Learning to Seek First the Kingdom Everywhere

Pond in Back Yard
Pond in Back Yard

I’ve been living in this phrase, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” found in various places in scripture, trying to determine it’s sway and meaning for me personally. Ever since I wrote this post about my idea of what 2013 would look like, I’ve been asking myself the question, how… and where? It’s easier to look at my back yard and see the fog rising off the pond at sunrise and say, there He is, but seeking the kingdom above all else requires looking in those places of darkness where he is the only light that shines, and it’s not nearly as bright as it is above.

Realistically I’ve been walking down this path of making, what seemed like, several small and moderate lifestyle changes, really for years now. Over time of course they are more significant than perhaps they seem in the moment of the decision. In fact, collectively, they clear a path to allow more of God in and less of those things that distract and tend to pull us in the opposite direction. I still love reading about the drastic and dramatic though, like Paul Miller’s story, Paul Miller returns to the internet after a year away, where he took an entire year fast from the Internet only to find his demons (my words) followed him offline. The more I live in this phrase Jesus spoke the more I’m finding what I once thought was dramatic and impossible is now possible, and dramatic only to those who have ears but refuse to hear.

Right now I’m pouring over Jeff Shinabarger’s new book, More or Less, and I can’t wait to do a full review on this book. His book basically tries to answer the question, “What is enough?” For some reason it keeps reminding me of this scene from Wall Street when Bud Fox asks Gordon Gekko “how much is enough?” a question we get confronted with every day. Jeff has taken this to a new level, and is at the same time helping me understand new ways to “seek first the kingdom,” some of which I’m looking forward to sharing when I finish his book.

Service of Prayer, Reflection, and Imposition of Ashes

Worship Spirit of the Living God
Worship Spirit of the Living God

Here are a few shots from our service last night. For me personally it was a physically and emotionally draining day, but a good one. I always like this particular service for the mere fact it starts a time of reflection and prayer, which moves our focus toward what’s really the greatest celebration of the year, Easter.

Last night was more about recognizing our own brokenness, our own mortality, and coming in a posture of humility to the Creator with our lives. It is still amazing to me how busy we get, how filled our schedules become, and in that business we often lose touch with the reason for our ultimate existence and why we do what we do.

Josh Agerton Reads from the Psalms
Josh Agerton Reads from the Psalms
Dustin Adams Playing Guitar
Dustin Adams Playing Guitar
Chandler Serves the Imposition of Ashes
Chandler Serves the Imposition of Ashes

Preparing for the Season of Lent

Maundy Thursday Chalkboard Prayer Vigil

A few weeks ago at my church we had what we call a Celebration Dinner, beginning a process of visioning for the future called Dream 2020. As we move through this visioning experience in 2013, we are asking people to begin this season with 40 days of prayer (and fasting), beginning with Ash Wednesday.

Prayer During Lent

Prayer, by its very nature, causes us to slow down and reveals our priorities. As a church, prayer is our declaration of dependence on God instead of ourselves. It is our response to grace, a corporate collective cry for God to move in the midst of our sin. Prayer is something that challenges our mind, which, by its very nature, is prone to wonder and daydream as we try to bring our hearts to the Lord. We lose focus in our 24/7-connected world and struggle to find consistency in prayer, but so did the disciples when Jesus took them into the garden to pray before His trial (Matthew 26:40).[1]

As with most things in life that challenge us, the results are also beyond our own imagination. As the disciples discovered, more could be accomplished through prayer than they had ever dreamed, and Jesus said we, through prayer, would do even greater things than He Himself had done (John 14:12-14).

Fasting During Lent

Fasting is another spiritual discipline discussed during lent, often in the context of giving up candy, television, or some other “extra” thing in our life. My experience with fasting generally didn’t even go that far, until one night I began to pray about fasting. Only through prayer was I led to a traditional fast, a weekly one that lasted an entire year. In that year God prepared and changed my heart for things I could never foresee happening in my life, and he can do the same for our church body. Some cannot participate in a traditional fast from food, and I know God understands that situation. But for those of us who can, I would challenge you to begin by praying about fasting.

Prayer and fasting together make a powerful bond, one stronger than prayer alone or fasting alone. When the disciples asked Jesus why they could not do what they expected could be done, Jesus’ response was this could only be done through prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21). As you are challenged in this area I would encourage you to ask practical questions if you have any. Please feel free to contact me, I would be more than happy to discuss the specific practicalities of fasting with you.

Here are Some Practical Suggestions and Next Steps

First, over each of the next 40 days of Lent we will be posting a new prayer for Cornerstone’s future, which you can read here. We will be prayerfully asking how we can impact our community, our schools, lives in Uganda, and many other areas where Cornerstone can lead people to know and serve Jesus. We invite you to participate with Cornerstone in prayer each day, putting on the whole armor of God around Ephesians 6:18 twice a day, at 6:18am and 6:18pm.

Second, begin to prayerfully seek God’s guidance as it pertains to fasting in your life. If you have questions, please ask. If you are led to fast during Lent some practical things to ask yourself are why, when, and how. In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the most practical advice on fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. You can start by reading this passage, and the whole sermon if possible from Matthew 5:2 to 7:27, then answer the why.

The why is often seen as an emptying of self and the filling of God, generally by means of abstaining from food and/or water. The when could be giving up lunch on Tuesdays during Lent, or food for 24 hours on Wednesdays. The how is different for each person, but is an important practical step to think about. How do you not eat and not call attention to yourself? Look at your schedule; it’s different for everyone.

As we prepare ourselves for this time of reflection through prayer and fasting let us remember our brokenness, and our need for a redeemer, which is Christ crucified for us.


[1] Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger, Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 219-222. Concepts were developed on prayer using this section called “The Primacy of Prayer” from Creature of the Word. The authors’ dedication to their text is greatly appreciated and achknowledged here as originating from this section of their text. A good review of the book can be found in the interview The Church as Creature of the Word: A Conversation with Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger.

Cornerstone Celebration Dinner 2013

Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013

Last night our church came together to celebrate what God has done in the life of our church over the previous year along with putting out the vision for what Cornerstone looks like in the year 2020. It was a great night, but it was a launching point for 2013. We still have one more night to go tonight, so if anyone happens to be reading this in Auburn and wants to come join the celebration there are still a few seats left. I didn’t get to take too many shots last night, but here are a few.

Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
The Dinner at Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013

Newtown

News Reports of the Shooting a Newtown Elementary School
News Reports of the Shooting a Newtown Elementary School

Our wounds come at first breath
In the blood of a garden at rest
Toil cursed upon our commute
Commissioned to die in our youth

Hope like a blanket will be
At the coming He will set us free.

There are virtually no words to describe the news today. Is this our culture, our time, in which history will judge. I’m sad for all those involved today, God be with those families.

Newtown by Scott Fillmer

Crafty Christmas at The Railyard in Opelika

Crafty Christmas at The Railyard
Band Plays Christmas Music Outside at the Crafty Christmas in The Railyard
Crafty Christmas in The Railyard
Band Plays Christmas Music Outside at the Crafty Christmas in The Railyard

Tonight we went over to the Crafty Christmas at The Railyard in Opelika. This was the first  “Crafty Christmas Craft Show,” which is a fundraiser for BigHouse Foundation, a non-profit ministry in Lee County, AL that supports foster care families. The show was held Thursday, November 29th from 6-9pm at the Cotton District on Railroad Avenue in downtown Opelika, and of course, they had some of my favorite live local performs to bring an extra bit of excitement only they could accomplish.

The turnout looked great, and it was the first time I had been able to get over to The Railyard, a really neat venue just across the railroad tracks from the main downtown area. Above are just a few of my favorite shots of the band, and yes, this was a fundraiser in the form of a craft show, so there was a lot more there than just the guys pictured above, but they were my favorite crafted art. Have a good weekend wherever you might be this November 29.

President Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

Lincoln Thanksgiving Day

God’s divine appointments are always amazing to me. In my normal daily chronological reading through the Old Testament this morning, I ended up reading 1 Chronicles 16, a chapter just about giving thanks, which contains David’s thanksgiving song to the Lord. It was a divine appointment at least for me, and a great reminder that today we give thanks TO our creator and Lord. Not necessarily for what we have physically, but for what God has done in our lives, and yes for the blessings he has abundantly supplied.

Thanksgiving should not be an “American” thing, and when this day was first made into a holiday, Lincoln said as much as well. This is the day for the world to give thanks to God, and in his own words, I give you:

President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America’s national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders similar to this. For example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”

Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

he document below sets apart the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln’s secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

… and so it is today. We celebrate with food and family today, and give thanks to our creator and savior that he is truly Lord over all.


  1. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler.
  2. Abraham Lincoln Online: Writings and Speeches

A Christian Vacuum and My Prayerful Vote for America

Lines at My Local Auburn Polling Place
Lines at My Local Auburn Polling Place

I have been voting since 1988, and I really can’t remember ever waiting in line, ever. There is just something a little different about the election this time around. It seems like each candidate is already resolved to their fate, but seeing this kind of turnout is awesome. If you are an eligible voter in our country today, and you didn’t vote, shame on you, go vote. Regardless of party affiliation or particular ideology, people in our country have given their life so that all of us can freely vote our conscience on this day, and it’s our responsibility to do so. My polling station was busy. As you can see from the photo above, there were a lot of people in line, but it didn’t take long, and wasn’t too long a wait for the freedom to vote.

Over the past several months I have been trying to finish one of the greatest books ever written on discipleship, The Cost of Discipleship, by Bonhoeffer and he had some really incredible things to say about our process today. If you have access to this book, go read chapters 12 and 13 and read it in context of today’s world with the understanding that he wrote that during one of the reigns of the most evil leaders the world has ever know. His other epic book, Ethics, starts off with this explanation, which I find so pertinent to our world today.

The Christian does not live in a vacuum, but in a world of government, politics, labor, and marriage. Hence, Christian ethics cannot exist in a vacuum. The reality is not manifest in the Church as distinct from the secular world; such a juxtaposition of two separate spheres is a denial of God’s having reconciled the whole world to himself in Christ. On the contrary, God’s commandment is to be found and known in the Church, the family, labor, and government, with a responsibility for the institutions of the world.

Meaning… neither candidate we see today may be our perfect choice as Christians, but we don’t live in a perfect world, and we only have one perfect candidate, Christ himself. We have to live in the world we are placed, not stick our head in the sand. This article published by Religion Today says it very well, Evangelicals Want Moral Government But are Ignorant of the Bible, and the point is we need to become as knowledgeable about God’s word as we are about Obama or Romney.

This was my prayer for our election this morning: “Lord I pray for this election, that you will make your choice clear today, that your will be done, even if that means letting this country go deeper into the depths of hell before it finds its way out, and finds its way back to you.” For some reason David’s words when we prayed for deliverance in 2 Samuel 22 seem relevant to the state of our country at this point in history. We should do as he did and earnestly “call upon the Lord.”

I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised… for the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me, the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me… in my distress i called upon the Lord; to my God I called. 2 Samuel 22.

People Waiting to Pick Up a Ballet in Auburn
People Waiting to Pick Up a Ballet in Auburn
A Man Takes His Ballet From a Poll Worker in Auburn
A Man Takes His Ballet From a Poll Worker in Auburn
The Alabama Ballet for Election 2012
The Alabama Ballet for Election 2012

I hope you voted today, or are planning on voting today. This vote has historic consequences, as all elections do, but the world seems poised, seems to be on the cusp, of a time where we are still not too far gone, but can very easily fall over the edge. That edge, or cliff, is a combination of all kinds of things from war in the middle east to an economic crisis like we have seen in Greece.

For me, the edge or cliff is the erosion of faith in our country. A country that now receives more missionaries than it sends, where we continue to move into complete pluralism, where Christians themselves no longer stand for Gospel truths, and are no longer convicted to call sin, sin.

So regardless of who you vote for, have a reason for choosing a particular candidate, and go vote. This is not something to take lightly, nor something to brush off as unimportant. As Christians we have a call to be involved in the world we live in, to be a part of the process, not just as an armchair quarterback.

On Apple's Tribute to Steve Jobs One Year Later

Pulling into the Gate in Amsterdam Airport
Pulling into the Gate in Amsterdam Airport

I remember landing in Amsterdam on October 5, 2011 after being in the air for almost 10 hours. I turned on my iPhone and AP news alerts started pinging my phone as happens when a “world event” takes place. I read through the Fox News, CNN, Sky News alerts and articles, and read through my Twitter and Facebook feeds. As we pulled up to the gate I had already received the text below from Deborah (yes I have all my text messages from years ago), a message received in my hand sitting on a runway in the Netherlands thousands of miles away from Auburn, Alabama.

Text Message From DeborahAs we pulled up to the gate I took the photo above of the Delta flight parked next to our gate, pulled it into my Camera+ app, put a boarder around it and posted it to Instagram. At this point I had already checked my email, responded to a few emails, and looked up our connecting flight information. All from a small piece of metal, glass, and plastic that didn’t exist a few years earlier.

This may sounds like a lot of poetic musings for a phone, but for some reason my mind wasn’t ready for this particular piece of news that morning, and it confused me. I was on my way to Africa, and the only reason I was going to have any personal connection with my wife halfway around the world was because Steve Jobs had decided he was going to invent and create what I was holding in my hand.

Here was a man who shared no convictions with my faith, a brilliant man who had no understanding beyond the pluralistic view of Christianity known for centuries mixed with his version of Buddhism. He just couldn’t go beyond his own understanding and even made this statement to Isaacson:

“The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it,” he told me. “I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t.”

Yet I still felt some connection, even if a minor one, with Jobs, sitting on a runway in Europe, as if the plane full of people melted away leaving me and my connection with Jobs sitting in my hand. He shared none of my beliefs, yet he changed the world, my world, and still does on a daily basis. After I got home from Africa I read, back to back, the biography on Steve Jobs and the biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Metaxas. What an amazing contrast of times and cultures, beliefs, and both had the ability to change the world. Ultimately in death, as we all will do some day, either looking to what lies ahead, one perhaps clinging to life here on earth, so did these two great men.

I boarded the plane to Africa, still thinking about Jobs’ fate and wrote this as we took off.

The biggest surprise to me so far [on this trip], was upon landing, finding out that Steve Jobs died. I was truly saddened to hear this. I know we are all temporary to this world, but this man, who for all accounts wasn’t a believer, changed the world. He forever changed the way the world communicates, how we are connected with each other, and the reason I can talk to Deborah from this plane in Europe while she is in Auburn.

He affected so many people through his innovations. How are we to greave his death? I’m saddened over his death as if he was someone I knew personally, and at the same time I really don’t know why either. Death seems so imminent for all of us, especially when you hear about Jobs dying at 59. I know why we die, the fall created this and Christ had to die for us, but it’s still so hard to understand. I didn’t even know Jobs, but I will miss him. The new iPhone announcement yesterday had people wanting to see Jobs at the event, people who never knew, other than God, that he would die the very next day. I pray for his soul.

I’m not even really sure why I write this today other than to acknowledge the gravity this one person had on our world. A person I vastly disagree with on almost all aspects of life, yet he was someone who had a positive impact on so many people.

Jobs once said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” which really became his whole life philosophy, and was carried on today by Tim Cook and Apple with the video on their front page and the letter below. What other for-profit company would take down their entire front page just to show a 2 minute tribute video. Simplicity and sophistication.

Apple's Tribute to Steve Jobs
Apple’s Tribute to Steve Jobs

Seeing Our Next Team Off to Uganda Today

Cornerstone Church Uganda Team Leaves for Atlanta
Cornerstone Church Uganda Team Leaves for Atlanta

Today instead of going on the trip to Uganda with the team from last year, I got to see them off to the Atlanta airport. It was a sad goodbye for me personally since I’m staying behind, but I know God is going to work among these eight people pictured above over the next week in Uganda. This team is going to build on so many other teams that have already gone and come back, intent on sharing the love of Christ with others in a culture and context far different from the comfortable life we live in the western world.

You can see a little more about what the trips are like from my previous posts in the Uganda tag, and if you want to follow along with this particular team you can follow April Olive’s blog as she updates throughout the trip. I can’t wait to hear about their trip, it is quite an experienced group of travelers with a heart for the people of Uganda.