Saturday, January 31, 2009

all about the numbers?

i try to not only focus on numbers, but i'm breaking that rule for this post.

january 2009 was my most successful blogging month since i've started. when i say successful, i mean most numerous. by numerous, i mean 15 (16 if you count this one).

i've noticed that my "traffic" has increased as well (by traffic, i mean the number of visitors).

is there a correlation between the two? i'd like to think so.

a prayer

"my Lord God, i have no idea where i am going. i do not see the read ahead of me. i cannot know for certain where it will end. nor do i really know myself. and the fact that i think i am following Your will does not mean i am actually doing so. but i believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. and i hope i have that desire in everything i am doing. i hope that i will never do anything apart from that desire and i know that if i do this You will lead me by the right road, though i may know nothing about it. therefore, i will trust You always though i may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. i will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone."

thomas merton

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

revisiting.

i spent some time with a friend tonight. it was refreshing to talk about what God's doing and what's He's done, all while enjoying sweet tea. our conversation long outlasted our fast-food meal, and continued as we wandered through target and wal-mart.  we spent some time talking about spiritual markers (how God has moved in our lives), a principle from henry blackaby's Experiencing God that has stuck with both of us... it made my heart happy to think that my God is just as faithful in this moment as He's been throughout every day of my life.  He speaks.  He moves.  He proves Himself faithful over and over again.  it's good to take time to remember.

recently, i've had a song running through my head.  it's a song that has strong memories attached to it.  it's a song that sings a melody that has been in my heart often throughout my life.  i wrote previously this month about being ready to mend and wanting to learn from all that God is doing around me and in me... tonight that is more real than ever.  

here's a quick video of the song, painting pictures of egypt by sara groves:



if you aren't familiar with the song, click here for the lyrics.

the full story


i saw this picture at www.chadjarnigan.com. it tells the story well.

have you let this story impact you?

if you have no idea what i'm talking about, just ask.  
i'd love to talk with you about it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

atheists send a message in england... that's being heard around the world.

i am extremely interested in any kind of dialogue between Christianity and culture.  call me crazy, but i am constantly looking for interaction (with or without the church being involved) between the two.  in fact, one day i'd love to teach a college course on how Christianity can better engage culture in order to more effectively spread the Gospel.  

it is because of this interest that i am constantly perusing blogs (look to the left of this screen to lists of blogs i follow), sermons, books, twitter, facebook, music, movies, magazines, articles and podcasts in hopes of better understanding what is going on in the world, views of Christianity and how God is moving.

i came across an article written by sarah lyall in the new york times called atheists send a message on 800 buses.  the article is about an organization called atheist campaign who raises money to post "there is probably no god" themed messages across the UK: on buses, signs at the tube (aka subway) and all over the press.  their agenda... "to send atheistic viewed messages as correctives to religious ones."

for the sake of this post, here are some definitions to help clarify the use of the term 'atheist.'
atheist:  one who believes that there is no deity
diety:  the rank or essential nature of a god; supreme being; a god or goddess; one exalted or revered as supremely good or powerful

these messages have been met with multiple responses.  news of the campaign has led to similar publicity efforts in washingon, which say:  “why believe in a god?” the ads read, over a picture of a man in a Santa suit. “just be good for goodness’ sake.”  similar groups in australia were denied the opportunity to publicize their atheistic message saying, “atheism: sleep in on sunday mornings."

here is a quick excerpt (in italics) from the article:

An interesting element of the bus slogan is the word “probably,” which would seem to be more suited to an Agnostic Bus Campaign than to an atheist one. Mr. Dawkins, for one, argued that the word should not be there at all.

But the element of doubt was necessary to meet British advertising guidelines, said Tim Bleakley, managing director for sales and marketing at CBS Outdoor in London, which handles advertising for the bus system.

For religious people, advertisements saying there is no God “would have been misleading,” Mr. Bleakley said.

“So as not to fall foul of the code, you have to acknowledge that there is a gray area,” he said.

He said that potential ads were rejected all the time. “We wouldn’t, for example, run an ad for an action movie where the gun was pointing toward the commuter,” he said.

But Mr. Bleakley said he had no problem with the atheist bus ads. “We do have religious organizations that promote themselves,” he said. “If somebody doesn’t believe in religion, why wouldn’t we carry an ad that promotes the opposite view? To coin a phrase, it’s not for us to play God.”


obviously, there have been many reactions to this agenda-pushing movement.  lyall states that the methodist church welcomes the campaign as a way to get people to talk about God.  

i believe it is a good thing when people talk about spiritual things... especially when Scripture is the focus of the discussion.  

So what does the Bible say about the existence of God and the belief about the existence of God?

Isaiah 14:13-14 - (quick paraphrase) even the devil wants to be like God.

Psalm 14:1 - "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;  there is no one who does good."

i love 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (click here to read the passage), so much so that this passage has found it's way into a previous post as well.  this passage says that "for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  for it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate" (verse 18), and that "the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength" (verse 25).  

it is impossible to figure out God, His foolishness is greater than our wisdom... wow... especially since there is no foolishness found in God.  i spend my days with college students at a very liberal university.  many of these students have been told that they are ignorant because they believe in God.  they are ridiculed by professors who believe that only the ignorant could place their faith in God.  

i believe God answers that opinion in Romans 1:18-20: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

"If God is real, He cannot be created, He must be *discovered.* We cannot invent His characteristics to suit our imagination." -Tim Kelle

ice, ice baby

the DFW area is under an ice storm warning for today and tomorrow morning. i think texas forgot that it's supposed to be warm here. after all, it was 80 less than a week ago... and now it's in the 20s.

UNT is closed today, so i'll be working from home. lunch is hanging out in the crock pot and i'm still in my pjs.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jesus Savior, pilot me


i thought i'd share the words to one of my favorite hymns:

Jesus, Savior, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.
Chart and compass come from Thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

As a mother stills her child,
You can hush the oceans wild;
Boisterous waves obey Thy will,
When You say to them, “Be still!”
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

When at last I near the shore,
And the fearful breakers roar
Grant me long and peaceful rest,
Then, while leaning on Your chest,
May I hear You say to me,
“Fear not, I will pilot thee.”
May I hear You say to me,
“Fear not, I will pilot thee.”

Chart and compass come from Thee;
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea,
May I hear You say to me,
Chart and compass come from Thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.
Pilot me.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

and so 'change' begins.

i will not turn this blog into a political agenda, stating what i think about what other people believe, say or think. rather, i will start off by saying... whether you voted for obama or not, Romans 13:7 says that God is the One who establishes every authority on earth. Proverbs 8:15-16 says that God allows certain individuals to hold their positions. throughout the New Testament, we are told to respect our leaders and authority... to give unto Caesar what is Caesars, etc. while i may or may not agree politically with whoever is running the government... i must respect their authority... and pray for them.

after all, i firmly believe that God is the ONE who is in control. i refused to sit in front of the TV agonizing as the election results came in because i trust that in all things God receives glory... and whether or not i agree with the method that He chooses to glorify Himself means nothing.

obama has promised change. while i do believe our country needs massive change... i pray that the possible changes that may come will honor God and how He calls us to live according to Scripture.

on friday (1/23/09), president obama lifted restrictions on U.S. government funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad, reversing a policy of his republican predecessor george w. bush. for more info on this, click here to read an article about it.

abortion has been a huge distinguishing factor between the republican and democrat parties. while i believe there are multiple factors that must be decided when choosing who to vote for, i cannot support abortion.

here's a great list from john piper of why i am pro-life:

"You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." - Jesus Christ

1. Existing fetal homicide laws make a man guilty of manslaughter if he kills the baby in a mother's womb (except in the case of abortion).

2. Fetal surgery is performed on babies in the womb to save them while another child the same age is being legally destroyed.

3. Babies can sometimes survive on their own at 23 or 24 weeks, but abortion is legal beyond this limit.

4. Living on its own is not the criterion of human personhood, as we know from the use of respirators and dialysis.

5. Size is irrelevant to human personhood, as we know from the difference between a one-week-old and a six-year-old.

6. Developed reasoning powers are not the criterion of personhood, as we know from the capacities of three-month-old babies.

7. Infants in the womb are human beings scientifically by virtue of their genetic make up.

8. Ultrasound has given a stunning window on the womb that shows the unborn at eight weeks sucking his thumb, recoiling from pricking, responding to sound. All the organs are present, the brain is functioning, the heart is pumping, the liver is making blood cells, the kidneys are cleaning fluids, and there is a fingerprint. Virtually all abortions happen later than this date.

9. Justice dictates that when two legitimate rights conflict, the limitation of rights that does the least harm is the most just. Bearing a child for adoption does less harm than killing him.

10. Justice dictates that when either of two people must be inconvenienced or hurt to alleviate their united predicament, the one who bore the greater responsibility for the predicament should bear more of the inconvenience or hurt to alleviate it.

11. Justice dictates that a person may not coerce harm on another person by threatening voluntary harm on themselves.

12. The outcast and the disadvantaged and exploited are to be cared for in a special way, especially those with no voice of their own.

13. What is happening in the womb is the unique person-nurturing work of God, who alone has the right to give and take life.

14. There are countless clinics that offer life and hope to both mother and child (and father and parents), with care of every kind lovingly provided by people who will meet every need they can.

15.Jesus Christ can forgive all sins, and will give all who trusts him the help they need to do everything that life requires.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

confessions of a drama queen

i hate drama... and yet, it seems to be a consistent part of my life.  i've decided drama happens when you spend time with people... when you work with college students... and when you are in ministry.  all of which, i will gladly keep in spite of the sometimes annoying excitement they bring to my life.
tonight was spent hanging in a completely different drama queen world.  i watched the miss. america pageant with some friends of mine.  my friend susan graciously opened up her home (as she frequently does) to host the event.  as with many of our events, we had to have a "theme" for the food.  tonight's theme: small, skinny and prissy.  our food selection included: tiara shaped cookies, mini chocolate cupcakes w/ pink sprinkles, kabobs (chicken, shrimp and beef), chips and salsa, chocolate fondue, fruit, etc.  we had quite the feast.  (when i get a picture of our spread, i'll include it with the post)

it was quite enjoyable watching the pageant with these ladies.  we each had our own tiaras and "jewelry" and quickly chose the "states" to cheer for.  for us, new york, indiana, florida and arkansas were the favorites.  how about you?

spoiler alert

today is turning into a day of reposts (i am working on something of my own which will find its way on here soon)... here is a blog from a staff member at my church about the movie 7 pounds:

Saintly Suicide?: Film Seven Pounds’ Christ-figure is light on grace

**SPOILER ALERT** It’s difficult to discuss Will Smith’s new flick without giving away too much. The suspenseful drama reveals new information at every turn after opening with Ben Thomas (Will Smith), a melancholy IRS agent, making a call to 911. He reports a suicide, and after the lady on the other end asks, “Who’s?” He replies, “Mine.” Then the back story begins. As the viewer pieces together flashbacks and random regretful statements (Smith’s character admits, “I haven’t treated myself very well.”), it becomes clear that Thomas’ past includes a tragic error resulting in the death of seven individuals including his fiancĂ©e. He commits to make penance by dolling out his organs to needy donor recipients one by one, ending with his heart and his eyes—“seven pounds of flesh.”

This Christ-figure who gives of himself to save lives has a rather un-Christ-like screening process. Thomas uses his IRS credentials to interview his candidates to determine if they are worthy. He explains to another character, “It is within my power to drastically change his circumstances, but I don’t want to give that man a gift he doesn’t deserve.” Of course, only the “good people” are deserving. An abusive elderly care director gets disqualified while a youth hockey coach receives valuable bone marrow. Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson, looking way too much like Roy Munson, his character from Kingpin), a blind telemarketer, gets berated to see if he’ll respond in anger, while Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson) gets a free pass apparently based solely on his attraction to her.

This is quite different from the incomprehensible free grace of God, where “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” But then again Christ’s cross is universally offensive. Hollywood couldn’t afford to disappoint ticket-buyers’ expectations and let the protagonist sacrifice himself for the liar, the murderer, the adulterer. Unfortunately Seven Pounds loses some of its force because of it. And there’s really nothing novel about the theme of debilitating guilt and shame. Of course, Thomas’ plan doesn’t allow him to stick around long enough for the viewer to see if he was vindicated. The audience is expected to hail the sacrifice as heroic, but the believer knows that while it is rare to die for a righteous man, it is rarer still to die for you and me.

Seven Pounds’ premise had potential to go to the dark side (my preference) but instead bordered on cheesy—death by texting and driving, death by jellyfish, loving gazes into the eyes on the new eye donor recipient. Director Gabriele Muccino (who also directed Pursuit of Happyness) was clearly trying to lighten the mood, reminiscent of how 1993’s Untamed Heart handled the gloomy topic with Christian Slater’s overly-gelled hair and baboon heart.

something funny...

here's a post i saw on downhere's jeremy thiessen's blog that made me laugh... so i thought it deserved a repost here:

KIDS DRAW THE DARNEST THINGS


A child drew this picture as part of a homework assignment and took it to school. The teacher received a letter from the child's parent the following day:

"Dear Mrs. Jones,

I wish to clarify that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer.

I work at Home Depot and I told my daughter how hectic it was last week before the blizzard hit. I told her we sold out every single shovel we had, and then I found one more in the back room, and that several people were fighting over who would get it. Her picture doesn't show me dancing around a pole. It's supposed to depict me selling the last snow shovel we had at Home Depot.

From now on I will remember to check her homework more thoroughly before she turns it in.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Smith"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

thought for the day



"You can't understand light unless you understand darkness, because that's where life is most often lived…somewhere between the two. It's messy and it's beautiful all at the same time." 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

i'm ready to mend


i like to call myself a "spontaneous routine keeper."  i have my own way of doing things... but i can appreciate some deviations from the norm.  while i enjoy random trips, unexpected invitations, etc... i do not look forward to forced spontaneity.  i spend part of my weekend planning my up-coming week.  i keep my calendar with me (thanks to a smart phone), so that i can make sure that my days are organized.  i like to think that if i try hard enough, i can be efficient.

as i look back on the past year, i think the constant theme would have to be change.  i am not a huge fan of (most kinds of) change.  while i know change is necessary, i tend to shy away from it because it is usually brought on by uncomfortable moments... and i don't like uncomfortable.  

change rips apart normality.  it reveals how we handle situations.  it shows who we really are.  i've been severely ripped the past 12 months (give or take a day or two), so much so that i'd say that this "chapter" of life has ranked pretty high on the difficult-o-meter. 

while difficult is ... well, difficult... i'd have to say that i'm thankful for the journey.  i have had many lessons learned, cried too many tears, had my cell phone die in the midst of frustrated conversations... but i'm still thankful.  i'm thankful because my prayer life and view of God has been transformed and i am learning about myself and ministry daily.  

even though the situations have been painful, the results in my life have been good.  

i've decided that i'm ready to mend in the midst of God's love and grace, and i'm excited to see what God is going to do and where He's leading me.

i am really ready to mend.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

interesting posts

here are some blogs that caught my attention today:

chad jarnagin - sacred


steven furtick - v.i.p


what's caught your attention lately?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

gates family christmas letter

here is our family christmas letter.  it was mailed in december and i'm just now getting it posted.  sorry for the delay.


I love Christmas. I love any excuse to spend time with family and friends. I am quite fond of seeing decorations everywhere (as long as I am not the one having to put them up). The food. Spending days in layered comfy clothes and actually getting to sleep. Driving the rest of my family crazy while Jeff and I insist on watching the entirety of the A Christmas Story 24 hour marathon on TBS every Christmas. There’s comfort in the traditions that have been established over the years, and even with all of the changes that come with growing up, I find myself a 28 year old who can’t imagine not getting up early to be the first to see what Santa brought. I love that the reason behind the celebrating has nothing to do with presents, Christmas lights or homemade fudge (all of which play their role in creating holiday cheer), but something much greater. The Christmas story is the foundation on which the Gospel lies; Jesus humbling Himself, being made in human likeness, taking on the very nature of a servant, being obedient to death on a cross in order to save someone like me (Philippians 2:5-11). Christmas is a reminder of the good news of the Gospel, that you get Jesus and He is all you need.

Mom and Dad, Paula and Steve, officially moved to Corpus Christi, TX in May and have settled into their new home. Dad is staying busy with his job as Medical Director of the Intern and Residency program at the Bay Area Medical Center. They travel quite often to fill the spaces in his growing residency program. While they both love living in Corpus, Mom is adjusting to the effect the humidity has on her hair. Dad is still serving on the Board of Trustees with TOMA while Mom has been organizing a local district of Advocates for them. They also enjoy investing in the families of the Interns and Residents and being involved at their local church.

Scott is starting back to school in January to become a physical therapy assistant. While in school, he will be working from home doing Medicare billing for the company he works for. He’s enjoyed his time as a physical therapy aide and is looking forward to pursuing his career. He has a great heart for working with the sick and has been a blessing to those he’s helped. He enjoys watching sports and spending time with his girlfriend, Jen.

Jeffrey is right in the middle of his junior year at Oklahoma City University. God has been opening some amazing doors for him to perform and use his amazing talent. He was cast in La Rondine in the Fall and will be the Count in the Marriage of Figero next spring. He spent the summer singing with Light Opera Oklahoma and won the Young Singer Recognition Award from the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, and he’s been hired by the Tulsa Opera to sing in the chorus next spring. Between school and performing he stays busy traveling between OKC to Boston to see his girlfriend, Courtney.

And as always, I save myself until last. I am still working at the Baptist Student Ministry at the University of North Texas doing college ministry. Between investing in the students’ lives, teaching, playing ping-pong, cooking lunch for 250 students and other ministry opportunities, I stay quite busy. I love that God continues to open doors for me to lead worship and I plan on serving on one of the worship leading teams at my church next year.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours,
Steve, Paula, Stephanie, Scott and Jeffrey Gates

Saturday, January 10, 2009

what an atheist believes africa needs

this post is not mine.  in fact, it's a combination of two writers... and has come from following conversantlife on twitter.  what i read was interesting enough for a "repost" here.  (the purple text is from dahlstrom's blog, the green from the actual article by parris.)

i stumbled upon this article on conversantlife.com.  it discusses how often ministers try to remove jesus from their ministry equation.  the author, richard dahlstrom, writes,
"It's tempting at times to skip Jesus altogether and simply focus on being about the things Jesus was about. He loved enemeis - let's love enemies. He hugged lepers - let's hug lepers. He feed hungry people - let's feed hungry people. If we go this route, not only will we have more tangible goals (after all, how do you measure, "being filled with all the fullness of God"?). Yes, let's be His hands and feet and skip all the doctrinal ambiguity, division, pondering and messiness that comes from talking about the life of Jesus and what it means to be filled with Him. "  

and then dahlstrom found this article by by matthew parris, where a confirmed atheist declares that Africa needs Christianity.  here is a quick glimpse into the article (i encourage you to read the whole thing):

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But In the city (where we lived) we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

here is dahlstrom's written response to what parris (the atheist) had to say: 

There you have it. We can tell ourselves that we don't need all the messiness of Christ, or even begin to believe that if we simply feed the hungry and clothe the naked, we're doing the work of God. But Jesus tells us that ministry is more than just giving a cup of cold water; it's giving a cup of cold water in Jesus name. The article has two profound implications:

1 - The author speaks of how spacious, engaging, and enlivening followers of Christ are in Africa. I often ponder why I meet so many Christians in these North American parts for whom the opposite is true - they've become anxious, guilt-ridden, closed minded - so much so that I know people who are walking away from the faith because of neuroses of the faithful, afraid that it's contagious.

I can only conclude that a gospel (good news) that fails to change our persona, fails to open us up to the world, fails to impart joy, is not the gospel of Christ. We who lead had better make sure we're not inviting people to rituals, clubs, and systems, because the real deal entails an invitation to transformation by virtue of a person indwelling a person. I know it sounds mystical, but it's true - and it works, as evidenced by the article above. Put simply, if our lives are filled with fear, hate, and whining, we're probably following a different Jesus.

2 - I know many people who are open, spacious, and enlivening, but who are afraid to mention the name of Jesus. They're mantra is a destructive mutation of St. Francis' words: "Preach always - use words when necessary." This is tragically interpreted to mean that words aren't necessary at all, that the cup of cold water needn't have a name attached to it, or that the name doesn't matter - Humanitarian NGO is just as good is Risen Christ.

Kudos to Matthew Parris for having the courage to say what too many faithful are afraid to say: Christ makes all the difference. His words remind me of Rahab in the Old Testament, the Gentile who believed more in the power God than God's people. Do we believe that Jesus makes a difference? Let's begin living it then, and making sure the name is on the next cup of cold water.