Contrast

I’ve been thinking for a while now about contrasts: the way things that appear similar but are strikingly different and do very different things. That may be a strange thing to be thinking about, but I have my reasons. For one thing, I roast coffee. The art and science of roasting coffee fascinate me because there is such contrast between coffee beans. While coffeecoffee beans appear similar they roast differently. While a bean from Bali does amazing things at 400 degrees, other beans will burn at 400. Another contrast that has been on my mind is rooted in my experience as a pastor. This contrast involves the way we imagine church.

I have been in ministry since 1992, which is not a long time but long enough. However, I have always struggled with the balance between “disturbing the comfortable and then comforting the disturbed,” as John Stott wrote. Frankly, it seems like all the comforting that pastoral work requires has left very little time for leading the discomforted out of their comfort zones and into the mission of the kingdom. In other words, I’ve spent way more time in committee meetings focused on the business of the church than on the mission of the kingdom (inside rather than outside). I was in one of those internal meetings a few years ago when I realized how lop-sided that is and the utter necessity there is to change it.

A young woman in our church met with me to talk about her concerns regarding her neighbors. They were refugees who had been settled in a few different houses within our community, and specifically her neighborhood. As she got to know them she realized that despite our government’s best efforts there were a lot of things that her neighbors did not know how to navigate very well. For instance, most of them had very little understanding of banking and currency. Because of the variety and abundance of food, many of them were overwhelmed when they went to the grocery store. One woman had no idea how to use a washing machine; she continued to wash clothes by hand in the bathtub. So, this young woman had come to see me to ask what her church could do.

I felt like it was a great opportunity to share the love of Christ and to live out the love of neighbor. I set up a meeting with the person who coordinated our women’s ministry and asked her what we ought to do. The coordinator had a heart for the Gospel and for the needs of women. However, she surprised me with her response. She said that the mission of the church is to worship and teach, “then you let people just go and do.” I remember saying, “that can’t be right.” But, when I met with a few elders from our church I quickly realized that was exactly how they thought of things. A pastor’s job goes hand in glove with the role of the church. We are hired to lead in worship and to teach. That’s what we do every week. When I started thinking about it, I realized how true it is for a lot of churches. Very often a church’s identity is rooted in worship and teaching (discipleship programs).

It is hard to deny the place that worship and teaching have played in regards to significance and identity in church history. After all, worship and teaching are key to the Christian community. What I am suggesting, however, is that worship and teaching are the primary identifying aspect of most churches, at least in the US. That may not be so good and in fact, it may be part of the problem. What happens on Sunday morning and perhaps Wednesday evening drives the church engine, so to speak. Worship and teaching are the mission. Getting people engaged in the life of the church means getting them into worship or a small group. But that endeavor has little to no impact beyond the church.

Churches that focus largely on worship and teaching are what I call worship communities. Of course, that is not to say that worship communities only care about worship but they often restrict the definition of worship to what happens on Sunday morning (per se). A simple list of programs offered by worshipping communities provides ample evidence that churches care about things beyond their doors: mission budgets (conferences, trips), schools, VBS, Celebrate Recovery, Divorce Care, Meals on Wheels, food pantries, tutoring, ESL, etc. Nevertheless, it is difficult to suggest that those programs are the primary focus of any church. In fact, a lot of those programs are done with the hope that it will somehow lead to more people coming to worship or being part of a small group where they will encounter Christ. Thus, the community is usually built around worship and teaching.

Most, if not all, of the churches that I’ve been associated with were worship communities. A real giveaway to that was the way assets were used. The amount of time, money, staff, and effort spent on being outward facing paled in comparison to what was spent on worship and teaching. In one church that projected their worship service on the wall, they spent more on printing the order of worship than on youth ministry. When that fact was brought to the leadership’s attention it was quickly tabled for a future discussion, which to my knowledge has never taken place. Beyond that, worshipping communities can lose their focus and become insular.

It generally happens when a church allows worship and teaching to take center stage of everything they are doing – sometimes at the expense of the very neighborhood where they are located. For instance, a large church in a mid-western city had a parking issue. Parking in a city is always at a premium. Congregants often parked in front of the houses in the neighborhood behind the church, which frustrated the church’s neighbors. Their complaint was well grounded; congregants sometimes blocked a driveway or worse took parking place in front of houses on Sunday and Wednesday (weddings and funerals, too). The church tried to work things out by raking leaves and baking cookies; they tried to have conversations with their neighbors. What they didn’t do was no longer park in the neighborhood. Some within the congregation felt that they had a right to park there since it was a city street and they were there for to go to worship.

To help settle things, the city offered a parking lot down the street from the church, but the congregants felt the half block was too far to walk. The neighborhood went the legal route. The church responded by secretly buying up houses in the neighborhood through a dummy corporation set up by a few of the elders; they planned to tear down the houses and build a parking deck on the edge of the neighborhood – despite the protests of the neighborhood. Eventually, the neighborhood appealed to the city council. The city council sided, rightly, with the neighborhood. The Sunday following the decision the senior pastor comforted the congregation, “While the city council has impacted our parking they will not impact our freedom to worship.” He was right, of course. However, while the church had preserved their worship community they had done so at the cost of a relationship with nearly everyone who lived in the neighborhood and with a lot of people in the city. Not that it mattered, most of the people in the neighborhood didn’t attend the church.

While some churches can afford to burn relational bridges, most churches cannot. And yet, a lot of churches are just as insular in their own way; they work hard to maintain the integrity of their worship community because that is what has been communicated. An all too familiar story involves churches in demographically changing neighborhoods. The church, however, eager to maintain its worship community does not change. It isn’t out of stubbornness. Often attempts are made to engage with the neighborhood. However, those attempts are often done with an invitation to be part of what the church is already doing. In other words, the church wants people in the neighborhood to join their thing. While the church may be warm and welcoming they often don’t make an effort to accommodate the cultural differences. Inadvertently the church sends a clear message and simply wants people to step into what is already happening. To borrow slightly from C.S. Lewis’s Last Battle, the church is for the church.

Too often in those cases, the church comes to a place where they must close its doors. Through death and attrition, they simply do not have the people to maintain their worship community any longer. The real tragedy may not be that the church closed but rather that no one noticed. What a terrible epitaph. A church closes and no one notices. It was so focused on being a worship community that no one in the neighborhood is even aware that it no longer exists.

For a lot of churches, the idea of being in community with one another is so important that it overlooks the way it interacts with even its closest neighbors. Community, however, is Biblical but maybe it ought to focus on something beyond itself to be healthy. Hebrews 10:24 tells us that we are not to forsake gathering together. The assumption that is often made from that text, however, is that it means gathering together with worship and teaching as the focus. I’m not sure why worshipping communities expect more people to be involved in mission when the clear (if not subliminal) message is that the church focuses on “worship and teaching.” When 20% of the folks do 80% of the church’s work and that 80% is focused on maintaining the community for the sake of the church, well, it might be more of a worshipping community than what I call a mission community.

For the most part, there isn’t anything wrong with being a worship community. However, some people in worshipping communities feel like they need to apologize for not being more engaged in mission. They see a need in the community and they want their church to step in and do something; sometimes that happens. Generally, however, when something happens it is either for the short-term (think responding to natural disasters) or it takes a dozen or so committee meetings before anything is ever done. Worship communities can be frustrating for people who want to see the church on mission. What they are asking is that the church become a mission community.

Mission communities are generally more focused and driven by the needs of the community around them as opposed to international mission work (of course they care about that but they are hyper-focused on their community). While a mission community resembles a worship community in the sense that they worship together and are concerned about discipleship, the major contrast is what drives the congregation. For instance, a mission community takes Jeremiah 29:7 as its core identity and works for the welfare (shalom) of their community. Of course, the greatest need that people have is a relationship with Christ. A mission community goes about the work of sharing the gospel by working for the good of its neighbors out of the love of Christ. Sharing the gospel is by proclamation as well as by acts of service.

A mission community is on the lookout for the broken places within its community and takes it as their responsibility to bring the hope of the gospel to bear. It works for the restoration and renewal of its community. Rather than being insular, a mission community is constantly orientating itself toward the welfare, the shalom, of its neighbors.
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Worship communities could say the same, except for the fact that a mission community doesn’t try to start its own thing. For instance, a lot of churches will start their own food pantry rather than work with one that exists in other churches or one that the city has put together. Sectarianism does a great deal of harm to the mission of the kingdom and shows a real lack of spiritual imagination. A mission community, however, often looks for ways they can engage in what is already happening in the community and figures out ways to get involved with the work that is already being done. That allows those who are engaged in the mission community to build relationships and work for good. Mission communities start their own work when there is a gap that needs to be filled.

In one community, the school system has been working diligently to increase literacy among its elementary students. One mission community approached the school system with an offer to provide volunteers needed to launch the program. In the process, they began asking others, outside of the mission community (and not involved in worship communities), to participate in helping kids. In other words, they invited people to participate in the mission. They didn’t expect those folks to participate in worship and discipleship before they could work for the good of their community. The hope was that they would be able to build relationships with people beyond their church walls. A mission community invites people to see the gospel at work in the lives of its people and on display in the community.

There are not many churches that are mission communities. The reason for this is quite simple. It is tough to change the DNA of an established worshipping community. It requires change and most churches, like people, would rather face “ruin than change” (WH Auden). Not only that, but change often leads to conflict and most pastors and church people are conflict avoidant. Additionally, pastors may not have the leadership skill needed to navigate change or conflict. Nevertheless, it is my belief that if worship communities do not start becoming mission communities they will become obsolete and insignificant in their communities. There may be more churches closing soon if they do not move toward the needs of their communities.

That goes for church plants as well. Very often church plants start off with the idea of being missional, focused on the welfare of their community. Over time, however, they begin to take on the shape of a worshipping community – complete with all the specialized ministries that go with the territory. Every so slowly, their focus shifts from being outward facing to being attentive to “comforting the disturbed” to the point they have little time to shepherd folks to think of others as more important than themselves. Eventually, the pastor finds himself enmeshed within inner-church issues, and the budget reflects they have settled neatly into the rhythms of a worshipping community where 20% do 80% of the work. Ten years into a church plant and many of them are no different than any other worshipping community.

It is difficult to maintain a mission community because it is so different, but it is exactly what the church needs and exactly what communities need. Though they may look the same, though they may both be called a church, there is a striking contrast between a worshipping community and a mission community. The former can easily become insular and concerned with its own interests. The later, while not perfect, as least has the needs of the others as its highest end, which after all is closely connected to the way Jesus fleshed things out.

The essay was first published by Tactical Faith where I serve as a Pastoral Fellow (https://www.tacticalfaith.com/pastor-fellows-2/).

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The Beauty of Waiting in Line

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I generally run right on time, which leaves little to no room for error and no time for slow drivers or waiting in line. What it does leave time for are life lessons – whether I want them or not.

For instance, a few days ago I was in a hurry to get from one thing to the next – which included a stop at the grocery store. I loathe shopping of any sort – except for books – and grocery shopping is the worst. I wanted and needed to get in and out of the store quickly. I zipped my buggy through the produce department – aptly grabbing the bit of fruit and veg we needed to at least appear health conscious. I took the turn down the cereal aisle, deftly avoiding a dreaded delay created by two weary moms who stopped to chat – mid aisle. My buggy driving ability was nothing short of inspiring – almost NASCAR worthy.

Within thirty minutes, I managed to get everything we needed to survive (including a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup). Then, I made my way to the front of the store. I made a quick study of the lines, found the shortest one, and began my wait – and wait I did.

I started to get impatient (yet another character flaw). Lines I had passed over moved, while mine crawled. Even one of the moms from the cereal aisle checked out faster than me (I swear I think she sneered at me). I strained to look down the line to see what the delay was. I started to gruffly move to another line. Then I discovered the reason; a forty-ish woman with special needs stood to the left of the cashier and bagged groceries.

My need for speed shifted into shame and gratitude. The grocery store where we often shop employs a number of people with special needs. I had forgotten that. I felt like a real jerk. I decided to stay in my line.grocery store

I was forced to slow down – to wait –as this woman meticulously bagged groceries – just as she had been trained. She did a great job. Eventually, after she carefully bagged my groceries, she thanked me for shopping and wished me a good day.

My grocer is doing something profoundly beautiful and redemptive by offering real work – important work – to a number of people in my community who have tremendous gifts to offer. I don’t know their motives (I’m sure there is an economic reason). What I do know is that I got to witness someone putting their best effort in simply putting my groceries in a bag.

Now, if I can just get these folks around here to drive a bit faster…

Steps to Perfect Kids

parenting-classes-300X300I came across another article the other day that promised steps to the perfect party for kids. That was on the heels of flipping through a magazine, which highlighted the perfect bedroom for a kid, and an article on the perfect kid friendly vacation spots. There was even an ad for school, which offered the perfect environment for a child’s education. I immediately felt a rise in my anxiety levels because, given the nature of our lives, I can’t possibly provide perfection.

Parents, if you don’t already know it, are some of the most fearful, anxious people on anxietythe planet. We spend tons of resources (time, money, etc.,) on trying to assure that our children have all they can ever need so that they have the perfect childhood – which will in turn lead to a perfect life. Books and articles that promise pathways to perfection get bounced around social media like celebrity gossip.

At one point I had over fifteen parenting books on my bookshelf most from a Christian perspective. Many of them promised to deliver a parenting strategy that would lead to great, well-adjusted kids. The trouble was that they were all different in their approaches – some even contradictory to the other.

Parenting5tipsIt was confusing and overwhelming and at times alarming. I am smart enough to realize that there is little chance that I can perfectly put any of these “tips” into practice. However, these articles and books come with an implicit warning. Failure, on my part, according to the purveyors and peddlers of parenting advice, is certain to cause my kids to plummet into nothingness. What pressure!

On the one hand, I know parents who are so resigned that they are “messing their kids up” that they jokingly say they aren’t saving for their kid’s education but rather for their therapy bill. On the other hand, a dad actually said to me, “Mark if you do these five Biblical things you will have great kids – I can guarantee it. If you don’t, well I’ll pray for you and your kids.” While on opposite ends of the spectrum both parents have something in common – they are both anxious about parental perfection.

For the last twenty years I have worked with parents and students in one capacity or another. I have yet to meet the perfect parent with the perfect parenting strategy and the resulting perfect kids. And yet somehow I fell into the quagmire of attempting parental perfection when my sons came along. I found myself rummaging through books and articles, trying to find some morsel that would help me as a dad. I actually tried to make things perfect and I failed, miserably. It is nearly impossible to rise above the pressure from our culture’s pursuit of parenting perfectionism.

I learned something, in the midst of my anxious rush to find the pathway to perfection; I don’t want perfect kids – or even perfect parties. I want kids of character. Character comes from the ways we handle imperfection in ourselves and in others. The world isn’t a perfect place. Parental anxiety comes from trying to create perfection in a world that is full of flaws and broken-ness.

I don’t want perfect kids – or even perfect parties. I want kids of character. Character comes from the ways we handle imperfection in ourselves and in others.

Because we are prone to messing up we need to be patient with others and ourselves. Sure, we want to become better people but a better person doesn’t mean perfect. Better may mean being self-aware enough to know and admit my faults, failures and quirks so that I can overlook/forgive others their faults, failures and quirks. Perhaps that is the thing we can give our kids to shape their character.

There is a passage in the Bible that, while talking to people in Christian community, says a lot about seeing others and ourselves as we are and doing something about it. Parenting is about shaping the character of our children and that comes from interacting with our mess and the mess of other people. This text from the Bible speaks to that. It is in a letter from a man named Paul to people he loved. He wanted them to know the blessing of living in community, so he wrote that they ought to put on,

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compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15, ESV) 

Our kids live in a world where they are going to have to bear with other people – because people are going to have to bear with them. Parents need to break away from the lie of perfectionism and embrace reality. We do not live in a perfect world with perfect people. Our kids are not perfect. They like all of us have stuff in their hearts that they need to be aware of. We live in a real world where people and circumstances are not always fun, nice and easy. Character comes when as we navigate through the tough things both in our hearts and in our world. It starts with parents being real about their stuff – and allowing their children to witness the way they go through things – faults and all. It brings relief from the lie of perfectionism as parents allow their kids to see them growing in character, too.

Telling my kids I love them is something I try to do all the time. The truth is sometimes my “I love you” is overshadowed by the fact that I wasn’t paying attention to what they were saying. Or worse, as I drive them to school, blasting them for something they did or did not do. Then saying, “Love you” as they get out of the car – as if saying I love you will cover a multitude of sins.

It is clear in those moments to my kids and to me that I am not perfect. I need to own that and preëmpt the conversation and say, “I’m sorry. I blew it with you. Will you forgive me for that? I’ll try to do a better job next time” and then really work on doing better. After all, parenting is all about shaping the character of our kids but how can I give shape to their character if I’m not working on mine – in front of them.

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Trying to achieve perfection in parenting is bound to create anxiety – especially since we are not perfect people and do not live in a perfect world. It is far better to help our children learn the ways of character by helping them to deal with the good parts and the not so good parts of life. We are all a work in progress and the progress is life-long and not merely through childhood and adolescents. Perhaps we can let our children know that they are not the only ones growing up and getting better – their parents are, too.

Being and Calling

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This week all three of my sons, separate from one another, have told me what they want to do with their lives. Our oldest announced that he’d like to be a director – and make great movies. Our twelve-year-old said he wants to be a doctor – a surgeon perhaps. Our youngest said, “Would you let me be one of those guys who stands on a stage and tells jokes. I think I’d like to do that.”

What’s amazing to me about these conversations is how clearly I could see each one of my sons doing those jobs. Those callings fit them. In a way it is who they are. Yes, I know, I’ve heard it too, “we are not defined by what we do – we are more than our vocations.” I’m not so sure about that. I’m not so sure that there isn’t a very close connection to being and calling. I could be wrong but…

Knowing my sons the way I do, I believe there are vocations they are better suited for than others. I also believe that not helping them to understand who they are, how they are hard-wired, and telling them they can do anything is not all that helpful to them in the long run.

In fact, the Psalmist wrote, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! (Psalm 127:4-5 ESV).” Imagine this warrior, he knows his arrows well. He knows the warp and woof of each one. He knows how the arrow will be impacted by wind and perhaps rain. He knows the arrows well enough to know how to help it hit the target. Oh, and the target is defined.

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In other words, know your child. Study them. Understand how God made them and help them to see how God made them. Give them a vision for the target that God has laid out for them and help them to move toward it.  Telling our arrows they can fly in a lot of different directions, any direction they want, and expecting them to hit a target is perhaps an exercise in futility.

I believe that who my sons are (being), how God has put them together, gives shape to their vocation (calling). How God made them will give shape to how God intends to use them, His target so to speak. I think that shaping continues their entire lives. However, when I fail to take into account how God put them together and fail to give them a vision for God’s target for their lives, I am setting them up for frustration.

I know a number of parents who want to make sure that they give their child every opportunity and experiences. It is as if the opportunities and experiences will somehow give shape to their children – and it does – but not always in the way that we had hoped. In other words, we send kids to science camps, sports camps, literary camp, (to see if they are going to be a scientist, athlete, or writer or all three). Sometimes it is just for fun but most of the time it is because we believe they can do anything they want to or put their minds to and we just need to give them opportunity and experience to figure it out.

Fortunately, kids sometimes know themselves better than parents do (and it may be frustrating to them to hear us say ‘you are awesome and can do anything you want’ they know that isn’t true for them – it wasn’t true when our parents said it either). What’s more is that some parents have forgotten opportunity and experience are not all that makes a person a person. We work extra hard to give those opportunities and experiences for our kids in hope. All we have to do, really, is spend the time to get to know who they are – really. How they are hard-wired plays a part. In other words, being and calling go hand in hand.

14710915-film-industry-directors-chair-with-film-strip-and-movie-clappersurgeons-at-workWho knows if one day Sherry and I will one day watch a major motion picture that our son directed, or ask our son for medical advice, or laugh in a crowd at the jokes of our youngest (I’ve given him a lot of material to work with). But, at least at this point, I can see that what they say they want to do is consistent with who they are.

Somehow in the midst of all the mistakes and messes I make of being a dad, God is still directing the being and calling of our sons. My prayer is that I don’t muddle things up too much and I am able to help point these young men toward THE target for their lives. Of course, THE target is that they advance God’s purposes in the world (as agents of shalom) for God’s glory. My job as dad is to help them understand who they are and to give them a vision for THE target so that no matter the specific calling they are finding their purposes wrapped up in God’s. I believe that is how these young men will flourish and those around them will flourish as well.

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Making Changes: Resolved To Be Unresolved

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It is New Years Eve. I suppose I should have a list of resolutions. I don’t and I don’t plan on having any. The truth is I don’t feel like lying to myself or anyone else. Unless something happens in the next few hours I’ll probably be the same guy tomorrow that I am now. What I mean is that I’m bringing the same guy into this year that I had with me all of last year – and he hasn’t changed all that much. Sure, I’ve gotten older and I did learn some things in 2012. In fact in resolving to be unresolved I’m actually putting into practice something I learned last year about change.
Change happens because our hearts change – and with the heart our attitudes – and with our attitudes our lives. So – why lie and say I’m resolved to lose weight by going and doing things I hate and making myself miserable. Sure, I’ll do that for a while but it isn’t going to be long before I find a way to opt out of that program. I’ll endure it but my heart and attitude will not change and thus my life will not change either. Resolutions always end up that way for me.
Which means the weight I intended to lose last year will still be hanging around – even if I change my diet for while and start a rigorous exercise plan. If I’m eating food I hate and enduring exercising at the gym you can bet before long I’ll be making excuses (lying to me) to get out of going. So – why start the year off with a lie?
Nope – I’m into telling the truth – especially to me. So I’m resolved to be unresolved especially as it relates to change. I’ve done a bunch of research over the last few years on the subject of change. Real change happens when people wake up to something big – something pushes them (conflict, tension, pain, truth) to do the hard work that is necessary to really, really change. Frankly, looking good in a bathing suit is not a real motivator for me to do the hard work to lose a lot of weight.
But my family is. While I am resolved to be unresolved about making New Years Resolutions I am resolved to loving my family. In fact I’ve very willing to do the hard work for them that is necessary to be around for a while – and healthy while I’m here.
Resolutions don’t do much for me – except make me lie to myself and others about how I’m planning to change. But start talking to me about what I love and I’ll probably be willing to do whatever it takes to get “the job done.”
That’s what happened to me earlier this month. Since moving to St. Louis back in July I’ve gotten to know a hand-full of folks. I’m learning that people here are pretty good folks. Well – one man is becoming what I call a good friend. Friendship is not a word I throw around lightly. A friend to me is a person who lives out of the law of love – which means they are willing to risk offending you to tell you the truth about YOU.
This man – who is older than I am by nearly 35 years – took me out for coffee. As we sat together he asked me to consider where I would be in 35 years regarding my health. He talked to me about my family – my wife and sons – and then suggested that I start taking better care of myself now. He asked about my dad (who died at 51 from a heart attack) and encouraged me to think about how that affected me and how I thought it would impact my kids. He also talked about the fact that if I started doing what it takes now – by the time I hit his age – well – I’d be a lot healthier, able to do more with my family.
My friend hit me in the right spot – the heart. He didn’t talk about death and dying, he talked to me out of the law of love – and what I love.
So – since that conversation I’ve been exercising every day. I’m eating way healthier.

I’m trying harder to do a little self-care. Not for me – but for those I love. I don’t need a resolution for that. My attitude has changed and I’m willing to do things I hate because of those I love.

Change or Die - Fast Company
The author goes on to point out that giving people the facts or even talking to them about crisis (heart disease is a serious crisis) isn’t enough to get most folks to change. Yes it will for the short-term perhaps but not the long-term – where it is real change. Human beings resist change – even when we know it will help us. But when we are not only hit with facts but with “feelings” as well – then real change can occur. Alan Deutschman, the article’s author, quotes John Kotter insight, “Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people’s feelings…In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thoughts.”
Well – there you have it. I am resolved to be unresolved about making any sort of New Years resolutions. I don’t feel guilty about that at all because I am resolved to make real change because I love my family and – while I’m around I don’t want to be round.
Happy New Year!
Oh – one more little treat – here is a great poem by Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry PIc
The Future

For God’s sake, be done
with this jabber of “a better world.”
What blasphemy! No “futuristic”
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.
~ Wendell Berry ~
(Given)

 

Oh God – Please Help Me – I Have a Terrible Case of the Adolescents

C.S. Lewis was a man of letters.  Not only did he write books and articles – he wrote letters, lots of them. Lewis was also a man of prayer. He not only cultivated his own prayer life but he encouraged others to do the same. In 1951 he wrote a letter to an American man for whom he had prayed. The man, a veteran of WW II, had come to faith in Christ – which was THE answer to Lewis’ prayer. Not long after that Lewis wrote him a letter, urging him “to be ‘busy learning to pray.’”

I came across that account from Lewis’ life in a book by Lyle Dorsett (one of my profs from Beeson Divinity School). It has stayed with me since. I’ve often turned that phrase over in my mind  – recognizing the simple wisdom in that advice.

At the same time, though I have busied myself in trying to learn to pray, to be honest, I haven’t felt the urgency that is often needed to become a full-fledged man of prayer. In other words, though I have prayed earnestly, with frequency (daily), with faith, hope, assurance and a times out of desperation, I can’t say that my first instinct always is to pray. That is until recently.

It happened rather suddenly. One day I woke up and realized I had a severe case of adolescents – two in fact. Talk about being “busy learning to pray!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. Sherry and I have great sons and I am not complaining. I am so grateful to be their Dad I can’t even put it to words. I’m simply stating a fact. As great as our guys are – well – they are teenagers and with that comes a whole new set of challenges.

Since the early nineties I have worked with students in one capacity or another. I’ve met with parents and heard all sorts of stories. All of that has taught me at least two things. First, it semi-prepared me for being the parent to teenagers. Second, it taught me that nothing could fully prepare me for being a parent to teenagers.

If sharing a home with teenagers doesn’t make a person want to learn how to pray, I don’t know what will. In fact, of late I’ve felt more and more compelled to be busy learning to pray. That’s the funny thing about prayer. Sometimes it takes discovering how much we really need God to be at work before we can actually learn how to pray. When our kids our young we may have a tendency to pray huge, broad winged prayers.

However, when they are on the cusp of adulthood, when they are engaged in the wonderful yet strange mid-term years of adolescents we may begin to pray much more specifically. It is during adolescents that kids begin to exert more independence and we have to let them, sometimes holding our breath. That’s when we may actually learn to pray – and pray we must – because the truth of the matter is every parents only hope is God.

Longing for Ordinary Days

Of late I have longed to get “back to normal.” It doesn’t matter all that much that my sense of normalcy is far from, well, the norm. The life of a pastor is anything but normal to begin with but when you add a huge transition into the mix everything is up for grabs.

In the last month we moved from Charlottesville, VA to St. Louis, MO. We tried to prepare. We tried to imagine ourselves in a new church, new schools, a new community and city. We made plans and made a budget. Then life set in and, well, like Robert Burns wrote, “the best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry.” The result has been, as my friend Bob Burns would say, we are living in ambiguity.

We left VA not knowing exactly where we were going to live. That’s right. The five of us, plus Cash – our dog – packed and loaded up and drove 14 hours in a day to St. Louis, MO. We had only a slight notion of where we were going to live. That isn’t something we planned – believe me. Rather, it was something that developed. We planned for a smooth and easy transition. We made plans for a place to lay down each night, a place for meals, a place for pots and pans, and somewhere for dust bunnies to collect. We planned to leave one hearth for another. That wasn’t to be – despite our best-laid schemes.

We knew (know) that Jesus had provided jobs for us in St. Louis but we were unsure of how He was going to provide a place for us to live. Nothing was on paper – nothing was solid – all we had was a one week reservation at a Residence Inn. We didn’t know where we were going to go beyond the first week. We didn’t know if we would find a house to buy or a place to rent. God did.

Since arriving the last week of June we have seen God’s hand at work. He has provided places for us to stay – even the dog. A number of families have opened up their homes to us – inviting our family to stay in their homes, hosting us for dinner, inviting us for a swim. We are grateful for the way that God has provided. He has even opened up a door for us to buy a home (we close- God willing on July 24th – thank you David Klotz!).

The folks in our new community have been God’s source of wonder amid the chaos of a less than smooth transition. It is an experience that only comes from stepping into things the way that God wants us to. Even in the midst of chaos God’s wonder prevails. BUT, do not get the impression that we are just sitting back relaxing in God’s goodness. No. No. Not even close.

If you want to see what life is like for our family you need only flip into the Old Testament stories of Abraham and Moses. God called those men – along with the families and tribes they led – to step into ambiguity. Oh – God provided wonder amid the chaos – but the people grumbled, complained, fought, and chafed in the midst of uncertainty. Yet, God was faithfully putting together His plan, providing for them and establishing hope and salvation through Christ. But the people blew it often – God never did.

That actually captures more of our story over the last few weeks. Yes, we were willing to step into ambiguity – willing to trust Jesus as He led our family. Yes, we’ve been blessed by the ways in which God has used His people to provide for us. No, we haven’t been these super saintly folks who have not been affected by the unknown and the stress of transition. We’ve bickered with each other. We’ve grown weary with waiting and our prayers have had the sound of lament. We’ve lost our cool with our kids and they with each other and us. We have blown it often but God has not.

And yet even in our failures – our very real humanness – we have seen God’s wonder amid the chaos and something else has emerged. It is something I think the people with Abraham and Moses experienced as well. We’ve found ourselves more aware of our deep need and longing for ordinary days of home.

Ordinary days of home are the sort of days that we often complain about– days in which we have to make meals and do laundry, pull weeds or rake leaves, tend to homework and bills. I have found myself daydreaming about planting a garden, washing dishes, cooking, painting walls, and welcoming friends for meals. Sometimes God, for whatever reason, calls us to step out of those ordinary days into ambiguity. If you walk in that long enough while you will experience God’s wonder amid the chaos, you may experience a longing for ordinary days and thankfulness when they return.

There is much that can be said for the ways in which those ordinary tasks are an extension of what it means to give and receive love, to build into the lives of children, to strengthen a marriage, and the joy of hospitality. Granted, in our family ordinary tasks are often the places where we hear and feel the loudest grumbles. However, taken away, the ordinary tasks of home are sought out because they are as much a part of the relational components of home as rest. Kate Harris, Executive Director for The Washington Institute, wrote

By coming to see my ordinary tasks in light of their relational nature and their wonderful, purposeful inefficiency, I come to see what Soren Kierkegaard means when he writes, “The love of repetition is in truth the only happy love.”  What is more, I can begin to think afresh about the simple, mundane, but purposeful work God calls me to pursue for the care of myself and my family day by day.  Indeed, the Incarnation itself shows us how intimately familiar God is with our daily needs, deeming the faithful care of a loving mother and father sufficient to provide all of the necessary, bodily care and nurture for His only son while on earth.

Ambiguity has given our family something that we may not otherwise have ever known: a chance to see God’s wonder amid chaos and an awareness of the significance of ordinary days of home. I think Jesus understands that. In the New Testament (Matthew 8 and Luke 9) Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” That text brings great comfort because it reminds me of the cost of following Jesus. Following Jesus means stepping into ambiguity, finding our peace in the way God provides, being aware of our constant need for God’s Spirit to help us, and joy in the most ordinary of days of home. It is not easy but it is filled with wonder, hope, and good.

Resources:

1) http://www.washingtoninst.org/2226/to-dwell-in-a-household-menial-work-meaning-and-motherhood/

Wendell Berry and the Jedi Mind Trick

Up until a few years ago I was blissfully ignorant, fat and happy. Now, I’m just fat and not all that happy about it. Back then – back when I used to pull into a drive-thru with my wife and kids, order a super-sized sack of “Lord knows what” – I didn’t think so much about family farms or industrialization, community, rain, bugs or the chemicals used to annihilate them. My yard was something to mulch, mow, or rake not something I could use to put food on my table. Then some well-meaning soul introduced me to Wendell Berry: the Kentucky farmer, poet, and author. That person should have warned me.

I had just started reading some of Berry’s fiction when I heard he was coming to Charlottesville to give a lecture. I should qualify this statement – I’m not sure Berry’s books are fiction. Fiction shouldn’t have the sort of effect that Berry’s stuff has. Besides poetry and essays, he writes about the people, farms, in a fictional community in rural Kentucky called Port William.

While reading his books, Jaber Crow and Andy Catlett, I found myself longing for the sort of community that only my grandparents fully knew. It wasn’t like I wanted to go back to the “good ole days”. No. The sense of community that Berry gives is bigger than that. It is the reality that our lives are connected to each other and the things that we do or do not do have an impact – on not just us. In fact, he is quoted as saying we should not have a “split between what we think and what we do.” If we say we care about folks then there ought to be something to show for it. Therein is a sense of community (shalom perhaps).

I had just started to realize that Mr. Berry was writing more than “just” stories when he came to Charlottesville to give a lecture. I’ve sat through a lot of lectures in my day and, quite frankly, I’m not very good at it. But for some reason, I wanted to attend this one.

That night he talked about farms (large and the family farm), politics, money and the way they connect to how food is brought to the table. Many of the ways food comes to our tables actually brings harm to communities. At one point he said, “Simple solutions will always lead to complex problems, surprising simple minds.”

He was humble, gentle and kind. It was not unlike having a wise friend over for coffee; except at the end of the conversation you suddenly find that he had completely rearranged your house. I went into that lecture one guy and came out another – fat but not happy and ignorant. I’m not sure how it happened; however, I’m pretty sure that Berry used some sort of Jedi mind trick.

All I remember is that Berry said that people ought to know and care where their food comes. He also said they ought to participate in getting it to the table. At some point that evening I found myself mumbling, “I should know where my food comes from.” I left that evening with a copy Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food and an overwhelming urge to plunge a shovel into dirt and plant stuff. When I got home I announced to my family that we were going to change our lives and grow our own food.

Everything was going to change. It would require us to change the way we buy food. No longer would we eat fast food – except for Chick-Fil-A (because their food is goodish for you and they do good in the world – the others are the evil empire). We would also need to change the way we shop for food – trying to go local but being aware of how our food gets here. It also meant we would use some of our yard for a garden. My family looked at me like I had lost my mind. Sherry just smiled – she’s been living with crazy for almost twenty years.

But I was serious. I worked on a farm to help pay my way through college. I wasn’t naïve about the hard work. But I had forgotten was that I am twenty-plus years older and I live in the suburbs. We couldn’t have chickens or a cow and we really didn’t have too much room for a garden. Nevertheless, I was committed. After all, Mr. Berry said we should know where our food comes from and we ought to help get it.

Two days later I found myself behind a tiller. I had prepared a place that would get just the right amount of sun. I had a heap of organic soil that would soon be home to our food: tomatoes, peas, green beans, cucumbers, okra, peppers, watermelon, basil and thyme, bell peppers and broccoli. Sherry looked at me with the sort of  “Clearly you do not know what you are doing but I love this crazy side of you.”

That tiller nearly beat me to death. It pulverized me more than the soil. At some point I was reminded of the agreement I made with the bulging discs in my neck and lower back about manual labor. I was not to do it. Nevertheless, I kept on mixing, tilling and preparing the soil.

Once I got the soil ready I started laying out the neat rows. My youngest son and I dug little holes, dropped in a few seeds here and there, carefully placing them. We did this for a while and then I tried to stand up. I had to have my four-year-old son help me and I groaned the loudest old man grunt ever. He looked at me and said, “You okay Daddy?” Of course I am. I’m participating in getting food on our table.

The worst part was the day was pretty hot; there was a huge sun in the sky. It wasn’t that the heat bothered me in fact I didn’t really notice. That was unfortunate because I forgot to wear a hat. Now for most folks that’s no big deal. For bald-guys that’s a huge deal. I scorched the top of my head. Let me add, it hurt when I blinked.

That evening with everything tucked into their nice tight little rows I stood with my family looking with hope on our little garden. One of my neighbors joined us. My youngest son began to tell him all that he had planted. At one point my neighbor said, “What are you going to do about all the squirrels and deer?” I, uh, hadn’t thought of that.

The next day I was out there again with wildlife netting, doing all I could to protect the food I was determined to bring on our table. At one point I was stooped, laboring over a stubborn old root when I thought, “Why in the hell am I doing this? Who is Wendell Berry and why can’t I stand up straight?”

Then, from my stooped position, I saw my family working alongside one another carefully putting netting around the fencing. They were talking and laughing and enjoying themselves. My youngest son was going over each area that he had planted the day before, patting the soil as a way to encourage things to grow (and he doesn’t like veggies). As we worked, side-by-side, helping each other, to get food to our table, we started planning a menu and who we could share the bounty.

Something happened to my family that never happened in a grocery store or even farmers market. We were participating in bringing food to our table but we were also focused on the fact that we wanted to share what we were growing. That subject came up naturally and organically. There was a sense of community that had come up even before the first green bean shoot.

Something else happened. That evening, with the wildlife netting in place, we stood and looked at our frail but hopeful garden. We realized how vulnerable and dependent each one of these plants was. They were susceptible to everything and it was going to be up to my family and I to protect and raise them. After all, one day these seeds and tomato plants would bear fruit and grace our table and bless the lives of people that we love. That’s when concern grew larger.

I had only thought as far as the planting and the harvest. I had not realized how much care would need to go into bringing this food to the table. Nor was I ready for how much I would care. Standing at the produce section of my local store I had not given much thought to how they were grown. I made a lot of assumptions.

But standing above my own plants I realized that the fruit of our labors was going to actually be food for my wife, my sons, our neighbors and friends. Bugs and vermin are real possibilities but would I put just anything on the plants to protect them? What damage could it do to my family? The soil? There was no way I was going to put anything on these plants that could cause them harm.

The things that Berry had said began to sink in even further. The sense of community extended beyond just giving folks good things to eat. It extended into the how we are getting things to the table. How are food gets to the table matters. It matters a lot.

Day that our first tomato was ready to be picked was a memorable occasion. We were grateful in ways we had never been grateful before – and amazed. The labor of our family, the care that we had put into the garden was rewarded and our care was rewarded with the “the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that” did not in any way “depend on ignorance,” as Berry wrote in Bringing it to the Table.

The Bounty

Perhaps you’ve never been introduced to Berry; if that is the case, do not delay – go and get acquainted with him as quickly as possible. It is safe to say that Wendell Berry has had a tremendous impact on me. This year, for reasons beyond my control, I haven’t been able to put in a garden. I miss it. I miss the hard work as well as knowing where my food comes from. I miss participating in getting food to our table. I miss the way our family worked together to care and cultivate. I’ll also miss the fruit of our labors as much as sharing it. And yet – thanks to Berry – I am no longer “fat and happy” and blissfully ignorant and I do not miss that.

Check these places out:

Check out a great article by Berry at  Wendell E. Berry Lecture | National Endowment for the Humanities.

 http://www.wendellberrybooks.com/index.html

http://brtom.typepad.com/wberry/

http://www.southernexposure.com/

Here is a poem from Berry I came across the other day – can’t remember where:

The Future

For God’s sake, be done
with this jabber of “a better world.”
What blasphemy! No “futuristic”
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.
~ Wendell Berry ~
(Given)

A Son of the South Goes South of the Border: Fajitas

 You may think this is strange but I’ve discovered that my love language is cooking. What I mean is that one of the ways that I show my family I love them is through cooking. I love it – and I especially love it when my wife and sons really, really enjoy what I’ve cooked. That is not to say that I’m a great cook – but I want to be and I am trying to learn. What makes this all the more enjoyable is that cooking isn’t so much about me (although I benefit) but about my family.

Last night I stumbled across a new dish that was amazing. One of the best parts is that it combined a marinade that Sherry created a few weeks back with something I did. Perhaps even more importantly it helped to get my youngest son to eat veggies (something he does not care for). So – I thought I’d share – first because I was thrilled with the results and because of that I want to offer it.

Sherry’s Simple Marinade:

A few weeks back Sherry experimented a bit and came up with a very simple marinade – which is amazing on beef and chicken. We’ve tried it on both – grilled the meat – and it has been awesome.

In a large zip lock back “dump,” as Sherry put it, Italian Seasoning, Olive Oil, and Soy Sauce. Then put in either beef or chicken. Zip that bad boy up – shake it around and then place it in the fridge for a few hours. That’s it. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Fajitas

Ingredients:

  1. Strip Steak – (or Chicken): it is important to get good quality meat, well marbled.
  2. Sherry’s Simple Marinade
  3. Red Pepper
  4. Yellow Pepper
  5. Orange Pepper
  6. Garlic (one clove)
  7. Onion (1/2)
  8. Fresh Basil
  9. Salted Butter
  10. Worchester Sauce (thick and thin if you’ve got them)
  11. Sea Salt
  12. Crushed Black Pepper

Grill your Steak:

I love to grill – so I recommend grilling the marinated strip steak (or chicken). Since this is a thin cut of meat be sure to keep an eye on it. Don’t overcook – you do not want this meat to be dry (but you do want to make sure you cook it thoroughly – 165 degrees). I actually cooked my steak the day before and took it from the grill and immediately put it in an airtight container and placed it in the fridge for 24 hours.

Prep the Steak (chicken) Veggies & Stuff

  • Cut up the peppers into smallish – thin strips.
  • I cut ½ an onion – I like mine sort of small so they will cook up better
  • Chop up the garlic clove
  • Cut up the fresh basil very fine
  • Cut the steak into long strips – not too thin

Cook it up:

In a large skillet – over medium heat – melt salted butter (I like the flavor butter adds. Yes I know Olive Oil is healthier but we are going for love here). After the butter has melted toss in the veggies, garlic, basil, salt & pepper. Toss that around for a while – let those flavors mingle. Add a little of the Worchester sauce (thick if you’ve got it). When those things have cooked up add the steak (or chicken). Add a little more Worchester sauce if you want. Make sure that you mix the meat into the other ingredients. Cover it for a while and let it sit on low heat.

Serve it up:

Warm up some tortillas. Place rice and beans in the middle of the tortilla and add a little cheese – then add the fajita mix on top. Top it with sour cream if you have a mind to – or a bit of hot sauce or salsa. Serve it up to your family for an awesome meal!

Resources:

The Jacked Up Grill – http://jackedupgrill.blogspot.com/

The Flavor Bible – http://www.becomingachef.com/flavor_bible.php

The Struggle For Joy

Every year Sherry and I try to set a theme for the year. The last two years we kept the same theme (we liked it so we kept it). So 2009 and 2010 were the year(s) of laughter. That was born out of the fact that almost every thing we encountered when it came to TV or movies seemed to be obsessed with death in some form. It isn’t like we watch a lot of TV – or movies. But we do enjoy a few programs (especially Master Piece Theater on PBS – don’t mock me – they are really well done programs). So, we made sure that we watched TV shows and movies – as well as focused on laughter – and we laughed a lot. That was good.

This year we went a bit more spiritual – which is something you’d expect from a pastor his wife and kids. We decided that 2011 was going to be the year of joy. The end of 2010 we talked about it – and tried to think of what that would look like. We told a very good friend of our decision to declare 2011 the year of joy. He smiled (he may have actually laughed – it still being 2010 and all) and politely reminded us that joy is often something we have to struggle for. “You’re right,” we said. Nevertheless, joy is something worth struggling for – we just were not sure what sort of things we’d have to struggle to have joy.

Have you ever given that much thought? Have you ever thought about the place of joy in your own life? Perhaps you have. Joy is a funny thing in many ways. It is one of those things that we most often notice when it seems to be missing from our lives. The Bible speaks a lot about joy.

One place in particular draws my attention to this notion of struggling for joy. The Psalmist, in Ps 30:5 wrote, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” And Psalm 126:5 says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!”

Those Psalms make me think about this notion of joy coming on the heals of struggle. That seems to be a pretty consistent picture throughout the Bible and it is consistent in terms of being an accurate portrayal of what it means to be human. Joy is often related to struggle. In fact, we may not even be able to fully appreciate joy until we have struggled.

The struggle for joy is real – very real. There are all sorts of things that come up that create a challenge for us to have joy. That became clearer to me as the subject of forgiveness occupied a huge chunk of the day. If there was ever anything that could cause a person to have to struggle for joy – it would indeed be forgiveness. Think about that for a moment. Think about times when you knew that you had to go to someone who you had wronged. Think about the times when you knew you needed to forgive someone else. Think about the struggle that you may have accepting the fact that God – through Christ – moves toward you to forgive you and draw you to Himself.

There is a tremendous scene in the book Les Miserables (if you’ve never read that book – believe me – you are missing out – again don’t mock me for reading French literature – I’m smarter than I look). Jean Valjean is one of if not the main character. He is a convict whose life was “redeemed” by Christ through the life of a priest (Bishop). But Jean Valjean was never really ever supposed to know forgiveness or redemption or restoration according to the culture of the day. Throughout the novel he is tormented, chased by his past and by Inspector Javert. Javert will not rest until Valjean is punished forever. He is zealous for the law. Valjean has experienced grace.

There is a powerful scene where Jean Valjean has a chance to escape forever. A man is arrested and the authorities think he is Valjean. Valjean can keep his mouth shut. He has lived a good life. He had done loads of charity work. He has totally changed his life. Helped the poor. He was a well-respected mayor. He was a good man. So one night he comes to terms with himself. He goes back and forth in this great scene wrestling with the notion of forgiveness. It is a powerful scene as good and evil wrestle within the heart of this man. In the end though, I’d have to say that it was as much as struggle for joy as it was about good and evil and his sense of forgiveness.

I will not spoil the end of the novel for you (the movie doesn’t include it – sorry you’ll have to read). But the picture of Jean Val Jean struggling for joy even in his own soul is a profound picture to me. Especially because so many people have to wrestle with the notion of what it means to both forgive and to be forgiven. Many of us think often of the people who have wronged us in some ways. We may mouth the words, “I forgive you” but in our heart of hearts there is still a very deep burn. Many more of us can read or hear these words, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We may nod, say amen, but we still walk away from those words with a lump in our throat – wondering, could it be true.

Forgiveness contributes to the struggle joy. Of, sure, there are other things that add to that struggle. But today, as I thought about forgiveness and thought about joy I could not help but think about the intersection of these two things.

I know people who feel deep joy – inexpressible joy – each time they take the Lord’s Supper. They are overwhelmed because they have tasted – not just the bread and wine – but God’s forgiveness for them. As their pastor – serving them – I’ll tell you there is nothing more electric than seeing the anticipation in their eyes as they take the bread and cup in their hands.

There are others who hold such animosity in their hearts that joy is foreign to them. What they have tasted, even as they often take the bread and cup, is not forgiveness and joy but bitterness, regret and perhaps as a result apathy.

As the discussion of forgiveness came up I wondered aloud about the starting place of forgiveness. Some theologians would argue that it begins with reconciliation – I’m pretty sure that’s missing something theologically. Some would say it begins with hell and we work our way out from there – I know that’s missing something. Some would say it begins with the cross – and I think they are right. It starts where we start – as human beings – in light of our creation as God’s children and in light of God’s move of love toward us. We see that best in light of the cross.

But, when I think about the ways in which I have to struggle for joy when it comes to forgiveness – when it comes to think about who wronged who (or whom), or how I see myself in light of being forgiven (or not) – it seems too big – too grand of thing to think of the way that God has forgiven us (and me). But when I think of what it means to be human – and the deep desire that God has created within my heart for joy – and what a challenge forgiveness is in the struggle for joy, then I think, maybe the starting part of forgiveness is joy.

What I mean the starting point for forgiveness may be that God intended men and women to be people of joy. The whole notion of being restored by the gospel is seen in the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…”So perhaps the place for “us” to begin when we think about forgiving or being forgiven is with joy. We were made for joy but we may have to struggle for it. We may have to wrestle with forgiveness. But I think in our heart of hearts we want joy. As human beings the motive to move through the process of forgiveness is in the end because we know we have to struggle for joy.

When Sherry and I thought about this being the year of joy – well – we intended it in some ways to fall right along with the year of laughter. It does not work like that. Joy is more than happiness and it is certainly more than just laughter. It is something that we were made for but it is also something that we often have to struggle for. But I’m confident the struggle is worth it – at least the proverbs seems to imply that, “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Pro 17:22).

Next year, however, it might just be the year of BBQ – that’s probably good medicine for my heart too.

 

This is the best BBQ I know of…and I’ve eaten some great BBQ – but this takes top billing in my book.

If you ever want to try it – it is in Bluff City, TN. Not far from the Race Track. It will make you slap your granny it is so good.

It brings our family great joy!