In less than a month, I will travel to my hometown of Ellijay, Georgia for a few days. Louisville has become my adopted home over the last six years, as I described a few weeks ago, and for good reason. That said, I have a lot of love for my hometown. I love the more relaxed pace. I love getting a Paradise Burger at Mr. P’s Drive-In or a fried apple pie from one of the local orchards. I love my family, of course, and I love the Appalachian Mountains that wind down from the upper reaches of Maine to meet their rolling demise near my home. Continue reading
Almost a year and a half ago, I was having a conversation with one of my pastors. At the time, I was set to soon be part of a church plant in Asheville, North Carolina. As I began to express a certain anxiety about my upcoming move, my pastor presented an interesting question, “Have you ever thought about staying in Louisville?” The honest answer at the time was no. Somehow the thought had never occurred to me that I could settle down here. I had always intended on moving on to some other place to do pastoral work. The questions stuck in my mind, though, and soon several events transpired that made this off-hand question a very serious consideration, including the cancellation of the church plant. After many, many months of reconsidering, suddenly I find myself contemplating what it would look like to settle down and make Louisville my home. Continue reading
I always get a little bit sad right before I leave for a trip to Georgia. My life is very much wrapped up in Louisville now. At the same time, I get sad again when I leave Georgia to come back. My family is there. The first 23 years of my life were spent there. I know those mountains like the back of my hand. At the same time, most of the time I am there I miss my life here, and while I am here I miss at least my family there. Never mind that I have friends in all corners of the world now that I hardly ever see. Such is the way of things. We all scatter our ways, and maybe we will see each other again, and maybe we won’t. That is, until the day that, God willing, those of us who have faith in him can be together forever in his glory. The heartache we feel reminds us that it wasn’t supposed to be this way. This life is now temporary and the new creation hasn’t happened yet. We’re waiting for it. Until then, we say goodbye to each other, but we do so with the hope that goodbye doesn’t have to be forever.
My heart has been heavy the past few days. This past Friday, known as Good Friday throughout the Western Christian world, I preached my first funeral sermon. It was, quite honestly, one of the more painful experiences of my life. It wasn’t painful because of a fear of public speaking or anything like that. While I don’t particularly enjoy preaching, I am more than used to it by now. The painful part was in the very fact that the chief mourner was a close friend and spiritual brother, a young man of 21 I have regularly hung out with and mentored for the past few months, and the deceased was his mother. Though “keeping it together” outwardly for the proceedings, the tangibility of my friend’s pain troubled my soul with the force of a hurricane, and this is rightly so. This is the way of life together:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Rom. 12:15) Continue reading
I grew up in the North Georgia mountains, in the rolling, rural heart of the Deep South, and thus was thoroughly aware of Christianity from a very early age. The beliefs and mores of Christianity have long engrained themselves into that culture. My great-aunt and uncle and would take me to a back-woods independent church occasionally, while my mother would take me to the somewhat more bourgeois First Baptist Church downtown in our small community. It was at that church that, at the age of seven, I “walked the aisle” and repeated a prayer. I did it because that’s what was expected everyone should do eventually and because I had heard what happened if you didn’t… but it marked no significantly momentous change in my life. That would not happen until many years down the road. Continue reading
I have been very quiet here and at Image of Truth as of late. Honestly, the majority of the semester had me in a mental fog, and my mood matched the relative lack of lucidity that I was feeling. Frankly, the burnout I have felt with seminary the past year has been a great stumbling block for me. My affection for the school itself waned after the Center for Christianity and the Arts at Southern was done away with, as well as my favorite professor, who headed up that department. Without the classes I enjoyed through that program, Southern has simply not been as exciting a place.
What has truly excited me in the past year and what has caused frustration for me at the same time has been thoughts of the future. Continue reading
It is no secret that I have had a certain enmity with Christmas for quite a few years now. As a child, I embraced Christmas as it was given me: Santa Claus, Christmas presents, television specials, and celebrations galore. Funny, the thing most unimportant about Christmas in those years was the fact that it was a time for celebrating the birth of the Christ. Indeed, this was true into my late teens, as I began to grow in faith.
However, as I grew in faith in those years and certainly into my twenties, my view of Christmas gradually became more troubled. I could not reconcile it. Continue reading
Advent has come to us once again. Yesterday marked the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the beginning of the Church calendar and the start of the Advent season, remembering the awaiting of the Messiah’s coming, fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, and also the Church’s anticipation of his second coming. This is a season of anticipation.
I have ranted many, many times in the past about the issues I have with Santa Claus and our use of him in our celebration of Christmas. To tell the truth, if we still observed the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 5th and remembered the Lycian bishop who most notably slapped Arius in the face, knocking him to the ground, at the Council of Nicaea instead of purporting a fable that tends to only perpetuate the consumerism of the modern holiday season, perhaps the anomaly known as Santa Claus would not have stolen so much attention from the central meaning of Christmas and made its celebration entirely possibly without the slightest nod to Christ.
However, I think my previous tirades miss the most crucial point. We have missed the point. We’ve been missing the point. The glory given to Santa Claus is but a symptom of the problems at the core of our celebration of Christmas. For the longest time, consumerism has become us. It has consumed us. It is our nature as a narcissistic people… it is our sin nature. We are so self-centered that, while we give lip-service to the ideas of “giving” and “peace on earth,” we spend hundreds – sometimes thousands – of dollars each year buying luxurious items at Christmas “sales” and gorging ourselves on feast after feast. Perhaps the saying is true that “we are what we eat,” for this season is filled with dense fruitcakes.
Can we make this year different? Can we at least start? Can we tone down the buying… for ourselves and for those around us? Can we refuse to splurge on the high tech electronics for ourselves? How about the underwear for loved ones no respectable person would be caught wearing to Rocky Horror night at a midnight movie theater? Can we think about what Christ cared about, what St. Nicholas cared about even, and thus return our focus to Christ and our efforts to those who are most in need? Several friends over the past few days have passed along a link to an organization that is trying to do just that. The statistics presented in the video are amazing. Please visit Advent Conspiracy and make a difference this holiday season.
It is amazing how God puts the right people and the right circumstances in your life at just the right time. He reminds us so powerfully that he is in ultimate control. Two weeks ago, he provided funds for me that I never knew existed, just as I was in an emergency financial situation. He always seems to provide a friend when I either need encouragement or need called out. He even provides opportunities to minister to others in the most unexpected times and ways… even this very day.
He brought me through my first school year of seminary successfully. He has introduced me to the Center for Christianity and the Arts where I can focus my efforts and develop my ministry. He has surrounded me with a great family of friends and brothers and sisters in Christ here in Louisville, both at the seminary and at Sojourn Community Church, who I will carry with me, in some form, for the rest of my life. He brought me through the death of my beloved grandmother… a heartbreaking ordeal, but one through which I have been brought closer to her (in the months prior to her passing), my family, my friends, and God himself. I was also able to minister to my family members, including my grandma, in ways I would have never guessed I would be able to do. God works through the most unlikely of people, even me.
Yes, indeed, God is good, and “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).