"If hate were people, I'd be China."

- Phil Berquist
a proselyte's progress

The reading plan I'm working through has me in Exodus right now, and a week or two ago I was in Exodus 18.

I've read this passage before, but this most recent review made me think of it in a new way. The chapter begins with Jethro (Moses' father-in-law) and Moses' family reuniting with Moses (and the Israelites).

Moses testifies to Jethro about the things God has done (v. 8) and we see, what I believe, is Jethro's conversion!

Jethro believes in the one true God because his heart is convinced and then he confesses his faith (vv. 9-11). The next thing he does is praise and worship God with offerings and sacrifices (v. 12).

Shortly after that, Jethro gets involved in ministry (vv. 14-23). Then he returns to his homeland. I ASSUME he continued proclaiming the truth about the Lord from then on, and we know he was in community with those around him already!

I just thought this was a cool snapshot of the progression that happens in the lives of those who are saved by God. I know the order of things might come a little differently post-conversion, but many key elements are present: conversion, worship, community, service and proclamation!

If Exodus 18 had only included Jethro sitting down for a Bible study, we could package this system as "Jethro's Journey: What To Do Now That You're Saved!" Heh

sleeping with the enemy

in 1 Samuel 27, david is on the run from saul (again) and decides to take refuge in the land of his (and God's) enemy, the philistines. he cozies up to them and finds favor with them.

now, david does some scheming against the philistines while there, but the fact that he sought refuge (protection, comfort, etc.) in the land of the philistines got me thinking about what believers do when we fear earthly threats and stop trusting God.

we run into the arms of our (and God's) "enemy." we run to sin. and sin is desirable. it's pleasurable. to an extent, it's comforting. that's one of the reasons that it "so easily entangles" (Hebrews 12:1).

it's comforting because our flesh has been trained by our sinful nature. our flesh takes comfort in sin. paul rants about this in Romans 7:16-25. he says that he keeps doing the thing he hates, but that it's not him that does it. how can this be? well, i believe he's referring to the truth that, in Christ, he's a new creation. he has a new nature. his sinful nature is gone. so it's not really "him" that is desiring sin, because the real him is a new creation in Christ. his flesh is the sin "in him" that he refers to. it's the flesh, conditioned by our old nature, that desires the things contrary to righteousness.

this is the constant battle of the Christian walk, denying the flesh and submitting to the Spirit. paul prescribes that for us clearly in Galatians 5:16-17.

so when we are in need of protection and comfort we should rely on the promises of Deuteronomy 33:27 and Psalm 46 where we read that God is our refuge. this is where our comfort and protection truly exist.

(un)great expectations

i'm currently reading gary thomas' sacred marriage. i had hopes of reading it because of my impending marriage, but it is also required reading for a class i'm taking in seminary!

my fiancée and i often joke about my constant "warnings" for her to lower her expectations about our marriage, so i thought it was funny when i went to tell her what i've found the main theme of the book to be, early on.

thomas sets the foundation for the book in the idea that we shouldn't seek fulfillment in our spouses, because only God can ultimately fulfill us. the gist, you see, is to lower your expectations of your spouse, ha! (in the godliest sense, of course.)

in all sincerity, i am simultaneously excited and marked by what i hope is a healthy fear. i am super excited to be marrying danielle, but i don't want to enter this commitment lightly.

going from living alone for the last 10 years to marrying someone is gonna turn my "fortress of solitude" lifestyle upside down! i am definitely excited for the changes and trust that the Lord will give us both the necessary patience as He uses us to sanctify each other for the rest of our lifetimes! (whenever i do something stupid, i just remind danielle that i'm aiding in her sanctification! i kid, i kid.)

just like salvation and my calling to ministry, i do not feel worthy of the blessing i've received in danielle. alas, i proceed with great expectations!


plus, just think of all the sermon illustrations i'll get out of this!

mlk


further along, but not there yet.





can't help but think of the gospel in relation to mlk's dream. complete and final reconciliation will only come through christ...



revelation 21:1-5

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth ; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes ; and there will no longer be any death ; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain ; the first things have passed away." 5 And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new."



the church should be leading the way in achieving mlk's dream...

"halfway" there!

as of a week ago, i have completed 56 hours of my master's degree with southwestern baptist theological seminary.

that's actually a little over halfway, but before this semester i was just under halfway. it seems like it was a long time ago that i took my first class (new testament II with dr. woo) in the spring of 2009. and it feels like it will be a long time before i finish, but i know i've come a good ways.

i've seen a couple of friends graduate already and more (including my amazing fiancée) will graduate before me in the next year. i know i shouldn't get distracted by what others are doing, but they are natural reminders of my future (distant) graduation.

i'm VERY grateful for those who have supported my education, as it would have been impossible without them. i'm also grateful for the new friends i've made and the godly professors that have invested in me over the last few years. and i'm grateful for a church that allows me to pursue further education as another aspect of my call to ministry.

i know i haven't worked my hardest at all times and i know, at times, that in balancing work/ministry, school and the rest of life that i've deprived some aspect in favor of another. still, i hope and pray that kingdom work has increased along the way. i know that i've grown and been blessed and will keep trying to figure out the balancing of those commitments as life goes on.

in the meantime, i'll try not to focus on the distance between now and graduation! one. semester. at. a. time.


a worthy sequel

i know it's been out for a little while, now. but i'm glad they came out with a sequel. no sophomore slump, here, either!





here's the original:

life imitating art... imitating life


it may be a bit of a leap. but this:






reminds me of this:


THE story

i obviously haven't spent the last month blogging... but i still refuse to throw in the towel on this thing.

much has been happening in "my" world (school, church/ministry, etc.) but the most noteworthy is that i got engaged!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

my now fiancée, danielle, has been jokingly busting my chops for some time about never dedicating an entire blog post to her. so, in more than one way, this post has been a long time coming!

i can't believe, after so many years of singleness, i'm going to get married! and to someone so amazing, at that. danielle is beautiful, inside and out. she's funny, smart and passionate about life and the Gospel. she loves Christ and ministry and is a great student and teacher of God's Word. her smile lights up a room and her laugh lights up my heart. i could, and probably should keep going, but i'll save more praises for a later time.

danielle and i have been dating for almost a year now and have been friends for a few more than that. this may come across as crazy, but when i decided to date her, i decided to marry her (if she and her parents would have me!). this decision was reached after coming through some less than ideal circumstances and poor decisions on my part. some of those decisions deeply hurt danielle and others and, while i can't change the past that i am still sorry for, i am extremely grateful for the grace and forgiveness i've been shown.

fast forward to the past couple of months: danielle and i had been discussing marriage and what kind of timeline might be unfolding before us, so because we are rarely in the same town, i knew when she would probably be expecting a proposal.

i also know she likes surprises, so i was left with the task of figuring out how to surprise her while we're in the same town... which naturally led me to a plan that would put us in the same town when she wasn't expecting to be.

so, i arranged to go up to dallas and propose the night before she was supposed to come to houston for her fall break. a lot of things had to fall together for this to happen, namely, obtaining the ring! i won't go into details about that, but i didn't have the ring in hand until TWO days before i flew to dallas to propose...

so, i had made arrangements with my friend to pick me up from the airport while she was in class/at work. the morning of, i find out my flight is canceled! yep, of ALL the HOURLY flights from houston to dallas, mine was the only one that got canceled! and they only offered me two alternative flights, one of which wouldn't work. so, stress level got turned up a few notches. this new flight wouldn't allow my friend to pick me up and i didn't know if her roommates (i had them on back-up notice) would be available either. PLUS, if danielle got the crazy idea of skipping her thursday night class (which she never does) and coming home early, she potentially wouldn't be in town when i got there! because i started to worry about this scenario earlier in the week, i had her roommates come up with an outing that danielle could look forward to after her class and would stay in town for.

ok, so the flight worked out fine and the plan was underway. danielle was scheduled to be in class until 7:45 p.m. at which point i would be waiting for her at the bottom of the hill she usually walks down. i knew the jig would be up as soon as she saw me, so i didn't plan some extravagant scavenger hunt or drawn out process. i just didn't want the element of surprise to be lost (even though it almost was).* instead i would just walk her over to a nearby pond and propose there. her roommates were LIFE SAVERS in that they made "the spot" look AMAZING. see for yourself:



anyway, i'm waiting at the hill she's supposed to come walking down and she keeps not coming! eventually her roommates, who have been guarding the spot, call me and say she had to go to the computer lab for class and would be coming a different way. "no problem," i thought. "except it's not as visually stunning as me waiting at the bottom of a hill." probably better this way, though, so danielle wouldn't risk falling down the stairs trying to get to me. (i don't say this like i'm so desirable she'd recklessly charge at me, but because she has admitted to me that she has fallen up and down the steps of this hill before, ha!)

so i head over to her town home and wait for her there. moments later she comes walking up. awkwardly, there is a really bright light behind her, so i'm not sure it's her until she's pretty close. because of this, i was standing there trying to look happy if it was her but not creepy if it wasn't! she's less than comfortable because she's in high heeled boots (i think that's what they're called) that she got dolled up in for her girls' night out and just walked the entire campus, basically.

she takes a moment to drop off her stuff (and change her shoes) and then comes back out. when we started dating last fall, i got really intentional about pursuing her after being close friends for a long time. danielle asked me back then what made me decide to do so and i told her that maybe i'd tell her someday.

so that's how i started the conversation as we walked over to "the spot." i said "you asked me how i came to that decision, and tonight i want to tell you." i also played make you feel my love by adele on my handy dandy smart phone. i knew she loved this song and thought it would crank up the romance of the moment, heh.

so we're walking and i'm going through my "planned-but-not-scripted" proposal. we arrive at "the spot" but i start to get in my head about it (shocker to you that know me, i'm sure!) because the music is still playing. i'm thinking, "i can't stop talking before the song ends and i can't let the song end while i still have a ton to say!" so, some of the filler may not have been my most heartfelt sentiments, but alas!

the main idea i wanted to express to her was how i knew i wanted to marry her. they say, "when you know, you know." but to me that only made sense when i chose to commit. it was more like, "when you commit, you know." or "when you know, you commit." because i had such a peace and strong desire to commit to danielle, i knew. and i wanted her to know how i felt about committing to her, hopefully leaving no doubt in her mind about where i stood on spending forever with her.

so when the song eventually ended, i made it official by getting on a knee, presenting the ring and asking danielle if she'd marry me.

she said, "yes." in case you were wondering!



we then headed over to celebrate with her roomies, briefly, before heading to dinner at hattie's. we both made some crucial phone calls on the way, to let some folks know (i had to send a group text because my phone was dying.) then, the next day, i had surprise number two set up! danielle's bestest of best friends, marie, came down from oklahoma to celebrate with her! i knew this was a huge event that they'd want to celebrate and another surprise i could give danielle, so i'm glad it worked out! another friend was supposed to join us, but had to be somewhere else for a family emergency.

that night we all went to the state fair and had some engagement pictures taken by the great megan fortner.

saturday, we finally headed home to houston where we could celebrate with family! i definitely rearranged danielle's plans for fall break, but i don't think she minded too much.


*most of my wow factor was tied up in the element of surprise, so i was pretty nervous about preserving it. danielle and i usually exchange emails from work, but i knew on the day of the proposal i'd have to email her from my phone. only thing is, my phone emails don't have the same signature as my office computer emails. i didn't want this to look fishy that day, SO i started emailing danielle from my phone on monday of that week. BUT danielle didn't notice it early in the week and only noticed on the day of!!! she was already looking for the proposal, i guess, and her senses were heightened! apparently, she thought maybe i was coming into town to surprise her and kept going back and forth about it. it wasn't until her roommate texted her right before the proposal with "I'M HUUUNNNGGRRYYYY!!!!" that danielle was finally convinced i wasn't coming to dallas to propose! that's how dangerously the surprise hung in the balance and that's how easily the crisis was averted. my days of forethought were futile, ha!

"that's a bad out-fit, woo!"



this post and subsequent discussion reminded me of this:






i definitely think they should reenact this scene in the new movie.

the daves i know

for anyone anticipating something of real value, i apologize! but i often sing the chorus to this song (because i know a lot of daves) and no one ever knows what i'm referencing! i finally found it the other day, so you can all be "enlightened!"




the cal ripken of church camp?


i've been trying to remember the last time i did NOT go to summer camp with my church. i know i've been every summer since my senior year of high school (1997) and probably more since moving to houston in 1991. (IF i've been to camp every summer since '92 (my first full summer in houston when i won the JAM Camp Ping Pong Tournament), this will by my 20th year of camp with HNW!) i'm big on streaks, so i like to think on such things.

pretty sure i don't hold the world record, but i feel like that's a lot of years of camp with the same church. i've seen several campsites, hung many lights, prepared many playlists, reffed all kinds of goofy games, competed in some epic volleyball tournaments, seen more rules videos than anyone should and applied more sunscreen than some life guards!

year after year, students load up on buses with varying motives and expectations of the next few days. some just getting away to have fun, some hoping to learn and grow, some being forced by their parents, some seeking encouragement because their parents couldn't care less...

various themes and team names keep cheers like "s-u-s-h-i! we'll throw wasabi in your eye!" and "chic-ohhhh, chic-o stick!" and "the fainting goats will faint on you" and "fuzzzzzzzy, wuzzzzzzzzy" and "JAWAS!" ringing in my head...

i've seen "steal the bacon" turn mild mannered students into recreation gladiators. (i've also seen "steal the bacon" send students to the nurse.)

i've been blessed to serve with countless lay leaders who valued ministering to students so much that they'd take a week of vacation, some apart from their families, to lose sleep and sweat it out while teaching, encouraging, correcting and loving on others.

i've been encouraged and challenged by numerous speakers, worship leaders and a handful of student pastors. i've worked alongside more interns than i want to try to count right now!

no matter who i served with, where we traveled to, how many/few students attended or what the theme was, EVERY year has had good times and God times. so thankful for the opportunities God has blessed me with!

(i realize these things are true for any long time youth worker or student pastor, but this is my blog and my mom told me the other day that i needed to post something, ha.)


schooool's out 'til monday...


doesn't quite carry the same vibe as "school's out for summer," but i have a mini-mester next week. regardless, my spring 2011 semester is officially over. there's always a nice sense of relief when the last final is submitted. good, bad or ugly, it's out of my hands now.

even with the relief of another semester being in the books, it isn't very encouraging to think about how many more semesters i have until graduation.

what WAS encouraging about this semester was getting to know my professors better. my good friend, james, and i continued to take most of the same classes and spent most mondays eating lunch with different profs. this semester really differed from the usual "just come to class, then go home" semesters of the past. i also got to know more classmates, which is another blessing from the experience.

so, unless something crazy happened that i'm not aware of, i have completed 41 hours in five semesters. i've signed up to take six more this summer and will most likely take 9-10 in the fall. your prayers are appreciated!

taking me back


was just listening to the incomparable keith green while working on a paper and this song came on:






it always takes me back and rekindles fond memories... so grateful for the heritage of faith in my family.

the song that wrecked me

so, i had the opportunity to preach in my church's second service this past sunday (if interested, message audio can be found here). thanks to all who prayed for me, offered kind words, etc. i really appreciate it.

at the beginning i mention being "wrecked" by the song that preceded the message. i had almost lost it singing this song in the early service and was overcome during the second go-round. the aspect of "victory won" (PAST TENSE) was a big part of what i was about to speak on and i just couldn't help it. and then i had to get up and speak. ha

anyway, here's the song:




hope it blesses you as it did me.

thoughts on honduras

i recently returned from a mission trip to honduras. it was a great week and i was blessed, as always, to be a part of God's kingdom work.

i enjoy ministry in general so i knew i would enjoy the trip. when it comes to missions i'm open to hardships, discomfort, etc. going in, though i've never experienced REAL persecution or suffering, so my "openness" hasn't really been tested. regardless, i try to keep the right perspective and remember why i'm there and what i signed up for.

our trip was multifaceted. we had a couple of pastors teaching a Bible institute where pastors were being trained, a handful of women holding a women's conference, a couple doing a marriage/parenting conference and a big group doing general street/park evangelism. i was on the general evangelism team (and got to preach in a few churches!). we got to minister in the local park, a couple of schools, the mall, a colonia (lower class neighborhood) and in local churches. it was really cool seeing people work in their areas of giftedness (teaching children, singing, playing guitar, serving, etc.) across cultural lines. and it was cool seeing people step up into areas that weren't as comfortable for them (public speaking, FTW!).

there were two main things that stand out to me the most from this trip. the first thing that i was impacted by was seeing first-time mission trippers fall in love with ministry/missions. there was a pair of teenage siblings with us on their first trip and while it was definitely a learning/growing/stretching process for them, they both were fired up to go on another trip by the end of the week.

the second thing that stood out to me was the need to continue ministry in places like honduras, even though they are "reached" nations. i had an inner tension with me on this trip because of a conversation i had with a good friend (and missionary) several months ago. when i told him we were going to honduras he basically said, "everyone goes to honduras. why don't you come serve where i am? it's staunchly muslim and really lacking for missionaries."

his comments really stuck with me. he's right in many senses. we saw several missions groups at the airport, on the plane and even in the town we were serving in! honduras is well reached in comparison to many places in the world. i found myself wondering if our work was really that impacting.

here's why i believe it was: because honduras is well reached, not only has the gospel been proclaimed widely there, but FALSE gospels have been proclaimed widely there. we saw mormon churches and seventh day adventist churches, etc. so i believe it's still crucial to proclaim the true gospel in honduras. and i think the pastor training our team did is invaluable so that they can make disciples with a clearer understanding of biblical truth.

i know my missionary friend doesn't think we should ever stop preaching anywhere, so this IS NOT A COUNTERPOINT TO HIS STATEMENTS. but his thoughts stuck with me and i wrestled with them. and i think we do need to send more missionaries to under-reached muslim countries. but it's ok to keep sending them to honduras, too!

where is YOUR treasure?

our church has taken the month of march to discuss stewardship, based on randy alcorn's book. all of the sunday morning classes are studying the same principles and the sunday sermons are on texts that point to different stewardship principles, as well.

part of this emphasis included a challenge from our pastor to illustrate the parable of the talents.

i'd really appreciate it if you'd take a few minutes to check out the college and young singles ministry's treasure principle site. and if you give, you can even register for the chance to win a prize!

thanks!

why i'm anti-bieberian (featuring obligatory rob bell mention)

fyi, this post was sort of inspired by this post. so you may want to read it before moving on, but you don't have to.

just hear me out. i'm not hating on bieber in the sense of "i hate his music and teeny-bopper culture." i don't have strong issues with those who are fans of his, really, either. what i don't like (and i'm not calling shrode out on this, i'm just reminded of it by his post) is people trying to tout bieber as a good Christian influence amidst a sin-filled environment. (from what i read, shrode was hopeful that bieber could stand for something other than the world and that bieber came from a faithful family that he was rooting for to direct justin in the right direction.)

this has probably been addressed at stuff Christians like, but i know that Christians like to root for famous/successful Christians. heck, i praised tony dungy and kurt warner on this very blog for the confusing contentment they've demonstrated in their post-nfl lives.

on a minor level, the danger here is promoting a celebrity as Christian in such a way that they become models in the faith when they shouldn't be. on a an extreme level, the danger is following a "Christian" celebrity so that we can label our idol worship as something much more tame, like "support."

back to what spurred this line of thinking... in the thinklings post referenced above, bieber's faith-walk was wondered about and certain evidences were given in hopes that he might be a believer who is working hard at keeping his nose clean and sending out good clean, positive vibes. (i really hope i'm not misstating or misquoting anyone.)

in the comments, someone mentioned that bieber's rolling stone cover was already a sign that he was headed for or already on a slippery slope. i went looking for said photo because i had seen things of bieber on SNL that already concerned me. i really didn't think he was a Christian role model, anyway, based on the fact that he's a secular artist. shamefully, it's the cynic in me that doubts a believer who is serious about their faith can really be wildly successful in the entertainment industry.* to me, you have to sell out to some extent to be THAT successful. at the very least they aren't characterized by their faith in Christ. i could be wrong. please remind me of examples where i am.

anyway, what i found on rolling stone's site was not the cover photo in question, but a picture of bieber flipping the bird to some paparazzo. granted, this does not mean he isn't a believer. but it is evidence that we should be extremely careful in promoting any human as a role model who isn't characterized by imitating Christ.

i don't doubt that bieber is talented. i don't doubt that his music is positive. i don't doubt that he's a generally good kid. BUT what that all adds up to is as eternally significant as charlie sheen's recent tirades. beyond that, it might even be more dangerous than sheen's "words of wisdom" because bieber is safe, cuddly and encouraging. sadly, anything short of Christ just makes for a safe, cuddled and encouraged journey to hell (unless you side with rob bell (oooooh, booyah, didn't see THAT coming did you? obligatory rob bell reference: check.)) basically, #tigerblood is just as God glorifying as #bieberfever.

so, to sum up: i don't mind if you're a bieber fan. i really don't. shoot, continue to pray for him, hope he stays out of trouble, etc. but please don't try to champion him as a Christian role model or put him on a pedestal. it's ok to enjoy secular music, really it is. as long as we don't glory in it and don't idolize those who represent it. and whatever we do, we dare not label it as "Christian" so we can embrace, stomach and parade our worship of anything/anyone other than Christ.

looking for role models? look for this attitude: "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." 1 Corinthians 11:1

wondering what to worship/promote: "Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God." Psalm 20:7

"But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Galatians 6:14




*i believe pro athletes are different because their profession/success is based more on their athletic ability than their image or message/brand.

a like list (all video edition)

i've been much busier than normal with work, school and mission trip preparations. hope to bring you more substance after next week's mission trip, but if you need a break from discussing rob bell... here i am!

and here's a quick list of trivial things that i like:

the dart guy from this dating site commercial:

you may disagree. and most commercials are not funny. this one even has things that don't play at all. BUT i love the lines "i don't know, is that a real sponsor?" ... "gonna get stupid loose" and "mountain top!"





this best buy commercial:

"you bought the wrong tv, silly head."





this clip from a league of their own:





"count your blessings, see what God has done"

spring is in full swing, so here's what's up:

school
currently taking 10 hrs of seminary. i'll be ALMOST halfway to my m.div. after this semester. "slow and steady," right? kind of excited about getting back to more theology/history classes. haven't had one since last spring, i think. i am starting to form more relationships with students and profs than previous semesters, so that's cool. and i definitely am blessed to even have the opportunity to attend.


church
i'm also blessed to still be working at houston northwest church (10 years, now! yowza, again!) the college and young singles ministry has proven challenging and rewarding just as all ministry should be! i really love the people i get to minister to/with week in and week out. excited to see what God can do here!


other
-i've lived in my house for almost a year and a half. it's come a long way and has a long way to go. i still can't get over the deal i got on it. definitely an undeserved blessing.

-speaking of undeserved blessings. as most of my world knows by now (i'm sure), i have a girlfriend. i'm so grateful for her friendship, encouragement, sense of humor and, of course, heart for the Lord. she's an extension of God's grace in so many ways! she could do WAY better than me, too, but i hope she doesn't realize it!

rousing rendition

apparently it's a chicago tradition to cheer/yell DURING the national anthem. i like the result. some may find it disrespectful, but i think it's stirring. heard an armed forces member agree. (i realize that's not universal approval.) anyway, without further ado:




thoughts?

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