Author Archives: Michael Gallup

Just Another Easter

The Gallups in pastels for Easter

So that was fun.

I’m sure many of your found the courage to wear pastel colors that normally lie dormant in you closet the rest of the year yesterday. Perhaps you got together with family members you would never spend time with unless you had to. You may have eaten a few too many peeps than the recommended serving size. But even if you did none of these, chances are you went to church. Even if yesterday was the only day of the year that you do.

I’m normally a rather sentimental fellow. I cried when I watched Charlotte’s Web; and when I say cried, I mean I sobbed and snot poured out of ny nose and I didn’t care because I was so enraptured in the beauty of the moment. Yeh, I’m one of those. So usually every year around the beginning of Spring, I find myself knee-deep in snot and tears as I become overwhelmed by sheer beauty of the Easter story.

The whole thing is beautiful even if it isn’t personal, but it is. In no way am I worthy of such beauty, such grace, such love, such life. Yet the story of Easter is just about that, the meeting of our complete unworthiness with God’s complete welcome. When the weight of my folly intersects with the glory of God’s love, tears are paltry offerings to express the beauty of redemption.

But this year my eyes stayed dry. I wore my pastel pants, ate candy, went to church, sang about joy, and went to lunch like nothing different happened. I had to ask myself why.

Maybe because like our linen pants and pink ties, we rummage through the closet to find this thing called to Resurrection and pull it out for one day to show it off only to have it stored away till next year. The Resurrection is the climax of the gospel, the story of Jesus. Without it, we have no hope, we have no faith, we have no life. It completes the work of the cross and ushers in a New Creation that is bursting forth light where darkness once reigned. It is at the very center of our faith as Christians, yet for many of us it has already become an afterthought today.

The reality of the Resurrection is that it is not just an event that happened but it is always happening, especially right now. Our hope is that we too participate in the Resurrection through our faith and obedience in Christ. The intersection of our depravity and God’s love is our daily reality. Yet when we think that one day a year is good enough, we are in effect denying the Resurrection.

When we regulate the power of God to some children’s story that only matters peripherally at best, we deny that the tomb is empty. We deny that Jesus truly reigns in our hearts and in our world. This year I saw a spectacle of false joy. I was immersed in a group of people who had traded the truth of Easter for a lie. Because really nothing changed. We put on fake smile to match our shoes and tread upon the gravity of this story.

I may seem a little heavy-handed but I felt the weight of our hypocrisy most clearly yesterday. Instead of shedding tears of joy, I shed tears of sorrow. As my brothers and sisters gave lip service to “He is risen indeed” I wanted to shake them and plead, “do you really believe this?” Because if we did…..I’m not really sure what would happen if we really did.

But here is the power of Easter. The sins of our ignorance, the depravity of our hypocrisy is not met with God’s scorn but with his grace.

If the Resurrection is real then I can hope and rejoice that the life that seemed so distant in the very hearts it was professed to belong to, can (and I believe will) find its home there once again, perhaps even for the first time. The implication of Easter is that we can again cry tears of joy in the face of our hypocrisy because Jesus laid death in its grave.

I did not cry yesterday because I was also part of the denying crowd.

Because my vision was filled solely with our collective hypocrisy, I missed the intersection of grace altogether. I saw our depravity as victorious and that is the very lie the Resurrection destroys. Jesus overcame the grave so that Love can truly win.

Do I really believe this? Because if I did…..

Michael is the Pastor of the Church at Argenta. 


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Eye of the Storm

The world was falling apart all around me. I was five, huddled into a hotel room in Sumter, South Carolina. We had traveled an hour and half inland to seek refuge from Hurricane Hugo. The bumper-to-bumper traffic on every road headed west was over-flowing with our fellow evacuees. Our home was on the very river forecasters were predicting the hurricane to make landfall over, we had no choice but to leave. Hugo was a strong category four hurricane and we rightfully feared the worst.

Sumter wasn’t far enough as tornadoes ripped the town to shreds during the night. I’ll never forget the sounds of that night, as if the wind turned to metal and proceeded to clash with the very gods. The carnage that we awoke to the next day proved greater than we could imagine. As we drove home around downed trees and power lines, witnessing others’ homes who had been destroyed, we hoped to find our coastal home still standing. Hope may be an overstatement.

Anyone who has lived trough a severe hurricane knows the power that they wield, power to destroy. They deserve their names because unlike any other weather phenomenon, they have a personality, a vengeance and sometimes a grace. We talk about them like we knew them, because we did.

One of the unique characteristic of hurricanes are their eyes. When you look a satellite image of one, it stares at you ominously. It is from this core the whole storm derives its sheer force but phenomenally, the eye is absolutely calm.

The eye of Hugo missed our home to the south but I had friends who braved (or fooled) out the storm and found themselves in the eye. They reported that it was like the storm had ended, they would walk out to a light breeze and rays of sun. But swirling all around them were 150 mile per hour winds ravaging everything in its path. But there was safety in the eye.

Jesus tells his followers that in this world we will have trouble and a quick look around affirms this teaching. When we read the headlines and listen to the stories around us, it can seem as if the world is falling apart. It is more scary than gods clashing because it seems as if the gods have left us and hope in safety is hopeless.

But just as Jesus promised us trouble, he promises us joy in its very presence. This is not a disembodied joy where everything is perfect and clean, but joy that finds itself knee-deep in the mud; a joy found in the very eye of the storm.

And what is the source of this joy? Jesus has overcome death.

As the world rages, we know the story does not end there but that even through that rage, joy will come. Because we do not hope in ourselves or the gods, but in the crucified and resurrected Jesus. The one who found himself in the eye of the storm on the cross, as all the pain of the world cam crashing down on him and death itself took him. But the power of love, the power of God gave him the last laugh.

Its a bit like Lieutenant Dan riding out the hurricane from the mast of Gump’s shrimp boat, we find our peace with God in the very face of death, in the eye of the storm.

Michael is the pastor of the Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. You can read his blog here.


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Giving Up Bad BBQ for Lent

Fatback and his boys

As a little kid, my Dad’s office was a magical place. The walls were decorated with football memorabilia from years ago. He had a model plane of the one my grandfather flew in World War II. But perhaps what enamoured me most of all were his trophies. He had a plaque remembering his hole-in-one and a couple with pigs at the top. He was an award-winning pit-master. My dad had not only practiced the art of smoking meat and making sauce from scratch, he had been rewarded for his prowess. I was especially proud of those trophies because of where we lived: South Carolina.

Not sure why GA and VA are included in this map

The down-side of being the son of an acclaimed pit-cook is that you become a bit of a snob. While I was willing to acknowledge the efforts of the different regions (I got a soft-spot for mustard), no one came close to my Dad, ever. His nickname, Fatback, was synonymous for me to smoked perfection. So while I love BBQ, I almost always leave a new restaurant disappointed. But there are a few places that will always get my business when I’m in town. Recently I added a new king to this list: Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City.

My brother carrying on the tradition

While crowning a BBQ joint in Kansas City is border-line blasphemy from a Carolina boy, you have to lay aside your pride when you encounter something this good. The first thing you notice about the place is that it is a dump. It’s in a gas station. This is a plus, any self-respecting BBQ restaurant knows that decorating is limited to neon and trophies, no pretense. If you find yourself at a BBQ restaurant that actually looks nice, get out before they rob you. The energy is placed solely on the meat.

The line wrapped round the gas station and out the door, another good sign. while it was lunch, when you go on a BBQ pilgrimage you get the big plate with everything on it. You have try it all because depending upon the rising and falling of the creeks, you may never get back again. So ribs and brisket it was (I retained some Carolina pride, no way they make pulled pork like we do). I was far from being disappointed.

While sumptuous details of exactly why it was so good are too numerous to include in this blog, it suffices to say they hit it out of the park. Moist, balanced, unique, hearty, tender, delicious. I could see why Anthony Bordain said it was one of the places you have to eat at before you die. I left feeling a bit more prepared for my dying day. But the trip made me ask a hard question: why is it so hard to make good BBQ?

While there are a multitude of variables, perhaps the most prominent is that it is art. All (good) cooking is art, that’s why when its mass-produced it fails to inspire or even satisfy. Yet BBQ is unique because of the time it takes. Beyond the 18-hour start-to-finish procedure, there is a history there. You can literally taste the heritage of those before us. It is a uniquely American product, and beyond that it binds us together. Maybe its weird to put such stock into something so mundane as food, but this is what Jesus did as well. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because I imagine he, better than any, understood the importance of food.

During Lent, Christians often give up some food item for forty days in preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter. What one often finds, is that giving up food is often harder than they thought. While of course we need nourishment, we also thrive on more than bread alone. Food brings us together, gives rhythm to our lives, and provides fuel not only for our bodies but for our souls as well. Soul-food is precisely that, it nourishes us in a very spiritual way. Our faith is not some segregated existence where we pray on one end of the spectrum and eat on the other, but where the two become the same thing.

When Jesus appears to his friends after his Resurrection, he offers them words of wisdom but he does something else: he eats with them. He broils fish over an open flame on the coast and breaks bread in Emmaus. And it is in these acts that we see, smell, and taste the goodness of God. I imagine the reason I despise poor BBQ is not merely snobbery but because when we cease to care about the work of our hands and the product of our time, it leaves more than a bad taste in mouths but a in our souls as well.

The Fast of Lent is to prepare for the Feast of Easter, so that we may taste and see that the Lord is good.

Michael wants to open his own BBQ Restaurant one day, named Fatback’s. Until then, he is the pastor of the Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR.


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Expecting to Lose

Like so many of us, I have struggled with who I am, how I am defined. Throughout my life, I would give myself to certain interests and seek to be defined by them; whether it be dinosaurs, football, music, girls or even drugs. I would devote myself to be filled with every tidbit of info I could find about these interests and would find gratification in the search. But I have also felt a common thread through each of these things, I would lose.

Football has been the clearest example of this losing for me. My high school team lost 29 straight games during my career and went on to lose 20 consecutive more after I left. To be the captain of that team and to love something as much as I loved football, that hurt. I can’t even give words to how it felt to lose so much or how demoralizing it is to think we never had a chance. And to add to this, the team that I gave my attention to, the South Carolina Gamecocks, were perennial underachievers. The first time they ever won a post season game came 100 years into their experiment with football back 1995.

The gamecocks flirted with success here and there but only to find our hands empty. After a while, you just expect to lose. I have realized that the one word that best sums up my self-opinion is ‘loser.’ Football seems small compared to the failed relationships, the drug abuse, practically flunking out of college, and severe depression that became my story.

God has this thing for giving new names. The great persecutor of the early church, Saul, rode the meager christians out of town and into death, but God defeated him and gave him a new purpose and a new name: Paul. He would go on to write 2/3’s of the New Testament and was almost single-handily responsible for bringing the faith to all of Europe. And yet he never forgot his first name: ‘chief of sinners.’ And because he never forgot, the power of his new name was unsearchably immense.

God is giving me a new name too. Once a loser I now find myself living under the moniker of ‘victorious.’ Its a hard pill to swallow. Even though I sobered up, made it through college with honors, and have the greatest relationship of my life with my wife, I still am scared that I will lose it all, that I will lose even my new name.

And it was in the midst of this fear and uncertainty that I watched the Gamecocks win a second consecutive baseball national championship this past year. And not just win it, but do it in style. Pulling off near-miraculous plays when all seemed lost, breaking the all-time record for consecutive tournament wins, doing it against near-insurmountable odds like your best player playing with a broken wrist. And best of all, I kept expecting them to lose and I was so wrong.

This team comes from a place that knows nothing of winning. The school’s athletics seemed so doomed to lose that the local papers refer to the ‘chicken curse’ as stifling all the opportunities for victory. But this group of self-proclaim nobodies won in a way never seen before. And while most simply enjoyed the spectacle, I was floored with the sprig of hope these gamecocks were bringing me.

I am not destined to lose.

Life has thrown me some wicked curve balls, I’ve had my share of brokenness but my expectations are changing with my name. I am beginning to believe that I might just win. And that, my friend, is the greatest hope I can imagine.

Michael is the pastor of the Church at Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. He is still a hopeless gamecock fan and hopes their baseball team can pull of the even more improbable three-peat as season started this week. He blogs semi-regularly at A Sprig of Hope.


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What Did You Get Out of Church Today?

When Michala and I first moved out to Denver almost three years ago, we discovered the joy of church-dating. For the uninformed, this is when you attend a handful of churches and ‘try them out.’ When you find the one, you commit, just like dating. And just like dating, there are awkward churches, quirky churches, very attractive churches with no depth, and if you’re lucky, that perfectly imperfect place that just feels right.

Each time we visited a church we would quiz each other following the service, asking all sorts of questions to see if we both agreed in our admiration, apathy, or disgust. We would ask, “what did you get out of that?” This seems like a perfectly valid question, one that no doubt takes place every Sunday after church all over the country. What we implied in this question was how we were served: “was the preaching good?”  “Did we enjoy the music?” “Did they have child care?” These are important questions to ask, but I now see they are also misguided questions to ask.
The core around which Sunday morning gatherings are centered is worship of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit. Nothing more, nothing less. This can look a number of ways, singing, praying, conversation, thanksgiving, thinking deeply, but put simply it is an act of love.

Our worship has zilch to do with “what we get” and everything to do with what we offer. This is not another opportunity to feed our egos bloated by a system of consuming that makes us insatiable. We gather to give our meager lives together to the one who gives every good gift.

The receiving of good gifts comes with our every breath, each meal, each smile, and every child. The trees and the mountains are given to us to enjoy and it is only natural that we respond with praise. This is what Sunday morning is all about. Instead of asking “what did you get?” we can ask “what did you give?”

This giving goes far beyond our finances and demands our minds, hands, and hearts, our very being. And yet this is a free sacrifice, God does not look out at our confused, hap-hazard attempts to say thanks and say, “that’s it?” Instead he joins in the dance of giving and gives us the greatest gift ever, Himself.

Jesus hinted at this mystery of receiving in our giving, when he said that to find our lives, we must first die. When our weekly meetings become another opportunity to consume, we miss everything. Instead, let us have the mind of Christ who being God himself, humbled himself to execution and in the doing found himself seated at the right-hand of the Father and also found us all.

Michala and I did not settle for the “one.” We did not find our home until we found a church that would not let us remain comfortable, that forced us to give of ourselves, and asked a lot of us. We were too busy loving these imperfect people and loving a perfect God together to ask if this was the ‘one?’ It just was. I’ve come to realize there is no perfect church and this forces me to stop critiquing the church and simply commit.

May we seek to be a committed people, not seeking to be filled but to be emptied. To give back our money, time, energy, minds, and hearts and to maybe find a God who gives us everything we need.

Michael is the Pastor of The Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. He watched the super bowl and still isn’t sure what just happened.


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Saying Goodbye

There are few things harder in this life than saying “goodbye.” My mother-in-law refuses to utter the words, instead saying “See you Saturday.”

Last week as I left my home for the last 2 and half years in Colorado; I lost count of how many times I had to say those dreadful words, “goodbye.”

I attempted to ease the pain by reassuring friends and family that we would see them soon, but the reality is that we are never sure what tomorrow brings.

As I looked into the misty eyes of many of my closest friends I realized that I only could be saying bye right now because of their friendship. Without their sacrifice of time and care our venture to start a new church in Arkansas simply would not be.

And yet, the more these people gave themselves to us, making our leaving easier, it became harder and harder to leave. With each goodbye, a sinking feeling grew within me: I may never see these people again. We all must say that final goodbye at some point.

And yet our friends are exactly what makes saying goodbye so hard and yet so possible. It is their love that gives us the courage to face isolation.

Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” While his death would certainly be for all mankind, his death was most pointedly for his friends.

While that final night must have been extremely painful, it was also bearable because of his friends. And even though their love seemed to falter, his did not. And it was his ultimate sacrifice that made us all his friend, that will give us the courage to finally say goodbye.

The strength of that courage lies in hope, because Jesus has shown us that no goodbye is truly final.

There is day coming that will never end, a day of homecoming. Another day to look into each other’s misty eyes and say “Welcome home!” This is our hope and this is our courage.

So, we can with true hearts, in the midst of leaving, tell one another “see you Saturday.”

Michael is the pastor of the Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. He hopes to see his friends sooner than in heaven. You can read his blog at


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Whatever is Lovely

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Well now that the Christmas wrapping carnage has been cleared away and the vertigo has begun to subside, I feel a bit depressed. December 26th is a lot like a hangover as we feel the pain inflicted upon ourselves by over-indulging. I get a little depressed after singing “Joy to the World” as I begin to think of getting back to normal.

One of the ways I cope is to reflect upon the good this year has brought. While it has definitely brought its share of bad, 2011 also delivered moments that offered me a bit of hope for the next year.

I wonder what fed you this year?

What piece of art or literature moved you to look outside of yourself?

What relationship changed the way you felt about life?

How did you live a better story in 2011?

I hope that in this last week of 2011 we can, as the scripture above says, dwell on the good. And, in so doing, ignite a passion to reach for the lovely again this next year.

Being a bibliophile (look it up) one area I love to dwell on is what I read this past year. Here are some of the books I read that made an impact on me in 2011:

The Pastor by Eugene Peterson: This memoir of the author of The Message is the most influential book I’ve read (outside the Bible). Peterson has a knack for God sightings, interpreting seemingly mundane events in his life as providential moments crucial to his vocation as Pastor. This book helped my imagination reclaim a biblical and believable vision of what a pastor could be, of what I could be.

In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen: Over the course of an hour and a half I devoured this little book on leadership. Nouwen redefines leadership in light of Jesus’ temptation. Nouwen calls the Christian leader of the future to be “irrelevant” by pointing solely to the grace and love of Jesus and not to our own ability. What an encouragement for the incompetent among us.

While I read much more, these two books made the greatest impact on me.

So I ask: What did you read in 2011?

Michael is still “hungover” from Christmas but his 2-year-old makes it all worth while. He will continue his survey of “whatever is lovely” from 2011 at his blog A Sprig of Hope.


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Some Glad Morning

Each week of the Advent season a different aspect of our anticipation of the coming Lord is emphasized. This week’s focus is upon Joy.

While many of us would be quick to list joy as a major Christian attribute, less of us understand it or even worse have ever truly experienced it. For some of us, we even wonder if there is anything to be joyous about at all. So what is this whole joy thing about anyway?

When I think of how joy and waiting mingle, especially during this season, I think of Christmas Eve when I was a little kid. I could NEVER go to sleep. As hard as I tried, sleep seemed to always allude me those nights, but it really didn’t matter; I was just so anxious about what the dawn (and Santa) would bring.

While presents were high on my list, the whole experience excited me. The glow of the tree in the low light of early morning, everyone in their underwear and jammies with hair all a mess, a delicious breakfast of biscuits and gravy made by my favorite chef (mom!), the huge pile of waste accumulated by the end of the unwrapping session, rummaging through what seemed like a bottomless stocking, seeing the rest of my family open the gifts I had picked out, and the afternoon trip to Grandma’s for even more fun.

It was the highlight of my year and sleep simply could not compare. I knew that just around the corner was a day unlike any other, a day of peace, excitement, and joy.

Yet, I grew up.

I have lost much of that sense of wonder from my youth. I now know better about jolly old Saint Nick and mom is a thousand miles away. I will probably sleep quite soundly on December 24th. Often my only real hope for the holiday season is that I might actually enjoy it.

Is this what we call maturity? Dear Lord, I hope not.

I believe we could all learn quite a bit from our younger selves. They would tell us to play some more, to imagine, and to laugh. They would tell us to let go of our pride and shame and run into our daddy’s arms when things hurt. Oh to have the faith of a child, Lord have mercy on me.

We need these lessons from of former selves because our present selves have incurred the burden of what we call “the real world.” There are bills to pay, things to clean, papers to be written, calls to make, and we alone are responsible. We have awoken to the reality that life is hard. And in this midst of what used to a joyous season, we’ve heaped more burdens upon our shoulders: debt, stress, plans, worries, and strife.

We fill the mall parking lots hoping to fill our hearts, only to find we’ve been lied to. We strive and strive looking for “something,” waiting for “someday” that will set us free, that will awaken that sleepless child from Christmas eve. Yet the more stuff we amass and the more things we do, we still can not find it.

A wise man once said “I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

Where are the glad tidings of joy? What will set us free from this life of decay? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I, like my younger self am often in sleepless state but for altogether different reasons. I find rest hard to come by in a world like the one I know. So I wait. Not idly, but actively. I hope, not fleetingly but confidently. Just as Jesus came the first time at just the right time, He shall come again.

Lord knows that there is a day, right around the corner, that will change everything, a day of peace, a day of excitement, a day of Joy indeed! The following Scripture from Romans 8 fully embodies this Advent idea of joy in waiting

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him.

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.” (Romans 8:15-21 MSG)

That author knew what was right around the corner and he knew that in the waiting was joy. That deep down inside each of us (and even all of creation) there is an intense longing for “someday.” In Christ, we can know that that “someday” is coming, that He is coming. And we can join all creation in singing the joyous victory song, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last!”

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary and wants nerdy things like books on theology for Christmas. He is planting a church in North Little Rock, AR; you can find out more about it here: He also has a blog, A Sprig of Hope, found here.


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Come Lord Jesus (or How the Nativity Foreshadows the Eschatological Throne Scene)

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. Coming from zero church background until I was 21 and then being limited to Southern Baptist life, the season of Advent is in many ways a new discovery for me. If you are in the same boat, a brief background concerning Advent may be in order. Advent is Latin for “coming” and is a season of anticipation that both reflects the waiting of the Jews (and all creation) for the Messiah and looks ahead to the second coming (Advent) of Christ. This is observed through various liturgical methods such as the lighting of candles.

My family has decided to observe Advent this year, in hopes of creating godly traditions for ourselves and Mary Grace. While we will be lighting candles, we also did not want to be merely ritualistic in our practice. So, I have been meditating on what it means to long for the return of Christ and to reflect on the importance of his Incarnation.

Initially I have been convicted by passages that speak of Israel’s rejection of Christ when He came. John 1:11 says “…his own people did not accept him.” When the Magi seek out Jesus by inquiring of Herod about the location of the “King of the Jews,” Matthew 2:3 says that Herod “…was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” The very people who were so desperate for a Messiah, a deliverer, simply did not want Him when He came. I’m not sure why, perhaps is was how He came or how He would die. He was not what they expected in any way, so they rejected Him in every way.

I say these passages have convicted me, because I do not always long for Christ’s return. Like most young men, I have my whole life ahead of me; I want to climb mountains, travel, write books, attend my daughters initiation as a nun (or her wedding); basically, I want to live life. I’m just not ready for Heaven, at least not yet.

But perhaps the abundance of my American living has blinded me to the cruelty of this age. Perhaps I need to open the paper and read about mothers selling their 5 year-old daughters to be sex slaves only to have them raped and murdered. I need to remember my friends who have suffered from crippling diseases. I need to remember that this world needed redemption. It needs a Savior to come and set things right. A Messiah to free the captives, heal the sick, and lift up the oppressed. We need our Lord Jesus to come.

And yet, I wonder if those who say they are waiting will like what they see when He does in fact return. Will we want the evil in us removed? Will we like that not only the 5 year-old girl is set free but just maybe her murderer will be too? Will we still accept our Savior if He doesn’t meet our expectations? Will we be like Jerusalem?

Yet conviction is a lovely thing in that it leads to repentance and that leads to restoration. At Chapel, God began to reveal to me why deep down, I do eagerly await His arrival. Across the way from me was an older man, you know the type: members-only jacket, comb over, mustache, black socks and sandals; he had his eyes closed, hands extended, face turned upwards, swaying and singing his heart out to Jesus. Right beside him was the Seminary president, all prim in his perfect suit with his neatly trimmed beard. And with dignity he too sang the same words to the same God with the same devotion.

I turned from this scene to observe to Nativity set up in front of the pulpit. In it I saw extreme opposites brought together for one thing, to worship Jesus: the stench of animal dung mingled with the sweet aroma of Frankincense and myrrh, dirt and gold, kings and shepherds, donkeys and angels, all gathered around the crying, helpless, supremely weak Creator of the Universe. Truly ALL creation was on hand to praise the humble king.

I was instantly brought to the throne scene from Revelation, when every tribe, nation, and tongue is praising the lamb who was slain. As I wept, I joined the president, the old man, the angels, and the shepherds singing “Come Lord Jesus, Come!” Come Lord, indeed!

May this Advent season reignite our passions for our Lord. May it increase our resolve to be about His business while He is away: loving, witnessing, sharing, and sacrificing. May this Advent season leave us singing with all the conviction in the world, “Come Lord Jesus, come!”

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. This reflection is nearly two years old and he is grateful for how Advent has become apart of his family’s rhythms. He has grown in anticipation of Christ’s return mainly because he has grown in suffering. You can read his new Advent reflections at his blog, A Sprig of Hope, by clicking here.

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Good Gravy

Mary Grace likes home-made Apple Butter

I was listening to NPR on the way home from work the other day.  They were sharing a piece about soul-food.  In one of the interviews, a young man told of how he asked his granddaddy for his gumbo recipe, to which his granddaddy responded, “boy, there ain’t no recipe, now get in this kitchen and watch me make it.”

I could not help but smile, what a beautiful picture of what soul-food is all about.  Food for the soul must be born in the soul, not on an index card.

We’ve all seen this phenomenon first hand, that even when we follow aunt Betty’s recipe exactly, the results just aren’t quite the same.  We come up with excuses, blaming the altitude or the insufficient seasoning on our cast-iron skillet, but the only real excuse, and I really do believe this, is that it is missing the love.

When I go see my aunt Betty, she always makes me gravy and biscuits.  These are things of legends.  Every time either my brother or I are in Arkansas without the other, we will call each other up and rub it in that we had aunt Betty’s biscuits and gravy.  I have been eating this meal my whole life and yet I struggle to make gravy at all, let alone such wonderful grub as aunt Betty’s.

I’ve been watching her, trying to learn her secrets, but she always “eyeballs” the ingredients and evidently my eyeballs don’t work as well as hers.  Aunt Betty usually fusses over the thickness or saltiness, but no matter what, that is always some good gravy.  It is made with love, as she stirs with her wooden spoon, she gives herself to this act of creating because she loves me and you can literally taste it.

Perhaps it is this way with all our creative acts.  That if we try to recreate what another has done, no matter how good the original, the end result is simply left lacking.  This doesn’t mean we don’t learn from those before. No, we get in that kitchen and watch them work.  And we learn, if we are lucky, that the secret ingredient is not some exotic spice but a charitable heart, a passion to make the world a better place, even if only one biscuit at a time.  I am a witness that a single act of creating soul-food can change a person.

Although my aunt Betty never misses an opportunity to tell me she loves me, I hear her the loudest at the dinner table.  I taste the truth of these words in her gravy and it oh so sweet.  I only pray that I will be so brave when I put my hands to work, that I will not seek to imitate, but to love; and that is how I would best honor Aunt Betty.  Not by trying to recreate her food, but by giving myself to something in such a way, that perhaps it just might change the world, that it just might be real soul-food.

This is a re-post of a blog Michael wrote earlier this year, but in light of the coming gravy on Thanksgiving, he thought we might need the inspiration. Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday, but its not the same without Aunt Betty. Michael is cooking the Turkey this year with his family in Colorado. He writes a blog, A Sprig of Hope, which you can read by clicking here.


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