Monday, October 20, 2008

Coming Home

Last Tuesday, October 14 we finally mailed our application to Gladney, our adoption agency, as well as our CIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services) application, not to mention a series of checks that make me dizzy just thinking about.  What does this mean?  It means our son is coming home!!

I know this may be hard to comprehend, it is hard for me as well.  So, after months of prayer and waiting until God aligned all our hearts and minds, Suzanne and I have begun the process of international adoption for Ethiopia.  Suzanne has desired to have another child since she forgot the pain she went through delivering Eli.  Honestly, I've been selfishly content with our two beautiful children.  Then came the day that God began to challenge my thinking.  The next thing I know, I'm talking to Suzanne about adoption.  Not only that, adopting a child who doesn't even look like us, from somewhere else in the world.  Before I know it I'm sitting on my couch on April 16, just before wur*ship, asking Ashleigh and Eli if they would like to have a little brother or sister.  Over time we have chosen to adopt a boy between the ages of 2-3 1/2.

(I want to thank Pete Cocco, our Fall Retreat speaker from Encounter campus ministry at Illinois State University and adoptive parent of two kids from Ethiopia, for helping me understand this.)  So, if Ashleigh or Eli were taken away from Suzanne and I, and we learned that they had been dropped in the middle of another country, we would do whatever was necessary, or in our power, to get them home to us.  Well, that's exactly how it is now that God has called us to this.  Somewhere in the middle of Ethiopia, we have a son.  We don't know his name.  We don't even know what he looks like.  But he is no less our son than Ashleigh is our daughter, or Eli is our son.  He is alive, somewhere.  Now, we must do whatever we can to bring him home.

Please pray for our family as we go though this process of bringing __________ home.

(Oh yeah, sometimes I call him Tre', as in #3, just to be able to call him something.)

Also, check out Suzanne's blog Journey to Ethiopia to follow our adoption process at

Sunday, October 19, 2008

never changing

So, in our Sunday school class for the past few weeks we've been answering the question "Can God change his mind?"  While a good question to consider, we must remember that whether through means of prayer, or repentance, God may very well change his mind, via his actions, but God himself DOES NOT CHANGE.

I've been reading Ezekiel for a little over a week now.  And it is very clear that God is not pleased at all with his people Israel and the way they have adapted to the customs, culture, and sin of those around them.  As I've read it is so dark, full of plagues, death, and destruction, as a result of idolatry and "detestable things."  But, in chapter 9, God instructs a remnant to be "marked" for their grieving and lamenting over detestable acts.  Then in chapter 10, as a result of it all "the glory of God departed," and at the beginning of 11 he executes his judgement for conforming to those around them [SIN].  It's all been kinda cool, learning about God's constant NON-tolerance of sin, but honestly, kind of a downer in the day to day reading.

But today, it happened, at the end of chapter 11...RESTORATION!  "I will gather...I will give...They will return...They will follow...They will be my people, and I will be their God!"  Yea God!  You are sooooo faithful!  Even when you know the end of the story God is always surprising me, yet never really surprising me at all, with his faithfulness to his promise(s).  NEVER CHANGING!!

"Ever faithful,
ever true,
You I know,
You never let go.

Oh, what love,
in joy and pain,
in sun and rain,
You're the same,
oh, You never let go."

- David Crowder
from You Never Let Go

Friday, October 10, 2008

Psalm 51

OK, before you go any further, please read Psalm 51...

In fact, go ahead and read 2 Samuel 12 as well...

So, yes, this is a poem, a song, that David wrote after being called out by the prophet Nathan for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, conspiring to murder her husband Uriah, and the whole scandalous cover-up to hide his sin.  But this is MY story!  And, it's YOUR story, too!  Please don't just read this as just a crying out from David's soul for repentance, restoration and wholeness.  It is all that, but don't just leave it there as David's story.

Here's how it works.  David knows God.  The David crying out in repentance here, is the same David in Psalm 42 crying, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you," longs for you.  Because David has sought after, longed after God, he knows Him.  He knows His character.  He knows His mercy, His unfailing love, His compassion, His holiness, and let us not forget His justice.  David knows the penalty of sin.  He knows he deserves nothing less than death.

David also know God's ability to make him clean again, to "create in me a pure heart," to "renew a steadfast spirit."  (Look up the definition of steadfast.)  But more importantly, because David knows God, he knows what God desires.  Not a gift.  Not a sacrifice.  Not a burnt offering.  Not a check to a church or charity.  Not an act of service in the community, served in guilt.  Not even an increased participation at church or other Christian event.  Rather, God desires us to enter His presence with a "broken spirit...a broken and contrite [repentant] heart."

This is what God desired from David, and he knew it because he had longed for God and knew Him.  This is what God desires from you and I as well.  But, we often seek to please or impress God.  Why?  Maybe to appease His justice.  Maybe because we haven't longed for God to know that "You do not delight in do not take pleasure in burnt offerings."  God wants your whole heart, your WHOLE LIFE.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Something Clicked

So, my friend Mark Nelson says, almost every time he preaches, the Bible is "one big story of God putting his family back together."  I believe this to be VERY true!  However, honestly, the phrase has seemed to be a little cliche until last night at overflow.

First, I have to go back a few weeks when I was teaching from John 3 about the late night encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus about 'rebirth'.  As I was concluding the talk God was teaching ME.  As I shared about how we had to understand things about chapters 1 and 2 in order to fully understand chapter 3, He began to open my eyes to some amazing things.  Then, last night, as I was teaching from John 6 about Jesus feeding the 5,000, he opened my eyes again.  As we examined verse 35, Jesus says, "I am the Bread of Life!  Anyone who comes after me will never be hungry again, and anyone who believes in me will never thirst again."  We CANNOT understand this without knowing and understanding the conversation he has with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4 about giving water that will cause her to never thirst again.  And you CANNOT understand any of it without understanding 'rebirth'.

SO HERE'S THE DEAL, but get this, it is something I have known to be true for a long time, but today I sense that I KNOW it for the first time.  The Bible, God's Word, is not a bunch of random stories.  Although, that is so often how we have been taught and how we understand it.  It isn't this cool thing Jesus did at the wedding at Canna, then this cool thing when he fed 5,000 people, then the resurrection story, and don't forget the Day of Pentecost, or Paul's conversion, or the worship songs of David, or the story of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert.  First, John is ONE story; one story that parallels three other stories of Jesus.  But get this, John (and the other three gospels) are just a small part of a much bigger story.  And here's the kicker, IT IS ALL ONE STORY, "the story of God bringing his family back together."  It's not cliche at all.  It is fact.  We have to have all of it in order to properly understand any of it.

Thank you God for such an awesome story that is still unfolding today.  Thank you Mark for allowing me to see it in a creative way.  Check out Mark's blog and the church where he teaches at

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Scandalous (part 2) -- "I'm not your freak show!"

So we read here in John 6 that about 5,000 men sat down on the grass to eat.  This count does not include women and children.  Most teachers would suggest the attendance count for this meal is now in the ballpark of 7,500-10,000.  I must admit, I have no idea what this looks like, so since we're talking about grass lets consider the playing field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (or any college football playing surface near you).  Pack the playing field out, not the stands, just the grass playing surface.  (Now, for good measure, imagine a circus tent over the top, because these people are looking for a show.)

Jesus had just met every person's physical need the day before.  Feeding them all until they "had enough to eat."  Now, not even realizing Jesus had done the whole walking on water thing, they come looking for him again.  "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe?"  Come on Jesus, let's move the circus tent to this side of the lake.  Do another show.  Do it again; do it again Jesus!  Imagine Jesus, "Don't you get it!  I'm not your freak show!"

"Come on Jesus, just one more act.  One more show.  At least do that feeding thing again.  Many of us are here again.  If you just feed us again, then we'll believe."  Now, bring it into our setting, our context, "Come on Jesus, do it again.  Just give me direction one more time."  "Just help me out of this one, and I'll be all yours this time.  No holding back, I promise."  "If you'll just get me outta this jam, then I'll...."  "If you'll just give me a sign, then I'll...."

So Jesus, knowing "what is in a man," says something very profound, something described by his followers as "hard teaching" that some cannot, will not accept.  Jesus said, "I am the bread of life.  He who comes to be will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."  He then goes on to talk about "eating his flesh" and "drinking his blood" to have life.  But this goes against EVERYTHING their religion taught.  It sounded so cannibalistic, though this is not what Jesus was saying at all.  He wants to be our SUSTENANCE, not a talent act, not a 'freak show'.  But, again, misunderstood.

Jesus is fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah, "...he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall."  The word here is a SCANDALIZO, from SCANDALON, or 'stumbling stone.'  His teaching is scandalous, it goes against everything they knew, everything they had been taught.  It goes against everything WE KNOW, everything WE are taught.  What will WE do?  What will I do?  What will YOU do?  Will you stumble over Jesus' calling you to something different than what the world around you says?  Will you turn away from 'HARD TEACHING'?  OR, will you allow Jesus to sustain you, to fill your hunger and quench your thirst?  Even when it's offensive?  Even when it doesn't follow the way of the world?  Even when it goes against EVERYTHING you've heard or believed before?

Will you be like the many who "turn back and no longer follow," or will you be one of the few who follow with reckless abandon never to hunger or thirst again?!?  Jesus is asking, it's your choice...

Friday, October 3, 2008

10 Years

I know, I know, it would seem I have too much free time.  Not really, I'm just thinking a lot these past couple of days.

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be at East Carolina University today, I would have told you you must have gotten ahold of some bad drugs.  Moreover, if you would of told me the love I would have for this university, I might have written you off as a lunatic.

This past Wednesday my family celebrated 10 years of ministry at ECU.  Honestly, when we came we believed God was calling us here, but we came grudgingly.  Not that we didn't want to come, we were excited.  It was new.  It was exciting.  But it wasn't long before I decided I wasn't sure I wanted to be here long.  In fact, after less than a year there was a door opened for me to leave, but I felt strongly we needed to give it some more time.

The second year I made a commitment to stay until that incoming class graduated.  Three years into that commitment I was spent.  I wanted desperately to leave.  In fact, I had a couple interviews, in Ohio and Illinois.  When Connie left for Ghana in November 2002 we shared with her our hope to be gone by the time she returned in July 2003.  That summer I shared with the CCF staff I would be leaving before classes began.  But God had another plan.  He shut the doors on both opportunities.

So, just before classes began in August 2003 I had a "heart-to-heart" with God one night in my backyard under a starlit sky.  I was angry.  I cried.  I yelled.  I pouted.  I did not want to be here any longer and didn't know what to do.  Realizing that we were here, and remembering that five years before Suzanne and I prayed and sensed God calling us to ECU, I told God that if this is where he wanted me/us, then I would be committed to ministry at ECU until he led us somewhere else.

That year God brought in a group of wonderful students who began to take ownership of the ministry.  God began to change my heart.  The ministry began to grow, doubling in size over each of the next two years.  Connie returned from Ghana and after a semester came on staff at ECU.  Since then I have fallen in love with ECU and the students here.  I love the Purple and Gold, and call myself a Pirate.  More important than anything, I love what God is doing in the lives of students at ECU, and am blessed to get to be a part of it, and a part of the lives of the students.

Don't get me wrong, I've loved college students all along, I just had a hard time being here, far from our homes, friends, and families.  It was hard, but GOD IS FAITHFUL!  Thank you for allowing us to serve on the AWESOME campus!

As I wrote this I realized I was at ECU for three years before I owned my first item of ECU apparel.  Today I own enough Pirate apparel to wear purple and gold every day, if I choose.  AMEN!

The point...Sometimes we may not see what God is doing.  It isn't always what we want.  But if we will surrender our will to His, He is faithful.  He can be trusted.  He will change our heart and align it with his, if we will just let Him.  If we will not be so locked in on our plan as to allow Him to use us, even when we want to run and hide.

Scandalous (part 1)

Wow...So Jesus has just fed the 5,000.  He now flees, because, if you remember, John has told us in 3:25, "he knew what was in a man," and Jesus knows they intend to come and "make him king by force."  Following a miraculous quick trip by foot back across the lake (Sea of Galilee), the people find Jesus again.  He teaches some VERY hard stuff, leaving the religious leaders grumbling and the people confused.

Then get this, verse 60, "On hearing this, many of his disciples said, 'This is hard teaching.  Who can accept it?'"  Then Jesus responds, "Does this offend you?...The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.  Yet there are some of you who do not believe."  Now here's the kicker, verse 66, "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."  Not only that, then Jesus asked the Twelve, giving them an open door to leave as well.

What in the world!  In our world people would be called out left and right.  Not just for HARD teaching, but it doesn't seem to bother Jesus very much that his teaching is causing people to leave and not follow.  Now I don't believe for a minute that Jesus is unconcerned about those who have turned back, but what has he talked about that has the people so distraught.  Yes, he said some things about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, but that isn't the main point at all.  I think the theme that has them confused and angered is continued from Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well, and now advanced after the feeding of the 5,000.  Jesus says, "I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."

To be continued...