In All Circumstances

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

No matter what’s going on. No matter how hard. No matter how blah. No matter how awesome. No matter how fun.

No matter what: rejoice, pray, give thanks.

Always. Continually. In all circumstances.

For this cynical guy, this critical soul, this self-sufficient heart, that’s like asking a rock to give birth and produce guitar playing rainbows.

“With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”

Today, for one day, can I have joy all day? Can I pray each moment to see and savor the glory of God the Father through Jesus? Can I give thanks for all that comes my way–good, bad, or ugly?

If God can save the rich man, if Jesus can forgive the people mocking and killing him, if God can resurrect my dead soul from the grave–then, yes.

May it be so.

“For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

Personal Lord and Savior?

Recently, my wife and I were discussing what it means “believe in Jesus”, particularly regarding our kids and expressing saving faith. It really wasn’t until I started attending a Southern Baptist church that I started hearing this cliché-phrase “personal lord and savior”—usually expressed without any great understanding as to what that means. While I’m no great lover of the phrase, it’s actually works as a basic, four-word summary of what I see the Bible showing faith to be. Here are some cursory thoughts:

Acts 16:30-31a – He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”*** The jailer needs to believe personally believe in this Jesus, who is Lord of all. Believe what, you may ask?

Romans 10:9 – If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. I don’t think the declaring is magical, but a practical means of voicing out loud submission to King Jesus. But Paul lays out that believing in Jesus means believing that the resurrection was real—that the Son of God died and was raised again, the very vindication that he was master of death.

Acts 2:36-38 – “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” While the baptism part of this gets FAR too much attention, the bigger point is that these God-fearing Jews need to repent. Of what? Of not believing that Jesus was the Son of God, their “Lord and Messiah” whom they crucified (and later rose from the dead).

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive look at things, but it seems to me that for anyone, adult or child, faith in Jesus means believing he was real, that he died, and that he rose. It also means confessing him as our own lord, the master of our bodies and our souls, both now and forever. That’s belief. That’s faith. That’s saving faith.

***One of these days—when I’m brave enough—I’ll deal with the “you and your household” part of this verse.

Diversity Is Beauty

Like most folks, I have a pretty varied taste in music. I grew up on 60’s rock, especially the Beatles. I went through adolescence in the 90’s, so I love alternative music. I was “classically” trained in music, so I love choral and orchestral music. I can get lost in the emotions of film music and it’s pure emotional power. I’m well-acquainted with a great many hipsters (I’m certainly not one myself), so I have grown to love the many different types of indie music out there.

There are times when I wish when I could somehow fuse all these different styles together. That classic rock and alternative and indie rock and orchestral music and choral voices could be blended into something beautiful and amazing.

But I don’t think that’s really possible. The diversity is too broad, the media too extreme to make it work without sounding like a cheap bastardization of each style on its own.

And then I think: maybe that’s the way it ought to be. Maybe the diversity is beautiful in itself. Maybe the fact that sometimes I’m in the mood for one type or another is a good and right thing. Maybe a blend isn’t good at all—a tree isn’t a fish and a fish isn’t a rock and a rock isn’t a cloud. And who would want them to be? Who’d want a tree-fish-rock cloud?

As I watch the racial struggles at play, there’s too much desire to want everyone to just be the same and act the same. But that’s just racism at its worst. God’s people are from every tribe and tongue and nation. Not homogenous at all, but varied. Tall and short, wide and skinny, red-headed and black-headed, peach-skinned and brown-skinned. And everything else. God adores the diversity because he made us that way, made the whole creation that way.

We don’t need a fusion, a blend, a melting pot. We need the differences and a way to love those differences—which is the love of God in Jesus, who died for every type of person. Music or skin tone or language, diversity is beauty.


I have to admit—I’m really looking forward to this whole self-driving car thing. While there are those who romanticize driving like it’s sexy and awesome, that’s really only true when driving through really scenic places with nothing to kill but time. The fact is that driving is something that has to be done to get us from one place to another. That in itself is nothing new—walking, running, horses, skates, bikes all accomplish the same goal. But driving has this particular aspect to it that requires enough attention to make sure you don’t kill yourself or others. And I don’t mean that as an exaggeration—driving a car is an inherently dangerous thing and thus requires the attention worthy of such a threat.

Thus, when I drive, that’s all I can do. Hence all the laws against texting and driving (what about Candy Crush and driving, though?)—it’s unsafe to do anything else while driving. Seven Pounds, anyone?

And I think that motorized vehicles are rather unique in this (someone’s probably going to mentally throw an A Tale of Two Cities reference at me to prove me wrong, but that was about arrogance and disregard for life, not inherent danger). While traveling was harder and slower in the days before automobiles, it was also safer. Before this sounds like a rant about safety, I want to shift to what I’m really trying to say but am saying poorly: I look forward to getting driving time back.

I’d rather read on the way to work than watch out for crazy commuters who are zig-zagging through traffic because they’re late to work. I’d rather be turned around and engaging with my family on the long road trips instead of making sure I don’t drift into the median. I’d rather be making out with my wife on our way to dinner on date night than watching to make sure I don’t go the wrong way on a one-way street.

Driving isn’t sexy; it’s necessary. And unlike walking or traveling by donkey or whatever, it requires enough attention that little else can occur during it. Thus, it’s a straight up time waster. And I’d much rather use that time for so much more.

So I say: Bring on the self-driving car! (Though I wonder how long it’ll take to get the 15-passagenger van with that capacity…)

Be My Soul’s Vision

“Be Thou My Vision” has been one of my favorite hymns for as long as I can remember. But I find that it’s language is a little archaic and not immediately understandable to most modern English speakers. There are modernizations of the language out there, but they tend to change the nature of the song to get around the slightly clunky “Be Thou” constructions. For instance, while I love the sound of Rend Collective’s version, they changed a prayer (“Be Thou My Vision”) to a song of dedication (“You Are My Vision”). Below is my attempt to modernize the hymn, but retain its petitionary tone—though I admittedly take some license here and there. I’d love any feedback or suggestions.

Be My Soul’s Vision
Be my soul’s vision, O Lord of my heart;
All else is vain compared to who are you.
Be my best thought, each day and each night,
Awake or sleeping, your presence: my light.

Lord, be my wisdom, and my truest word;
Be with me always and I with you, Lord;
You’re my great Father, and I’m your true son;
You dwell within me, united as one.

Be my war shield and my sword for the fight;
Lord, be my dignity, my soul’s delight;
Be my soul’s shelter; in trouble, my tower.
Raise my eyes heavenward, O God, great in power.

Instead of riches and man’s empty praise,
Be my inheritance, now and always:
You and you only, be first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my treasure you are.

High King of Heaven, my victory’s won,
May I reach Heaven’s joy: the bright living Son!
Heart of my own heart, whatever may fall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.

Postseason Halloween Review

Now that Halloween is a few weeks in the past, I feel like I can post about the holiday since we ought to be past the most charged time of judging the crap out of each other for either celebrating (Christian freedom here, people!) or not celebrating (we’re being holy because God is holy!) Halloween. To that end, I came across two articles that I think talked about Halloween in some helpful ways regardless of which side of the fence you fall on.

On the more anecdotal side, Michael Spencer reminisced on the innocuous Halloween celebrations of the past, particularly when he was younger. And he traces the arguments (fear tactics?) that got presented along the way that turned a candy-getting, dress-up event into Satan’s playground.

Best part:

Evangelical parents decided that their own harmless and fun Halloween experiences were a fluke, and if their kid dressed up as a vampire, he’d probably try to become one. If there was a pumpkin on the porch, you were inviting demons into your home, just like it says in Hezekiah.

He concludes that in taking some simple fun and labeling it demonic, “we ruined something good, and everyone knows it but us.” The Halloween he and I grew up with could never be confused with anything demonic. It was silly and fun and full of candy. And I think it’s worth remembering that Halloween hasn’t always been treated with such suspicion and vitriol, not because we were too blind to see it as evil but because it really wasn’t evil. Maybe not good and certainly not necessary, but definitely not evil.

On the theological side, Mike McKinley does a nice job applying the prominent Christian views on Halloween to Paul’s arguments in 1 Corinthians 8 about eating food sacrificed to idols. As Paul thinks that there’s no inherent wrong in eating I-was-sacrificed-to-a-pagan-god meat, he teaches that a) anyone who thinks it is evil sins if he eats and b) we ought to regard one another with love and charity, regardless of our convictions on the aforementioned meat.

Best part:

Perhaps there is a helpful pattern there for us to apply to Halloween. There is nothing inherently demonic about carving Jack-o-lanterns, wearing costumes, and trick-or-treating. Some people might do those things for wicked reasons (like the people who sacrificed animals to idols in Corinth), but that doesn’t mean that everyone who participates is similarly guilty (just as Christians in Corinth could eat those animals with a clean conscience).

He then lays out four basic principles which seem reasonable that all Christians ought to be able to agree on:

•Some ways of celebrating are obviously unacceptable for Christians. Any sort of participation in witchcraft, fortune-telling, or demonic activity are expressly forbidden by Scripture.

•Outside of those forbidden activities, Christians have liberty to participate in Halloween.

•However, a Christian should not violate his or her conscience (Romans 14:20-23). If you come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t celebrate Halloween, then you should not do it.

•We should not pass judgment on other believers for the different choices that their consciences lead them to make (Romans 14:4).

I love my brothers and sisters who fall on both sides of the issue and appreciate that we don’t agree on our conclusions. But we really all need a reminder that either condemning others for their (lack of) conviction OR enticing a brother or sister to go against their (obviously wrong) conviction are both sin—and that’s biblically clearer than whether one should celebrate Halloween or not.

(And in case anyone wanted to know where we stand on the whole Halloween thing…)


Growing Up

My hands-down favorite character in the Harry Potter books is Dumbledore. Which I find interesting since if you look at the number of pages he occupies (especially before book six), he’s rarely ever there. But his presence is incredibly powerful. I remember writing a report in high school on “Death of a Salesman”, analyzing the brief appearances of Willy Loman’s older brother Ben. In both cases, there are characters who are incredibly important, pivotal, life-altering characters that jump in and jump out of the story. They’re not the ones that are there day-to-day, but the guest stars and cameos.

One of those for me was a man named George N. Parks. I say “was” because I recently found out he died a few years ago at the age of 57. Which was a blow, because I had looked him up to find a way to write him a note and thank him for some ways he helped shape me. But I missed that chance. So I figured I put those thoughts out somewhere, if nothing else than to catch the memories of one of the cameos in my life.


George N. Parks was the founder of the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy (DMA). I first got involved with DMA after my freshman year in high school. I had recently been selected as the drum major for the Calloway County High School Laker Marching Band and my band director send me to Eastern Kentucky University for the week-long training program. I had NO idea what I was walking into or what I’d get out of it. I had already been a drum major in eighth grade at the middle school (which, to be frank, is more of a joke than a useful function for the band). And when I marched baritone my freshman year, I watched our drum major and thought I’d really enjoy doing what he was doing. But that was the extent of my understanding of a drum major. Shoot, even then I hadn’t set me heart on music as my future career choice. I was required to go to the camp, so I did.

DMA ended up being this intensive week of marching drills, conducting workshops, lectures/motivational talks, and group activities. And George was the main speaker behind the whole thing, the one who would teach us in an auditorium a few times a day, as well as run some of the marching drills and teach full group conducting (we also had smaller clinics with some of the other instructors).

This all sounds really bland, but it was a fascinating time. Especially George’s talks, where he would teach not only the fundamentals of conducting (which is all I thought drum majoring was) but also leadership and commitment and courage and passion. Good grief, the man had passion. He would teach and tell stories and get us laughing, then completely quiet the room so that you couldn’t breathe till he gave our breath back to us. He would walk around and teach and connect with his eyes and convince us that being a drum major was an honorable and important activity.

I think I’m making him sound like a shyster or a televangelist (though, honestly, I found him more captivating than most preachers I’ve heard in my life). Maybe my mind at the time was too simple to see through him, but I believed that he believed what he was teaching us. And I loved him for it.

Because he bled passion. And he bled responsibility and courage and honor and leadership. He was a man teaching boys to be men (yeah, there were girls there, too, but I can’t speak for their experience).

Now, my first year at DMA I was fresh and it was new and I was a complete ignoramus to everything that was going on. But I was a drum major two more years and so went back to the camp two more years (once more at EKU and another time somewhere down south—maybe in Alabama?). One of the aspects of DMA that was unique was that we were put into groups of six called squads. Those who were veterans of the program were assigned as squad leaders and had the task of teaching some of the fundamentals of the marching style and leadership skills to the rookies. (I could have a whole tangent here about how this method is really probably pretty close to how discipleship in the church can and should work, but I really don’t want to digress right now on it). My second and third years I was a squad leader. I had six people who knew nothing about the camp and I was there to be their little leader, to help them figure out the things I was confused about the year before. I was there to help them learn the lessons I’d already learned. I was there to be a mini-drum major to them—training for being a drum major back with my own band.

And here came one of those moments in my life that I can still close my eyes and see, like I’m there right now. One of those times where my face burned red and I felt like a fool and I felt like a man all at the same time. It was my third year at DMA and my second year as a squad leader. George asked a question about some minor matter of drum majoring and called on one of my squad members to answer the question. My guy stood up and had to answer honestly that he didn’t know the answer to the question. Shoot, even I didn’t know the answer and it was my third year. But apparently it was a part of the small drum major textbook that we all had that I hadn’t really ever bothered to read.

So, there’s my squad member standing there if front of a few hundred people saying that he doesn’t know the answer to the question. I’m feeling bad for him because that’s gotta suck to get called on the carpet by the guy we all admire so much. Then the absolute worst thing happens.

“Who’s his squad leader?”

His eyes rake the room.

I stand up (geez, it twists my stomach even now—fifteen years later—to think of it). This is one of those times where no moved. No one dared take a breath.

“I am, sir.”

I’m not a “sir” guy and I said “sir” to him—it just seemed the right thing to do.

“Why doesn’t your squad member know the answer?”

Because you never told us to read the book. Because why would ever need to know the answer to such a minor thing. Because you didn’t teach on it in one of your lectures.

But I just knew. Ya know? I just knew that wasn’t it. He didn’t say anything or give me a nasty look. He just looked at me and waited for me to answer. Everyone in the room waited for me to answer. Three years at DMA and I’d never seen a situation like this. I’d never seen a squad leader get called up when a squad member didn’t know the answer. Every eye in the room on me. His eyes on me. Big and blue and wonderful and terribly frightening all at the same time. Everything inside of me is shaking because I know the answer and I hate it, because there’s no other answer to give.

“He doesn’t know because I didn’t teach him.”

I don’t remember what he said next. It really doesn’t matter. He didn’t berate me or accost me, though–I’m sure of that. He didn’t use me as an example. I think his response was along the lines of a quiet voice saying, “Yes, make sure it doesn’t happen again.” But I could be wrong. But the thing I knew, the thing I would swear everyone in the room knew, was that the lesson for me had been in the question. And if I’d answered differently, if I’d given one of the easy excuses, then it would’ve proven that I didn’t get the lesson in the first place. But the answer I gave, the slight hesitation while my brain cycled through all the things I could say in response, was enough. The lesson was in the opportunity.

George shoved me into growing up at that moment. He did it by giving me the choice to answer like a boy or like a man. He gave me the chance to be a coward or be brave. As I look back at the things that have formed me into who I am, that moment always sticks out. It was the time I had to take responsibility for something. Not just something, but someone. I had to own that my failure had caused someone else to fail. I had to man up.

I wish I could’ve thanked him, one of some 20,000 high schoolers he worked with. Because he helped mold me and aim me, part of the tapestry God has weaved from my life.


Seth Godin nails an important idea that being a failure and feeling like a failure are rarely the same thing. You should read it, as he makes the point so well.

As a Jesus follower, we all tend to write up a series of mental (or actual!) rules that we measure ourselves by. The problem is that we often set standards that are either too lofty or not required of us by King Jesus or just plum ridiculous (I will read the whole Bible in three days!).

For me (and the silly people like me), I tend not to make many of these types of rules for myself. Why? Because I’d feel bad all the time because I’d surely miss the mark constantly! Psh. So in order to avoid feeling like a failure, I require nothing of myself and truly fail in loving my neighbor as myself because I don’t even try.

So to the me’s of the world, I say: Stop trying to avoid feeling like a failure. Avoiding the feeling isn’t the same as avoiding failure. And in trying not to feel like you’re failing, you’re actually just failing and feeling good about it. Which is absurd and maybe even wicked. Repent of your false righteousness and hear the Word of the Lord.

But others (some whom I love dearly) makes an insurmountable list of goals, such that can never be attained. And thus they “fail” and are crushed under the constant sense of failure upon failure.

To them I say: Instead, walk by faith. Remember that God is preparing beforehand the good deeds he intends you today. And he is actively growing you up, turning your toddles into strides. As ridiculous as it is for the toddler to think he can walk without falling in one day or the ten-year-old who wants to chop wood with the strength of his daddy, it’s that ridiculous to think you can overcome every weakness by tomorrow or next month or next year. Growing my nature takes time—physically or spiritually. Trust the farmer of your soul.