What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Day in the Life of an Urbana Student

8:30-10:00 Scripture Study in Ephesians with 100 to 1,600 of your closest friends

10:45-12:30 Plenary Session including worship, dramas, videos, and Scripture exposition

12:30 Lunch-22,000 people descend on a couple hundred restaurants in the downtown area. Holy wait times, Batman.

2:00 & 4:00 Two Optional Seminar time slots-50-plus different seminars on topics ranging from 'Dance Workshop: Dance & Social Justice' to 'Reaching Hindus for the Gospel.'

Also during the afternoon there's the 'Global Connexions' exhibit hall--literally hundreds of missions agencies with rep's ready to talk to students interested in missions. Everybody's here, from Salvation Army to Food for the Hungry.

5:30-7:00 Feeding the 22,000 in four fun shifts of 5,000 each.

7:30-9:30 Night Plenary Session. Another session packed with worship, videos, testimonies from missionaries around the world, and some of the most powerful main speakers I've ever heard: Bono spoke a pre-recorded message last night, Rick Warren is speaking tonight. Most everything is available on line at www.urbana.org

Friday, December 29, 2006

Urbana Quote o' The Day

>From Ajith Fernando, National Director for Youth for Christ, Colombo, Sri Lanka:

Grace frees us up to live in humility. This frees us up to lift others up rather than advance ourselves. It is a happy way to live when other people are not a threat to me.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Checking In from Urbana

Every three years we cut Christmas a little short to participate in InterVarsity's Urbana conference. For the first time since the 1940's we're test-driving a new location in St. Louis. I got here yesterday, students are arriving today with the first session starting tonight.

If you're one of those praying types (and you know who you are) please pray for the over 22,000 people who will be here for the next four days to experience God's heart for the world--40 of them will be UNC students. This is a missions conference, calling people to consider the need globally for a global God who brings physical, emotional, and spiritual healing to poor and rich alike. To learn more about Urbana, check out www.urbana.org.

I'll try to post some while I'm here about the cool stuff happening here.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

More of What Christmas Ain't

Okay, so one more post...

What secular, humanistic Christmas does is disembody what were originally Christian concepts linked to God Himself. Words like love, peace and joy are ripped from their original contexts by early humanists who, like most Western philosophies developed over the past several hundred years, were both reacting against and borrowing from Christianity.

The point in its' modern application is to try to retain "the good stuff" without the scandal of particularity. After all, it isn't only Christians who want peace, love, and joy.

The problem, of course, then becomes one of definitions. Peace means mighty different things to the people on the two sides of the conflict in Gaza. Joy is defined differently by the stoic and the hedonist.

What secular humanism has done by attempting to remove the scandal of particularity has simply imposed new problems--that of parochialism, each of us defining the terms as we like. This would seem to defeat the original purpose of the universal good.

In Christianity we proclaim that there is no disembodied virtue. There is no such thing as theoretical peace, theoretical love, and theoretical joy. The Word has become flesh and made His dwelling among us. What is peace? Look at Jesus. What is joy? Look to Jesus. What is love? We see it in the Christ.

And so again we see that secular humanism Christmas misses the point entirely. The injunction for us to seek peace can only find its' proper hope anchored in the reality that Peace has already come to get us. Love and Joy have done the same. This is what we celebrate at Christmas--not our own meager attempts at moving towards hypothetical ideals but in these ideals becoming Human and coming to get us.

And so yes, we must press on with all our might into love, joy, and peace. But as Christians we do so deeply rooted in the reality that love, joy, and peace has already come to get us, live and in the flesh. And that's worth celebrating.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas to All!

Just wanted to shout-out a very Merry Christmas to everyone. I'll be in and out of the blogosphere over the course of the next week with travels and such.

In the mean time, have a very merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What Christmas Ain't

I don't think that we need the secular, commercial world to "keep Christ in Christmas" (see my December 30, 2005 post on that). But I do think that as secularism tries to take control of Christmas that it's important for Christians to be able to recognize and articulate the differences between the Christian message of Christmas and the secular (usually humanisitic) message of Christmas.

Incidentally, I think that it's important to see that as we discuss moving from a Christian view of Christmas to a secular view of Christmas, we are not moving from a 'biased' world view to an 'un-biased' or neutral world view. Every world view has bias, every world view has certain suppositions that may or may not be founded in the Truth and Reality that has made us and redeemed us. Our culture would have us to believe that Christianity is a certain spin on the world while secularism has no spin whatsoever. This is a total lie.

The biggest difference that I have perceived over the past several years as I've thought about the difference between the secular humanist Christmas and Christian Christmas is that secularism would have Christmas to be about the triumph of the hope of humanity. With secular Christmas we look for peace on earth, good will to everyone, maybe this year we can all finally get along. It is about warm-fuzzies and the celebration of our one, shared humanity. And the hope is that as we recognize this one humanity, we can all forge ahead together for a better future for everyone.

Now, I'm all for peace on earth. I'm all for everyone getting along. I'm all for warm fuzzies about our shared humanity. But this is a total gutting of the Christian story of Christmas. The Christian story is emphatically NOT about the hope that we can all get along in our humanity. It is both radically contrary to our humanity and at the same time it is radically more affirming of our humanity than the secular story.

It is contrary to the warm-fuzzy secular Christmas story in that it in God coming to rescue us, we are exposed as a human race as utter failures. There is no sign of any hope that in and of ourselves we can ever come to the place of shared peace. God has to intervene because left to our own devices, we are stuck in hatred for one another and towards God. If God does not come to get us, we are forever and always dead--dead humanity walking. All of this in spite of (and indeed, often because of) our best efforts.

And at the same time the Christian Christmas story is infinitely more affirming of our humanity than the secular Christmas story because of the power and wonder of incarnation. God has seen fit to take on human flesh. He comes to get us not as disembodied spirit but as a person. A man. A baby. Born in a particular po-dunk town, to particular poor parents, to change the world forever. God takes on flesh to redeem all flesh. God becomes human to roll back the curse on our humanity that makes it impossible for us to save ourselves.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the whole secular Christmas story (at least to me) is that it will be preached in more than one "Christian" Christmas service this weekend. We must be vigilant in understanding the difference between these two stories of Christmas. To lose the actual Christmas story for a bastardized version of it would be to lose all the wonder of the brokenness and the redeemed-ness of our humanity.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Briefly about Happyness and Superman

I've only got time for a short post today, but for my wonderful wife's 32nd birthday last night we went to go see "The Pursuit of Happyness." We give it two thumbs up, but be prepared for lots of hard and sad stuff before you get to the "happyness" part.

Rented "Superman Returns" the other night: solid, but not spectacular.

Monday, December 18, 2006

About Boundaries

Last week I was meeting with a student who confessed that she was burnt-out from trying to serve everyone around her. She has strong mercy gifts and is studying to go into medicine, so she volunteers a lot at the children's hospital on top of being a slight study-a-holic.

I have mentioned in previous posts that when it comes to spiritual gifts, mercy is not one of mine. Few things exhaust me more than working some sort of spring break or weekend trip to do Habitat, serve a meal to the homeless or tutor a bunch of kids. Give me door-to-door evangelism in the 'hood (or, what's probably more risky, my own neighborhood) over serving people any day. This does not, of course, excuse me from doing those things, it just means that I'm not going to be super-energized when I do them. Jesus' spiritual gifts test probably would have scored very high in mercy...

So what the Lord does is He gives me great students like the woman I met with last week. She, by her very life, reminds me that the Lord has a special place in his heart for the poor and hurting. And I, being not overly-inclined that way, have perspective to help keep her healthy. And so this is what I told my slightly burnt-out, mercy over-achiever:

Jesus left people.

In Mark 1, at the very outset of Jesus' ministry, he heals a bunch of people. The next morning he goes out to a solitary place and prays. The freshly-recruited disciples form a search party, perhaps a bit concerned that their meal-ticket has disappeared. When they find him, they say to Jesus, "Everyone is looking for you." Jesus response? "Let us go somewhere else."

Jesus did not heal every sick person. He did not feed every hungry person. He had boundaries. He said no.

Christmas time is a time for giving, and there's lots of folks lobbying and tugging at us to give to those in need. And we need to do so, Christians first and foremost.

But for those whose hearts are heavy with the cares and needs of the world, take heart: Jesus left people. You do not have to fix everything. You cannot. There is a Messiah, you are not Him. All of us (mercy gifted or not) who follow Jesus Christ have work to do, good works that he has prepared in advance for us to do. We are to do those works, in step with the Holy Spirit. No more, no less. To do more serving than the Lord would have for you to do is (are you ready for this?) a sin. Ultimately you are deciding that it is up to you to be God, both in your own life and in the lives of the people that you are trying to serve.

And so sometimes that means that you leave good things undone. Thank goodness! We are allowed to be freed from the tyranny of the infinite number of needs in our world to serve first and foremost a loving and gracious God.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

On A More Serious Note...

My post from Tuesday, "Continuity and Discontinuity," got a nice response from Royale that he had a hard time posting so he e-mailed it to me. I copied and pasted it for him in the comments. My response to him below that is my last post for the week.

A couple things to wrap-up the week:

*My local cheesy all-Christmas radio station is Sunny 93.9, not Lite 98--that was my old cheesy Christmas station in Richmond!

*Went back to the doctor today to get the x-ray on my wrist--turns out it was broken worse than we initially thought. The first x-ray looked like a pretty sissy break, this x-ray showed that there was definitely a hairline-crack across the whole bone. It's healing, but it's still not 100%. More of this splint for me, at least through the holidays. He said that if the x-ray had showed this degree of a break, he would have given me a cool, sign-here cast for sure...sigh....

Have a great weekend!

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

So I assume that wherever you're checking in from, most likely you have a radio station in your area that plays Christmas music starting around Thanksgiving (or Halloween or the 4th of July or St. Patrick's Day) until Christmas day. Here in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area, we've got Lite (why is it always misspelled like that for radio stations?) 98. And, being the gushy, sentimental, hopelessly romantic slop that I am, I've been listening to it in the car and sometimes when I'm working in the office.

There's one song that I would like to formally lodge a complaint against: Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas. At the outset it seems like your typical Americana/Christmas fare: campy, overly-repetitive lyrics, cutesy, and short. But there's a phrase nestled in there that will sneak past you if you aren't paying attention:

"Ho, ho, the mistletoe, hung where you can see
Somebody waits for you, kiss her once for me."

Okay, so "no taxation without representation" is foundation to our American government/the American way of life. Substitutionary atonement--the idea that Jesus died in our place to pay for our sin--is foundational to Christian faith. But representational, substitutionary kissing is not cool. It's creepy. There's no kissing someone for somebody else. It's just oogy.

Good people I implore you, please: join with me in alerting everyone you know to the dangers of "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," with it's sleezy voyeurism, and unforgiveable old-man creepiness, and make everyone's holiday a little more jolly indeed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Continuity and Discontinuity

So most of you probably have lives and didn't notice, but last week there was a raging debate between my old friend/antagonist Royale and Wonders for Oyarsa (with me occassionally chiming in) on my November 17th post "The Purpose of Purity." In the course of the conversation, Royale misquoted me (or at least I don't think I ever said this) that we shouldn't second-guess Christian tradition.

Like I said, I don't think I said that, but it raises a pretty significant issue for Christians: what is the role of church tradition and history? Or to put it another way, how do we understand the role of continuity with our past and the role and importance of discontinuity?

It seems to me that this was very much the hot topic for the New Testament church--how "Old Testament" did they need to be? Galatians is all about this, really. And it's significant that Paul makes a case for some degree of discontinuity based largely on the teachings of the OT itself, NOT because he's so much more enlightened now than silly old Abraham was several thousand years ago.

Martin Luther made similar arguments in his Reformation. He argued not based on current enlightenment but rather on the Scriptures themselves and what they taught.

And so today I think we're responsible to do the same thing. We cannot simply accept all church tradition as sacrosanct. But at the same time, we must recognize that this whole Christianity thing has been a mighty and powerful force throughout history and it is not simply up to us to "gut out" the parts that we feel uncomfortable with or happen not to like. The temptation to do this is perennial--it goes back to the garden's lie that "you will be like God." We all basically would rather be God or at least make God into our own image.

There is always a push-pull here: submission to what is being taught is a requirement of faith, but we are not supposed to check our brains at the door and ignore the things that seem to not quite add up. William Wilberforce was a great example of this as he led a Christian fight to end the slave trade against other Christians who argued that Scripture either upheld slavery or at the least didn't condemn it.

When Royale argues that 2,000 years of relentlessly consistent Christian interpretation of sexual purity is wrong based on what he claims to know about the culture of the time, I find myself dismissing it pretty quickly and easily--my guess is that the earliest church fathers who were just a short while removed from the original writing of these texts knew better than we do now what the cultural implications of sexual purity were and were able to make a more accurate interpretation of what was meant. And besides, if you're going to "make up" an interpretation, why not make up one that's more favorable both to our own biological and sensual inclinations as well as more popular among the people that you're trying to convert? The Christian sexual ethic has never won us many friends.

But I must confess that I think author N.T. Wright's "New Perspective on Paul" may be a helpful corrective to much of the post-Reformation understanding of what Paul was arguing for and against. This makes me about as much a heretic in some circles as I find Royale to be in his questioning of the Christian sexual ethic!

So how do I decide which teachings I'll re-evaluate and which ones I won't? I think we have to be relentlessly honest with ourselves about our motives--why don't I agree with/like this particular teaching of the church? Is it just inconvenient for me? Am I simply caving into what the culture teaches me? Does it strike me as unjust or unfair? Does it seem to go against other teachings of the Scriptures? Here again, I think that community is important--and not just to surround ourselves with people who will agree with us, especially if we tend to be cynical anyway. Cynics love to clump together and affirm one another in our cynicism.

In the end, all must be done with great humility, care, wisdom and love. And some mysteries will indeed never be answered. And so again, we are driven to prayer and dependence on God, which is exactly where he most often wants us.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Communion Bread in the Broken Hand

At the beginning of November, I had a major milestone in my life: I broke my first bone. While the venue for the first breakage was valiant and worthy (the ultimate frisbee field) the actual events that transpired weren't (I missed the frisbee and put my left hand down to break my fall).

It's a small fracture, so I'm basically wearing a glorified splint until I go in for follow-up x-rays this Thursday. Totally stinks. My first break and I don't even get a cool cast for people to sign like all the kids got to do back in the day. And on top of that, I'm no longer in the club--I used to mock sissies like me who had broken bones. Now I'm one of the sissies.

One of the things that I'm really enjoying about our church/the more liturgical service is that we do communion every week. Even in the weeks where I struggle to engage with the readings (as I did yesterday), communion almost always speaks to me in a unique way. We go up to the front to receive the elements: bread and then wine or juice that we either drink from the common cup or dip the bread into.

You can tell I'm a rookie, I'm definitely a dipper. Germs dude.

It's been powerful for me over the past couple weeks has been to walk up front to receive the bread with a broken hand. Here's the "bread of life" being received by an imperfect, broken appendage.

It reminds me what communion's all about: a feast not for the perfect but for the broken. Life is offered to me not because I'm so polished or together but precisely the opposite: because I'm largely a disaster. Some weeks I feel more disastrous than others, but regardless the truth of the matter is that I need something (or Someone) outside of myself to intersect my life or else I'm stuck...stuck with a permanently broken life, as symbolized by this broken wrist.

So if you're still in the "no broken bones" club, you're totally missing out.

Friday, December 08, 2006


So one of the things about being at a more liturgical church is that we actually celebrate the church calendar, something that I've not paid more than token attention to through out the years.

Right now, obviously, I'm learning about Advent. We used to do the obligatory lighting of the candles in my Southern Baptist church growing up. But this past Sunday our pastor talked about Advent being about a time of yearning for Christ's return more than a preparation for the celebration of his coming. Never really knew that before. And it makes realize that I'm a little skeptical.

This whole Christ's return thing is so shrouded in mystery that I tend to be agnostic about it. It'll happen, no one knows when or what it'll look like (no, not even all you "Left Behind" series readers, so pipe down) and so I just sort of don't think about it.

In thinking about it this week, I realize that when I forfeit thinking about the return of Jesus, I forfeit a very strong anchor point of hope in my framework of faith. Without this certain hope of Christ's return to "make all things new," I'm more or less stuck with Life in the Ruins. To be sure, I see signs of redemption and renewal and transformation, but there's also tons of death, disappointment, frustration, sadness and failure.

Advent teaches me to long and to want something better. And it encourages me to not rush to "medicate" that longing with stuff or coffee or football or even blogging. The longing is there for a reason. The hope that I wait on is not yet fully realized or complete.

And so I sing "O come, o come Emmanuel" this Christmas season in a fresh way, with a fresh longing, and with a fresh hope. Christ has come. And He will come again. That's my final and ultimate hope.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Power of Reconciliation

The last couple weeks have been really, really hard--both on campus in my personal life. So the Lord was good to give me this story last week to encourage me.

I was meeting with a sophomore woman for the first time who was talking about how difficult this semester had been for her faith-wise. She was taking a class that made her question a lot of things and she had lost that emotional connection to the Lord. She had come to the point where she was intellectually doubting her faith and God seemed to have abandoned her--if He existed at all.

She was at our large group meeting in early November when I was speaking on Jesus commands regarding anger and reconciliation. As I spoke she realized that a high school relationship that had gone really, really bad had never really been cleaned up. Her former friend was at UNC, and she knew that she needed to go and be reconciled to her that night. She left the large group meeting and went and talked with her friend.

"It was really good," she told me. "It's not like we're best friends or anything, but it was cleansing and relieving to really close that out. The best part is that as soon as that was done, I had a real sense of God's presence in my life again. That un-reconciled relationship in my life was blocking my experience of God's work in my life and I didn't even know it!"

I'm not saying that everytime we struggle that it's because of sin in our lives. But I do think that struggles in our lives MIGHT be connected to sin in our lives. As grace-driven evangelicals (of which I'm a proud, card-carrying member most days) we often under-sell the effects of sin and miss out on the gracious and wonderful experience of repentance and healing that happens when we actually deal with sin.

And Jesus has particularly strong things to say about the value of being reconciled with one another. Got someone you need to be reconciled to? Jesus says to go and do it, even if it involves a long journey, then come and worship. I'll be praying that my Piebald Life friends will be reconciled in their relationships this Christmas...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More Genealogical Fun

I often stop whatever I'm doing in my daily times in Scripture in order to spend intentional time in the Christmas story at this time of year. Several years ago I was spending Christmas in Matthew and came across another glorious genealogy that the Lord used to speak to me.

Matthew is all about making sure his Jewish readers understand the link from Jesus to the historical roots of Israel and the promised Messiah. And so he starts his story in Matt. 1 with a long genealogy from Abraham to Jesus. Not exactly a riveting, attention-grabbing intro. But look at how Matthew summarizes this huge list of names:

17Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.

Abraham. David. Babylon. Christ. To quote the old Sesame Street song, one of these things is not like the other. Or to put it another way, Babylon has some preciously significant company.

Babylonian captivity is a dark period of time in Israel's history. It's like the family member you don't talk about at the reunions or those awkward junior high pictures that you hope no one ever sees. And yet here it is, prominently on display as an anchor point leading up to Messiah.

We spend much of our lives avoiding, downplaying, or trying to forget Babylon. But here we see that the God of the Redemptive Story redeems Babylon. He loves to write our Babylon's into his story. In fact, if we will let him, he will take our Babylon's and make it such that we are not only not ashamed of them, we might even be willing to give it a place of prominence, for all the world to see, as evidence of the power and glory of God.

As for me, I'm still learning to trust in that, which is why the junior high pictures are staying safely tucked away.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hot Springs in the Desert

I love the lists of genealogies in the Bible. There's almost always a little detail in the listing that God uses in my life to speak to me in some way. I'm motoring slowly through Genesis and last week I came upon just such a gloriously long list with names that I couldn't pronounce. And tucked away in Genesis 36 I briefly met a guy named Anah that God used to remind me of how he works.

The sons of Zibeon:
Aiah and Anah. This is the Anah who discovered the hot springs in the desert while he was grazing the donkeys of his father Zibeon. (Gen. 36:24)

I confess that I do not know the exact function of hot springs in the desert, but I can venture a guess. Based on the fact that this discovery is recorded in the midst of a long list of people who get no commentary at all, I think it's safe to say that the discovery of hot springs in the desert was fairly significant. Water of any type in the desert would bring blessing to human life and would open up opportunities for economic development (i.e. caring for animals as well as possibly agriculture). What a discovery! And what a crazy (and rather dull) way to discover it!

I find that I often want or need hot springs in different parts of my life. Right now, I could use some hot springs for my work on campus--some fresh energy, a new discovery, some new thing that would spark dynamic growth and transformation. At other times, I've needed new energy for my family. Still at other times, I've felt flat in my relationship with the Lord and wanted some hot springs discovery to propel me to new places in my walk.

How I want to get those hot springs is for the Lord to magically deliver them. What Anah reminds me is that the Lord is most often good to give us hot springs in the course of doing what we know we need to be doing. God gives us good work to do and he promises that he will be there in the midst of that work. There are times when he comes out of no where to give us a tremendous gift of grace that we weren't expecting (Christmas comes to mind as one of those times). But most often, the hot springs that we long for are to be discovered in the every-day-ness of taking our father's donkeys out to graze.

Perhaps we find this boring. God does not. He seems to find work a good thing, and he seems to delight in surprising us with great grace in the midst of, rather than apart from, the good work of every day life that he has given us to do.

Speaking of hot springs, if you've discovered hot springs this year or oil in the backyard or just need to do some year-end tax-deductible giving, head on over to www.intervarsity.org/donate and you can make a contribution on-line towards my work on campus--and here in the blogosphere! Designate your gift towards the work of Alex Kirk. Thanks!

Thursday, November 30, 2006


I've been thinking about what Jesus has to say about anger, specifically the part about names: "anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Matt 5:22).

I think one reason why Jesus specifically talks here about names is this: new names stick. Ever have someone give you an unwanted nickname that hung around for years? Ever have someone call you a name that cut so deep and hard and meets or confirms so many of your deepest and worst fears that you think you're going to die? Ever find yourself thinking on that name over and over and over again?

Because we're fallen creatures, our souls ache for clean starts. We long for new names. And so when we are handed new names from the people around us, most of us tend to believe them. It fills the void that we know we have, this need to be re-named.

"To him who overcomes, I will...give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." This is the promise of Revelation 2:17. And I think this is why Jesus talks specifically about name-calling in his rant on anger.

Jesus is jealous for our new name. Jesus knows that we are fallen creatures longing for new names and He is adamant that only He will be the one to give it to us. Our new name is His to give and His alone. All other names, nicknames, and titles must either submit and point to our true, new name, or they will be burned away. Our God is a consuming fire.

Jesus is jealous for your new name. All the names you've imbibed along the way must will be tried according to the real new name that Jesus has for you when it's all over.

And the names that have been given to you that cause you to walk with a limp? The names that make you cringe inwardly upon recollecting the moment you received it? The name that you fear is most true about you? The name that you wonder and worry about and that causes you to operate in fear and anxiety in your relationships? That name is not your new name. You are free to let that go, to hand it over to Jesus, to allow Him to be your new name giver.

There is only one last word on who you and I are. It is decisive, it is holy, it is loving-kindness, it is passionate for our good. We are free to shake off all other names until the final one is given to us in Christ. And that's good news.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

In Defense of Corporate Worship Part 2

Really, the primary reason I find that people pro-actively leave the church or decide against "organized religion" (ever seen that phrase used in a positive context?) is because of a sin issue--some event in their church (i.e. a nasty church split) or in the church at large (i.e. the Catholic abuse scandal) pushes them over the edge. If this is how it is in the church, who needs it?

On the one hand, I've got tons of sympathy for this. Sin in the church has eternally damaging effects. James says that teachers will be judged more harshly--I think that this is because of the obvious reality that what happens in the church affects people, sometimes horrifically. And when something bad goes down in a church, often the worst and most silent victims are the kids. Jesus has some harsh things to say about people who cause little ones to stumble.

But on the other hand, I ask you to consider that the entire Christian premise is based around these core concepts:

a) God is good.
b) People are not.
c) Therefore, people are in need of some type of remedy or healing or fix or else the whole lot of us goes to pot.
d) Therefore, Merry Christmas and Happy Easter. Redemption and forgiveness is offered in Christ who comes, dies, and rises again. And it's worked out in our lives over time in our relationships with one another and in the hearts and lives of believers.

The church is the first place where we have to live out the gospel of forgiveness and grace to one another, not the last place.

If our operating supposition is that people are not good, why are we so shocked that sin happens in the church? The church is the first place where the Spirit must actually apply and work out this gospel of healing, restoration, and hope in the midst of brokenness.

This is process of speaking truth and offering grace and forgiveness is true for folks who choose to live in disobedience. This process must also be at work for those who are shocked and appalled by people in power who abuse that power in their mis-handling of those who are in disobedience. Grace and sin are both fundamental to the Christian message. Why are we shocked that we should be required to rely on the one and deal with the other in Christian community?

The Christian church has always been something of a disaster. Nearly the entire New Testament was written because there were problems in the early churches that needed to be dealt with. And yet the love of Christ for His Church universal is consistently and constantly repeated and hammered home.

And so, my post-churched friends, I invite you to re-consider the realities of sin and grace as you think about your attitudes towards the church. And for those of us who can get discouraged on nearly a weekly basis about something going on somewhere in the church community, we need to be sobered by the twin realities of sin and grace at work in the church...and the hope that we cling to that grace and redemption wins in the end.

Monday, November 27, 2006

In Defense of Corporate Worship: Part 1

Last week my old friend Bonnie commented on my post about worship. While she herself didn't go quite this far, the objections and issues she raises are ones that I hear all the time: why do I need church or "organized religion" to worship God? Can't I do that anywhere? In fact, I often do meet God better elsewhere (in nature, for example). I get these questions most often from post-churched people--folks who have spent some time in church, most often growing up, but have stopped attending for a variety of reasons.

What I want to do in the next couple of days is lay out my argument for why I think the gathering together of people in intentional community (i.e. "organized religion") is essential. I'll be talking first to those post-churched among you, hoping that you might find these reasons at least worth considering, and secondly to the churched ones as well, because most of us have no clue why we we're there on Sunday mornings.

And since most of you, whether you're post-churched or currently churched, know what the Bible has to say about the issue (that you should go to church, dangit, see Hebrews 10:25), I'll press beyond the "because the Bible says so" argument and lay out why I think the Bible says so.

Everyone worships something. To be alive is to find something or some combination of things supremely valuable and worthy of your affection and life-orientation: the American dream, money, success, your own reflection in the mirror, family, good health, sex, nature, escapism, whatever. John Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories, and that is because to be alive is to worship.

We do not choose to worship (that happens apart from our choosing) but we do route our worship. Our hearts and minds are worship-routers. There is a current of worship that flows through our souls and it will be aimed at something.

The Christian story is ultimately about routing all that worship that's flowing 24/7 out of all the billions of people's lives on this planet around the Father, Son, Holy Spirit God. That's the work of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with His people.

The problem is that even for the Christian, our worship is at best mixed. We find ourselves all the time straying from the worship of God to the worship of all these other things. The word for this is syncretism, that is, the mixing of our worship of God alongside other gods that vie for our worship.

And so the weekly corporate worship gathering is all about the re-routing our worship. Each week we come together and as a community confess that our worship has been mis-directed. Each week we gather together to worship the True God and to have our false worship exposed. We gather to repent of false worship and to be called to true worship of the God Who Comes to Get Us. The entire service, not just the singing, is a worship service. In our singing as well as our receiving of the teaching as well as our giving our our moneys as well as in the experience of community together--in all of this, worship is being re-routed, pruned, cleansed, re-directed to the One Place where our deepest worship longings meets the only Resource large enough to fill us.

To be sure, gathering together in weekly corporate worship does not guarantee that syncretism will no longer happen. Some churches and communities do this worship re-directing work more faithfully than others. But without this weekly work, you are almost assuredly guaranteed to be worshipping at many of the wrong places.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Learning to Worship

I appreciated the comments from yesterday's post--particularly on the necessity of the liturgy being well-taught. I think that this is critical in any worship environment. We were made to worship God. We all worship something else. Therefore, we all have to learn how to do this worship thing correctly. And so we must be taught how to correctly worship.

So many worship leaders love music, and even love to worship, but have no real idea how to teach people how to worship. I work with 18-22 year olds. All they know is how to attend a concert. Few know how to worship. I'm constantly exhorting every worship leader I work with: please teach us how to worship!

This desperate need we have to be taught how to worship is true not just for college students. Nor is it only true in liturgical settings. The dangers of dead formalism of high-church liturgy is matched by the equal and opposite danger of a worship of emotions and emotionalism that can occur in more charismatic settings that is matched by the dangers of the worship of "a cool guy with a guitar" that can happen in evangelical more relaxed settings that is matched by the enthronement of hymns as the only way God gave us to worship that can occur in more traditionalist settings.

All of these traditions have strengths, good things to offer. And all of them can go terribly, terribly wrong. Especially if no one ever bothers to teach the congregation how to use these tools as an instrument of genuine worship.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thinking About the Work of the People

After several months at a great, large non-denominational church in the area, Kelly and I have been visiting a smaller church plant called All Saints, an Anglican Mission in America Church. My guess is that we'll join very soon.

The biggest change for me is the liturgical nature of the worship service. We recite the creeds each week, take communion each week, kneel (or sit) at certain times in prayer. There's lots and lots of reading, lots and lots of words.

In my old age, I'm really enjoying much of it. I especially appreciate communion each week. It anchors me in the core reality that informs all of my life, or at least should: Christ died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

However at points the amount of words and reading and recitation that we do gets to me. Liturgy literally means "work of the people." It's pretty clear that this "work of the people" service has been developed over the past several hundred years by over-educated white guys who really liked words. A lot.

Now as an over-educated white guy myself, I can really appreciate the power of the liturgy. Especially in light of my systematic theology professor's deep appreciation for the historical creeds--I learned to see the beauty and power of what's been handed down.

But ere's my primary issue to this point: if you are illiterate or just struggle to read, you are de facto un-invited into worship. So we're working through the Sermon on the Mount in the Scriptures and the reality is that the type of people Jesus was mostly talking to in giving that powerful address would feel extremely uncomfortable in our worship service.

Does this mean that we simply "chuck" several thousand years of rich Christian tradition? Does that mean that lowest-common-denominator should dictate what we do or don't do in worship? I don't think so. But does that mean that we just do what we do and ignore the needs of the people that Jesus spent most of his time with? I don't think that, either. Where does that leave us? Beats the heck out of me.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Purpose of Purity

Last week at our large group we had a fantastic speaker--she was talking about sex and sexual purity. One of her main points was that God places us in the context of community and that everything about our lives as Christians is supposed to bless the community that God has put us in--both those who are Christians and those who are not.

So the purpose of sexual purity is not simply to make ourselves as pure as we possibly can be. It's not just so that we feel holy and can feel good about ourselves befor God. Nor is purity intended to give us a position from which we can look around at everyone else's unholiness with disdain and scorn. The purpose of sexual purity is so that we will learn to look at others the way that Jesus sees them. The purpose of sexual purity is so that we will learn to see others not as sexual commodities but as image-bearers. The more we unhealthily indulge our sexual appetites outside of God's design, the more we feed the beast in us that wants to make others something that they are not.

Our purity, then, is to be a blessing to all those around us, not a curse, not something to beat others up with or to give us moral leverage on them. If as Christians we truly pursued purity and holiness in every area of our lives in this way, I wonder how different the world would be.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The First Real Test of the Gospel

And so for many (but certainly not all) of us, the first and most consistent test of the reality of the gospel at work in our lives is this: the ability to forgive (and not excuse) ourselves.

Martin Luther once heard about a pastor who was wrecked with regret over something that had happened in his parish that he had a hand in. He could not forgive himself. And so Luther wrote him these words of wisdom which I will render as nearly as I can remember them: "You would prefer to be a painted [i.e. not real] sinner and to have a painted Savior. Alas for the good news: that you are a real sinner and He, a real Savior."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Forgiving v. Excusing

I'm often re-captivated by C.S. Lewis' distinction between excusing and forgiving, so please bear with me if I've blogged on this before--I've been thinking about a fresh application of it this week.

Lewis points out that excusing a wrong is to accept that circumstances made it difficult if not impossible for a person to behave otherwise. Excusing minimizes the action and the pain caused by finding an alternate reason for a behavior that would often be extremely and deeply hurtful were it to come out that it was done maliciously.

Forgiving, on the other hand, looks wrong straight in the eye and assigns full responsibility to the one who has done the action and then fully forgives it anyway. Forgiveness is costly. It recognizes pain and wrong-doing to a qualitatively different degree.

It struck me this week that I am quick to excuse myself for wrongs that I have done. In fact, I'm also quick (or at least quick-er) to excuse other people for things they have done to me. Failing that, however, genuine forgiveness is much harder to offer either to others or to myself. It is easier to find excuse than to extend forgiveness. Forgiveness requires too much of me.

And as I've considered this, it struck me that God does quite the opposite. God is much slower to excuse us for wrong that we have done--in fact he refuses to let us off the hook in all but the most extreme cases. God rarely excuses wrong. What he does instead is forgive. He forgives recklessly and at great cost to himself. He forgives repeatedly. He forgives early in the morning and he forgives late into the night.

God, in his infinite mercy, forgives rather than excuses in order that we might have genuine intimacy with himself. God's forgiveness invites us into full reconciliation with himself.

And it makes me wonder about my own patterns of forgiving and excusing--what if forgiveness, rather than excusing, genuinely marked the end of more of my conflicts and small slights and deep hurts?

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Cross Meets our Inner-Fears

Last week I was meeting with a very capable and gifted student who was struggling with paralyzing self-doubt. He was afraid to take risks because he was afraid he might fall short, be exposed as a failure.

Most often in a situation like this conversation, the response of the listener is to tally up as many happy thoughts about the poor struggler as we can possibly muster. We might even exagerate a little bit to bolster their confidence and help move them past their fear. Let me suggest to you that the reality of the cross suggests quite a different response.

The reality of the cross--the historical fact that God had to come and die for you an for me--confirms every worst fear about ourselves. We are in fact failures. We are, in fact, incapable of measuring up, or overcoming our biggest obstacles, or of being accepted by others and God. The cross takes all our attempts of living a life filled by shallow pretenses and props and exposes them for what they are: a sham. All of our worst fears about ourselves are exposed and confirmed at the cross.

But the good news is that because of the empty tomb, none of that really matters any more.

We spend most of our lives living as if the cross didn't really happen, as if it didn't expose us to be real sinners with real brokenness. Occassionally we come face to face with reality but then we become paralyzed by it, undone by who we really are. In so doing we live as if the resurrection had never happened.

But the reality is that in this new Kingdom economy, the cross exposes us as failures and the empty tomb offers us a new way of life where that no longer matters. Your life is no longer contingent on your competency or ability. You died. And your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, you will also appear with him in glory. (that's straight-up out of Colossians 3).

So we've been exposed as miserable failures--what a relief to not have to pretend any more! And even better, we've been offered a completely new way of life that is no longer contingent on the old economy of performance, failure, or personal abilities. Those things still matter, but they are no longer the epicenter of our reality.

That's the good news of the gospel as it applies to our deepest inner fears, self-doubt, and struggle. Attempts at re-propping each other up with lists of positive attributes, however well-intentioned, will only result in yet another fall in the near future--it still leaves us condemned to live out a value system that we can't possibly 'win' in. The cross and empty tomb are real strong medicine for broken and messy people. It re-aligns us with a hope that is permanent and an entirely new way of thinking and life that frees us to live as we truly are--warts and all.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cynical Thoughts

My sophomore year of college I was at an IV meeting when I made a smart remark (shocking!) that I don't now recollect. What I do remember was that a senior named Grant Hoffman, the virtual pinnacle of spiritual Goliath-ness in our community at the time, looked right at me and said, "Cynicism is a sin, you know."

If it had been anyone else, I would have told them to shut up. But it was Grant Hoffman, for crying out loud, so I still remember it to this day.

Cynicism is a sin. It is lazy and fearful. It is arrogant. It is fossilized skepticism. It is permanent defensiveness. It always distrusts. It is perpetually wary. It is self-indulgent. It is all about self-protection and fear--if I'm cynical then I can't be hurt, no one can touch me. Ultimately cynicism is isolation and death as distrust and the cynical protective wall cut us off from the life of the community that we were designed to gladly and freely participate in.

And it's more or less the default posture of much of our culture.

In thinking about the above desription of cynicism, the contrast that came to mind was the Biblical picture of love: patient, kind, not envious, not boasting, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeping no record of wrongs.

Cynicism cuts us off from the source of real life. A heart and mind saturated in cynicism cannot bear the fruit of the Spirit. Ultimately, the cynical heart simply becomes more and more cynical. It is cut off from all joy.

I know of a journalist who went to the satirical newspaper "The Onion" to do a story. The Onion is the world-wide leader in snarky, cynical news writing. The person doing the story sat in on a brainstorming discussion about "stories" they were going to write up and they expected it to be absolutely hilarious. But instead it was dead-silent serious. Everyone had grown so cynical they were no longer able to enjoy even their own jokes. There was no true joy in their work. Nothing was truly funny any more.

This is the high cost of cynicism in our hearts and lives. It is a sin, you know, and for very, very good reason.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Separating the Saints from the Cynics

It's been kind of a tough stretch for me recently.

On campus, a phenomenal August/September was followed up by a tired and flat October. I lost a sense of the bigger picture of what I was doing on campus. Our ministry was less creative and less engaging of the campus. I just found out today that a couple really great guys from our New Student Retreat left our ministry during our blah October to be a part of another fellowship. Our chapter retreat was great but our numbers were lower than I hoped (115) given our fabulous New Student Retreat (102 new students), further making me question the long-term results of all our work in August and September.

At home, Davis is fighting strep thoat, which makes it something like the eight-thousandth bug that one of the two kids have had since October 1. We've had a handyman team here for the past three days replacing our master shower that was basically rotting out because it was poorly installed. All in all over the past fifteen months we've spent over $9,000 in auto and home repair. Given that we don't have much margin each month and we want for Kelly to stay home with the kids, I'm starting to stress out as the savings are vaporizing.

And I'm just generally tired...a little spent after a full fall.

As I was whining to my good friend Marshall yesterday on the phone about all my woes, he asked me a question that made me stop and think: "What do you think God is trying to tell you in the midst of all of this?" I had to admit that I'd been skimming the surface of my relationship with God too much to have even given this a passing thought. But I think that this is the question that separates the saints from the cynics.

I'm not sure that I've come up with any stellar answers in the past 29 hours since he asked me that question, but I do feel like I'm starting to at least ask a better question.

On a completely un-related note, if you're surfing on-line and have a second, check out my latest blog link to the right, Redeeming Prufrock, by a UNC student who graduated last year. He's got some great posts and it's my new favorite blog to hit up.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Chapter Retreat Highlights

I'm still a bit sleep-deprived two days after getting back from my chapter retreat, but here are a few highlights:

-The unique thing about UNC's chapter retreat is that it is almost entirely student-led, run by seniors who plan the schedule and lead worship. But it is the seniors who give testimonies about God's work in their lives during their time in college that year in and year out have tremendous impact. This year I was especially moved and proud of the seniors who shared. Their willingess to be both raw about the hard stuff (like faith doubts, struggles in relationships, depression, hard family stuff, and the like) as well as their commitment to be deeply glad about the ways that God had redeemed that hard stuff--or the hope that they had that he would do so eventually. Collectively they struck that hard balance between being brutally honest about how hard things had been at points and how good God was in the midst of it. Their honesty and vulnerability really set us up well for...

-Saturday night is always the high-point of the weekend. We split up by men and women, sit in a circle and put an empty chair in the middle. We invite anyone who wants prayer to share what they need prayer for and then they move to the empty chair in the middle while we pray for them. Imagine 40 men and 70 women sitting in (different) rooms, confessing sin, sharing stuff they've never told anyone, asking for help with situations that they're in. It's powerful stuff. Bringing darkness out into the light is always transformational. For many of these students, they'll remember men's and women's prayer at chapter retreat for the rest of their lives as a high point of their college careers.

-Long after the praying was done on Saturday night, I was having a follow-up conversation with a student about what he had shared during men's prayer. Two more guys pulled up chairs. We began revelling in the glory days of the Saturday Night Live era of my day (Chris Farley was especially venerated). The conversation then shifted into questions of theology and personal conviction, of questions that don't have easy answers. It was 2:45 a.m. when we finally turned out all the lights and headed off to bed. It was one of those moments that reminds me why I love my job so much.

-Sunday morning, in my groggy state, I gave a talk about bringing the community that had been fostered over the course of the weekend back home to campus. I was able to share some of the thoughts from last week's post about Continuous Partial Relationships and the deep loneliness that so many of my students feel. They certainly resonated with that and I was encouraged to hear some of them process those things in the short celebration share time we had in the end.

All in all, a good weekend in the midst of a full semester. But what the heck am I doing still up? It's 8:45 and I'm off to bed.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Fighting Against CPR

So it's with this pandemic of continuous, partial relationships in mind that we're heading off this weekend with over 100 students to our annual chapter retreat. You can pray that heading out into the woods for several days and forcibly removing folks from connectivity might be a blessing that frees them to start to move towards authentic relationships.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Continuous Partial Relationships

Recently I was having a conversation with Jordan, a first-year IV staff that I'm privileged to train this year with IV at UNC. He told me about a book he read this summer describing the hyper-multi-tasking generation as having the problem of continuous partial attention. People are always trying to do so many things at once that no one ever focuses on anything any more. So the things that require absolute focus don't get done at all or get done sloppily.

As I'm hitting the mid-point of year number two back at UNC after a nine year hiatus, I'm seeing the same concept applied to these students' relationships. Every one is lonely. Every one feels isolated. Every one is hurting and wishing they had people in their lives to really walk alongside them. And yet everyone is surrounded by people with whom they have some small degree of depth.

This feeling in and of itself is nothing new. Poets and authors have long written of the ache of isolation, the deep and profound alone-ness that comes with being alive in a world that was intended to run on unbroken, perfect relationships but instead has been ruined by sin.

What is new about my students' experience of this deep, abiding ache is the number of people in orbit in their lives while they feel it. Technology keeps them "connected" via e-mail, cell phones and "friends" on Facebook. So they have literally hundreds or thousands of people super-saturating their lives at very shallow levels and absolutely no one that they actually invest the time in to have genuine relationships. Their lives are mostly marked by thin relationships that do not serve as genuine community.

Everyone has a push-pull with intimacy. We all desperately want it and we all fear it when it actually comes our way. The technological society has facilitated our ability to keep everyone at a "safe" distance away that then damns us to a life lived full of continuous, partial relationships.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Anger Management

So it's in light of the anger referenced in yesterday's post that drove four brave kids to do what they did that I'm trying to figure out how to talk about Jesus' warnings about anger when I speak this Thursday at our large group meeting. Here's the passage from Matthew 5:

21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Okay, so obviously anger is a dangerous thing and Jesus' warning here is stern and serious. But it's also true that Jesus gets really ticked off. And clearly there's an anger that motivated the Greensboro Four to do what they did that brought about justice. So what I want to do is warn against anger while carving out space for righteous anger.

The problem, of course, is that all of us think that our particular anger is a righteous anger. In fact, in few places of our lives are we so ridiculously self-deluded as our own estimation of how right we are--including and especially how right we are to be angry about something.

Where I've landed this week as I've been working with it and thinking about it is this: Jesus here is warning people about anger--that they will be judged for their anger. What this means is exactly that. Our anger will be closely scrutinized (i.e. judged) because it can be a tremendously damaging weapon. It might be judged to be righteous, or (more likely) it will be judged to be self-righteous. So Jesus is issuing a warning that is a real warning: be careful when you're angry, because anger will be judged very specifically and it puts us in a place where we might seriously be lost forever.

There are few weapons in our emotional arsenal that have more power for ill and has so rarely been used for the good. God Himself is a Being-In-Relationship (see my posts a couple weeks ago on the Trinity). Jesus comes to reconcile and restore right relationships. Anger most often destroys relationships and so is mostly used to work against the work of the Spirit and life in the Kingdom. And so we must be very careful in how we express anger--whether it be righteous anger or not.

Monday, October 30, 2006

History Comes Alive

Last week I was in meetings in Greensboro, NC with over 60 other IV staff workers. We were talking about the history of Greensboro in regard to race relations and God's heart for reconciliation and for the poor.

It was a full week with lots to process. But a highlight of our time together was to have Dr. Franklin McCain come and speak to us. Dr. McCain was one of the Greensboro Four who started a sit-in at the local Woolworth lunch counter that was reserved for whites only. I believe he's the second from the left in the above picture.

His speech to us was full of grace and humility and courage and faith. It was captivating to have someone talk about an event that for me is ancient history in the first person. What Dr. McCain did along with the three other guys who participated in the sit-in was spark a nationwide movement that transformed our country.

He offered us a couple of wise words of advice that I thought would be good to pass along. First, when you feel the need to do something deep in your conscience, don't ever wait for the masses to go along with you. Second, never ask permission to start a revolution. Third, the facts don't matter if the dream is big enough.

These four guys first sat down at a segregated lunch counter on February 1, 1960. They weren't served until July 23. Notice that the person who wasn't allowed to serve them was black--I wonder where that guy is now, what he was thinking during this whole time.

Was Dr. McCain afraid about what would happen that first day they all went in to sit at the counter? "No," he says defiantly, "I was too angry to be afraid. Everyone around us was tired of being trampled on, but no one was doing anything about it."

Here's hoping that more Christian activists spark worldwide revolutions in our generation.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Back in the Saddle

Here's Davis and I preparing for our maiden voyage in the bike trailer that Kelly put together this past weekend. After a couple test runs, I was ready for the big trip to a local park. As I was making the trek and feeling every single muscle group in my lower extremeties, I had a fleeting thought about exercise. See, the way I see it, being in shape is a lot like owning an SUV in my part of North Carolina--sure, it comes in handy a couple times a year, but otherwise it's just a big waste of time and money.

The exercise gods (or should I call them demons?) heard my smart little remark and made me pay: on the way home the gears on my long-neglected bike locked up and I had to walk me, my bike, my kid and the trailer home for about half a mile. Just as I was getting home, one of my tires completely popped and blew out.

I really don't hate exercise, I just have a hard time getting motivated to run for the sake of running. I'll chase after a ball or a frisbee or something, but I'm not internally motivated enough to just run. I figure if I could rig up a harness on my back with a fishing pole over my head and a twinkie dangling out about five feet in front of me, I could set land speed records.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

About Those Voices In Your Head...

The way that regret and guilt and shame and self-condemnation and other such things work in our lives is they operate just below the surface. Even when we are directly feeling them, they're often these voices we hear in our heads reminding us of certain bad decisions, telling us certain things, etc.

So as we wrap up on regret, here's some practical thoughts on what to do with the voices in your head.

First, you've got to bring those sub-terranean voices out of the darkness and into the light. That means take the time to identify and actually write out every lie and every regret that haunts you. Write down exactly what it is that you hear and that you're tempted to believe.

Next, commit those things to the Lord. Offer those voices and lies up to the Lord and ask Him to show you what is actually true. Some of the voices we hear are rooted in something that is true but has been twisted or amplified or exaggerated. Ask the Lord for the Holy Spirit to be active in taking these things and exposing them. Also ask for a fresh awareness and acuteness to when those voices begin to speak or have power over your actions. Being aware of when and where your most often tempted to believe a lie is powerful information to break bad thought cycles.

As you look over your list and consider it, begin to write out a response to each thing that you hear. Some of them will be obvious, other things are so deeply enmeshed in our lives and souls that we can barely discern the falsehood and lies that are woven into them. The process of writing down the truth in response to each of these things will most likely be exactly that--a process. Don't rush it, make it a matter of prayer.

Consider asking this as you're praying: how do these voices reveal what my idols are? Idols are anything that you tend to worship apart from God: approval, performance, achievement, accomplishment, etc. The voices in our heads often come from the same beast that we (often unknowingly) worship.

As you craft what is true in response to the lies that you've been living in, try to boil it down to what is most crucial and sum it up briefly. The truth sets us free and so we must find ways to remember it and to apply it concretely.

My pastor back in Richmond would remind us almost weekly that the most important person to preach the gospel to each day was ourselves. We need to know how the gospel speaks into the lies that we're tempted to believe and ask for wisdom to apply it as "in the moment" as possible. This, too, is a process. It's like learning a new dance. Often the bad habits of thought and the lies have become so deeply grooved in our souls that the inertia is pretty tough to break. And if it were up to us alone, we might as well quit. But the Holy Spirit is in us, Christ is praying perfectly for us at all times, and the Father has called us his children. We have all the power of the universe at work for us and for our salvation--which is happening daily, to the praise of His marvelous grace.

One last thought: God has so ordained it that genuine transformation seldom takes place in isolation. Find a friend to share your list with, a community that can come alongside you and pray alongside you. If you don't have people in your life who you can trust or are willing to trust with matters of the soul, you might have bigger problems than just the voices in your head.

My regrets: meetings all of this week, not sure how much blogging I'll be able to do.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Regret v. Repentance

Macon commented on my post from the other day, asking for further discussion of repentance versus regret. Then he re-posted and further clarified his own thoughts and questions yesterday, but by that point the train was already rolling in my head. So I'll just post a few random (but deeply profound) thoughts that I've been having and I'll let Macon put the "u" back in dialogue with his own witty insights.

Here they are, in no particular order:

*First, thank God for regret. In a fallen world full of people born far from God where sin is at work in every single interaction and relationship (from dating relationships to the relationship your heart has with your lungs that will eventually cause both to stop working), if it weren't for the common mercy of regret operating in most everyone's lives the world would indeed be a far more hellish place. The criminals that disturb us the most are the ones who come to sentencing with little or no remorse or regret.

*So regret, then, is natural. It even can serve a good purpose in the culture at large to keep us from falling too far afield in our tendency towards amorality. In some ways, it makes us own the problem--whatever that problem might be.

*But on the other hand, regret is a cancer. It's miserable, poisonous, laborious, de-humanizing, immobilizing, debilitating, overwhelming, and cause for much misery, anxiety, and pain in life. Regret tends to freeze us in one place for the rest of our lives--that one moment or that series of decisions.

*Repentance, however, takes the concept of ownership of the problem and moves it several steps beyond to actually being free of the problem. Repentance recognizes ownership of the problem. I'm not just a victim of circumstance but I've actually done or not done something that I should have (this is assuming that there's actually genuine reason for regret, not just a false regret that I should have over-achieved more or slept with more people or whatever--the differences between genuine regret and false regret are like the differences between genuine guilt and false guilt--and that might be worth another post altogether).

Repentance moves beyond ownership of the problem to some place altogether unexpected: a radical dis-owner-ship of the problem. It is honestly and genuinely no longer my problem to "fix." This happens through confession (always to the Lord, often beneficial when offered to a person as well although us evangelicals don't like to hear that too much), and then the actual u-turn, the change of mind, the change of direction in behavior through the power of the Holy Spirit. The thing done or un-done does not define us, it does not have ultimate power over us, it does not kill our joy or run or ruin our lives. It is brought into the light, dealt with at the cross, and then we trust that all things are being made new as we walk in the light as He is in the light.

Regret is the over-ownership of past mistakes in a way that immobilizes us. Repentance is movement, it is motion towards genuine forgiveness and change. A friend of mine talked about applying to grad school after several years stuck in a average jobs unsure what to do next. He made the parallel that many sharks must constantly be in motion in order for their gills to take water and turn it into oxygen. When regret freezes us, we suffocate. Repentance keeps us moving, giving us oxygen for our lives.

*Of course, there are false movements that do not deal with the actual problem. Stoicism and hedonism are simply two sides of the same coping mechanism coin. Stoicism attempts to will or pretend the problems away through denial; hedonism attempts to drink the problem away. Neither actually takes care of the problem. Both are simply props. In repentance we are free to grieve over sin but not linger in it. We are also free to laugh and be merry, but not in a way that hides from the gravity of what has happened.

We own and then we dis-own the problem--that's repentance in light of an active and living God who really is making all things new. Apart from a life lived in that reality, living a life loaded with regrets and/or loaded with shallow coping strategies really are the only options. This is why Christianity and the story of the God coming to take away and actually deal with sin makes sense as the only real solution to the human predicament. All other "solutions" (be they religions, psycho-analysis, political, economic, educational or recreational) still leave us stuck.

*Alas, many people in the church use their faith as a prop similar to stoicism or hedonism rather than a place of genuine transformation and healing. This is like using the bottle of Pepto-Bismol to prop open the bathroom door so you can get there quicker rather than drinking the contents and dealing with the upset stomach.

Repentance, owning the problem, confessing it, moving in a new direction in the power of the Spirit, is strong medicine for a world cluttered with brokenness and our own part in contributing to the mess of all of it. Oh that Christians would live in the power and freedom of repentance in a world full of regrets.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Gospel and Regrets

Over the past several days I've had several conversations with extremely
gifted and wonderful students who are all dealing with some iteration of the
same issue: regrets. Regrets over sin patterns. Regrets over things
they've not done while in college (this is especially true for the seniors).
Regrets over who they are (or aren't) as people--not smart enough/pretty
enough/spiritual enough, etc. etc. And so I've had the great gift of having to think through how the gospel applies to the regrets of our past.

I love this job.

Here's the conclusion that I've come to in working with these great students: if Jesus is Lord over all our lives, then our future is not ours to control, our present is only ours to offer to him...and our past is under his Lordship as well. All of our times are in his hands--future, present, AND past. And so if the past is His, all of it, then it is not ours at all--not even ours to regret.

The Lordship of Jesus frees us from the tyranny of other lords, including the tyranny of regret, and especially the tyranny of our own selves in our own inability to do anything about anything that has happened in the past. We can learn from it. We can repent of things we've done. But the invitation to live with Jesus as Lord is a genuine invitation to live a regret-free life. We are to trust him as recklessly with our past as we are to trust him with our present and our future.

In Revelation Jesus says to John, "Behold, I am making all things new." "..am making" is the present progressive tense. This is not something that might be done in some wishful thinking future. Jesus' redemption of our past is already active and at work. All the days of our lives in the past have either been ordained by him or are being redeemed by him. Our lives are not our own, and this is extremely, extremely good news. We are being held by One who stands outside of time to redeem all of time--including everything that you and I have ever done: good, bad, or indifferent.

That, my friends, is good news.

But here's some bad news, at least for my most loyal readers: I'll be in and
out of the blogosphere for the next couple days. Hopefully I'll get to
touch base at least once before the weekend.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Racism and History, Gmail and Sunspots

A couple weeks ago our IV chapter co-sponsored an event where we brought in the president of the North Carolina NAACP to speak. His challenge was that it was easy to look at the presenting problems regarding race in our country (who's in jail, who makes the money, etc.) and make what would appear to be logical conclusions. But those conclusions would be incorrect because we can't understand today's problems in a vacuum. In order to deal with today's problems, he argued, we have to know our history.

A week and a half ago I took the plunge: the Juno account I've had for about eight years is now forwarding to my super-cool new Gmail account. My students were ecstatic. However, upon first switching everything was running super-slow. I couldn't send any e-mails for a while. Then I could send stuff but couldn't send attachments. Then my whole internet started slowing down. Curse that Gmail and a pox upon the students who sold me on it! I'm going back to Juno!

Then I heard something on the radio: sunspots were disturbing transmissions of all sorts. This could cause disruption for people who were listening on-line as well as those who plucked the signals out of the air. Could it be that Gmail wasn't single-handedly destroying my DSL internet connection after all?

Indeed, two days later I was up and running and as fully functional as I ever get. Without context, Gmail seemed to be the culprit. Given the fullness of the facts, I found that there was more to the story.

It is easy for those of us who are in the majority to dismiss calls to know our history as living in the past. But we must take that call seriously if we're ever to move forward. If we don't understand the context of the problem, we cannot actually begin to address the problem.

For Christians, there are two histories we need to grapple with: our own country's and the story of the church. The church was among the first ever inter-racial communities in history. Most of us are Christians because Jews went cross-culture to bring the gospel to us.

Yet the church has abdicated it's leadership responsbilities in this arena and thus everyone suffers: the church is segregated and our culture's well-intended attempts at bringing racial healing fall short. It's impossible for the culture to succeed where only the church can. Only the church can offer the Holy Spirit to go along with dialogue and education. Only the gospel can genuinely and deeply transform hearts and attitudes.

So let's get to know our history and move forward with boldness and humility to bring the fullness of the gospel to bear on this issue. Otherwise, we'll all just end up dropping Gmail because of sunspots.

Friday, October 13, 2006

De-bunking Modernity, Too

A couple weeks ago a student sat me down who had served as a counselor for a Christian camp that was committed to teaching high school and college students about a Christian worldview. The manual that she brought with her was a tome, covering everything from literature to archealogy. And of course, it had several sections addressing the rise of post-modernity and the host of issues that the post-modern worldview presents for the Christian.

As I considered the impressive comprehensiveness of this week-long course, I came to something that gave me pause: where was the critique of Modernity?

Many of these Christian worldview courses are put together by baby-boomer Christians who have very strong views about establishing right and wrong--and these folks are deeply disturbed by the post-modern swing of relativism and pluralism and tolerance over and above Truth.

And so many Christian Worldview events that I've been exposed to or have heard of end up being a pep rally for the good ol' days of modernity. But was modernity, with it's arrogant elevation of the human mind and human ability to redeem itself through it's own reason, really that much better in terms of championing a Christian worldview? Let's see...

-Two of the most devastating wars ever in the history of the planet.

-Ecologically disastrous over-development.

-The most comprehensive gutting of the Bible ever, based on what people guided by reason could accept as having actually happened and what couldn't have happened. The perfect example of the arrogance of modernity: the Jesus Seminar folks went through the Bible and color-coded it based on their "rational" view of what Jesus did say or do, what he probably didn't say or do, and what he definitely didn't say or do--like miracles. It would seem to be pretty difficult to have a Christian worldview apart from miracles--like, say, the resurrection.

-The result of this Bible-gutting: the near-extinction of the Christian church in Europe.

So yes, please, let's do a serious evaluation of post-modernity and wade into our culture fully aware of the presuppositions of it and how they conflict with Christianity. But let us not live under the illusion that modernity was the golden age of Christianty. In fact, the Kingdom of God is a third culture altogether--it is neither of modernity nor of post-modernity and yet has aspects of both.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Post Scripts

I know it's hard to believe, given the length of the previous posts, that there are things that I left out or forgot to say. But here goes a few "P.S.'s," mostly to Friday’s post about the internal logic of Christianity not necessarily being legislation material.

1. A great example of this historically is Prohibition--the Constitutional amendment that went bad. Prohibition made sense in a certain subset of the Christian worldview but did not make sense when it was wrenched out of that context and the attempt was made to apply it to everyone across the board.

I think that a Constitutional amendment regarding marriage would have the same ring to it. My guess is that as Christians we'll speak out against gay marriage 50 years from now in the same way that we speak out against pornography and other expressions of sexual brokenness--not with legislation but with other forms of persuasion.

2. Contrary to what this may lead people to believe, I think that the saying "you can't legislate morality" is absolutely wrong. Every piece of legislation is founded in some sort of morality--whether that be abortion "rights" or laws against pedophiles.

3. So the question then becomes, whose morality? And in a representative government (which I think is the best of all the options) with a plurality of world views, the key is to find common ground across many world views in order to form a moral code that is amenable across world views. This means that Christians won't get their way in every situation. That's fine, this place is not our home anyway and it is God's mercy if we feel our alien-ness on a regular basis.

4. This is not to say that Christians don't have a place in government and shaping policies. It just means that we have to do so recognizing our context and limitations. Ten years ago there was a push from Christians for prayer in public schools. Please, good people, let's stop and think. These folks always assume Christians to be in power to implement things like this. If their kids had a Muslim teacher or principle, my guess is that they'd be less fired up about prayer in public schools. So Christians do need to be involved in government, but we've got to understand the broader context and play thoughtfully.

5. In legislation as well as other areas, lots of Christians have two positions: go hard or go home. What I’m pleading for here is a third option: thoughtful engagement. There are lots of ways to influence our culture and the changing the Constitution isn’t the only way nor is it in this case (in my not-so-humble-opinion) the best.

6. I actually do like NPR (the discussion that started this whole string of posts), even if it does stand for Nationally Partisan Radio.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My Post for Today...

...is responding to Royale's comments/objections under the last post. Take a look. I'll wrap up with some thoughts tomorrow and I promise we'll move on!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Responding to Royale

Last week I got some great comments and questions springing from the post about homosexual marriage. I answered one question on Friday, I wanted to answer Royale's question here today because I think it's a crucial issue.

You can see all of Royale's comments under Friday's post, but I'll copy and paste the crux of it here: Here's the deal - the Bible has a lot of plain, straightforward and obvious commands. Many of them appear irrational to our modern perspective. It's not just the OT, but the words of Jesus as well. (turn the other cheek, give the proceeds to the poor, etc...)It's about literalism. Why take the command against homosexuality literal if you do not take the literal the OTHER commands?

First off, the OT, then we'll talk some about Jesus: When people started becoming Christians who weren't Jewish, it caused tons of controversy. Much of the NT and especially Acts is devoted to sorting through the issue of how "Jewish" do new Christians have to be? They quickly came to consensus that the moral law (i.e. the Ten commandments) was clearly still applicable but that ceremonial law (food restrictions and circumcision being the capstones) was not to be applied to the new converts. This line between moral law and ceremonial law may seem arbitrary to us 2,000 years later, but it clearly wasn't to the Jewish folks making the decisions. They knew the difference and were able to communicate it to the new Gentile churches with remarkable unanimity.

Regarding the NT commands, I don't think it's an accident that the examples that Royale chooses are generally mercy-type commands (turn the other cheek, give proceeds to the poor) and so I think this warrants an important aside. While I agree that the Christian church has failed dramatically at living out the commands to care for the sick, the poor, and the marginalized, I also gladly and proudly say that over the past 2,000 years there is absolutely no other organization and certainly no other religion that has done more to help people outside of it's own affinity group than the Christian church. No one has built more hospitals, given more to the sick, cared for more orphans, built more schools or rushed to the aid of a disaster with more regularity than Christians: not the Muslims, not the Jews, not the Hindus, not the Red Cross, not the Shriners, not the U.N. No one. The "high-profile" disasters of the past two years (Katrina and the Tsunami) only serve to highlight was has historically been true.

In light of this I must confess that I'm a bit perplexed by the charge that Christians seem to take these commands of Jesus metaphorically. We are called to love those who hate us and to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us. Really. And for the past 2,000 years, we've done that, mostly falteringly and struggling so, but we've at least struggled to move in that general direction. And in 32 years of being in churches, I've never heard those passages dismissed as just metaphorical. If these commands sound irrational to our modern ears, they also sounded irrational to First-Century Palestinian ears. No one wants to do this. That's part of what makes Christianity different and why people converted by the thousands even as they were being fed to lions and burned alive as human torches to light Roman Emperor's parties.

There is something to understanding the whole of Scripture and reading it thoughtfully and not just taking each isolated incident at total face value, which maybe could be taken for a cop-out or convenient making of metaphors, but I don't think so. For example: Jesus tells the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything he owns and follow him, but he doesn't say that to everyone. And so we have to understand the context of each event and take the whole of Scripture on any given subject to get the full picture. But generally there are clear and remarkable patterns that emerge with a thoughtful reading of the Scriptures from the posture of faith.

If you want woodenly rigid, literal interpretation of the Bible, fundamentalism is the way to go. If you want everything metaphored to death, try the liberal main-line church (holy crap those people have to work really hard to try to keep calling themselves Christians while explaining away just about every truly distinguishing mark of Christianity). If you want a thoughtful engagement of the Scriptures that tries to take the context and situation of each text into account as well as a general posture of submitting to the Scriptures while trying to grasp the larger arc of what's being said on the subject throughout the whole of Scripture, I offer you evangelicalism. Perhaps that leaves us open to the charge of picking and choosing our way through the Scriptures and certainly that is one possible outcome of this way of reading the Scripture. But obviously I think that's the best way to go because it combines thoughtfulness with faithfulness with holy submission.

A different, related issue: Last Friday a student was concerned that his parents were leaving their church denomination that was moving towards ordaining homosexuals. Isn't all sin the same? Why leave a church over this issue? But there's a crucial difference. It's one thing to say that lying is a sin and yet we see Christians lie--that's hypocrisy and it must be dealt with. It's a completely different matter to say that lying isn't a sin at all any more, and so anyone who lies is really just fine like they are.

Similarly, it's a different thing to charge Christians with not living up to the code of conduct commanded by Scripture (that's hypocrisy) than it is to say that we make things to be metaphorical simply to suit us (that's cutting-and-pasting the Bible recreationally). If the charge is hypocrisy--i.e. we don't turn the other cheek when Jesus commands us to or that we pick and choose our Biblical sexual ethics, then we certainly stand guilty as charged (even granted the generally extraordinary track record noted above).

But it is not up to us to nullify the arc of the commands of Scripture (either about sexuality or about giving to the poor) and decide that they are no longer commands because we find them annoying, awkward, they don't fit our politics, or are not politically correct. This is why I'm so deeply troubled by the Christian-Republican marriage, even though I tend to vote that way. We are not to be in any one's back pocket. We are to engage the full measure of the Biblical commands about the poor, about sex, about marriage, about worship, about prayer, etc. and live those out as faithfully as we can. Some passages aren't clear, other passages were more directly applicable to the immediate context, but taken as a whole the clearer Scriptures help us to interpret the less clear Scriptures and most issues can be addressed with reasonable clarity in a context of holy humility.

And so the sexual ethic over the whole of Scripture is very clear. The creation story is to be taken realistically--it is poetry with a point. What is being communicated there about Who created and the purpose behind creation, including male-female relations, be fruitful and multiply, and leave and cleave is very much the point of why that's been written down for us. Marriage is a sacred thing, even if the people who enter into it don't think so or aren't aware of it.

Why are we gendered beings? Why did God create us with gender in the first place? It is difference that blesses, just as the nature of the Trinity is that it is 3 differentiated Persons who are One God. The Father is the Father, the Son is the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit; each is delighted to be Who they are, each delights in the othes, none of them tries to be the other or do exactly what the other one does. Each aspect of marriage is to mirror that relationship, including the sexual aspect of marriage--"the two shall become one." Throw in the functional pro-creational aspects of marriage inherent in the command to "fill the land and subdue it" and you've got a pretty clear mandate for a male-female marriage relationship.

So Romans 1 talks about homosexuality in a way that comports with much of the rest of the sexual ethic in Scripture--the clear assumption of a sexual relationship exercised in a male-female marriage based on the creational purpose of gender in the first place and the pro-creational aspect of sexual relations. If it were an aberration, then maybe we could talk about the need to find a reason for Paul to rant on about it and could reasonably dismiss it. But it's not, and so we must submit to it or stop calling ourselves Christians--there's lots of other options out there.

The trouble with this discussion is that I don't really expect to change anyone's mind with this post. Change is a process for most anyone. My mind won't change with a few very thoughtful objections, I don't expect any of my readers to change their mind's because of a few scattered thoughts on my blog. I just hope that maybe this exchange can be helpful in shedding a little bit of light on some small part of this pretty significant cultural debate.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Responding to Thoughtful Comments

I got a couple good comments from yesterday's post questioning key points in the whole gay marriage debate: 1. lots of things are commanded in the Bible that we don't do (i.e. don't eat pork) and 2. if someone's not following the ways of the Bible then should they be forced to do what the Bible prescribes?

First off, thanks for the comments, these are crucial questions. That's why instead of simply responding in the comments I thought I'd do a post on it.

I think there's a couple ways to come at this and I'll admit up-front that some of this is half-baked in the sense that I've had this stuff rolling around in my head in the past but haven't cogently articulated all of it in one setting. Let's see how it all comes out...

To start with, let's talk about worldview. The Christian story has an internal logic to it that does not make any sense at all apart from accepting certain primary suppositions. So yesterday's post about God being love itself only makes sense if you accept that there is a God at all and that He has revealed Himself in some way. "Jesus is Lord" is a fundamental assertion of the Christian story. So is the idea that Jesus came not only to be nice and show us how to be nice but to die and rise again so that we might have access to the Father. So also is the idea that Jesus came to inaugurate a Kingdom, and that he would do so primarily through his people, the church.

Most everyone has some sort of worldview, most everyone has some story that they believe to best explain how the world works. Most of those worldviews have practical applications that make sense given those suppositions but might be disputed by people who hold different worldviews.

Because I believe that Christianity is the proper and real story of how things are, then I think that the closer anyone gets to that story the better off they will be. So a moral pagan will live a qualitatively better life than a porn star alcoholic crack addict serial arsonist, even though both might reject the Christian story. And both, according to that story, are still in need of the exact same serious redemption, rescue and healing.

I believe that some of the internal logic of Christianity can be applied to the broader world or culture while other things cannot. So while I deeply believe that everyone would be better off reading the Bible and praying each day, I don't think legislating that make any sense. However, murder has a broader consensus of worldview support, so it makes sense in a pluralist society to legislate against murder--which is why I would push for the end of legalized abortion. It not only has internal logic grounds (which is enough for me to believe it privately) but it also has life-and-death outcomes to protect the weak from the strong (a generally accepted purpose for having laws in the first place) and it also shares plenty of common ground with other worldviews (most all of which have some echo of God's goodness in them, however distant or faint).

Given those things, I'm against homosexual behavior period and certainly and obviously against homosexual marriage because of the internal logic of the Christian story. I believe certain things about God, Jesus, and what Jesus has done through the church he inagurated and so I trust that what the Bible clearly teaches about homosexuality is true. Do I think that there should be a Constitutional amendment to keep marriage as man and woman? No. Do I think it's inevitable that in our country we'll have gay marriage as commonplace? Yes. Do I think we'd be better off as a people if that were not the case? Yes. Can I make that happen any more than I can make everyone read the Scriptures and pray each day? No. If I weren't a Christian would I support gay marriage? I think I probably would be hesitant but have no clear reasons why.

Regarding the issues of Old Testament laws and why we follow some things and not others, that's probably another post for next week, since this has gone on quite long enough!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

And then There's the Liberal Guy

History: About 50 years ago or so an organization developed called The World Council of Churches. The WCC eventually decided to the whole Christian church part was a bit cumbersome and decided to basically become a glorified Salvation Army. Nothing wrong with the Salvation Army. It's just not really the church.

So there was a WCC guy on along with the Christian Coalition guy and of course, since this was NPR, he got very little heat and lots of backing from the callers.

What was particularly vexing, although of course not surprising, was his argument surrounding gay marriage. He had a reasonable point that Scripture has a variety of odd marital arrangements/customs in it--fair enough. But his bottom line? "God just really wants us to love people."

The early church had a variety of Greek words to choose from for the word "love." They chose "agape" which to that point was a seldom-used word. This suited their purposes perfectly, as God's love was beyond any human experience of love and the fact that this word was rarely used gave them permission to freight it with their own meanings.

It's unfortunate that in the English language we've only got one word for love. And the WCC guy was glad to tag God with being "loving" which of course meant we just leave people alone to do what they want to do.

It's interesting that when parents do that, they call it neglect. When God does it, they call that love.

God DOES want us to love people. His love also includes limits, just as any good parent offers limits. There's lots of times my son does not understand my 'no.' There are some 'no's' from Scripture that I do not understand. But I submit to them, because God is God and I'm not. He is love, and I am not. I am not free to take my own definition of love and thrust that onto God. God is love, and so whatever he gives me, whatever blessings he sends my way, whatever he says no to, all that is necessarily what love truly means. If my own definitions do not fit God's actions, it must be my own definitions that are skewed.

And so I'm opposed to gay marriage, even though I think it's truly a raw deal for people who have those inclinations (and I do think that some folks are genetically pre-disposed to homosexuality, just as some folks are genetically pre-disposed to alcoholism). It's not that I hate gay people or am closed off to their struggles, it's just that it's pretty clear from the Scriptures that the God who loves people says that this is not His way.