Saturday, December 28, 2013

Why the Best is Yet Come

Poetic cliché aside, it truly has been a December to remember. And given we’re now in the wake of Yuletide euphoria, I’d say it’s a fitting time to reminisce on the highlights and milestones of 2013. Truth be told, it’s hard to condense a year into a measly little page, but if the richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten, how much more richness would exist if we commit to retaining it*? Thus, in the spirit of good tiding and immense gratitude, I dedicate this blog to the many I hold dear to heart.

Now when it comes to assessing any period of time, I’m a fairly frugal judge. So for me to say 2013 was the second consecutive “best year ever” is worth noting...and celebrating for that matter. For the second straight year, I felt I wasn’t simply starting a new chapter, but an entirely new saga altogether. So one shouldn’t be surprised when I say I can hardly relate to the man I was two, even three, years ago. It simply comes with the territory of accelerated redemption. And while I could write a lengthy tome on how wonderful the freedom-belief amalgamation is, I’ll have to save it for another time.

When I reflect back on 2013, a number of notabilities stand out.

Of course, I tied the knot. Literally. On April 13, a day that will live in grand repute, I married my best friend, climaxed by a unity chord braiding on a spring day only divine hands could have set up. And as covenantal romance sealed itself in beloved presence, the thrill of holy matrimony reduced me to a rare state of wordless wonder, which, apart from vows, could only convey itself through smitten smiles and the rogue tear seeking savvy seepage. Truly, our wedding day proved to be a tone-setting microcosm for the rest of the year.

But there were other lasting impressions as well…

Leading off, I’d have to start with the incredible sense of relief Lyssah and I felt on the drive to Asheville following the wedding and three months of intense preparation. Our honeymoon was not only the grand finale to the best day of our lives, but also the first week we were able to relax since the big question popped six months earlier. No doubt, wedding planning, even with one of the best part-time wedding coordinators around, is an arduous task, especially when plopped on top of a full-time job, a full-time graduate-level academic load and youth pastoring responsibilities.**

Indeed, the calendar was active in 2013. Yet, more importantly, Lyssah and I begun to sense a change in our capacities, particularly in our abilities to handle more, whether pressure or mission.

On the job front, this manifested in my internal promotion to supervisorial accounting technician, while Lyssah landed an administrative position with the LAMPO Group shortly after. With each transition came greater responsibilities and challenges to embrace; however, both advances would prove to shape not only our paychecks, but our character as well.

Life in ministry also saw its share of fresh fruit, topped by an Acquire the Fire photo contest win, a rousing white-water rafting expedition on the Ocoee, new youth room renovations and the joy of new youth finding community and impactful discipleship. Despite many memorable moments, on a pastoral note, no other year stretched the boundaries of my faith like this one. Yet, whenever the temptation for discouragement drew near, God would repeatedly breathe hope into the cracks of shaken belief and anchor me to a vision that far transcended my interpretation
of it. As a result, I’ve never been so excited to enter into a new year since I became the LEGACYouth pastor in 2011.

But with Christmas letter content, and a little sentimental hogwash, aside, I will begin this blog’s descent on a more uncharted note.

As I bask in hindsight, I understand more so how providence coincides with company. As one blessed beyond description, I know, to greater extent, how the greatness of any year can’t be realized without the gift of friendship. In the past, the countenance of a year would reveal itself through achievement and the occasional epic moment, but this year, the faces of 2013 are…well…the faces of people, faces of loved ones, co-workers, teammates, mentors, family members, etc. For each uplifting recollection starts with a relationship, and each relationship starts with the reason why we’re here.

Call it gooey geniality, call it belated gratitude, call it whatever you like…it’s believing in what really matters that cements my awe to perpetual gratitude and elevates love to a higher degree.

So I suppose in fewer words, 2013 has reminded me how God masterfully carries my world…emphatically and with precise purpose, whether it’s through a timely word by my wife, a breakout 23-point performance in a summer league basketball game or an answered prayer unfolding before my very eyes.

It’s the reason why I can proclaim on the heals of such a year as this…

…the best is yet to come.


* - See Cesare Pavese

** - Note: Lyssah and I are significantly spoiled with the opportunity shepherd one of the best youth groups this side of the Mississippi.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Champion of Hope

Do you ever feel like Charlie Brown bemused to what Christmas is all about, or like Hermey the Elf, wondering where in the world is my place amidst the holiday bedlam? After all, it’s easy to feel lost at Christmas time. We tread through our annual routines, hoping flickering lights, peppermint mochas and the dream of a white Christmas will offer a doubleshot of whatever we’re in desperate need for. Not to mention the marathons of personal enterprise we engage, trading sorrows for stopgaps, all for the sake of getting through the holidays.

Truth is: Some people need decked halls and falling snow for it to feel like Christmas at all. But although white pines, laced tinsel and December flakes are truly timely sights to behold, there’s merit in wondering who or what is driving the heart of Christmas. For instance: are we aiming to medicate ourselves through tradition and productivity or are we allowing the light of Christmas to impact our giving and benevolence? For almost anyone will do anything to feel warm and cozy where it counts, especially at Christmas time. But though it may be cold outside, the good news of Christmas reminds us we don’t have to be. Even though the season, over time, has seemingly been reduced to “melancholy-prevention”, we can find both place and identity in the heart of what the season stands for.

Granted there’s much to contend with during the peak of December pandemonium, whether it’s superficial agendas or the materialized expressions of hollow gaiety. Yet, as we endure the dichotomy of secular endeavors and Spirit-filled stimulation, we can delight in the fact the magnificence of Christmas is infinitely more than the allure of seasonal charisma. And perhaps this why the spirit of Christmas is so unparalleled, as it establishes the hope we can convert whatever we encounter into an excuse to count our blessings. Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to partake in eggnog consumption, endless rounds of gift-wrapping and caroling through the snow; however, one can’t fully know the true meaning of Christmas without acknowledging the fact Christ made hope possible, championing the incarnation with thanksgiving, ultimately setting the tone for humanity’s redemption.

So as the sun prepares its final descent on 2013, what's increasing your joy and how do think another round of Christmas can stir you to shake up something more than a customized pursuit of happiness? Because I’ll be quite honest, festive euphoria doesn’t come close to satisfying, especially since real joy is given, not concocted out of ritual and the proverbial ‘Christmas spirit’ manual. The best way to commemorate Christ’s birth is to remember Christmas is more than the most wonderful day of the year; it's an invitation to give an offering of worship to the one who lights up the fireworks in us. It's an opportunity to tell the world: "Yes, I have seen great light! And I want to share it everywhere I go." And it’s a time to give to the needy, pray for the grieving and make peace with God, even when you don’t think you can.

‘Cause in the end there’s nobody else. 

So in closing, I bid you all a very Merry Christmas. May you relish in the fullness of the season with all it has to offer and encounter divine appointments to inspire others through giving (see video below), all the while remembering the true reason we celebrate: the perfection of humanity through Jesus Christ.

As the wise Kermit the Frog once said, “’Tis the season to be jolly and joyous. With a burst of pleasure, we feel it arrive. ‘Tis the season when the saints can employ us to spread news about peace and keep love alive.”  

For to Us a Child Is Born

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great lightthose who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joythey rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

~ Isaiah 9:1-7 (ESV)

Lyrical inspiration: "Christmas Lights" by Coldplay; "How You Live" by Point of Grace

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

To be ThankFULL

We pardon this feast for a moment of ‘nation identification’…you’re listening to the sound of Thanksliving.

So stop, look around, breathe in the moment. What do you see? How do you feel? Are you snug in good cheer? Are you smittenly cozy? Or do you hear sound of one far from prosy*?

Today we gather as people of blessing, amidst the cranberries, the yams and the dressing.
But I have a query that may sound quite quirky: What are you stuffed with and please don’t say ‘turkey’? 
It’s good to be full, but ‘of what’ is key.  If we’re made to “run over”**, I’d say start with glee. But a season of thanks goes way beyond joy. It’s loving a grace we’re called to employ. It’s being FULL of what is worth giving. And this, friends, is why I call it Thanksliving.
For today is not marked by Macy’s or glace, it’s finding delight in what tends to lose place. Like recalling how God has moved in your life, the glory of motion and favor in rife. So at the risk of sounding outrageous, let me say how this all should be contagious.
To be thankFULL is to honor the wonder of cross, acknowledging God who is rightfully boss. To be thankFULL is to cherish the splendor of praise and how we can worship with hearts set to blaze. To be thankFULL is to seek first a Kingdom most sound, noting how we were once lost but now found. To be thankFULL is to lay down both right and control, letting peace rule, as our God, we extol. To be thankFULL is to find relief in what’s holy, giving back love to the weak and the lowly. To be thankFULL is to be hateFULL…except in reverse. To be thankFULL is to be fateFULL…timed by its inverse. To be thankFULL is to be faithFULL, fruitFULL in cheer, to be thoughtFULL and mindFULL of those we hold dear. And the best part of all is not only in action, but when this all sticks to our spiritual traction.

So remember today is not just a day, but a lifestyle, choice and a way that we pray. It’s not about what we have or don’t own, it’s knowing foremostly we’re never alone. It’s knowing that even when life gets real tough, I know where to turn and I can’t get enough.
So pass the gravy along with the lovin’, ‘cause the best things in life come from God, not an oven.
"Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name." ~ 1 Chronicles 29:11-13 (ESV)
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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Flash Weather: 2013-14 Winter Weather Forecast (Part 2)

Followup Notes: With only a few weeks of meteorological fall left, I continue to wonder about the -EPO and how it may be a saving grace for the Tennessee Valley this winter. With the QBO in a positive and falling state, I expect the polar vortex to start out strong but weaken as we approach winter, which is part of the reason I expect the second half of winter to be stronger and more intense than the first half. Since the AO/NAO is partly tied to the QBO, and since a +QBO would likely lead to a +AO/+NAO, I can definitely see warmer than normal temperatures to abound in December for the third consecutive year, with each subsequent month lessening in terms of positive temperature anomaly; however, with a strong -EPO, the pacific pattern allows troughing to dig into the southeast quadrant. My guess at this point is we could see a winter, temperature wise, similar to 2007-08. During this winter, December was a torchfest, but January evened out and February and early March featured some memorable snow events. I will note that we near the launch of Yuletide, December is looking more and more like a coin toss.

Furthermore, there’s been an interesting trend emerging in the arctic regions in recent weeks. Notice how the two dark red regions (areas of rising heights or higher pressures in the upper atmosphere) explode near the Aleutian region (Gulf of Alaska) and off the coast of Greenland in the North Atlantic. The key effect of these expanding height zones lies in their ability to buckle the jet stream, forcing colder air south into areas on either side of the block. This is essentially the definition of a –NAO, as defined in my first winter weather video. These blocks tend to form and reform, as they oscillate around the globe.

From this animation, you can clearly see how the two blocks develop, ‘wobble’ and then trap the cold air in between. When this happens, the cold air is essentially channeled southward towards the Lower 48. Early indications reveal the trending -NAO pattern appears east based, though this doesn’t mean the –NAO will remain that way.

When a –NAO is ‘east-based’, this means the strongest part of the high pressure system is to the EAST of Greenland. This allows the jet stream to focus the cold air into the Plains and Midwest, while the southeast corner is brushed with cooler than normal temperatures

When a –NAO is ‘west-based’, this means the strongest part of the high pressure system is now to the west of Greenland, and allows the cold and snow to expand into the eastern US. This type of –NAO is more favorable for snowstorms in the southeast, although wintry precipitation is almost always enhanced when the NAO is negative in either phase.

Note: EPO graphic from DT Wxrisk. Check out his Thanksgiving video here:

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Planting Seeds is So Important

As October fades into the yuletide preseason, I continue to be stirred in a rather unique way.

If you’ve been a follower of my blog for long, then you’ve probably come to realize how part of my heartcry is to grow as a “minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me…to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations…” (Colossians 1:25-26 ESV).

However, in this day and age, arguably the hardest time to pastor in church history, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe this desire can be wholesomely satisfied.

Let’s face it: people are busy…very busy. And though many can supply a résumé to support the fact, it’s not like a piece of paper can mask how we prize personal ambitions over fellowship. Within Christian community, many claim to value balance, yet wear loaded planners like a badge on the sash of misaligned priorities, oblivious to the growing discrepancy between what is hoped for and what is realized. And the most alarming part isn’t necessarily the divide itself, but in the lack of awareness to it. Yes, fostering God-appointed places of influence should have a high place on the ladder of Spirit-led responsibility, but one should question if this crosses an idolatrous line when we rationalize the résumé into an excuse for unauthorized withdrawal.

Whatever the case may be, I get the feeling God isn’t smiling over the fact we’ve made it hard to connect with Him as well as other believers. I get the feeling it doesn’t amuse Him how we talk to others about our own busyness, as if the other side is foreign to the idea. And I get the vibe He isn’t applauding our consolidating tactics, where we substitute modern technology and online interaction for intimate connectedness. The simple truth is if you have a demanding calendar, you’re not in the minority. And as the redeemed church living in a hussle-bussle world, we should be placing a premium on quality over quantity, considering how the Word emphasizes excellence.

Regardless of how we feel about our pace and place, without steadfast prayer, it’s becoming harder to trust these days, not so much in the nature of God, but in people’s response to it, especially with so much ‘dis’ in the world: discouragement, distraction, disapproval, disappointment, discontentedness, etc. As a minister, often times, the challenge to trust God hinges on whether or not people accept His best, and though such a notion deserves correction, I can’t help but want to guide people into a prosperous position, where they can fully know and experience the presence of God, unraveling the mystery of transformation truths.

And it’s here where the temptation to give up is most intense. For I find it incredibly ironic how many believers distance themselves from church community based out of what is becoming a predictable blend of agenda, dissatisfaction and veiled insecurity. I understand and respect decisions rooted in yielded surrender and obedience; however, shielding our own sanctification while thinking church is merely a necessity instead of a privileged priority and mandate is not the answer. It's not about us being satisfied, but Him being glorified. And one of the ways we bring God glory is through the expansion of horizontal and vertical relationship inside and outside the church, even if it costs us convenience. Too many people are separating their interpretation of God's plan for them from biblical community and Christian fellowship; however, the Word doesn't justify hiding behind the gifts of God or living life in a way that reduces God's house to an extra-curricular activity. It's a given we all want to leave a legacy and know our purpose has meaning, but if it comes at the cost of forsaking God's best, then we need to re-evaluate who we're living for and how we're walking the talk.

For people like me, caught between the homebody on my left and the busybody on my right, it helps to meditate on what’s worth adhering to. For instance, community wasn’t designed for us to control or corral, as such responsibility belongs to God and God alone. Contrarily, our focus should center on how we tend the soil of our relationships and arenas of influence. In other words, achieving church community is not about rounding sheep into a sheep pen; it’s about planting seeds in the sheep pen! It’s not about providing a specialized service to a packed out sanctuary; it’s about sowing seeds into the places God takes us, regardless of personnel and statistics.

You see: planting seeds is applied physics in the spiritual – it’s about fostering the potential energy in others to perpetuate a kinetic Gospel. When we plant seeds, we not only acknowledge the providence of God, we extend it. We may not be satisfied by the quantity of seeds we’re given, but this doesn’t change the fact God is enough and His quantities are perfect for every season. At times, we may feel victimized by evasive personalities, flaky commitment and those fluent in undervaluing hearts, but if we choose to dwell on whatever is worthy, whatever is noble, whatever is pure (Philippians 4:8), than we can rest in knowing our calling have everything to do with planting seeds (a.k.a. depositing the greatness of God).

In Paul’s assessment on church community in 1 Corinthian 3, we’re given a snapshot on how we’re to understand our role in preparing the land for a God who gives increase, and the answer can be realized by the overarching themes at the heart of Paul’s letters. Before we can plant seeds effectively, we must first position ourselves to receive openhandedly. Often times, the strongest barriers set up on the front end of what start out as holy pursuits. If we separate our love of daily communion with outgoing encouragement, we risk a depositing source based out of a need for self-edification, as opposed to the heart.

When we receive and stake our trust in God, then we’re essentially believing in His unconditional grace and the freedom it manifests, which ultimately enables us to employ motion to truth and to connect revelation to heart change. Thus, when we stand on the word of 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 (see below), we realize we don’t have to worry about the outcome, because God specifically outlines our responsibilities. And since God allots boundaries to our stewardship, we don’t have to stress about the destiny of each seed’s final destination.

So while it may be easy to ponder the hot trends on people’s radars these days, we can rejoice in knowing it doesn’t define our mission, our value and call to sow light, life and love into the depths of mankind.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. ” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:6-10 (ESV)

To be continued…

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Walk the Cross

Last Sunday, we witnessed a video centered on the physical evidence of God's reality & nature (specifically God’s saving grace and restoration plan through the ark account).

Today we're going to focus on the spiritual evidence: a changed life - the greatest miracle this side of heaven.

In John 3, Nicodemus, a ruler and leader among the Jews and Pharisees, approaches Jesus and claims He must have come from God based on the signs and wonders worked through Him. In response, Jesus tells him: 

I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God.”

In other words, Jesus was challenging Nicodemus to change his worldview and belief system by “being born again.”

Consider the parallels:

Before you are born, you are conceived – an internal phenomenon which ultimately develops into an external presence.

Before you are born again, you are created, destined and pursued. And the point of surrender (accepting Christ as Lord and Savior) is likewise an internal transaction. But like a baby being born, growing into the likeness and image of Christ, there needs to be a real, tangible testimony (the proof of perpetual change) supporting the decision to accept God’s redemption.

What is our testimony? It’s the innate heartcry of humanity: Yahweh saves (Exodus 6:3 reveals Yahweh to be the redemptive name of God and is partly connected to the term, 'Hosanna', meaning “God saves”). 

In prior meetings, we've discussed how our thoughts, our beliefs and our actions are living proof to whether or not we've accepted salvation (using the 3-B & 3-D principles: our beliefs determine our behavior which determine our becoming + our decisions determine our direction which determines our destination) and opened ourselves to sanctification (the process of being made holy, of being made like Christ). Thus, the question is not IF God's redemption is real; it's if God's redemption is real in you and if it is at all meaningful in your life.

In order for Yahweh to be resonating in you, then God’s redemption must be an active experience. Often times, we inadvertently keep transformation at bay by keeping the cross locked within the mental cave of Christian history. We know it happened, but our perspective on it is completely oriented in the past. Yet, if we want to live with a Spirit-filled countenance and contagious faith, we have to look at our relationship with the cross differently.

Have you ever stopped to wonder: What maintains my transformation? Am I a true believer just because one day I decided to accept Jesus in my heart or is it based out of the lifestyle I choose to embrace? Although we could delve into a dense debate concerning eternal security, we can steer clear of it when believe the following: If you’re following after God, then will show…and you will know you’re perfectly secure in your salvation…in your eternal destination.

Truth is: Transformation is only transformation if it’s an on-going, transparently evident reality.  

2 Corinthians 3:17-18 – “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (emancipation from bondage, freedom). And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.”

Jesus often reminded his disciples how finding life required dying to ourselves. Paul summed this up beautifully in Philippians 1:21 - "To live is Christ and to die is gain." How do we bridge the gap? The cross. How do we know we’re “walking the cross”? If change is the one constant in our life. Why? Because it's our testimony – the real, tangible proof of God’s ongoing craftsmanship in our lives.

Power Up: We need to stop trying to walk the line. God didn’t create life to be a tightrope experience; He didn’t design us to think about how far we can go in terms of satisfying our own desires our way. He didn’t build this world for us just so we can define and chart our own course according to what makes us feel good about ourselves. There is a matrix out there, composed by a cunning enemy, seeking to deceive you, seeking to pollute your mind into believe you’re the center of your reality. The “matrix” wants you to walk the line, and surely doesn’t want you to believe the truth: we were made to "walk the cross" as the roadmap and pathway to enduring change.

The question is: Will we walk through the door? Will we allow God’s work to be evident in our life? Or will we take the “blue pill” and keep it in the closet, the rear-view mirror and on the backburner? If you’ve accepted Christ a long time ago, but the cross is nothing more than history to you, then so will be the change you’re desperately looking for. But if you take the “red pill” and make the decision to “walk the cross”, then you’ll start to understand why we’re called to be like Christ.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Devil's Playground

Have you ever had a great day almost derail after a blindsighted brush with a self-justifying spirit, a backhanded stab or a condescending remark? Have you ever had a solid rhythm going only to be cut short by the whiplash of an impulsive assault, like an unexpected downpour on a bright, autumnal day?

No doubt, these precipitous moments can have the most sharpening and defining effects on our character and the way we believe. Yet, despite what our default affinities may be, sometimes it’s perfectly healthy and necessary to wrestle with the lies we collide with.

Such was the realization after a recent happenstance, when my leadership was tactlessly grilled by an extreme case of overprotection. Having aced my part in the first encounter by means of a cordial greeting and genuine smile, the temptation for offense came knocking once my hand drew the spat of a person bursting into a flame of finger-pointing. And though some understandable concerns were mixed in, what started as a friendly gesture suddenly became an insurmountable firestorm I felt completely defenseless against.

In the midst of awkward animosity, I began to shut down, as my authority became nothing more than a heaping mass of carved meat. Having taken the day’s queue from my own authorities, I was now taking the hits for allowing high-school students to minister at the “devil’s playground” – a term or place I had never heard of before until it was abruptly brought to my attention.

As my poker face solidified, my heart and soul continued to break. Deep down, I started to cry out:
What sense does it make to apply such a negative label on any location? Who are we to turn cheek against the downcast, the lost and the suffering for the sake of our own fear and convenience? Why do we act so condescending towards the people and places who need Jesus the most? Are we afraid of what’s behind the curtain? Are we scared of being insulted for what we believe in? Are we apprehensive to lose what we think is our innocence on behalf of those who sincerely believe they have none? How could anyone ‘hate’ on someone simply trying to do what Jesus did or a people who desperately need a healing touch directly ministered to them?

After all, Jesus was quite familiar with the “devil’s playground” of His day. When we look at Matthew 9:10-13 and Mark 2:13-17, we find Jesus being accused of associating with vagrants and vandals:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” ~ Matthew 9:10-13 (ESV)

He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him,’ Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples,’ Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” ~ Mark 2:13-17 (ESV)
I get the feeling Jesus loved hanging out with the poor, the outcast, the lonely, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the Samaritan “dogs” and yes, even murderers. Why? Because Jesus did not come to live, He came to die. His death didn’t start at the cross. Contrarily, He was daily dying to the very things we try to uphold every day by constantly putting His reputation and safety on the line. But did He care about how others thought about Him? No way! For Jesus was locked into what the Father was saying and doing, continually flowing in the current of His guidance. This allowed Jesus’ heart for benevolence to pour out from His very nature, as opposed to moral obligation. And it’s here, at this place of humility, where we should all aspire.

So, there I was, walking with a smitten swag as our team, joining with a chorus of other groups, serving as the hands and feet of Jesus, modeled service and love to a population of poverty-stricken vagabonds. There I was, working with a willing heart, eager to restore purity into a community shattered like the broken glass we were treading upon. There I was, contributing my portion, my offering to an awesome God, only to have my confidence crack upon the sidewalk, wondering why a complete stranger, twice my age and of the same faith, would lash out without giving me a chance to be heard.

As I drove home, I realized the best move was to forgive and move on, but as I placed pain on the altar, the Lord began to expand the tent pegs of my understanding.

Wisdom does not imply we filter decision-making through a masked perception of the foreseen. Sometimes, we’re not going to know all we’re getting into when we obey God. Sometimes, our hands are going to get dirty. And sometimes, we’re not going to have the “luxury” of cookie-cutting God’s mission into a ration we’re comfortable with. Yet, if we’re called to live submissively, with open hands, then why do we occasionally associate yielding to naïveté?

God cannot be fooled. When we hide behind past-centeredness and throw present grace to the wayside, we ultimately disallow God to be the governing shield in our lives. And when we step into a role only He can fill, we begin to dilute our capacity to see how He sees. With limited vision, it shouldn’t surprise us if we fail to realize the devil’s playground is often ground zero for God’s best restoration plan. And though we may not be called to involve ourselves with every single operation of Kingdom expansion, we shouldn’t disqualify ourselves when, in fact, God has qualified us to be vibrant extensions of His compassion.

Maybe you feel stuck between a rock and hard place, not realizing the rock in your life is actually a blind source of false comfort. Why not ask God to roll away any manufactured boulder of fear and compromise in exchange for stronger faith and courage? Just because you don’t feel ready to be an ambassador, doesn’t mean you’re not ready to be one. Just because you're given spiritual gifts, doesn’t mean you have to hide behind them in order to self-preserve.

So let's ask ourselves what is shaping our concept and application of wisdom and obedience, in hope for a more pronounced refinement of these holy qualities. Because when being like Christ isn’t easy, we can, at least, know we're doing something right.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Flash Weather: 2013-14 Winter Weather Forecast (Part 1)

This is the first installment of an ongoing series this fall concerning the winter weather season ahead. Although the meteorological elements are still coming together, there is a convergence of signals indicating this winter will be one heck of a ride...

Note: With respect to the video, I forgot to mention the difference between El Nino and La Nina when discussing the ENSO forecast for the upcoming winter. If you note the image to the left, you'll see a general map depicting the variances we see during both occurrences (ex: the northern Pacific low during an El Nino versus its high pressure counterpart in a La Nina).

Thus, the greatest opportunities for a colder winter in the southeast take place during a weak El Nino or weak La Nina, as the jet stream is allowed to buckle down further south to promote colder temperatures. If the ENSO is notably displaced from neutral territory, the jet streams tend to not engage each other, thus, keeping the moist air from merging with the colder air.

For this winter, I expect the two jet streams to collide with each other at times, with the more consistent jet stream being the pacific jet, which should supply an abundance of moisture to the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys. The wild card is how the AO/NAO cooperates, as this has a large influence on the movement and position of both jet streams.

                   Image from NEWXAction
The most ideal ENSO setup for middle Tennessee has historically been a weak El Nino, as this allows the subtropical jet stream to collide with the dip in the polar jet over the Ohio and Tennessee River valleys. As lows ride the active southern branch of the jet stream, it interacts with the cold shots coming down from Canada. The combination of polar, continental air from the north with the moist flow supplying above-average precipitation to the southeast, provides a promising setup for wintry conditions in the mid-south. If the jet stream position is compromised as a result of the Bermuda high and sneaks a ridge into the southeast, lows (like the Colorado Low) coming out of the four-corner region can take a I-44 track, leaving Tennessee in the warm sector, preventing any snow or ice to make an impact.

You can see how the storm track is dependent upon jet stream placement. If an omega block pattern can develop and establish itself off the coast of Alaska, this can likely lead to the polar jet bending further south, allowing the eastern two-thirds of the United States to receive more arctic blasts. The area of high heights in the northern Pacific is partially influenced by the region of warmer than normal sea-surface temperatures. When the jet responds to western ridging caused for the sea-surface temperature anomalies, this is known as a +PNA (Pacific-North American Index), which coincides with a colder pattern for the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley and Northeast.

It's interesting to note how the American Ensembles are picking up on an imminent cool down for our part of the county later this month, which could have lasting implications as we approach winter. If this pattern continues into late fall, we may see weak-El Nino conditions last into the first month of winter, which part of the reason I expect a colder December than the past two years for the Ohio and Tennessee River valleys. Although I do not expect moderate El Nino conditions, I still believe we can have a couple weeks of merged jet stream action, which could lead to some interested winter weather for the eastern two-thirds of the nation.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Awkward Rain

Has anyone noticed when awkwardness rains, it pours?

Like that moment when you order a Chicago dog and a drink from Sonic and they happen to throw in an unordered vanilla cone...

But you're not in the mood to bring it up, let alone eat it up...

So you just accept it despite the fact you don't have the room to consume an eight-inch tower of spiraling decadence...

And you're a downtown TDOT employee, which by default, requires a seven-minute walk from parking lot to main entrance...

So you're on the clock to contain what is now a melting eight-inch tower of drooping decadence...

And as you finally make your way into the break room…

A stranger asks you if you're married...

And instead of being predictable, you emphasize the glorious fact by flashing the hand laden with bling, forgetting to utter words as you make the hastened gesture, which in turn, appears to offend the person…

But you don't really know for sure...

So you then decide to say something to the tune of "Why yes! Yes, I am", prompting a half-hearted laugh to soften the burn of inelegance...

And as the stranger exits stage left, wondering what the shrek just happened, you plop what's now a cascading stream of vanilla stew into the freezer...

But you don't want the situation to get you you tell yourself, "I'm going to be so happy right now...I'm going to make people jealous...they wish they had some of this!"…

So you wisp away with a bright smile on route to your office, giving yet another stranger coming off the elevator two very awkward thumbs up, which thoroughly confuses them to the point of a double take...
Like did that really just happen?...

And the waning moments of the workday is spent peeling brown Sonic paper and white napkins off the vanilla cone as if peeling a raw potato…

Maybe this hasn’t happened to you verbatim. But let’s get real: we’ve all been here before. We’ve all tripped on shoelaces, expelled brain farts in public speeches and prompted enough awkward starfishes to populate a large fish tank at the dentist’s office.

Yet, in spite of this fact, isn’t it refreshing to know everyone encounters embarrassment like this? Isn’t it even more refreshing that tomorrow is a new day, and we don’t necessarily have to wait until the clock strokes midnight?

For someone who commits his fair share of blunders on a daily basis, I find supernatural satisfaction knowing wisdom permits me to push the 'refresh' button at any point. Such strategy is not confined to wishful thinking; contrarily, it's a life-sustaining tactic that keeps the enemy at bay and allows God to come in, "reposture the hand" (see picture above) and ultimately realize just how amazing life is with Him...

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” ~ Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning.” ~ Ecclesiastes 11:7 (NLT)

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."~ Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

So regardless of what the world says, we’re not inferior for provoking face palms. We’re not sub-par when the cheeks light up. Sometimes, we’re going get caught in a downpour with no escape route in sight. Sometimes, the bucket is going to spill what it may and there’s absolutely nothing we can do to stop it. But blessed is the man who dances in the rain, who is not intimidated by the storm. For his hope is secure and not easily swayed by inevitable clumsiness or social mishaps.

For today was meant to be faced and embraced, not shaked and baked.

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fully God, Fully Human

Last week, a LEGACY youth asked me if Jesus was 100% man and 100% divine. Without hesitation, I answered: He was most certainly both, for Christ's nature can't be divided (To help drive this point home, I used an illustration of how men and women are 100% human when they are married and become 100% one flesh); however, I couldn't help but wonder if a better analogy existed as I plunged deeper into the question.

After all, the query is one of the most divisive in the 21st century church. And though many would agree in the bottom line - Christ did not forsake his divinity in the incarnation - the route to the conclusion is notably spread out among believers (see graphic below). Yet, despite the denominational divide, there is a foundational truth we can all adhere to: the duality of Christ's nature was accomplished through the laying down of His prerogative, by yielding to the same Holy Spirit we all have the privilege of yielding to on a daily basis. 

Several scriptures, especially in the Gospels, support this truth:

*For example, Jesus claimed, "before Abraham was born, I am" (John 8:58), alluding to Exodus 3:14. He also claimed to be one with the Father (John 10:30-33). He acknowledged that he was the Christ, or Messiah (Mark 14:60-64; compare with Daniel 7:13-14). He also claimed that our eternal destinies hinged on our response to him (Luke 12:8-9).

In addition, Jesus is said to be the eternal word of God incarnate (John 1:1-3, 14). He is called the Creator and head of the church (Colossians 1:15-20). These are just a few of the passages which speak of Christ's deity or divinity.

Other passages speak of his humanity. For example, Jesus was conceived and born of a woman (Matthew 1:18-25). He thus had a human body. He experienced hunger, thirst and fatigue (Matt. 4:2; John 4:6; etc.). He suffered and died (John 19:34). He could be heard, seen and touched (1 John 1:1). He evidenced the emotional and intellectual qualities of a human being (see Matt. 26:37 and Mark 9:21).
It's also interesting to note how Jesus' favorite name was 'Son of Man', and how beautifully this reference illustrates the prophesy of Daniel 7:13-14 and Christ's distinction as being the only being who knew flesh AND omniscience.

**Note: If you read Daniel 7, you'll see that the Son of Man is a very exalted figure: not just a human figure but an exalted figure. 

If you do a study of the term "Son of Man" in the Gospels you'll see that he didn't refer to himself most often as Son of God but as Son of Man. He said things like, in Mark 10:45, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." This is why 'Son of Man' was Jesus' favorite self-designation.
The reason he did so is because, on the face of it, Son of Man is an ordinary phrase for "human being." He was born of a man. And there's no offense there: who isn't a son of man? But those with ears to hear could hear Daniel 7, in which he was claiming a very exalted role in the history of redemption. And he meant to do it.

Although many christologies out there emphasize one aspect of Jesus' nature over the other, what's ultimately important for us to realize is how the Holy Spirit bridges the divide between prerogative and identity. With the Holy Spirit standing in the gap, we can experience the full nature of Christ in accord with the full nature of the Trinity. In other words, we, too, can lay aside our rights and entitlements and feel the empowering freedom of being tempted and resisting. We, too, can learn obedience through suffering. We, too, can take up our cross and encounter the supernatural joy that comes with daily dying to selfish ambitions, just as Jesus did. 

Note how this truth sets up 2 Timothy 1:8-14 (ESV):

"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you."

*From Michael Gleghorn
**From John Piper

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Parable of a Parody - "Ho Hey"

Previously, we looked at Pink’s “Try”, and discussed how trying can only take us so far - how trying should lead to doing because of our being (i.e. 3D Principle meets 3B Principle). But while we may know and believe this fact, often times, it’s the application – the real-life troubleshooting that provides our toughest challenges.

This week, we’re focusing on “Hey Ho” by the Lumineers, and as we listen to the song, note some of the repeated words and themes laced throughout the lyrics.

Upon further review, it’s no secret the Lumineers capitalize on strong emotional conditions, especially the desire to belong and be loved. And as the case with many songs streaming through the airwaves of pop culture, the Lumineers hit this popular tune in pulsating fashion.

Let’s face it: some of us don't know where we belong. We don't know what true relationship looks like. We’ve heard hundreds of sermons on what makes a good person, yet we haven’t learned how to sustain them over the course of a meaningful relationship. Perhaps this is due to the lack of role modeling, a lie we’ve chosen to believe or circumstances bottling us in loneliness. Whatever the case, there are many who are breathing, but are spiritually asleep. And some of us have wound up asleep because we placed our sense of belonging over the fact we already belong.

It’s no surprise we were made to be passionate (“All the blood that I will bleed…”). In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” So we know a passionate God created us with a need to be wholehearted. Yet, God didn’t create passion to stand alone, but rather to be “the meat” between knowing God’s heart AND walking it out.

Without the “meat”, the line between love and passion can become blurred. Why? Because the world is saturated with the tall tale that says: We need love now (“So show me family…”). It inundates us with the idea we’re not complete until we fit in somewhere; however, when we turn to the Word, we find a polar-opposite reality.

Evidence: In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul trumpets the supremacy of love. Note the first attribute he assigns love: “Love is patient…”. Talk about an immediate contradiction to culture!

However, look at how Paul segues into this in v. 1-3: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

So why is Paul’s introduction so important? Because it testifies the truth that we were formed with love in order to love. We are not born into the world as “nothing”, waiting to become “something”. God created us with love, so everyone has an identity rooted in Him. Again, we live how we are, not the other way around.

Yes, the world says you got to blaze your own trail to find love and find it fast (sees second stanza), but what it doesn’t say is we already have love! Thus, it makes no sense to think we have to carve out our own path to what we think we want, when God already has a path for us based on what He wants for us. The fact we’re empowered by God to receive and give love back to Him, allowing us to overflow with love to others, speaks volume on the nature of God.

Application: Since we were made with love to love, it’s no wonder why sexual sin is arguably the biggest problem facing our generation. Unbridled passion to be loved and to give love can lead to big problems when one is living for the self. When we become our own gods, our hope is no longer anchored to anything. For how can hope be anchored to anything when our hope is in ourselves? When we call the shots, we give ourselves permission to lose control. We give ourselves consent to pave our trail, but which only leads to death. Why? Because we take perfect and stick the I’m in front of it (i.e. “IM-perfection).

The world is skilled in painting a deceptively enticing picture of how we feel in the immediate aftermath of giving into what we want. Yet, it completely ignores 99.9% of what we experience once that feeling is gone. It doesn’t care about your future, because it waters down the necessity of wisdom (Prov. 24:14). It doesn’t value your identity, because it claims God does not exist.

The world says, “What plan? What future?” It has no vision, nor can it give us direction.

But the truth is we do have vision; we do have direction. And the more we live, the more God wants us to provide these elements to us. In Jeremiah 17 & 29, we see the value in investing our trust in God, since He has confidence in us to accomplish His vision. So if we align our passion to His vision, we can experience the love we so desperate want the right way.

Power Up: How do you think God feels when He sees us chasing after the wrong thing to find our belonging and community? How do you feel knowing God never stops calling us, never stops seeking us to turn to Him?

God wants us to love, not because He has a love deficit, but because He wants us to experience the gain of being filled by Him to give back to others. God wants you to know that you belong to Him and He belongs to you - He is our heart

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Against the Grain - Why the 2013 Tennessee Titans Will Make the Playoffs

Tennessee Titans 2013 Game-by-Game Breakdown
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1) Improved, revamped roster - Like the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccanners and Cleveland Browns, the Titans carefully executed strategic roster moves that could easily translate into 2-3 extra wins in 2013. Now, I expect the Chiefs to improve by 6 games next season, and finish as the most improved team in the NFL. I actually have the Titans losing to the vastly improved Chiefs when they roll through Music City in early October (more on how the Titan's schedule later on...)

As far as the players go, the arrivals of Levitre, Warmack and Hill will help elevate the Titans' defensive performance in 2013, following a historically astrocious defensive output last season. I believe as chemistry increases throughout the season, the cynergy will inspire better play from veterans such as Casey, Martin, Morgan, McCourty, McCarthy, Brown, Roos and Stewart. Speaking of McCarthy, I'm interested to see how he fares after only playing in 7 games last season. I'm also curious how Ayers and Goodwin will perform in the time they're given to shine.

Offensively, I'm diggin' the new offense weapons, featuring a much more balanced rushing attack, with Shonn Greene complimenting Chris Johnson, and some added weapons for Locker to throw to, such as Justin Hunter and Delanie Walker. Despite the fact there's much to be seen, the one word that comes to mind when previewing the Titans' offensive firepower is balance. And balance, though underrated at times, is a huge ingredient if the Titans hope to defy the odds. As far as the quarterback goes, I don't have a problem betting on Locker to improve on his 2012 campaign; the question continues to be: just how much?

I also wonder if the injury bug will bite as hard this year as last year? And will the uptick in expectation, especially with Munchiak and Locker on the hot seat, motivate the team to be less passive?

2) Unusually high amount of medicore competition - Many teams will be making the jump from poor team to average team in 2013, while some will remain mired in mediocrity from the previous year. I have the Dolphins, Browns, Chiefs, Colts and Steelers finishing either 7-9 or 8-8. The Bills, Jets, Jaguars, Chargers and Raiders will be bad again next year. I'm highly confident that by season's end, the AFC final standings will resemble an amplified bell curve. With respect to strength of scedule, the Titans have a promising chance if one were to base current year outcomes from last year's final standings (more on this in just a moment). If the Titans fail to make the playoffs in 2013, I expect that 6th seed coming out of the AFC North. (See below for my AFC final standing predictions).

3) Scheduling advantages - As mentioned in point #2, the Titans' strength of schedule works to their advantage, with a SOS ranking of 23 out of 30 teams. Need secondary evidence? Take away the Broncos and Texans, and the Titans play teams with a combined win-loss record of 82-108-2 from last year. In other words, if the Titans fail to make the playoffs in 2013, they won't be able to hide behind a difficult schedule. With Pittsburgh and San Diego a shadow of their former selves, I expect the Titans to take advantage and win both games, on route to a 3-3 split through week 6. In past years, the Titans have shot themselves in the foot by playing poorly to start the season (Hello 2006 & 2009). The hardest period for Titans' fans will be the month of October. This will be the month many jump off the Titan bandwagon and wave the white flag on the season; however, I think the primary make-or-break time frame for the Titans will be the month of November, especially November 10-14, when the Titans arrive back at the .500 mark heading into Thanksgiving.

The key will lie in the Titans' resiliency come midseason. Will they bounce back and win games they should or will they let them slip away? Can they surprise the Colts in Indianapolis after establishing some victorious momentum? Can they win a tossup match with the Rams in St. Louis following their bye week? Either way, if the Titans become eliminated from playoff contention, I don't expect this to mathematically occur until December. Knowing the Titans, it will likely come down to the final regular-season game versus the Texans at home. I predict not only for this matchup to be the biggest game for the Titans in five years, but also a Titans upset as the Texans rest the majority of their game-changing players.

Although I expect a sweep from NFC West competition, I’m predicting the Titans to split games with the Texans and Colts and steal both games away from the Jaguars for a 4-2 divisional record. This will be a refreshing  takeaway when the year is all said and done.

Bottom Line: Overall, I think the Titans sneak into the playoffs as a 9-7 wild-card team. While I believe 10-6 is a bit too high, given they play the Texans twice and a superior NFC West division, I don't buy the Titans fielding the league as a 7-9 or 8-8 team. I know many love to pin the Titans' lukewarm nature/capped improvement on Jake Locker. Personally, I'm sick of all the talk surrounding the Titans' season riding on the shoulders of Jake Locker, though it's true in some respects. I just believe the Titans' upgrades will more than counteract the below-average chance of the 2012 Locker making a repeat; however, with that said, I expect notable improvements from Locker as well and the haters owning up to this when the playoffs kick off in January.

2013 Final Standing Predictions:

AFC East: Patriots 11-5, Dolphins 8-8, Bills 6-10, Jets 4-12

AFC North: Bengals 11-5, Ravens 10-6, Steelers 8-8, Browns 7-9

AFC South: Texans 10-6, Titans 9-7, Colts 8-8, Jaguars 2-14

AFC West: Broncos 13-3, Chiefs 8-8, Chargers 6-10, Raiders 3-13

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