Greatest Fear

Halloween is not my favorite holiday.  I like carving pumpkins, seeing little kids dressed up, and (of course) candy.  I just don’t like the scary, satanic stuff.  In New Orleans people seem to have pretty strong opinions about Halloween.  Interacting with teenagers has opened my eyes to how people feel about the holiday.  While teenagers in Oklahoma are generally ambivalent about magic, voodoo, or horror movies, teenagers here aren’t.  It’s more of a joke in Oklahoma.  It’s not here.

This week, one teenager asked me to help her with an English assignment.  After reading the short story, she was supposed to identify the climax.  It was a ghost story set in the French Quarter.  I did not enjoy the gruesome tale, but I was able to read and analyze it without fear.  The girl, however, could not.  She began speaking about her mom’s side of the family that practices voodoo.  She believed in it and she feared it.  The thing that strikes me about this young lady is she never saw the power of voodoo.  She’d merely heard stories and seen its impact on others.  Yet, this normally confident teen was crippled by her strong fear of voodoo.  Isn’t that how we should fear the Lord? Though we know His goodness and are not afraid of His will, we should fear Him in such a way that it changes the way we act—even when we aren’t directly seeing His work.

Honestly, I was just like this girl before the Lord saved me from my sin and came to live in me.  I still don’t like voodoo or anything creepy.  One of the things that made me least enthusiastic about moving to New Orleans was voodoo and the overall dark atmosphere of the city.

When I was in Japan, I was more aware of the presence of evil than I’ve ever been.  Walking into the temples, I truly felt a demonic presence.  The missionaries that took us to the temples would not even enter them—they’d experienced it enough.  I’ve had similar feelings as I walk by voodoo shops and tarot card tables in New Orleans.  As the missionaries told us not to buy anything in the temples, I would advise the same of anyone walking by a voodoo store in the French Quarter.  Why welcome that kind of evil?

Yet, I do not fear evil.  I fear the Lord. He gives us peace and protection that the world cannot offer.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28 ESV

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
that one may turn away from the snares of death.

Proverbs 14:26-27 ESV

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!

Psalm 33:8 ESV

I Know God Can

The environment in New Orleans is drastically different from Oklahoma.  In addition to the weather, the plants, animals, and architecture are also not what I’m used to seeing.  Palm trees, lizards, and shotgun houses are everywhere.  Another common characteristic of my new environment is freight trains.  There are train tracks all over the city.  In fact, there is a track that runs adjacent to the seminary.  (It is literally within 1,000 feet of my dorm room, which means sleep is often interrupted by the walls rattling or the whistle blowing.)

The other night, I was on my way home from work and I was delayed by a freight train crossing for an hour.  It was so ridiculous that everyone parked their cars, turned off their engines, and rolled down their windows.  Some people even got out of their cars.  I was within five miles of the seminary and not able to get home.  If I had stood on top of my vehicle (which I had plenty of time to do), I could have seen the steeple, marking the middle of the seminary campus.  This event turned my 11-hour-day into a 12-hour-day.  Yet, I kind of enjoyed it…

To most, freight trains are an annoyance.  To me, they are one of life’s greatest blessings.  Anyone that knows my family understands.  Anyone that doesn’t thinks I’m crazy.

Two of the most influential men in my life were freight-train-lovers too.

The first was my uncle Pete.  img087He was truly the kindest, gentlest man I ever knew.  Pete loved trains more than anyone could possibly love trains.  When we went to visit him, going to the train station was always a top priority.  Almost every night of our visits, my dad would take us to Carvel and we would eat our ice cream at the train station.  img011Pete wanted to see as many freight trains as possible.  Electric trains would not cut-it.  He wanted to see freight trains.  He was always willing to wait to see another one.

The second was my grandpa.  Although I only knew him until I was a toddler, Poppy Clyde’s legacy of hard work and family values continues to impact me as an adult.  FullSizeRender (3)As an engineer, he spent a large part of his life around freight trains.  As my uncle was fascinated with these powerful machines, my grandfather also had a deep appreciation for them.  My mother still tells stories of some of his close-calls on the railroad.  She passed down this respect for trains.  In fact, my mom, sister, and I should probably each have a bumper sticker saying “this vehicle stops at all railroad crossings” thanks to my grandfather.

Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could is one of my all-time favorite children’s books.  As kids, my sister and I read the book and watched the movie countless times.  Today, I occasionally still find myself repeating “I think I can” during a strenuous task.  This classic children’s story demonstrates the power of determination.  Yet, the author using a freight train to demonstrate such strength also shows the power of freight trains.  They are capable of hauling loads that other machines cannot.

Despite the magnificence of these machines, it is tempting to see them as a nuisance that simply obstructs our paths or wakes us up.  Isn’t that also how we see God sometimes? When we’re discontent, we ask, “Why can’t I just go that way? Wouldn’t that way be easier? Can I finally get to something better?” When we’re interrupted, we complain, “Can’t you see I’m busy?” Yet, God is not an obstacle, standing in our way to inconvenience or annoy us.  God is a burden-carrier, stronger than any freight train.  He is directing and protecting us.  Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (ESV).  Instead of exasperating ourselves by relying on our own power, let us give our burdens to Him.  As He changes our paths and interrupts our dreams, let us remember the strength of His plan.

Instead of repeating, “I think I can,” we will then repeat, “I know God can.”

Fall Cleaning

Fall in New Orleans proves to be a lot like summer in most places. Though the temperature has come down a little, it’s still in the 80’s most days. My favorite quote on an 80-degree-day with high humidity was from my pastor.  He proclaimed it was starting to feel like fall! When I think of fall, I think of scarves, apple cider, crisp air, colorful leaves, and pie. Here, they associate cold with 70 degrees and shorts with Christmas (in fact, one local told me her mother turns on the air-conditioning each Christmas, so she can light the fireplace).

There are a few things that can help someone survive “fall” in NOLA:

  1. FALL BREAK
Even though it was 90 degrees with 70% humidity the weekend he was here, seeing my dad and getting to explore the city was a huge blessing. And at least that means summer dresses and sandals continue to make an appearance, right?

Even though it was 90 degrees with 70% humidity the weekend he was here, seeing my dad and getting to explore the city was a huge blessing. And at least that means summer dresses and sandals continue to make an appearance, right?

Getting to go home for part of Fall Break was a huge blessing.  It started by seeing my sweet family.

Getting to go home for part of Fall Break was a huge blessing. It started by seeing my sweet family.

I also got to see my church family.  I’m convinced I have the best church family in the world.

I also got to see my church family. I’m convinced I have the best church family in the world.

My church family even showered me with gifts...

My church family even showered me with gifts…this doesn’t come close to showing what I was given.

I also got to see my dogs.  I do enjoy my adventures with Dr. Watson, but it was refreshing to see the real dogs too.

I also got to see my dogs. I do enjoy my adventures with Dr. Watson, but it was refreshing to see the real dogs too.

  1. Pumpkin Pie Air Freshener
My dorm seriously smells like pumpkin pie!

My dorm seriously smells like pumpkin pie!

  1. Football Games
There’s something about spending an evening at a football game…it also helps when the sweet girl you go to see wins homecoming.

There’s something about spending an evening at a football game…it also helps when the sweet girl you go to see wins homecoming.

  1. Wearing Fall Clothes
Although I can’t really wear fall clothes in NOLA, I was glad to get to wear some scarves and boots while in OKC.  (It’s also much more fun wearing them with friends.)

Although I can’t really wear fall clothes in NOLA, I was glad to get to wear some scarves and boots while in OKC. (It’s also much more fun wearing them with friends.)

  1. Cooking
Besides baking, I can hardly think of a more fall-like experience than coming home to a crockpot full of squash soup.

Besides baking, I can hardly think of a more fall-like experience than coming home to a crockpot full of squash soup.

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It’s even more fall-like when it’s ready to eat!

  1. Pretending It’s Summer
Working at a tennis shop helps with this process…it’s easier when everyone’s pretending it’s summer!

Working at a tennis shop helps with this process…it’s easier when everyone’s pretending it’s summer!

Considering the environment, it is not surprising that tennis is a year-round sport. When I first started working at the tennis shop, I wondered “will I have a job in November?” Apparently so! And for that I am incredibly grateful.

While working at the tennis shop, I’ve spent the majority of my time sweeping. Every now and then I’ll answer a call, bill a lesson, set up a ball machine, or some other random task; however, my most common task is still sweeping. I’ve learned that nine clay tennis courts generate a lot of clay residue. I find myself constantly sweeping the porch and the shop. Every time I turn around, a new pile of clay appears on the freshly swept floor.

Isn’t that true of our hearts as well? Like the floor, the Lord cleans me of my self-inflicted junk only to start all over again moments later. While sweeping is light and painless, the Lord’s cleaning is probably the worst kind of deep cleaning imaginable. Yet, He continues to do it over and over again…knowing we’ll bring in more clay as soon as He’s finished. The monotony of the day can be the easiest way for us to drift from the joy and passion of the Lord, but He tirelessly repeats this process for us (similar to the repetition of tropical summer weather in NOLA: hot and humid each day with rain around 3:30pm only to start all over again the next day). And He repeats this cleaning process all out of love.  I know moms and wives see this more than I ever will, but I’m grateful for a glimpse of God’s character…even if it is through something as simple as sweeping.

Let the fall cleaning begin!

Masks

Have you ever seen a Mardi Gras mask? With vibrant colors and lavish décor, these masks are a mandatory Mardi Gras accessory.  From what I’ve heard, these exquisite masks originated to eliminate class barriers.  Mardi Gras was a time where a person could be whomever he or she desired.  That person could hide his or her identity.

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Though Mardi Gras may be out of the norm for most of us, hiding behind a mask is not.  Our masks may be less extravagant, but they’re equally as distracting.  We are experts at diverting attention to something else rather than revealing the truth about ourselves.  We want people to focus on the glitter, bells, and feathers that we parade in front of our less-flattering features.  Our masks may look different, but we all wear them.

Recently, one of my professors decided to remove his mask for a moment.  He shared a story dear to his heart.  This story showed a time of fear and uncertainty.  He even wept in front of the class.  His purpose in sharing was to demonstrate the power of prayer in his own life.  I will never forget his purpose or his story.  He humbled himself for the benefit of the class.  I’m grateful that 100% of my professors display humility each day in class, but I was particularly impressed with this professor’s humility.  It reminded me of Philippians 2:3-8,

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (ESV).

Christ emptied Himself for us.  Christ did the opposite of the original Mardi Gras mask-wearers.  He eliminated His class barrier for the sake others.  He went from being a King to a servant.  He knew without-a-doubt what we’d do to Him.  Yet, He still humbled Himself.

If mask-wearing were a competition, I would totally win! I am great at wearing a mask and pretending I’ve got everything together to protect myself.  There is certainly value in protecting ourselves (though I’d argue that would be compared to armor rather than a mask…see Ephesians 6), but I think it’s important to check our motives:

  • Do I refuse to take off my mask when it could benefit others?
  • Do I wear a mask to exalt myself?
  • Do I focus more on the design of my own mask than the needs of the world around me?
  • Is my mask covering God’s work in my life?
  • Does my mask distract me from God’s calling?
  • Do I value protecting myself more highly than emptying myself?

If you’re like me, your mask-wearing motives don’t align with Christ’s humility.  I’m much more concerned with what people think, how they’ll respond, or how I’ll feel than humbling myself to the point of serving them.

Whitewashed Tombs

Practically every day I drive by a cemetery. In Oklahoma, that never really bothered me. As a child, my sister and I enjoyed holding our breath the entire time we passed by one. This activity only bothered us when we stopped in front of one (or at a graveside service…when we’d reluctantly declare a truce). Cemeteries seem normal to us. They’re just part of life.

Coming to New Orleans, I’ve gained a new appreciation for cemeteries. Cemeteries are creepy here! Built above ground, these beautiful tombs are designed to keep the dead where they’re laid to rest. If a body is buried, it pops up out of the below-sea-level terrain during a rainstorm.

This is a cemetery I drive by on my way to one of my jobs.

This is a cemetery I drive by on my way to one of my jobs.

This same cemetery is adjacent to my church here

This same cemetery is adjacent to my church here.

When I first saw these beautiful tombs, I thought of Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (ESV).

A common joke people like to make about seminary goes something like this,

“Oh so you’re in cemetery? Excuse me, seminary!” Although it’s funny and I’ve caught myself accidentally exchanging the two words, it’s really kind of sickening in light of Matthew 23:27. I have yet to meet a modern-day seminary student with anywhere close to the amount of biblical knowledge as a scribe or Pharisee, but it sickens me to think we often live in a state of similar hypocrisy. We have grown accustomed to seeing polished Christians, who outwardly appear beautiful. Yet, we often drive by holding our breath. We do not take time to consider what’s inside ourselves. We even train ourselves not to take a deeper look.

Thankfully, the Lord takes a deeper look. He sees our hearts and He is the One capable of changing us. He didn’t just pop up out of His tomb as dead men used to in New Orleans. He rose from the grave ALIVE, which means He can save us from the hypocrisy we bury deep within our own whitewashed tombs.

Eating a Piece of Humble Pie

When thinking of desserts in New Orleans, there are many excellent choices.  Bread pudding, pralines, snowballs, bananas foster, king cake, and crème brulee are just a few of the choices this city has to offer.  When thinking of pie, pecan pie and lemon meringue are two that commonly come to mind here.  Humble pie is not as common.  Yet, it is without-a-doubt the one I’ve eaten most.

It’s officially that time in the semester.  It’s the time when students abandon sleep for paper-writing, showers for a quick spray-down, and khakis for last week’s jeans.  A clean-shaven guy is about as hard to find as a girl with makeup and quiet hours no longer exist in the dorms.  This is a perfect time for any student to eat a large piece of humble pie.

Before writing this post, I decided to look up the derivative of this phrase.  FYI, it’s disgusting.  If you’re curious, feel free to look it up.  I, however, am going to relate humble pie to one I can stomach describing: blueberry pie!

This summer, I decided to accomplish a few random goals.  One of those was baking a pie.  Having an abundance of blueberries in my fridge, blueberry was the pie of choice.  Never having made a pie, I looked up a recipe online, recruited a teenager to help, and got to work!

We started by mixing the ingredients for the crust.  Next, we rolled out the crust and lined the pans.  Then, we let the crust chill in the fridge while we mixed the ingredients for the filling.  After that, we placed the filling on top of the dough and began crisscrossing strips of dough across the top (between numerous laughs and mini-disasters).  Next, we stuck the pie in the fridge again while the oven preheated.  Then, we baked the pie and let it cool.

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Although it wasn’t the prettiest pie, it tasted great.  The reward of an afternoon’s work was worth it.

I think a similar process is true of humble pie.  Although it never tastes great, the lengthy process of making and eating it is well-worth the journey.  The Lord is faithful to teach us when we bow before Him.

Here’s to another week of midterms and, undoubtedly, more humble pie!