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.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Taking Away the Fatherhood of God

So one way that this whole circle of analogical predication has practical consequences is in the names of God. There's a movement in some parts of Christianity to take away the name "Father" from God. After all, there's lots of people with 'daddy-baggage' out there and so when they hear us call God "Father" it's a pretty big obstacle.

I actually have lots of sympathy for this issue. The gospel is offensive enough. I'm all for removing any barriers that hinder people from coming to Christ. And I certainly agree that God is not a 'man.' He is both masculine and feminine. He transcends gender in a way that incorporates all conceivable aspects of masculine and feminine and then goes beyond them as well. There is certainly a case to be made for the 'motherhood' of God as well--there is nothing foreign to God about the love of a mother for her child. Motherhood was his idea and in him "in the beginning."

But Jesus, in the two words heard 'round the world, invites us to pray thusly: "Our Father." If you grew up in the church, you probably were done the disservice of never actually thinking about the wonder of the Lord's Prayer, but those two words are pretty astounding. Jesus lives Sonship and calls God, Father; then he extends this radically ridiculous invitation to us to join him in calling God Father. He shares his Sonship with us, for no other reason than because he delights to do so.

I have a hard time sharing pens from my backpack--I know that I lose them that way. Jesus has the most precious and infinitely most priceless thing in the whole universe, and he gladly shares it with us.

The point is two-fold. One, Father is the deeply relational name that Jesus has given us to call God. You can call God just about anything you want, I suppose, but most of us want to be called what we introduce ourselves by to others. But secondly and more importantly, Jesus is not at a loss as to what name to give God for us. It is not as if he's scratching his head, trying to find something that we can understand to call God by; it's not like he looks around and shrugs and says, "I guess the closest thing is Father."

God has always been Father from before the beginning. Our human experience of fatherhood is an echo, however distant or faint, of God's perfect Fatherhood from before all time. We were all made for a Good Father. If someone has had a bad father take fatherhood away from them, do not take it from God. All fathers fall short of reflecting the True Fatherhood of God. And so again we see our need for God to intervene and redeem life in the Land of the Ruins.

And so we're learning to think around the circle in the right way.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Foolishness with the Greeks

So I've been thinking more the past couple days about my Zeus-for-Jesus exchange...and why it's so easy to do.

What the Greeks did when they made up their gods was simple: they started with humans and projected them into gods. It sounds silly when we read the stories, but really most of us do the same thing with God. We start with ourselves, filter through our experiences and guesses and feelings. We then project them onto a god that we then either accept or reject based on...well, based on ourselves.

My theology professor had a cool phrase for this circle of understanding God and understanding ourselves in relation to God: the Circle of Analogical Predication.

One way around this circle is what I just described: start with ourselves, project who we think God might be, and then we decide what to do with that. This approach to God, my professor argued, was going around the circle the wrong way.

This is the question: Who is first and who is the analogy? Am I first and so the character of God is predicated on or analogous to me? Or is God first and so my existence is predicated on and analogous to him?

When it comes to the Christian view of God, we've been given something outside of ourselves to approach Him. We've been given Jesus, the fullness of the Godhead in flesh. So we are no longer stuck in ourselves, no longer stuck with our own experiences, feelings, genetic predispositions, digestive track issues that might cloud our thinking on any given day, etc. We can start our way around the circle with God, not us. In a culture so self-absorbed we're absorbed with how sick we are of our self-absorption, this is good news, indeed.

So we start with Christ, listen and watch and study and begin to understand what he says about who God is and who we are (none of us really know that apart from Him) and then we are free to respond authentically, genuinely, in faith, hope and love. No longer in fear, guilt, anxiety, anger or apathy. This is going around the circle the right way.

You'll note that the only way to do this is by faith. It takes faith to go around the circle the right way, starting with God. Faith is the only vehicle for true understanding of God and consequently for understanding ourselves.

And so I'm freed from my Greek foolishness to understand and experience a God much bigger than my own projections of him. I'm free to no longer exchange one set of myths for another but to exchange my myths for reality.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Science in Wonderland

I'm always on the look-out for thoughtful and well-nuanced Christian perspectives on issues that tend to polarize us. There are plenty of angry people out there, both Christian and non-Christian, who make a lot of noise about the issues surrounding evolution, Intelligent Design, and Creationism. But I thought this article from Christianity Today did a nice job engaging important issues surrounding the debate.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Exchanging Jesus for Zeus

Greek mythology produced a veritable plethora of gods, most all of whom had one thing in common: they were very human. The Greeks took human issues and emotions and projected them loudly into gods--they were capricious, jealous, fought a lot with each other, messed with humans only when necessary, bored, or smitten. It makes for interesting stories, but horrifying Supreme Beings.

Yesterday morning I wrote up my rant about Zoe not sleeping. I went to publish it on the blog and it wouldn't post. I tried several times, it wouldn't post. I wondered if God was angry at me for questioning his goodness. So I wrote up a better p.r. piece for God, the second post, which I had originally intended to write up before Zoe boycotted sleep and God seemed to ignore our prayers. That one wouldn't publish either. I wondered if God was just mad at me blogging altogether.

Several hours later, I found out that the blogger server was down. Later that night, BOTH posts went up automatically.

This morning as I was reflecting on that whole experience, I realized the issues I was dealing with in the post were good. God does not want me to follow him like an idiot. Questions and wrestling are part of the process. The real problem yesterday was my mental exchange of Jesus for Zeus, sitting on High, recreationally blocking blog posts that happen to make him look bad. I rejoiced this morning as I repented--that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit God is nothing like me or Zeus, and that he is glad to enter into the messy process with me.

And since I ranted publicly yesterday, let me also rejoice publicly this morning: Zoe slept much better last night. Of course Davis, who usually wakes up at a reasonable 6:30 then woke up at 5 a.m.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Reckless Community

I spent some time in one of my favorite stories in the gospels recently, and it reminded me of the whole point of this community thing.

Jesus comes to town and packs out this house as he's teaching and healing people. These four guys come with their paralyzed friend on a mat. They want Jesus to heal this guy, but they can't get in. So they climb up onto the roof, dig a hole in it, and lower their friend on his mat right in front of Jesus. It's not their house, it's not their roof, but they don't care. They're doing whatever it takes to get their friend in front of Jesus. "When Jesus saw THEIR faith..." (emphasis mine, Mark didn't write that in all caps).

Several years ago a friend of ours lost her younger brother to a car accident. She was on the phone with one of our pastors, sobbing. "I just can't believe right now," she confessed.

My pastor's repsonse: "That's okay. You don't have to. Jesus is praying perfectly for you, and the church is here praying for you, too. You don't have to believe right now. We'll believe for you."

That's the point and purpose of spiritually reckless community. Doing whatever it takes to get people to Jesus, especially the sick ones, who can't (or won't) get there on their own.

Prayer and Cursing

Zoe was a wonderful sleeper. Until two weeks ago. Here was her schedule last night:

11:15 Zoe wakes up, I go in to put her back down
11:45 Zoe wakes up, I go in to put her back down
12:15 Zoe wakes up, Kelly nurses her and puts her back down
2:10 Zoe wakes up, I go in to put her back down
3:00 Zoe wakes up, I go in to put her back down
4:00 Zoe wakes up, I go in to put her back down
5:15 Zoe wakes up, Kelly nurses her and puts her back down
6:30 Davis wakes up, I get up with him for the day
7:00 Zoe wakes up for the day

While there might have been some period of time when it's sort of cute/funny to be the typical parents of a newborn who are exhausted, at this point we're past that. Kelly's been exhausted for much of the past couple weeks. I'm fighting a head cold that won't go away and I've got lots on my plate for today.

I spent much of last night praying for Zoe to sleep and cursing the fact that she would not.

Davis had sleep troubles for almost his entire first year of life. Our many months of unanswered prayers for sleep for him (and us) pressed Kelly and myself to some pretty raw places with God. I've got a friend who fasted for a period of several days as a part of his petition to the Lord to help one of his two kids sleep. Me, I'm much less spiritual. I feel like God should help me without all that trouble. I'm not asking for the global geopolitical landscape to shift, I'm not asking for a bigger house or car. I'm asking for a simple good: for my child to sleep, for sleep for our whole house.

When this prayer goes unanswered, it presses me to one of two unhappy places. Either God cannot help my child to sleep or he has decided not to. The first leaves me with a mushy clock-maker-type Deism which looks nothing like the Christianity that I know and love. The second feels more personal--God could help us but chooses to withhold good. Agnosticism sounds like an appealing option at this point: we just can't know God, so no use in trying. Appealing, but lazy.

In the grand scheme of things, I know that this will pass and that my sleepless night is but a little blip in the cosmic scheme of misery. I also know that I sound a little whiney this morning--I feel whiney. And please, anyone out there who are parents with kids, no well-meaning posts with more books to read or philosophies about how to get your kids to sleep. We've read them all, we know them all, we have tried or are in the process of trying them all.

In the Psalms, David regularly registers complaint with God. Here is mine. Why won't you let us sleep?

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Joy and Mess of Community

While community and joy are explicitly connected throughout the New Testament, it's also pretty crucial that we have a clear picture of the messiness that comes with community.

The story of John the Baptist's birth in Luke 1 is a great illustration. Elizabeth's old and got no kids and has no business being pregnant, but because nothing is too wonderful for God, she is. And 'her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.' Awesome, more joy lived out in community.

But then they (and by 'they' the Scriptures mean the whole family) go to circumcise John and 'they' want to name him Zechariah after his papa--who can't say anything at this point because he's been struck mute after questioning the angel who told him about the baby to come (quick aside for a teachable moment: never question an angel appearing to tell you good news). Elizabeth protests that the kid's name is supposed to be John, but they argue that no one in their family has that name.

So the community that had before shared in the family's joy is now trying to get in the way of God's calling for their child. The community participateth in joy, and the community can also raineth on joy's parade. It's a tricky dynamic, this whole relationship thing on the other side of the great and terrible exchange. It constantly needs to be redeemed, righted, transformed and infused with new life in order for it to be the mechanism of joy delivery it was intended to be.

But the mess of it is not a reason to remove ourselves from it. Indeed, to retreat from community is to retreat from the image-bearing we were intended to live out. And this is a far deeper brokenness than dealing with annoying friends and family members who are too much all up in your bidness.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Way of Joy

My senior year at UNC, my IV staff worker Rachelle (then Smith, now McClintock) and I did a Bible study on the word 'joy' as it was used in the New Testament We were intending to write a book on it. We never quite got that far, but just looking at the Scriptures was pretty illuminating.

The word joy is most often used in the Scriptures in the context of community. In passage after passage, joy and relationships were linked arm-in-arm.

Perhaps this should not be surprising. Two months ago I posted a snippet from a talk I gave a conference where we were talking about God being a 'Being-In-Relationship'--Father, Son, Holy Spirit. God is not a monolithic piece of granite. He is dynamic, ongoing, interactive Persons--the most Real Persons ever. The 'joy of the Lord' is the gladness and happiness that God has in being God. God delights to be who He is. The Father delights in the Son, the Son delights in the Father, the Holy Spirit delights to be the result of this love relationship.

And so when we are in holy and good community, where true sharing, authenticity, self-giving, and genuine delight in another is happening we too get to experience something of joy--the joy of the Lord in microcosm.

Is it any wonder that our world is so joyless? Is there any greater sadness than the fact that our Christian communities fall so far short of this type of relating and therefore lack the joy available to us?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

On Having One's Own Way

I thought I'd share with you my "on-the-john" reading this morning from George MacDonald:

"The liberty of the God who would have his creatures free, is in contest with the slavery of the creature who would cut his own stem from his root that he might call it his own and love it; who rejoices in his own consciousness, instead of the life of that consciousness; who poises himself on the tottering wall of his own being, instead of the rock on which that being is built.

Such a one regards his own dominion over himself--the rule of the greater by the less--as a freedom infinitely larger than the universe of God's being. If he says, "At least I have my own way!", I answer, you do not know what is your way and what is not. You know nothing of whence your impulses, your desires, your tendencies, your likings come. They may spring now from some chance, as of nerves diseased; now from some roar of a wandering bodiless devil; now from some infant hate in your heart; now from the greed of lawlessness of some ancestor you would be ashamed of if you knew him; or it may be, now from some far-piercing chord of a heavenly orchestra: the moment comes up into your consciousness, you call it your own way, and glory in it."

Amen, and heck yeah. I'm so quick to fall in love with my own ideas, impulses, and desires--and I needed this today to re-orient me around what is true, right and good.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Humility Lessons from my Nun

Two weeks ago I talked about how God gave me a nun--a spiritual director who helps me sort through the noises of my soul.

I made my monthly nun check-in yesterday. We ended up talking a good bit about pride and spiritual disciplines that help to check it. There were several that he offered, none of which I tend to be very good at, but a couple have me thinking today.

The discipline that has me most intrigued (and that I think would be the most difficult for me) is the discipline of secrecy. When I give a talk or lead a seminar, I want feedback. Mostly, of course, I want people to say nice things, but even negative feedback is better than no feedback at all. Often, if I don't get it offered to me, then I go fishing for it. I look for opportunities in conversation to turn the subject to me or things that I've done in order to angle for some sort of comment that I hope will be a compliment.

The discipline of secrecy is really a discipline of silent contentment before the Lord. It is saying that the things that I do are for the Lord, the work and the results are in his hands, and so I will be content before the Lord to have done the work for him and not for the approval of others.

My relationships would be so much cleaner and more free, I think, if I weren't so often mining for encouragement to prop up my outward show of perfect performance. If I could draw my contentment from deeper wells, I think I would be much more peaceful, much less manipulative, and much less anxious. My work is done well or not done well before God. In either case, I am free to love and bless others, not use them for my vacuous and ravenous ego.

I think I'll give this secrecy thing a try. Sort of odd that I'd post a blog about it, but us external processors have a hard time doing anything too quietly--even when we're thinking about being quiet, we've gotta' talk it out loud.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Who's Hot, Who's Not

Who's Hot:

*Heels & 'Hoos: UNC men basketball projected #1 or #2 in most polls; UVA alum Katie Couric first solo woman news anchor.

*Tom Cruise: Proud soon-to-be papa stars in can't-miss Mission Impossible 3, but then again...

*NFL & NCAA: Pro football's draft has become newest national obsession; College football crowns new champ in epic championship game then two months later stages greatest basketball tourney in history despite ho-hum Final Four.

*Dook Lax: DNA tests come back negative; but then again...

*Easter Bunnies: Easter Saturday yard work leads to discovery of rabbit's den with two bunnies; the next day the Easter Bunny (no relation) leaves basket with Play-Do pasta maker for Davis.

Who's Not:

*Devils & Pack: Dook to lose more than just Reddick and Williams to this year's draft; N.C. State boosters and media run off all-around good guy (and good coach) Herb Sendek and are dissed and dismissed by first two choices.

*Tom Cruise:...tabloids full of rumors of marital discontent, freekatie.net continues to be hot internet site, and then there's that whole Scientology thing...

*MLB & NBA: Baseball season began a little while ago and the only reason anyone cared was to watch the train-wreck of Barry Bonds' life and ego as drug allegations unravel his inflated career; the NBA playoffs begin way too soon after the NCAA tourney for anyone to think that they really do love this game.

*Dook Lax: ...what do you say if you're the athletic director: way to not molest the stripper, guys? Season's cancelled, coach is gone, and D.A. vows to continue investigation.

*George W: Approval rating continues to decline; former baseball team Texas Rangers so bad already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

*Easter Snakes: Easter weekend yard work yields more reptiles than bunnies; yard work done yields more to do.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday Freedom

I would prefer to think of myself, as Martin Luther once said, as a painted sinner in need of a painted savior. That is, I would like to believe that the threads of brokenness and rebellion and idol-worship did not run through the core of my being. And thus I would prefer to think that Jesus had only to die a little death for me, or at least that my part did not hurt quite so much as yours.

But Good Friday will not allow me to use my illusion for very long.

Good Friday, with it's gruesome twists and turns, calls me to the stark-reality of my situation and His. And what this does for me in my every day life is free me from having to pretend that I'm no longer in need of a savior. All my secret thoughts, all my shameful pride, all my darkest fears about myself and what might be wrong about me are all confirmed at the cross. I am, indeed, a mess.

As I learned in a Sonship Bible study many years ago: cheer up, you are worse off than you think. When I can bring myself by faith to embrace this fact, it relieves me from the posturing and performing that mark so much of my interactions with other people and with God.

And the corollary to this is that the cross is even more powerful and effectual than I could ever imagine.

Indeed, so wonderfully powerful is Jesus work on the cross and his subsequent resurrection that while it confirms the darkest fears that we have about ourselves (that we're not completely put-together, nice, basically good people who happen to do a few wrong things now and then), it also radically re-makes us once we have embraced the reality of Christ's work in our own lives.

The New Testament has lots to say about us being sinners before we meet Christ. But not once does the New Testament refer to us as sinners after we have been found by him. In other words, our fundamental identity once we are in Christ shifts from sinner to sons and daughters.

This does not mean that we do not sin, but rather that our worst and darkest fears about ourselves are exposed on Good Friday and dealt with in the mystery of His work betwwen Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There is an exchange: our identity as sinners for His identity as the Son. We share in His Sonship now, no longer primarily identified as sinners and therefore recklessly free to admit all the worst about ourselves--and all the best about the new identity and hope we have in Christ.

Happy Easter, my friends. He is risen! Hallelujah!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Two Paths to Lord Over the Nations

This weekend we celebrate the dying and rising again of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is enthroned as Lord over all the nations of the earth. But Easter was not the only route Jesus could have taken to reclaim that which he had created.

At the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, the gospel writers record that he was led out into the desert to be tempted. Satan took him to a high place and in an instant showed him all the kingdoms of the world.

"I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours."

Here it is. The expedient path. The painless alternative. The shortcut to glory. No cross. No friends abandoning him. No lashes from a cruel whip. No long, painful, agonizing, excruciating death. No being cut off from the presence of His Father.

Just a little mis-directed worship, and Jesus gets what he came for.

Of course, most of us know what happened: Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'"

In one sentence, Jesus seals his fate. There is only one way now to re-claim that which is rightfully his. Jesus carries the cross three years later, but he embraces the cross here. Jesus declines the expedient solution and goes the way of the cross.

This is instructive for us as Americans--our culture is built around expedient medicating of difficult circumstances, from fast-food to the pharmaceutical culture to the therapeutic self-help culture. Some of this is good and right. Much of it is simply built around expedience and pain-relief.

But Easter, and the decision Jesus made three years earlier to not bend the false knee, tells us that there are some pains worth embracing. There are deaths worth dying. Not all deaths are final. Some deaths lead to life. And, of course, others do not. But before we go with our instincts and select the path of least resistance, it would be wise to allow Easter to speak into our decision-making process.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Easter Truth

To say that there is no such thing as absolute truth is to make an absolute truth statement.

To survey the landscape of various religions and philosophies and propose that there is no one way to understand God or the world but rather that they all point to the same ultimate reality is to simply add more clutter to the already over-developed landscape. In the attempt to take away an exclusive meta-narrative, you have simply fabricated a new one.

To say that it is up to the individual to Golden-Corral style buffet their way through the religious line, selecting bits and pieces of each religion as they go, is to atomize the individual and to spay and neuter all choice. Choice only matters if the choice has consequences. To say that it's all the same anyway is to disempower people and make all choice meaningless. I find empowering people a very small and very secular goal, but even by this measure religious relativism cannot stand up. Ergo, the religious relativist movement has only further served to commodify religion and make it another option among the many--further isolating the individual who was created for a story bigger than him/her self and set out looking for one. Instead of purpose, the pilgrim simply finds more products to choose from.

Easter demands to be dealt with on it's own terms, not as part and parcel of a patch-work of personalized religious choices. This event is radically particular, radically re-orienting, and, indeed, radically relativizing: everything else in the universe must either be understood through this center, or it will not be understood at all.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Tuesday Grab-Bag on Monday Night

It's going to be a busy day tomorrow, so I thought I'd post something tonight before I plunge into a full day.

*A week or two ago I posted some poetry that wasn't so great. If you're interested in some real poetry, check out The Todd Waldo Collection, a book of poetry available for purchase on-line. Todd's a true artist who pushes me to think with his art--as well as laugh. My personal favorite is his poem '70's Child to 70's Child,' which he wrote for me on the occasion of my 30th birthday two years ago. Anytime someone can work in a Smurfs reference in a book of poetry, you know it has to be good.

*There's been a lot of hype about The Gospel of Judas that was just released over the weekend. Christianity Today did a good job of cutting through some of it with this article. Check it out if you're interested in the issues being raised.

*Greatest game show of all time: The Price is Right, no contest. Less geeky than Jeopardy, less random than Wheel of Fortune. An enthralling combination of skill (how much does a Del Monte can of peas cost in California, anyway?), longevity, personality (Rod Roddey, Bob Barker, Barker's Beauties), drama (some serious prizes being awarded every single day, sometimes multiple times a day), and variety of games within the game--Plinko, The Range Game, Hole in One (or Two), the Big Wheel, the Showcase Showdown. I'd play sick just to stay home and watch it from 11 to 12 as a kid. And the beat just keeps going and going and going...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Leaf by Niggle

Last weekend we were at my parent's house in Concord, NC. I picked up a book of J.R.R. Tolkien's short stories and read one of my favorites: Leaf by Niggle.

Niggle is a painter, and Tolkien describes him thusly: "He was the sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees."

Being an over-achiever, I instantly recoiled: I certainly don't want to be that kind of person. I want to be the sort of person who can do it all--the leaves, the trees, whole forests, maybe throw in some mountains and a nice stream--you want some picnic-ers in that scene? I'll see what I can do.

Tolkien got me.

As the story goes on, Niggle the poor (in both senses of the word) painter is shown to need the aid of his slightly obnoxious neighbor...and his obnoxious neighbor needs him. It is a story about gifts and service, complete with a visit to pergatory (Tolkien was Catholic). It is one of the rare times that Tolkien's faith plays out in very direct ways with his writings--he was not a big fan of C.S. Lewis' Narnia series because he felt they lacked the subtlety that all good art has.

The whole point of the story is that all of us need the body. And my reaction against Niggle's weakness reveals the depths of my issues: if I can't embrace the fact that at times I'm the type of "painter" (actually, I can't paint/draw/sketch at all) who can draw leaves better than whole trees, then I will miss out on the joy of sharing life in community. I become isolated in my attempts at self-sufficiency, and I miss out on the fullness of fellowship.

So this Easter week, I'm celebrating the fact that I'm the kind of painter who can sometimes paint leaves better than trees, or trees better than leaves...and that I don't have to try so hard to maintain the pitiful illusion that I'm good at everything. It's the kind of freedom that we should and do have as Christians, but we (or at least I) find it hard to live in it as deeply and recklessly as we are invited to.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Here's Zoe at 3 months! This is actually the only point in the day that she was actually smiling yesterday, according to my wife. But overall, Zoe's been a great baby. She is dearly loved by her parents and especially her older brother who likes to bring her his stuffed animals to kiss her head.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Panacea Wary

Have you ever heard someone say something like this: "I think if I really loved God perfectly/the way I should/more, then X (sharing my faith, prayer, Bible study, etc.) would naturally follow?"

Let me state for the record: I am wary of this panacea.

Two reasons:

1. At what point do or will we EVER love God truly/perfectly/the way we ought? Answer: never. If we're waiting to grow or to attempt to grow in these areas until we get our love for God all in order, getting ourselves more cranked up to be more in love with God, then we'll never get to anything.

2. Nearly everything that we often list as "X" is a skill, not a natural ability: prayer, sharing our faith, Bible study, whatever. These are all learned abilities, there's maybe 2% of the Christian population to whom these things come naturally. In other words, even if you DID love God perfectly/truly/the way you should, you STILL would probably stink at sharing your faith until you sought it out intentionally.

The word most often used for wisdom in the Old Testament Scriptures is literally "skill in living." Skills are learned, not random outgrowths of other things. I might love football, but to be able to teach others how to play is a different skill set.

In fact, what I find most often my work with students is quite the opposite. As one of my fellow staff workers observed the other day: "It seems those who have only the smallest glimpse of Jesus [i.e. really young Christians and those who are passionately on the journey of being found by him] seem to be the most reckless about talking about him."

Indeed, the early passion of young faith is a powerful motivator. After that fades (as it always does, and this is not to be re-grasped-at but allowed to pass that we might grow into maturity) we must do the real work of growing into skillful living with Christ.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Real Final Four

Yesterday I mentioned that pressing through my surface-level angst to deeper questions helps me to see the questions behind the questions that are really the significant ones. It also helps me to see where I'm asking the wrong questions.

I learned the right questions from my seminary professor a couple years ago. These are the questions that God is always the most interested in answering, especially in Scripture but really in all of his works. These questions in this order, the real final four:

1. Who is God?
2. What is God doing (or what has God already done?)
3. Who are we? And the corollary: who am I?
4. What do we/I do?

It strikes me every time I think about these questions that the thing that I most often ask about (what should I do?) is the question that God is least interested in answering. The question I ponder probably the least often (the character, nature, and attributes of the God of the universe) is the one that God is most interested in supplying me answers to.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

To the Nunnery with Piebald Questions

A couple of years ago I realized that I needed to get me a nun.

One of the challenges of being in full-time ministry is finding older folks who are willing and have the time and space to help sort through things in my own life. At one point over a six-month span, I heard several cool speakers and a couple other IV staff talk about their nuns--older women nuns that they met with on a regular basis that gave them spiritual direction. One staff even mowed grass in exchange for monthly meetings.

I wasn't exactly sure where to find my nun. It's not like there's "rent-a-nun" section in the yellow pages. So I prayed for several months, maybe over a year. And the Lord gave me a nun. His name is Doug Stewart. While he's not technically a nun, he is a wise, godly, older man who is gifted in the art of spiritual direction. We talk about once a month and he helps me sort through the noises of my soul.

One thing Doug has helped me to do is press through my surface-level questions to consider what the deeper questions are: what's the question BEHIND the question? In the case of my piebald tension and the question of my work and God's work I posted on yesterday, there are bigger questions that drive my angst that are pretty significant: do I matter to God? is my work important? am I valuable?

When those questions are exposed, I can begin the healing at a deeper level, a more satisfying level. I am no longer treating outer symptoms but I'm getting to the roots of the issues. I also begin to see where I'm asking the wrong questions.

This is important because everyone has places of angst in their lives that then gets worked out in our walk with God. Thankfully most of the people who read this blog aren't in full-time ministry. So your places of surface-level tension or angst are probably not the same as my piebald tension. But the key thing is not the exact outworkings of our angst but to press through whatever places of tension or conflict exist and begin to ask: what's the question behind this question? What are the issues that are really driving this concern/problem/issue?

And when we get to those places, we usually realize that we're both much better off and much worse off than we ever really thought we were. And then the real healing and transformation begins.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Feeling Pretty Piebald Recently

Two words can describe my first two years of ministry: utter failure. The InterVarsity chapter I was sent to serve dwindled from 50 to 15 by the end of my second year. As the chapter went into its' death spiral, I began to ask some big life questions: would I be better suited to work as a Wal-Mart greeter? is this all my fault? does God care about this whole mess? why doesn't he do something?

There was a pretty phenomenal turn-around over the course of the next several years, and the questions abated.

But over these past several weeks, as I've been in the midst of leadership selection and re-thinking campus strategy and making big decisions about our structures, the question has come back again to haunt me: what's my work and what's God's work? The question has application in both personal growth (i.e. personal disciplines like prayer and Bible study) and in ministry.

My Eugene Peterson/monastic/contemplative/spiritual formation side leans heavily into the reality of God's presence, work and activity in all areas of life. Rest. Be. Reflect. Pray. Be with God more. Do less. I can practically feel my anxiety level melt and my soul settle.

My Bill Hybels/missional/strategic/vision side of me points out the fact that when I do stuff better, we get better results. There's a pretty direct correlation in my ministry over the past ten years to my competency level growth and what kind of results we got. So I need to get to work, learn more, get a little more creative, try more stuff. My adrenaline kicks in: let's get to work!

The Scripture that the Lord gave me in the midst of the VCU death-spiral comes back to me during times like these like an old friend to remind me of what's true. In John 2, Jesus turns water into wine but the servants at the wedding get to be a part of it: they fill the jars with water (and John notes that they 'filled them to the brim'--a nod to excellence in our service) and they take it out to the master of the banquet. The servants have a legitimate role, but it's not water-to-wine work and it's not like Jesus couldn't find other people to fill the jars. We are involved in his work by his invitation, but there is only one water-to-wine maker and we are not Him.

So all our work, whether it's leading a campus ministry or pursuing the Lord in our disciplines or just trying to love our families with God's kind of love, is just jar-filling. We have work to do, and there is, indeed skill involved. We need to learn, to read good books or seek out mentors or attend conferences or some combination of these or other things. But in the end, all eternal transformation and change is water-to-wine work. And there's only one Person who can do that.

Thanks goodness.