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.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Head. Heart. Faith.

Some people are "head rules the heart" people. These folks value reason
over emotion, particularly when it comes to decision-making.

Others are "listen to your heart" people. These folks lead with their
feelings and emotions, especially when it comes to life decisions, what to
have for dinner, relationships, SuperBowl picks, etc.

What most everyone would say if they were to be completely honest is that
there have been times in their lives when they should have gone (or did go)
against their natural "bent" in order to make a good decision.

When we come to the realization that life in and with Christ is the way that
we were made to live, Jesus introduces a new faculty into our system and
invites us to live by it: faith.

Contrary to what pop-secularism might say, faith does not negate reason or
emotion. Reason, emotion, and faith are all gifts from the same God. In His
economy these three faculties are not at odds but rather work in complete,
wholistic integration. Faith takes reason and emotion and puts them in
their proper place. Like the planets orbiting the sun rather than the other
way around. To mis-align these is to make a tyrant out of either reason or
emotions. They make wonderful servants but terrible masters.

And so Christ-followers are called to live by faith, not by sight (i.e.
reason) nor by emotions. Faith invites us to orient our lives around
something much bigger than either one of these can provide in and of
themselves. It heals the split between head and heart and calls us into a
much more fruitful and fulfilling life.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Two Words I Never Wanted to Say...

Here they are: minivan wanted.

With the news of baby #3, Kelly and I find ourselves in need of a vehicle that will allow for three car seats. Alas, our wonderful Subaru station wagon doesn't have that kind of space.

So we're on the look out for a used minivan, and we'd love any help we could get from folks out in the blogosphere. We're holding out the right to be both beggars and choosers, since we know that our cash flow won't exactly increase from this point until the kids start going to school. We'd love something in the 50,000 miles range and ideally we'd keep it around the $10,000 mark.

If you've got one you're looking to unload, great! If you've got a friend who does, also great. If your company or your school system offers used minivans at discounted prices, please let me know. If you just know someone who's a dealer or know of a good place where you recently got the deal of the century, let me know that, too. I'd even be willing to fly out somewhere or pay to have it shipped here. What's a couple hundred dollar plane ticket to save thousands on the greatest minivan in the world? Of course, it'd have to be the greatest minivan in the world for a very low, low price.

We're also looking to sell our wonderful, all-wheel-drive 1997 Subaru Legacy Wagon GT. 112,000 miles, sunroof, roof rack. We've loved it, and I'm sure someone out there will love it, too.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

God's Hope Meets Our Brokenness

Three weeks ago we kicked off a series in our large groups on campus asking the question how does God meet us in the midst of our brokenness? I've really enjoyed giving this series of talks.
The first week I talked about the fact that God uses prayer and Scripture as means of grace. These are some of the primary vehicles that God uses to meet us in the midst of our struggles. I challenged students to take their next step in spending regular time in Scripture and prayer with the Lord. For many of them, that means spending just two or three days a week, maybe 15-20 minutes a day with the Lord. And I encouraged them to celebrate that.

I've had several follow-up conversations with students asking some of the same two questions. I thought that the questions they've raised with me might be beneficial here:

1. "I want to spend time with God, but it feels odd/weird to set a specific time--too formal or structured. Why do I need to do that? I like just talking with God throughout my day."

The issue here is one of quality of interaction. It's one thing to interact with someone at church or during the work day. But if you really want to get to know someone or have a serious or in-depth conversation, you create intentional space to do so: coffee or a meal. The same thing is true with God. Of course we can talk with God at any point during our day. But it's an entirely different level of interaction to carve out intentional space to be with God, to listen and to speak. A real-time encounter with God requires real, intentional, time.

2. "What do I do?"

I get this question from first-timers and from folks who have tried to set aside intentional time before to be with God and don't feel like they're getting anything out of it. There's no one-size-fits-all formula for quality time with God (I'd encourage everyone to take the Sacred Pathways test to find out how God's wired you specifically to meet with him) but here's what I do:

Two props: a journal and a Bible (not important in that order). I journal every single day that I spend time with the Lord, all of my prayers. Not everyone digs writing, but I think most of us need some way to process the stuff that's in our heads. I'm a big external processor, so I pretty much have to either journal or verbalize it--given those options, using a journal keeps me from getting strange looks at Barnes and Noble.

Journalling helps to slow me down. I'm a fast processor, and part of the challenge for me in spending time with God is to be less efficient, more open, more lingering. I could pray faster if I just did it in my head. But journalling forces me to slow down, to be rather than just get it done.

First off, I do a verbal vomit in my journal of anything I'm thinking about coming into my time with God. This helps me to bring it before Him and it frees me up to receive whatever He has for me during this time--whether it relates to my issues or not. I usually do this in five minutes or less.

Then, I read a passage of Scripture. I'm always working through a book of the Bible (context is key). I usually read one NIV (or NRSV) sub-heading a day, almost never more than a chapter a day. I was working through Luke for a while. I'm switching to 1 Peter because I might be using that for Small Group Leader Training that I'm doing in May. If you're just getting started, I'd encourage you to start with a short New Testament book (Phillippians, Ephesians, or 1 John).

I try to do good Inductive Bible Study: Observe (what does it say?), Interpret (what does it mean?) and Apply (what does it mean for me?). I'm looking for a word, a phrase or an image that seems particularly striking--you can see some of that in a couple of last week's posts.

I then take that word, image or phrase and try to use that to frame, color, or shape my prayer time back in my journal. Last week I journalled for a while about the whole "healed on the way" image. I prayed for myself using that language as much as possible in the various places where I know that I need healing. I usually will then take that image or word or phrase and pray it for other situations or people that I'm praying for. This integrates my prayer life and my time in Scripture in a more cohesive way rather than segmenting the two.

It's always tricky to talk about this stuff, simply because everyone's different, but maybe this will spark some other thoughts for those of you who struggle to do this or need some help getting started. These are just some thoughts for folks who might be asking some of these same questions. If you've got other questions that I might be able to help with, please do ask!

Friday, January 26, 2007

We Are Healed On The Way

I've got a number of issues in my character that I want God to fix. Control freak is one of those. Generally, I want them to be fixed through some sort of a waving of a magic wand. Lord, can't you just say a few words or do a mysterious inner thing inside me to change me?

Jesus bumped into ten lepers one day. As lepers are wont to do, they cried out for healing. When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14).

So when I read that passage the other day, it was the "as they went" that struck me. Jesus tells a bunch of lepers to go to the priests. This would have been the necessary step of re-instatement into the community for lepers who had been already healed. But they weren't yet healed when they left. And so they had to trust, believe, that they would be healed on the way.

I think God works out most of our issues in the context of the activities and work and play of our lives. We are seldom healed or transformed or changed in a vacuum. We are very often healed on the way. In fact, God ordains many of the circumstances of our lives to surface the issues of our souls in order that they might be brought into the light, uprooted, healed. Very often the trials or struggles or just the simple events of our lives are the venue of therapy for our brokenness.

God is a good doctor, calling us to go through often grueling or sometimes surprising exercises, in order that we might be whole once again.

Marriage has been and continues to be the primary station in my life where God is exorcising my demons of control, performance, and conflict avoidance. But the news that I announced this past week here on the blog is probably my latest experience.

The chaos associated with two kids can sometimes drive me a little crazy, I wasn't sure that I wanted three. But here's this new life that God's given to us, completely unexpectedly, and for very good reason. I need to give up my attempts at managing my life. It is not mine to manage to begin with. And so part of what God is doing with this new life (it is by no means the sum total of what He's doing) is freeing me from my illusion of control. I need strong medicine, and kids are nothing if not that. Baby #3 on the way is an invitation to continue to repent of my control-freak nature that will kill me if I allow it to run unchecked. It is an invitation that I gladly accept.

And so I embrace this little one to come, can't wait to meet her or him for the first time. And I look forward to the ways that God will heal me "on the way" of hard nights, sweet smiles, and dirty diapers. I pray that when I'm old, I'll be more and more a man of peace. More settled, less anxious. More relaxed, less grasping. And I'll have my kids (given to me by my God) to thank for that.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Davis Steps: a Parable

A couple years ago, Davis was just learning how to walk. We'd often play in our backyard, Davis toddling around and looking at flowers, sticks, and all the weeds that passed for grass in our family's lexicon.

Coming back inside was always a challenge for Davis. The screen door opened out, but he always wanted to keep stepping forward. He didn't understand that sometimes in order to move forward, you have got to take a step back.

The Lord has often used that image to remind me of that exact same lesson...only I'm a much slower learner than Davis is.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Redeeming "Story"

Last Thursday after I spoke at InterVarsity I had someone approach me and graciously question my use of the word "story" during my talk. I had referred to "the Christian story" throughout my talk and had also referenced "the Adam and Eve story." His concern was that using the word story allowed for the fictionalization of things that we hold to be true. Using "truth" instead of story seemed to him to be a better alternative.

My response to this excellent question was that if Christians give up on the word "story" it would be as catastrophic for us as if we gave up on the word "truth."

N.T. Wright points out to over-educated theologians that all theological statements are simply story told in shorthand. That is, all our summarizing and interpretating statements speaking of what we believe to be true are simply signs and pointers to the Redemptive Story that God is working out in real-time history. "Truth" is worth fighting for, but in the framework of our faith, it functions secondarily to "story." Truth statements are good only insofar as they accurately interpret and point to the most real thing of God's story--what He has done and what He is doing and what He will do.

To be sure, there is some baggage and underbrush that must be cut away from " story" in order for it to serve as a faithful word depicting the realities and enormities of grace. But that work is worth doing, particularly in a post-modern context where stories are innately more well received than truth statements. We must lead with the story and summarize with truth or we will not get much of a hearing in many circles where God has put us to be mediators of His grace.

And lest anyone think that in so doing we are "selling out," we can see a fairly impotant figure in our faith doing this all the time in his teaching. His name was Jesus.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

This Is Headline News

The new year brought plenty of hopes and dreams and surprises in the Kirk household. Not the least of which was the discovery that in spite of all of our own best efforts, we are expecting another baby. Kelly went in for an early ultrasound last week and saw only one fluttering little heart--which was two pieces of good news all rolled into one.

We're guessing our due date is early September. Not the most convenient time in my line of work, but we look forward to it nonetheless.

After working through the initial shock, I am very grateful to the Lord who is always working to give us new life in so many ways. We look forward to the blessing that this little one will be to our lives...that is, after we deal with the inevitable first year of sleep deprivation

If babies are your thing, be sure to check out Kith and Kin for some cute shots of baby Honor Stokes!

Monday, January 22, 2007

"We are unworthy servants"

7"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? 8Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? 9Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' " Luke 17:7-10

This is not exactly the kind of passage that gets books and Bible studies built around it: "Twelve Weeks on Being an Unworthy Servant" doesn't exactly sell at your local Christian book store (not that they carry any books anyway--books take up too much room and there are important Christian trinkets to be selling). But as I read this passage this morning and prayed over it, I thought it might offer us an important insight on our relationship with God.

This passage comes after a series of stories that Jesus has been telling--including the Prodigal Son. So first off, it's crucial to read what's being said here in context. Our relationship with God as Father and Jesus as Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Healer, Shepherd, King, Friend is a complex one. So throughout his ministry, Jesus gives us tons of parables, illustrations, stories, and titles to use for it--none of them are fitting alone, all of them correct each other.

One student I worked with a long time ago talked about how he was discovering the wonder of God as Father. Initially this was a wonderful image for him, deeply affirming and a rich blessing. The problem was that his own dad was a bit of a softie, conflict avoidant. He was nice but not strong. So the exclusive use of this title began to make his perception and experience of God as nice but not powerful enough to do much real work to heal the brokenness in the world or in his own life. He needed the corrective work both of the Scriptural description of "Father" and of the other words that Scripture uses to describe God.

Jesus uses the illustration of master-servant quite a bit when he's talking about our relationship with God. Again, this doesn't feel warm and fuzzy so we don't talk much about it. But I do wonder that if Jesus seems to feel quite comfortable using master-servant language what we're losing if we forfeit it's use.

My thoughts from this morning: in a culture that is so hung up on our own rights, this particular parable is quite freeing. Entitlement culture wrecks our ability to lay our lives down for one another and for Christ. If we will not lay our lives down for the sake of the gospel, we will lose them. And so our feeling of entitlement, of being owed something, must be ruthlessly uprooted from our souls, or we will die along with it.

I think that God would much rather have us be glad children who do his bidding because they know the heart of the Father. But if in our obedience we feel that we are then "owed" something, we are quite mistaken. If we must boil it down, God is God and we are not. There is cause and reason to obey him quite apart from any love or grace that he has shown us.

If this were the only parable we had to describe our relationship with God, it could be quite difficult for us, indeed. But as a part of a greater whole, it's a helpful corrective to our overly-entitled sensibilities.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Soundbytes for Repentance

I'm speaking tonight on how God invites us to share in the final reality that Hope Wins by inviting us to repent of sin. I'm trying to talk about repentance and obedience without sounding like a freakish, angry Pharisee. Here are a few soundbytes:

Temptation: the lie that life outside of being with God is qualitatively better than life with God.

Sin: breaking relationship with God in order to act in faith on those lies.

Repentance: to turn away from beliefs, motives, or actions that are outside of God’s character and to turn towards God for life and ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment.

Obedience: to live a life in faith on the promises of God that life with him is qualitatively better, more in line with reality than any other thing offered to us.

Repentance and obedience are the relentless campaigns of those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.

All sin is war against God’s peace

God is eager to unleash all the forces of heaven against all the forces of sin and hell to undo sin that has caused death and destruction and disfigurement of men and women whom he created to be image-bearers, to be ones who showed forth God’s glory and beauty and goodness

Sin is thin, the payoff is weak, the returns get smaller and smaller, it gets more and more hollow the further down into it you get; one person's testimony about struggles with pornography: “I was thirsty for real intimacy and my involvement with pornography was like drinking salt water.”

All sin is like this—it promises much and delivers only very little.

Sin is boring, there’s only 5 plot lines in the arsenal of sin: sex, power, money, escape, fame. It’s like a bad soap opera with recycled plot lines over and over again throughout history.

Sin and evil is on a short leash and one day will be done away with, and so there are only a finite number of ways sin can express itself because sin is itself finite and one day will no longer be.

Sin barely exists in and of itself—it only exists as a parasite to the good. Sex is good, sin distorts it. Money and power and recreation and applause are all good, sin just distorts it.

Sin is actually foreign to our humanity. Humanity was not made to live in sin, we were made to be sinless--it is a cancer, a corruption of our human nature

Sin and death and brokenness are all on a leash, the clock is ticking and there will come a day when they will exist no longer.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, how monotonously similar are all the tyrants and famous sinners of the world! How gloriously different and diverse are all the saints.

There are, in fact, billions of ways to delight in the freedom and wonder of holiness, and really only a handful of ways to really revel in sin.

God is infinite and he is holy—therefore, there are an infinite ways to experience the joy and wonder and freedom of holiness.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

All About Beginnings in Genesis

So I wrapped up a six-ish month tour in the book of Genesis last week. The theme that struck me most this time through was how many starts and re-starts occur in the first several chapters. All of the re-starts come after things bottom-out pretty bad.

Bottom out #1: Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sin and are kicked out of the Garden. Of course, things only get worse as Cain kills Abel and Lamech gets his revenge "seventy-seven fold."

Restart #1: Genesis 5, a recap of the fact that God created male and female in his image (in case you've forgotten it) and a description of the birth of Seth, who somehow makes up for the Cain and Abel debacle.

Bottom out #2: Genesis 6, people are wicked and God's going to wipe them off the face of the earth. Only Noah will be saved.

Restart #2: Genesis 9, and the covenant with Noah--with the familiar command to "be fruitful and multiply."

Bottom out #3: Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel--God gets ticked off at the arrogance of the people, confuses their language and scatters them everywhere.

Restart #3: Genesis 12, the call of Abram and the covenant with him. This is really where the narrative settles down and focuses on this one man, his interactions with God, and the roots of the Israelite nation...as well as the Messiah who is to come, the one who will bless all the nations.

Of course, there's more Genesis/re-start language at the beginning of the New Testament. John's gospel starts with "In the beginning" as a deliberate echo of Genesis 1:1. And there's the beauty and power of the church being launched in Acts 2 as a deliberate un-doing of the Tower of Bable incident. There everyone is re-gathered in the name of Jesus, and the beginnings of all the nations being blessed is seen and experienced at the I.P.O. (that's "initial public offering" for those of you who don't buy and sell on Wall Street all the time like I do) of the Christian church.

Bottom line: I think that our love of new beginnings and our occasional longing for fresh starts is a fractured and murky reflection of God's love of His fresh starts. He loves to do new things. He especially loves to do new things that are in line with His old things.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Scripture Seminar Eve

This week on campus we're kicking off a four-week seminar on Scripture. We're bringing in a local pastor to help students sort through the questions that are inevitably raised when operating in a context such as UNC, where Bible-bashing is both a science and an art form. Some of the issues raised are legitimate, some are pure conjecture or silly rantings of angry people.

But the problem for my students in their classes is that often the issues that are raised are discussed as if no thinking Christian has ever dealt with or thought about these questions before. There's problems with these texts, these professors say, end of story. No real opportunity for rebuttal.

So this is a crucial four weeks for us as I find many of my students, even from here in the Bible belt, struggle to trust the Bible as authoritative. Their favorite "out?" "I like Jesus, but I don't like/trust the rest of the New Testament." A couple reasons why this falls apart:

1. The story of Jesus was written down by his apostles and other followers. Jesus himself writes nothing down for us. To like or trust the Jesus of the New Testament is to trust the authors who have written those stories down for us. Luke writes another New Testament book (Acts) and John writes four other NT books (1, 2, 3, John and Revelation). Peter, a likely source for Mark, writes a couple books as well. It's all written down under the same authority. Either these guys are faithful reporters and interpreters of Jesus or they aren't. You don't get to pick and choose what you like and what you don't.

2. The only way that you can get warm-fuzzies from reading Jesus is to import a ton of the rest of the New Testament's interpretation of him into the gospels. Jesus never once utters the word "grace" in any of the four gospels. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, all the harshest and hardest words in the Bible come from Jesus. All the passages that give me the greatest hope for rescue and redemption both for me personally and for the rest of this world come from those who were with him who help to interpret both his life and actions.

My students who like Jesus in the gospels but are uncomfortable with the rest of the New Testament are able to do so only by buying into the lie that Jesus was a Teletubby. That's a complete neutering of the person and work of Christ. No one bothers to kill at Teletubby (except maybe Pat Robertson, but that's for another post altogether).

Jesus made folks angry, he speaks the most impossible commands and sets the most impossible standards. Afterwards, his disciples come along and help to interpret in full, after the cross and resurrection event, the purpose and meaning of Jesus words and work.

Thank goodness the New Testament is not solely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Apart from the rest, we would be in quite dire straights, indeed. I only hope that these next four weeks on campus frees students up to receive the full blessing of the full canon of the Scriptures

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pride Goeth Before...

*Okay, so I think that the Virginia Tech Hokies owe me big for bragging on my Heels just before they went up to play in Blacksburgh this weekend. Tough loss for the Heels.

I'm just glad that I don't still live up in Richmond in the wake of the game. Only NC State fans are historically more delusional about the quality of their athletics than Virginia Tech fans. They were completely insufferable during the Michael Vick era. Everyone that I've ever known that has gone to Virginia Tech has come out a rabid and somewhat misguided Tech athletic supporter. Must be that thin mountain air killing brain cells...

*And I'd like to thank my brother for pointing out my poor prognostication skills under Friday's post. Truly, if you'd gone with my picks at Vegas you would have done most poorly. I'm intrigued to see how this weekend is shaping up. All season long the AFC has been easily the better conference, but given how the playoffs have shaped up (with the #1 and #2 seeds falling in the AFC this weekend) I think it's anyone's Superbowl.

*Thanks to those of you who prayed for us this weekend as we went on our leadership retreat. It was great, better than I could have hoped or expected.

I posted a week or so ago that I'd been fighting against anxiety about this retreat and giving more time to prayer. This week I'm giving talk #2 in a series of how God meets us with Hope in the midst of brokenness. My thesis this week: repentance from sin is a primary way that God meets us in brokenness.

Given that, I felt like I needed to lead into this week with some repenting of my own. I spent a good chunk of time this evening in prayer, repenting of my anxiety, my unbelief, my faithlessness in the face of all that God has done and continues to do for me. Oh Lord, I believe; help me repent of my suicidal un-belief.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Grab-Bag

*There are few things in life more gratifying for a UNC basketball fan than to be #1 in the nation...except maybe to be #1 and to have Dook lose not just once (to Virginia Tech--at home, no less) but twice (at Georgia Tech) in one week.

*Some great NFL football on this weekend as the playoffs get really interesting. My stone-cold locks (for entertainment purposes only):
-Bears easily over the Seahawks
, whose luck finally runs out.
-Saints keep marching past the Eagles
, who finally run out of over-achieving gas but have made a great run and proven that Andy Reid is a qualtiy coach who knows how to win. If you're Donovan McNabb, do you want the Eagles to lose to prove that they still need you to win?
-Chargers over the Patriots. Talented Chargers overcome the gritty, playoff savvy Pats.
-Ravens over the Colts. Deep down in my heart of hearts I want a SuperBowl win for Peyton Manning, but the Ravens' defense at home will keep the Colts' offense in check (which didn't look particularly crisp last week) and the Ravens finally have some offense this year.

*My talk last night I think went pretty well. It's tough to start a new semester talking about brokenness, and what I really wanted to do was talk about brokenness just enough to get to Hope and put Hope front and center. I think I managed to do that pretty well and got some good feedback from students. I think being reminded that Hope wins is needed for most of us at some point or another.

*A few recent Piebald Life readers have commented that they wanted to leave comments but didn't have a blogger account and weren't sure how to go about all of it. I don't allow anonymous comments for a couple reasons, the main one being that you get spam advertisements if you allow folks to just leave comments without a blogger account/word verification. But if you'd like to leave comments, it's really easy to set up a blogger account (takes like a minute, literally, and costs nothing). In so doing you can not only leave comments on my blog, but on the 2.5 billion blogs out there in the blogosphere...and if the Spirit so moves and you get tired of my rants, you can use that account to start your own blog.

*Our leadership retreat is this weekend. If you're checking this over the weekend, please do pray for the 70 or so students out at a local camp, seeking to grow as disciples and leaders so that we might more faithfully and thoroughly bless UNC's campus--home of (have I mentioned this already?) the #1 basketball team in all the land.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hope Wins

Last semester on campus there was an inordinate amount of pain in our InterVarsity community. After almost eleven years on campus, I expect there to be plenty of junk in people's lives. In fact, I generally count on 20% of the people at any given time to be in some sort of significant personal difficulty or crisis: depression, family struggles, calling/major/future despair, faith struggles, near financial ruin, near academic ruin, stuck in a significant sin pattern, or addicted to Facebook (which are more or less coterminous).

Last semester, it was like 40 or 50%. Ridiculous. Everyone was falling apart. InterVarsity felt like the UNC spiritual/emotional/mental ER.

So tonight I'm kicking off a three week series where I'm getting to speak at our large group about how God meets us in the midst of brokenness. I'm excited about helping folks see how the Christian story and how Jesus Christ himself meets people stuck in brokenness and desparation.

And my job tonight is to convince people of one simple reality: hope wins.

It has struck me as I've been thinking about this talk that if hope hasn't really already won, then we are stuck in our hopelessness. And ultimately, it's a question of life and death. If death really has the last word, then most anything else other than despair is just living in denial and diversion. Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

But the Father has sent the Christ. The Christ has not avoided death but dealt with it head-on and won. In Christ the Father has spoken his final "yes" to our deepest and wildest hopes and dreams.

Despair does not have the last word. Neither does mourning. Jesus meets death and is victorious over it. Not only that, he has invited us to participate in that victory along with him. Brokenness here in the Land of the Ruins is an inevitable experience but it is not the inevitable consequence of all of life. It is not the Last Word. Joy is. Hope wins.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Putting Away Christmas

So last week Kelly was telling Davis that it was time for us to take down the Christmas decorations. He was deeply disturbed by this, much like his father, and so Kelly was trying to help him to process through it. The tree would have to come down, along with the lights and the nativity with baby Jesus.

"Presents?" He asked sadly.

It took Kelly a second to get what he meant.

"Oh no, sweetie," Kelly said with a smile, "you get to keep the presents that you got."

He was utterly relieved.

There's a talk illustration in there somewhere, I just know it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Conflicted about (Infant) Baptism

Three years ago we were in Richmond, VA, and Davis was born. We were in a great Presbyterian church (shout out to West End Pres folks) and even though we weren't totally sure about the infant baptism thing, we felt like we could submit to the church and we were glad to have our son baptized.

Then we moved and had Zoe. The church we initially attended here in Durham/Chapel Hill was a Bible church and wouldn't do infant baptism. So here we had a quandry: if we had our druthers, we would prefer neither to be baptized as infants, but if we had one kid baptized, we certainly didn't want to have the other kid to not be.

So when we moved to All Saints Anglican, one perk was that our daughter would be baptized. So this past weekend Zoe turned one on Saturday and she was baptized on Sunday. It was a big weekend for our little girl.

I am still a bit conflicted about infant baptism. On the one hand, you've got the weight of European church history in favor of infant baptism. This was the primary mode of operation of the church for 1500 years or so. In the Presbyterian tradition, infant baptism is built around the idea that baptism is the sign of the covenant that replaces circumcision. So we baptize now to indicate that there is special favor on children who are born into God's family. There is a covenant community, it' s no longer ethnic Israel but God's church. To be born into that covenant community is a particular blessing and a particular opportunity.

On the other hand, currently you've got the largest population of Christians in the 2/3 majority world who don't know anything about covenant theology. All they know is Jesus, Spirit, Scripture and baptism--and for much of that world it's baptism as adults.

Isn't part of the whole move from OT to NT that God's work is no longer about an ethnic group but now available to all, and now all are fully responsible to respond and receive it? Or is that an overly-individualistic, Western way of thinking about faith and community and family that would be completely foreign to the writers of the Scriptures?

At any rate, we've got two kids who have been fully sprinkled. I do believe that God is already at work in them to communicate His love and grace to them. I believe He's using my wife and I to do that. I believe that He's doing that by other means, as well. Ultimately there will come a time when Davis and Zoe must respond to that work of grace for themselves. And regardless of whether that's simply them "realizing their baptism" or "receiving Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior" for the first time, it'll be a big day, worthy of great celebration, indeed.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Who Are You Cheating On?

This past fall I came across a sermon series synopsis on line from Andy Stanley, a fantastic pastor in Atlanta. He was talking about how most of us cheat on God and/or family in order to give more time to work. The point of the sermon series was to call people to consider cheating on work in order to give more time to God and to family.

The new semester at UNC starts on Wednesday. I speak at large group on Thursday and then we head to leadership retreat on Friday. Last semester was a hard semester, probably the most difficult combination of inter-personal issues on campus, people in crisis, structural breakdowns and challenges in my personal life/on the home front that I've had since my second year on IV staff, nine years ago.

A highpoint for me about my Urbana experience was staying after for a day with two life-long friends, Marshall Benbow and Tripp Sanders. As I was processing the massive accumulation of blech on campus with them, I closed out by saying, "after all that we went through last semester, this leadership retreat next weekend has got to be good." I was anxious to fix problems, feeling tons of pressure to put together a magical leadership retreat weekend that would rally the troops and turn the proverbial ship around.

Being the good friends that they are, Marshall and Tripp pointed out my neurosis. What needs to happen this weekend is nothing that I can plan. I need the Lord to show up and do radically re-formational work.

And so I've been cheating on work this week in order to be with the Lord. Instead of squeezing in every possible minute for preparations and talks and schedules and trying to make things "work," I've spent disporportionate time with the Lord. I realized as I was praying this morning that unless I'm deeply connected to a larger story I will be of no use to all of us who are trying to meet the Lord in the midst of this one.

It's been good and re-centering to be approaching this semester in this way, although there are moments of brief panic as I look at what needs to be done. And I think that this whole cheating on work thing in order to be with the Lord and bless my family might be good fodder for a New Year's Resolution, if I were so inclined to make one of those things.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Conflicted about Urbana (Missions) Conference

In the world of the university, where InterVarsity makes it's home, "missions" and "missionaries" are bad words. Anthropologists, sociologists, historians and international political science folks all line-up to take pinata-like swings at the history of Christian missionaries around the world, especially in Africa and South America. In bringing Christianity, they also often brought Western culture--sometimes with dire consequences for the indigenous people group.

This student generation has been exposed to this history and has also been thoroughly indoctrinated with the values of pluralism and tolerance. As a result they are often conflicted about missions and missionaries in a religious sense. They are very excited about serving, justice, and helping people's physical needs. They are much less sure that Jesus is the hope of the whole world.

One of the reasons why I like InterVarsity is that we value thinking seriously about difficult issues. As an organizational culture, we are uneasy with quick and simplistic answers. This means that we take the historical damage done by Christian missionaries seriously. It also means that we take people's culture as well as their physical needs seriously.

But as an organization that also takes the Great Commission seriously, "missions" in a religious sense cannot be a bad word.

So throughout the conference there was this tension. We acknowledged regularly that there has been an arrogance associated with Western Christian missionaries in terms of how they approached people and cultures. And yet at the same time we celebrated the very real good done by missionaries throughout history--almost everywhere Christian missionaries went they cleaned up drinking water, built hospitals, established schools, improved the conditions for women, and of course, brought the good news of Jesus Christ. Missionaries weren't all bad, they just make for compelling pinatas.

And if we take what the Scriptures say seriously AND how the disciples live their lives in the aftermath of the Jesus resurrection event, we have to conclude that the way the Christian story was initially founded, believed, and lived out, was that it was vital that everyone possible hear about Jesus. It was not just another nice idea to be thrown into the religious tossed salad of ideas. It was God-come-to-get-us. It was determinative for the whole world.

I think that speaking about the good, confessing the bad, and establishing the essential nature of mission is crucial for any credibility both for those within the faith who struggle with the idea of missions and for those who watch us from the outside.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Extraverts Melancholy

Urbana wrapped up at midnight on New Year's Eve. After staying an extra day in St. Louis to see an old friend, I'm in Chicago's O'Hare airport ready to claw my eyes out with a plunger after a long day of lines, stand-by lists, and watching the sun rise and set from two different airports. Currently I'm satiating my angst with a stale Dunkin' Donut--apparently they don't know the joys of Krispy Kreme here in the land of nasal accents.

I'll be waxing eloquent about the actual conference this week, but my experience of the end is what I'm thinking about today.

At 12:30 a.m New Year's Eve, we sang the last song, went through the last announcements, and 22,000 people began filtering out towards the exits. My students left, my IV staff friends were long gone, but I stayed back watching everyone clear out.

Maybe it's my military kid upbringing--saying good-bye to friends every three years. Maybe it's an unhealthy expression of my extraverted nature. Whatever the reason, I'm always sad at the end of a big conference or retreat. I love the energy, the clear purpose in something like an Urbana or even something smaller like a weekend training conference. I feel the uniqueness of an event like this deeply. Never again will these exact 22,000 be gathered for such an intense and unique experience of God and his heart for the world.

I think a redemptive side of this whole sadness is that it genuinely makes me ache for the time when there will be no more good-byes. I think that this is the core and deeper yearning that's being experienced as I sadly watch delirious 19-year-olds skip out to waiting buses to take them back to Oregon and Omaha and Miami and Maryland.

This is not to say that the New Heaven and the New Earth won't have space for introverts. It's just to say that my extravert's melancholy points me to a larger reality and a specific glorious future that I sometimes foolishly think is irrelevant to my every-day life.

Of course, soon my thoughts turn to my wife and two great kids waiting for me at home, and the melancholy lifts. I'd fight through just about anything today to get home and be reunited with the people who I most deeply love--even suffer through a stale Dunkin' Donut.