leia, a senior member of the New Republic’s very divided Senate. Leia and a young up-and-coming senator from the opposition party stumble upon a criminal smuggling ring that rivals Jabba the Hutt’s cartel in size and influence. However, this underworld ring is itself a front to something much more dangerous. This novel was a quick and fun read, and it helped to provide backstory for a few key plot points from Star Wars Episode VII. If you’re at all inclined to read a Star Wars novel, this one may be worth a look.

A Book Written By Someone of a Different Ethnicity: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This book was challenging for me, as I noted in my “open-letter” to the author. I picked this book because Pastor Jared Wilson said on a podcast that it was a book that helped him listen better to the stories of others. I can affirm that it does that. It is challenging, and I don’t agree with all of Coates’ assumptions. But it is important for me to remember that I need to be humble and even silent sometimes, and give other voices a chance to speak before critiquing what they say. I would challenge my white friends to read this short book, if only to catch a glimpse of another version of the world.

A Book by David McCullough: The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough. Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian David McCullough has written some long books. Don’t get me wrong; they look really fascinating, but they’re beasts.  So, I looked for one of his shorter volumes to fulfill this task, and was pleasantly surprised with the result. The Wright Brothers tells the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, the two men who performed the first successful manned-flight on an airplane-type glider. There are a lot of caveats on the “first” there; as McCullough reveals, there were many pioneers in the field of aviation. But it was the Wrights and their dogged determination to defy gravity and conquer the problem of flight who took the entire human race into the next era of transportation. McCullough’s short biography of the brothers captures a clear (if limited) sense of their relationship, their family life, and their passion for what would be their lives’ work. The brief personal anecdotes throughout the book give a sense of who these men were, and the historical context of their exploits helped me as a reader to appreciate the importance of their accomplishments. The Wright Brothers were often mocked and dismissed, all but accused of perpetuating a hoax, but eventually they had the last laugh (as Sinatra famously noted). The Wright Brothers is an interesting and approachable biography worth exploring.