In the Beginning

“When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was. The Word, then, was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; no single thing was created without him. All that came to be was alive with his life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered it” (John 1:1-5).

To me, John 1 has to be among the greatest literary masterpieces of all time. I may be a bit biased, but I do think that the way John opens his gospel is perfect. Matthew and Mark start with the birth narrative, but John goes back further than that. Much further.

We see Jesus as the Word with God from the beginning. Jesus, the Word, was (and is) God.

Sometimes, you need a different translation to see a verse or a group of verses in a new light. Reading the same verses in the same translations can be like singing the same old hymns in the same old style for years and years. Eventually, you fall into rote memory and stop paying attention to the words.

That’s one of the reasons I chose the New English Bible as my translation of choice to read through the Bible for 2015. It’s different enough so that the words seem fresh again.

It’s not a perfect rendering, but that’s not the point. The point is to keep letting the Word of God speak to me and (hopefully) to never let it get stale for me.

The best way to keep the Bible from getting stale is to do what it says. Don’t just read it and praise it for being clever and witty, but actually put it into practice. That’s something that’s easy to tell someone else to do, but much harder to do yourself. I should know.

As of this time, my plan is to read the Holman Christian Standard Bible (otherwise known as the Hard Core Southern Baptist Bible) in 2016 and the New Jerusalem Bible in 2017. Of course, these plans are always subject to change.



Summer in the 60’s


First off, I wish the temps here were in the 60’s. That would be better than in the 90’s with ridiculous humidity. It’s like walking into an oven.

What I’m referring to is the fact that most of my musical choices lately have come from the great decade for music, the 1960’s.

Personally, I think the best decade for music was the 70’s. There was so much diversity of styles and genres. You had Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, The Bee Gees, David Bowie, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Al Green, The Allman Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone, Chicago, Santana . . . . the list could go on for days.

But lately, I’ve had a lot of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix playing in my car. Not to mention The Moody Blues, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and the The Beach Boys.

For me, 60’s music seems best when played in the summertime. And country music was way better back then than it is now. At least in this writer’s humble opinion.

For the record, I’m an 80’s child. That was the music of my growing up years and is still the music that brings back the most vivid and poignant memories. Put on an 80’s song and I will probably be able to tell you where I was and what I was doing the first time I heard it.

But I am a fan of all the decades. I literally have music from every single decade of the 20th and 21st century. I even have a couple of CDs with music from the 1890’s.

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I have music in my head all the time. I do mean All. The. Time. I’d probably be really good in a job where I picked songs for movie soundtracks because just about every situation will inevitable remind me of a song.

So that’s your music update from me for the month of June. Maybe I’ll update you again in July. Maybe not.




The Cut-Out Bin


“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, The Message).

As I mentioned a few posts ago, one of my favorite things to do back in the day, i.e. the 80’s, was to browse the cutout bins at the local record store. For me, that primarily was Camelot Music in the Hickory Ridge Mall in Memphis, Tennessee.

You could always pick out those CDs earmarked for discount by the telltale slash on near the CD label. My understanding is that record labels designated albums that didn’t sell very well to be moved to the cutout bin. Usually, you’d find a lot of unknown artists or the “sophomore slump” albums by those one-hit wonder bands or a failed comeback attempt. Every now and then, you might find a diamond in the rough that deserved better than being relegated to the cutout bin.

I discovered a section in McKay’s today that I will probably need to investigate further. It’s the “very scratched” section. It’s a good deal because 1) you can fix most CD scratches with 70% or stronger rubbing alcohol and/or toothpaste, 2) most of the CDs in that section are barely scratched, and 3) even if you wind up with a dud, you still haven’t lost much more than $1.

To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 1:26, God didn’t choose the top 40s of the world. He chose those of us stuck in the cutout bin. He selected those overlooked by everybody else, those whose best days seemed behind them, those who don’t look like much or don’t seem to possess anything special. He chose you and me.

That’s something worth celebrating. That’s something worth remembering on those days when you don’t feel like your life means much or that you don’t matter.

That also begs a question. If that’s who God chose, who am I to treat people any differently? Who am I to be elitist and snobbish when God condescended Himself and met the lowest of us at our most desperate point of need? Who am I to ever denigrate anybody else (or even me) when God proved His love by sending Jesus to die for all of us?

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.


A Moment of Nostalgia


Recently, I went to Memphis for the funeral of a friend’s father. On the way, I stopped off with my mom at the Wolfchase Galleria and walked around while she looked for a wedding gift for a friend of the family.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a FYE Music and Movies store. I thought those were all but extinct. Needless to say, it made my heart happy.

Best Buy and Barnes and Noble are all good and well, but I miss record stores, especially those in the mall. I can’t tell you how many Saturdays I spent looking through the cutout bins for a great deal. I got my first taste of bluegrass music in a record store.

I’m old school. I like for my books and music to be tangible. Nothing beats the musty smell of a book that’s been well used and well loved. Nothing beats the feel of a compact disc or a vinyl record in your hand.

Don’t get me wrong. I have my fair share of digital music that I listen to on my iPhone. But sometimes at night when I can’t sleep, I’ll hunt down the perfect CD for my mood, find my headphones and portable CD player, and drift off to music that was created by real people playing real instruments.

The Bible is replete with music. It’s a way of remembering your heritage. Just look at the Psalms and see how King David marked every kind of occasion, happy or sad, with a song.

Even now, a song on the radio can conjure up an old memory like nothing else can. It’s like a time machine to a defining moment in my past.

I hope that music store in Memphis can survive. Maybe one day soon I can go back when I have more time to kill.



Thoughts About Rembrandt


Rembrandt has a painting called Raising of the Cross.

At first glance, there’s nothing unusual about it. There’s Jesus on the cross, being raised by a couple of others and being jeered at and mocked by the surrounding crowd.

But at second glance, you notice something different about the man in the middle. He’s wearing a blue beret. Why? Because it’s Rembrandt painting himself into the picture.

There’s a profound statement in that painting. Rembrandt basically says that he helped put Jesus on the cross. And so did I.

The hymn says that it was my sin that held Him there. Because of my sin, Jesus died.

Jesus paid the highest price for the sin that I sometimes treat so lightly. It’s almost as if I can sin casually, knowing that I will be forgiven and all will be well in the end. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls that cheap grace.

Sin may not bring punishment, thanks to Jesus, but there are always consequences to my sin. The more I sin, the less I can sense God’s presence. Jesus with all the sin of the world on Him, couldn’t sense God at all. His cry of “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” came out of that.

Sin kills me inside. It’s like a scar over an old wound where the nerves don’t work as well. Sin deadens me not only to God but also to others around me and ultimately, to myself.

Yes, I’m thankful for grace. I’m also thankful that when Jesus gets done with me, sin won’t be a part of my equation anymore. I won’t ever have to live with the shame and consequences of it ever again.

That’s what I’m looking forward to. Because the absence of sin means more room in my heart for Jesus. That’s the best part of all.

Again, I believe. Help my unbelief.


Hangin’ with The Magician’s Nephew


Some people like to spend their annual vacation in Panama City or Savannah or Gatlinburg. I myself like to visit Narnia on a yearly basis. So it’s that time again when I pick up The Magician’s Nephew and commence on re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia.

Back in the day, the series started with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and went in the order in which C. S. Lewis wrote them. Now, the series starts with The Magician’s Nephew, which involves the creation of Narnia, and progresses chronologically in terms of the story line rather than in the order in which the books were published. Is that clear as mud?

Either way, they’re great books. They always encourage me and reaffirm my faith without being overly preachy. Even those who don’t care much for Christianity can read these books and find much to like. Or so I would imagine.

I highly recommend these books to anyone who likes allegorical fiction (even though these books aren’t really allegories in the strictest sense) or just good literature. They were written for children but anyone who is young at heart will love them.

I will keep you updated as I move through the seven books in the series.


It’s That Camel Back Day Again

Do you miss those Geico commercials about the camel who gets all excited about it being Wednesday? Neither do I.

I’d like to update you on what I’ve been listening to lately. Most of it has been in my car commuting to and from work, but some of it has been on those nights when I’m not as sleepy as I thought I was when my head hit the pillow.

1) Pink Floyd- Dark Side of the Moon: I used to fall asleep to this album every night. It’s good for when you’re up at 1 am in your dark bedroom (if you’re me). It could probably also be used on Halloween to scare the neighbors.

2) The Wailing Jennys- Firecracker: this music takes me to a happy place in my soul. Plus, it fulfills my quota for pitch-perfect three-part harmonies for the week.

3) Willie Nelson- One Hell of a Ride: I used to think I didn’t like country music, but I discovered that it’s the newer stuff that I (mostly) don’t really like. I love the old-school classics.

4) The Bill Evans Trio- Since We Met: It may not be a 5-star classic album, but it sooths the savage beast within. I think both my uncles would be proud that I’ve broadened my musical horizons so much.

5) The Spin Doctors – Pocket Full of Kryptonite

6) April Wine – The Nature of the Beast: I don’t know much about this band, but I like their sound. I do think a new CD with remastered sound would sound a lot better.

7) Joni Mitchell- The Studio Albums 1968-1979: this will very shortly be in my car and keeping me sane on those sllllloooooowwww drives home after work. Especially the song “Both Sides Now.”

That’s not everything, but it’s everything I could think of at the moment. I seem to have gone in a retro direction with my music. I like new music and new artists, but I find myself going back in time (as in before my time) more as I get older. But my tastes still haven’t mellowed all that much.

More to come at a later date.




All is Grace


“This book is by the one who thought he’d be farther along by now, but he’s not . . . the dim-eyed who showed the path to others but kept losing his way . . . the disciple whose cheese slid off his cracker so many times he said ‘to hell with cheese ‘n’ crackers’ . . .”

But, this book is for the gentle ones . . . who’ve been mourning most of their lives, yet they hang on to shall be comforted . . . the younger and elder prodigals who’ve come to their senses again, and again, and again, and again . . . because they’ve been swallowed by Mercy itself . . . [and] dare to whisper the ragamuffin’s rumor—all is grace. (All is Grace, 27)

Have you ever had a book that you’ve been wanting and waiting to read for a long time? I’m finally getting around to reading a book like that. It’s called All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, my blog derives its name from a Brennan Manning book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, for which he is most famous. But I can vouch for all his other books, which are equally grace-drenched and read-worthy.

All is grace. I love that idea. Everything that’s ever happened to me– the good, the bad, the ugly– is all grace because it has either reaffirmed what I knew about the goodness of God or driven me into a deeper dependence on that same God who works all things together for good. Because of that grace, nothing is ever lost or wasted or useless or in vain. Absolutely nothing.

I believe now that the life of faith works in reverse from the ordinary life. As babies, we’re born totally dependent on others and grow more and more into an independence of being able to stand on our own two feet. In the spiritual life, we start out as independent strangers from God and grow into a complete and total dependence on God.

As of this writing, I’m on page 100. I’ll probably be posting more about this book as I get farther into it, so remember you have been warned.


Easter Sunday 2015

File Apr 05, 9 15 22 PM

“It is good for us to remember that this stone was rolled away from the entrance, not to permit Christ to come out but to enable the disciples to go in!” (Peter Marshall)

“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you'” (Billy Graham).

“But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross” (Bono).

For me, Easter is a bit harder to prepare for than Christmas. You don’t have nearly the commercialism of the season constantly reminding you that the day is coming. Also, Easter isn’t on a fixed day every year like Christmas.

Most of all, Easter isn’t quite the feel-good story that Christmas is. You don’t have the cute little infant being cradled by loving Mary as a doting Joseph watches on. You have the gory spectacle of the cross and the death of an innocent Man to deal with.

But you need both, I think. You can’t have the Greatest Story Ever Told without both the virgin birth and the death and resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin Mary, then He’s not qualified to die for anyone’s sins but His own. If He isn’t raised from the dead, then we are still stuck in our sins and just as hopeless as before.

So I love both seasons. More than that, I love how Advent comes before Christmas and Lent comes before Easter, giving us time to prepare our hearts and minds for what it all means.

This year, Easter means that no life is wasted. It means that every life matters and every single person ever born matters to God. It means that your and my identity doesn’t come from honor rolls or bank accounts or resumes, but from Calvary. At the core, who I am is the Beloved of God, who proved that He thought I was worth dying for on that cross.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, there are only 263 days left until Christmas.



Maybe My Favorite Line From a Song Ever


“I can feel your love teaching me how
Your love is teaching me how to kneel, kneel” (U2, from the song Vertigo).

I discovered this line today. It’s odd that after listening to a song hundreds of times that one particular line that you’ve missed can suddenly catch your attention. This was Tthe line from the song Vertigo from the U2 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

This line makes a lot more sense if you see it as God’s love rather than human love. I can say from my own personal experience that the love of God has taught me to kneel, not just as a posture, but as an action reflecting an attitude adjustment in my own heart.

True love of any kind is ultimately about surrender. It’s not what I want but what you want that matters, especially when it comes to the love of God. True love says, “Not my will but Thine,” which is a lot easier to pray as a line from a rote prayer than as an actual declaration.

Only those who have experienced God’s love can truly surrender their wills and lives. Not those who have read about or know facts about God’s love but those who have seen and felt and touched and been transformed by it.

So, yes, God’s love is still teaching me to kneel. To let go of my own desires so I can receive God’s much grander and wilder desires for me. To let my own plans and dreams crumble into dust so that my life can be a blank slate where God can dream His dreams for me and in me.

I say all this like I’m actually good at it, but I’m not. I’m much too stubborn and I cling to my will far too often for my own good. But thankfully God is far more patient with me than I am with God (or with me for that matter).

I’m learning how to kneel.