Supper Club


Last night, my brother, his girlfriend and I had a little meal together. Dubbed “Supper Club,” we enjoyed fresh Maine lobster courtesy of Huckberry (for winning their caption contest on Instagram), bacon-wrapped shrimp, steamed asparagus and homemade mac and cheese. And, of course, plenty of sweet tea.


I retrieved my grandparents’ old kitchen table from storage and set it out in the field where my brother and I played often as kids. That worn table has been host to countless breakfasts of cinnamon toast, biscuits and grits, lunches of fried chicken and black-eyed peas, and now, I suppose we can add lobster to the long list of meals that have graced that simple wood surface.


The meal was one to remember: full of laughter, reminders from our childhood to “sit up straight,” and nature’s own light show. The crickets chimed along as the sky lit up like county fair cotton-candy as summer slipped away once again.


As the darkness fell, and the last plate was brought back inside, my brother looked at me, smiled and said, “Hey, let’s do this again.”
And we will.

The Preeminent Ordinary One

Head of Christ – Warner Sallman (1940)

I once saw a mural of Jesus in the classic “sitting-on-a-rock-looking-over-Jerusalem-at-night” pose. The first thing I noticed was the way the painter had depicted the face of Christ: he was not attractive at all. In fact, the face was quite unremarkable in every way and quite unlike the “expected” image of Jesus. 

Had someone taken the context of the painting away, shown me only the face and asked me to guess who it might be, Jesus would have been low on my list. In all honesty, there was a part of me that felt slightly offended by the way he looked.

There were no chiseled features.

No perfect beard.

No piercing, yet warm, eyes.

He just looked so…regular.

My view of Jesus can be too glamorous.

Certainly he is the King of the universe.

Yes, he is the unique God-man.

And all creation hinges upon him.

But then, I tend to forget about a passage in Isaiah…

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground;he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (53:2-3).

Jesus, in his humanity, “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

In his appearance, he was unremarkable.

Regular.

Plain.

There was nothing attractive about him.

Why does that unsettle us?

Maybe it is because we have seen so many depictions of Jesus as a beautiful human, and a plain-looking Savior clashes with the artistic precedent in our minds. The expectation of a carefully-tended Messiah was popularized largely by the mass spread of religious artwork in the mid-1900’s and standardized by Warner Sallman’s work, “Head of Christ.” The painting even looks like a celebrity headshot from the 1940’s. But a not-so-handsome Jesus? That idea pushes back against our collective, media-influenced preconception. 

Maybe we forget that a God who came as a baby, was born in humble surroundings and labored as a common workman is the same God who would move among the masses for years, unknown and without fanfare, until beginning his redemptive work. And even then, his own family members did not see him as being a candidate for Messiah (Mark 3:21, John 7:5).

But perhaps the deeper reason for the distaste toward an average-looking Jesus lies in Isaiah 53:3…

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…

Do I want my Jesus to be a regal human? 

Yes, I want the human Jesus to be attractive to and accepted by society because he calls me to live as he did, and I don’t want to follow in the footsteps of rejection. 

One does not aspire to rise to the example of Jesus, but must die to self and stoop to his example.

Would I have followed Jesus back then? 

Would I have dismissed him?

Would I have been put off by his appearance instead of receiving the beauty of his message?

But a more pressing question is this…

Do I avoid following Jesus as closely as I should because I know rejection follows that kind of faithfulness?

BBC computer-generated depiction of Jesus based upon common characteristics of the time

Blessings From Below

“Position before submission.”

Those were the words spoken to me by an instructor in a martial arts class as I steadily ratcheted the force on my opponent in an attempt to make him tap out and thus end the match. The problem was not in a lack of force, but in the subtle details of the placement of the force. A corrective nudge with my elbow, a shift in my body posture and then a slight angle change caused a sharp cry of pain followed by the frantic slapping of my leg by my opponent’s hand. The submission followed the position.      

What is true in physical combat is also true in spiritual battle.

To the church at Ephesus, Paul writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We wrestle against evil. We grapple with it. We do not participate in sterile, long-distance attack but heated, hand-to-hand, close-quarter combat. Satan works to position us for our fall. He is both sneaky and strategic. We are warned to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). He has wiles and deceitful plots fabricated for humanity as a whole, but also personalized for you.  

Those crafty, evil plans executed with patience are designed to lead us astray, not only in the moment of submission, but in the time of positioning. We expect a frontal assault, not a systematic reduction of our defenses.

We make the mistake of believing Satan will always come as a roaring lion instead of an angel of light (1 Peter 5:8, 2 Corinthians 11:14).

Sometimes the subtlety is astounding.

James 1:17 shows us that every good and perfect gift comes from God (an idea I have expounded upon more here), but Satan would love for us to turn a good gift bad and cause us to stumble over the good thing God has given.

“But wait,” some would object. “But every good gift is from God, and Satan always works against the things of God! How could those things be used that way?”

Some things we view as good may not be truly from God, and some good things from God can be used by our flesh (the habits of who you are before you know Christ or that unredeemed part of our humanity) and used by Satan to work against us. But the thing we must remember is this: Satan will allow us to enjoy a short-term victory in order to lead us to a long-term failure.

That is a “blessing from below.” You undertake a cause, begin a relationship or move in a direction, and Satan might fight you at every step…or he just might allow you to have success in that particular area, and you move forward unimpeded not realizing that his plan is a push toward destruction made easy by your forward momentum.

When I learned to drive, my father taught me that, at night, I could accelerate beyond my speed to react to the limited amount of road I could see in the headlights. I could “outrun my light.” In the same way, Satan sometimes removes constraints so you can run freely, only to outrun your ability to slow down and careen out of control.

Sometimes the victory is used as part of the attack. 

There is an old Japanese proverb: “After victory, tighten your helmet cords.” Success does not always eliminate the threat entirely. Dropping one’s guard can result in a renewed assault. The best course of action is vigilance in victory – tightening the helmet cords. When you win a spiritual battle, you are vulnerable to attacks because the tendency is to relax and strip off your armor. A win can be as deadly as a loss.

Few things will embitter you as quickly as someone else’s success, and few things will blind you as quickly as your own. The ease of success is not always from God. Satan will allow you to set yourself up for a fall by permitting success while knowing your flesh will seek to betray you. Your flesh will never be satisfied with spiritual wins, but will seek self-destructive gains. The ever-present traitor waits and works to destroy your spiritual well-being. Your flesh is loyal to the old you. Your flesh resists the regime change.

The blessing from below comes not only in the form of fighting the reception of the good thing, but in allowing you to pursue that good thing in the wrong way. Evil does not always come knocking at our front door in an attempt to cause us to hate God in an outright fashion; often it slips in the back door and distracts us with other, lesser things.

We might not hate God, but it is just as destructive to love other things more than Him.

So how do ready ourselves?

Set you mind and be on guard against the blessings from below (1 Peter 1:13).

Test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Walk with care (Ephesians 5:15-16).

Your enemy will help water your garden knowing that it can grow to the point where it blocks out your view of the sun.

 

A Paper Wasp, a Stoned Messenger and a Redeeming God

Sweet Pea, one of my mom’s horses, looked on with a placid stare as I growled, hissed and spat in the moments after a large, mahogany-colored paper wasp rammed its stinger into my lower eyelid. I was cleaning out the horse’s trough so I could feed her when the dive-bomb attack occurred. It was sudden, unprovoked and, all things considered, a dirty, sucker punch orchestrated in a brain the size of a pinhead. Continue reading

An Honest Review: The Chick-fil-A Rap

“The Chick-fil-A Rap,” the latest offering in the video pantheon of Emily Powell, sings the praises of the humble yardbird and elevates the ubiquitous food to a near-divine pedestal of ambrosial satisfaction. The understated opening begins with a tracking shot of the rapper Diggle-Wiggle walking across the parking lot of a popular Chick-fil-A (a specific location, I might add, that has been the source of a couple of deeply meaningful meals for this reviewer). As he enters, the revelatory shift comes: he is no mere customer, but a poultry evangelist. With the confident swagger and pleading earnestness of a tent revivalist, Wiggle warms to his theme of the desire for, or more accurately, the necessity of, menu item #7 (the biblical number of perfection). As his testimony builds, a robe-clad choir punctuates and encapsulates the message with the refrain: “Ain’t got nothing if I ain’t got Chick-fil-A.” Clearly, this is serious, life-or-death business. Only great providence meets the most desperate of needs.

The mood takes a somber and contemplative turn as P-Nasty makes her entrance. Stealing in under the cover of darkness, she confesses to falling away from the way of the Baptist bird. We are left to draw our own conclusions as to where her wayward path might have taken her. She may have succumbed to burgers sold by a clown, been lured by border foods wrapped in border foods held together with cheese, or perhaps she listened to the siren’s song of a purveyor of promised 11 secret herbs and spices (a number symbolizing disorder, something far from perfection). Whatever her transgressions, she knows that no other eatery offers the fellowship and membership under the beacon of the red-lettered sign. But to receive the invitation, she must make the journey; she must cross the road.

As she enters, the darkness dissipates as choir members welcome P-Nasty back to the flock. She spreads her arms in wing-like fashion as her hard-core street attire is enrobed in the dress of the faithful. Her sins are covered, and she is lifted up.

The prodigal has returned.

The party begins.

The fatted calf is feasted upon. (Or in this case, sweet tea is lavishly poured out as a drink offering.)

Ultimately, “The Chick-fil-A Rap” is not about chicken at all, but the grand themes of life. Wherever you may have fallen, mercy is available under the caring wings. The call goes out for all. Celebration follows reconciliation. Straying, redemption and returning home–it’s all there, distilled into 3 minutes and 21 seconds (3 being the number of divine unity and 21 being a multiple of 7 and 3…make of it what you will).

This work of art demonstrates definitively that P-Nasty’s words ring true: “I’m not finished; I’m just beginning.”

Click here for video.

With Him, Beside You

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-7

I forget.

I forget all too easily.

I am His kid. In His presence. Before His throne.

Not only that, He has other children.

People I forget to see that way at times.
People I forget are standing in His light just as I am.
People He calls His beloved.
People in His very presence, vessels of His Spirit.
My seat mates in the heavenly places.

And when I forget that…

I stop acting like His child.
I forget I am His son,
Step away from the light and into my own darkness.
And I treat others like people they are not.

I needed to be reminded of the throne room.

And who I am.

And who others are.

And Who He is.

 

 

Two Words

By most standards, he blew it.

He seems to have been a bold one — charging ahead, seemingly without concern, the proverbial bull-in-the-china-shop with his own foot firmly in his mouth. Misspeaking was common, his overstepping of bounds was likely expected, and if one knew him, it seems that his generally-brash demeanor would come as no big surprise. Peter was quick to say exactly what was on his mind at any given moment. But then he went too far, even for himself. Continue reading

The Silence of Saturday

(Originally published in 2016.)

Blind Willie Johnson seemed to know early on that his future lay at the crossroads of two vocations. He built a cigar box guitar for himself when he was only five and told his father that proclaiming the things of God to the masses was his desire. He grew to become a preacher, and yes, a bluesman too. The story goes that, when he was seven, his father beat Willie’s unfaithful stepmother; she took bitter revenge by throwing lye in the young boy’s face, permanently blinding him.

Continue reading

How To Pray for Your Future Wife – Part 2

(Click here for “How To Pray for Your Future Wife – Part 1”)

(Or here for “How To Pray for Your Future Husband”)

A while ago, I wrote the post “How To Pray for Your Future Wife” here on my blog. What started as my own prayer list turned into something more. The response was overwhelming at the time, and it still stands as the most-viewed and most-shared post on the site. Since the original posting, I have received emails from numerous countries and have partnered in prayer with others across the globe who connected with me because of how God used that single post. I am deeply humbled by the encouragement, the stories and the prayers that you, the readers, have shared with me.

In my original post, I encouraged men to remain sensitive to God’s leading when He gave new prayer topics personally applicable to each individual situation. Taking my own advice, I began praying in new ways in addition to those mentioned in the first “How To Pray for Your Future Wife” post. Most of these 31 “new” prayer points were the result of the prompting of God during reading the Bible, some came from listening to the struggles and concerns voiced by women I know, and some arose during my own prayer times. So, in the same vein as the post that started this journey with the readers, I invite you to step into the deeper waters of prayer for your own “Miss Pending.”

But before we begin, can I ask you a personal question? It is a question that has been pressed upon my heart as of late… Continue reading

Heart to Heart

 

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Do you find yourself single on this Valentine’s Day?

Kinda’ stinks in some ways, doesn’t it?

The overblown marketing began at the local mega-mart sometime around New Year’s Day, so you have been living with the reminder of your solo journey for a month and a half already.

Your Instagram feed is rolling along, a saccharine visual river of flowers, gifts and romantic dinners. Continue reading

The Hopes and Fears

You likely have those things that, when they come along, you know that Christmas will be here soon. Maybe it is a decoration, or a food, or a song, or a smell in the air—whatever it may be, when it is present, Christmas is not far behind it.

For my brother and me, when we were children, it was The Wish Book. My mother would bring home that thick catalog, The Wish Book, full of nothing but toys. Continue reading