Friday, January 30, 2009

Summer Fun

Someone recently requested a "Summer fix"... pics of our girl. Here you are!

I think this was taken one morning at J. Christopher's in Cool Springs (TN)... a great b'fast/lunch spot... they have several locations throughout the southeast. Anyway, Summer was giving her penguin (a Christmas gift from Grammy and Grampy Sponberg) some OJ.

The next two shots were taken at Barnes & Noble in Chattanooga. Nicol was at a ladies' Christmas Tea with a friend, so Summer and I went out on a date. As you can see, she was quite caught up with Curious George. We had a fun time together. 

Enjoy! I'll have more coming sometime soon.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Ugly Shade of Green : Its Genesis

Historically speaking, it seems to me that jealousy is one of the very first evidences of human depravity. Just ask Abel (supposing we could... actually, one day we probably will.)

You know the story. Cain was a farmer, Abel a herdsmen. Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm, Abel brought an offering from the firstborn animals of his herd. God didn't approve of Cain's offering, Abel's He did. (Genesis 4:3-5, The Message)

And Cain was ticked off... with God.

Who are you to tell me that what I have offered is not acceptable? Cain had a little of his father in him, some Sinatra too... I did it myyyyyyy waaaaaaay! I can see him now... face flushed, palms sweating, heart racing, blood pressure spiking, pupils dilating, teeth grinding, fists clenched. Heck, I can almost feel it myself. Am I alone here?

The quality in Abel (i.e., his faith, see Hebrews 11:4) that would arouse Cain's jealousy toward his brother could have just as easily been cause for admiration and affection. But that's not what happened because jealousy was not the primary passion revealing itself in that moment... jealousy was the fruit of Cain's anger... and his anger was toward God... and he was angry with God because God told him that he had not done well, that he had failed to do the right thing... and when God pricks our hearts with his truth it has the tendency to make us furious, fighting mad, and vengeful... so Cain asked his brother to take a walk... and you already know the rest of the story... Cain was angry and then became jealous and then he hated/murdered his brother.

But I'm thinking there's at least one other layer to unwrap here. The murder is easy to see and so is the jealousy and so is the anger with God... it's all very explicit in the story. But here's something deeper to consider... can't tell you if I'm right or not, but I'll go with it anyway... and here it is, one word: blessing. Cain didn't have God's blessing. I'm not talking about 'blessing' as in steady rains and crop abundance. I'm talking about 'blessing' as in favor and pleasure and regard (as the text puts it in Genesis 4:4-5).

And we ALL, in the deepest parts of our soul, want God's blessing, His favor, his kindness towards us, His approval, His regard. Every single one of us. Cain's parents had it at one time... God looked at everything He had made one day, Adam and Eve included, and He said this is so good. Adam and Eve had peace with God, peace with each other, and neither one of them knew anything about shame. And then Hell entered the garden and God's blessing was gone... not His presence, not His mercy and not His grace, but His blessing... His regard and pleasure and favor for what was taking place... gone... everything had changed... and the results infected the hearts of Adam's sons like staph infects the bloodstream.

There is a beautiful reality to the larger story here... God's blessing, the affirmation we all desire, is available to everyone, and it is available via what I will call The Way of Abel... and it's called faith. Abel offered his best in faith and he received God's blessing. Cain didn't offer his best, for whatever the reason, and did not receive God's blessing.

And the results were catastrophic.

God help us to live by faith. Thank You for the blessing comes with that.

It is impossible to please God without faith. --Hebrews 11:6

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Ugly Shade of Green : Heart Blight

Beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock,
The meat it feeds on.
- William Shakespeare, Othello -

Green is definitely not my favorite color, but there are a few certain exceptions... a Boston Celtics jersey, the dyed Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day in the Windy City, the invitingly lush hue of a golf course's precisely manicured Zoysia grass, the new-life tints of spring.

To me, these vibrant and deep greens are beautifully appealing to the eye, but there exists a shade that is downright ugly... jealousy.

"The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves."-[1] One man describes jealousy as "a mental cancer."-[2] Solomon says it "corrodes the bones."-[3] It "injures us with the dagger of self-doubt" says another.-[4]

Sadly, "it is in the character of very few men to honor without [jealousy] a friend who has prospered."-[5] It often "shapes faults that are not" truly present in others... at least not to the extent that our evil eyes might see.-[6] It is a powerful force that can leave one trudging along "under that hovering cloud, jealousy, whose acid raindrops blurred my vision and burned holes in my heart."-[7]

Jealousy... a terribly ugly shade of green... a most destructive passion... a seductive demon... a divisive influencer... an almost-instant result of the first Adam's fall from grace... an undeniable presence that crouches at the door of every heart... an occupant of the flesh that must be subdued and restrained, lest it run roughshod over its host.

I've often heard the expression "green with envy" but I did not know its origin. Apparently, this widely used phrase is attributed to William Shakespeare, the brilliant English poet and playwright.

Before his time, "a green complexion (i.e., pale and sickly) was associated with other things besides envy: these included fear, ill-humor and illness. In a famous passage, Iago warns Othello to 'beware, my Lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock, the meat it feeds on,' a metaphor from the green-eyed cat family which is prone to play with (mock) its victims as a cat plays with a mouse. Though green has continued to have other associations, notably immaturity and gullibility, it is [jealousy] that now predominates."-[8]

Leave it to a devilish character like Iago, in a classic work like Othello, to capture a timeless human reality.

And let me be the first to say that the green-eyed monster named Jealousy crouches at the door of my heart, mocking and toying with my flesh, desiring to divide and destroy.

It is indeed a dreadful shade of green.

[1] William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude, 1693
[2] B.C. Forbes
[3] Proverbs 14:30, The Message
[4] Grimutter
[5] Aeschylus
[6] William Shakespeare, Othello
[7] Unknown

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Update : 12209

It's been quite some time since I've updated you on the sale of our house. Bad news first... it hasn't sold yet. Good news... there has been a steady stream of people who have looked at it and there are several people interested... most of them, however, have to sell their house before making an offer on ours... there are two couples who are not in that situation, but are looking at two other houses in addition to ours, and are yet to get back to our realtor with an offer. 

We continue to wait, eagerly and hopefully and prayerfully... and in reality it's all good news because it will sell when it's supposed to sell (and I'm trying really hard to avoid all the usual spiritual and theological cliches...)

We are doing ok. Christmas was better than expected, but still quite difficult at times. I really believe Nicol and I are growing thru this and have come closer as a couple. We have lots of work to do in our marriage, many hurdles to get over, many mountains to climb. But, in the words of Dan Allender, our marriage is worth all the fight and struggle and work we can give it. 

And, of course, Summer keeps us laughing and moving forward.

Speaking of Summer, I haven't mentioned any of her funny sayings lately...

The other day, when Nicol was putting her down for a nap, she asked her mother to turn off the lights. Nicol told her the lights were already turned off and that the light she saw was the sun shining thru the window. So what did Summer say? "It's ok, my daddy can reach it. He's a big boy." :-)

Nicol told her she was going to get her hair colored the other day and Summer said, "Hot pink?"

Summer and Nicol were walking out the door today and Summer said, "I know, I know. It's a hard change." (I have no idea why she said that.)

I was talking to her the other night before she went to bed, and she wasn't settling down, so I had to get after her a little bit (can't remember exactly what I said), but she said, "That's my point, daddy."

Last week Nicol and I were cleaning up after dinner and the next thing I knew, Summer had a wooden spoon in her hand, swatting me on the leg, saying, "That's not respectable." (No idea what prompted that one either.)

We will be traveling this weekend. Nicol will be part of a women's retreat on Saturday. I will be speaking on Sunday evening and Nicol will be singing then too. Would appreciate your prayers for all of that. 

We also need your prayers regarding the sale of our house... especially that we would trust God's timing... which is such a difficult thing, but He knows what is best.

Pray for safety and protection over us as a family and for our marriage, that we would continue to grow in oneness and that God's purposes for marriage would be manifested in our relationship.

Pray for Summer... that God would stir her heart at a very young age with a desire for Him and that she would realize her need for Jesus.

Pray for me as January comes to a close... that I will catch a glimpse of what God has for us in 2009. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King - "I Have A Dream" Speech

We've heard the sound bite hundreds of times... I have a dream. It's the tag-line of what is widely considered to be one of the greatest speeches ever delivered. And it was the heart cry of a man, Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthdate we observe on the third Monday of January every year, around the time of his January 15 birthday. 

Did you know that it was President Ronald Reagan who signed the holiday into law in 1983? Or that it was first observed in 1986? Or that there was enough resistance to this holiday that only as recently as the year 2000 did all 50 states actually observe it for the first time?

So, why post this? Well, candidly, I'm posting this because the issue that King raised in his speech (and in his mission in general) is an issue that is near and dear to the heart of God... justice. It's an issue that can certainly be a trendy bandwagon to jump on, and many have, and many more will, but the Scriptures don't allow us to just take this up as another do-good cause... we are called to live it. 

The prophet Micah put it this way... He's already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don't take yourself too seriously - take God seriously. (6:8, The Message)

If you have the time, watch the video, or read the transcript, or both, which are posted below.

One thing though... don't get hung up on the I have a dream parts. There is so much more to the message. Case in point... we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. 

I know that to some this may not make a whole lot of sense. Maybe some feel as though it's not really that big a deal or that these things don't go on anymore. Maybe because a black man will be sworn into office as the 44th President of the United States tomorrow we feel as though the proverbial glass ceiling has been shattered and there is no longer any legitimate reason for blacks to complain about not having a fair shake at a decent life. Maybe some, like me, didn't grow up in an area where justice issues were on the front burner because everyone pretty much looked the same... white. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. But let's not kid ourselves... prejudice and bias and favoritism and partiality and, yes, racism (however you define it) are alive and well and will continue to affect our world because they are matters of the human heart that cannot be legislated out of society.

I first looked this issue in the face when I moved to Chicago in the Fall of 2001. I noticed that, by and large, the homeless population was black men. Why? I participated in outreaches at Pacific Garden Mission on several occasions with fellow grad students, only to see an audience of a few hundred black men. Why? I attended The Masters golf tournament in Augusta, GA in 2005 and witnessed two amazing realities... Tiger Woods winning his fourth Green Jacket as well as 60-something-year-old-black men working as washroom attendants and teen-aged black men picking up trash on the grounds while white folks like me handled the cash in the vending and souvenir areas. Why? I've listened to a fellow grad student at Moody, who happened to be black, tell me about an experience he had in which a security guard followed him thru a parking lot. Why? I once met a homeless man named Cornelius Canaday at the corner of Chicago Ave & Franklin St in Chicago's Gold Coast area. And I asked him, "Cornelius, what's it like to be a black man on the streets of Chicago?" His response? "I wish people wouldn't look at me like I'm a criminal or like I'm about to do something to them. I'd just like some respect and to be treated with dignity." 

And so does Yahweh, the God who calls us to do what is fair and just to our neighbors... the God who works justice and righteousness for all who are oppressed. (Psalm 103:6)

I'm thankful for Dr. King. And, despite our political differences, I am thankful for Barack Obama, the soon-to-be 44th President of the United States of America... because I know that all across America tonight, folks young and old, urban dwellers and suburban-ites too, are more encouraged than ever been before.  

[ Martin Luther King's famous speech, delivered on August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. ]

Friday, January 16, 2009

Quotes from the Marriage Conference

Wanted to share some quotes with you from last week's marriage conference with Dan Allender. (For additional information, go to The Path Less Chosen) If you ever have a chance to hear this guy it would be well worth your time and money. Enjoy. I'll probably post a "Part 2" at some point.

  • "Marriage is... a reminder of what I will never suffer, a reminder of what I don't deserve."
  • "The #1 basis for division in marriage, for separation and divorce is contempt." (Contempt is defined as disdain and scorn; the feeling with which a person regards anything considered mean, vile, or worthless; it is anything that vilifies, denegrates, cheapens)
  • "Most differences lead us to contempt, but they are intended to bring us closer." (The end result of which is that a husband and wife see all the good that has been added to his or her life thru their spouse. Differences are meant to help develop deep, sincere gratitud in us.)
  • "Hope is the realm in which evil assaults us with contempt."
  • "The world doesn't need good marriages; the world needs broken, difficult, passionate, marriages."
  • "I am not nearly as bad as I would fear; I am not nearly as good as I would hope." (love that!)
  • "The answer to one's unique calling may be found in the answers to these questions... [1] what makes me cry? [2] what makes me angry? [3] what is my story? [4] what is my 'yes'? (i.e., positive absolutes, 'this has to happen and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure it does') [5] what is my 'no'? (i.e., negative absolutes, 'ain't no way I'm allowing that to go on anymore, not on my watch')"
  • "What does it mean to be a man who leads? It means you repent first, you allow yourself to be broken first."
  • "A woman brings grace... strong, fierce grace." (This was an incredible point... he was talking about the wife as the helper and he focused on that word in the story of Adam and Eve. The word for helper occurs only 5 times in the OT... one being when God said it wasn't good for Adam to be alone so he would make a helper suitable for him. The other 4 usages refer to God being a helper in very difficult circumstances. But more than a helper, He is a deliverer and protector and, in particular, He is those things in times of war. Hence, a wife brings grace... strong, fierce grace.)
  • Key word for women = "lonely" (because of their profound desire for relationships)... key word for men = "futility" (why bother? everything I do is constantly being undone)
  • A woman naturally says, "I'm too much" (for my husband to understand)... a man naturally says, "I'm not enough" (for her) (Great combination, huh!?)


My cousin Andrea, who lives in my home town of Washburn, Maine, took these pics at 7:00am (EST) this morning at her house. Now that's cold!

Today, schools in Williamson County, Tennessee are closed because it's too cold! The temp? 7 degrees/-3 windchill as of 8:00am (CST).

By the way, schools in Washburn are open today! They're tough up there. When I was a kid we used to walk to school in those temps... up hill, both ways, in four feet of snow... and we loved it! ;-)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

La Vita è Bella

La Vita è Bella.

Life is beautiful. It's not easy, mind you, but it is beautiful; it is beautiful because it is flows from the Creator of beautiful things.

The greatest sports legends of all time... Jordan, Bird, Magic; Ruth, Mantle, Williams; Montana, Payton, Marino; Palmer, Nicklaus, Woods; Gretzky, Esposito, Orr; Marciano, Ali, Leonard; Pelé, Maradona, Beckham; Owens, Spitz, Louganis, Lewis, Korbut, Witt, Comanechi, and Torvill & Dean, to name just a few... have left millions in awestruck wonder at the beautiful displays of their one-in-a-million talents and abilities... because each of these mega-stars were crafted by the Creator of beautiful things.

The greatest singers and entertainers in the world... Celine, Aretha, Elvis, Bono, Dylan, McCartney, Lennon, Whitney, Cash, Orbison, Springsteen, Jagger, Billy Joel, Elton John, Lionel Richie, Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, Etta James, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Elton John, Karen Carpenter, and my personal favorite, Nicol Sponberg [ :-) ]... have been able to captivate their audiences with beautiful songs and performances... because they were crafted by the Creator of beautiful things.

The greatest thinkers and politicians and actors and orators and philosophers and generals and presidents and writers... do beautiful things with what they have been given according to their personal expertise... because they were crafted by the Creator of beautiful things.

If we took all the beautiful people, from all time and from all places, if we took all of the outpourings of their gifts, and if somehow we combined all of this into one grand, collective masterpiece... we would have nothing more than a paltry reflection of the Creator of beautiful things... it would be a wonderful collection, no doubt, but a grossly inferior reflection nonetheless.

So life is beautiful because the Creator of life is beautiful... and the stories that are the lives of the people we encounter everyday are beautiful as well... and one's story doesn't have to elicit Michael Jordan-esque raves and reviews to be appreciated for its extraordinary gorgeousness... because the Creator of beautiful things sees past the brokenness and the flaws and the darkness and embraces the beauty He has crafted.

Nicol and I have met some beautiful people. Today I am thinking of three in particular... Bobby, Janet, and Carlos. Their stories, not surprisingly, include brokenness and pain and disappointment and failure, but when you look past all that, they are masterpieces, a reflection of their awesome Creator.

Bobby had been working as a concrete finisher for more than three decades when I met him about two years ago. I hired him to do some work on our driveway. After the concrete had been poured, and as Bobby and his crew waited for the curing process to do its thing, he and I sat and chatted about life. I listened as he told me his story. It was one of deep brokenness and it was also one of great beauty.

He had been married for roughly the same amount of time that he had been laying concrete when, one morning, out of the blue, his wife told him she wanted out of the marriage because she just didn't want to be married anymore. He told me about going to church year after year and hearing hundreds of messages but never being told how to love and lead his family or teach them about God or open the Bible with them. I'll never forget these words, "I didn't need to learn about the tribulation at my church, I needed to know how to to teach my children to pray and know God and to make life work."

Bobby's story was painful to hear, but spending time with him was a beautiful experience. His calloused palms and vice-grip-like handshake told me how he made his living... even though I already knew that. His tanned face showed the effects of daily toil in the sometimes scorching sun. His wrinkled brow appeared to reveal the inner tension and stress that he had been carrying for some time. With his vulnerable words, spoken to this total stranger, he allowed me into the deepest, most pain-filled recesses of his heart. His clean clothes, despite having just poured 5 yards of concrete, showed the skill he had crafted and honed for three decades. (By the way, I had concrete on me and all I did was watch! And he didn't have a speck on him!) The fact that he was still standing after losing his sweetheart told me that he is a survivor. Everything I knew about Bobby's life was beautiful to me, his story precious.

Our friend Lesley met Janet one afternoon about 6 or 8 weeks ago in downtown Nashville. Janet approached Lesley to see if she would be interested in buying some of the jewelry she was selling... jewelry she had made to sell so that she could feed her kids. Janet had two young children (Courtney, 10, and Shawn, 5) and was expecting another. Nicol met Janet thru Lesley just a couple of weeks later. We met with Janet and her kids, including her 13-day-old daughter Brittany, over Christmas, and very much enjoyed getting to know her (them) in the very brief time we had together.

Janet left the Greyhound bus station in Nashville last week, embarking on a 30-hour bus ride to Las Vegas with her three little ones, in hopes of reconnecting with Brittany's father, in hopes of just a little bit of help, perhaps in hopes of a break. One may wonder why she has three kids and isn't married, why the two older kids aren't in school, what she will do in Vegas if things don't work out with the baby's dad, how she found her way into these circumstances. I did.

But behind all the brokenness, I saw beauty in Janet, in her story. Her children listened to her and seemed to respect her. She spoke kindly to them and taught them little things ever so patiently. She is motivated enough to make necklaces and earrings and then sell them out on the street so that she can provide for her children... when she could just sign up for government assistance. She was gentle, calculated. And she was grateful for every little thing that we tried to do for her.

That's beautiful. A grateful heart despite unwanted circumstances.

I met Carlos at Walgreens and have seen him there consistently over the past several months. Always friendly and helpful, I have enjoyed my interaction with him quite a lot, but it wasn't until last Friday evening that I actually took the time to stop and get to know Carlos a little bit. Normal information... he manages a gas station/convenience store in Nashville and works evenings at Walgreens. He's from Bogota, Columbia, and he is well-educated but couldn't find a job there so he moved to the States and settled in the Nashville area with his wife and children... the three who are at home at least... he has a daughter at Columbia University in New York (she's obviously kinda bright!). He loves to drink coffee (duh, he's from Columbia!) but he refuses to pay Starbucks' prices and therefore doesn't spend any time there. His faith background is Roman Catholic, but he said "we" don't go to any church because "church is in here" (pointing to his chest) and "who we are is what we do." There's some great theology in there, I thought, particularly the last phrase. I learned that Carlos is a bit skeptical of the church and that what he considers most important is to be good, to treat people well, to be a loyal employee, etc.

The rest of our conversation went something like this...

"Carlos, how good is good enough for God?"

"That's a good question."

"Can I have your phone number? I'm going to call you and meet you for coffee at Starbucks so we can get to know each other a little more and talk about that question. Great talking to you, Carlos. See you soon."

"Good to meet you. Call me."

A beautiful man with a beautiful story.

Life is beautiful. Every story is as similar as it is different. And all it takes is a little bit of time and a listening ear to find out what the stories are really all about. We encounter people every day at WalMart and Target, on the golf course and at the gym, on a conference call and in a boardroom, at church and on the front porch, at Chic-Fil-A and and the movie theater and, most importantly, right at home... and everyone has a beautiful story to tell.

La Vita è Bella. Not easy, but beautiful nonetheless, because life flows from the Creator of beautiful things.

Monday, January 12, 2009

light your world REMINDERBANDS® now available

The light your world Reminderbands® are now available and you can order yours here!

Please read the information below; if you have questions or need help, feel free to email us (see 'Contact Information' below).

All proceeds from your order will go directly to the luke sponberg foundation.

General Information // About our Reminderbands®

  • Phrase #1 -- light your world
  • Phrase #2 -- the luke sponberg foundation
  • Color -- Light Blue
  • Sizes -- Large (8-3/8") - Medium (7-3/8") - Child (5-7/8")
  • Please note -- Not sure what size you need? Click here to visit the Reminderband® website. Then look for "Don't order the wrong size! Try on a Reminderband first!" which is located on the lower-right side of the page. Then click on the link provided.
Donation Information // Amount(s) and payment method(s)
  • Donation amount -- $5 per band -OR- a larger amount if you would like
  • Payment method -- PayPal (see right sidebar on the blog homepage)
  • Please note -- If you prefer a different payment option (i.e., check or money order), please email us (see 'Contact Information' below) and let us know your wishes.
Order Information // What we need from you
  1. Your name (first & last)
  2. Your email address
  3. Total number of bands and sizes you would like to order (e.g., Total = 3; Sizes = 1 Large, 1 Medium, 1 Child)
  4. Physical address you want your bands mailed to
  5. Payment
Contact Information // For orders, questions, comments
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Click here to go to the light your world main page
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Saturday, January 10, 2009


This AP article describes the lobster in the photo below as a 20-pound, 140-year-old supercentenarian crustacean. I would tend to call it a superscrumptous, but that's just an opinion. Anyway, this old boy had been in captivity for 10 days after having been caught in the waters off Newfoundland, Canada. He was released last Saturday into the frigid Atlantic waters near Kennebunkport, Maine (Go Maine!!!) after the animal rights advocacy group, PETA, had kicked up enough of a protest for their beloved hard-shell friend to be released back into its natural environs. 

I should also mention that there is absolutely no truth to the rumors that George H.W. Bush, whose family owns a vacation home in Kennebunkport, plans to have the lobster recaptured for a retirement party in honor of his son, George W. Bush, who will be leaving the White House in about 10 days.

Question... is there an assisted living home this guy can go to in the Atlantic?Seriously, at his age, how in the world is he going to survive out there after being sheltered and protected from his predators. If you ask me, he's toast. 

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Genius of Apple

Imagine a business that hires employees who...

--give you the impression that they really, really enjoy what they do;
--are wildly passionate about the product(s) they sell;
--really love talking to people about the product(s);
--believe in the product(s) so much that they own it/them themselves;
--can talk knowledgeably about the product(s) and not fudge their way thru their interaction with a customer; 
--have enough experience with the product(s) that they are able offer practical help to the customer; and 
--instill enough confidence in the customer because of the expertise they possess that a sale is basically inevitable.

Today a long-time Mac lover commented that Mac employees are sort of "evangelistic" in their approach to selling their products. What a concept! I said. I totally agree with my friend's observation.

All I can say is, Apple gets it... they do all of the things listed above and they do it remarkably well. The stores are totally cool to shop at. The employees are very enjoyable to interact with. They are extremely helpful. They love what they are selling and believe in it wholeheartedly. They make people want to buy because of their passion and expertise. They are really, really good at what they do. And, maybe best of all, they don't make non-techy people like me feel like a doofus because we ask questions that a lot of 8-year-olds would know these days.

What if we as Jesus people could say the same thing? What if our churches were as attractive as an Apple store? What if we knew the Bible more? What if we were so helpful that people couldn't help but come to us for help? What if we believed so much in our faith that we were radically sold out for it? What if we didn't make people feel like knuckleheads or less than acceptable or foolish because they don't know all the lingo and buzzwords and don't really care to?

What if?

Apple has a remarkable product. We have one too. (Pardon the very lame comparison... Jesus is obviously not a product, but you know what I mean) Apple has phenomenal reps. So does Jesus, but we can always do better.

Just some thoughts...

Y2J and M&M : A Discussion and Outlook for 2009

About a year ago, the thought occurred to me that life sort of happens at the intersection of Jesus Way and Me Street.

Let me explain...


By life, I'm not referring to one's physical existence or even a lifespan, nor am I speaking exclusively of one's soul. What I have in mind is the quality of one's life and the reality that we are eternal beings. I am envisioning the glorious, free, abundant and forever life that God has made available to everyone in Jesus.

The New Testament differentiates between these characteristics of life in at least three ways, and it does so with the help of these Greek words... bios (bee-os, from which we get our word biology, it's a physical lifespan and can also include the goods and material things by which life is sustained); psuche (psoo-khay, one of two terms from which we get our word psychology, it's the eternal essence of one's life, the soul), and zoe (dzo-ay, from which we get our word zoology, this too is the soul, but more than that it's the absolute fullness of the life and soul, it belongs to God, it is real and genuine, it is joyfully devoted to God, and it is lasts forever and ever).

For clarity, here are a few biblical references from Jesus' good friend John...

bios... all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life [bios], is not from the Father, but is from the world (1 John 2:16); and, whoever has the world's goods [bios] and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17) Bios pertains to the physical.

psuche... Peter said to Him. "Lord, why can I not follow you right now? I will lay down my life [psuche] for You. Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life [psuche] for me?" (John 13:37-38a); and, greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life [psuche] for his friends. (John 15:14) Psuche is in some ways the essence of who we are.

zoe... In Him - Jesus - was life [zoe], and the life [zoe] was the Light of men (John 1:4); truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life [zoe] (John 6:47); this is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life [zoe] (1 John 2:25); and, he who has the Son has life [zoe]; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life [zoe] (1 John 5:12) Zoe is the fullness, the absolute and final reality of our being.

So with the idea that life happens at the intersection of Jesus Way and Me Street, I am saying that zoe happens there, as in the absolute fullness and central reality of who we are. I can have Bill Gates or Donald Trump bios, and I can have everything one could possibly dream of and work for (i.e., a long and healthy existence, a ginormous house, a fat bank account, endless retirement security, all the toys, etc.) but without zoe I don't really have anything at all. Likewise, I can (and do) have psuche, but without zoe I miss the mark. Psuche can be poured out, but if it is not poured out for Jesus, it is wasted. That's why Jesus said, many will say to me, 'Lord, didn't we do a lot of marvelous and mighty things in your name?' And I will say to them, 'Yes, but I never knew you, and you don't know me. I'm dreadfully sorry, but I have to say goodbye to you forever.' (Matthew 7:23) There are a lot of things, a lot of good and necessary things, that we can do with our psuche, but only with zoe, and that only in Jesus, will I discover that quality of life that God has made available to the whole world thru faith in Jesus Christ.

So, life, zoe, happens at the intersection of Jesus Way and Me Street.

SECOND: Jesus Way

It was the well-known theologian (tongue-in-cheek), Bob Dylan, who penned these lyrics...'re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

And, Jesus spoke these oft-quoted words to His friends one day...

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14) Incidentally, if you have a hunch that the leads to life part may be part of my theme here, you are right. The way is hard, Jesus said, that leads to zoe.

We all have choices to make when it comes to the way we live, and Jesus calls us to a particular journey that is difficult and at the same time the only path that leads us to what He calls real life.

THIRD: Me Street

I am, at my core, a terribly conflicted individual, a fact that is so because I am insanely bent against the God of zoe. There are many things that I know I must do and yet often fail to do, and there are many things that I know I musn't do and yet often do, all because of the nasty reality of my flesh. My flesh is weak, it is flawed, it is corrupt, it cannot be counted on for anything good, and my passions constantly rage and quarrel and war within it. My flesh is unloving, unlovely, woeful, enraged, impatient, unkind, evil, unfaithful, crude, troubled, and out-of-control... everything that the Spirit, the Jesus Way, is not. There is nothing about it that allows me to live well... especially not the Jesus Way.

I can't even blame the devil for the awfulness of my flesh. It was Calvin who once said though Satan instills his poison, and fans the flames of our corrupt desires within us, we are yet not carried by any external force to the commission of sin, but our own flesh entices us, and we willingly yield to its allurements. Jesus' half-brother agrees... each person is tempted when he is lured and entirec by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it has fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15) This is the reality: I sin because my flesh can't help it, because I want to, because I enjoy it.

Me Street is a terribly ugly thoroughfare.

FOURTH: The Intersection

I quite naturally prefer and tend to do what I want to do. To do any other thing is purely and completely an act attributable only to the benevolence of divine grace, and this is a gift that at any given moment of rightness allows me to put to death that which conflicts my soul, that with which I wrestle and struggle and want so much to permanently rid myself of. And this interaction always takes place at the intersection of Jesus Way and Me Street. My life - my zoe - depends on making the right choice... and the ironic part of this is I am generally unaware of how this all works. Did I just make the right choice or did Jesus show up and smother me in grace and deliver me from disaster? Maybe it's both. All I know is that, given my inclination to do things my way, the only good that comes from me is the good that Jesus works in and thru me.

Puritan John Owen makes my point with this statement: "The vigor and power and comfort of our spiritual life depends on our mortification of deeds in the flesh."

God help me to struggle along the Jesus Way rather stumble and bumble around on Me Street.

So I am sure by now you may be wondering what in the world all this has to do with 2009 and Y2J and M&M. Good question... here's the best I can do in explaining that for right now.

#1 -- Y2J
I want 2009 to be a year in which I increasingly and consistently choose zoe when standing at the intersection of Jesus Way and Me Street, because that is when and where life happens.

I want to experience zoe like never before.

I want to Yield to Jesus.
The details? I'm still working my way thru them.

#2 -- M&M

No, I don't want this to be the year in which I consume more M&M's, plain or peanut or otherwise, than ever before. (As a side note, do you remember the scene in The Nutty Professor when Eddie Murphy's character was sitting in his living room late one night watching TV, and he took a big bag of M&M's, tipped his head back, opened his mouth and dumped the bag into his mouth? Wouldn't that be awesome to do just once? Just eat and eat and eat M&M's. Mmmm...)

But I do want this to be the year in which I choose the good part, the better thing, the only truly essential thing. And for some odd reason I remember M&M's and the whole plain or peanut? question, as in which one is better? And somehow in my wierd mind I connect M&M's to Mary and Martha (obviously because of their initials) and then I automatically think "the better thing." So there you have it. Milk chocolate, with or without peanuts, always with a candy coating, leads me to think of two women who spent some time with Jesus, one in particular whom he praised for having chosen the only thing that really matters... spending time at the feet of Jesus. But what does that mean?

I don't necessarily see the story of Mary and Martha as primarily being a contrast between the choices those two women made... although there are unquestionably necessary observations to be made on that level. Neither do I see this passage as one that pastors need to break out every other year on Mother's Day because they preached from Proverbs 31 the year before... if anything, maybe this story should be taught on Father's Day.

What I do see is the heart of discipleship... sitting at Jesus' feet, listening to Him more than talking to Him, and just spending time with Him because He's such an amazing character to hang with. By the way, for Mary to sit at Jesus' feet was... no, let me put it this way... for Jesus to allow Mary to sit at His feet was flat out radical. Rabbis didn't allow women to be within earshot of their teaching in that culture, let alone sit intently and personally and privately at their feet, the customary position of every student in that day. So for Mary to be sitting there at Jesus feet may well have had more than a few people just a little bit fired up... including one busy-beaver, suzie-homemaker by the name of Martha.

But the real point is this... Jesus commended Mary for having chosen the good part because without hearing from Him, she could do nothing... just like you and just like me. Jesus told His disciples in John 15 that they could do nothing without Him. He told them to abide in Him and then watch what He would accomplish thru them. He told them to abide in His love and keep His commandments, just as they had watched Him keep His Father's commandments and just like He had abided in His Father's love. And He told them to do these things so that His joy would be in them.

We can't do anything without Jesus. And we can't do anything with Jesus until we go to Him and humble ourselves in His presence. And we can't find a better place to do that than to go to His Word, the Bible, for it is there that He speaks most clearly to us. And we can't find a better second place to go to Him than in prayer, for it is there that we find peace.

We can't be healed in the places we are desperate for healing until we spend time with Him and let His loving, gracious self touch us. We can't be comforted unless we hear His peaceful whispers. We can't have victory in the areas that we need victory until we grasp that He is our victory. We can't have any hope at all unless He is leading the way.

We need to be M&M'ers, mostly the former, Mary that is, and choose the only truly essential thing.

Y2J and M&M. They go hand in hand. We really can't have one without the other.

Lord... help us.