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.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Here's the official family of 4 photo! I'm a little obscured, but who cares about me at this point, anyway? Davis really steals the show. He continues to be a great big brother--this morning he gave Zoe two of his cars while she slept in her bouncy seat. He also showed dad some love by sleeping in to a whopping 7:30!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Weekend Before the Superbowl...

…is a sad foretaste of what is to come: weekends without any football.  And while I’m definitely a fan of college basketball, it takes me a while to ramp up into it.  At least today my Heels are starting to look like a basketball team again.


Friday, January 27, 2006

The Map or the Rider?

"What do you want?"
"Rabbi, where are you staying?"
"Come and see."

What drives both his followers and his haters crazy about Jesus is that he is often so very enigmatic, cryptic--especially in the book of John, Jesus can be hard to pin down.

But Jesus is almost never explanational when there is opportunity to be invitational. Throughout his ministry (again, especially as John describes it), there are invitations and signs. Jesus doesn't want us to be satisfied with answers, he wants us to enter into a holy dissatisfaction with facts so that we might be with him.

Most of us want answers more than we want God. What should I do with my life? Will my kids be okay? Who should I marry? What about this situation with my family? To all of these great and valid questions, Jesus responds: "Come and see."

That we are seldom satisfied with this answer says less about Jesus and more about our own maturity. It is the difference between being handed a map and having someone riding with you that knows the way. If he gave us all the answers to our questions, we would assiduously study the map and ignore the one who gives it; instead, he has offered to spend every day of our lives with us. This is the greater gift, though we seldom welcome it as such.

"Come and see." It is the thesis statement to his ministry. It is how he works with us. These men take him up on this small invitation and end up spending three years with Jesus. Those three years catapult them to participating in the launching of the most controversial movement in the history of the world.

And still he invites anyone who would ask him-- where are you staying? who are you? are you for real? "Come and see."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Jesus, the Disciples, and The Dave Matthews Band

There's plenty of freedom offered in the open-ended question, "What do you want?" but the answer of the first disciples is a good guide to the place the question will ultimately take us if we let it: "Rabbi, where are you staying?"

As "what do you want" does it's work in our souls, we ultimately find that we want things that can't just be delivered to us. We want security, identity, purpose, healing, transformation--so much is broken, including us. We need a bigger story to make sense out of our story, out of all of these broken stories.

The controversial story of Jesus is the place where we find the healing, renewing, and hope that we long for. The disciples speak better than they know: the response-question "where are you staying?" best answers the question "what do you want?" The brokenness cannot be satiated by stuff or by the drowsy "big man in the sky" bailing me out of the crisis of the week. Our longings can only begin to be truly met as we weave our story in with this grander story. That weaving in is a process, not a one-time event. Where are you staying? is a question of relationship, of familiarity, of wanting to be where the teacher is, the Lord is, the Life-Giver is.

The Dave Matthews Band has a great song that captures something of this. Although the relationship is clearly man-woman and not us-God, it captures something of this story:

I am no superman, I have no answers for you.
I am no hero, oh, that’s for sure.
But I do know one thing: Where you are is where I belong.
I do know where you go, Is where I want to be.
Where are you going?

No pretense as to our ability to bring anything to the table. No grandiose promises of what we will do for God. No promises to make ourselves better people to make God like us better. Just this simple coming in brokenness. All I know is that where you are is where I belong, is where I want to be. So where are you going?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Pressing Question

"What do you want?" Jesus' question seems at first glance to be a poor primer for prayer. After all, aren't most all my prayers radically 'I want' focused? I write my prayers just about every day in a journal; I can look back at page after page of request after request.

But what this question does, at least for me, is it won't let me go that easily. If I let it, the question burrows down into my soul. "What do you want?" I start with the first layer of wants: those produced by advertisers and my own general desire for 'stuff' or things. By God's grace, these are often exposed as too-small answers for so great a question.

"What do you want?" The question continues to press into me. It burrows to another layer: an event on campus to go well, a child to sleep a little longer, the needs of family and friends and a myriad of other things that find their source on to-do lists or calendars. These carry more weight. I find that He is glad to share my burdens. But my life is not simply the sum of to-do lists or events on the calendar or even the concerns of my friends and family.

"What do you want?" The question presses deeper still. I find another layer of wants: relationships that need healing, issues in our marriage that need to be resolved (not that we ever actually have any of those), the eternal things of souls and brokenness in the students lives that I work with.

"What do you want?" The question keeps doing it's work, unraveling my tangled web of conflicting desires, and mixed motivations. It sifts out my thin dreams, hopes, and desires from those that are substantive, thick, and real. It teaches me to pray boldly, humbly, with honesty and authenticity. It teaches me to be a son as I learn to relate to my good Father. The Spirit does this, as He presses into me with this gentle, unassuming question: "What do you want?"

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Most Important Question

This past weekend at our leadership retreat (which was fantastic, thanks to those of you prayed!) we looked at one of my favorite Scriptures in John 1--Jesus asks a question that regularly chases me down and makes me stop skimming and really be with him.

John the Baptist is front and center for a chunk of John 1, then Jesus shows up and John faithfully points to him: "The Lamb of God!" The disciples who had been with John up to this point, leave John and start following Jesus. As they do so, Jesus asks the most surprising question that I think he could possibly ask:

"What do you want?"

I don't read it (and I'm having to make an interpretive leap here) as annoyed or angry. I think he just said it: "What do you want?" It is the first words Jesus utters in the book of John, this question that I think ultimately anyone who is following him must answer at some point: "What do you want?"

And what captures me about the question is it's open-endedness. That the God of the universe should choose to begin these relationships with a question rather than a statement or proclamation is startling. That he would invite a genuine response is even more startling.

I think that we can never be truly intimate with Jesus until we have genuinely answered his question to these men: "What do you want?" We must tell him, really. At some points that means we will sound like petulant, spoiled children. But if we have no other voice to offer, than he would take no other voice that we might try to give. Some voices may sound more spiritual or pious, but it is the voice of who we are, incomplete creatures who need, that begins to build a bridge into the cosmic love story of "the God who came to get us."

We must be brutally honest with ourselves and our Lord--we must submit our answer to him and we must submit our answer to him. All petulance and whining will be accepted by our Savior; stubborn refusal to confess our wants and then let go of our desires or (worse) denial of any need at all leaves us outside the Land of the Trinity, where God's will is always enacted perfectly and free and transparent relating is the only kind of relating that is known.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Day One of Just the Four of Us (We Can Make it if We Try)

For the past two weeks Kelly and I have been blessed to have her mom and then her dad and step-mom here with us as we’ve begun this new season as a family of four.  Kelly and I decided that we can continue to pro-create as long as we can maintain a two-to-one ratio of adults to children at all times.

It is remarkable that each week, in spite of sleep deprivation and being in one house all together for the whole week, we all got along great and were all sad to see each week end.  Given the somewhat ‘challenging’ relationships that many of our friends have with their parents and/or in-laws, I am overwhelmingly grateful for our relationship with both sets of Kelly’s parents.  I often tell my students who are thinking about engagement and marriage to realize that they are marrying a family, not just each other.  For me, that has undoubtedly been a rich blessing.  For two weeks they picked up groceries for us, cleaned the house, and woke up with Davis as he pushed his normal wake-up time from 6:30 to 5:00 a.m.

It was with all this help in mind that we decided that I would wait to take my ‘paternity leave’ until this week.  So this morning Davis and I ambled past the mall-walkers at 9:15 a.m. on our way to the indoor playground at Southpoint Mall—he had already been awake for almost four hours.  As I was fixing Davis’ breakfast this morning and trying to remember what both of our names were, I decided that really the only fitting way to describe my sentiments was to capture it in a form that I have loved since I learned it in the recorder-playing, kick-ball lovin’ days of elementary school: the haiku.  And so, here is Day One of Just the Four of Us (We Can Make it if We Try):

            Child cries, five a.m.

            Oh where, grandparents? Gone. Gone.

            Just Four of Us, yikes.




Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday Grab-Bag

*Kelly and Zoe went to the doctor today. Zoe weighed in at a whopping 9 pounds 2 ounces. She's gained 2 pounds in 2 weeks--that's my girl!

*My picks for the conference championships this weekend: Pittsburgh over Denver and Carolina over Seattle. Go underdogs.

*Looking for a unique movie renting experience this weekend? Check out Grizzly Man, a movie/documentary in a similar vein as March of the Penguins that tells the story of a man who spends 13 summers filming himself living in Alaska with bears...only to be summarily eaten (along with his poor girlfriend) by the ingrates. The dude's a little crazy. For those of you looking for some quality violence, there is no footage of the bear mauling.

*This weekend we've got our leadership retreat, be praying for us as we try to develop a leadership community that's developed around and shaped by mission.

*Like last weekend, I'll take this weekend off the blogging, which will give everyone a chance to get duly caught up on all the witticisms of this past week before we plunge headlong into more on Monday.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Last week Macon Stokes on Kith and Kin did a list of "seven things" and called me out to do the same. Here is my own feeble attempt at a number of sevens:

7 "I remember this scene exactly" Moments:
*Hearing the news on September 11th
*Seeing the news coverage of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion (the September 11th equivalent of my generation's school years)
*Getting my acceptance letter to UNC
*Proposing to my wife
*Cutting Davis' cord at his birth
*Cutting Zoe's cord at her birth
*Praying with my mom to receive Christ in a small church in Vermont

7 Things that I cannot do that I think a father should be able to do:
*Fix anything (as in, a father should be able to fix anything...and I can't fix anything)
*Teach my kid any one sport skill really well
*Make up crazy/funny/adventurous stories off the top of my head
*Eat lima beans without wincing

7 Books I'd like every Christian to read:
*The Business of Heaven--365 days getting a glorious sampling of C.S. Lewis' thought
*Future Grace--John Piper
*Inside Out--Larry Crabb
*Divine Conspiracy--Dallas Willard
*Divided by Faith--Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
*Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places--Eugene Peterson

7 Things I'd like to see in my lifetime:
*Davis and Zoe coming to faith
*A 3-peat in college or pro football
*My 50th wedding anniversary
*The Grand Canyon
*The church (and para-church!) joyfully reconciled and integrated across racial lines
*Winning my fantasy football league (probably the least likely of the seven)
*Revival at UNC or VCU--two places I have spent my entire adult life praying over

7 Thoughts I've had this week:
*"Man, how do we get Davis to sleep to a more Godly hour?" (5:15 a.m. wake-up this morning)
*A corollary to the above: "Man, what the heck am I going to do next week without grandparents here to get Davis when he wakes up at the aforementioned ungodly hour?"
*A corollary to the above: "Man, how did any family survive traveling west in covered wagons a couple hundred years ago?"
*On a different note: "I wonder if Peter Jackson will let me borrow The Shire if I live to my 111th birthday?" (I've been watching The Fellowship of the Ring with the writer/director commentary on and Jackson says that he so loved the Shire set he bought it from the studio and put it in storage.)
*"How do we develop a missional community out of our leadership team this weekend at leadership retreat?"
*"Lost is killing me by stretching every next little step in the plot into one whole episode."
*"Man, if I did a 'sevens' list like Macon did, what the heck would I say?"

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

O Lord of Pots and Pans!

Last week I was reading the story of Mary and Martha in my Christmas-present-new Renovare Spiritual Formation Study Bible with cool footnotes. The story is familiar to some of you: Jesus visits Martha's house, Mary sits at his feet and listens as Martha rushes around doing preparations--and gets frustrated at her sister for being a slacker. I can relate so much more to Martha's busy-ness than I can to Mary's thoughtful contemplation, it's good to be gently rebuked through this story.

My cool footnote talked about Martha's service in this way: "Martha was unable, like Brother Lawrence, a monk who ran the kitchen sixteen hundred years later, to cheerfully pray, 'Oh, Lord of pots and pans,' while she clattered about cooking her meal."

I've been meaning to put Brother Lawrence's prayer on a Post-It note on my computer monitor. Work is mean to bless us, along with all of it's props. When I can cheerfully pray, "Oh, Lord of computers and cell-phones, diapers and Desitin, students and their struggles, to-do lists and e-mails," than I am just beginning to enter into the fullness of the blessing intended by God for the work he has given me to do.

Any time I attempt to do my work outside the tent of the Lordship of Christ, I am missing the point. My work will then become either a source of bitterness and angst or pride and self-aggrandizing, both of these are a curse. My work, and all of it's challenges, opportunities, accessories, and day-to-day little annoyances and joys only fully bless me when they are all brought under the banner of God's "yes" to me in the Lordship of the one who is Lord in the Land of the Trinity.

The reality is, Jesus is already Lord of those things. I don't "make" him Lord of any of it. When I pray "O Lord of pots and pans!" I am simply aligning my life with the life that runs and rules the universe. To live apart from this reality is to go against the grain and get splinters (as my theology prof was fond of saying)--broken relationships, stress and anxiety, striving and complaining.

So I'm trying to bring myself again and again back into the joy of working and serving my family by praying this prayer. I could go with "O Lord of Dell PC's and bassinets" but I find that "O Lord of pots and pans" has a much nicer ring to it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

You Know this is the Second Child When...

So Zoe has a very active g.i. track.  One might even say she’s a prolific pooper. 

Last week when we were at the doctor, we had wrapped up our visit and Kelly was nursing Zoe before we left.  Zoe was just in her diaper because we had weighed her towards the end of our visit with the doctor.  While Kelly was nursing her, Zoe had a diaper event, one might even say explosion, resulting in the overflow of said diaper and staining Kelly’s pants.  With our first child Davis, this would have been cause for angst and consternation and immediate return home to correct the wardrobe malfunction. 

However, with Davis safely in the loving watch-care of Kelly’s mom, as we were cleaning up the mess Kelly looks at me with bright eyes and says, “Let’s go get smoothies!”  Which we promptly did—me, my wife, my sleeping 6-day old, and some slightly stained pants.  When we got home, Davis was awake and we had a great afternoon together with Nanny. 

Kelly forgot to change until 8:00 that night.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Different Angle

Leading up to Christmas I also read a book called "Beyond One," written by a woman about her families' transition from one kid to two. My wife read it first and asked me to read it, it's got sort of an Ann-Lamott-ish feel to it: funny, insightful, honest.

The woman is not a Christian and while it offered Kelly and I some good tips on the challenges we'd soon be facing, it was a side-note that has stuck with me the most. Three-fourths of the way through it, she talks about the man she lives with asking to her to marry him. She writes that she didn't want to get married until she was sure it was going to stick.

This is not going to be some rant decrying the state of marriage in our country. But there are a couple interesting issues this raises.

One is that in a culture where promises, particularly marriage promises, have been broken so often, there's very little trust in any promise. This makes life particularly difficult for people in my line of work, where so much of what we're talking about is about faith, about trusting in the promises of God. When this woman's kids get to my campus in 18 years, what will they think about the promises that God has extended to them?

Secondly, marriage plays a particularly significant role in witnessing to the love of God. In the Scriptures, marriage is said to be a sign of Christ's love for his church. The reason why God hates all marital unfaithfulness (and divorce is usually the last painful step in a web of unfaithfulness, not the root cause) is that all marriage is supposed to bear witness to how much God loves his people--even marriages that aren't based on Christ. Whenever marital unfaithfulness occurs, it bears false witness: it says that God could possibly be unfaithful to his church. This, of course, isn't true, but I feel it's effects as I talk with 18-22 year olds who live in the wake this lie.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sorry for Being Slack

I sent a post on Friday saying I was going to have to take a couple days off...apparently it got lost in cyberspace. If you haven't gotten a chance yet, take a look at The Kith and Kin blog (linked in the blog roll to the right) as Macon offers some good thoughts on what holiness is (and what it ain't) in response to the post below about Holiness and Happiness.

In the mean time, a couple of random things:

1. Went to the doctor on Thursday for a quick Zoe check. Most babies lose some of their birth weight in the first couple days ex-utero and then re-gain the weight within the first week or so. Zoe was 7 pounds 3 ounces at birth; on Thursday, day #6 in the world, she weighed in at a whopping 7 pounds 13 ounces. Her dramatic weight gain and her up and down emotional state (sleepy one minute, crying the next) might make one wonder about steroid use. Hmmm...

2. Football this weekend was fantastic, been watching like a complete couch potato. I'm hating it for Indianapolis, I'm excited for the Panthers, and I think Denver did everyone a favor by dispatching the Patriots--would anyone bet against them in a Superbowl?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

New Beginnings

Tonight is our first large group of the semester at UNC.  One of the things that I love about campus ministry is the seasons and all the new starts that you get.  Every five months or so, you get a re-start and a chance to take a deep breath and set a new course. 

This semester at our large groups we’re talking about what it looks like to be a missional community.  This has been a buzz phrase for us all year long, and we want to begin to flesh it out a little bit.  Next weekend is our leadership retreat, and I’m trying to hammer out a working definition of missional community.  I think the trick is that I think that just about any community can be ‘missional’ about something, so what are the distinctives about Christian missional communities?  Any thoughts would be welcome. 

If you’ve got a few seconds, say a quick prayer for our new beginning tonight at UNC as we start the new semester.  


More Holiness and Happiness (While My Poor Wife Barely Sleeps)

I was thinking some more about the whole link between holiness and happiness this morning in the shower (where I do all my best thinking—I think if I had a dry-erase board installed in my shower I’d cure cancer).

I think there’s a couple reasons why I find this linkage so important.  One, I think it’s true.  If you want more on how Scripture talks about this, go to www.desiringgod.org and check out John Piper’s web site.  Of his many books on this subject, Future Grace is definitely his best, and on my ‘Top 5 Reads of All Time’ list.  Secondly, because it’s true that holiness is the only real way to real happiness, I find myself much more deeply motivated to pursue holiness at any cost!  Being pruned back by the Lord is hard stuff, and I need all the hope and promises that I can gather together to walk down some of the paths that he calls me to walk down.

In the mean time, my sweet daughter has decided to do most of her sleeping in the mid-to-late afternoon times, and then nurse about every hour before and after that!  So my poor wife is becoming nocturnal—it’ll be tough to be married to someone who has the sleep habits of a bat, but what are you gonna’ do??          

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Holiness and Happiness

I've actually done a whole bunch of reading over the past couple weeks--some before Zoe was born, a little bit more in the past several days. I just finished Gary Thomas' Sacred Marriage--I knew with baby #2 on the way, I'd need some marriage tutoring--and it is phenomenal. I'd recommend it to anyone who's been married more than a couple days.

This is the second book by Thomas that I've read--his previous one was called Sacred Pathways where he talks about different ways people meet the Lord: nature, activism, contemplation, study, etc. If you're someone who struggles with spiritual disciplines at all, Thomas has a great web site (www.garythomas.com) where you can take a short test that will help you find your 'sacred pathway'--no more "one size fits all" spiritual disciplines prescription. It's really excellent, take a look.

The subtitle to Thomas' book on marriage is: "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" I agree with this premise, and I would take it a step further. I think that you could put just about any life situation in place of "marriage:" what if God designed singleness, your job, being a student, your family situation, every aspect of your life to make you holy more than to make you happy?" I think it re-orients us around a more faithful center to think of it that way.

But I do have one small objection. What if holiness is our only way to happiness? What if there is simply no other way to be happy other than to be holy? What if holiness and happiness are not actually set against each other (as Thomas does here and as we so often do in our own thinking) but they're actually intrinsically linked? John Piper, a pastor in Minnesota and one of my favorite authors, calls himself a "Christian Hedonist" based on this contention. All of us seek our own happiness. The sin is not found in looking for happiness but rather in looking for it in all the wrong places.

My contention: the world can't even deliver on the thin version of happiness that it offers. Worldliness only equals misery--you don't even have to believe in God to see that, just listen to your radio, or watch a little t.v. Godliness and holiness, these equal happiness. C.S. Lewis: "Joy is the serious busines of heaven."

What if God designed every aspect of our lives to make us holy, which is the only way to make us happy?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Two Plugs: One Painful, One Shameless

I’ve got two things to plug in today’s post:


First, allow me to plug the wonders of using your local birthing center for those of you out there who are considering having a baby at any point in your life.  Let me give the downsides up front: there is no pain medication allowed.  No drugs, that’s the deal.  They’re all about working with the woman’s body to help it do it all-natural.  It’s a little fruity-granola that way.


But here’s the up-side.  We leave our house Friday at 11:15 a.m, with Kelly in some pretty serious labor (we should have left earlier).  We get there at 11:30, she pushes from the moment we get to the birthing center until 1:14 when Zoe’s born.  They leave us alone for a couple hours to just be a family and enjoy our little girl together.  Then they come in, do some height/weight/hearing tests, etc. and we’re back in the car at 7:30 and home for a late dinner with the family that’s gathered.  If you go to the hospital, you’re stuck there for two days with nurses and doctors waking you up every couple hours, sleeping in a mediocre bed and eating bad food.  If you’ve got family around to help out and if the ladies out there can deal with the pain, the birthing center is the way to go.


My second plug is the shameless one.  I responded to a comment two weeks ago regarding my very  hypothetical book that I finished up just before Christmas called Starting Well: Lifelong Leadership for Beginning Leaders.  I’m still shopping the book around to several publishing companies but in the mean time I submitted three chapters to ChristianityToday.com for publication on their site.  All three chapters were accepted.  I decided to only have them run one of them because a prospective publisher doesn’t want the whole book on the internet for free if they’re going to invest money in publishing the thing!


Anyway, it’s been edited and I found out last week that it’ll be published on February 16th under the “Building Church Leaders” sub-site of ChristianityToday.com.  It’s encouraging to have someone outside the InterVarsity circle find the stuff that I wrote helpful and encouraging.  I’ll post the link on the blog when it goes up.        

Monday, January 09, 2006

Zoe Sleeps (some) and Being a "Yes" Man

Zoe slept for a three-hour stretch last night and nursed the rest of the time, meaning I just slept all night and neither prayed nor watched any Lord of the Rings. But sleep is oh, so good.

I've been thinking about parenting and how God is our good Father. My Systematic Theology professor hammered home to me that our God is a "yes" God--which goes against our culture's understanding of the Christian God (which may be the fault of his witnesses!). All his promises are "yes" to us in Christ. The only time God says "no" to us is when we say no to his yes. So God says, "I want to bless you with every good thing in Jesus Christ." And we respond, "No, I don't want that blessing" and God says, "No, I will!"

I've been thinking about what it might be like to have a home where our Good Father's "YES!" to us in Christ is the banner that flies over us. All our discpline, all our reading and laughing and playing, what we do and don't watch on t.v, Cocoa-Puffs or Cheerios, all of this I think is more profitably understood if we've got some sense that we only say "no" in order to more fully experience and enter into the "yes"--yes to love, yes to a home full of laughter, yes to respecting each other, yes to character and integrity and yes most of all to God's yes to us.

I want to be a "yes" dad--not a push-over, trying to be my kids best friend kind of yes. A deeper, wiser, more deliberate and more playful yes that echoes into my children's eternity.

But what do I know? All I've got is a 2-year-old and a 3-day-old! Some of you have much more experience in this than I do and you might be able to shed some more thoughtful light on the subject.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sleepless in Durham

Zoe’s two days old today and she continues to boycott sleep.  I forgot how much time you have at ungodly hours of the night when they’re not sleeping.  I’ve had lots of time to pray for folks—if you’re family, friends, a UNC or VCU student, chances are I’ve been praying for you at some point the last couple of nights between 2 and 6 a.m.  I’m considering moving to the only slightly less spiritual option of starting the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, extended edition of course.  If I’m gonna’ have all this time on my hands, I might as well redeem it.




Saturday, January 07, 2006

Proudly Introducing...

On Friday, January 6, 2006 at 1:14 p.m. my beautiful bride gave birth to Zoe Alexandra Kirk. She weighed in at 7 pounds, 3 ounces and was 20 inches long.

Mom and baby are doing well and Davis is very interested in his new little sister. They say that girls develop faster than boys, and Zoe's already living up to the hype by being a champion nurser, putting her about four months ahead of big brother. However, she did find sleep on her first night to be completely optional, so her parents did as well!

Zoe comes from the Greek word meaning "life." In the Scriptures it most often means eternal life. Our prayer is that Zoe will know the life Christ offers and be an agent of that life. Alexandra is from my Opa, Alex Hegenbart (my mom's dad), who I'm also named after.

Thanks for celebrating with us this gift of God to us!

Here's Zoe's first outfit...notice the diaper's about half her size!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have Contractions

It’s 8:10 a.m. Friday, January 06, 2006, and we’re having some serious contractions.  Tune back in for updates…including the unveiling of our little girl’s name!


Thursday, January 05, 2006

I think Mack Brown still wishes he were a Tar Heel

But congrats anyway to our former coach and his Texas team for their huge win last night (I stayed up way too late watching it) against USC.

As my brother pointed out, it's really shocking that in all these interviews, no one's asked him if he thinks he made the right decision to leave UNC's football program to take over at Texas. When I was a student I would walk by the football stadium every day on my way to class, and Mack Brown's Carolina blue Subaru Legacy with liscence plates reading "Coach Mack" was often parked just by the sidewalk. Sometimes I'd touch it, just in case something like last night happened.

Me and Mack, we're tight.

Offending my Paycheck: The Dangers of Incarnation

Of course, there are lots of ways incarnational ministry can go wrong.

One is, as my good friend Marshall Benbow pointed out, we can end up pretending to be something we're not. We then lose the power of holy authenticity in our over-attempts to be relevant. In doing this we give up too much of our own story that God has intersected with his grace. The apostle Paul told his story a lot. Read through his letters, and whether he's writing to Jews or Gentiles or both, he is constantly telling them about who he was before Christ intersected his life and who he is becoming now.

Another danger is that incarnational ministry can easily become faddish. In the rush to be cooler or more relevant or more hip than the church or ministry next door, we grab a hold of whatever methods or means are the newest. Without prayerful consideration in the appropriation of methods, we will foolishly flip-flop from one strategy to the next, tossed about by the waves of trends and fads.

The last danger that's perhaps most important for us to be aware of is that we forget that incarnation is, itself, a means to the larger end of transformation. If we fall in love with our style or methodology and forget that we have larger ends to be aiming for, we lose the whole thing. I'm deeply grateful for author Marva Dawn and her mentor, French Christian philosopher Jacques Ellul, for calling me to be discerning and critical in my thinking about the difference between means and ends. Just because we can do something doesn't mean it's right, good, holy, or appropriate in it's timing.

John and Charles Wesley wrote tons of hymns that the church still sings today. Many of those hymns were written to the tunes of drinking songs. They infused drinking songs with powerful lyrics and they left a mark that was (and continues to be) transformational. They were able to do this because they were both incarnationally rooted in the culture they were serving and because they had perspective on that culture through their study of Scripture and other thinkers who had gone before them. This is critical for people who are thinking about incarnational ministry: we've got to hear the thoughts of the people in the past to really have perspective on what we're doing now. This keeps us from getting overly caught up in the hype and it also gives us more to offer the people we encounter than just more of the same. This is why I've got a link on the site to free Christian Classics on-line. We need to be hearing from these folks, or we lose perspective and begin to think all of Christianity went from Jesus, to Paul, to us.

Author Christian Smith (he wrote "Divided by Faith, for those who are familiar) has recently written a book about a study of 13-18 year olds who are involved in religious activity, most of them evangelicals. He is shocked by their inability to articulate any of the basic tenets of their faith. He calls their faith "moralistic, therapeutic, deism." They don't really know any of the stories or particulars of their faith. Some of this is developmental (how much can any 13-year-old articulate about matters of faith?) but clearly this is a call to think critically about whether or not we're being transformational in our incarnational ministries.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Defending My Paycheck 3: Forgetting Incarnation

There are two things that occur if we forget that the churches' work is to be an incarnational work that serves the greater purpose of transformation.

The first danger is that we forget that our job is to be missional. If we forget that God's people are in place "for such a time as this" we neglect the work he has gone ahead and prepared in advance for us to do.

You do not have to look very far to see historical evidence of this. Coming into the 20th century, the church in Europe had lost a good deal of its' historical power but still remained a viable voice socially, politically, and spiritually. By the end of the century, the church was (and is) largely irrelevant to most Europeans. The church did not respond well on a popular level to the crisis of two world wars and the intelectual and philosophical attacks it endured. So Europe produced two of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century (C.S. Lewis and Karl Barth) but lost it's incarnational and missional edge to the people at-large. Ask the church in Europe if they'd like to take a mulligan on doing more thoughtful generational-specific ministry!

The second danger that we face if we forget that our work is to be incarnational is more subtle but perhaps greater. To simply state that our work is to speak the gospel belies an assumption that we already have that gospel under wraps. Philemon v. 6: "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ." As we engage the people and situations around us with the fullness of the gospel, we are stretched to grow in our understanding of what the gospel is. Honestly, we can't simply say that our job is to present the gospel and let the chips fall where they may because none of us knows the fullness of the gospel yet. And we are arrogant to presume to. There is a teachability and a humility when we seek to bring the gospel to bear to a given culture or a situation or a generation that allows us to see the gospel more fully.

Every understanding of what the gospel is comes freighted with our cultural and generational assumptions, questions, and values. The practice of incarnational ministry reminds us of this fact. The posture of presuming to already know the gospel cuts us off from being able to learn from Christians of different cultures or generations--including older generations whose blind spots and clear-sighted areas are different from ours!

Of course, there are dangers in incarnational ministry as well, and we'll talk about those tomorrow. Assuming, of course, we don't have a baby between now and then--she's due any day now...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Defending my Paycheck 2: After "It Is Finished"

So maybe Jesus has lots of nice stories for different people in different contexts. But after his death and resurrection, it all comes together, right? There is now a clear gospel message, and the disciple's marching orders are to go and make disciples in the fullness of what they now know about Jesus' work and message.

But as you read Acts, it's clear again that the message is always a variation on the same theme. Peter's sermon at Pentecost and Stephen's sermon before he gets stoned before the Jewish religious leaders and Paul talking with Greeks...there's one gospel and it's all contextualized. Again at no point do we get a mathematical or philosophical formula laid neatly out for us. At no point do they simply "preach the gospel" as if it were a disembodied thing or set of value statements and then let the chips fall where they may.

In fact, read through all the epistles in the NT and we find that there is no such thing as a de-contextualized gospel. Every letter in the NT is written applying the gospel to the situations at hand: chaos during worship in Corinth, Judaizers in Galatia, multi-ethnic ministry in Ephesus. The work of theology is done 'along the way' and the ink is barely dry on a suppositional statement (i.e. "He is the head of the body which is the church") before it is applied to the mess that is going on in the community being addressed.

This is not to say that there are not truths that are consistently laid out. There is always the same gospel and the clear articulation of those truths is to be found as we read the breadth of the NT. But the glory of this gospel is that it is large enough to capture up all of our stories, every single aspect of all of our stories, and bring them together under one head, "even Christ."

This is always the work of the church: transformation is the goal and incarnation throughout church history has been the means to that end.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Defending my Paycheck Part 1

In last month's Christianity Today there was an article written by a seminary professor who was critical of ministry that specifically targeted younger generations. His complaint was that generational ministry fractured the church. What we need to do, he suggested, is just preach the gospel and let the chips fall as they may.

While I clearly have some bias here, I think it's important to answer this question. I want to answer it not because I think myself worthy of engaging someone who is obviously much more qualified to talk on such issues, nor because I honestly think that my paycheck (as meager as it may be) is in peril. I want to address it because this argument comes up frequenly in many contexts: worship styles, seeker-oriented churches, and multi-ethnic ministry particularly. Should we adapt our ministry styles based on the people we hope to engage or is that caving in to the consumerism of our culture?

My answer, not surprisingly, is that we must adapt. There are many reasons (hence, another multi-part posting) but let me start with the event that is most recent that perhaps provides the best apologetic for what I would call incarnational ministry.

Christmas. Christmas is God's particular answer to all of our particular problems. God puts on flesh, and moves in among us. He speaks a human language, he feels human feelings and he tells stories using very familiar (at the time) images and situations. Jesus comes to get us, and his message is not a mathematical equation that he repeats in every situation and context, but a gospel message that is vast and takes on particular issues with different audiences. To religious folks, Jesus tells one story. To the poor and oppressed, Jesus tells another story. It's the same message worked out very practically in each context.

That Jesus doesn't just have one story or formula that he tells in every sermon is a smaller picture of the bigger point of his coming. Jesus becomes like those he would save. So must we.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Pop-Culture Check-In Part 2: At the Movies from Munich to Narnia to the Smiths



I promise that not every entry will be in two parts.  I’m trying to keep these things somewhat readable (i.e. short!).


Over the break we’ve actually gotten to see a couple movies (actually in the theater, imagine that!).  Here are some unsolicited thoughts:


*Munich:  The story-line moves in bits and starts, it’s pretty grisly, the characters don’t totally gel, and there’s lots of holes and questions left at the end—in other words, it’s a perfect movie to depict the complexity and disaster that is much of the 20th/21st century Middle East conflict.  You won’t leave feeling very good, but it’s powerful.


*Narnia: As long as you don’t go in expecting it to be as epic and captivating as Lord of the Rings, you can enjoy the movie.  The ‘crucifixion’ scene is particularly powerful, and there’s no holding back on the symbolism and significance: Aslan is sacrificed to save the traitor.  The one battle scene tries to take on a LOTR-esque feel, which it largely achieves until you see the 9-year-old leading the charge.  One other beef: they re-arranged the most significant conversation about Aslan to be at the end (somewhat understandable) but left out a crucial part.  The conversation is about Aslan not being a tame lion, which is kept intact.  But in the book, the conversation happens with the Beavers when they’re talking about meeting Aslan for the first time.  One of the children says they would be scared to meet a real lion, is he safe?  To which Mr. Beaver replies, “Of course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.”  That’s Lewis at his best, I’m bummed they cut it out.


*Mr. and Mrs. Smith: This one was all hype about the real-life home-wrecking that went on (Brad Pitt left Jennifer Anniston for Angelina Jolie in the wake of the making of this film) but the movie itself was flimsy with lots of undeveloped potential for a good story line.  Do not waste your time or the $4 rental fee.


*March of the Penguins: This was our rollicking New Year’s extravaganza plans.  You know you’re old when New Year’s Eve plans consist of having your brother’s family over for fondue at 5:00, a documentary afterwards, and you’re in bed by 10:30.  But it’s a great movie and a lot of fun, at least as far as documentaries go…