Thursday, August 29, 2013

When You Are In Greenville...Spill the Beans

Posted by Michael

At this point, you have probably pieced together my criteria for a really good coffee shop. So, when I wandered into Spill the Beans in Greenville, SC , I was ready to run through my checklist.

Freshly roasted coffee beans?…............Check
Fresh made pastries?……..................... Check
Comfortable, relaxing seating area?……Check
Overlooking beautiful waterfall?…….....Check

Ok, the last one is not on my official checklist, but it’s a great perk at Spill the Beans.

Downtown Greenville is beautiful and offers an eclectic mix of shopping, art, architecture, and restaurants. Spill the Beans is a perfect fit for the area. The coffee is great and their space is open and inviting. You can get a glimpse of the waterfall out one of the back windows of the coffee shop, or after you’ve finished your coffee, you can stroll out back and cross over a suspension bridge that overlooks the falls. It makes for a unique experience for coffee lovers and non-coffee lovers alike, so the next time you are in Greenville, I absolutely recommend stopping by and spending some time at Spill the Beans.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Unlikely Places for Beauty

Posted by Michael

The nation of Israel had escaped their slavery in Egypt and had a new home awaiting them in Jericho. In between all the pain of their past and all of the promise of their future was a journey through the desert that would end up lasting over 40 years. As they scraped their way across the dry, barren land, God made an unusual request. God asked that the people build a movable temple, a place that would remind them of where they had been and where they were going, and also remind them that they wouldn’t have to go alone. God was detailed in His instructions. He laid out plans for what the temple would look like. It was to be filled with altars and lamps all covered in gold, and ornate and hand stitched curtains made from the finest fabrics. In short, it was to be breathtaking.

Only one problem: the people of Israel were in the midst of one of the largest moves in the history of the world. If you have every moved from one house to another, you know how even the smallest move can be difficult and all-consuming. Imagine that on the day of your next move, as you squeeze massive furniture through small doors to load onto the waiting truck, God tells you that now would be a great time to paint a masterpiece, or sculpt something out of marble, or maybe stitch together a quilt for the family. It would be even more insane if you had never painted, sculpted, or stitched a stitch in your life, but that was exactly the predicament that the Israelites found themselves in.

The simple fact is that on our messiest days, during the most trying periods of our life, God steps down into the chaos and births beautiful things. When I am going through dry, difficult times in my life, the last thing I’m thinking is that God could do something beautiful in the midst of the mess. But isn’t that where God most often does His work; in the muck and mess? If we are honest, isn’t that where we most need something beautiful, in the dark and in the doubt? So, if you are out-of-breath, over-worked, and under-inspired, hang in there, God may very well be preparing to invite you into something extraordinary.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Guest Post at Give Her Wings

Posted by Michael

The great folks at Give Her Wings have allowed me to provide a guest post to their wonderful blog. You can check it out here!

While you're there check out the entire Give Her Wings site. David, Megan and the good people at Give Her Wings do an amazing job of offering support and care for those recovering from abuse. They also offer opportunities for you to make a difference as well!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A New Rhythm of Prayer

Posted by Michael

“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.”
                                -Psalm 119:164 TNIV

The Divine Offices or Liturgy of the Hours is a form of fixed-hour prayer, which simply means that there are fixed times set aside each day to pray. The practice goes all the way back to the time of the Old Testament and the nation of Israel as the verse above illustrates.  I became familiar with fixed-hour prayer a few years back while I was exploring different types of spiritual disciplines. Since that time I have used it as a tool at conferences, with small groups, and with students that I work with.  I don’t know about you, but I need something other than my memory or emotions to prompt me to pray, and committing to “pray the hours” has been a great way of staying connected to God consistently throughout my day. I don’t pray the hours every day, but return to it for days at a time during different seasons of my life (that seems to keep it fresh and works best for me). If you are interested in stretching yourself spiritually, I would recommend trying out praying the hours.

What you will need:

-A prayer book of some sort. I use The Divine Hours which was compiled by Phyllis Tickle (see below). Tickle has books available for different parts of the year, and even shorter books to use during Easter and Christmas. If you are looking for something that is easy to pack around, she has a book available that contains a week’s worth of prayers, which can also be purchased as an e-book. Prayer books are helpful because they keep us from repeating the same stale prayers over and over. Our history is packed with thousands of years of people seeking God and recording their prayers and songs. It is arrogant to think that their words and insights couldn’t be helpful to us.

-Patience. Returning to prayer during set times each day is about slowing down and remembering. We remember that God is with us and that he is for us. We remember that he cares about our awful days as well as our joys and celebrations. Reading through prayers and absorbing the words down into our own souls allows us to slow down for a bit, and in my experience that is almost always a good thing.

-Grace. Even though you will strive to consistently keep each prayer time over the course of the day, you will fail.  You will miss your morning prayer or skip the mid-day one, or might even miss entire days all together. Remember, this is a tool to help you connect to God, not another set of rules to run your life! If you are feeling guilty about your performance you are missing the point!

If you have any questions about fixed-hour prayer or have any other prayer exercises that have encouraged you, please let us know! Also, if you attempt incorporating this type of prayer into your daily life, let me know how it goes!

Monday, August 19, 2013

On The Third Day: Never Alone

Posted by Michael

It’s amazing how a few small words can change a story completely, or at least add an entirely new level of meaning. One of Jesus’ closest followers recounted a story about Jesus changing water into wine when a family had run out during a wedding celebration. To help us understand the significance of the story, John added four small words at its outset, “on the third day”.  All of a sudden there’s more going on here than Jesus simply helping out a family. Readers during the time when John was writing his mini-biography, would have immediately connected the words “on the third day” to the end of the story, to the part where Jesus was murdered and then came back from the dead three days later. Somehow this story relates to that story.

What Jesus was starting with his death and resurrection is a lot like a wedding. Weddings are places where people who weren’t family before become family now in order to do life together. Jesus’ death and resurrection means that he has made us his family, that his greatest desire to is do life with us, and not just right now, but for the rest of forever. God does not stand back at a detached distance watching us muddle through life, nor does He often jump in and make decisions for us, resolving all the tension that life brings. God is with us, as we make good decisions, and as we pick up the pieces from bad decisions. That’s what family does. Just like marriage, life with God doesn’t mean that all of the challenges go away. It means that we don’t have to face them alone. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Film Review: A Hijacking

Posted by Michael

A Hijacking is an intense and thought provoking Danish film by writer/director Tobias Lindholm. With only a tiny bit of prelude, Lindholm drops us into the deliberately plodding pace of a hijacking. A Danish ship is boarded by Somali pirates demanding money for the safe release of crew and cargo. The film bounces between shots on board the ship with the frightened and increasingly frustrated crew to shots of the executive offices of the ship’s owner, where negotiations are being attempted to free the crew. Lindholm doesn’t reach back to the past for context or out to the future to find hope or meaning. He is content to simply tell the story in front of him, and he does it well. A Hijacking will leave you with questions about the true meaning of freedom. Who is actually set free in this film? Who was captive in the first place? It also leaves you with all of the rugged edges of real life, which makes this film worthy of watching by those who are not annoyed by subtitles. (movie poster courtesy of the official film website: )

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When you are in Asheville...

Posted by Michael

Next time you are in Asheville drop in and say hello to Rick at Biltmore Coffee Roasters. Rick moved down to North Carolina from Alaska three years ago and settled into the coffee business. Thankfully for the people of Asheville, he does it the right way. All beans are roasted in house, and a selection of homemade pastries is also available. It would be easy to overlook the humble coffee shop located just a few miles from the Biltmore Estate, but it would be a mistake. Asheville is a beautiful city, but it’s a bit more beautiful with a fresh cup of coffee from Rick and the good folk of Biltmore Coffee Roasters. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Posted by Michael

In the early history of the Israelite people, they escaped slavery in Egypt and began a 40 year journey across the desert to a home of their own. In the midst of that journey God invited Moses up to the top of a mountain so that He could give him instructions for the Israelite people on how to live life. The instructions about the mountain encounter that God gave Moses seem odd at first. “Come up to me into the mount, and be there…” (Exodus 24:12). The phrase translated “be there” comes from a Hebrew word that’s related to breathing and means “to exist”. The only requirement for Moses as he spent time with God was to exist, to breathe in and breathe out.

Most of us keep up a pretty hectic pace in our life. There’s a job to be done, games to attend, dinners to fix, repairs to be made, rooms to be cleaned, classes to be attended, books to be read, art to be embraced, appointments to be kept, forms to fill out , and that’s just this morning. Our lives can be filled with so many good things that there isn’t room for relationship with God or anyone else. Our striving and running and accomplishing keep us from being close to God. There are times in life when we need to simply exist, just breathe in, breathe out, and listen. The God who created stars and sunsets, eagles and earthworms, breezes and bluegrass music, most likely doesn’t need our amazing multitasking abilities. He simply wants our presence and our attention. Stripping away the clutter and chaos of life from time to time isn’t easy, but it’s life giving. It makes us able to do what we were created for, the enjoy knowing and being known by God.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Faith and Failure

Posted by Michael

People who have heard stories about Jesus and His disciples have probably heard the one about Peter denying Jesus during His crucifixion, and they have probably heard it several times. What we don’t always talk about is the earlier conversation between Jesus and Peter that put everything into motion. Jesus had just finished observing the Passover meal with his disciples, what we now call the Last Supper.  Jesus told the disciples that Satan had been demanding to have them so that he could “sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31) (that’s another blog post to itself). Then Jesus told Peter that he was specifically praying for him, that when the dust cleared, his faith would not fail. That’s an amazing thought! Basically, Jesus was saying, “When you fail, I am praying that your faith won’t crumble”.  Jesus already knew that Peter was going to fail, but He didn’t want that failure to wreck Peter’s faith.

Faith is the stubborn belief that God is for me even when my physical eyes can’t see it, and faith can be fragile. Few things can rattle our faith as greatly as our own personal failures. Most times, when our faith begins to fracture, it isn’t because we doubt God. We doubt that God would love us. It's hard to believe that someone who has failed the ways we have could be worthy of love. Jesus’ prayer for Peter was that in the midst of his doubt, he would remember that God’s love for him was bigger than the biggest betrayal. Perhaps the most scandalous truth imaginable is that it is impossible to fail our way out of God’s love. God is bigger than our worst days and most shameful secrets, and His desire is for us to embrace his great love for us. So, if you fail today (of if you are like me, when you fail), I pray that your faith that God is for you will not be broken, and that you will find hope in a God that is bigger than your failures.