Month: June 2014

Remembering Wesley Smith

When we look back at our life story, certain people influence particular chapters. God seems to place the right people in our path at the right time. I count Wesley Smith as one of those people.

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Wes was a professor,  college president, pastor, mentor and friend to many. My first interaction with him came in the fall of 2007.  He taught Greek I at Valley Forge Christian College. We learned the Greek alphabet and began the process of translation. Yet, many of us enjoyed the stories he told during class. Biblical languages provide a firsthand lesson on perseverance. In the midst of all the rabbit trails and translation questions, he helped the Scriptures come alive.

The picture above is of that class in 2007. Many of us kept taking his classes and met with him outside of class. It was common for him to meet with students at the local Italian restaurants. We would grill him with questions and share our frustrations. He handled each and every conversation with calmness and graciousness.

After I graduated from college and started a job in Pennsylvania, we stayed in touch. Both of us had common ground in the city of Binghamton. His Dad actually pastored the church I grew up attending. Since he still had family in the area, he would sometimes ask me to drive him to Binghamton. Each trip included a stop at Little Venice. I thoroughly enjoyed the six hours of conversations in the car. We talked about life, theology, romance, education future, church and higher education.

When I received the news this week of his passing, I began to recount each class and conversation. Wes was always teaching, whether he stood at a podium or when he sat at a table. Here are three lessons I learned from Wes Smith:

1. Embrace the critics, cynics and doubters.

Those of us who entered Professor Smith’s classroom had questions and challenges concerning our observations of Christianity. He invited us to struggle without leaving us there. We felt safe enough to question certain beliefs without judgment. If anything, we experienced grace. Many of my classmates and friends would identify Wes as a significant influencer of faith. In the moments when faith seemed far away, his calm spirit reminded us of how Jesus was far closer than we could ever imagine.

2. Take time to let the Scriptures come alive.

I will never forget the Greek 2 class when we read Romans 5:1-12. The Greek in that passage gives a richer picture of Christ’s love for us than any English translation could ever communicate. We sat in a moment of silence reflecting on how God brought us near while we were still far away. Professor Smith had a way of slowing down to hear the Holy Spirit speak while reading Scripture.

3. “Make Jesus visible, believable and beautiful to every person you meet.”

Wes said this often to us. When he left the presidency at Valley Forge, the staff gave him a plate with this phrase on this. The way he treated us as students and friends, we could tell he lived out these words. After hearing of his passing, I shared his words:

I am grateful to God for the influence of Wesley Smith in my life. He will be greatly missed. For those of you who knew Wes, feel free to share what you have learned from him as we celebrate his life.

Bitterness and Resentment

Sunday after Sunday, the church heard this; “Resentment is allowing someone to live rent free in your mind.” The new pastor had the task of shepherding a congregation through one of their darkest seasons. As an adolescent in a church in Binghamton, NY, I remember hearing these words from a pastor named Bill Kirk.


Resentment and bitterness relate to each other as siblings. If you look these words up in the dictionary, you can find the other word within the definition. They promise to inflict pain or silence the existence of a person who has caused hurt. Possessors of these siblings end up carrying the brunt of their damages.

When we hold on to resentment and bitterness, we find ourselves putting our deepest anguishes on repeat without ever seeking healing.
We begin to buy the narrative that the only source of retribution will come from watching our perpetrator fall in some way.
Behind this narrative we tell ourselves a lie; God’s grace is insufficient to redeem this situation.

Over the past few weeks, I have found myself in I Samuel. This book traces the rise and fall of King Saul. A man who had all the potential to lead succumbs to pride and spends the last chapter of his life far from God. Healthy leaders attempt to empower their successors. He wanted to thwart his successor, David, a little shepherd from Israel. Instead of building a nation, he became preoccupied with bitterness and resentment directed towards David. The last half of the book records his tragic demise.

Jesus says in the Gospels, “love your enemy” and “bless those who curse you.” At the heart of this message, we can begin to experience grace. He says these things in the context of people who would hurt Him. Instead living controlled by bitterness and resentment like Saul, He calls us to live in the freedom of releasing this pain.

Loving our enemies and blessing those who curse us looks like Jesus, because they challenge us to live a better story. One where our Savior can redeem our bitterness and resentment. 

Let the message from Bill Kirk sink into your heart and mind; resentment and bitterness lets someone remain rent free in your mind. 

You might find yourself replaying the stories of bitterness and resentment. We find the words of Jesus rooted in the fact that He lived this out. Romans 5:8, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” He calls to experience grace that He himself gave to us. In the end when we love our enemies and bless those who curse us, we live out the freedom of the Gospel.

Christ calls us to live the story of grace rather than bitterness or resentment.

Where would we begin to experience grace in the midst of bitterness and resentment? I find that writing a prayer to God acknowledging the bitterness moves it from within us to outside of us. Take time to put words to the hurt and ask God for forgiveness where you might have failed. Then in moments like these, find a person with maturity and wisdom who you can trust to share this area of your heart. When we share with God and with others, we bring light to our souls.

What would it like today if you lived the story of Christ’s grace rather than bitterness or resentment?

Photo credit to Olya Myers Photography.

Life Lessons from a French Press

The daily routines of life can teach us. Frederick Buechner famously said, “Listen to your life…” Our mundane tasks might indicate to us more than we think. Often, it simply takes time to stop and recognize these lessons.


Part of my daily routine includes a cup of coffee; well, multiple cups of coffee in the morning. I started seriously using a French press last year. Listening to our lives involves reflecting on our routines. We begin to sense lessons God teaches in the midst of the commonplace.

During the last week, I have stopped to take notice of what I can learn from making coffee with a French press in the morning. Here are five lessons:

1. Take Intentional Steps.

Prior to making coffee in the morning, I went to Starbucks everyday. Dave Ramsey’s budget would lessen these daily trips to save cash. Making coffee at home means getting up a little earlier. A French press involves the right water temperature, exact ground texture and proper wait time before pressing. Every little detail matters.

Dallas Willard often said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning.” Sometimes, I think we want growth by osmosis. Spiritual, physical, emotional and relational growth comes from taking intentional steps. We begin to see how God transforms our smallest steps. Grace invites to the small beginnings.

2. Fully Engage in One Activity.

Efficiency has become a heightened value of the decade. How quick can I finish a task? Is it possible to multi-task? I have a hard time starting the water to boil and grounding the coffee beans at the same time. French pressing coffee keeps you focused on each element; water, grounds and wait time. The times when I try to accomplish other tasks, I can taste it in the coffee.

What if we lived engaged in one thing at a time? Think of the meaningfulness of our conversations. When we slow down in the simplest steps, we usually do not miss the little details. The people around us might benefit the most from our full attention and engagement.

3. Disconnect from Screens.

Claire Diaz-Ortiz wrote the Barna Frame Greater Expectations. As one of the first employees of Twitter and now a renowned blogger, she implore readers to disconnect from screens especially in the morning. Without even thinking we check our phone notifications first. A morning routine devoid of screens offers an opportunity to listen to our life by prayer, reading, and expressing our feelings.

French pressing has taught me to leave the phone out of the room. Each morning allots us the time to focus on the simple joys, like a a fresh cup of French press coffee.

4. Appreciate the Roasters.

Two friends, Zach Smith and Dan Desosiers, roast their own coffee. Roasting coffee involves time and attention. Having the right roast pressed gives a fresher taste. I find myself becoming more grateful for this daily experience. Along the way people have given us time and attention. Whether our cup of coffee tastes fresher or we find life giving friendships, let’s learn how to appreciate the important people in our lives.

5. Finding Joy in Rhythm.

Saying “yes” to a pot of French press coffee means saying “no” to another task. I have found myself clarifying the important rhythms of life. Maybe the tasks we thought mattered, really break our rhythm. By committing to the rhythm of a day, we might find a more life giving pace. A little task like French pressing reminds us to slow down, rather than rushing through the day.

Take time to listen to your life. You might begin to see lessons you can learn from the simplest tasks. What have you learned from your mundane tasks? What is your experience in French pressing?

Photo credit Chris Mason Design.


Unrecognizable Answers to Prayers

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of the Psalms, “The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become. The writers of these passages delve into the spectrum of human emotion: joy, anger, despair, discontentment, and reverence towards God. They give us words for our prayers.


I have found myself in the Psalms. Certain chapters of our lives, we run out of our own words to God. This can happen for a variety reasons. Disappointment repeats its song over and over. We find our lives in neutral not sure to remain or take the next step. And whether good or bad times, sometimes God can seem far away.  The writers of the Psalms lived in our reality.

The Psalms gives us prayers that we cannot always identify God’s answer right away. Some of our prayers have a definitive outcomes and the answers come quickly based on circumstances. Yet, many of our prayers bring through a process. For example:

Psalm 33:20 – “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield…”
Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God…”
Psalm 86:10 – “Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth…”

These prayers carry a daily ongoing requests. They call us to a perspective on understanding the presence of God in our hearts.

The one prayer I come back to like these is Psalm 51:10, Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.” David prays this after the affair with Bathsheba and Nathan’s stern rebuke. Even though we may not prayer this on the heels of an egregious failure, all of us desire a clear conscious, wholeness, and renewed vision of God.

How in the world can you recognize the answer to these prayers in your life? Tullian Tchividjian in a sermon series on Job makes this statement, “When we depend on anything smaller than God to provide us security, meaning, and value we long for, God will love us enough to take it away…” This says something about our heart. God begins to prune and form us.

When we pray in waiting, we learn about our impatience to understand God’s patience.

When we pray for stillness, God closes doors and causes our lives to halt.

When we pray for teaching, God brings people who tell us the difficult critiques we need to hear.

And when we ask for a clean heart, God loves us enough to take away what we have valued more then Him.

We begin to see a God who answers our prayers in unrecognizable ways. Though growing causes pain, He makes us more aware of Himself. Along the way, the things we see in our lives that we thought would destroy actually bring us to a place to experience answered prayer.

Stop today and take notice, perhaps God has answered your prayers in unrecognizable ways. He works in our hearts in more ways than we can ever realize.

How might God have answered your prayers in unrecognizable ways?

Photo credit to Olya Myers Photography.



“The more honest we are with ourselves, the more broken we realize we are.” My Mother-In-Law, Kathy Elliott, made this comment in the midst of a conversation. We innately desire to control our press releases. Call it lying, partial truths, or spinning; There comes a moment when we recognize the reality of our flaws.


PBS airs a British comedy called Keeping Up with Appearances on Saturday nights. The opening credits depict a series of blunders and mistakes with the main character. When I think about insecurity, I come back to the title of this sitcom; the desire to appear to ourselves and to others as having everything all together, but actually falling apart.

Pastor James MacDonald defines insecurity as, Insecurity is the uneasy, unsettled, and fearful awareness of the gap between who I want to be and who I am.”

The truth may set us free and recognizing a problem initiates the first step towards growth, but the honesty of our flaws still deflates us. We desire the appearance of the future version of ourselves only to realize we are far from there yet.

You can identify the responses to insecurity. Some people never acknowledge it. They go on living thinking everyone else has the problem. Others live subjected to their own failures and mistakes to never take the next step. Many of us live with an internal conversation of the fear of being found out as lacking.

How does the message of Jesus transform our view insecurity? The Gospel adds the word “and.” We find out we are more flawed than we could ever realized and more loved by God than we could ever imagine. Far more than merely more than becoming honest about ourselves, we can begin to become honest about who Jesus is.

St. Augustine made this statement in Confessions, “A friend is someone who knows everything about you and totally accepts you as you are.” This points to Jesus, but also reminds us of the people He has placed in our life who fit this statement. Acceptance becomes the starting place for growth. Jesus throughout the Gospels spent time with people and they changed. Isn’t this the way it is in our life? We grow the most around the people who accept us and see the evidence of grace in us.

So when we come face to face with truth of our insecurities, let us find the “and” of the Gospel. The honesty which can deflate us can ultimately lead us true acceptance, healing and growth by God’s grace.

Photo credit to Olya Myers Photography.


Beauty in the Commonplace


In A Work of the Heart, author Reggie McNeal exhorts spiritual leaders to be aware of heart matters. His perspective through the lives of Moses, David, Paul and Jesus provide a framework for leaders to respond to spiritual issues within them. Often, we can become so attuned of the circumstances outside of ourselves that we miss the internal workings of our hearts.

One of the best sections of this book comes from McNeal’s reflection on the commonplace in our lives. The busyness and drive for production robs us of seeing God in the midst of the ordinary. Sometimes the small graces refresh our hearts the most. He says:

God is present in the beauty we are often too busy to see and hear and taste and smell, in the joy of being with people we love, in the enjoyment of doing small tasks exceptionally well, in the pleasant serendipity of everyday life. Our hearts would be enlarged and enlivened by being more attuned to the graces we are often too busy to enjoy. Creating more space for the commonplace would be a wise leadership strategy for improved heart-shaping. (pg. 182)

How can you notice the presence of God in the commonplace today?

Photo credit to Olya Myers Photography.

Second Chances

A line from a song can halt your day. The brief statement captured by an artist can put your life into perspective. I heard the words this morning, “Every breath is a second chance…” Those words come from the Switchfoot song “Always.”


We quote the idea of Lamentations 3:22-23; His mercies are new every morning. Interestingly, the saddest and most depressing book of the Bible includes one of the most hope filled verses. The world can seem devoid of grace and mercy with an ever growing push to the bottom line and justice.

Many of us walk through life tied to our failures. Each day becomes more about not messing up as opposed to actually living the life God intended us to live.

The message of the Gospel communicates second chances. Humanity’s need for breath points us to our greater reality of a need for grace. Not of our own merit or doing, because grace like breaths comes from a Source outside of ourselves.

Jesus calls weak, weary, needy, sinful, and damaged people to experience second chances; A moment by moment breath of fresh air living in the constant reminder of His mercy to make us whole.

I have found myself walking through a few months where failures seem more apparent to me than successes. We can view weakness as piety, but most of the time we see it as the glaring glimpse of the obvious. These words “Every breath is a second chance” puts into perspective the work of God in our lives. The reality of our weakness invites us to draw upon the strength of Christ. The Giver of our breaths of both oxygen and grace appears to us today.

What the message of the Gospel communicates to us on a daily basis, second chances come like breathing. We move from the focus of our successes and failures to see a Savior offering a tank of grace. Each little inhale and exhale reminds us of the resurrection we experience through Him. True transformation results from seeing Christ in us as opposed to making everything happen on our own account.

D. Martyn Lloyd Jones said this, The Christian life starts with grace, it must continue with grace, it ends with grace. Grace wondrous grace. By the grace of God I am what I am. Yet not I, but the Grace of God which was with me.”

So, take a breath today. Jesus offers an abundant amount of second chances and oxygen.

Photo credit to Olya Myers Photography.

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