“Why did you give me a discount?”

In a world intoxicated with speed, progress, efficiency, and productivity, go the other way.

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Edinburgh, Fringe on the Royal Mile 2One of the joys that I have several times a week is walking the Royal Mile to New College. It is a beautiful stretch with shops, statues, and an overall nice atmosphere. I study here at the college on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. The other two days I study from home.

In making this walk, there is a little coffee shop I like to frequent. One of the main reasons is that their Americano is a pound cheaper than anywhere else. I am a PhD student, after all.

One of the reasons I like to buy items from the same place is that sometimes you get the chance to actually learn names and give the city more of a “village” feel. As a Christian, I am convinced that this type of living can result in more authentic connections that hopefully, at some point, result in an open door for sharing the Gospel.

Today on my way to the school, I made my usual stop (coffee is in hand as I type). Over the past few weeks, I made a point to learn the name of the young man (from a country in the EU) who is there every morning. His name is “Niko.” He is very kind and has a cool accent (I wonder what he thinks of my Texas accent?). Last time I was in the shop, he felt bad that he could not remember my name. Today, when he saw me, he said, “Is it J.B.?”

“Close,” I replied. “You got the letters right, and that is the hardest part.” I then looked at him and addressed him by name. I have come to really enjoy this moment and appreciate that in some way, this is our way of acknowledging that we do not merely exist as a means to complete a commercial transaction. We are humans.

As he stood at the register, he said, “I am giving you a discount.” I then asked the reason. He immediately responded, “Because you know my name.” Just like that, my coffee was cheaper.

For some, this might seem to be much ado about nothing. But for me, especially in this large city, there is a young man named Niko that I enjoy seeing. Considering how long I will be here studying, who knows what may come of this connection. I know that ultimately, my heart is that somehow, a spiritual dialogue ensues. We shall see.

If you are a Christian, slow down a bit today. Look people in the eye. Ask their name. Try to remember it. In a world intoxicated with speed, progress, efficiency, and productivity, go the other way. Take the narrow road. See people. Look at people. How else will the second greatest command of Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40) ever have a chance of being fulfilled in your life?

Tick-Tock-Tick-Tock

A human was never intended to bear the full weight of his or her own existence.

When you want time to go fast, it goes slow. When you want time to go slow, it goes fast. Ironic, huh? I have not blogged in over a month. To be honest, it just hasn’t seemed as important as others things competing for my time and energy.

We moved to Spokane to boost my resume for this one particular international scholarship that we felt we had the best chance at winning. So here we are, about one week away from finding out, once again, whether or not I am a finalist. Along the way, as exciting, adventurous, and scary this has all been, I lost a few things.

I lost some important things.

You can always play it safe as a Christian by never being completely honest with yourself. Most of us won’t really admit when we are struggling to believe whether or not Hell really exists, if tithing has any basis in the New Testament, if healing will ever come, or whether we have grown to despise God. Who has courage for such honesty, to stare into the abyss of the soul and face the truth of your inner condition?

The repentant words of David in Psalms 51:6 ring out: “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being.” Yes Lord, you do. You do, Lord.

For me, this is what I realized:

  • After feeling so hopeless last fall about my family’s financial condition, once God did start providing (and quite miraculously I might add), I gripped it with clenched fists. We stopped giving as much. I made an inner vow that I would do everything in my power to never let my family get to that point again. What is the problem with this? After all, this sort of determination, will power, tenacity, and initiative is absolutely praised and idolized in our American society. The problem is this: Jesus is not American and takes delight in humility, dependence, interdependence (in community), a broken heart, and meekness. I came out of this time with the belief that though God brought us out of debt, it was now up to me to make sure we never returned to that place again. “It’s all on me.” “I am the provider of this family.” “I just need to work harder, save more, spend smarter.” I was wrong. Daddy is my provider, whether I have a financial cushion or not.
  • The second unfortunate development in my soul is that after 40 or 50 or 60 application rejections/declines, I started believing that if it is going to happen at all, I simply have to become smarter. Again, the great enemy of God and humanity whispered, “See, it really is up to you.” I bit the fruit. I suffered. A human was never intended to bear the full weight of his or her own existence. This notion comes to us from the existentialists like Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus. That a human, in the absence of God and any outside help, is thrust back upon himself to rise up, in some courageous, Myth of Sisyphus manner, to make something out of nothing. Good luck. Humans are too smart for this. Our mind knows when we are playing a game that is only a game. I lost sight that God is truly sovereign over my family’s life and that after giving it my all, if I don’t get a scholarship, then it is Daddy shutting the door because that is not what He has planned for us. If you are a follower of Christ, doors don’t just randomly open and randomly shut. Daddy is at work. He is sovereign. I have prayed too many dangerous prayers for God to let me slide off course. Over the past few days, Jesus has poked and prodded and message God’s sovereignty back into my spiritual consciousness. I am aware, awake, alert. I believe again that He is in control of our every step, and that because we are surrendered to him (I did not say we were perfect), He is going to make sure we stay on track…His track.

I might add that by no means did I totally lose faith. In fact, my private time with the Lord and our experience in our new church River City Spokane has been absolutely wonderful. But, along the way, I and my family have taken some hits.

So who knows what is about to happen. I guess that as for as this blog goes, this is my confession. Tonight, you, the reader, are my priest. However, as for me and my family, I want us to come out of this “wilderness” leaning more heavily than ever before upon our Beloved (Song of Solomon 8:5). In the words of Mother Teresa, “I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness.”

Yes Lord, yes. May we wait well.

An Unwelcome Friend: “Delay”

I could not help but think that when God deposits a promise, a direction, or a place in your heart, there are really only two ways in which to respond when you meet with that unwelcome friend called, “Delay.”

The other day I was on the phone catching up with a good friend who now lives with this wife in Baton Rouge. He mentioned that the journey my family and I embarked upon over a year ago was still inspiring him. I asked why. He said, in a word, “perseverance.” We had not given up.

I thought about this for a bit. To be honest, this word was really encouraging. One of the great qualities that has defined the life and ministry of my parents is perseverance. What a quality! Granted, they persevered for years and years and years and I have not. And, in light of what so many Christians in the world are enduring, what my family and I have faced is hardly anything. I get that. But, though the quantity of disappointment may differ from one person to next, the quality is similar. As Solomon wrote ever so wisely, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). However, he did not have the Holy Spirit living inside his heart. After all, the New Covenant in all of its glory was still in God’s womb.

In light of my friend’s comment, Psalms 105:19 came to mind:

“Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.”

I could not help but think that when God deposits a promise, a direction, or a place in your heart, there are really only two ways in which to respond when you meet with that unwelcome friend called, “Delay.” They are listed below:

  1. You will start to believe that it was only “you.” In other words, you will interpret the “delay” to mean that you actually missed God. This is the moment that, either due to deep discouragement, anger, depression, hopelessness, or a sense of meaninglessness, you choose to abort what God had birthed inside of you. A baby takes nine months. Did you forget?
  2. Or, you will stand. You will keep declaring. You will stare into the abyss of nothingness, continue to grope (Acts 17:27), and like a bulldog, tenaciously keep biting down on that which God placed in your spirit. God works  mightily in the clouds and fog. This is your greenhouse. What an opportunity for growth!

Which option will it be? Have you bought into the fast-food model of Christianity and aborted what God placed in you. The amazing thing about God is that he can replant that “child” into the womb of your spirit. He gives second chances. Will you walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Will Christ really find faith in your heart (Luke 18:8)?

Life and More Life

For those who have been following our story, the jury is still out regarding whether or not I will have the opportunity to work toward my Ph.D. overseas. The scholarship for which I am most hopeful was just posted and it will probably be another 2-3 months before the process concludes. 

In the meantime, there is life to be lived.

My son’s birthday party was yesterday. He turned two. Guy and Jill, Allison’s parents, flew all the way to Spokane from south Mississippi to celebrate with us. In addition, two sets of friends and their kids came to the park where we were having his party. As a dad, I felt so much joy to see my son having a great time on his birthday though we moved so far way from so many people we loved a few weeks ago. And besides experiencing joy, I felt such deep gratitude to the people who came so that my son could have the day that my wife and I envisioned and worked hard to create (I literally do not have the space or time here to mention all that my wife did to make this day special). 

The past is gone. The future is not yet. The present, well, that is all that you have to chew on. 

What if I don’t win a scholarship? What if it turns out that God does not want me to get my Ph.D.? These would be hard life conclusions for me to swallow, but hey, there are no guarantees. We sense in our heart that it is still what God wants, but for now, the coffee is brewing, a new gospel-home is beginning at River City Church, we are meeting people, our son is growing, I am getting to teach, and the trout are waiting! When I think about Jesus and the life he lived, he was always, simply, wonderfully present. Granted, he knew where he came from and where he was going (John 13:3), but he stood in his sandles, looked at people, and didn’t hang on the cross until he actually arrived. One encounter at a time. One season at a time. One deep breathe at a time. The psychiatrist Carl Jung once said, “Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil.” Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, writes, “In Contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.” 

What is keeping your from living in the present? A morsel of shame that keeps you trapped in the past? An exciting dream for your future that makes it easy for you to escape the mundaneness of the present? Too much activity? Too little activity? A dating relationship that you know you need to let go of? Mourning a loss in the past that you have yet to grieve? You tell me. What is it? Did Jesus, our wonderful Savior, not say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). 

Quit looking for fireworks and explosions. A peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich will do fine. Whether it is a worm on your hook or a good book, open your heart to the present and the people around you and find creative ways to love and worship Daddy God and seize every last moment in this season for His kingdom and glory as well as your good. If you waste your present, then your “future” presents will suffer. 

And remember, ultimately, this is about Christ. All is spiritual. More of you Lord, more of you. 

(Thanks to Jill Stegall for the picture!)
 

I Think I Just Shared My Faith

Sharing your faith is not suppose to be that difficult.

A few years ago I read a book titled Coffeehouse Gospel. The main idea in this book is that Christ-followers need to learn the art of sharing their faith in a non-intrusive, conversational manner similar to the type of interaction characteristic of two people sharing a cup of Joe. I think I might have done that today.

I have a been a Christian for almost 30 years. I was a pastor for over a decade. Yet, one of the glaring weaknesses in my walk with Christ is sharing my faith with other people (or at least it feels this way). This has produced everything from shame to embarrassment in my heart.

But, I wonder if I have shared my faith at times that from a naive perspective did not register as an official manifestation of evangelism (points for Christianese). Today was one of those times.

A man from a propane company came to our warehouse. I told him that after next week, I would no longer be working here so he would need to make sure to talk details with the operational manager. He asked, “Are you moving to another metal company?”

I proceeded to tell him that I had taken a professor gig up in Washington state. He asked, “What do you teach?”

“Philosophy,” I replied.

He curiously responded, “Like religion and stuff?”

I told him that philosophy of religion was indeed one area that I loved. After explaining that one of the chief reasons for taking the job was to beef up my resume, I told him that my deeper desire was attain a doctorate in England. I explained that my wife and I are Christians and that to study, think through, and teach regarding the connection (and disconnect) between the Christian faith and various ideas in philosophy are among the great passions of my life. I went on to share that one of my major focuses (what my Ph.D. proposal deals with) is how affluent Christians in the west (that is you and I by the way) totally ignore in a mind-boggling fashion the 20,000 people dying every day in extreme poverty from easily preventable causes. The conversation continued for a bit from there.

What did I do? I used one of my passions, philosophy, to build a bridge to Christ. Though we began the conversation talking about the upcoming move and philosophy, at a later point I was able to state, “We are Christians.” I confessed Christ. Though he did not ask me for more, I opened the door wide for him just in case he did want to talk about Jesus, religion, faith, or life. An opportunity was presented.

It is a lot like chips & salsa. Let someone get a taste for what you are about and see if they order the entire enchilada. This works much better than trying to cram the whole meal down the person’s throat in one monologist maneuver.

This is one of the greatest ways I have found to share Jesus with others. It is a humble approach that creates a safe sphere for that person to ask and respond. It is a lot like fishing. The little comments I made about faith was bait. If he bit and wanted more, I would have responded accordingly. He did not, but that is okay. And, for those looking for a little theological justification for such a method, read Luke 5:1-11.

Anyway, as a result of my passion for philosophy, that propane guy knows that I and my wife follow Christ. I was kind to him, helped show him around, and enjoyed his company. Who knows? He could be a young man that has had horrible experiences with Christians in the past. If nothing else, he will have had at least one positive encounter with someone that loves and follows Jesus.

I think the Holy Spirit can take it from there.

 

 

 

Is Drinking Folger’s Coffee A Sin?

 You decide. 

Forcechange.com reports, 

“Folgers is the largest coffee brand in the U.S. and the leader in overall coffee sales. While the company earns more than one billion dollars per year from Folgers sales, the average coffee farmer earns only about 300 dollars annually, which is barely enough to feed a family, let alone educate its children. In the face of these sobering facts, the Folgers brand has yet to be certified fair trade and is far from being a green product. These rock-bottom coffee prices have caused a global humanitarian crisis, devastating 25 million coffee farmers, their families, and their communities in over 50 countries around the world. Coffee farming families in Latin America, Africa and Asia are now living with hunger and suffering on a daily basis. Millions of families have been forced to give up medicine and healthcare, take their children out of school, and move off their lands. Reuters reports that in Nicaragua alone, at least a dozen farmers have died and over 1,600 children “are suffering from severe malnutrition.” Thousands of workers and their family members are homeless, left to beg in the streets and forage from garbage cans.” http://forcechange.com/13053/demand-fair-trade-certification-for-folgers-coffee/

In line with my Ph.D. proposal that is attached to my application to different schools throughout the world, the irresponsible purchasing of goods by Christians at the exloitive expense of other laborers in other countries is morally wrong (Kant’s second formulation of the Categorical Imperative is applicable). A “moral wrong” within the Christian metaphysic is more potently labeled, “sin.” 

Ignorance is bliss, right? A little bit of information can actually change what you are accountable for (you can thank me later!). Remember, this blog is primarily geared toward the individual that claims to follow Christ. Would Jesus have bought coffee from a company if he knew that it was resulting in the exploitation, horrendous poverty, and abuse of children, women, and men? Surely Jesus would not have been seduced by the nice little jingle, “the best part of wakin’ up is Folger’s in your cup.” 

So what if you cannot afford fair trade coffee. Here is the conclusion I am coming to: either stop drinking it or drink less. In other words, reduce your consumption level. More is not always better. Oh Christian, which is better, to drink all of the coffee you want or to limit yourself so that the coffee you drink can enrich rather than curse other people’s lives? 

So many Christians in the American south love to focus on moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality. But what about the issues where the rubber really meets the road for people living in the affluent West? 

The link provided above also names a few companies that are 100% Fair Trade. In addition, if you live in Picayune, MS, I noticed the other day that Claiborne Hill Grocery now carries an organic, Fair Trade coffee for under $8. 

Do you want to follow Jesus or keep pretending that the act of purchasing is merely an economic act? As the previous pope, Pope Benedict XVI, stated in 2009, “It is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral–and not simply economic–act.” 

Time to change my coffee habits.

No Longer A Pastor

  

 Pretty dramatic title, right? I cannot believe it has been over a month since I last blogged. Since then, the following has happened:

  • Resigned my job as Life Group Pastor at RLM
  • Resigned my job as Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy at PRCC
  • Moved out of our house we own (now renting it) into my in-laws
  • Working fulltime at a metal warehouse in Slidell, LA

Starting last February, God began to radically turn my heart in a different direction than pastoring. Over a decade ago, the Lord told me that Philosophy was one of my “mission fields.” That time has come. 

I am ready to be a missionary, not a pastor. 

Granted, a pastor can live like a missionary. EVERY CHRISTIAN, if he or she is a real Christian, is called (even commanded) to live as a missionary. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ but never think or pray about how you might share your faith with the people around you, you are compromised. 

After teaching as an adjunct for the past two years, my heart was so stirred and became furiously alive as I had the privilege of interacting with students over questions that really matter. I found that whereas many of them would not have given me the time of day as a pastor, some would stay after class (especially after Philosophy of Religion lectures) to ask me deep, spiritual questions of a more personal nature. This set a fire in me that could not be quenched. “This is all I want to do” I kept thinking to myself. 

John Eldridge writes, “Desire reveals design, and design reveals destiny.” Yep, that about sums it up. I cannot shake my desire to step full-time into the world of Philosophy and be the “salt” and “light” that quite often does not exist in that arena. 

I started filling out applications in April for both teaching positions and doctoral scholarships in both Europe and the United States. Throughout the entire process, my wife and I felt very strongly that the Lord said that He was going to open a door for the Fall. In order to give both of my employers a fair, honest notice (so that they would not get messed over in the process), I had to go ahead and set a date of termination. Both of my bosses were extremely flexible in the process. I once heard a man say, “How you leave one season will determine how you enter the next.” 

Up until the last moment, we kept hanging on to the idea that God was going to open a door for the fall. 

He did not. This was very hard, disappointing, and discouraging. 

Plain and simple, I missed God on this part of the puzzle. But something I have learned is that in the midst of this and after over 30-40 declined applications, my desire to be in the world of Philosophy for the glory of Jesus has only grown stronger. After several clouds and foggy days, I know now more than ever that this really is in my heart. I cannot stop desiring. I cannot stop dreaming. And maybe more significant tha nanything else, neither can my wife. If my wife would not have been willing to make major sacrifices, I would have had to give up my dream after a couple of months of nothing working out. However, unlike most women I meet, she does not want things and stuff and the American dream. She wants adventure. She wants my dreams. She wants us to go for something unique and live somewhere new.

So, though I seem to have missed God on the timing of it all, we are moving forward, hardhat and all. Sidenote: be okay admitting that you miss God when you do. I have so sensed Daddy God’s pleasure over our wilingness to step out and trust Him even though we have not had it all “right.” We are filling out applications every week hoping to end up either in the Northwest, Northeast, or Europe. I desperately want a Ph.D. It is a must for academia. Until a door opens, we will be inhabiting this  in-between season that quite honestly, has caught us by surprise. 

But the question remains: Will I seek God and His glory in and through my life (and my family’s life) every day? Or will I demand of God that He open a door for me and let me do what I want before I really trust Him and seek Him again? These are real questions of an existential sort that are too often skirted with superficial answers from dishonest hearts. I have battled and am still grappling with this. God did not do as I thought. 

So we shall see. My parents and a few friends have been really, really supportive. My wife and I have decided for bettter or for worse, that we are dreamers. In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers mocked him with the words, “Here comes that dreamer.” Are not Joseph’s brothers a perfect picture of the religious type of person? We have chosen to risk it all (and have already) and lose everything to go for it because safety and comfort are not all that they are cracked up to be. I gave up “ministry” for a different type of ministry. For now, I am trying ot figure out what it looks like to honor Christ working metal. 

Some days my heart is heavy because I am not yet getting to do my dream. Other days, I am okay. It has been nice for a change having a job that I can leave behind when I clock out. Will I be a pastor again some day? Yes, if and only if, God wants me to be. But as my dad has encouraged me, being a “pastor” can look many different ways. At the risk of sounding a little corny, you can take the man out of the pastorate, but I am not sure you can take the “pastor” out of the man. My heart is the same. Only the externals are changing. 

So this is our story thus far. We are awaiting direction and hoping to have an open door by January. Please pray for us. I am convinced that God is looking for people who in deed, not just word, really are willing to walk by faith rather than sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  My wife and I are choosing the road less traveled (Robert Frost).