Thursday, May 29, 2008

Carolina Sunset

Carolina Sunset, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
At the end of the day Sunday night, I saw this beautiful sunset from the place where we had chosen to gather for a bbq and connecting time at Leadership Training. This photo was taken near the parking lot of Fort Fisher State Park which is about 5 miles from where I am staying. I actually rode my bike to Fort Fisher a couple days this week.

The sunset was quite an encounter. As we were talking at one of the picnic tables, I was totally enthralled by it. As I took the photo, I thought, "Man! I could have totally moved and gotten a better angle" But this was a great shot. This is what I saw, and so now this is what you see. This was my encounter.

In that story about Jesus and the blind beggar, there were two themes that jumped off the page. They are the themes for LT. The themes are encountering and becoming. The blind beggar encountered Jesus, and as a result of the encounter, he became a different person.

Part of the goal of the program down here is that people would encounter Jesus freshly, and as a result they would become changed--much like the blind man. As we encounter Jesus, we have a choice. We can reject him, or we can embrace Him and become like Him.

The blind man recovered his sight and became a more whole human being. Sometimes what we become isn't always externally obvious at first glance. Sometimes internal changes take place deep within our hearts, and work their way to the surface over time.

Have you encountered Jesus? What kind of person are you becoming? How is that encounter reflected in your life right now?

Many things can happen as a result of an encounter with Jesus, but one thing is certain, we can't encounter Him and remain unchanged.

Carolina Shores

Carolina Shores, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
Although I was extremely exhausted after a long day of gardening and a longer drive into the wee hours of the night, I began the GCM Leadership Training program with a group of others from Ball State University, Virginia Tech, and WVU early Sunday morning at a park near Carolina Beach, NC. That's where I took this sweet photo of the grass and sand along the intracoastal waterway down here.

People were catching some fish while I was there. Among the types caught were perch and sheepshead. Kind of made me regret not having a rod to join in the action.

But that's not why I was walking along this waterway. Nor was it to snap photos. I was asked to ponder a passage from Luke 18 about a blind beggar. I don't know if you've ever read it, but I know I've never meditated upon it like I did Sunday morning.

The synopsis goes something like this. A crowd was following Jesus (as per usual), and a blind beggar asks folks what's going on. They tell him that Jesus is in the area. So then this guy starts crying out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" People try to shut him up, but he just keeps getting louder. Then Jesus cuts through the crowd and walks up to him and says, "what do you want me to do for you?"
You should read the rest and find out what happens at the end of Luke 18.

After hearing the story, we were encouraged to ask the same question. What do I want Jesus to do for me this summer? What is it that I really want God to do in my life? What do I want Jesus to do while I'm away in Carolina Beach? While you may not be able to join us on the Atlantic coast, you can ask yourself the same question.

What is it that you really want God to do in your life? What is it that you are desperate for Jesus to do in your life? May you zealously seek him this summer, and may you be radically transformed as a result of your seeking.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Garden Planting 2008

Garden Planting 2008, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

Before leaving Morgantown for Wilmington, I had to accomplish at least one last task. I had to get my garden planted. As gas prices sky-rocket, and people look to save money, gardening may be one way to do just that. Gardening is filled with spiritual lessons too. Many of Jesus' parables had to do with farming and planting seeds and things of that nature.

One of the most important parts of the garden is the soil. Last year, I converted part of my yard to a garden, and I mixed in about 400 lbs of topsoil and humus to improve the quality of the soil for the first year--I did the same thing this year. I also burned off the remnants of last years garden so it could be more available for nutrients for the current garden.

My roommates, my buddy Curtis Delong, and I all spent time turning over the soil with shovels. Then we ran a small mantis through the soil. We ran the mantis through about three times, to break up clusters of hardened soil, separate rocks, and get the soil broken up fairly deep. You see hard, clumped soil is not good growing soil. Imagine trying to grow plants in soil that isn't well cultivated.

Now imagine our hearts before God. God softens our hearts, so that we might receive his word more easily. We can also do things that help cultivate his word and His life in us. We can allow our hearts to get hard, and that's when we need Him to bust up the soil. We can also prepare the ground of our heart for the seed of His word and watch for abundant growth to take place.

On the morning of our planting, we had to quickly cover the seeds of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers we planted because there were birds circling all about waiting for an opportune moment to pounce. There's so much that goes into that initial preparation of a garden. If you take the time to labor in the beginning of the summer to insure that the soil is well prepared, you can reap dividends by the end of the summer in a bumper crop. Most people don't take time to prepare the soil though. They just dig and throw some seeds in the ground, and they wonder why they don't see much produce.

As you read this, consider taking some time to prepare the soil of your heart to hear from God today. What might be helpful for you to soften your heart? It's worth taking the time to break up those hard places so that Christ might reign more fully in your life.

Graduation Speech

Graduation Speech, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
In my life, I have received a few distinct honors and privileges, but one of the greatest happened on Friday night. I had the privilege of speaking to the graduating class of Trinity Christian School in Morgantown.

I had the privilege last Fall of walking through the Dolly Sods wilderness with some of these graduating seniors in a search for a young man named Jacob Allen. The search itself made national news, and we were among the first to see Jacob when he was found.

Why was this such a privilege for me? Well there were a number of reasons. In a sense, this speech made up for the fact that, while I was valedictorian at my high school, we didn't have a valedictorian speech. So here I was, years later, giving a commencement speech to another group of graduating seniors. The irony is that I highly question whether I would have anything to say back then that would have any eternal significance--I didn't know Christ, and God has poured so much into me in the years since then.

So I spoke to this group of seniors, and this class is dynamic. Many of us frail two-legged human beings have aspirations of changing the world. These graduating seniors will change the world. They've already marked themselves as leaders on their campus, in the city, and in the region.

As I talked with these seniors, I remembered stories we had shared over the last several months, and opportunities these men and women will have.

I challenged them to passionately live out their faith, and to seek to live with their eyes open so that a future generation might not accuse them of sleeping through some of the critical issues their generation of the church will have to deal with and find solutions to for the glory of Christ.

You see, a couple hundred years ago, slavery was endorsed in America and Europe. The church of that age was quietly conceding to what the rest of society had dictated. We look back from 2008 and wonder how in the world could the church have slept through that one. Of course it is noteworthy that eventually it was individuals in the church who worked to end slavery. You see, we are called to be part of the solution.

Future generations might ask them about what they did to eliminate extreme poverty--or "stupid poverty" as Bono calls it. This is the kind of poverty that can and will have a solution--the question is will our generation of the church be part of the solution?

The environment is another issue demanding our attention. Future generations will probably wonder how we could produce refuse on such a grand scale with so little regard for future generations. Among my own people, we are challenged with a cultural responsibility to think about how our decisions will impact seven generations beyond us. That is helpful in an effort to become a better steward.

But in the end, it is not only what we do, but how we do it that is important. We could grab hold of every cause in the world, and it wouldn't be a bad thing, but if we grabbed hold of these causes and leave Christ behind--we have missed the point and lost the plot.

You see, our challenge is to hold the newspapers in one hand and the Bible in the other, and allow the Word of God to direct our communities to find solutions to the problems we read about, and we do all of this for the glory of Christ!

May we all look to contribute our share to solving these problems and telling people of the great King whom we serve as we labor that they also might join in service to the King for the sake of the whole world.

Saying Goodbye to Curtis and Lindsay

My friends Curtis and Lindsay Fowler just left Morgantown for the west coast on Friday. They actually had left the week before, but they were called back East when they found out their grandfather had past away.

Curtis and Lindsay had left for a year right about the time my mom got sick. They worked as staff at a YoungLife camp in WildhorseCanyon. They returned to Morgantown last Fall, and have been spending the last few months working and saving money for an eventual move to Alaska.

Curtis is like a brother to me. We were actually trying to figure out how we grew to be friends, and honestly, it just kind of happened. We've always been pretty tight with each other, and our relationship has been much more like two brothers than it has two friends or acquaintances.

We were able to hang out a decent amount this past winter, but as with any interaction with kindred spirits--it's never quite enough.

So, I drove over to see the fowler's off and wish them well on their journey (and Curt's mom did the same thing!). So I grabbed this great family photo opportunity, to remember some fun moments together, and to remember some of my most quality friends.

I'm so thankful for the friends I've been given, and I know I will miss Curtis and Lindsay dearly while they are in Oregon and Alaska. I've been so privileged to meet amazing people like them who are changing the world for Christ, and who are living out their faith in a way that is contagious.

I bet you've got some pretty amazing friends too. Christ is my treasure, but I think the friends he has given me have been among my greatest gifts received. I think it's kind of like Jesus said about brothers and sisters that when we follow Him, he truly adds to the size of our family--or maybe in truth, we contribute to the size of His great family.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sozo Stories

Sozo Stories, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
Friday Morning, I stopped by sozo one last time before departing for Wilmington, NC. I was dropping off the award we had won from Mainstreet Morgantown, when I witnessed an interesting conversation between Sam, sozo's day time manager, and a guy who I had seen in the business next door to our space on a few occasions.
This gentleman was talking to Sam about Jesus. He was testifying to the greatness of Jesus in his life and his desire to give Jesus everything. He talked about how Jesus had changed Him, and makes his ultimate free gift of eternal life available to all. He continued talking about how Jesus would never leave or forsake anyone. So as I was listening, I couldn't resist stopping to take a photo of this storyteller.

I was encouraged by hearing this brief snippet of a story of faith as I walked out of sozo for the last time in a while. What a pleasant gift to receive on a Friday morning early in the day. (Another pleasant gift I received was a delicious sample of a smoothie Sam had blended just before I walked through the door. Yum!)

Confession and Reconciliation

My friend Mark Byrer leads the High School ministry of our church. This past Tuesday he invited me to speak on the subjects of confession and reconciliation. I accepted, not really thinking about the gruesome reality that often when we are asked to speak about a subject in faith, we are directly challenged with that very subject.

So during the few days leading up to my talk I had opportunities galore to really screw up a lot. I had opportunities to sin (don't we all?), and I had opportunities to hurt my relationships with people who I cared about (Yuck!).

And in the middle of these times, I had some valuable lessons about confession and reconciliation driven home to me. We can be pretty ugly people--I can be extremely ugly. My choices, my words, my attitudes, can often show more of my own sinfulness then my new life in Christ.

And yet, in the middle of those situations, in the middle of those blow-ups, in the middle of that sin, God gives us an opportunity for intense healing. You know, most protestants get a little weirded out by the whole confession thing or the idea of asking for forgiveness. There is an intellectual understanding that we have been forgiven for our sins once and for all so that there is no longer any need to ask for forgiveness again or to confess our sins to others. And so we have a general understanding of some positional truth in our new life in Christ, but often times, as a result, we wear masks.

And yet, when we humble ourselves and take off our masks, God is able to do something tremendous in our lives. You see, when we humble ourselves, and admit our faults to another--particularly if it is another that we have wronged, God does something both psychologically and physiologically within us. The burdens that we carry are now no longer ours alone to lug around. It isn't that God hasn't already forgiven us--that happened at calvary, it's really that something happens to our character when we make ourselves humble and seek to make things right with others.

When we are willing to reconcile, we take off our masks, and the beauty of Christ in us shines forth. Of course we are forgiven, but what kind of people would we be if when we have wronged others, we didn't seek to take steps toward reconciliation. We would like flowers that never quite came to bloom. But as we open our lives to one another in humility, healing and reconciliation take place.

As I spoke to this group of high school students, I couldn't help but imagine what might take place in their lives as they left intent on making things right with friends and family members.

Maybe God has been prompting you to be reconciled. Maybe other people will never be reconciled to you, but that's not your responsibility. In as much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men--that's what the Bible says. As you read this, and as the LORD leads, may you find the courage to seek reconciliation and humble confession to a close friend. In the process, may you find your burden's lifted and your love for Christ becoming more radiant for all the world to see!

Best New Signage

Last Wednesday, Ryan Huffman and I attended the Mainstreet Morgantown Annual Meeting at the Hotel Morgan. Ryan works for The Sign Factory, Morgantown's premier sign and graphic design company. Over the last year, the Sign Factory staff have been tremendous partners in our endeavors at sozo. The reason the two of us were invited to attend this annual meeting was because sozo, our coffee shop on high street, won an award for the best new signage in downtown Morgantown.

My friend Trey designed the sign, but Ryan and I were encouraged to accept the award on behalf of the sozo team. Trey is an incredibly talented individual, and God has given him an amazing eye for design and innovation. It's a real joy to work alongside of someone so talented. Actually, our whole team at sozo is tremendously talented, and it's really cool to see how the last few months of this coffee shop have come together.

Receiving this award from many influential leaders in the city of Morgantown was a huge step for us as a team, and one that we are really excited about. We are looking forward to becoming members of Mainstreet Morgantown, and see the award as a testament to the great work we've been able to do in the city already, as well as a milestone to encourage us toward even greater steps of faith in the future.

As I walked up to accept the award, I couldn't help but think about the long hours of work that many of us put into the build out of the space. I couldn't help but think of the countless volunteer hours that have shaped the space both morning and evening. And of course I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that no man is an island, what we can do collectively always will exceed our contributions as individuals.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said "Any man who believes he can go through this life alone is sleeping through a revolution." I can't help but think how God has spoken to me personally through this coffee shop endeavor about the value of team and the powerful impact that comes from working together.

May we not live such isolated lives that we miss out on the great endeavors that we can be part of for the glory of God.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nuru and Fundraising For a Change

Some of you know about the organization my friends Jake Harriman and John Hancox started to work towards "wholistic sustainable development among the world's rural extreme poor"--Nuru International.

YOU can help--check out the cause and add it to your profile--get the word out to others, and then GIVE. A little bit from many people goes a long way!

Nuru has to meet some agressive fundraising goals by mid June in order to be able to launch successfully in western Kenya this Fall. If Nuru is able to raise $350,000 by June 14th, there is a private donor who is willing to contribute an additional $100,000 to the budget.

If each one of us contributes $50, we will be half way to the $30,000 goal that Nuru has set on its facebook cause page. Click here to contribute to meeting the goal some friends and I set to help nuru raise funds. Many of us can afford a $50 gift, but some of us will be able to contribute more. Will you make a donation and help Nuru to bring hope and deliverance to our brothers and sisters who are living shackled to the chains of extreme poverty?

Remember, if each one of us does just a little bit, it adds up to a lot--and if some of us do more--well, it all just goes that much further.

YOU can make a difference in the lives of others with a simple gift! Will you contribute to the cause?

Moon Over Morgantown

Moon Over Morgantown, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
I took this photo Monday night after our Canvas group kick-off in Morgantown at Chestnut Ridge Church.

It was one of those nights where I regretted not having my mini-tripod my brother bought me at REI. The thing is so small and easy to carry, that there was really no excuse for not having it. I've been forgetting my camera a lot lately though. Don't know what's up with that.

We had planned a cookout and a campfire, but the weather was freezing here on monday, and the location we had initially planned for the event was turned into a swamp by massive amounts of rain. So, we moved things to the church. We brought a fire-pit, a bbq, and it was just an awesome time! I think we had about 50 people come out to kick-off our summer-time small group community.

After the event was officially over, folks continued to hang out for quite some time. That's the beautiful thing about our community. People just enjoy being around each other so much, that they share a lot more than just a meeting together. They care for each other, they pray for each other, and they just plain have FUN together. A LOT.

In fact, as a group of us watched the moon rise over the trees, we started planning a fun little trip together. Sometime in mid june, we are going to hike the North Fork Mountain Trail. It's rated WV's most beautiful trail and stretches about 24 miles. So if you want to join us, now is the time to start getting into condition for it!

And in the mean time, take a moment every once in a while to enjoy the beauty before you in things like the rising of the moon on a cool Spring evening.


Survivor, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
That's my sister.
She's a Shawnee Indian.
She's beautiful.
She rocks my world!
She is a cancer survivor.

This year, my sister chose to be captain of our relay for life team. She coordinated everything. She raised funds, and got our camp site together. She helped keep us all together and kept us up to date on what was going on during the weekend.

She found out she had melanoma less than a month after my mom went to be with Jesus, and everything looks good in her world right now. No cancer, but she is being careful.

My sister is such an awesome woman. My brother-in-law really got a catch. I am so grateful for her, and it is so cool to see how god she is at being organized and administratively smart--not my forté at all.

She did an amazing job coordinating our team this year, and she did all kinds of little above and beyond type things. When we got to the site there was a poster honoring Mom there. She had pins made with photos of each of us with Mom on them. I don't think of those touches--Becky does.

One of the reasons why I'm so glad we had a large group from Morgantown come is because she doesn't make it up this way often. I want as many people as possible to see how incredible she is, and my friends who were at relay got a chance to see just a glimpse of that.

She's a survivor, she's my sister, and she's an amazing lady. I'm so proud of her efforts to coordinate our team.

Relay Luminaries

Relay Luminaries, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
Well, Relay-for-life has come and gone, and it has been a flurry of activity ever since. This year, one of my hopes for last year came true.

I had hoped that a large contingent from our community of H2O in Morgantown would join in the event in Parkersburg. Last year it just didn't work out for a number of people. But this year, in spite of high gas prices, we had a wonderful group of people come and rally around the event.

One of my favorite parts of the relay event is the lighting of the luminaries after dark. There's something powerful about seeing lights all around the city park pond either honoring or memorializing people who have fought against cancer. It's such an ugly disease, but it is truly beautiful to see people fight and overcome it.

Last year, my mom was in ICU and had just been taken off a ventilator when we lit luminaries in her honor. I had hoped that our participation in the relay would be a shot in the arm and a boost of morale for her--I think it was.

This year, as we walked we remembered her. We remembered her fight, as well as the fights of many others. For me, it was a very strange feeling being at the relay event this year. Mom is with Jesus now. Cancer is still a problem, but more and more people are winning the battle against it.

I miss my mom a lot. I miss her wisdom and counsel. I miss her laughter and her care. I miss watching tv with her while she would knit or make something with her hands. I miss her fearlessness, even in the face of cancer.

So Friday night we lit some candles to remember her. I was so hopeful last year for her return to health. I think all of us around her were.

It's strange how our society get's weird about the idea of grief. I grieve the loss of my mom, but I also rejoice. I'm saddened by her departure, but I'm overjoyed at her arrival before our King.

May we all walk through this life with that perfect mixture of sadness over the way things are, and hope for the way things one day WILL be. More than that, may our hope motivate us to be a sign of that change right here in the present.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Relay For Life 2008

Relay For Life 2008, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
Well, it's that time of year again. Last year I stepped out in faith and started a relay for life team composed of friends and relatives, and this year, my sister has improved on that team. I have a tendency to be more likely to step out in faith and try a new venture, my sister has a tendency to take an endeavor and improve on it. So this year's team is even better than last year.

My mom went to be with Jesus on June 6, 2007 after a 10 month battle with cancer. We started last year's team to support her in her fight. This year, we are walking as a way of honoring her, and supporting my sister, and three uncles. My sister had melanoma, and three of my uncles had three different types of cancer. I also had an aunt who died from cancer when I was in junior high--we walk in remembrance of her as well.

I figured I would share this event with you a little bit before the relay begins Friday night. Just in case you wanted to join the team or make a donation. We are probably not the typical relay team. Some teams work year round to raise money for cancer research. Some teams do bake sales and even sell jewelry and other items--even at the relay event. Our team will be composed of people who have been raising funds, but primarily our team will be a group of people who are walking together in solidarity, and celebrating care and hope and faith.

I would love it if you could make the trip to parkersburg--or if you live in Parkersburg, if you would join us for a bit at the City Park. We will be camping there on Friday night. The event runs from 6PM Friday to noon Saturday. Last year was a lot of fun, and this year should be no different. (Although from weather reports, it may be much wetter!)

Thanks for taking a moment to pray for my family, and please consider coming to visit our aerobically charged faith venture in Parkersburg this weekend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Practicing Generosity

Practicing Generosity, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

As a follow up to my last blog about the stimulus checks and John Piper's blog about the subject, I thought I would offer a few (among many) possible suggestions for giving. Will you prayerfully consider giving 25%, 50%, or even 100% of your stimulus check toward one of these causes. Maybe by starting to give with your stimulus check, you can develop a habit of practicing generosity throughout the year as well.

Nuru International--This organization, which was started by a couple of my friends, is in the middle of a huge fundraising drive, and an individual donor is willing to contribute $100,000 toward this organization if they are able to raise $350,000 by June 14th. They have already raised half of it, and your gift could be a big step toward that goal.

Invisible Children--This is a great organization that is really making a difference in Northern Uganda. Every time I interact with people from this organization, I am thoroughly impressed by their passion, and their ability to accomplish much with the talents they've been given. Giving to this group definitely has an impact beyond the gift itself.

Compassion International--This organization is often endorsed by many Christian recording artists. You could sponsor a single child for most of a year with just half of a stimulus check.

Great Commission Ministries. This feels a bit self-serving, but I feel I would be remiss if I didn't mention this organization. This is the mission agency I work for, and personally I think they do great work all over the world. Maybe consider sponsoring a missionary or one of their many mission projects if you don't already.

All of these organizations are doing great things in our world today, but there are also a couple of local things I would like to suggest to you as well.

Your Local Church--No matter where you live, your local church is hopefully involved in efforts to improve the community and impact the world around them for the cause of Christ. If you are a Christian, it would probably be a good idea to consider giving 10% or more of your stimulus check to your local church.

Neighbors/People in Need--I have no idea what is happening in the community where you live--do you? Maybe take some time today and investigate the greatest needs of your neighborhood or the town where you live. Maybe you have a relative or friend who just lost a job, and needs groceries for their family. Go find out--and help out.

Really, it's very easy to dismiss the value of generosity. It's easy to think that $150, $300, or $600 can't go very far to meet the huge needs of our world. But all of them will go further than $0.

Maybe now isn't the best time for you. Maybe you've already spent your stimulus check. Maybe you really needed that money and it's what is going to get you through this month. If that's the case, perhaps it would be good to look to practice generosity in other ways. Maybe give of your time to help a neighbor or a friend, serve in a church, volunteer in the community. When we practice generosity, God is glorified.

As a wise man once said, "There is not enough for every man's greed, but there is more than enough for every man's need."

May you endeavor to practice generosity every day, but before you spend this recent gift, consider ways in which you can make Christ's name and fame great by the way that you use it.

Stimulus Checks

John the Baptist, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

The photo above is one I took of my friend Ryan Huffman's metal sculpture of John the Baptist. It was part of his senior art show, and personally, I like the idea of getting it, and my friend Ryan, a little exposure through my blog.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a friend who had recently read John Piper's blog where he had talked about our economic stimulus checks and the glory of Christ. Piper had suggested that very few of us were really in dire need of our stimulus check, and perhaps we could all begin to dream of some person or some ministry which might make much of Christ because we treasured Him above some other way of spending this check.

I'm not writing this note to make anybody feel guilty about what they do (or have done) with their stimulus check. I'm writing because I thought Piper's blog entry was both creative and challenging. And my friend shared an even greater challenge. He said, you know it would feel kind of good to give a portion of that check, or even all of it, to a good cause, to fund some community endeavor, or to help out a person we know who is in need. But what if 30 people did that? What if 60 people did that? What if whole churches got in the mix? What kind of impact would that have? If 100 people gave $300 from their stimulus check to a cause--that's $30000 dollars. Can you imagine how quickly this would add up, and what kind of impact a group of people could have by this kind of gesture.

To me, it's pretty exciting to think about what kind of witness this might be to the rest of the world if we were willing to contribute to the work of a ministry, or to the aid of a neighbor in need.

As I've let this idea percolate over the last couple of weeks in my own mind, it's caused me to re-evaluate my own finances, and my own purchases. I'm not beating myself up over buying myself something that will be enjoyed, but rather, I'm reminded of the fact that money and gifts are not my treasure. Christ is.

May you take time to savor Him today!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Nuru International

Last year, I heard about an idea that my friends John and Jake were dreaming up and to tell you the truth, I was blown away by it. John and Jake have been friends of mine since my freshman year of college at WVU. On our floor in the WVU Honors Program, we had a really special community, a special community that has continued to grow and thrive since those days in Arnold Hall. Many of us dreamed about how God had knit us together as a community at WVU, and wondered about what grand design might be in store for us as we sought to faithfully live out His calling.

John is now a dermatologic surgeon in Morgantown. Jake is finishing his MBA at Stanford with a focus in non-profit work. Together, they have been working zealously to create an organization dedicated to wholistic sustainable development among the world’s rural extreme poor. When I talk about extreme poverty, I am talking about something drastically different from the feelings of poverty many of us might have had growing up in rural West Virginia. I’m talking about people who are literally unsure if there is going to be a next meal, it’s not just a question of where it is going to come from. Over 1.5 billion people suffer from this kind of poverty.

The name of the organization is ” Nuru International. Nuru (pronounced New-roo) is a word in the Kiswahili language that literally means “light,” but it has connotations of hope wrapped up in the word. “A Small Light In the Darkness” is generally how it is understood. This organization looks to be exactly that—a small glimmer of hope in the darkness for those who in our world who are living in extreme poverty.

My friend Jake has a blog that shares a little more insight into some of his work and research while spending time in Kenya last summer. I recommend giving it a read. His entries truly capture the very real need in our world for an organization like this, and also give you an insight into his heart as well.

As Jake and many others have spent long hours working toward the establishment of a website, incorporation, and even designation as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation it has been cool to think about dreams becoming reality. What started as an idea proposed in an effort to solve a very real and deadly problem is quickly becoming poised to be part of the solution to the problem. As I learn more and more about this organization, it has been a distinct privilege both to get the word out, and to help people who have a passion for this kind of work and the desire to make a contribution to link up with Jake, John, and Nuru.

Perhaps as a result, Nuru will be increasingly better equipped to offer a glimmer of hope to a hurting world. If you get a chance, visit ” Nuru’s website and check out their strategy for loosing the chains of injustice that extreme poverty places on human beings. And if you feel like helping out with a financial gift, I believe that gift will go a long way helping this organization share hope with a hurting world.

May we all find ourselves reflecting a bit of the true light that shines in the darkness, that we might offer hope to men and women around the world that comes through Christ and is seen most readily in His people.

Too Much Lost?

So I was driving toward Easton Hill this morning and I saw black smoke rising on West Run Road. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera, although I tried to take a couple of photos with my cell phone--they didn't turn out so well.

When I saw the smoke, I realized how much the tv series LOST had gotten into my brain. My first thought wasn't, "I wonder what is burning?" or "Where exactly is that coming from?" Instead I started thinking about Keamy, Ben Linus, and the black smoke monster. If you haven't seen the show before, this probably seems like a strange blog entry. If you have seen the show, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And if you were in Morgantown this morning, you probably had some similar thoughts.

I wondered who the black smoke was chasing. I thought about all of the instances where the smoke came up in the show, and started theorizing. What kind of security system is the black smoke. Why does it seem to project different images to different people? How does it connect to every individuals past? What exactly is the smoke, and how does it work? I found myself curious about how John Locke had responded to it, and started thinking about which characters have been exposed to it, and what their response has been.

It's wild how certain sites and sounds will trigger our thoughts. We'll experience something, and it will spark our minds out of autopilot for a bit and bring us some new insight sometimes. Unfortunately today, I have no new insights on LOST, and I wouldn't want to theorize too much and give away some clue for anyone who is a couple of weeks behind.

What is triggering your thoughts today?

Monday, May 12, 2008


Rhododendrons, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
Since my return from Atlanta, I have been saturated here up north with a ton of rainfall. It's been overcast and dreary with little evidence of the sun, but this morning gave me an interesting insight.

I stepped outside my house thinking I would try to capture in a photograph the dismal bleak overcast haze that has found its way to hover over Morgantown, and that's when I saw this photo's target. I have a rhododendron growing in my front yard. It's the state flower in WV. I hadn't been in my front yard for over a week (travel tends to do that to ya), and so when I stepped outside to capture an image of cloud cover, I was pleasantly surprised by these blooms. This bush stood defiant of any gloom that tried to permeate my day.

Sometimes it can seem like the gloom can suffocate a person, and then there are little glimpses of beauty and hope that stand in stark contrast like this. Wet with rainwater, these blooms really brightened my day, and I hope they do the same for you. Understand that they do not change reality--it's still overcast in Morgantown--but they offer a little glimmer of something better right in the middle of things.

In a world where thousands can be wiped out in a moment by a cyclone, where plagues like HIV and Malaria seem to be spiraling in their own forms of devastation, and where millions of children are suffering from the errors of a previous generation, it's refreshing to have a little hope.

We get to see hope in something as seemingly trivial as the blooms of a rhododendron. Amid a lifetime of hurt and a world filled with both joy and tragedy, we get to experience hope in the gift of eternal life offered by our Messiah Jesus. And then, just like the rhododendrons, we get to be a sign of the hope of the world to come when things all around look dismal and grey.

May you experience beauty amid the chaos in your world today, and may you bring that experience to light for those around you. Better yet, may you be used to offer some glimmer of hope to those who may only see the dismal grey of dispair.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Another Celebrity Encounter?

Well, seeing President Clinton was an auspicious end to the week last week, but then I had another wonderful experience this week. Monday I drove down with a group of friends and fellow staff members at Chestnut Ridge Church to a conference on church leadership being held in Atlanta, GA at Northpoint Community Church which is led by Andy Stanley.

The conference was amazing, and I may write at a later time about some of the conference highlights and takeaways, but as I reflected on my time seeing the former President last week, I thought--wow I just saw another celebrity.

Tuesday night, we had a special celebrity visitor to our conference--Jeff Foxworthy!!! I don't know if you are familiar with Jeff, but he's well known for "You might be a redneck . . . " and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. Jeff is a Christian, and took time during his schtick to thank the many men and women who serve as leaders in their churches for the important work that they do. He also shared some funny stories from his life, and even from the Bible.

He pointed out that David killed a man with a slingshot, and said if you do that, "yewwwwww might be a redneck!" ;)

He then talked about how samson got fired up at his neighbors and tied about three hundred foxes together by their tails and then he lit them on fire and they just started spinning around and burning up all the houses in the village. He then said that sounded like something one of his relatives would do. ;)

Then he talked about the woman at the well. Married five times. Currently living with a sixth guy who isn't her husband. Then he said, "If there were trailer parks around Jerusalem, this lady lived in one!"

I'm sure it was funnier being delivered by him then it is coming across being written out, but it was definitely a night filled with laughter. Andy Stanley and the folks who put on the conference have "Fun" as a value, and they wanted to make sure that at least for a moment all of the 2200 people who came to the conference from all over the world would take time to laugh, to celebrate, and to relax.

I laughed so hard that I was exhausted at the end of the night. In the middle of a world where people are really good at being serious, may you find a moment or two to laugh and to smile today!

President Clinton Visits Morgantown

I've been on the road for the past few days, so I haven't been able to blog as much lately. Seems like there's been a lot to write about, but plenty of other stuff taking up my time. It's kind of difficult to write too because the ideas aren't always as fresh in one's mind, but anyway . . .

Last Thursday, the 42nd President of the United States, < href="">William Jefferson Clinton, came to visit Morgantown and West Virginia University. He was traveling to campaign for his wife Hillary's bid for the Democratic nomination for President this year.

Initially, I was just going to stop by and snap a few photos, and be on my way, but I stuck around. (He was running late, and I had already waited an hour, so I thought, "what's a few more minutes?) As he stood before a crowd of students and community members, I could see that he was a very charismatic and sanguine individual. He won the crowd almost immediately by commenting on the quality of WVU football, and how much he enjoyed watching them play this year.

Part of the reason I wanted to stop by was simply the thought that it isn't often that one gets to listen directly to one of the most powerful leaders in contemporary history. The President of the United States is perhaps the most powerful leadership position on the planet. And I was standing about 100 feet from a former president--pretty wild stuff.

As he spoke, I couldn't help but analyze what he had to say. It wasn't the policies themselves that I was tuned into, it was the style of speaking he used. After all, anybody who is attempting to vote responsibly should probably take the time to read up on the issues, policies, and perspectives of all candidates beforehand. Seem's like every candidate for public office throughout history offers a similar case. First they remind individuals of how bad things are currently, and prognosticate an even worse future. Then they say that the way to rescue yourself from that terrible future is to take the action step of voting them (or their spouse or their candidate of choice) into office.

As I listened to the former President speak, I found myself thinking about the hope that every candidate attempts to offer, and how there is really only One who can offer us hope, security, prosperity, and peace.

I believe voting is an important privilege and responsibility for American citizens, and particularly for Christians. But as Christians, we can't just vote for a party, we have to examine all of the issues. We understand that there will never be a true savior on capital hill until Jesus comes back (as the Derek Webb song reminds us).

In this season, when so many are attempting to offer us a temporal peace and prosperity, let's take time to remember the One who offers true hope and peace to our whole world.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Non-Conformist: In the Lion's Den

This week finished up our last series at h2o for the year. We took a three week survey of the book of daniel, and ended by looking at daniel in the lions den.

How in the world did Daniel end up in a lions den? If you read the book of Daniel, it seems like he constantly finds himself in the kings favor. Two weeks ago we talked about how he refused to eat the King's diet and compromise in that way, and how he and his friends were set apart from their peers by their excellence. Last week, we talked about how his friends ended up in a fiery furnace for refusing to bow before an idol of the King, and we also heard about how God delivered them.

But this week, this week Daniel ends up in a lion's den. It doesn't seem fair. Daniel is an old man by this time, and the king seems to really like him. But there were others who resented Daniel. They resented Daniel, not because he was a bad person, but because he wasn't. They resented him because they couldn't find fault with him. The only way they could find fault was in the way he followed God.

They tried to get him in trouble for following God. Seems kind of silly doesn't it? Wouldn't it be amazing if we led that kind of life though? What if people who could find no fault with Christians except that we followed our God zealously? Personally I think that would be amazing!

As we end this series called the non-conformist, I want to encourage you to be a non-conformist when it comes to this world and it's way of doing things. Let's strive to set ourselves apart--not by our weird Christian insider language, and the fact that we tote Bibles around, but because we are passionately pursuing God.

I'll point out one other thing. Daniel's obedience to God landed him in the den of lions. Sometimes we get this weird idea that we won't undergo persecution or hardship when we are following Christ. God didn't deliver Daniel from the lions den--but he did deliver Daniel in the lions den. Sometimes we have to go through some major difficulties in this world.

I think about my mom in this instance. God didn't save her from cancer, but instead he delivered her right in the middle of cancer. He walked right with her through every difficult step. And because of that truth--my mom was able to bless many with her story. She's with Jesus now--He came and met her in the middle of the cancer, and He brought her home.

When you see trials coming your way, it's the natural tendency of all of us to avoid them if at all possible--I'm sure Daniel didn't want to be in the lions den. At the same time, there are just some things we cannot do--we can not compromise our faith in our King to secure a better spot in this world.

Let's honor God with our lives, and trust him to walk with us in those challenging times. He has the power to deliver us, and in the end no matter what the outcome in this world, our truelife will be better for it when we resist the urge to compromise.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

2000 Visitors Calls For a Celebration!

The photo above was shot on new year’s 2006 in Amsterdam on the Dam Square. I was over there helping my friends who put on a conference for all of the Great Commission Churches that are in Europe. That red in the background in the photo is from a fire that is blazing on the ground. It was a pretty wild new year’s celebration.

Yesterday at 11:23:31AM, I logged my 2000th visitor to my blog during the month of April. For the last three months, I have been flirting close to 2000 visitors, and this month I got over the hump (particularly thanks to some of my friends who saw my message on facebook and checked it out. My final visitor count for the month of April was 2073. I think that deserves a celebration of some type as well!

I did a quick look at the visitors I’ve had recently, and for the last 500 visitors I had I saw how many people check out the page. In the last 500 visitors, I had visitors from 32 states (and Washington DC), 4 canadian provinces, and 28 different countries. Who would have thought that so many people would be tuned into what I’ve been writing about?

I am humbled that this means of communication has caught on and that so many would take an interest in what’s happening in my world in the place where faith and life collide. As a result of the increasing number of visitors, I’m going to attempt to spruce up the space a bit, and make it a little more interactive for folks. Of course its all not going to change overnight, but I am going to try to make some incremental changes—any suggestions?

Thanks again for reading, for leaving comments, and for the encouraging words I hear from you about this blog. It’s an honor and a privilege to share my life and journey of faith with you, may we have many more seasons of a shared experience here on the web!