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, September 29, 2006

Creation, Sin, and the Trinity

So the God who is perfect relationships speaks. In Triune speaking, God creates a place that is full of perfect relationships and two people who are in perfect relationship and he invites them to share in the unbroken joy of the Lord.

But they don't.

And so sin is broken relationship.

I used to think that this was a cop-out definition. The Protestant Reformation focused on law-breaking as the essence of our problem and modernity's emphasis on the mind ran with this and developed all kinds of courtroom analogies and illustrations to talk about our problem of sin. So I wanted a definition that would be a little more angry, a little more judgmental.

But if God is a Perfect Relationship, then sin is the bizarre concept that somehow relationships might be un-done. Relating to near and far away neighbors, to the created world, and to ourselves was meant to be friction-free. Instead, relationship is perpectually friction-laden.

And it starts internally. Notice in the Genesis telling of the fall, Adam and Eve's first action is to put together some fig leaves because they're ashamed of their nakedness.

Shame is different from guilt.

Shame: to feel bad about who you are.

Guilt: to feel bad about what you have done.

Shame is essentially an issue of broken relationship with the self. The problem of sin is most severe in terms of what it has done in our relationship with God. But the place where it first plays itself out is in our relationship with ourselves.

But here's a glorious mystery that is too wonderful for us to fully graps: from the moment that God spoke creation into existence, the Son was slain. The Scriptures say that the Lamb of God was slain from the foundations of the world. The Son died for the creation from the moment that "it was." And so shame and guilt, broken relationship with ourselves and with the external realities all around us, were all gathered up from "the foundation of the world" in the death of the Son for us.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

God's Love Triangle

God, contrary to some reports, is very, very, very happy.

The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, the depths of joy and love and wonder of their love for one another gives rise to the Holy Spirit. God delights in Himself. In fact, God is uppermost in his own affections.

When the Scriptures read that "the joy of the Lord is your strength" there is very little that's more secure or more powerful or real than the joy of the Lord in being Lord. The joy of the Lord has very little to do with us, and a whole heck of a lot to do with how much the Persons of the Trinity delight in one another. God's joy springs from community He has with Himself. Joy throughout the Scriptures is almost always tied to community, and here we see why. God loves being God, he loves the Persons in Himself, and he loves Himself infinitely.

Perhaps this sounds arrogant--after all, if we knew someone who loved themselves infinitely (which some of us do) we wouldn't like that person very much. But consider this: for us to value or love anything more than God is the essence of idolatory. If God loved anything more than himself, even and especially us, it would be the same. It is infinitely great news that God loves Himself more than He loves us. If He loved anything more than Himself He would no longer be God.

Henry Scougal wrote that the worth of a soul is based on what that soul values. The affections of a soul are indicative of how large or good or holy or right that soul is. God loves the only infinite good, that is the measure of the soul of God. He infinitely loves the infinite good, and thus is very, very, very happy. The joy of the Lord will never end, and neither will the joy of those who are joined with Him forever.

Out of the overflow of the delight the Persons of the Trinity have in one another, comes creation. And while God loves Himself the most, He delights to draw us into His joy, His life, His Kingdom. We are never victims of God's delight in Himself, in fact, God goes to great lengths to invite us into His joy (more on that in the days to come).

It is indicative of how far we've fallen that the phrase "love trianlge" is freighted with negative connotations: jealousy, secrecy, lies, accusations, fearfulness. Even in a group of three who are simply friends, it is often the case that insecurity is omni-present.

But in God, there are three Persons and there is no jealousy, no fearfulness, no worry, no fear, no competition except to perhaps out-do one another in love. God is the Love Triangle that is the anti-love triangle. He is the Three Person Relationship that is safe, holy, whole, pure, glorious. God delights to be God, delights in himself; the Persons of the Trinity are deeply glad in one another and deeply and safely rooted in the relationships that they share with one another.

God is a Three Person Being in Perfect Relationship. That a relationship is at the center of all creation and that all creation is essentially relational is fundamental to understanding how the world works, and to understanding how it all goes wrong when sin enters into the picture.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Trinity and Us Part 1

In one of my talks this past weekend I told about several student that I've enjoyed hanging out with over the past couple weeks who are not a part of any faith community on campus. They both spent the majority of their lives in Christian churches. But when I asked them about their concept of God, they were flummoxed, ambiguous, and/or apathetic. "Agnostic" is the catch-all religion these days of post-religious people, and it's the category they all moderately claimed for themselves.

These students had spent most of their lives in the place that was intended to show them God, specifically as he is made known in Christ. But the pointers forgot to point and the signs neglected their duty as signs to make as clear as possible who God is.

I told the students at New Student Retreat that my deepest hope is that no one would leave InterVarsity unclear as to the Christian answer to the deepest and most important question in the universe: who is God.

And so I want to do a series of posts on the Trinity, one of my favorite subjects. It was my Systematic Theology prof's deeply held belief that this is fundamental to the Christian understanding of the world that has continually brought me back to thinking about the Trinity in all it's wonder, mystery, and glory.

To start with, I'll re-post a snippet of a talk that I posted about/gave last February at a different IV conference on the Land of the Trinity and splice it together with bits from a talk I gave this past weekend.

If we go back to before "In the Beginning" we find God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit God. They're together in 'the Land of the Trinity' before time. You start talking about 'Trinity' and people start glazing over--it feels like A.P. Christianity, something for scholars or theologians. But Trinity is not A.P. Christianity. It's the very nature of who God is and it's essential to our understanding of the world that God is in his very nature relational, He is a relationship. Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

And so when he creates, he creates a world that is relational. Animals have pairs, Adam and Eve are in relationship, and of course there's the perfect un-broken relationship with God. But even deeper than that, we find that everything's relational: people and bodies are a relationship of organs, bones, tissue, and synapses. Press deeper and organs are a relationship of cells. Press deeper and cells are a relationship of parts like the nucleus, mitochondria and other things I've forgotten since 10th grade biology class. Press deeper and everything is made up of atoms, which are also a relationship.

So all of creation reflects the nature of God. All of creation shows us the unique related-ness of a God who is a relationship. God is not a giant piece of monolithic granite in the sky. God is a deeply interactive, loving, passionate, glad God who is dynamic, powerful. God is Love. And Love only exists in a community of persons, in this case, a community of Persons perfectly and eternally in Love.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I'm still in recovery mode from this weekend, but the UNC football team is in much worse shape than I am. After getting drubbed by Clemson 562-4 this past weekend (making us 1-3, with our only win coming against I-AA Furman who still scored over 40 points on us), I think that there's little doubt that this team is headed in the wrong direction.

Three years ago, we were on the verge of blessed redemption. Our perenially also-ran football team was in the running for super-coach Steve Spurrier, and all the buzz was that we were finally going to be a legitimate football contender for the first time since the Mack Brown era back in the mid-90's.

Then John Bunting's team wins two measley games they have no business winning against Miami and N.C. State and the administration suddenly forgets a couple years of angst and frustration and signs Bunting to a ridiculous contract extension.

And so now, we're stuck with him. But my hope (and my guess) is not for long. I'm thinking about launching my first IPO with FireJohnBunting.com, I think it's sure to be a runaway success. Anyone else in?

Monday, September 25, 2006

New Student Retreat: Great Weekend, Moderate Logistical Chaos, Serious Sleep Deprivation

That pretty much sums it all up.

I'm taking today as a comp day. My goal is to sleep about as much of the day away as possible. At age 32 with my kids' early-morning wake-up schedules, I'm just not built to be up 'til 1:00 a.m.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Ready to Launch New Student Retreat

We're leaving this afternoon for Emerald Isle Beach. One hundred and two new students (mostly freshmen but a good many sophomores and junior transfers), thirty five juniors who are leading small groups and serving with food preparation, twelve beach houses, sixty feet of gutter for a gutter-sundae-on-the-beach eating contest, and high hopes and expectations of what the Lord might do this weekend.

If you're one of those praying-types (and you know who you are) I'd love prayer for the following:

-We have no idea where all 102 of our new students are spiritually. I hope that we have some folks who aren't Christians but are considering spiritual things. Would you pray that God meets them, wherever they are?

-Pray for leaders who are coming to be bold in engaging and welcoming and loving and striking up conversations with new students.

-Pray for safety for us over the weekend.

-Kingdom retention. Looking at past year's New Student Retreat photos is always fun and a little depressing. Just because folks come out to New Student Retreat doesn't mean they stick with us. My prayer this last day or so has been for kingdom retention, not IV retention. In other words, I hope and pray that whoever goes on this retreat with us is serving the Lord and is in Christian community somewhere, anywhere, when they graduate.

-On a personal note, my kids have been snotty dwarf and coughing dwarf all week long and my poor and wonderful wife managed to gather up both illnesses and add a touch of fever to spice it up a bit over the last couple days. Thus far, I have managed to escape the Bubonic plague sweeping through my house, but I did wake up this morning with a bit of a sinus-ache. So prayers for health and energy for me over the weekend and for my family would be much appreciated.

I look forward to telling ya'll all about it next week!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Response to Muslim Response to Pope's Words

I got this in my inbox yesterday from John Piper's FreshWords weekly column, thought it was interesting enough to pass along...

“Whoever offends our Prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim.” Those were the words of Sheikh Abubakar Hassan Malin to a gathering of Muslims in Mogadishu on Friday, September 15, 2006. On Saturday, Palestinians wielding guns and firebombs attacked five Christian churches in the West Bank and Gaza. On Sunday, September 17, in London, outside Westminster Cathedral, Anjem Choudary addressed a demonstration and said that those who insulted Islam “should be subject to capital punishment.”

These were among the reactions to a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI at Regensburg University, in Germany on Tuesday, September 12. Perhaps connected to the speech was the murder on Sunday in Mogadishu of sixty-six-year-old Leonella Sgorbati, an Italian Catholic nun serving as a nurse in a children’s hospital.

In the speech, the pope was addressing the foundation of the secular university. The subject was faith and reason. He was arguing that the foundation of the university, and the spread of truth and faith, lay in the rationality of God. He asked, “Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?” He answers, “I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek, in the best sense of the word, and the biblical understanding of faith in God.”

In other words, the pope is arguing that the university, and all people, have an obligation to act in accordance with reason, because reason is rooted in God. At this point, he brought in a discussion of the difference between Islam and Christianity on the relationship between God and reason. Christianity, he argues, sees reason as rooted in God. But, citing a noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, he says that “Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that [in Islam] God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry.”

This, he implies, disconnects God and reason and opens Islam to a use of violence in spreading their faith that is not governed by reason. He cites Sura 2, 256 from the Qur’an, where Mohammed says that there is no compulsion in religion. Then he draws attention to the later developments in the Qur’an by quoting the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus in 1391 in Ankara (today’s capitol of Turkey). The emperor apparently said that Mohammed taught that one could “spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Then the pope said,

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul…. God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats…. To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…. The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature.
These references to the role of reason in Islam, and the apparent endorsement of violence (in parts of the Qur’an) as a way of spreading Islamic faith, have outraged Muslims and sparked violence and calls for violence. Subsequently, the pope said, “I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.”

How should Christians respond to this situation? I will suggest ten responses that flow from the Bible.

1. Admit that the Christian church has often been too entangled with civil governments, with the result that violence has been endorsed by the church as a way of accomplishing religious, and not just civil, goals. The Crusades, for example, stand as a monument to collective Christian blindness to the teaching of Jesus. We should make every effort today to avoid political alignments between the Christian church and any civil government or political party. (See my article, Tolerance, Truth-Telling, Violence, and Law.)

2. Make clear that the use of God-sanctioned violence between Israel and the nations in the Old Testament is no longer God’s will for his people. The coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as a suffering servant, rather than a warlord, and his gathering of a people from all nations rather than only one, are two of the many reasons why the Christian church today should not—and almost universally does not—endorse or use violence to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ.

3. Admit that there are many Muslims today who do not approve of violence in the spread of Islam. Admittedly, to many of us in the West, their number seems small and their voice seems muted by the reputation of the more violent strains of Islam. We do not know how large that segment of Islam is.

4. Point out how Islam, in its most sacred writings and authoritative teachings, belittles Jesus Christ, not just occasionally in the news, but constantly by its dominant claims. Islam denies that Jesus Christ was and is God, a central truth of the New Testament and the Christian church (John 1:1-3; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:8). Dominant streams of Islam deny that Jesus died on the cross and therefore deny that the claim that his death atones for sin and propitiates the wrath of God is true (1 Corinthians 15:1-3; Romans 3:21-26; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). Therefore, defenders of Islam daily defame Jesus Christ and insult the glory of his gospel.

5. Point out that, in response to this constant defamation of Jesus Christ, there are no public threats or demands for apologies. This is not because we do not love Jesus above all things, or because we have no zeal for the glory of his name. It is because he told us to expect this (Matthew 10:25; John 15:20) and then modeled for us how to react: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

6. Do good to those who hate you—and, of course, those of other faiths who don’t hate you (Luke 6:27). This is not because Christians do not believe in vengeance. We simply believe that it is not ours to give. And this age is not the time to give it. This is an age of mercy and patience and forgiveness toward those who malign the King of the universe. He will have his Day of Wrath. But we are too sinful to be entrusted with that righteous judgment. Rather, we should obey the words of the New Testament: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’” (Romans 12:19-20).

7. Seek to win others to saving faith in Jesus by persuading with words, not imposing with force. This was the way the gospel spread among many religions in the early centuries of the Christian church. The earliest teachers said, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11). When the New Testament speaks of the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) or “the weapons of our warfare” (2 Corinthians 10:4), it clearly means the word of God and power of spiritual persuasion.

8. Always be ready to die, but never to kill, for the sake of commending Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for sinners and rose again as the Lord of the universe. Jesus promises to triumph through our accepting suffering, not our causing suffering. He died to save all who will believe—from every nation and religion. He calls us to follow him on this Calvary Road. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). This is not the death of a suicide-murderer. This is the death of one who loves his enemies and, as he dies, prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), and, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

9. Pray for the salvation of all those who belittle Jesus Christ. Pray that they would put their faith in Jesus Christ who died for our sins so that if anyone—from any nation or any religion—would embrace him as Lord and Savior and Treasure of their lives, they would be saved from the guilt of sin and the wrath of God. They would have eternal life and joy. This is the way the great apostle Paul prayed: “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).

10. No matter the cost, continue to exalt and commend Jesus Christ as the great and only Savior that he is. Say with the apostle Paul, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The day will come when every knee will bow to Jesus as Lord and as God (Philippians 2:10-11). Until that day comes, affirm with Paul: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Longing for the Savior to be exalted,

Pastor John

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

College Enrollment Meets the Browning of America

Several weeks ago I sat in on a presentation where a professor was arguing for what he called 'the browning of America.' The baby boomers will die off in the next 50 years, white birth rates have held steady or declined a bit, the Latino population will surpass the black population in the next decade or so, and both black and latino birth rates far surpass white folks. Ergo, the browning of America.

Last week I heard an NPR report that this year's college enrollment is 58% female and 42% male with an ever-widening gap between men and women who make it to college. There has been much head-scratching about what's happening to boys in schools--are the learning styles and educational models inherently biased towards girls?

But I can't help but wonder if the first trend might help explain the second. In the African-American population at least, black women are far, far, far more likely than black men to make it to college. A combination of a billion factors make this a reality. My guess is that it's similar in the Latino population.

So as our education browns, we will have more and more minority women who are far more educated than much of the culture. I have only blind guesses as to how this will affect our country, but I wouldn't bet against a minority woman president in the next 50 years--well, okay, maybe the next 100.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Whither Success?

This weekend we've got over 90 new students headed out to the beach for our annual New Student Retreat. To put that in perspective, last year we brought 38. So I'm scrambling to buy up more and more beach houses as the registrations roll in from all over campus--so far we've got 9 houses, chances are I'll have to add a tenth in the next day or two.

So is that success? I'd like to think it were that easy.

As I'm reading through Genesis, there's this great story of Abraham sending a servant to go and find a wife for his son Isaac from Abraham's homeland. The servant prays a very specific prayer to God that the woman that he should bring back for Isaac would do and say very specific things. He meets a woman who does exactly as he prayed, but the servant doesn't presume that his errand is successful too quickly. Instead, the story reads, "The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful." (Gen. 24:21 NRSV).

So as I'm scrambling to find food and lodging for all these new students, I'm also trying to pause now and then to look over the list of names, to pray, to listen to the Lord's heart for these students. Listening, waiting, being silent: not exactly virtues that I tend to exude.

Several of them are international students, some are from out of state, others are North Carolina kids. Most are freshmen, some are sophomores just getting involved in IV, others are transfers.

God has brought people literally from around the world to come to be with him this weekend at the beach. My work is to build the most faithful greenhouse that I possibly can--space and time that is conducive for that meeting to occur. I have no control over whether or not it actually does. But it's faithfulness, not fruitfulness, that is the truest measure of success.

Monday, September 18, 2006

On the Necessity of Words

"Speak the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words."

Please allow me to dust off my soapbox.

First, a story:

There once was a man who decided he was really going to love his fellow laborers in cube world with Christ's love. He hoped that in that, they would really see Jesus. One particular gentlemen was going through a hard time with a messy divorce. After many weeks of talking with and caring for this man the man said, "You've been such a great help to me during this whole time. Can I ask you a question? Are you a vegetarian?"

This man had once known some nice vegetarians, and so this was his primary frame of reference for nice-ness. It wasn't Jesus or Christians, so when he has someone be nice to him, his assumption is not Christianity but rather vegetarian-ism.

Living a life of integrity and love is not evangelism. It's basic Christianity. The quote at the top captures something important--namely, that we have to have our lives cohesive with the message of Christ. But what it has become is the number-one cop-out for Christians to avoid sharing their faith.

Articulation of the gospel without a life that is integrated with the gospel message is hypocrisy. An integrated life without articulation is wishful thinking. Words are an essential part of the process.

There are three things that are true about evangelism: 1. People who aren't Christians tend to find it annoying, offensive, distasteful, and/or wrong. 2. Christians generally find it difficult, distasteful, or uncomfortable. 3. Jesus says to do it. Therefore, we've got to find ways to do un-obnoxious evangelism. But words must necessarily be a major part of it.

Friday, September 15, 2006

"Here I Am"

I'm reading in my (mostly) daily Scripture time through Genesis. The other day I was in the perenially disturbing passage where God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as an offering to the Lord.

Abraham is addressed three times in this passage: by God, by his son Isaac, and by an angel of the Lord. All three times, his immediate response was the same: "Here I am." When he is called, Abraham is available, ready to engage whatever he is called upon to do. This is particularly crucial at the moment when he is ready to literally take a knife to his son and the angel of the Lord stops him. "Here I am" he says to the angel as he stands over his only boy ready to sacrifice him to the Lord if that's what is required.

It strikes me that this was Jesus' posture during his time on earth. "I must be about my Father's business" he says to his puzzled parents at age twelve after they scold him for staying behind in Jerusalem after a festival. "I only do what I see my Father doing" he says to his followers in the book of John. It was his perpetual availability and willingness to do the work of his Father, the bidding of his Father, whenever it was required or asked of him that made the Son the Son.

In my own life, I am much too goal and results oriented to bother to be so very available. Once I have fixed my eyes on a task or a work to be done, I can seldom be stopped long enough to hear my Father's voice. I would have killed Isaac for my gritty determined-ness to get the job done before I would have stopped to engage the voice of the one calling me to the salvation of my only child. My most frequent refrain, both to God and to others is "Not now, I'm busy."

One day this week, a student and I did a prayer walk around campus. We prayed great prayers for renewal, redemption, healing, repentance, the furthering of God's kingdom and God's work. But perhaps Abraham's simple refrain of availability to do whatever it is that God would ask of him to do would have been a more glorious and reckless prayer.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Really Knowing God's Will

One of the things that Mark Acuff, the pastor who's leading our weekly Knowing God's Will seminar, talked about yesterday as well as last week was the process of having our minds and hearts transformed. One of the goals of the Christian life (and I think he credited Dallas Willard with this idea) is that our hearts and minds would be so transformed and conformed that we would actually have the mind of Christ.

When this happens, knowing God's will for our lives is no longer a search but as simple as being aware of what we want to do. Our will is co-joined with God's, our impulses are holy and good. It's never going to be perfect and it always will require some degree of testing, but there might come a day in our lives where Christ has actually been formed in us to the degree that knowing God's will is as clear to us as knowing exactly what our best friend would want for their birthday.

Maybe that'll happen someday. Until then, I'm still in deliberate search mode.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Knowing God's Will

College is nothing if not a series of question marks: what should I major in? how should I handle this roommate conflict? what will my future hold? how can I avoid Friday classes? should I be in this dating relationship? is this woman/man 'the one?' All important stuff.

So to start off our brand-spanking-new "Grow Deeper" seminar series, IV at UNC is hosting a three-week seminar called "Knowing God's Will." Like most of the seminars we're running, we've invited a local pastor to facilitate the time.

I'm thankful to have someone else leading it. But of course, I have my thoughts on the subject.

My primary grid for understanding this whole mysterious process of knowing God's will is this: it is the process of seeking God out, trusting him, asking for guidance, and doing this in the context of community that is making us holy, teaching us faithfulness, and shaping our hearts and lives to be more like God intends them to be. Knowing God's will is all about establishing and learning healthy and faithful processes more than it is about the end result. It is the process that is most often making us holy, not the product.

This is not to under-sell the reality that God has gone ahead of us and prepared good works for us to do. Nor is it to under-sell the good news that God has given us gifts, he loves to give us good work that is a blessing to us and to the world around us.

But what this process-oriented posture does is take our eyes off the narrow focus of the immediate issue at hand and it recognizes a larger thing that's happening: God's Spirit at work to make his people into his image, into the woman or man God is slowly and inexorably shaping them to be. This is ultimately what God is always about, whether it lands us in a coal factory or in the corner office of a Fortune 500 company.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What's Gender, Anyway?

A brief touching on the issues of men and women in marriage last week prompted me to think about an address entitled "A New Feminism" that was sent along to me recently by a local pastor.

The speaker was Harvey Mansfield from Harvard University. Like most discussions surrounding gender (both from Christians and those outside Christianity) there are things that I like, things that I disagree with, and plenty that I'm intrigued by but not sure one way or the other. Here's a little teaser:

In sum, women have shown themselves capable in careers formerly closed to them, but seem no longer to enjoy the pleasures of being a woman. They know how to imitate men but are confused about how to remain women while doing so. Having started from the rejection of femininity, women's identity necessarily becomes a search without a guide. To see confusion in action, all you have to do is watch the television show Desperate Housewives.

On that show you see that women have not really been liberated by the gender-neutral society. Men and women are not the same, as the gender-neutral society of feminism claims. Nor are men and women merely different. They are both same and different. Formerly society recognized the differences between the sexes, and with laws and customs accentuated those differences. Now society does the opposite: it recognizes the similarities and accentuates them. There is no society without social pressure in one direction or another. Whereas before women were held back from the careers they could have attained, now they are pushed further than they may want to go. In this new situation women do need an identity; they need a feminism to replace the tradition we once lived by. But they need a new feminism, one that does justice to the differences as well as the similarities between the sexes.

To read the full speech, click here.

My Dave Matthews Band Prayer

So I'm not like a "oh-my-gosh-they're-so-great-i've-seen- them-in-concert-every-time-they've-come-to-town-and- i-dropped-out-one-semester-to-follow-them-
around-the-country" kind of fan, but I do like the Dave Matthews Band.

And one of their songs is a prayer-guide for me. Here's the chorus for "Where are You Going:"

I am no superman.
I have no answers for you
I am no hero, that’s for sure.
But I do know one thing:
is where you are is where I belong
I do know, where you go, is where I wanna be.

Where are you goin'? Where do you go? Let's go.

The first part of it deals with my pride. I often, in fact, do like to think of myself as superman, as a hero come to save the day. It's a common temptation for ministers to have a superman complex, a martyr complex, a Messiah complex, or even a dizzying combination of all of the above. This puts me back in my proverbial place.

The second part of it humbly reminds me that this is God's work. He's at work long before I show up anywhere and will continue to be at work long after I leave. My job is to simply join him in his work. My work is to ask God, "where are you going?" and then humbly join him in that place. Because where he is, that's where I want to be.

It's a great prayer, it brings me back to the place where I do want to be. Where ever the Lord is at work, that's where Life is to be experienced and known.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Scrounging Through the Junk Heap

So some talks are keepers--they just work and can be used again. Other talks go in the junk heap, they might be good for some spare parts but the overall talk needs to be re-worked or just chucked. And others go in the "no one should ever be subjected to that talk ever again" pile. Last night's talk was a junk heap, which was disappointing after I felt so good about the week before, but there here's something that I think was worth passing along.

We were talking last night about brokenness, Jesus, and authentic community. My thesis: The place where pain and brokenness is turned into blessing and goodness is in the presence of Jesus Christ--which is most often experienced and mediated by authentic community (please note: run-on sentence for a thesis generally tells you you're trying to say too much). So we wrapped up with what authentic community isn't and what authentic community is.

Authentic Community Isn't:

1. Forced
2. Accidental
3. Conflict-free
4. "Safe"
5. Easy

Authentic Community Is:
1. Reckless in pursuing God as our good (not community itself)
2. Reckless in loving on another
3. Reckless in forgiving one another
4. Reckless in asking forgiveness
5. Reckless in sharing life together

Have a great weekend, everyone, and catch a little NFL football this kick-off weekend wtih your friends in order to cultivate some genuinely authentic community!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Speaking of wonderful kids, here's Zoe's 8 month picture. Here's my wife Kelly's description of her at this stage: Sweet Zoe is 8 months today! Her physical growth seems to have plateaued considerably, a relief to those of us who were worried about middle school for her :) Meanwhile, she is changing in all sorts of ways: 2 top teeth have just emerged, she's eating table food (refusing all purees, actually), she's "talking" lots, pulling up some. She continues to love her big brother. She is all but crawling, going from sitting to crawling position, scooting just a tad, rotating back to sitting, etc... so she's able to get to a lot of what she wants. Oh, is it going to get nutty around here when she can fully get into Davis's beloved trains.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Strong Medicine, Part 2

And then there's kids. They're wonderful. And they, too, are strong medicine for the Lord's project of unselfing us into Himself.

Anyone who thinks that people are naturally good has obviously never had kids. Everything that most cultures have called "good" throughout history has to be taught to them: not slugging their sister, using the bathroom, sharing, and sleeping in on weekends are a few that come to mind.

And so having kids is yet another step of teaching us to live outside ourselves. Many secularists would prefer to leave it at that--that the goal is to care for others and that's good enough. But I think most of us know plenty of people who end up caring for others to the point that it gets plenty co-dependent and unhealthy or just burnt out. Even caring for other people is not a big enough fish tank for our souls to grow into.

Marriage and kids are shadows and pointers. They are tools of character formation and shaping and changing. But all of it serves an even greater purpose: to point us to the God who made us. We must be unselfed or we will die in ourselves. Those are the only two options. And of course the self that is being put off pouts, fusses, screams and kicks. But if we allow the self it's own way, we would be ruined forever and ever and ever. So God, in his severe mercy, uses any and all tools he can find, even cute little ones that make my heart ache with love at times, to teach me that life is bigger than the self would have me to believe.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Strong Medicine, Part 1

In our first couple years of marriage, Kelly and I were in a small group Bible study through our church that was made up mostly of young married couples. One week the conversation turned to plans for the three-day weekend ahead. "He'll probably just sit around and watch football all weekend," one wife complained while rolling her eyes. "C'mon, it's my three-day weekend!" the husband said.

What I wanted to say (but didn't) was the lesson that I was still just learning after one year of marriage: there was no such thing as "my" three-day weekends any more. When we said "I do" we gave up "my" three-day weekends for something much bigger and better. It's now "our" three-day weekend, and we work together to make it something that we both enjoy. I think that men have a harder time with this than women, but perhaps I'm wrong about that.

A plant will grow into the size of the pot. A fish will grow into the size of the fish tank. The soul will grow into the size of the thing it most often sits in. The "self" is way too small a thing for so noble and wonderful thing as the soul. It was made for God. There, the soul flourishes infinitely.

Therefore, God paces us through a lifetime of dying to ourselves so that we might find life in Him as we serve Him and our neighbors--both near and far. And marriage is strong medicine for that work. It will rescue us from the tyranny of ourselves if we will let the Spirit do its' work in our lives through this wonderful tool.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Celebrate Good Times, Come On

Last night went great! I was extremely thankful for and proud of my student leaders who invested in people, invited new students out, planned the large group meeting, led the worship time, welcomed new people with joy and energy, etc. etc.

One of the best parts about my job is that every year I get to watch new students step up and take leadership and ownership of the chapter. Many of them are in over their proverbial heads, but I watch them take small steps of faith and watch how God takes that and honors it and blesses it in his grace and mercy. They are becoming men and women who serve and love and lead and sacrifice and care for others. They are becoming who they really are.

And my talk that I agonized over for two days went well. I felt the joy of doing something that God has made me to do. A film clip that IV staff have used for decades now is from Chariots of Fire, when one of the characters is defending his desire to compete in the Olympics to his very pious sister who is concerned that his priorities are out of whack: "When I run, I feel God's pleasure." I feel that way when I speak, especially when I know that the process to get there has been good.

So we're headed into Labor Day with good momentum on campus. Every year Kelly has a Labor Day reunion with the 9 women she lived with/were good friends with her senior year. Now the husbands and kids come along, and it's a great time to re-connect with each other and celebrate and pray for each other. I'd like to personally thank Ernesto for passing through quickly so that we can hit the beach!