Thursday, February 28, 2013


How much do you read?

I've got to confess that I went through a few years where my reading became relatively sparse. It's not because I didn't enjoy it...I've always loved to read. It is the only source of entertainment (novels), information, and growth that I can take at my own pace and let it sink in.

But it did get neglected for a while. I don't know why. Maybe I got too busy. Maybe when I studied for actuarial exams I got in the habit of mostly reading just what I needed to succeed. Maybe I just was watching too much TV. But for whatever reason I got to where I would read 1) what I needed for work, 2) the Bible, and 3) the occasional novel. Very occasional.

I have blogged before about the fact that I have found technology to be a good thing. I know some people think it's the devil, but I think if used right it's a blessing from God. For example, I have friendships that social media have helped me maintain.

And so, about two years ago, my Kindle entered my life.

There is something about always having my books at my fingertips that has revived my reading life. I now always have at least two books going at once. I'm usually reading something for pleasure and something for growth at the same time. I just finished a marvelous book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I would not have found without the Kindle. Right now, I am simultaneously reading the latest Tom Clancy novel, a book on Generation Y, and a commentary on Revelation.

That would never have been the case with traditional books.

I know there's something about having a book in your hand. About turning the pages. I've heard all the arguments and I see their point. But I'm telling you, I have grown more in the last two years than any such period I can remember. There are a lot of reasons - friends, family, my church, seeing God's hand working in Africa - but I think reading more is at or near the top of the list.

And my Kindle is a huge reason.

Thank you, God, for technology. It may be misused, but it is a gift from you. Thank you!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ties that bind

See the picture to the left? What an amazing group of people...some of the best I know. Together, they are a community of people who love each other and are committed to stand together in working on behalf of the oppressed. What is the most remarkable thing about all that? The fact that many of us met each other only two days ago.

That's what it's like with the kingdom of God and his children. This particular group came together this weekend to share plans for reaching out to orphans all over the world and to be trained for the work. Each person in this picture will be part of leading Visiting Orphans teams during the next year. There will be close to 60 teams going out, and that means a ton of responsibility for each leader. I am so grateful for this group, because:
  • It includes the VO staff, who coordinate everything about our trips including schedules, budgets, organizing the teams, and training. Before this weekend many of them were names, voices, and email addresses. Now I've met them all in person, and it already feels like I've known them for years.
  • The rest of them are volunteers, people who have answered God's call to lead teams all over the world obeying James 1:27. I had only met a few of them before Thursday, but again it seemed like we were old friends. There is nothing that brings people together like knowing they are brothers and sisters in God's family and that they are united in their purpose to take the Good News to the nations.
  • Together, we learned so much in such a short amount of time. It's a lot to process, but the time we spent is going to make us all better leaders.
Thanks to the staff for putting together such a great program. And for bringing us together to become one in Christ. I cannot wait for June 29. And I can't wait to hear about what the Father does through my new friends. It's going to be a great 2013!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Random thoughts on a Thursday

It has been an absolutely crazy week, and I am so glad to have a couple of days off work. I am in Nashville for a very important long weekend - the team leaders for Visiting Orphans trips are gathering for training, prayer, and building community. I know it's going to be informative, stretching, uplifting, and yes, fun. I'm looking forward to getting to know some of my co-workers in for the Kingdom. But right now, I think I'm mostly looking forward to some time away from my the office.

So, as I come up for air for the first time in a few days, here are the first few things that run through my mind:

  • Paul is right: God's power is made perfect in weakness. The things that have made this week so stressful would probably bore you, but I have been feeling enormous pressure. A few friends and family have been praying for me (if you read this, THANK YOU!) and I have felt it. It seems that the harder things are, the more I notice the Father standing with me and giving me strength. I am grateful. It may sound weird, but at times I even get a rush when things are hard because I feel his presence so strongly in it.
  • Time with friends and family recharge my batteries so much. There is no doubt that God created us for community. In the midst of a tough week, I literally have spent every evening starting Sunday with people who care about me, and it made such a difference. I love every single one of them.
  • I am so ready to get this VO retreat (or, as they're calling it, "advance") started. Focusing on the fact that I will be headed back to Africa in 127 days reminds me of what I'm about.
  • Finally, and this is really random, I am such a Southerner. How much of one? I was using Siri the other day to send a text message, and the iPhone turned the word "wise" into "walleyes." That's right...the fish. How many syllables do I need to say simple words? I guess some of my new friends this weekend will get a chuckle out of that.
Well, that's about it. Hope you all have a great weekend...I know I will!

Friday, February 15, 2013

The what end?

I've been doing a lot of reading lately. I think having a Kindle is a big reason for that...I don't know. That theory will be the subject of another blog post. But regardless, it's definitely true. It seems I can't get enough. I usually have one work of fiction and one non-fiction going at once, just so I can jump back and forth.

Anyway, in reading so much, I have come across a truth has been off my radar for most of my life. One that I'm sure I knew but I just didn't think of it this way. And because I just seem to have nothing better to do on a Friday night than write, you get to read about it. Lucky you.

Ready? Here you go:

God did not save me to make me happy.

Kind of obvious...and kind of radical. But the more I look at Scripture the more I see its truth. The whole goal of God pursuing me to have a relationship with him was not - gasp! - to make me feel happy and safe about my life.

Why then? For his glory. To show the richness of his mercy, grace, wisdom, power, and love. To make much of him, not of me. Said another way, in the words of N.T. Wright (Surprised by Hope, p. 184) so that I would "worship the creator God and discover thereby what it means to become fully and gloriously human, reflecting his powerful, healing, transformative love into the world."

You see, it really is not about me. Even my salvation. And that last part is what I didn't get.

This is radical stuff to me. In many ways, but two are huge:

First, it means that eternal "fire insurance" is not a good motivation to be saved. If that's what I'm looking for, then I've made it about me. The prospect of heaven isn't either - again, that's about me and my enjoyment. The question before me when I decide whether to follow Jesus shouldn't be, "Will I walk streets of gold or will I burn forever?" because that makes it a selfish decision. The question is whether I will be part of God's wondrous plan to bring glory to himself and rescue his creation from evil, or will I be part of the problem? Oh, the eternal rewards (and consequences) are question. But when we make the decision about that, I see now that we dim our view of God's glory, substituting our own.

Second, and most importantly to me, it gives my life purpose. If I've been rescued from my sin just to go to heaven (so that I can be happy forever), bring it on NOW. Why stick around? But that's not the reason. God has saved me to reflect him and be part of his plan for his creation. So from the moment I begin to follow Jesus, my mission begins. I am part of his divine reign and have a role to play. So instead of waiting for "the sweet by and by," I need to be getting about his business. I've got work to do: to love the unloveable (including my enemies), free the oppressed, take care of the helpless, and proclaim the good news that there's a new Sheriff in town.

Listen as Stephen Curtis Chapman sings about it:

Do you see how transforming this is? It makes our faith about changing this world and reclaiming it for its rightful owner. Not about just sort of putting up with this world because one day we'll get to leave it. No! We are saved to be agents of the King.

Let's get to it!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty: Purpose

What do you live for? Do you think you have a purpose, or are you here to just function - work a job, crank our kids, play golf...and die?

(Note: To the extent that real life events can be "spoiled", this post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

Saturday night I saw the Oscar-nominated film Zero Dark Thirty. It was different from what I expected, but that probably just means I didn't do my research. As you probably know, it is a portrayal of the finding and execution of terrorist Osama bin Ladin. I expected it to center on the raid itself, and to tell the truth I was wondering how that could hold my attention for over two hours. But that was just the last half hour or so. What the movie was really about was the CIA effort to find him, verify his location, and then set up the plan to go after him.

And it centered around a young CIA analyst (Maya, played by Jessica Chastain) who made that her life's purpose. While the true identity of the young lady may never be known (and is likely a character based on merging the work of several agents), her character is what made the movie work. She was recruited straight out of high school, and began working immediately on the search for bin Laden. That is all she ever did, and it truly became her life's purpose. It was an obsession, and it colored everything she did.

There was a very telling scene toward the end of the movie where the CIA director joined her for lunch in a cafeteria. Needless to say, she was nervous. He asked her about her career, and she made it clear that this search was it. All of it. Well, the CIA ends up believing that she is right about bin Laden's location, conduct the raid, and the rest is history.

But it was the final scene that grabbed me - that made me think about the opening question of this post. Maya is boarding a huge cargo plane, presumably to go home from Afghanistan and she is the only passenger. A crew member (or the pilot?) tells her she is the only passenger, and that she must be very important. Her mission is accomplished, the evil terrorist is dead, and she sits. As she does, the emotion pouring out of her is so intense. As we read a thousand different emotions in her expression, a tear rolls down her face. Cut to black.

What was she feeling? Relief? Yeah, probably. but I was reading emptiness too. The emptiness of having dedicated your life to a single thing, and then that thing is over. Her face was practically shouting, WHAT'S NEXT?

What indeed?

We were created for a reason. I believe we were created to bring glory to the one who created us. For each one of us, the manifestation of that will be different. It will certainly involve worship ("love the Lord your God with all your heart") and relationships ("love your neighbor as yourself"). But it will also involve putting the talents God gave us to use in a way that glorifies him. I believe, for example, that part of my purpose is to be the best actuary I can be.

But I don't believe God wants us to be like Maya. If I ever reach a point where I'm thinking, "Is this all there is?" the answer is an emphatic NO! I have a purpose and it involves a full lifetime. You do too. It's my prayer that we will all plug into the One who made us to find what that is, and live it to the fullest.

What were you made for?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

200 years

A few days ago in staff meeting at work, someone shared the most amazing video with us. It was amazing because 1) it was a wonderfully clear way to share some very complicated statistical data, and 2) it showed how the wealth and health of the world has changed over time.

Here it is.  You may want to watch it more than once to fully appreciate it. I know I did.

A few things stood out to me as I watched the data move:
  • The industrial revolution brought unprecedented opportunity to be healthy and have more resources. When Jesus talked about the wealthy, it was likely a select few. Today - especially compared to then - it is whole countries. Countries where the poor are still way better off than the average person in Third World countries. And way better off than almost anyone was 200 years ago.
  • The technological revolution has created unprecedented opportunity for those of us who have been blessed to share the blessing. And - despite the greed of so many - it has happened! Since the advent of modern communication tools (telephone, radio, TV, computers, internet) and travel methods (planes, trains, and automobiles), the poorer countries have made progress you never would have expected. Especially in health, less so in wealth.
  • But it's still not enough. While the countries to the bottom left are way better off than they were just a few years ago, they are still lagging far behind.
  • I wish I were as optimistic as the guy in the video. But the world is not just going to just naturally converge to the healthy-wealthy corner. 
No, it won't just happen on its own. But I am encouraged. I am encouraged by what I see in the church. You see, it is our responsibility to take care of the oppressed. Jesus proclaimed that as his mission when he started out (Luke 4:16-21), and commanded his followers to care for "the least of these" (Matthew 25:31-46). All through the Scriptures, it tells us to care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed. We can't sit around waiting for governments to do it. It's our job.

And I think it's happening. There is a generation rising that I believe is serious about following Jesus, about executing the reign of the kingdom of God. I can't tell you how many people I know now - especially young people - who are spending time visiting the parts of the world that lag. And not just visiting - finding ways not just to tell them the good news that Jesus loves them, but also to show it by meeting their needs, starting with the most basic physical necessities. Feeding them, clothing them, treating their diseases...and teaching them how to do these things for themselves.

Uganda. Kenya. China. Ethiopia. Rwanda. Ukraine. Waves and waves of Christ-followers spreading the kingdom by going, being, and loving. Advocating the end of slavery at at every turn. Being the hands and feet of the Messiah throughout the world.

Make no mistake, it will all be made right when the King returns. But until then, it's in our hands. We have such marvelous tools. I pray that I will listen when God calls me to do my part. And that he will send waves of workers into the field. Like you maybe.

What an amazing picture this video paints. You can see God working through history as the data points move. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013



It's a word that has become lost on our world. In s many ways, we don't know what it means. We hesitate to make commitments. When we do, we don't keep them.

Take for example that great holiday which comes the first Wednesday in February - National Signing Day. Tomorrow thousands of young people around the country will sign letters on intent, and thus college football teams will fill their rosters.

But leading up to that, these kids have been making verbal commitments.

Now it's one thing to change your mind; that can happen to anyone. Although I would argue that if there's even a chance of that, you should not announce a "commitment" - because it isn't one yet. But what gets me is when we hear quotes like, "I'm still 100% committed to Mississippi State, but I'll decide whether I'll stick to after my visit to Tennessee this weekend."

Huh? Huh?

What does the word mean? It reminds me of this classic scene from Seinfeld:

Take that entire conversation and substitute in the word commitment. Voila! The world of college football recruiting.

But it's not just these kids. It's so easy to point our fingers. But truth be told, all of us break our word from time to time. We rationalize it. We think we have good reasons. But when it comes down to it, we just mess up.

That's why Jesus said, while discussing oaths and promises, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No, 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."

Imagine a world where you could count on everyone's word. What a marvelous thing that would be!

Now...back to the world of recruiting. Here's hoping that recruit with the tattoo keeps his word (you know who I mean). At least his latest one.

Monday, February 4, 2013


You've heard of the butterfly effect? If not from science, maybe from the movie by the same name?

I so believe it's true, but not in as a manifestation of the universe's randomness, but as a picture of how connected we are and how God moves.

This weekend I attended the service for my friend Jeff's mother. Jeff spoke at the service, and it was very moving. Something I never could have done, by the way. After his tribute and the message by the pastor, I got to thinking about this:

If a young girl had never asked a boy to a Sadie Hawkins dance in 1954, Jeff's parents would never have gotten married.

If they hadn't gotten married, Jeff would not have been born.

If Jeff had not been born, I would not have had his encouragement at key points in my life.

And without that, I don't know what my career would be or maybe where I would even be living.

I certainly would not have flown to Kentucky this weekend, which reminds me of a story that will be the subject of another blog post.

So...Jeff's mom made a decision almost 60 years ago that was part of God' purpose for my life. Wow.

I am so thankful for the life of Jeannine Magner, even though I never spent much time with her. She raised a wonderful family, and a son who has made a difference in my life and so many others. I pray for wisdom so that the decisions I make will create ripples of God's grace in lives I don't even know about - like those of Jeannine Magner.