What I Write About

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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Day in the Life of an Urbana Student

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 29, 2006

Urbana Quote o' The Day

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

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Checking In from Urbana

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

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

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

Saturday, December 23, 2006

More of What Christmas Ain't

Okay, so one more post...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas to All!

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

In the mean time, have a very merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What Christmas Ain't

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Briefly about Happyness and Superman

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

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

Monday, December 18, 2006

About Boundaries

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

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

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

Jesus left people.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 14, 2006

On A More Serious Note...

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

A couple things to wrap-up the week:

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

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

Have a great weekend!

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Continuity and Discontinuity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Communion Bread in the Broken Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 08, 2006


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Power of Reconciliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More Genealogical Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hot Springs in the Desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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