Sometimes the Morning Comes Years Later


“Weeping may tarry for the night                                                                                but joy comes with the morning.”

Sometimes the morning comes years later.


For the first time in years. Joy. Maybe that’s not what it is. But joy is the word that kept raising its hand when I asked what was going on. Who knows in this world with so much more mystery than I ever bargained for? So many questions and so few good answers.

Over the past few years, we have experienced what the Bible calls trials. But more often than not it felt like our own personal hell. A dying daily without the relief of death and a resurrection.

The belly of a whale, if you will.

The brink of financial collapse.                                                                            Both parents going on ahead.                                                                     Vocational failure.                                                                                             Does our daughter have Aspergers?                                                                   Panic attacks.

Yesterday morning I was studying for a Sunday School lesson and something clicked. I’d been studying the verse in question for two weeks. I’d taught on it numerous times. I saw nothing new there. But I experienced warmth. The steady warmth of joy I once knew but had long forgotten.

And the passage was a command, not a promise. But warmth nonetheless.

This is not to say there have not been some very happy times in the last few years. Bethany and I’s marriage is the stuff of envy. We pine for time with the other. Our kids give us smiles miles wide. We have friendships we would not trade for riches untold. A home in our hometown we are always glad to return to. A loving extended family. And a church thick with kindness.

But the belly of the whale is a hard place. And the black nights seemed to never end. Sometimes. The weight of broken worlds hitherto unknown seemed to have been laid square upon our souls.

My soul.

Joy was lost in a sea of dreaded days. Every day off from work was clouded by the days coming. Every Friday evening felt like a putting off of the inevitable misery of Monday morning. Sunday night was just a looking over the edge into the mouth of hell itself.

Life couldn’t be afforded with me working. Quitting sounded like freedom but no option.

I know all that sounds extreme but I swear I felt like I was primitive camping in the valley of the shadow of death. Whether I was or not is really neither nor there, now isn’t it?

But then click.

Joy. Not the hand-raising kind. But the kind of joy you know you will take into the day ahead and make the bluest sky bluer. The autumn leaves flame bright like a thousand suns. The joy demanding all moments that follow must honor the moment when it finally broke through. The kind of joy that asks nothing crazy of you but rest. Finally rest. Rest like a reverse echo of the final rest where all be made new and we will see the King for all he is. And breathe in the deep satisfaction of all our sighed-out hopes.

It is true, joy comes with morning.                                                                       But more often than not, years later                                                                   After the soul’s dark night mourning                                                                    After the years level-best thieving                                                                      After the white-knuckle grieving.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) One of my favorite customers is an elderly doctor from India. When he walks he shuffles his feet just like my Dad would and it’s makes me glad and sad to see him.

2) The great problem of the neo-Calvinist movement can be summed up in how relentless the leaders of the movement and their followers go after men like Joel Osteen and Rob Bell when they release a new book. They write articles and passive-aggressive tweets. But when Janet Medford actually point blank confronted Mark Driscoll on her radio show about the plagiarism in his books, she was painted as the “bad guy” by Justin Taylor, et al.

3) Seamus Heaney

4) Remember that time I was listening to Ryan Adams in my truck and then went into Publix and Bryan Adams was playing and I had just been talking about both of them because it was their birthday and then I went home and heard one of my kids listening to the Tangled soundtrack and Mandy Moore is in Tangled and she is married to Ryan Adams?

5) I am so so tired of not eating pizza every night.

6) There is a scene in the first season of Lost when Boone asks Locke what he did for a living before they crashed on the Island. Locke tells him he was a collections supervisor for a box company and he gives Boone this look with a smile. Boone, after all he has seen John Locke do, says, “Yeah, right.” I want to one day give someone that look.

7) There are a bazillion ways for a place of employment to humiliate you and steal little bits of your dignity.

8) Ryan Adams is great music if you love old school country, folk, punk, metal, and classic rock.

9) So last week I got another email from a church letting me know they were not interested in me as an associate pastor. I sent them my info three months ago.

Three months.

10) Adulthood sucks.

Some Thoughts at the Dissolution of Mars Hill


Over the the past few weeks, I’ve started and then stopped a number of posts on the now daily events surrounding Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. None seemed adequate to the situation and so many others closer to the situation were saying it all so much better anyway. I was not sure I had anything to add of any substance.

Maybe I do now. Maybe not. But I wanted to offer a few thoughts in a format you, my faithful readers, have come to expect.

1) One of the more expected responses I keep seeing is how people don’t like all the rejoicing over Driscoll being gone from Mars Hill and the dissolution of Mars Hill into a bunch of independent churches.

First, there are certainly some who have reacted in an unseemly fashion to these events. But this is story is big enough to be picked up by major news outlets, the reactions will be varied and there will be extremes just like there is for every other news story ever. If you are pro-life you won’t appreciate being branded by the extreme of those who justify the killing of those who do abortions.

Second, I’ll call their bluff. There are good reasons to rejoice and celebrate. Driscoll had no business being a pastor. Mars Hill was an abusive ministry (Paul Tripp’s words) bordering on a cult. I can only assume the fear and oppression that once prevailed no longer does. There is a lot to rejoice about.

Last, I’ve seen far more sadness and grief and joy at the repentance taking place than anything. That won’t get as much press. But if you are really paying attention, this is what you will see more than anything.

2) Apart from blogs, none of the good things we are seeing, happens. I truly believe that. You don’t like those blogs (watch bloggers!)? I really don’t give a care. Were they  perfect? Of course not. But sometimes when you are helping the weak and wounded, it gets messy. Bloody and ugly. Sometimes you hope those who are speaking out against would emasculate themselves. The bloggers spoke up because no one else did.

3) Yesterday, a beautiful letter of repentance was released, exonerating Petry and Meyer and their firing and the shunning of their families. Go read it. Read it because that kind of repentance is so rare. Read it because you need to see the details of the evil perpetrated in the name of the gospel against these men and their families.

Here’s the thing, I’ve known about these charges for years. And I believed the stories. I believed the stories because I had pastored at an Acts 29 church and so much rang true from what I saw in my experience there.

Am I supposed to believe the leadership board of Acts 29 didn’t know these things? How is that even possible? The consolidation of power and “the bodies under the bus” comments were not exactly secrets.

They either knew and didn’t care or just couldn’t believe the stories were true.

Of course the problem is the Mars Hill brand was exported throughout the world. There are a number of Acts 29 churches out there with good men leading them. But I have had connections to two A29 churches. Both have/had manifested much of what we have seen in Mars Hill that is ugly. One of the churches no longer exists as a result.

4) The ripple effect of all these things will be seen for years to come. And the effects will be widespread. It would be inexcusably naive to think this is a local issue only. It is very local, I agree. But it became more than that through all the conferences, Acts 29 bootcamps, books (plagiarized and otherwise), and podcasts. Yes, it’s a cautionary tale for churches everywhere. But more than that, the “brand” of Mars Hill is everywhere.

5) When someone says they like Jesus but they are struggling with liking the church, this is one reason why. One among many. But a really, really good reason for you to listen and be patient.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. It has long been the evangelical tradition to react to whatever cultural movement or issue that threatens its hold on the people who once embraced it. All reaction. All fortification. What if instead the church started another conversation? The culture wants to talk about Gender Issues? So? What if we stopped playing issue whack-a-mole? What if we said we are going to talk about this even though the entire internet explodes with that?

2. The smile of my wife like victory and all the spoils thereafter.

3. Books should be less Henry Ford and more Alfred Sisley.

4. Baseball has no time limits. It can go on forever if it needs to. Sometimes I want a game to be over because I want a team to win or I need to go to bed. But when the desire to shorten the time of the game itself enters the discussion it attacks the strength of the game of itself. It’s not like any other sport with their times periods of play. It stands outside and waits and asks us to wait alongside. There is no frenzy like the surrounding world. “It’s boring.” Good. We need that. Incessant laser, smoke and mirrors entertainment has destroyed our taste for long periods of only the smallest of details asking us to pay attention.

5. I am torn between two men. T.S. Eliot saw his work in a bank as a gift for his writing, providing financial security. But there’s Buechner writing on vocation and calling.

6. That lady who sang God Bless America last night for Game 7 of the World Series is someone’s mother or daughter or wife. She’s not a public figure. And so many of you just ridiculed her on social media without mercy.

7. Outside of Louis Coleman, who I know personally, Billy Butler is my favorite Royal. He looks so normal. Only so much more.

8. Sometimes the dread of an event will gather debris as it rolls downward toward the marked day. And you will try and steal happiness with distraction in one moment and then in another wonder how happiness is even possible under the circumstances. You will tell yourself so many things while on the cliff of despair. However, the euphoria you expected when the event is over and the dread was without warrant, is just not there.

9. The excitement most people feel about vacations is pretty close to how I feel about pizza night at our house.

10. I now keep a little book of T.S. Eliot’s poems on my desk at the bank as a reminder.

Random Thoughts at the Beginning of the Week

1. Yesterday I listened to The Replacements’ Don’t Tell A Soul. Those songs changed me. I didn’t know anyone that liked that album. But I loved it and kept listening for years. About once a year I revisit that album and I’m for a short period I’m back in my ’79 Chevette cruising the Parkway trying to convince some friends how good this album is.

2. Jesus was hard on the rich and spoke graciously to the adulterous. We are the exact reverse.

3. The other night Bethany and I went out for dinner and to the bookstore. I sat in the floor and read a poem by Seamus Heaney I don’t think I’d ever read before. That night I dreamed about the poem and could see all the lines on the page. When I woke up, I could remember only a short phrase.

4. People complain about baseball games being too long as if they ever wanted them to be over.

5. Listening to The Replacements made me think of how when I saw the video for Social Distortion’s “Story of my Life” for the first time and I immediately went out and bought that album and played it till the ink on the cassette disappeared.

6. I saw on Twitter the other day where a person was recovering from surgery and having to spend a week in bed and I thought about how great that is. That’s probably not healthy, huh?

7. When it comes to writing, it is not enough to have something to say. Your subject matter is no justification for writing about it with poverty of ability.

8. An enormous section of our Scriptures are poetry. An enormous section of our Christian bookstores are crappy knick-knacks.

9. “A nine-to-five man who has seen poetry.”

10. My wife made roast beef sandwiches with a blue cheese mousse as part of the birthday week and this one of the many reasons I never wonder why I married her.

11. We were there when Oscar Taveras debuted and hit that majestic homer that opened the clouds and signaled a bright future and the hope of so much more. So devavstating for all that hope to now give way to “what might have been.”

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) The two writers who make me wanna write the most these days are Hemingway and Marilynne Robinson. I think I get them. What they are doing with voice and the use of words. And their sparse handling.

2) I saw someone on social media say Mark Driscoll is far more of a man than his accusers. You know, that may be true of some of them. Since many are women.

3) My first thought, though completely foolish, when my daughter started having a fever, was Ebola. When a nurse who worked with an Ebola patient had a fever, she got on a plane.

4) Marilynne Robinson’s new novel is heartbreakingly good. I don’t know how she keeps doing this. It’s as good as the last two if not better.

5) Until the world doesn’t see our religious leaders as coddled, comfortable, and wealthy, we will continue to lose credibility.

6) Sometimes you just wanna hear, “I blew it. That was wrong.” It’s so rare in the business world and it’s rare in churches.

7) People have asked where I am in the search for a pastoral position. I’ve basically quit looking. It’s exhausting. I’ve come to terms with the idea I’m not what churches are looking for. Maybe that’s a really good thing, for me and them. So for the time being I’m hoping to find work that pays enough for my wife to no longer have to clean houses. And I’m writing.

8) A good book on a cool morning is a treasure worth seeking out.

9) My small group has been going though Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace and I hate that we’ve come to the part about forgiveness. I’m not very good at forgiveness.

10) There is a loneliness that will never be solved by the presence of even the most loving people. I bump up against this often, I think. You’d think it would manifest itself in sadness. But often it’s anger. Rage. Cruelty. A coldness.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) Abstract discussions of suffering are not helpful. They must be located within a story. Yours or someone else’s. The one who cannot do this should keep silent till they are visited by despair.

2) Every Fall I begin the Harry Potter books and usually finish around Christmas. It’s not intellectual or spiritual, but it helps anyway. There’s a rhythm there I enjoy. Maybe because I miss the characters when it’s done.

3) Success in a job does not guarantee happiness with that job.

4) My daughter already knows all the words to the new U2 album.

5) We all like the story of the underdog until we are hiring someone, then it’s all résumé.

6) Achtung Baby, The Joshua Tree, The Unforgettable Fire, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Rattle and Hum, War, No Line on the Horizon, Boy, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, Pop, October, Zooropa

7) All that outrage about the NFL and violence against women didn’t last very long. We love our gladiators.

8) I read someone criticizing the long baseball season the other day. They asked why so many games with so much playoffs. They don’t get it. Baseball was meant to be enjoyed for what it is. Not for merely what your team does. There is an inherent beauty even in the most disastrous of outcomes for your beloved team.

9) I’ve been asked how I feel about Michael Horton’s new book, Ordinary. I wish I could say it didn’t bother me. But I can’t. It’s very disheartening. Very discouraging.

10) A lifetime sitting next to my wife will not be long enough.

Random Thoughts at the Beginning of the Week

1) I hope God enjoys watching me enjoy something the way I enjoy watching my kids enjoy something.

2) I don’t believe the rumors of the demise of the music industry. First, those who say it are comparing it’s state to the year 2000 while ignoring the year 1900. Second, all industries change. Get off my lawn. Third, who would have guessed 10 years ago that vinyl would be so big. No one knows what’s coming.

3) My wife has beauty, talent and wisdom. She said the other day, “People only think what was popular is cool. But not what is popular now.”

4) The evangelical Christian ghetto cannot answer the relationship between grief and rage.

5) I would like a vocation that is a destination.

6) It is no easy task, unburdening yourself with those whose problems you’d gladly exchange for.

7) Hope is exhausting. Maybe it’s supposed to be.

8) Last week I went to an Anglican funeral. It was probably the best worship service I’ve ever attended. And most likely the most help I’ve gotten in grief.

9) There are two types of problems/struggles people have. Those remedied by time and/or money. And those only remedied by the making of all things new. Wisdom recognizes the difference between the two.

10) There is a holiness in unreserved laughter among friends.

Random Thoughts on the Music that Helped Me Make Sense of the World

1) Of all my thoughts about the new U2 album, the one I keep thinking the most is how much these songs remind me of all the emotions and ideas that drew me in at the age of 16. I keep hearing all those old albums in this one even though this album sounds like none of the old albums.

2) I can understand people not liking their music. A little. But the abject violence with which U2 and Bono particularly are spoken of, is bizarre.

3) Lyrically, this is one of the best albums they’ve done in a long time. This is not to discredit the others. Achtung Baby is the standard for me, not just for U2 but for most bands. And I have to go back to it, to find one with lyrics this good.

4) In those first few years after discovering them, I would scrounge up whatever money I could find. Go without lunch. Lunge at coins left on the ground. I cleaned toilets and even watched kids at church so I could drive my 1979 Chevette over to Century Plaza mall to buy whatever U2 album or EP or single I did not have. So, it’s kinda hard for me to sympathize with those who are upset about how they were given a free album.

5) Nothing will ever sound as good as War on cassette (complete album on both sides) coming through those 100 watt Sony speakers sitting in the corners of my black vinyl backset.

6) If someone broke into my house and downloaded a new U2 album onto my computer, I’d be OK with that.

7) When Rattle & Hum was released I skipped school to wait outside the music store at the mall to be the first one to get it. And then saw the movie in the theater 3 times in the first 8 days it was out. I still love that film with all my heart.

8) U2 was a large part of my growth as a Christian in High School and College. Bono was the only Christian I knew that used bad language and drank alcohol. That was hard for a Southern Baptist pastor’s kid to get. But I began to see the kingdom was bigger than I thought and many of the laws enacted were peculiar to my own cultural context. I also saw a largeness and openheartedness to others and their thoughts and ideas and dreams. Bono didn’t cause me to doubt but it sure was nice to know I was not alone in the doubts I had.

9) I’ve posted a lot on social media about U2 in the past week because the release of a new U2 album is an event we should be orienting our lives around. You know, kinda like Christmas. There should be parties and festivities. Games. A day off, even. The only person who could disagree is the one who has never seen them live.

10) I remember exactly where I was at the age of 16 when the songs broke through. The corner of Esplanade and Mountain Drive. My friend Scott Smith let me borrow War. I had just dropped him off a few minutes before and Sunday Bloody Sunday is what did it on that sunny Summer Alabama day. Still does.

The Otherness of Jesus We Reject

There is an *otherness* to Jesus we reject. Maybe unwittingly. But still, we do so.

We rightly like the otherness of Jesus when it comes to his justifying work on the cross. We need that otherness since he is the only One Who can save us from our sins. He is the only one who is without sin. He alone is truly holy.

But his otherness when it come to our sanctification is rejected. If sanctification is the process by which we are made holy. And Jesus is the holiest one who ever lived, we should look at his life and learn some holiness. But his otherness – his being altogether outside of our expectations is rejected. We want well-adjusted, respectable, starched shirt leaders. And we want to be that. If that otherness ever manifests itself in our leaders or loved ones, such behavior is rejected.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,783 other followers