Pursuit

You wore me thin
As I staggered and lurched
Through the shadowed valley
‘neath a burden that I
Refused to let go of
Though it caused me to twist
And turn open blisters
‘neath a stress-cracked veneer
Once fired by my own pride
Now scattered in pieces
Strewn around on the ground
You pursued me like a
Lion stalking its prey
Before overtaking
My shaken countenance
Striking a fatal blow
To my fear rendering
Joy sprouted from a seed
Buried deep within me
Freed by humility
Bought by recognition
Of my own empty hands
And your bloody pierced paws
That surely along with
Mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life

“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

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” -Psalms 23:1-6

I wrote this poem a couple of days ago after reading a section in Mark Batterson‘s book THE CIRCLE MAKER in which he discussed the 23rd Psalm, particularly, the verse that says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”:

Batterson wrote, “The word follow isn’t a strong enough translation. It’s a hunting term in Hebrew. It’s like God is hunting you down – but not to harm you; God is hunting you down to bless you. He wants to show you His goodness and His mercy, but too often we run away from it. Why? Because we doubt His good intentions. We can’t believe that God is for us.”

Batterson’s explanation really took root in the days after I read it and eventually led to this poem.

An Ancient Lady, A Megachurch Man, A Skateboarding Folk Singer, and Getting What I Deserve

Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading the book of Ruth from the Old Testament during breakfast. I’ve also been reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson when I’ve had a moment here and there over the past week. In addition, I had a good talk with one of the pastors at a church that we’re in the process of settling into about faith and figuring out what God has in store for us. It is the convergence of these three influences that has me blogging this morning.

I’ve found myself inspired, at times, by points that Batterson makes regarding faith, prayer, and God’s vision for his followers. From what I’ve read so far, the theme of The Circle Maker has been the important role that faith and prayer play in growing our ability to reach out to others. Many of the examples the author gives are focused on the way that his church, National Community Church in Washington D.C., has been able to grow from a small group of tens to a mega church with multiple satellite sites around the D.C. metropolitan area. The most compelling aspect of this book for me, so far, is the idea of how important it is to not underestimate God and that tasks He’s called us to. Batterson makes the point that God doesn’t necessarily call the qualified, but, instead, He qualifies the called. I’ve seen God work so far beyond my means already on multiple occasions over the past few years of my life and I certainly want to be available to do whatever He calls me to do. What will that be? I’m still trying to figure that out. But, without doubt, Batterson believes that the act of prayer and our willingness to pray persistently with passion has been critical to his church’s growth. Admittedly, I’m only about halfway through the book and I look forward to having a clearer understanding of the book’s overall message once I’ve finished.

Josh Harmony

The book of Ruth, from my perspective, addresses a similar theme in that it tells the story of Naomi and Ruth and the difficulties that Naomi had to endure en route to a gracious miracle that she and Ruth experienced in the latter stage of Naomi’s life through Ruth. It was a song called “Mara Naomi” by pro skateboarder and musician Josh Harmony that I first heard the story of Ruth and Naomi from. But, the good book verified Harmony’s account. It was the selfless faith of Ruth through years of difficulty that they both endured after Naomi lost both of her sons (one of them being Ruth’s husband) that proved to be so critical in extending the bloodline that would soon give birth to King David and, eventually, Jesus. But, the fact that so many generations preceded Ruth and Naomi and that many more would have yet to come and pass before the birth of Jesus, struck me. These two individuals struggled and endured in faith throughout their lifetimes, but, because they did, forged a critical link in a long chain of events and lifetimes through which God would, eventually, release those who believe from the chains of destruction that selfishness (also known as sin) has and will continue to confine so many with.

So, seemingly anyway, there is something to be said for persisting and following God beyond what we can see with our own vision. But, earlier this week I was talking to one of the pastors of the church that we’re now attending about good books to read when I mentioned The Circle Maker. After noting that he wasn’t familiar with the book, he explained the conclusion that he recently came to after finishing a book study on another well-regarded book by a Christian author with a few other church members. I can’t remember what the book was that he said they were studying, but, he made a point that, after I thought about it, seems to be true: a lot of the best-selling Christian authors write books that contain some kind of formula or multistep process intended to help the reader move closer to God or achieve greater success as a Christian. The problem here is that, while such steps may be productive, it tends to bolster the idea that we, as people, can do something that will earn more love from God. We can ascend the ranks of Christianity if we just follow certain steps.

I’m not a theologian, but, I know enough about the life I’ve lived and the beauty of the gospel to tell you, confidently, that it has been by no means of my own that I have survived this long, that I have so many blessings (e.g., family, friends, career, purpose, etc.), or that I’ve been able to witness the miracles that I have. In my wildest dreams I could never have predicted the joy that I have in my life now as a consequence of God’s good grace – His unmerited, unearned favor and love. It is out of gratitude and thankfulness that I live and breath. Should you see me stumble or screw up in some way shape or form, know that it is because of my own weakness, but, that it is by His grace that I can have peace and get back up and keep walking where He wants me to go. I’ll be the first to admit, that I don’t often know quite where He’s taking me, but, I trust Him and I’m having the ride of my life.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

-Ephesians 2:1-10

So, I’m not sure if the key to life is simply persisting as I walk forward through life or seeking earnestly with blood, sweat, and prayers, but, if you have some perspective on the topic, I’m all ears. In the meantime, I’m just going to do my best to heed the words of Micah 6:8:

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

“…with all the other pigs…”

Soundgarden Live at SXSW

I’ve been watching a beautifully filmed Soundgarden set from SXSW. “The Day I Tried To LIve,” was one of my favorite songs by this band who, along with R.E.M. and Faith No More, comprised the majority of my listening attention from high school through my college years. The lyrics couldn’t be a more accurate picture of the wake I left behind me and the skewed perspective I had at the time. It’s certainly interesting how 15-20 years of life experience and add perspective. There were times when I tried, mightily, to do the right thing, but, ended up recoiling violently due to many circumstances, but, most notably, my own self interest and the fact that I cut myself off from those who I needed most to hold on to. Stretching my own horizons – seeing how far I could push the night into the morning – seemed to be so much more important to me at the time. The consequences of that period left me broken and, eventually, aware of how helpless I was. There was no way that I was going to make it on my own. Indeed, “…I learned that I was a liar…”:

I woke the same as any other day
Except a voice was in my head
It said, “Seize the day, pull the trigger
Drop the blade and watch the rolling heads”
The day I tried to live
I stole a thousand beggar’s change and gave it to the rich
The day I tried to win
I dangled from the power lines and let the martyrs stretch
Singing, one more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
One more time around might do it
One more time around I might make it
The day I tried to live

Words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head
The lives we make never seem to ever get us anywhere but dead
The day I tried to live
I wallowed in the blood and mud with all the other pigs
Singing, one more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
One more time around might do it
One more time around I might make it
The day I tried to live, I tried

I woke the same as any other day you know why
I should have stayed in bed

The day I tried to win
I wallowed in the blood and mud with all the other pigs
And I learned that I was a liar (One more time around)
I learned that I was a liar (One more time around)
I learned that I was a liar (One more time around)
I learned that I was a liar (One more time around)
Singing, one more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
One more time around might do it
One more time around I might make it
The day I tried to live
Just like you, just like you
One more time around (One more time around)
One more time around (One more time around)

I thank God that, since then, I’ve found grace.

Fiefdom Of Angels – A Novel By Kevin Max

Fiefdom of Angels, the new novel by Kevin Max is a journey unlike any other in so many ways. Born out of the mind of the man who owns one of the most iconic voices of Christian music, the novel delves into a topic of which very little has been explored and does so in a manner that turns the notion we typically associate with angels – harp-bearing choir singers or cute and plump winged-cherubim – completely on it’s head.

Fiefdom Of Angels by Kevin Max

In a narrative that would seem to fit best in the fantasy genre, Max presents a detailed, fictional account (with a great deal of admitted-poetic license) of the fall of Lucifer.

While the biblical narrative is one that, traditionally, is set thousands and maybe millions of years ago, the setting in Fiefdom of Angels takes on an almost futuristic air by incorporating elaborate elements of architecture and technology that the reader might not typically associate with the traditional concept of heaven. In fact, it was this fabric of the story that really grabbed my attention and engaged my imagination.

The intricately developed social culture of angels that Max lays out over the course of the story, in a setting of landscapes that are, at times, as unsettling as they are beautiful, is, to say the least, impressive. Keeping in mind the fact that the book is a fictional account, I found myself inspired by the possibilities of just how much more impressive heaven may really be in comparison to the expectations I’d developed growing up. The landscape Max paints of the possibilities is amazing.

Regardless of the realm that most will associate the name Kevin Max with, don’t expect to see FIEFDOM OF ANGELS on the bookshelf in your local Christian bookstore. The lengths that Max goes to describe the intricate beauty of heaven are matched by the depths to which the reader is taken within the author’s conceptualization of Lucifer’s lair, the place from which he plots his coup of heaven. I found some of the actions of Lucifer and his co-conspirators absolutely repulsive, but, it is my contention that such details were included for the sake of presenting evil for what it is in contrast to the beauty that exists apart from it.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to a pre-teen. But, for more mature science-fiction, fantasy, and adventure fans, Fiefdom of Angels is well worth the read. Kevin Max, a man who has never played it safe in terms of his music or poetry, took on a massive challenge in exploring and experimenting creatively with the topic of angels to the degree that he did in Fiefdom of Angels and I believe the end product was well worth it.

A Week in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project (Part 4 of 4)

The fourth of four reflections about my experiences when I spent on a short-term mission in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project in January 2014: Part 1 click here. Part 2 click here. Part 3 click here. For an afterthought reflection about the topic of heroes in relation to addressing needs in the country of Haiti click here.

With New York Jets wide receiver David Nelson, co-founder of I'm ME. Learn more about his foundation which, like The Hands & Feet Project, cares for Haitian orphans at http://www.imme.org/

With New York Jets wide receiver David Nelson, co-founder of I’m ME

It was our first evening in Haiti. Our team had flown from several different U.S. cities to Miami, boarded one plane together, departed Miami, landed in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, stuffed into a van for a two-hour drive to Grand Goave and then rode up to a mountaintop building that is only accessible with a 4wd vehicle. We’d all traveled hundreds of miles and were finally settling in for dinner on a remote, third-world country mountain when, all of a sudden, in through the front door walks a player from my favorite football team, the New York Jets! Not only that, but, it turns out that this guy has a sincere, true, and rare heart for orphans in Haiti. He and his brothers have started I’m ME, a foundation to care for orphans in Haiti and he’s been getting a lot of good advice, apparently, from The Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart. We chatted for a few minutes during which I was able to share the story of my connection with The Hands & Feet Project, my respect for high-character Jets such as Wayne Chrebet and Curtis Martin, and my appreciation for his passion for “the least of these,” in Haiti. He shared with me about his faith and how he first became interested and involved with helping to address the the desperate circumstances that exist in Haiti and really came off as being the most authentic person somebody in his shoes could possibly be. With other NFL players, Jets in particular, making headlines for all of the wrong reasons all too often, it is certainly refreshing to have met a pro athlete like him. Check out David’s foundation here: http://www.imme.org/

Loading up shoes in my frigid garage on January 17th.

Loading up shoes in my frigid garage on January 17th.

Two totes (plus half of my suitcase) stuffed with shoes, just off the plane at the airport in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

Two totes (plus half of my suitcase) stuffed with shoes, just off the plane at the airport in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

I couldn’t end this series of reflections on my week without mentioning one of the biggest parts of preparing for the trip during the last two weeks before my plane was set to depart: gathering shoes. Site co-director Angie Sutton sent me a request for shoes for the boys at Grand Goave (the younger kids) and Ikondo (the older kids) and, thanks to the kindness and compassion of colleagues at school and friends, I boarded the plane in Charlotte with two 20+ gallon totes and half of my suitcase full of shoes ranging from sizes too small for my six-year-old to sizes too big for me – a good variety to help address the needs of the boys of the Hands & Feet Project in Grand Goave.

While this trip itself has blown open my perspective regarding the serious gap between the luxuries that we take for granted in the U.S. and the primitive and unhealthy living conditions of so many in Haiti, it has also affirmed, for me, the power and value that a simple act of kindness can have. Many of my colleagues and friends donated brand new shoes or money to purchase shoes for the boys of The Hands & Feet Project. Because they walk to school each day and the terrain is rocky, they go through them quickly. But, thanks to some generous Americans, the boys of The Hands & Feet Project now have plenty of new shoes!

Sorting and pulling the larger-sized shoes out for the older boys at Ikondo before taking the rest down to Thozin, the other site where the younger kids live. This shot is from inside what will be "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen." Currently, however, it is being used as a bedroom for incoming short-term mission teams until construction at Ikondo progresses a little further.

Sorting and pulling the larger-sized shoes out for the older boys at Ikondo before taking the rest down to Thozin, the other site where the younger kids live. This shot is from inside what will be “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen.” Currently, however, it is being used as a bedroom for incoming short-term mission teams until construction at Ikondo progresses a little further.

I estimate that 40-50 pairs of shoes, the absolute maximum number that I could fit into the two bins and my personal luggage, made the trip with me from my driveway in North Carolina to The Hands & Feet Children’s Village in Grand Goave, Haiti. From the money that was donated to purchase shoes I had $30 left over which I gave to Andrew Sutton, co-director of the Grand Goave Hands & Feet Children’s Village, to use as they see fit.

The majority of the shoes were sorted by size and placed in the storage depot  where the younger kids’ live to be distributed later as needed, but, several pairs were kept on the mountain top at Ikondo for the older boys. I was caught somewhat off guard early in the week when, while having an evening devotional with the other guys on the team, three of the boys came up behind me and hugged me in thanks for the shoes. I told them immediately that the shoes all came from friends in the states, but, that I was certainly happy to see that they liked them so much. I could tell from that moment, and then later on in the week while spending time with the older boys, that they truly appreciated the new footwear.

Sorting shoes by size for the younger kids at the Thozin site in the storage depot

Sorting shoes by size for the younger kids at the Thozin site in the storage depot

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Thanks to each and every person who supported this shoe-collection effort!

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25:34-40

Learn about how being a part of The Hands & Feet Project’s Family Room program can help even more…

…and thanks to everyone who prayed for the team and I as we made the journey. It was an unforgettable week and, God-willing, it won’t be my last visit to Grand Goave, Haiti.

The team (l-r): Greg (rear), Jewel (front), Drex, Wendy, Marian, myself, Jo, James, and April

The team (l-r): Greg (rear), Jewel (front), Drex, Wendy, Marian, myself, Jo, James, and April