Psalms: Our (Re)New Workout


Some books fill my mind. Others fill my heart.

This week, an excerpt from a MUST-READ for all believers.  N.T. Wright’s The Case for Psalms is eye-opening to the point of introducing the “more mature” Christ-follower, who thinks she’s tasted-and-seen-it-all, to the world of gourmet.

Psalms, dusted off, reinstated, is our renewed workout for transforming the mind, heart and body.  Wonder-full. psalms

For those who wonder if worship is happy-clappy praise all the time, this offers a broader picture. For those of us with concerns over worship devolving into self-focus, Wright explains clearly how this easily & quickly took root in Western culture.

The Psalms are the hymnbook collection of both Judaism and the early Church in private and corporate worship.  Our opportunity to be real and genuine before a loving, involved Creator.

Part of the strange work of the Psalms is to draw the terror and shame of all the ages together to a point where it becomes intense and unbearable, turning itself into a great scream of pain, the pain of Israel, the pain of Adam and Eve, the pain that shouts out, in the most paradoxical act of worship, to ask why God has abandoned it. And then of course the Psalms tell the story of strange vindication, of dramatic reversal, of wondrous rescue, comfort, and restoration.

Click HERE to find it on Amazon.

Resisting Consumer Worship


consumer_churchIn biblical worship, the Church offers an alternative to a me-centered culture.  It is accepting God’s invitation to encounter Him on His terms, to be reoriented to life in His Kingdom and to taste glimpses of heaven.   Yet in an effort to appear “relevant,” it is easy to turn Christ-centered community into entertainment that attracts consumers who hopefully will sign on to the organization.  Some of my thoughts, and best bits from research this past week…

On Victoria Osteen

“Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” The Osteen gospel fits hand-in-glove with me-centered American philosophy. But it is worse than heresy; it is trivialization of the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Encased in a facade of spirituality, it is gobbled up like a delicious appetizer by tens of thousands in our culture who do not realize their dish was basted in poison.

From Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out without Dumbing Down

“It is urgent that the Church recognize how easily we assume the self-centered mind-set of the culture that surrounds us and work more deliberately to reject it…This focus on the self is a curious inversion, for in losing God as subject we lost exactly what we need to find genuine self-identity.”

We exist encased in a giant cultural condom.

From Joey Earl Horsman’s article “Channel Too: The Postmodern Yawn,” The Other Side 29

“Modern technology and media have proved to be Valium for our leisure time. They have turned the U.S. into a nation of spectators, more eager to watch life that to participate in it.  We want our art, for instance, to provide distraction rather than require concentration, asking it for either escape of knee-jerk political messages.  We want shock or sleep. Period.  We live in the age of simulation.  For just as shopping malls simulate the great outdoors, replacing sun and trees with fluorescent lights and green plastic “plants,” we simulate danger with amusement park rides, friends or enemies with talk-radio hosts, rebellion with torn jeans and black boots, sex with lewd phone conversations, revolution with improved fabric softeners, and freedom with the newest panty liner. We simulate real life by eliminating risk and commitment, and end up mistaking what is real for what is only artificial. We exist, that is, encased in a giant cultural condom.”

From  C. Welton Gaddy’s The Gift of Worship

“Worship is a gift between lovers who keep on giving to each other.”

A Pastor’s/Worship Leader’s Essential Checklist before Sunday:

  • Center on God
  • Glorify Christ
  • Involve the people
  • Express praise
  • Communicate the truth of the Bible
  • Encourage faith
  • Promise redemption
  • Reflect the Incarnation
  • Build up the Church
  • Instill vision
  • Make an offering
  • Nurture communion
  • Evoke an “Amen”

From John Piper’s, Brothers, We are Not Professionals

“It boils down to this: we either make much of Him, or much of us.”

Superstition, the Liturgy of Social Media, Chicken Sexers & Judaism


The best bits from this week: impacting excerpts that influence our worship and discipleship…

rabbits foot“If we participate in worship and simply hope that our being there will cause God to bless us, what we are doing in church really amounts to practicing something other than Christianity. We are practicing superstition, or hypocrisy— in which we sometimes even intentionally learn to say things to God that we do not mean. Spiritually speaking, the sin of hypocrisy is one of the most vexing antidotes to formation. In hypocrisy, our external actions are cut off from internal attitudes. We may even become well practiced at not meaning what we say or do.” (from James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): How Worship Works)

Do I shape my image to appear like God, or allow God to shape me into His image? 

fb“Users [of social media] can severely underestimate the (de) formative power of cultural artifacts, approaching them with just a little bit too much confidence, assured that they are masters of the technology when it might be the technology that is slowly mastering them. Social media— despite the good uses to which it can be put— might be just this sort of disordering liturgy. Signing up for Twitter or Facebook is not a neutral decision to simply employ a “medium”: it is to insert oneself in an environment of practice that inculcates in us certain habits that then shape our orientation to the world— indeed, they make our worlds.” (from James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): How Worship Works, 2013)

In speaking of ways the Church and Christian University should work hand-in-hand to nurture and disciple the next generation of believers to experience and act out the way of Christ as second nature…

chick“These perceptual skills can be astonishingly subtle. Many chicken farms employ professional chicken sexers. They look at newly hatched chicks and tell whether the chicks are male or female even though, to the untrained eye, the chicks all look the same. Experienced sexers can look at eight hundred to one thousand chicks an hour and determine their gender with 99 percent accuracy. How do they figure it out? They couldn’t tell you. There is just something different about the males and females, and they know it when they see it.” ( David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, 2011)

Consistent, disciplined practice will help the heart catch up…

jew“Judaism stresses that if you begin with the right actions, you’ll come upon the right beliefs; Christianity works the other way around. In the Talmud, there is a passage that’s considered fundamental in Jewish education, ‘Let a man busy himself with observing the commandments and customs even if his heart is not in them, for eventually the hand will teach the heart’.” (Scott-Martin Kosofsky, The Book of Customs: A Complete Handbook for the Jewish Year, 2004)

Everyone Worships Something


So…lots of reading these days on the topic of Worship. Which is probably a good thing, since that’s the area in which I’m called to lead and disciple others. As this unfolds, I’ll periodically post some the best bits. This one left me both convicted and breathless:

David Foster Wallace had this to say to a graduating class at Kenyon College in 2005:

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship— be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles— is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things— if they are where you tap real meaning in life— then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth.

Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already— it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power— you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart— you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

Quoted in…Smith, James K. A. (2013-02-15). Imagining the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): How Worship Works (Kindle Locations 4764-4766). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Life Between the Legos


21 years ago, I met the woman who would become my wife.  Neither of us realized that the mutual respect and friendship we shared would cause us to “notice” one another 5 years later.  This wonderful friendship with Emily Cartwright allowed us to skip some awkwardness only because our history had already revealed some of the good, the bad and the ugly WAY before we tried to impress each other.  Saying “yes” to a covenant together was an embrace of acceptance, whatever already is and whatever may come.

We made that promise 15 years ago today. Best earthly decision of my life! But wow…it is God’s Providence and grace that He does not reveal everything coming.

Earlier this week, Emily posted a picture of me in her grandmother’s old recliner, reading, in the midst of a DELUGE of legos our childlegosren had dumped out in the floor.  That picture received more hits and comments than anything we’ve ever posted in our Facebook history! Funny as it was, it made me wonder exactly why?

Maybe I’m totally off-base, but my hope is that a snapshot of focused-study-amidst-disaster gave people hope. Here’s the deal…that picture really is a metaphor of our life, our marriage, our family.  Throughout our journey, oceans of joy and chaos have always pressed in: insane schedules and quiet evenings, picnics at the lake and temper tantrums, honest hugs and slow forgiveness, broken washing machines and new cars, intimate moments and major disagreements, vomit on the carpet and a sparking clean house, too much debt and a-little-extra this month, words spoken that brought life and words that did major damage. And with each passing year, more situations we could never have imagined emerge.


I worry sometimes in ministry, by being on stage, that a subtle message is being communicated to the congregation:  These are the people who’ve got it all together!  Imitate them!  Perhaps this is magnified by the power of image management via social media. The truth is, we do not have it all together!  Although, I’d say she is more together than I am. (Good thing I married a Clinical Counselor! For a shameless plug on what Emily is doing, click HERE or on the Restore logo.) But what we DO have is a covenant with The LORD not only to follow Him but to make that journey of discipleship publicly and in community. Please forgive me for the times I have let any of you see only the successes. We are very blessed in our marriage and family, but we share those joys in a sea of things we are still striving to figure out.

Our journey with Christ reveals this: frequently when God creates beauty from ashes, the mess isn’t completely erased. Rather, He forms something so beautiful and redeemed that our focal point shifts towards a glorious miracle against a background of debris.

Every kingdom person is moving toward a future reality when all is restored, every lego will be in place, and all will be as it was intended. In the meantime, celebrate every victory right in the middle of the mess.  That single discipline will build unimaginable strength.

Your family is your small group. So is your marriage.


Family Investment Strategies


Intended for Father’s Day weekend, these thoughts are a bit behind schedule!

This past Spring, Emily & I co-led and participated in our first ever Financial Peace University…which was CRAZY helpful in getting our minds wrapped around goals for our marriage and family.  The line we heard repeated more than anything else was this:

Live like no one else now so that you can live like no one else later!

Translation:  be willing to make sacrifices early on for a later pay off.  Choose homemade cards, board games and Family Dollar instead of bling, cruises and Neiman Mark-up. The savings and investments made early move a person into the realm of enjoying things without debt later.  And for the believer, moves him/her into the reality of eventually being able to bless specific ministries in extraordinary ways.

A fun way to teach this to our kids is sharing FPU’s investment calculator.  (Click HERE to preview and play around with it). I wish I had a picture of my oldest child’s face with this scenario:  $2000 invested at age 18, with NO more money paid in, at a 10% average rate of return by age 68 = $243,781!  But take the exact same scenario and have $100 per month drafted from your checking account.  In the same time span, the yield is $1.7 million!

It goes to show that a little, invested early, and continued over time reaps a great harvest.  This is a great principle for parents!  And I hope, an encouragement as well.  Many parents I know are working very long hours to provide for their families in this difficult economy. Many more are trying the accomplish the task which ought to be shared by a spouse all by herself.  As discouragement takes hold, it is easy to feel like one has skipped  today’s or this month’s payment, or maybe even has made some big withdrawals.


Houston…we may have a problem!

But be encouraged, and know that every small kindness with the intent to nurture and reflect the Father’s love adds value that is compounding. Even if gone unappreciated in the moment, every

  • note in a lunch box
  • book read at bedtime
  • backyard ball game played
  • recital attended
  • music lesson, practice, rehearsal driven to (in your minivan with 248,000 miles)
  • prayer prayed over him, his folded clothes, made up bed
  • homework sheet assisted
  • “funeral” for yet another pet that kicked it
  • hug
  • wrestling match in the floor when you “let” him win
  • surprise “just because” little gift
  • lovingly confrontive conversation rather than letting it go unspoken
  • time spent doing something she loves (but you might hate)
  • “I love you” spoken
  • time you spent answering the questions you never saw coming, but by the grace of God were able to answer truthfully and without freaking out…

all these things compound the interest. These and more add to the vocation of biblical parenting:  to nurture our children towards being a gift for God’s world.  It’s biblical because it images the Heavenly Father upon them.  It’s obedience because you recognize your child as a divinely entrusted gift. It’s spiritual formation for the parent because as a father or mother, you make the investment not only for your joy but especially for others to savor.

This becomes the heart-cry of the believing parent: that the LORD may shape my son/daughter and use this life so that others may know and be in eternity with Him.

Hang in there moms and dads.  Even if today’s deposit is only a dime, it may be greater progress than you realize.  In God’s hands, He can turn the investment made in your child into an endowment instead of a Social Security check.

And for the record, this is why I’m late this week:


 Your family is your small group.


Legos, Missions & Finding Joy

It’s been a week of reentry.
You know, that week after vacation when you catch yourself staring at the wall while responding to the 487 emails that accumulated while gone and re-living the sun on your face in the lazy river at the resort, and…Oh sorry.  I did it again.  I’m back.  I love being home, but it’s great to savor great memories made with family.  On more than one occasion, Emily & I have fondly reminisced “what we were doing this time last week.”
But if you read my previous blog, you already know there are some memories better left in Florida!  There is one scene, however, that I keep replaying in my mind.  I’m not quite sure what adjective should be assigned to it.  Astounding? Incredulous? Dangerous? Disturbing? “What could it be!?” you might ask.  THE LEGO STORE.
In case you weren’t aware, the Plank’s are serious Lego people.  I’m not talking about the 10 minute Duplo sets, I mean put-on-your-seatbelt-we’ll-be-here-for-8-hours-with-a-manual-putting-this-together people.  We went to Legoland. And thanks to 3 young boys, I can quote vast parts of the movie.  I love it that their little minds are attracted to this genre of imagination.  We have fun completing these sets together; and we’ve found that some great conversations can take place in the midst of all that construction.
But the store…wow!  We visited 3 times, and each time people were snatching and grabbing products as if there would NEVER be another Lego made.  It was like Black Friday, except EVERY day!  This is the scene that continues mentally replaying.  It disturbs me on a couple of levels.  First, that we can place so much importance and faith in a product to bring us joy and secondly, recognizing how easily we can be sucked into the hysteria.
There is an important lesson we are trying to teach our kids:  “stuff” is not ultimately going to make them happy. How crazy is it that we are still learning that one…even as adults?  I’ll be happy if I get everything I want is not true.  A growing disciple must constantly wrestle with the fact that our soul’s default is utterly selfish.  I will continually be tempted to snatch and grab products and experiences that fill me in a desperate attempt to experience joy.  And if you’ve been a believer for a long time, be forewarned:  the Enemy’s strategy gets more diabolical…
I just didn’t get what I was looking for from that message today.
This church really needs to provide more services and activities for me.
I only go to Bible studies where there are really mature believers.
I’m going to let someone else volunteer this year…I’ve done my time.
The music chosen for worship isn’t my taste, so I’ll stand in the foyer until it’s over.
These thoughts, and others like them, will streak across your mind at some point.  And when they do, there is a spiritual antibiotic ready to remove them: service.  And when the fever hits, ingest it or else the dis-ease will spread.  You can’t serve without humility, and humility always involves an emptying of the heart.  I love this quote from Andy Stanley:
“As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours.”
― Andy StanleyDeep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend
This week, several from our church, along with one of my little Lego-Builders (Jordan) had the privilege of “emptying their cups” alongside the Chattahoochee Fuller Center in their first-ever Block of Blessings.  A large part of our community is in legosdesperate need of restoration.  This great organization took one week to do home repairs, paint, mow, plant, pressure wash and restore beauty to a single street.  One block of South 2nd Ave. in Lanett, AL is now a sparkling, inspiring example of what I hope will continue happening in our community. Alongside a lot of hard work, it brought me so much joy to see my child developing friendships with folks of multiple races and with believers from other parts of the country. And also with the sweetest Ms. Newby, whose face was filled with smiles and tears as she daily invited us to her front porch swing during construction on her house, and continually reminded us that we would never know how much this meant to her.
At the dedication & prayer of blessing at each home on South 2nd this afternoon, the President of Fuller Center said these words:  “it’s important what you say, but it’s what you do that defines you.”  Sounds a bit like James 2:26 to me.
Maybe one of the best ways we can disciple our families this summer is to not focus only on all the fun experiences that we think will fulfill us, but upon constructing opportunities where we empty ourselves.  Who knows, your next mission trip might be one street over.  And it just might be even more amazing than Legos.
Your family is your small group.