Where You Are

When I was younger, my eyes were always on the horizon. I wanted to go somewhere else, be someone else, and live a different life.

Now that I’m in my thirties, my aspirations have flipped. I don’t want to go anywhere else, be anyone else (at least, on my better days), or live a different life.

I live in the same area I grew up in, and love it. I run or walk one of two routes every morning, and get anxious if I can’t. I work from home, and though it’s nice to get out and, you know, see people every now and then, I find it immensely comforting.

Instead of running from my roots, I feel like planting them.

This sentiment is not new to me. It’s reflected well in two Disney movies (I have 3 girls, so an increasing number of my reference points are Disney princess-themed, sorry!): Moana and The Beauty and the Beast.

Consider these lyrics sung by Belle in the opening number of The Beauty and the Beast:

Little town It’s a quiet village
Ev’ry day
Like the one before
Little town
Full of little people

There goes the baker with his tray, like always
The same old bread and rolls to sell
Ev’ry morning just the same
Since the morning that we came
To this poor provincial town

There must be more than this provincial life!

I used to identify so much with Belle. My world felt too small, too routine. There must be more than this suburban life, I thought. Surely I was made for more.

Or consider the updated take on the same idea from Moana, where her father and others try to convince her that their home is all they need:

Moana, make way, make way
Moana, it’s time you knew
The village of Motonui is all you need
The dancers are practicing
They dance to an ancient song

Who needs a new song?
This old one’s all we need

There comes a day
When you’re gonna look around
And realize happiness is where you are

Certainly, I would be one of the young listeners rolling my eyes at this point, had the movie been released in my childhood. But instead of feeling my eyes rolling, I feel my head nodding.

I listen to some new music, but not much. For the most part, the old songs—the ones I internalized in high school and college when I had the time to do so—are all I need. At some point, my eyes opened and I realized that happiness was (or rather, could be) found right where I was.

I suspect some of this nostalgia has to do with my aging, but more than my age, I find my faith informs my feelings on rootedness.

I’m a Southern Baptist by confession, and so my focus is squarely on fulfilling the Great Commission. I pray often that God would send my family wherever he wants us, whether that’s across the street or around the world. And I mean that prayer.

But regardless of whether a Christian stays or goes, they are called to belong where they are—to contribute to the flourishing of the place they find themselves in.

When God’s people found themselves exiled in Babylon because of their disobedience, God told them to put down roots in their new home:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

Israel is to contribute to Babylon’s flourishing because, by doing so, they would flourish, too.

And notice that God said, “the city where I have sent you.” We are where we are because God has put us there. Yes, he may send us elsewhere at some point, but wherever he has us, we should be praying for the good of the place and the people in it. And we should be making it a better place while we’re there.

So yes, I live in the same place I was born. I married my high school sweetheart. I live most of my life within five square miles. And I couldn’t be happier.

For however long it lasts, I’ll enjoy the life God has given me in the place he has me. I’m singing along with Moana and her village,

So here I’ll stay
My home, my people beside me
And when I think of tomorrow
There we are

God Healed My Back

For the last two months, I’ve been sitting down to put my socks on because of back pain. I’m 31.

I don’t know why it started hurting, but I could barely bend over or lift anything over 20 pounds, including my kids. I stopped running for fear of exacerbating the issue.

After two rounds of muscle relaxers, Prednisone, and a physical therapy session, it still hurt.

At the end of one particularly excruciating day of pain, I laid down for the night and did something I’ve never done before: I asked God to heal me*.

I told him that healing my back was nothing for the God who upholds the universe. That I was in pain and didn’t want to be any longer. That I wanted to wrestle my kids. And that if he chose not to heal me, I would be OK with that, too.

Then I said one more thing (and I think this was the most important part of the prayer): I told God that if he healed my back, I would glorify him by telling people he did it.

So, here we go: God healed my back.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. So let me answer the “Yeah, but’s…”

“God didn’t have to heal you to be glorified.” That’s true. Healing is not the only way that God gets glory. He is also be glorified through suffering. Those who point to Christ in the midst of chronic pain bring glory to God in powerful ways. I think that’s the method of glorification God most often works through. I don’t expect God to heal me from every headache or virus. But in this case, he chose to heal me.

“You were on medication. Wasn’t it just the drugs doing their job?” Maybe. God certainly could have worked through the medicine I was taking. His methods are up to him. All I know is that I had been on the drugs for close to two weeks with no change until I prayed. Maybe the medicine started working simultaneously with my prayer, but even that takes a leap of faith to believe.

“What if the pain comes back?” I’ve thought about this. The day I woke up and realized the pain was gone, I thanked God for relieving me of it, even if it was for one day. It doesn’t really matter if the pain comes back today or tomorrow. That doesn’t change the fact that God heard my prayer and responded with mercy and kindness.


One of my favorite devices is my Garmin running watch. It’s equipped with GPS, which means it tracks my exact mileage and pace, among other things. As you probably know, GPS stands for “Global Positioning Satellite”. When we use GPS on a phone, watch, or another device, it sends a signal to a satellite orbiting the earth, notifying it to turn in the direction of the device. It does this to register your location.

One morning, I pushed the start button on my watch to track my run. As I started galloping up to speed, I was reminded of Psalm 144, which I had read just minutes earlier:

Lord, what is man that you regard him,
    or the son of man that you think of him?

Just like the tiny device on my wrist triggered a satellite thousands of miles away to take notice of me, the God of the universe turns his attention to his children when they pray. That reality is confounding, mysterious, incredible, and tender.

I’m so insignificant in the scheme of the universe. As the same psalm says, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” Yet the God of all creation still stops, looks, and listens to me when I call on him.

I tell my kids that the difference between our God and the false gods of the world is that when we pray to our God, he hears us. And not only does he hear us, he answers.


*My prayer was not the only one God heard. My family and coworkers had also been praying for God to heal my back. Their prayers were also answered. And I’m certain that their prayers in some way amplified my request to the Father.

Racism and Our Need for Repentance

At the T4G Conference this month, David Platt preached a sermon based on Amos 5:18-27 titled, “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters: Racism and our Need for Repentance.” Be sure to read the verses in Amos before moving on.

Though he would prefer to talk about ethnicity instead of race, Platt spoke specifically about the white and black divide in America. According to one conference attendee, reactions were mixed. Mine was not. Platt simply called himself, his church, and evangelicals to live lives worthy of the gospel we have received (Philippians 1:27).

He asked long-overdue questions like, “Why is my church so white? Why is the missions organization I lead so white? … Why is this conference so white?”

Platt’s exposition (or interpretation of the text), indictments against and exhortations for the church are worth examining.

3 Indictments Against God’s People in the Face of Injustice

Amos, a shepherd-turned-prophet, indicted Israel, God’s people, on three primary offenses, according to Platt:

  1. They were eagerly anticipating future salvation while conveniently denying present sin.
    • It is possible to anticipate salvation tomorrow while turning a blind eye to sin in your life today.
  2. They were indulging in worship while they were ignoring injustice.
    • People who truly worship God above them will sacrificially work for justice around them.
  3. They were carrying on their religion while they were refusing to repent.
    • God is not honored by mouths that are quick to sing and hands that are quick to rise in worship when those same hands and those same mouths are slow to work against injustice.

These indictments led Platt to ask if we have been slow to work for racial injustice around us. His answer is “yes.” (Note: Platt was speaking directly to pastors.)

The Church Has Been Slow to Work for Racial Injustice

On a whole, Platt said, pastors and churches in America have widened and are currently widening, instead of bridging, the racial divide in our country. Here’s why he says that:

  1. It matters whether you’re black or white in America today.
    • “Why is it that I would say that Arthur Price is an African American pastor in Birmingham, instead of just saying that he is a pastor in Birmingham? I have never introduced John MacArthur as a caucasian pastor.”
    • Black Americans are much more likely to be unemployed than white Americans; income inequality today is 50% wider (worse) than it was 40 years ago; African American babies die at over twice the rate of white babies; African American mothers are 4 times more likely to die giving birth than are white mothers; young African American males are 6 times more likely to be murdered than young white American males.
  2. Over 95% of white Americans attend predominantly white churches; over 90% of African Americans attend predominantly African American churches.
    • Could it be that as much as we like to think about the church as a force for countering racism, right now the church is actually a force for continuing it?
    • “We cannot be comfortable as the people of God with a clear white/black divide in our country, and we can’t be content with deepening that divide in the church. It is not just, and it is not right. And we will not be found to be worshiping God if we ignore injustice, or far worse, increase it.”

6 Exhortations for Repenting of Racism in the Church

Based on his understanding of Amos 5 and the cultural analysis above, Platt offered six exhortations for the church.

  1. Let’s look at the reality of racism.
    • (The section above is what Platt covered here.)
  2. Let’s live in true multi-ethnic community.
    • I look at my life and ministry and in so many ways my world has been so white. … Why have the churches I’ve been a part of and led in been so white? Why is the missions organization I lead so predominantly white? How can I, with supposed zeal for the nations, be so blind to such injustice among peoples in my own nation? These are questions that I have, for far too long, ignored.” (Really appreciated his transparency here.)
    • “We all hate slavery. We all hate Jim Crow laws. Certainly, we cannot be content, then, with churches, seminaries, missions organizations, and conferences that look like time capsules preserving the divisive effects of the past.”
  3. Let’s listen to and learn from one another (in the context of true multi-ethnic community).
    • Most white and black people in the church disagree on what they think the causes of racism are, and Christians are farther apart in their understanding than non-Christians.
  4. Let’s love and lay aside our preferences for one another.
    • We want the kind of churches that cause people to say, “How are those people together?”
    • We can’t prioritize church growth over ethnic diversity.
    • Most multi-ethnic churches in the U.S. are still dominated by white cultural norms.
    • “We will not be found faithful before our God if fear of man and fear of losing the crowd keeps us from proclaiming the totality of God’s Word.”
  5. Let’s leverage our influence for justice in the present.
    • On a whole, white churches have been complacent during every stage of racism (slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.).
  6. Let’s long for the day when justice will be perfect.

Reflections on Racism and the Church

Here are, in no particular order, some of my thoughts on Platt’s sermon and the concerns it raises. (Note: I’m a white male, so I’ll be speaking from that perspective, and for that reason, will only touch on what white Christians can do to repent of racism in the church.)

I think Platt was spot-on in his indictment of evangelical churches. For too long, our churches have furthered the divide between white and black brothers and sisters. White ignorance of the black experience has fueled the chasm between cultures.

Building a church culture that prizes diversity requires radical grace without losing the truth. I have been blessed to be at a church that’s far more diverse than many of the others in my area. The diversity stems from a culture saturated in the knowledge and practice of grace that accepts everyone who walks through the doors. Crafting a culture like that takes a relentless focus on grace, but in a way that doesn’t lose the truth in the process. An overemphasis on grace at the expense of the truth (or the commandments of Scripture) leads to what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace: “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

White evangelicals must be shepherded through engaging their black brothers and sisters by servant leaders who will show them how. To Platt’s credit, he said that the final verdict on what white Christians in America do with the knowledge that we live in a culture of systemic injustice against people of color is not how loudly we clap or how many “amens” we shout, but how we sacrificially work for injustice around us.

But here’s the thing: most people have no idea what that means or what it looks like to work against injustice. They think that’s something for a professional or legal organization to do. What is needed are servant leaders who will display what it looks like to work against injustice by living it out in everyday life. We need white pastors who are willing to plant churches in non-white areas or to partner with black pastors and leaders to plan and fund their church plants. We need white families to open their homes and live out radically ordinary hospitality that gathers people of all sorts of backgrounds and colors around the table and the Word of God. We need young white men to seek out older, wiser African American mentors, and older white men to seek out young, African American men to mentor.

I have been working to address my white-washed experience for the last two years. The Lord has blessed my family the last couple of years as we’ve sought to diversify our life and relationships. For over a year, I walked through the truths of Scripture and a bible study curriculum with an African American brother who I count among my dearest friends. I learned how he fears for his son to be pulled over or questioned by police, a fear I have never felt. My wife and I attended an anniversary party with his wife, family, and friends where I was maybe for the first time in my life the unquestionable minority. It was an unequivocally good experience that left me with a deeper understanding of my brother and his background. I’ve been to his home, prayed for his kids, and texted him with running questions.

Around the same time, I sensed the need for a spiritual mentor in my life, and the Lord was good to send me to an older, wiser African American man who turned out to be my middle school guidance counselor. We’ve been connecting every other month or so for about a year. He walked with me through a career change, which was one of the most stressful periods of my life.

In our neighborhood, we’ve befriended an Indian family and shared meals in each other’s homes, and have learned how similar we are despite our differences. We’ve had a mother from Puerto Rico and her three children live in our home for a few weeks, which opened our eyes to the discouraging, bewildering worlds of public and social services.

I’m not holding myself or my family up as an example. I only share this to encourage others to pursue diversity in their own lives, because it’s a pursuit God will bless. Pray specifically for opportunities to diversify your life and for God to open your eyes to the opportunities that already exist.

Like Platt, I long for the day when justice is no longer a trickle but a torrent rushing through our lives and nation. Even more than that, I long for the day when people from every nation, tongue, and tribe gather around the throne of the Lamb as one race—the human race—worshiping our Creator in perfect peace.

Justice Will Roll Down

Sandra McCracken wrote a beautiful song from the same verses in Amos 5 called “Justice Will Roll Down.” I’ll leave you with the lyrics:

Oh my love, you have grown so cold
To the world outside, to the house next door
She who has been loved much, has so much to give
Mercy is the fragrance, of the broken

Justice will roll down, oh justice will roll down
From high upon those mountains with a mighty river sound
It will roll down
It will roll down

Oh my child, I will be your light
In your secret pain, in the dark of night
No enemy, no conqueror, will steal your life from me
I am your salvation, and your victory

Justice will roll down, oh justice will roll down
From high upon those mountains with a mighty river sound
It will roll down
It will roll down

Soon oh soon, when the trumpet sounds
Every knee shall bend, every heart will pound
I have made a new world, where the servant is the King
Oppression will be over, and the slave set free

Justice will roll down, oh justice will roll down
From high upon those mountains with a mighty river sound
It will roll down
It will roll down

 

Some Personal News

I’m excited to finally announce that I have begun a new job with Prison Fellowship as a Writer and Editor! I transitioned out of my pastoral role over the last two months of 2017, which I served in for the last five and a half years. Those were great years that I will always remember fondly, but I believe God has crafted me to work with words (and those who know me well know this has long been my heart). While I’ll miss parts of my previous role, I’m overjoyed at starting something new, and can’t wait to get started as a full-time writer and editor.

In case you’re wondering, my family and I are not going anywhere. I was blessed to find a remote position, so I’ll now be working from home (and a coffee shop every now and then).

Some of you have asked how to keep up with my writing, including my work with Prison Fellowship. The best way is to subscribe to follow updates on this site by email. I do some personal writing on this site, but also use it to collect my work across the internet. I will probably be switching to a more robust email list in the future, but for now, you can scroll down to the bottom of this page and sign up with your email.

Thanks for reading!

Choices

It’s getting late and I’m exhausted from job hunting all day online. Looking for your first job is lonely enough, why did we have to add the internet? I shake the disappointment from my mind and get under the covers. Then I see it.

A book. Just a little one. Maybe 150 small pages.

I’ve just finished four years of undergrad, so reading for pleasure wasn’t high on my list. But I’m mentally tired, not quite physically, so I pick it up.

A Mind for God it says. Hmm…

It was a free gift from the church my girlfriend had been taking me to. She liked it. I liked her. So I went. And they gave out copies of this book. I like free things, so I took one.

And here I am. Reading this thing.

And slowly, page by page, something happens.

Well, shifts more than happens. My mind shifts from thinking about what I have to do to what I want to do. From caring about nothing to seeing I might care about something. From always wanting more to seeing there actually is more.

So I make a choice. A choice to spend the rest of my life pursuing what had the power to make those shifts, and the ones that would follow in my heart and soul.

I made a choice to pursue a mind for God, which turned in to pursuing a life for God.

*****

Here I am today, working at the church started by the man who wrote that book. Working for the man who wrote that book. And I wonder.

I wonder why I’m sitting here. I wonder what happened to all the other people that received that book – surely there were over a hundred. Why isn’t one of them sitting here instead?

But then  I see why. It’s because of choices.

Surely there is more to my story (and yours) than mere choice, but maybe not less.

We are where we are because of choice plus circumstance. I believe in a God that involves Himself in those circumstances, you may not. Regardless, only one of those things we can control, and that is our choices.

Choice has always fascinated me. I began to see several years ago that life is nothing less than a series of choices, though it is also much, much more. But it remains that our lives are defined by a series of choices, one after the other, each leading to a particular place, time and consequence.

I made the choice to read that book. It altered the path of my life.

I made the choice to believe a man named Jesus rose from the dead. I believe that changed my eternity (though my choice was not possible without his pursuit).

I made the choice to volunteer at a church. It altered my career.

I made the choice to have children. It changed my life for the better in every category (but sleep!).

Every one of those choices was the first step, simply setting the ball in motion. After that came the hard work. Figuring out what to do with my life, getting a job, quitting that job, figuring out how to be a husband and a father.

Some of the choices we make in life are good, some are bad. But it is making good choices, wise choices, that I’m interested in.  Because it’s the wise choices that have the power to shift our hearts and minds. It’s the wise choices that have the power to give you the marriage you want, the career you want, the life you want. (Again, we’re talking about what we can control here.)

When I think through the pattern of choices in my life, and if you think through yours, I start to see a pattern emerge. A formula even. A way to make a few better choices. And, like the best things in life, it’s quite simple.

First we recognize that we have choices to make every day, then we consider what the wise thing to do is. Lastly, we do what it takes to make that choice.

Recognizing that we have a choice to make sounds so obvious it might be insulting. But if you’re insulted, perhaps you’re exactly the kind of person that’s making poor choices. We have to see that each day we are presented with choices, some benign, others life-altering, but each day they’re there.

If we fail to recognize them, we will most often fail to make the wise choice. Instead, we must see that the choices when they arise.

We must see that a conversation with your spouse about what kind of parent you want to be is more than a way to pass the time – it’s a choice between looking back at children you are either proud or ashamed to have raised. An opportunity to do something that stretches you isn’t just an annoyance in your day – it’s a choice between growing as a person or staying the same.

Once we begin to recognize these moments, these choices, for what they are, we then have to decide what the wise choice actually is. This is not always easy. Our mix of presuppositions, morals, values, religion, and families make our choices less clear than we’d often like.

But. Each of us has the ability to look at a choice we’ve been presented with and discern what the wise to do is. Some of us might be more keen at making wiser decisions, some of us the opposite, but we can smell the difference between wise and foolish.

And when we know what the wise thing is, it’s time to do what it takes to make it happen. And this is more difficult than even knowing what’s wise. Because now you must do hard things, have the difficult conversations, make the big changes.

Maybe you’re staring at one of these choices right now. Maybe reading this is keeping you from it. Odds are you probably know the wise thing to do, but you’re scared to do it. Don’t run from it. It only makes the next choice harder.

Instead, recognize the choice. See the wise decision. And do the work to make it happen.