a front row seat in the glorious theater

Darkness fell like a hush; the lights circled us as we circled the fire. The jumping glow splashed on our faces and warmed our autumn skin as we cupped black coffee in thankful hands. The sky speckled with stars and the creatures sang out their evening melodies. And we sat in the front row in the glorious theater of God.

After reading Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, we had all carried around conversations that couldn't happen over the phone and couldn't happen half-hearted. This night was set apart to try to understand someone from the great cloud of witnesses - to look at the life of someone who treasured the Lord in such a way that he was ruined for anything else.

And we sat in the front row in the glorious theater of God, right there in the backyard of an Iowa farmhouse.

The candles glowed in mason jars to light the path from the woodshop, where we enjoyed a bountiful spread of German delights, and inside I was a mess of emotion. A weighty, good mess of gratitude and purpose and joy and hope and pain and fear and defeat and doubt and sorrow. When despair seems simpler and right, stories of hope read more like fiction. But not last night... not when we remembered people whose lives were anchored by one thing, driven by one thing, delighted by one thing ... and not when I looked around at the firelit faces of my friends, whose struggles on stormy seas are anchored deep down by the same greatest treasure.

The struggle is not to stay upright, but to rejoice in the anchor which holds us. Bonhoeffer's life was not about making the message of Jesus look good or better or more intellectual than whatever religion his peers and countrymen presented. He was not about being interesting or popular or approachable, at least in the end. Bonhoeffer purposed to be about truth. He set out to know God and to draw others into a knowledge of God as it is revealed in the Word of God. His culture said a lot of things, burned a lot of books, and printed a lot of promotional materials for massive political campaigns... but Bonhoeffer had eyes to shake off the surface storms and cling to the hope that anchored and the only hope that would reveal the evil that had usurped the hearts of his countrymen.

This. This is beautiful, I thought.

I love how David Hall describes John Calvin's thoughts on our seats in the glorious theater.

Calvin described this world, moved by God’s providence, as theatrum gloriae. For him, every aspect of life from work to worship and from art to technology bears the potential to glorify God (Institutes, 1.11.12). Creation is depicted as a platform for God’s glory (1.14.20) or a “dazzling theater” (1.5.8; 2.6.1), displaying God’s glorious works. Calvin viewed the first commandment as making it unlawful to steal “even a particle from this glory” (2.8.16). Such comments support Lloyd-Jones’ later claim that for Calvin “the great central and all-important truth was the sovereignty of God and God’s glory.” ("The Theater of God's Glory" by David Hall at Ligonier Ministries)

I went away from the night knowing we hadn't talked about everything, hadn't appreciated history completely, hadn't understood theology thoroughly... but oh so thankful that we showed up at the theater. I'm thankful I have others with whom I can behold the glory of God and I'm thankful for the support we give each other to be unapologetic about truth.

Today, I am still purposing to know God, find out what pleases Him, and delight to do those things. And today I am thankful for those I can share steps with along the way.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the human referral effect

Today, I put on my über hip (but less than hipster) tortoise shell glasses with the confidence of someone who needs corrective lenses and wears them with style. Just to be clear, I think glasses for fashion only is silly and a waste of money. If you do have to purchase glasses, then making it a fashion statement is a bonus. But why am I talking about fashion, which is so clearly out of my realm of expertise? Because I bought my glasses online at Zenni Optical - which was WAY cooler than Factory Eyeglass Outlet, where my parents would take us to get glasses when we were growing up. Here's the cold, hard fact: glasses are crazy expensive! You could pay up to $400 for glasses and that was $350 above my parents' price range. You might assume I've really moved up in the world and am able to buy a $400 status symbol, but I haven't. Actually, $400 glasses are about $375 above my price range and I'm now very thankful for those extra dollars my parents were able to spend on "any pair with the yellow sticker, sweetie."

I heard about Zenni Optical from my friend Tina who heard about it from my sister, who googled cheap eyeglasses and then told everyone about her experience. It seems fake at first - almost like a really horrible practical joke because the price for a pair of sweet, hip lenses from their website is as low as $6.95. I know, I didn't believe it either.

But then they arrived in the mail and you couldn't pay me to NOT advertise for them. People would say, "Oh, your glasses are so cool!" and I'd always touch the corner, real studious like, and say with a shrug, "Oh, these? $12.00."

No one believes me at first, but eventually I get them to write down the website and promise to look it up for themselves. At $12, you can afford to buy 2 or 3 pairs just in case one breaks. And, if you lose a pair, you just skip going to the theatre and you've evened things up for your wallet!

Zenni has since really snazzed up their website and have a feature where you can virtually try on glasses to see how they look on your face.


I haven't ordered a pair in several years, but I still get excited at the idea of someone else getting a good product for a good price.

And why all this about my glasses?

Because I read this article about the human referral effect in Forbes magazine that highlights another eyeglass outfitter who is committed to giving quality for a fair price. The author of the article, Alexander Taub (Iowa native, btw) talks about his Warby Parker purchase and the chain reaction of referrals that followed.

Bottom line: we like to point people in the direction of something wonderful... and not just the possibility of something wonderful, but the guarantee of something wonderful.

I love this idea. I love that humanity is a fan of guaranteed wonderful things and that we want other people to have guaranteed wonderful things too. I love that the human referral effect happens and that it happens so often and that Forbes magazine is taking notice.

What I wonder is if eyeglasses are the only thing we should be sending down this highly effective human pipeline. I wonder if this human referral effect is being extremely under utilized.

I wonder what would be the best thing for humans to refer to one another?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

making me nervous

In a few weeks, I'll sit around a table of delicious German food with some of my closest friends to discuss a true story of transformation, tragedy, and terror. We're going to discuss a book about a life - the life of a man who would not tolerate a theology that would wipe out a race of people. Reading the book, Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, a few years ago was terrifying. I had walked inside the gates at Auschwitz in Poland and seen the incinerators; I had stood in the tower and looked across the field of long buildings built for suffering and death. The account of this brilliant German man with the right pedigree and the right education and the right friends is ugly in its revealing of everything wrong about the world... about the human condition... about everything culture slowly and slyly considers "right" without question.

But book clubs with biographies are meant to focus on the past, to stir up nostalgia or pride or gratitude that terrible times had such wonderful people to overcome them. So why is The New York Times making me nervous today? Why do I think Bonhoeffer's words would ring as poignant today, in our much progressed culture of tolerance?

Why does today seem so terrible?

I have to read the news in waves - a little bit here, a bit there... some in the morning and some over lunch. Because it feels ominous. A sliver of a column on the front page was dedicated to the continuing conflict in Syria while a lion and her cubs enjoyed a photo and feature further down on the page. Zoos are having trouble deciding what to do when babies "don't fit the plan." I guess those babies were part of, "All the news that's fit to print" in a more prominent sense than the failure of any diplomatic, peaceful measures by Annan in the battered and bruised country of Syria.

This probably reads like a jumbled jigsaw puzzle and that's because it is. I know I've got a hope secure and I know I've got to share this message, but is this world making anyone else nervous? When I sit around that table in a few weeks, enjoying good German food with kindred spirits, I have a feeling they'll know exactly what I mean.

wholeness in Christ for the broken

Good morning, friends. This little post has  been brewing since I got a text from my mom at 7:30 am. She was on her way to Chick-fil-A to buy a chicken sandwich. They make a good sandwich, to be sure, but the closest store is an hour away and this is a particular day to make the trek for chicken. And, with all my freshly-wakened, Wednesday morning (pre-coffee) clarity, I wondered if this emphasizing of polarization is productive. How can we sit down with the sick - those in need of the Great Physician - if we persist in putting ourselves in opposition? The lifestyle of the woman at the well didn't stop Jesus from hanging out there - he didn't go out of his way to go to a different well, one that supported a monogamous lifestyle.

He very intentionally went to where the hurting hung out because (though the woman didn't understand she needed saving) he knew he could offer something they would never find in the cycle of their sin. We have to step into the cycle of brokenness in the lives of the wayward in order to point to the freedom of wholeness. It is so crucial that we recognize how desperately we daily cling to Christ for wholeness. It's not as if we share a message that we've attained. Rather, we lean into God's faithfulness and hang on his words and stand on his promises because He is our wholeness.

We have been rescued from the cycle of brokenness and this is a message to share with the broken.

Don't get me wrong - I agree with Dan Cathy's beliefs (which I think were originally intended to communicate his disappointment in the divorce rate) and boy! can he make a great chicken sandwich! But at the end of the day, I want to be able to sit down with the prostitute, the lesbian, the bi-sexual, and every kind of wayward. I'm not sure that they would feel welcome at a table full of my friends who clearly oppose what they claim as identity.

It's a question of effectiveness, I think. I appreciate what everyone is saying, but I'm just wondering if it is all turning into noise.

Matthew Hall yesterday tweeted, "If not resisted, the siren song of political power/influence will usually drown out theological conviction & prophetic witness. #theory" and I think I agree.

In my Bible study this morning, I read:

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV)

and this:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:15-18 ESV)

What does it mean to rightly handle the word of truth? avoid irreverent babble? Is it possible that people on both sides can lead people into more and more ungodliness? I just pray against the talk that spreads like gangrene and that in its place we would lean into the Word so much that what comes out in our speech is gentleness and compassion and hope. By all means, eat your chicken sandwich and enjoy it (Dan Cathy didn't get so huge on the sale of a bad product), but consider what is the best way to engage with those who are sick and in need of a physician.

Go make a friend - have lunch, sit across the table, listen and care about the person looking back at you. See them and let them see you. Let's pray they see Christ, whose love constrains us to obedience.

[bandcamp album=2352304848 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]

How Long (Love Constraining to Obedience) by Wayfarer

To see the law by Christ fulfilled, to hear His pardoning voice Can change a slave into a child and duty into choice No strength of nature can suffice to serve the Lord aright And what she has she misapplies for want of clearer light

How long, how long beneath the law I lay How long, how long I struggled to obey

Then to abstain from outward sin was more than I could do Now If I feel its power within, I feel I hate it too Then all my servile works were done, a righteousness to raise Now, freely chosen in the Son, I freely choose His ways

How long, how long beneath the law I lay How long, how long I struggled to obey How long, how long in bondage and distress How long, how long I tried without success...

Articles that give some great insight:

Evangelical Credibility and Religious Pluralism by John W. Morehead (posted at Qideas.com)

Why the Chick-Fil-A Boycott is really about Jesus by Trevin Wax (posted at The Gospel Coalition)

Is Chick-fil-A a Bold Mistake? by Denny Burk (Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College)

Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day: A Bold Mistake by Barnabas Piper (WORLD magazine)

Chick-fil-A Controversy Draws In Jonathan Merritt's Sexuality by Jasmine Young (Christianity Today)

why mass murders remain mysteries

  I was reading about the Aurora shooter, James Holmes, in the August issue of TIME magazine and learned, not surprisingly, that many people have tried to "figure out" the folks behind the triggers of mass murders. After such horrifying events as Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the Arizona shooting outside a grocery store, the wounds feel raw and people want answers.

Last week, a junior high girl asked me, "What would make a man do such a horrible thing?"

Her question resonates with families, friends, and social scientists in the FBI and Secret Service. We want to know why and we want to know what we can do to prevent senseless killings in the future. The research, unfortunately, is inconclusive. Though there are "sociological traits and behavioral cues that are associated with mass violence," there are also a host of outliers that resist simple categorization.

The article closes with this,

In other words, there were few reasons to predict that Holmes was more dangerous than anybody else in Aurora. What law could account for such a person? Madmen will untie themselves from legal restrictions as easily as they depart from moral ones. But Holmes' case, like the others, will be endlessly scrutinized, all in the hopes of recognizing signs that could stop the next mass murderer. (TIME article, "Preventing Mass Murder, Can We Identify Dangerous Men Before They Kill?" by John Cloud)

That doesn't sound very hopeful. But there is something very important - do you see it?

"...Holmes was no more dangerous than anybody else in Aurora."

Now, that sounds to me like total depravity, but let's talk like laypeople for a minute. Basically, with all the research and months-long studies by the best of the best, we still cannot come up with a powerpoint presentation that explains exactly why mass murderers do what they do. We cannot figure out what makes them snap, except that they seem to be a lot like... well, a lot like "us."

Hold on a minute. I know it sounds scary, but there's something beautiful hidden here, so don't miss it.

The article is right - it's hopeless. Even "science" has failed to give us an answer this time (ironically, what some call "science" might be leading people towards this kind of behavior - see The Sunset Limited).

Hopeless happens to be exactly where God's story starts making a whole lot of sense. The only one with enough power to break in to such a frustrating human system is someone completely outside of it, someone who doesn't operate under the same constraints. If God can reach down and meet me in my hopeless state, then He can certainly meet my neighbors and the guy I met at the pool and the next mass murderer. Because, remember, he's just like us.

It won't ever find its way onto the list of sociological traits and behavioral cues, but isn't it true that the heart of a man reveals his motive?

With every tragedy, we are shaken from our stupor and forced to look at the human heart. We don't know who the next mass murderer will be or where he will strike, but we do know his actions come from a wayward heart.

So, who will share the message that the most wayward of hearts - hearts that seem to delight in evil - have an invitation to come home? Who will admit that we are all capable of evil and we desperately need to be freed from the sin that binds us?

Who will solve the mystery of mass murders - that it is all about the heart?


St. Francis, evangelism, reliable research, sexual identity, and the 99% I'll support

I was gone last week in Michigan, but I tried to stay up on my reading. I slipped away a few times to work and inevitably ended up perusing Twitter and the blogosphere to find out what's going on in the world. I think of my twitter account like one of those tickers that talk about the Dow Jones or Wall Street (I guess all that information flying across the screen is about the economy or something). Twitter is more my cup 'o tea because it's an aggregator of information of news in theology, arts, crafts, foods, and popular headlines. I don't find everything there, but between twitter and blog posts sent to my email, I read a lot of content from a computer screen. Here are some of the things I've found.

  • How well do you know the saints? You know, the ones that get their soundbites memorialized on those inspirational posters with landscape scenery. How well do you know about their lives, their ministries, and their beliefs? Do you know them well enough to recognize when they are being misrepresented? St. Francis of Assisi is famous for saying, "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." There is one huge problem with this inspiration - it didn't happen. Check out this great article, "FactChecker: Misquoting Francis of Assisi" by Glenn T. Stanton to find out more.
  • This short article, "No Such Thing as the Gift of Evangelism" by Ed Stetzer exposes the excuses far too many believers use to 'get out of' sharing the gospel with others. I'm interested to know your thoughts - especially if you've taken a Spiritual Gifts Inventory that said you are not gifted in evangelism. Stetzer shares four proposals that I think are very helpful.
  • Have you ever wondered where the statistics come from that say a child in the foster care system requires 40 square feet to live in the state of Iowa (true story, I checked)? Where does research come from and why do we trust it? Who is checking and double checking the methods of the researchers and how many re-writes of the results happen before the public sees it? Here's the biggest question: when we don't agree with what research finds, is it bad research or just disagreeable results? A professor at UT conducted research of children of gay parents and came up with some very UNpopular results. A blogger wrote a letter and now the University of Texas is looking into his "questionable" ethics in the study. Check out this article from Denny Burk, "The Witch-Hunt for Mark Regnerus" and see if you can make sense of it.
  • This article, "The New Sexual Identity Crisis" from Jeff Buchanan (Executive Vice President of Exodus International) writes about the identity fragmentation that we see in regards to sexuality. Too many people have chalked it up to progress or trend or fad and not enough of us have taken a deep look at what it means for society and culture that we are a people so sexually confused. This article gives great insight.
  • In this video, Jonah Lehrer shares that "grit is the stubborn refusal to quit." I love that. I can support 99% when it stands for good, old-fashioned perspiration. If you've got the time, his insights on creativity and how we get there are really refreshing. [vimeo http://vimeo.com/45162748]
  • I am a huge fan of the arts. HUGE. My mom is a music teacher, my dad's family of 10 grew up performing, and I grew up on the stage with my siblings in church and school productions. This story in the Huffington Post, "Grace, Love, Courage: on Art, Artists, and Patronage" talks about one particular person and her support of the arts.

As always, I could give you more, but these should keep you pretty busy. Enjoy, folks, and don't forget: knowledge is useless if it doesn't result in acts of love. Even knowledge of what's going on in the world should point us back to ways that we can serve and share the hope of the gospel.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

(1 Corinthians 8:1-3 ESV)

Until the Dawn Appears

Well the man of sorrows walked the shores of Galilee And his eyes were cast with joy towards the crystal sea Well the shadows will be gone and all these bitter tears And my heart will hang on that until the dawn appears

Matthew Perryman Jones is one of those folk singers. He croons with a heart outside "mainstream" and his new album makes me emotional. Every time I hear, "Until the Dawn Appears," my heart hangs on the last verse because without it the song would be only sad. Jones has a way of singing sorrow. It kind of seeps out slowly and settles in deep. The last verse (above) transfers all the sorrows of this world onto the shoulders of one man. One man who will bring the dawn that banishes the shadows.

One man who will never let me go.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/40319898 w=500&h=281]

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the sky yelled in bright yellow

The rain pounding my windshield drowned out all other sound. Like an obstinate child throwing pebbles on a playground, the drops fell angry and unforgiving. The sky yelled in bright yellow and the thunder grumbled in the dark night.

And this accompaniment seems to fit the mess of things in my heart tonight.

I just left the first day of training to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate and I have not located the warm, fuzzy feelings normally associated with volunteering... and I don't know if I ever will in this position. I arrived weary - stumbling into the little meeting room across from the hotel lobby, but my heart started running from the moment the training began.

Before we even got into any material, we went around the room to share our personal history and family background. Out of the 19 present, I was one of four who shared about a stable, loving, 2-parent childhood. Before we'd even opened the "real" material, I was looking around the room at stories of alcohol/drug abuse, divorce, custody battles, and various other tragedies.


With every powerpoint slide, I seemed to sink deeper into that uncomfortable hotel chair. I fidgeted and squirmed and re-positioned my tired, little legs, but I wasn't rushing to get out of there. I just didn't know where to fit all the information I was taking in. Really? The court decides when a home is "fit" to live in and when parents are the ideal "custodians?" Yes, "custodians" does refer to people caring for children and yes, I was alarmed that we use the same language for trash removal.

There are just too many things... too many problems that yell bright yellow in the night sky as we drive home in our safe, metal boxes every night to our safe, cozy homes. The problems pound like pebbles thrown at my windshield and right now I'm inclined to face them and feel the sting.

Maybe, if I close my eyes, I'll know how I can stand without being washed away. Maybe, if I lean in, I'll hear how I might step into the brokenness.

Maybe, if I sigh deep, I'll believe that there is a message of Hope louder than the thunder's rumble and stronger than the rain's force.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Think on These Things

Too many times we imitate what we see in the world around us. We settle for mediocre instead of magnificent; for better instead of best. As C.S. Lewis lamented, we are content to play in mud puddles instead of enjoying a holiday at the sea. This infographic from challies.com is helpful in understanding how God has designed us for BEST.

If you would like the graphic in high-resolution, you can download it in JPG or PDF.

Occupy Life: Ale

I'm doing this series called Occupy Life where I focus on sometimes small and sometimes giant moments that make up the days of our lives. We are all occupying physical time and space (whether you are passionate about it or not) every single day the sun rises and every night when it sets. So, what if we started thinking about our every moment as a statement - as our purpose with a proverbial picket line? Here's number three. I'm not sleeping.

No, really. I woke up this morning and I said, "I think little animals could hide in the bags under my eyes."

Ale (pronounced AH-LEH, by the way) told me on our way out the door today, "I do think the no sleep is catching up with me... but I don't care - we just have too much to talk about is the problem!"

I agree. Not a moment wasted.

Yesterday (and early into the morning), Alejandra and I occupied life with questions like, "What drives you?" and "Is it possible to love Chemistry and ministry at the same time?" and then processing conversations about the ways Christians can close doors in conversations instead of open them. We occupied life like a waterfall occupies a cliff - with words tripping over words and questions following answers.

Even with ten days full of almost non-stop, catching up conversation, we both talk like this minute is the last one we could analyze things together. When a good idea or a solution to a question or a realization or a dream happens, our eyes get real big and we purse our lips like what we just said is almost too good to bring down to the level of words. It's like finding a treasure and then being physically unable to do anything but gesture wildly and squeal silently in excitement.

This morning, as we were getting ready, she said, "I have an idea - we can do a devotion after my class," because on the first night (as we talked nearly in to our sleep), she told me, "This is very weird... usually I do two devotions every night - I promise! It's just that I don't know where to find the time because of our talks!"

The problem is legitimate, but as she said it this morning, I started to form a philosophy about how our time is woven together with the Lord. Yesterday, we hit up the life of Job, Paul's letter to the church at Thessalonica, and our calling as children of God - all in between and around our adventures and mixed in with a lot of laughter and serious pondering. So, I was forming this idea of "doing devotions" as we occupy the steps of life - carrying around the Word like it's written right on our hearts and hidden in a treasure chest in our minds. I was forming this idea and Ale says,

"Miss, I have an idea. I think we don't make a time for devotions because we are the devotions... like we do a devotion all day long."

Not only was I excited that we both arrived at the same conclusion, but my heart lept with joy that we both believe a relationship with the Lord is alive and active and occupies our souls 24/7. The words from Scripture jump into our conversations and mix in with our laughter and inform our philosophies about how the world turns.

The process is always as beautiful as the conclusion - like the thrill of preparing a delicious cupcake and then serving it to someone to enjoy. Both the preparation and the presentation are equally satisfying (as the chef).

This is an example of an occupied life where every moment is oh-so-delicious!

stuffing peppers and bellies

I grew up in the country. When October 31 came around, we would get dressed up and take a tour of the countryside, stopping at neighbors' and relatives houses who were all ready for the "Nichols kids." I never knew that other kids went to houses where they didn't personally know the people inside. Sometimes, we even sang a song or sat on the sofa for a while Because we were getting candy and popcorn balls, but we were also giving ... a little time for them to treasure. Well, I didn't go out to trick, treat, or sing at houses last night... but I did stuff something other than a candy bag - PEPPERS! I used this recipe, but made some serious changes. I didn't measure anything, for starters. I used fresh tomatoes and brown rice. I threw in some extra spices and (probably the biggest change) I used some peppers we got from my neighbor and I couldn't tell you exactly which kind they were. Something funny happened in the middle of making these little guys... I realized it was 3 pm and I hadn't eaten lunch! Good thing I had a BUNCH of rice mixture left over! I threw some on a corn tortilla, added cheddar and salsa... and 5 minutes later there was lunch! And then the peppers came out :)

I decided to get my community on and head over to my friends' place to share these peppers and finally watch Tree of Life (terrence malick's new flim). We ended up putting the rice mixture on top of this baked goodness and then throwing it in for a second baking to melt some cheese on top and dinner happened accompanied by some delightful conversation!

Then we watched Tree of Life. (more on the Nature vs. Grace discussion in the film to come!)

So, what did you stuff last night? A candy bag? Your belly?

Did anyone stuff their brain on the Reformation in honor of the anniversary? I spent a bit of time reading this article at the Gospel Coalition, "Abandon the Reformation, Abandon the Gospel" and thinking about how history remind us of God's faithfulness and our responsibility.

What thoughts have you, dear friends?

Tomorrow, I will write about the Tree of Life. Oh my, is there ever much to say!