Writing Regularly

2 Jan 2012 In: Me, Worship Please use the trackback url if you link

So, my first resolution is about writing. Writing regularly has always been a difficult thing for me. I’ve struggled with it a lot over the years and I’ve spent quite a bit of time pondering why. I always felt like this was somehow a testament to the fact that I’m not a writer; because, as almost every single writing book will tell you – writers write. And yet, that doesn’t ring true because when I do write – I truly enjoy the entire experience. The decisions regarding which specific word best describes something – how the words sound when I say them aloud – what it might mean to someone else who’s reading this… it’s all part of the experience. Beyond that, I just want so badly to get my thoughts down on paper. So, I think my irregular writing has been a mix of the following:

  • Fear – yes, a simple one, but true. Quite often, I think my writing is just horrid and should just be chucked out a window and I should never attempt to put another word to virtual paper. But, after reading a number of books on writing, I realize this is an incredibly common situation. There are few writers who haven’t encountered this self-loathing regarding their own prose. We just can’t help but continue to do it.
  • Pride – again, a pretty obvious one. I want my writing to be great. Not just good. I want angels to sing and people to be amazed at the power of my prose. But, whenever I write and I read back what I wrote – I’m certain that it’s barely even good. So, why even try – that’s pride. There are few really great writers in the world and a writer can only improve his craft by actually writing and receiving criticism and then working to overcome that criticism by actually improving his writing. Writing, while part art, is also a craft that gets better as you gain experience and hone your skills.
  • Time – it takes me a long time to write. Part of the reason is that my articles tend to be so very long. But I’m not going to get any faster at trimming my verbiage and saying more with less without actually writing a lot and learning to say more with less.
  • Changing my mind – writing is, in many ways, permanent. But I evolve. My thinking evolves – my worldview evolves – my entire reality evolves. As I draw nearer to Christ, my perspective shifts. I no longer think the way I used to and yet my words are out there. Sometimes, I can sense a shift coming. I can tell that God is dealing with me in a big way about something that I’ve held dear – something I’ve written strongly about in the past. So, I grow silent during this time because during this evolutionary phase, I don’t trust my words anymore. I can flip-flop my thinking quickly as I process the truth that God is revealing. One day, I’m sticking to my guns about what I think and the next day I realize I’m prideful and hard-headed while the next day I think I’m going soft in the head and becoming wishy washy in my thinking. It isn’t until the process is complete and truth is borne out through scripture that I can actually see clearly enough to have a more coherent view on what I’m thinking. I hate being wrong… even though I know I often am. Putting things out for people to read leaves you vulnerable. Also, quite often, I don’t even remember I used to think differently until I go back and read what I used to say and I’m stunned into silence. Of course – this, too, is normal. Every single person evolves their thinking. It’s silly to think otherwise. Nobody remains consistent in their thinking from birth to death (save Christ Himself).
  • False humility – why do I think myself worthy of being read at all? Who am I to think that saying anything about anything is something I should be doing? Why are the meanderings and mutterings of an average person such as myself even worthy of being read? But then, I realize, that I don’t write to be read. I don’t really write for me. I write because it’s all inside of me and I want to get it out. I write because God has placed truth in my heart and sometimes the only way for me to work it out is to write it out. And, somehow, I know that this working out of my faith in this form is helpful to some (or might be). I hope the gospel is evident in this struggle; therefore, it glorifies Him to do this.
  • I feel I have nothing worthwhile to say at times – really, it’s true. Those of you who know me probably doubt this because it seems I have an opinion about everything. And that’s true. There’s little I don’t have an opinion about. That said, I don’t always feel my opinion is worth much on a subject and, therefore, I don’t write about it.

I love to write. I love the entire act of writing. I know I have a long way to go as far as honing the craft of writing. I repeat myself a lot and I repeat certain phrases to the point of sounding like a broken record. But, in time, I hope that I’ll see these things, or a good friend will point them out and my writing will improve.

All I know is that I must write regularly. No more excuses. Who cares if nobody reads this stuff and who cares if it isn’t worth reading – I have to write. It’s in my bones. I get grumpy when I go too long without writing something. So, I shall meander out onto this blog more regularly with various subjects – some, I hope, are interesting. Others, I warn you, will just be silly. Some dangerous. Some ridiculous. Some with little merit. And some – well, some that are just plain stupid. But – it’s a blog.

My hope. My great hope. Is that I would glorify God on these pages. That somehow, through my musings, you would see that the life I lead is only possible because He saved me. The things that I do are only possible because He enables me. Who I am is completely wrapped up in who He is. That is my goal – that is my plea – that is my prayer. You see, I love Jesus and He loves me. I don’t care how trite or cliché that sounds. It just is. I am a man stumbling on His way to meet the King and yet, even in my stumbling, I can see Him waiting there patiently with unjudging eyes, excited that I’m coming.

A Better Resolution

1 Jan 2012 In: Um... dunno Please use the trackback url if you link

New Year’s Day. Traditionally, this is a day for reflection. This is a day when we look back at the previous year and evaluate “how we did” and then look forward to try and determine how we can “do better.” This is the day when the often-mocked and likely broken resolutions get made. Most of us will resolve to exercise more in the coming year, finally lose that weight we’ve been struggling with, rededicate ourselves to a better career path, and on and on. The new year presents us with an opportunity to make it a better year than it was last year.

I’ve been a resolution cynic for better part of the last decade. I tended to “resolve not to resolve,” but if I’m honest with myself… I only resolved not to tell anyone that I’d resolved. I still made resolutions each year, I just didn’t call them that. I still took stock at the end of the year and chose to make a forecast of what I should change for the coming year. Resolutions happened. There’s just something about the start of a new year that naturally creates this opportunity.

Today, my pastor gave a rich sermon on “A Better Resolution.” A number of things he spoke on provoked a lot of thought and I jotted a series of notes down (using the Evernote app on my awesome new Kindle Fire). What started me writing notes (I’m really not a note taker during sermons… though I should be, I know) was the concept of repentance being tied to resolutions. While this is a somewhat obvious connection, there was something specific about using the word “repentance” in the context of a sermon on resolutions that made a deeper connection for me. I wrote, “Ask what it is that you still have to repent of in order to truly resolve to do that which God has put it in your heart to do for His glory.” That’s a potent question and I’m asking God for the answer, and, honestly, I’m a little bit afraid of what He’ll say. While I rejoice in the knowledge that sin revealed is sin He’ll heal, I know that the process is always painful.

There are so many things I want to do. So many irons I want to put in so many different fires. I am a man constantly riding on the edge of the chasm of discontent (quite often dangling from the edge). That constant nudging of discontent leads me to create artificial excitement through the allure of that next new thing… whatever it might be. I want to write regularly – every day in fact. Why don’t I? That’s a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately. When I write, I go through a roller coaster ride between elation and condemnation with a lot of cynicism peppered throughout. But, the crux of it all is what I wrote in my notes: “If I feel strongly that I should write, I need to ask why. Where does that motivation come from? How would I use this to give Him glory? What is He calling me to do with it?” What, indeed. Do I want to write to be recognized? Is pride fueling my desire (and therefore my constant roller coaster ride) or is He fueling my desire and my flesh doing everything in its power to use this desire to throw me into despair and condemnation? Good questions.

What about exercise? I was on a solid tear to exercise and I hit a number of milestones, then something happened. I got sick and that caused me to stop running. I’ve never been able to get back into it. I have a race in February, so I’m praying that this will cause some motivation, but I now find I’m afraid of demotivating myself because I haven’t the time to train well and I may actually do worse in this race that I did in my last. Again, from my notes: “What is it about exercise that I know He wants me to do?” While this may seem like an overspiritualization to some, it honestly isn’t. It’s the same question I’m asking in my writing. I know I should exercise for my health, but it’s important for me to ask why it is that I’m doing it. Where does the motivation come from. If it’s from a desire to simply achieve for the sake of achieving – I’ve pretty much doomed myself. Self-achievement as motivation is a pride-fueled dance to despair (at least it’s always turned out that way for me).

What about my MCITP certication? I’m spending thousands of dollars on training, so this is a no-brainer, but I still have to ask (from my notes again): “Is it for me or for Him? Is that even the right question?” My industry requires certification to move forward. While certification alone won’t grease any pathways, not having them certainly closes doors. Besides, where I currently work, there are gaps in my knowledge and just studying for my certification is filling some of those gaps.

I also wrote today: “From what place am I deriving my picture of the ideal life? The ideal man? From what source do I envision this ideal life or sense of maleness comes from?” Deeper questions still. These answers will only come through dedicating some time to prayer and really waiting for an answer before I decide to plunge headlong and make drastic life course alterations with no sense of guidance. It’s important to understand what the picture is, but for a Christian, it is also important to know the picture’s source. The source of the picture is important because it tells you whether or not this is some cockeyed scheme you’ve created or whether you’re truly motivated by a desire to fulfill the mission of your life – which is to glorify God in all that you do and preach the gospel to every creature.

Jacob (my pastor) reminded me today that we have to get off the “I’ll do better” bandwagon. We have to realize that Jesus is the better story. Whatever we resolve to do, we must ensure that Jesus is the hero of that story. Whatever we resolve to do, we must, as Jeff Vandersteldt has said (quoted by Jacob this morning), we should be striving to make our lives a story that demands a gospel explanation. That there is no way outside of the gospel that can explain how we live.

Oh yes, repentance. Jacob said we need to make a “stop” list. What is it that we need to stop doing? What’s preventing you from doing what God is calling you to do? What things require repentance? I liked that – a “stop” list – quite often in our blind desire to do better, we fool ourselves into thinking that simply working harder is what we need. When, really, sometimes we’re working so hard, we’re not seeing the crap we have in our lives that are actually ensuring our resolutions fail. As Christians, we have a great benefit here – we can ask God to reveal our sin and He will do so. Sin revealed is sin He will heal… if we repent.

I’ll close with a great quote Jacob shared this morning from Joe Thorn: “But, a proper Christian resolution will always be connected to an ongoing spiritual revolution that is fueled by faith in Christ and repentance from sin. Any resolution that lacks repentance will prove to be a vain attempt at self-improvement. Any resolution without dependency on Jesus and an aim at his glory will prove to be little more than a whitewashing of a religious life. And yet, any Christian life without resolutions is sure to be both stale and static.”

So, I no longer resolve not to resolve. Instead, I’m taking up Jacob’s challenge this morning: Resolve to see Jesus more clearly and to ensure that the resolutions I make are ones that require God to show up… to make a resolution that is achievable with God in mind. Those require repentance. Those require faith. Those require Jesus. Thankfully, I know Him and, what’s better, He’s longing to help.

Kindle Fire Review – Three Days

29 Dec 2011 In: Me, Media Please use the trackback url if you link
I’ve owned a Kindle Fire now for three days (ish). I have some observations that might help others decide whether or not this is the device for them. I will say that, initially, I love this device. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I’ve used it pretty extensively these past few days. It is far from perfect, but at $199, it has been well worth the price. That said, there are some caveats and a few oddities that might preclude you from purchasing this device.

Overview

Overall, I’ve found the device a joy to use. It’s responsive, has adequate battery life, comfortable to hold for extended periods, and the screen is easy to read at any comfortable viewing distance. While I do find myself wishing the screen resolution were a bit higher, I have to remind myself that I only spent $200 on this and the pixel density (number of pixels per physical inch) is actually higher than what you find on the iPad (or any current Android tablet). While I’ve read some reviews that have complained about sluggishness, I have yet to experience this (except for the browser – which is pathetic, but I’ll get to that in a little bit).

I do want to make one thing clear… I am an Amazon consumer. If I’m looking for something to buy, I will always search Amazon first. If I’m looking for reviews, I will always search Amazon first. I am an Amazon Prime member (though that will likely not continue – maybe I’ll explain this later). I own a number of Kindle books because, frankly, as much as I’m opposed to DRM in principle, Amazon’s execution for ebooks is almost flawless. They have fairly aggressive pricing (when they’re allowed to) and they’re responsive to customer needs. More and more indie books appear in Kindle format every day at very good prices. Their ability to synchronize your reading experience across multiple devices is unparalleled. They just make everything easy. Their suggestion engine (far from perfect) actually does cause me to look at items I wouldn’t have normally looked at. It will take a lot for another seller to pull me from Amazon. Barnes & Noble’s website is far more difficult to navigate, far slower, and it’s organization is poor in comparison to Amazon. Due to this, I will never buy a Nook.

I love to read, but I hate reading one thing all the way through. I have any number of books in progress at any given moment that I pick up and read depending upon my mood and the situation I’m in. Kindle allows me to do this easily. I’ve used the tablet to read a number of book types: a chapter book for my kids (Samantha loses the box turtle), a number of theology texts, a picture book for my toddler, and an interactive ebook (Charlie Brown’s Christmas – which is truly amazing on this tablet). I’ve played Monopoly (specifically targeted to the Fire), used a number of applications (most of which I’ve “sideloaded” – something I’ll explain in detail a little later): Dropbox (sideloaded), ES File Explorer, Dolphin Browser (sideloaded – a MUST), Netflix (awesome), Evernote (wow – totally great for the Fire), and the YouVersion Bible app. All of these apps have worked flawlessly, even the sideloaded ones.

Things That I Love

Incredibly Responsive Reading Experience

The Kindle Fire is a Kindle – first and foremost. It’s built around reading and it shows. The resolution, though not super high res, is more than adequate for reading at a natural distance. The type size is just right. The contrast at the default brightness has been just fine and I haven’t gotten tired of reading (though I haven’t read for more than an hour at a time with it). The book navigation is perfectly responsive and I honestly prefer this to e-ink. (The weird flashing thing between pages always drove me nuts on e-ink devices.)

The beauty of this being a color device is that I have children. Picture books display with vibrant colors and great animation. It’s a fabulous thing. Plus, bookcovers look right. I know that should be minor… but I really like it. I feel like you’re getting closer to experience of owning the physical book with a color bookcover. Yeah, yeah – silly, but this is my review.

Web Browsing (with Dolphin HD)

The stock Silk browser is crazy bad (see my more complete explanation later), but browsing in Dolphin HD is incredible. I set Dolphin to use the Desktop agent string and everything works flawlessly. I primarily purchased this to study for my IT certifications and my video courses run beautifully in Dolphin. Beyond this, I can browse to any site and perform all functions as if I were on my computer (barring any crazy keyboard combination needs that some idiot developer decided made their site cool). It’s now my browser of choice when seated on my couch (it was my phone up until this point).

Apps – OH MY the Apps!

I have a few apps installed already and besides the weird carousel home page (reviewed later), the app experience has been amazing. Documents to Go Pro works flawlessly. I have created and edited spreadsheets (including creating spreadsheet formulas), started and edited documents – pretty much anything you need to do on a daily basis with an app like this… it’s awesome. Evernote… wow, just wow. The tablet version of this app is incredible. That is all. Games designed for tablets work without issue for me. Pretty much every app I’ve tried (except those that require the Google Android Ecosystem) have worked without fail.

Hardware Love

The Fire is fast. I have a rooted G2X running Cyanogen Mod 7 and my Fire is more responsive than my phone… because it’s not running a crap load of apps in the background along with a dozen system processes that go along with being a phone. The Fire is only running the system and a few background processes. If you start loading it down with a bunch of system crap ware… it will slow down and it will be your fault.

  • Screen: responsive, easy on the eyes, screen is sensitive to the touch (almost too sensitive – hovering my finger above an area for too long will select that area even if I’m not in physical contact with the screen).
  • Battery Life: two days at over 20 hours on a full charge. That may change as I use it more, but it’s more than adequate. I only need it to last about 12 hours as I’m always near a USB charger if need be (though I will tell you, the Kindle charger is an amped up charger, so using anything but the charger that came with your Kindle will take forever to actually charge the device).
  • Weight: just the right heft in my opinion. It feels substantial in your hand, but not heavy. You won’t get tired of holding it, but you’ll know you have something in your hand.
  • Construction: it doesn’t seem cheaply made (probably partly due to the aforementioned heft). It’s not a metal body, but everything feels seamless. My only complaint is this weird little matte lip near the edge of the device… not sure why that’s there. Feels like it would be easily dented or marred.

Things That Annoy Me

Amazon Silk… more like double-knit polyester

I’m going to start with what gave me the worst experience out of box – the Amazon Silk browser. I’ve seen reviews that praise the Silk browser (which makes me wonder what Amazon is paying them) and those that pan it. I cannot imagine how anyone can think this is a good browser. My experience has been terrible. It’s unresponsive, it has little to no feedback when clicking on a link, it takes forever to load a new page, and worst of all – it often doesn’t even register that you’ve clicked anything. When first using it, I thought maybe I had a defective touch screen… but every other app and game was responsive, so it had to be the browser. Now, I am incredibly picky about browsers – I know this. But, honestly, I am having a hard time understanding how anyone could like this thing.

If you get or have a Kindle Fire, you simply must sideload the Dolphin browser. You will thank me for it because browsing will suddenly become less frustrating and waaaay faster. Dolphin and Amazon need to get on the stick and actually put the Dolphin browser in the Amazon app store. Silk truly sucks – there’s just no two ways about it. So, how do you sideload? There are a few ways to do it (only one of them is somewhat simple):

  1. Use another Android device and download Dolphin HD and Astro File Manager from the Android Market
  2. Find a friend with an Android device who can get you the APK for this
  3. Search for the APK online (this is not recommended as it can very easily be infected with malware)

No matter which option you choose, you’ll need to download “ES File Explorer” from the Amazon App Store onto your Fire so that you can install the APK easily. If you are able to use option 1, the simplest method is to use Astro File Manager to perform a backup of the Dolphin HD application and then mail it to an email account you can check on your Fire. Otherwise, you’ll have to use USB data cables and copy files from your Android device to your computer and then to your Kindle Fire. Emailing is simplest. I’m not going into much detail, I know, but just do a Google search and there are plenty of places that provide detailed instructions on how to sideload apps onto your Kindle Fire.

Seriously, find a way to get Dolphin HD on your Fire, it will change your entire browsing experience.

Seriously? No way to replace the keyboard?

Yes, that’s true. You are stuck with the Kindle Fire’s native virtual keyboard. Don’t get me wrong – the keyboard doesn’t suck. It’s responsive, it’s autocorrection is adequate, and the keys are pretty well spaced (though it’s easy to accidentally type a period when you intended to type a space), and I don’t really find the experience all that frustrating. I just prefer other keyboards. Amazon has offered at least two different keyboards via the Amazon App Store. None of those can be used on the Fire. In fact, even if you were to attempt to sideload a keyboard onto the Fire, there is no way to activate that keyboard (well, not without rooting your Fire, which completely defeats the reason I have one).

I don’t understand the logic here. But, then again, I don’t understand why Amazon insists on forcing you to use that thing they call a browser.

Bookshelves are for books!

I’m sure someone at Amazon thought they were clever with this neato little bookshelf design. They weren’t. It’s ridiculous. Having to flick through a carousel of items is not at all intuitive. While it’s nice to see the latest books I was reading… it doesn’t make sense to see the apps in this way. Also, due to the way the affordance works in this carousel, it’s easy to launch the wrong thing. Also, there are times when you try to select the item but you end up moving your finger just slightly and it moves the carousel. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

But it doesn’t suck. No, really, I know it sounds like my hatred for this feature is great – it’s not. I don’t understand it. I don’t think it makes sense. I think it’s a stupid implementation of what could be a great idea… for books. Apps need to be more easily arranged – there’s no need to see a ginormous app icon – it’s an icon for goodness sake! While icons can be amazing little works of art… they’re little works of art. LITTLE. Enlarging them to 10 times their natural size just makes them look ridiculous (not to mention that sideloaded apps don’t have larger versions of themselves and are just crazy ugly, but I digress as those are “unsupported.”)

I’ve gotten used to the carousel and the usability of the tablet in general is not greatly hampered by its nonsensically ridiculous existence.

Hardware Oddities

Much has been written about the ridiculous placement of the power button. It’s on the bottom of the Fire. That’s beyond stupid. The only thing I can figure is that somehow due to the innards, they had no easy way of stretching a power cable to a more sensible location… but still, the bottom? Thankfully, I found a case that puts a clamp right next to that button, so I don’t suffer from the same problem many have written about (which is that holding it in portrait orientation, it will keep asking you if you want to shut down because you’re applying pressure to the power button.) The case I have is a Targus Vuscape case – love it – just what I wanted (believe it or not – can’t find an Amazon link to it – weird).

No expansion… well, yeah, I get the whole “cloud” thingy… but this is 2011 (almost 2012), expandability… would that have been so hard? Well, Apple thinks it unnecessary, so I guess… nope, still think it’s ridiculous.

Should You Get a Kindle Fire?

The answer to this question is multi-faceted. It really depends on who you are. If you are an Amazon consumer (such as myself) and want more than just a standard Kindle for reading and would like your device to do more than just display books, then it’s a no-brainer. Some people will tell you that since the Kindle app is available to almost every device, then just get a “real” tablet and install the Kindle reader. Let me tell you – it’s not the same. Amazon doesn’t treat their apps the same way they treat actual Kindles. There are things they only make available to Kindle owners (hence why I didn’t buy this device to root it – I’m not interested in making this a non-Kindle).

If you’re already a member of Amazon Prime (or are planning to be) and you already use the Kindle reader for books… the Fire is a great choice. But do not purchase Amazon Prime simply because you’re going to get a Fire. The value of Amazon Prime is not easily realized. There are very few things that you can say will actually save you money by using Prime. Prime is a value-added service that you pay for to get things you wouldn’t ordinarily use (in my humble opinion). Let me explain:

  • Free two-day shipping. I would rarely use two-day shipping because I wouldn’t want to pay for it. As a prime member, I always use two-day shipping, but it doesn’t actually save me anything since I would have never paid the extra for two-day. But, by paying for this service, I do get something – I get my products faster.
  • Amazon Prime Videos. If you already have a Netflix streaming account – this is useless. Really. The core business of Netflix is video. They’re better at organizing it, categorizing it, suggesting it… anythinging it. Video is not Amazon’s prime business (though they’re trying) – they do not hold a candle to Netflix. Browsing the video library is difficult and with one-click buying, it’s dangerous because it’s easy to find yourself browsing PAY videos rather than the free ones. Also, I have not found one video available on Prime that isn’t available on Netflix Instant… and I’ve found plenty on Netflix Instant that isn’t available on Prime.
  • MP3s. Amazon has a decent MP3 offering – it’s no iTunes, but you gain some advantages in the free Cloud storage for any and all MP3s you purchase through them. But I don’t buy MP3s through them. I have a ZunePass (yes, it’s true – and it’s awesome). But Amazon suffers here as well – digital music is not their core business and they’re just not as good at it as others are.
  • Kindle Checkout Library. Sounds great, right? Choose from tons of titles for free checkout! Except wait – you only get one checkout per month. That’s twelve per year… not worth $79 no matter how you slice it because you don’t own the book.

So… Prime actually doesn’t save me any money at all. It costs me $79 per year… but I gain access to the above features. You have to decide whether it’s worth that cost to you. Every year I struggle with this decision. I tend to let it drop each year and end up picking it up again later because I’ve become spoiled. That said… it’s expensive, so be sure you know why you’re doing it. Owning a Fire really doesn’t gain you anything more except that you now have a device to make better use of the Amazon ecosystem.

Personally, I love my Fire. If I have any other tidbits to throw in as I journey along with my little 7″ multi-function Amazon tablet… I’ll be sure to pass it along.

God’s Sovereignty in Daily Life

13 Dec 2011 In: Me, Worship Please use the trackback url if you link

Or… How My Daily Life Reveals Unbelief Regarding God’s Sovereignty

I was pondering a “What if” question today regarding certain decisions I had made and found myself with some regret about days gone by and things I’d decided to do. Then a thought occurred to me: if God is sovereign, then why am I worried about what has already transpired? Not a single stroke of any word, moment, decision, or feeling can be changed. It’s done, finis, over and it was all done according to plan… if I’m really a sovereigntist, that is.

But, while I am a theological sovereigntist, I am, at times, a practical humanist with some neat Christian mysticism thrown in for good measure. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that God is sovereign and will affirm it loudly and clearly. I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sin and paid the debt for my depravity (previous, ongoing, and future) and through His sacrifice I have been adopted into the family of God and, therefore, no longer fear His wrath and look forward in joyous rapture to the day when I am granted the magnificent inheritance of dwelling in His house forever and in His presence for eternity future. Amen!

But not today. Well, not right now. Maybe later. Definitely later… and well, a few minutes ago. And again – now. My heart swells, my mind soars, my excitement builds… all at the very thought of being with God for eternity future. Paul hits this dead on of course in . We are freed men in Christ that find ourselves constantly reshackling our hands with the chains of sin while the Holy Spirit constantly reminds us that these shackles DO NOT EXIST any more.

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

( ESV)

What if? There is no what if… there are no alternate realities where every potential decision spawns some sort of other reality in a multi-verse (makes for great sci-fi though – love me a good multi-verse story). What happens is what happens. When someone dies, there is no “what could they have done” – they couldn’t have done anything, because they are dead and, in His sovereignty would always be dead at the specific time they died. There is no hope in longing for what can never be or have been… hope is found in the truth that “…for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ( ESV)” All things… ALL THINGS. Even the crap that happened yesterday, last year, a few moments ago, throughout our entire lives… ALL THINGS for good.

I don’t know about you… but man, that is an awesome bunch of hope right there. Can I trust Him in it right now? Will my life truly reflect this reality? With the help of the Holy Spirit and more revelatory moments such as this one… yeah, I think it just might. Believing anything else would be futile…

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
( ESV – emphasis mine)

Postscript: My penchant for clarification forces me to explain that I am not saying one is not responsible for one’s actions nor am I saying that actions do not beget consequences that can, at times, be quite tragic. I am also not saying that you can decide to do whatever the hell you want, future be damned and say that it was all in God’s plan anyway, so whatever. We get our brains in a twist when we try to understand the two concepts of human responsibility and God’s sovereignty as some type of an intersection. It isn’t that simple. God’s sovereignty completely encompasses man’s responsibility, but His sovereignty does not make our decisions any less our responsibility. Somehow, our character, our deliberations, our thoughts, they all fall within His sovereignty in the sweetest and most amazing way possible… through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (a mark of His sovereignty) He guarantees common grace to all mankind, He delivers His adopted children into a life of eternal discovery of the beauty of His grace, and He ensures our continued life with Him at the end of days. There is no downside here. He who is most beautiful and most perfect reveals Himself to us who are most imperfect and invites us to spend eternity with Him.


7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (ESV)


13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (ESV)


28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)


29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (ESV)

The Search for Happiness

14 Jan 2011 In: Family, Friends, Me, Soma, Worship Please use the trackback url if you link

Life is toil. Ecclesiastes tells us this clearly. Life under the sun is filled with work and trial; however, those of us who call upon the name of Jesus are promised hope and joy in the midst of this toil. Why then does it seem most days that we allow the toil to take its toll on our joy while we stumble balancing burdens no longer meant for our shoulders?

Within the last month or so, I’ve found myself taking stock of my life. Perhaps it’s the New Year, perhaps it’s my third daughter beginning to crawl, perhaps it’s just middle age – I’m not sure, but I’ve found my thoughts filled with wonder at where I’ve found myself. I’m going to share with you a confession of sorts – a list of struggles that I am currently facing. Most, if not all, of these have plagued me for as long as I remember – but if you stick with me to the end, I promise to leave you with celebration and not mourning.

  • Finances – I struggle with a love of money. Not the greedy kind, but the kind where there is never enough of it. I am rarely content financially. In my earlier years, it led to theft at my retail job (which got me fired of course). Since that grievous incident, it mainly manifests as discontent. Just when I feel like we’re getting ahead, something sets us back significantly. I know this is mainly because I struggle to lay this burden at the feet of Grace, but that’s really why it’s on this list. This is likely the most insidious of all the struggles I face – it pervades every aspect of life. It robs me of my joy while, logically, squelching generosity.
  • Socialness – I am not a social person. I love community, but a part of me loathes parties and gatherings. I’ve spoken much of this in past postings, so I won’t belabor the point here.
  • Life Goals – I am a fickle goal-setter. In every season of life, I want to do something other than what I’m doing and, if I get to that, I bore of it and want to do something else. The latest Porterbrook class I’m taking goes through a series of questions to help you find your passion… it has been unbelievably difficult. I’ve worked on it for two days and still am not half-way through it. Why? I believe it’s because I allow my life to be defined by others rather than by Christ. I want to see what people expect of me and live up to that. My entire life is that skipping record.
  • Hunger for Approval – Hand-in-hand with the above is my desire to be affirmed by those around me. I used to constantly seek it; thankfully, maturity has eased that behavior, but I do find myself still longing for it.
  • Concern for Others – I hate to admit this… but I really have to work this up. Once it’s worked up, it’s real and I tend to stay concerned about that individual, but it takes concerted effort to do so. Once I’m invested, I find that I’m wholly invested… but it takes a while to get there.
  • Inadequacy – I never feel that I’m quite up to any task that’s given to me. It’s always a series of faith-guided steps to move forward. This fuels my desire for affirmation.

I’m sure that at least some of you can identify with some or all of the list above. Life really is toil. Trials come at us from every direction. Many days we can feel that we’ve taken two steps forward only to end up worse off than we started.

As I’ve taken stock of my life this past month or so, a certain truth has reverberated through my mind and my heart. These are the happiest days of my life. No, really. I have never been more content, more joyful, more pleased, or more hopeful of the future than at any point in my past. So, being the analytical person that I am, I’ve had to try and dig out what causes this unparalleled joy. While it would be true to simply say, “Jesus, of course,” the statement does not adequately describe the “why.”

I’ve come to realize that in life, the small things matter far more than the large things. As I examine my life in Christ, I see the many things that bind me to Him: the gifts that He has given and continues to give me. I have come to recognize the gift of trial, the blessing of being humbled by His holiness, and the nurturing care brought by His chastisement. The Helper helps.

These are the blessings of my life:

  • I am blessed to be counted among those whom Christ has called to be His own. Without Him, I am certain that my life would be shipwrecked on the isle of despair.
  • October of this year will mark the 20th year that I’ve been married to my best friend and most cherished companion. She has shared every tumultuous season of life and has borne the brunt of my self-inflicted sufferings and has, by God’s grace, loved me through them and stuck by me without wavering. I love you Jana.
  • I am the father of three amazing girls who are a constant source of joy and an ever-present reminder of my need to live IN Christ and not operate in my own strength. Through them, the Father teaches me more about patience, long-suffering, fatherly love, and my own sin than I could ever imagine. I am so thankful for this.
  • I have been blessed with an amazing church community in Soma Austin. I am constantly challenged and drawn near to Christ in this body more so than in any other body of believers I’ve been a part of.
  • I am the leader of a small group (called Soma Groups) and this small community within the community of Soma has become such life to me. They minister to me more than they could ever know. I almost feel guilty that I feel like I get more from them than I could ever give to them. I count the members of my SG amongst my closest friends in the world – truly my family.
  • Within my SG, Jana and I have had the privilege of walking two couples through Pre-marital Discipleship and the joy of doing this has been truly inexpressible. Jana and I have both been humbled and awed by God’s grace through this process as He’s shared through us more wisdom than we could possibly know. Both of these couples have become such an integral part of our lives. Also, I’m blessed with the privilege of participating in both of their weddings on the platform for the first time in my life. It’s truly an honor to serve Christ in this way.

Searching for happiness has never brought me happiness. Serving Jesus in my frail and stumbling way has brought me joy unspeakable. These are truly the happiest days of my life. My struggles continue and my toil doesn’t end, but I look forward to the next trial knowing that truly, “all things work to good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” While looking forward to the Reckoning, I am thankful for the constant joy that He provides in this vale of tears. Maranatha!

Shooting at a target guarantees I’ll miss

20 Apr 2010 In: Me Please use the trackback url if you link

I’ve been on a goal-setting kick for the past week. I thought I’d been setting goals my entire life, but now realize that what I’d been trying to do is to hit a target or to set some sort of artificial standard. The difference may be minor for some, but for me that difference has turned out to be the determining factor on whether or not there’s any real chance of achievement. It turns out I can’t get behind a target or a standard… there’s no passion in it for me. But a real goal? One that I can get excited about and sink my teeth into (even if it scares the crap out of me)? Yeah, now that has potential for creating real change.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

(ESV)

In the passage above, Paul uses running a race as a metaphor for self-control and discipline. He chooses a runner and a race very deliberately. A runner does not go through the discipline of preparing for the race for the simple target of being “in shape” – he is running for a very specific goal. While I’m sure Paul is talking about the prize of Christ, this principle applies to any discipline in life.

As I said, the majority of my goals have turned out to be merely targets or standards: read the Bible for 15 minutes each day, walk 2 miles at least three times a week, practice my guitar at least 10 minutes each day, etc. I know – some of you call these things “goals” and, for you, they may very well be goals. I’ve found that these do not work for me. I need something more tangible – something to cause a longing in my heart.

I never studied the Bible more than when I needed to study for teaching youth as a youth pastor. I never read the Bible more than when I needed to read and analyze a book of the Bible for a discipleship group. I never wrote more than when there was a passion welling up within me that compelled me to share. I’ve never practiced more than when I had a difficult song given to me that I had to learn for a show. For me – that’s the real definition of a goal. I have always felt that doing things for these reasons was a cop-out and showed a lack of discipline… but when I didn’t have a reason like these, I invariably ended up doing nothing.

This is why I’ve taken up The Ephesians Project and also why I’ve begun training to run the Jingle Bell 5K in December. I need more fitness in my life, but without something to shoot for, I’ve been aimlessly trying to walk/run/meander in my fitness program. I’ll be taking swimming lessons this summer (Lord willing) to try and see if I can get comfortable enough in the water to swim for distance and then set the goal to enter a sprint triathlon (crazy, I know). So, 5K training has started yesterday, swim training will start this summer, bicycling program will start this fall at the earliest, 5K happens in December, and hopefully a triathlon will happen sometime in 2011.

Neither of these goals is really as crazy as I want them to seem. I’ve read and studied Ephesians so many times that I could probably just run through the book and do The Ephesians Project without really spending any add’l time studying, but it would defeat the purpose of the goal and would produce a junky devotional. I’ve never run before, but people do it all the time and a gradual 7-month training program has worked for people in worse shape than myself. I know I can do these things and I’m actually excited to tackle these two big goals.

What are your goals? Have you spent your days trying to live up to a self-imposed standard only to fall short every time? Is it time for you to re-evaluate what you’re trying to accomplish? Some of us can run the race and discipline ourselves for more abstract reasons and I applaud you if you can. I’ve never been able to and, looking at the state of lives around me, I’m pretty confident that I’m not alone. What crazy goal can you set for 6 months from now or even a year from now that creates within you that strange mixture of fear and excitement? Do that. Start today.


24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (ESV)

The Ephesians Project

19 Apr 2010 In: Family, Me, Worship Please use the trackback url if you link

As I’ve gone from devotional to devotional and read guide after guide regarding individual worship as well as trying to find good resources for family worship – I have never been able to find what I was looking for. So, I’ve now decided to make it myself.

My goal is simple – I’m going to create a devotional for the Book of Ephesians that provides a basic framework for weekday devotions (5 days per week) with a whole host of items that can be cherry-picked for your specific comfort level. The hope is that the busy person can complete the basics (scripture reading, devotional, questions for reflection, prayer) in less than 15 minutes, but can also be used to tie together all the spiritual disciplines in your life into a cohesive study. My plan is for the devotional to contain the following elements:

  1. Weekday readings
    • Short passage from the book of Ephesians
    • Short reading of what I believe are important elements in the passage
    • Short description of the passage for children
  2. Meditative Selection – one very short, memorable verse from the selected passage that can be used as a point of meditation throughout the day
  3. Questions for reflection
    • 2-4 questions for individual or family reflection
    • 1-3 questions specifically geared for children
  4. Points of prayer – no written prayers here – just things for you to consider in your own prayer for that day
  5. Topic for Journaling – something related to the reading that you can use to journal with for the day
  6. Challenge for missional application – this will be something directly related to the passage designed to make you think of ways to apply this in an outward way to the people you encounter on a daily basis. It’s about taking the gospel and making it real. This challenge can be the same for the entire week.
  7. Topics for further study – this could be books to read, other passages to study, commentaries to review, whatever I believe has been helpful in my development of this specific passage.
  8. A weekly project for families with small children to explore the concepts of the gospel being presented in the book (borrowing heavily from the more narrative portions of scripture).

My plan, audacious as it may be, is to read through Ephesians multiple times and study it intently on my own as well as through referencing well-known commentaries and other notable works. I would then divide the book into a certain number of 5-day weeks and create a devotional plan for each of those weeks so that the entire book of Ephesians is consumed with some detail at a steady pace with different helps along the way. Not every element in the above list would be daily, but every element would be included. My hope is that this would help many people to begin implementing spiritual disciplines into their daily lives as well as provide resources for fathers and mothers to engage their children on a regular basis with the meat of the Gospel.

Am I crazy? Perhaps. But I have to try. As each section is complete, I’ll be submitting it to my church and some select friends for feedback prior to posting it publicly. We’ll see how it goes and I may add or cut sections based on feedback. I would then post those vetted sections to this blog for your review and comment. I have no plans to sell this or to try and make any money off of it – this would be a free resource to anyone and everyone to use. I would release each section as a PDF that could be downloaded and printed section by section.

Your prayers are appreciated – both that God would be glorified and that I would keep my shoulder to the plow and actually finish this incredibly huge undertaking.

Organizing My Life is Like Trying to Organize Air

18 Apr 2010 In: Um... dunno Please use the trackback url if you link

So, I’m getting close to making some decisions… well, actually, I think I have made some decisions regarding my procrastination and how to move forward from here. My problem is that I seem utterly unregimentable. I can give myself a schedule, allow for free-time, make it seem perfectly reasonable and within days I’m chafing against this vicious taskmaster. So I change the schedule to accommodate and the taskmaster seems to follow me… er… viciously.

How do you regiment the unregimentable? How do you organize someone who rebels constantly against his own attempts to organize himself? I am, perhaps, the most fickle person I know. I have a Zune Pass because having to purchase all the music I’m interested in discovering and listening to would bankrupt me. My amazing wife has to constantly look for new recipes as history has shown I will quickly tire of whatever delicious thing we might have. I rarely go to the same restaurants because I can’t stand the repetition. And yet, I still like comfort: I will always eat pizza, for instance (though I never tire of new places to eat it). I love chocolate chip cookies (too much). I’m sure there are other things, but they escape me right now.

I wrote the above in February and never finished it… here’s where I stand now… I’ve realized that w/o real goals for the “things I want to do” I won’t actually do any of these things I’ve decided on. Whenever I think I’ve decided on something, I remember the story:

There are four frogs sitting on a log, one of them decides to jump in the water, how many are left? Four. He only decided, it won’t matter until he actually jumps in.

So, even though I’ve made some decisions, little has actually been done due to the lack of real goals. So, this is obviously the next step… taking some of these decisions and putting actual goals to them. The first goal has been set… but it’s audaciously crazy and I need time before I state it publicly (sorry… I just need some time to determine my actual, real, capabilities).

Forty-three years and counting…

17 Apr 2010 In: Me Please use the trackback url if you link

Yesterday was my 43rd birthday. I had determined this year that I would maintain an attitude of thanksgiving and joy for another year of abundant blessing in my life rather than being pensive and overly reflective. I’m glad to report that it was a smashing success – made easier thanks to my incredible family.

My day was a pretty typical day at work – except for this awesome flourless chocolate cake that our dear friend Kristina made for me… wow – total radness… truly. I come home to a house decorated to the nines by a 6-yr old and a 3-yr old (with the help of their mom). Zoë (the 6-yr old) was the mastermind behind this plot to throw their dad a family surprise party. I was moved beyond words… the love that my daughters exhibited and the care that Zoë took to ensure that she had everything covered was such an incredible reminder of what we should show God every single day of our lives.

To top it off, my wife gives me this card that just moves me to tears. I reflect on the awesomeness of who God is to provide me with a wife that gives and gives and gives. There are no words to express what a wonder it is to have a family that so obviously adores you except to be overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed because I know I don’t deserve this kind of love. I’m overwhelmed because I know that I am flawed. I’m overwhelmed because it is God’s grace in extravagant form displayed by a young child who wants to cram as much as she can into one night to celebrate her dad. Even as I write this, tears come to my eyes (I’m kind of a sap… crying comes easy for me… too easy I often think.)

What does this kind of love do to you? When you know you’re not worthy – it compels you to be more worthy. When you recognize your own flaws – it encourages you. When you see the majesty of God as the root of it – it humbles you.

Forty-three isn’t really a “milestone” year – but this is one I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget how God compelled me to have a good attitude at what is traditionally a day of pensive reflection and rewarded me with a shower of love so magnificent that I’m still in awe of His extravagant display. Grace continues to be amazing.

The Centrality of Prayer (Thoughts from Verge 2010)

6 Feb 2010 In: Um... dunno Please use the trackback url if you link

What a whirlwind this has been so far. I think I believed that this conference was going to be more missional theory… but it’s not. In fact, this conference is about moving from theory to action, or as Ed Stetzer so aptly put it, it’s about getting off our blessed assurance and doing something. We must act. I am inherently lazy.

I do not have a passion for people. Not really. I go through the motions hoping that the motions will somehow stir up passion. This is wholly wrong. The missing ingredient? Prayer. Today, Dave Gibbons said, “If prayer isn’t a central part of your life your not dependent on the Holy Spirit, your dependent on your own power.” This is me. Prayer is not a central part of my life. In fact, I would go so far to say that prayer is mostly an afterthought or something I do because I know I should… not because I recognize its necessity.

If I were to list the single most important thing that is missing in my walk, it would be a life that is devoted to prayer. Wow – what’s amazing to me is that cerebrally, I know what I’m missing. Power and insight and passion and the ability to live the Gospel in everyday life – these are all impossible without a life devoted to prayer. Church makes it so easy to live without praying – we create language that is easily mimicked, we congratulate people for shallow confession, we empathize with people for the smallest difficulty. This creates a comfortable, easily accessed, and watered down life. After all, a little good is better as long as they’re coming to church, right?

My prayer, yes – I mean that, is that I would be a man of prayer. I pray that this revelation would soak into the core of my being so that going without prayer would be unfathomable to me because I recognize how desperately I need Him to open my ears and my eyes and to empower me to glorify Him. Help me Lord to be a man whose life is devoted to prayer so that I would wholly rely on you for my very breath, every word that comes from my lips, and every act of my hands.

Hopefully, you see in these writings a man who is staying The Course and pursuing The Path amidst the pitfalls and selfish ways of being a son of Adam. I pray earnestly that my writing would encourage some of you by showing you that this journey - though arduous and sometimes tragic - is a journey of great satisfaction. A satisfaction greater than our greatest imaginings. The trials and refining fire of tribulation are to be recognized as a small shadow of the suffering of our Savior so that we can rejoice, as Peter and the disciples did, to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the Name.


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