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, February 28, 2007

Excerpt from Christianity is Revolutionary: Christians and Social Justice

My friends at UNC-Chapel Hill. I see that you are very passionate for justice! There are 56 organizations on campus that are officially classified as activist or service-oriented organizations, and there are dozens more that are committed to having an impact to change the world for the good.

There is a Spirit at work here on this campus. There are many here who cannot sit still while injustice is happening anywhere in the world. There are many here who hate injustice and fight to make things right. There is a powerful and strong Spirit of activism here at UNC-Chapel Hill.

I'm here tonight to tell you that I believe I know that Spirit. Allow me to tell you it's name. It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

The Spirit of Jesus Christ hates injustice even more than people on this campus do. He hates it. And the Spirit of Jesus Christ will not rest until one day when everything is made right. God is the ultimate and first activist. He is acting even now, all over the world, to bring an end to injustice. And he will have the last word over everything.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Is Prayer the Work?

We prayed a lot last week on campus in InterVarsity--24 hours a day, 7 days during that week, in fact. And the discussion came up at one point--is this sufficient to have the type of impact on campus or do we need to do something else? This came up specifically in conjunction with the question of evangelism. Is prayer the work or is it preparation for the work or is it something in between?

Perhaps an analogy might help.

At the end of each semester, students have this glorious season called exams. For many days, they are in exam mode. What exam mode means is not simply that they must go to a specified room and get a specified set of questions to answer or problems to solve. Exam mode means that they are both going to take exams and also that they are engaged in all types of rituals in order to help prepare them for said taking of said exams. They drink caffeinated beverages. They get together in study groups. They pour over notes. They read books. They discuss ideas. They don't sleep.

Now it would be extremely odd if the students did all these rituals and never actually went and took the exam. Indeed, it might be borderline psychotic. It would be a little less disturbing but still questionable if they went to their exams apart from participating in any of these rituals.

And so it is with prayer and evangelism. We must pray, but we must also take a risk. There are many of us who wish it were not so, and that prayer was simply enough. But it's not. God will not allow us to hide behind anything to miss out on the joy of taking risks for the sake of His name--not even to hide behind something as pious-sounding as prayer. Prayer and speaking the gospel is like exam season--it's all one thing, with two separate movements.

And so this Thursday we're taking a risk at our large group. I'm speaking and the title of the night is Christianity is Revolutionary. To a campus full of activists who are passionate about justice, I'm going to argue that God is the first and supreme activist who also has the final word over all of it for our good: Hope Wins. And we're challenging our Christian students to invite friends for whom this would be a good entry point for the gospel.

I'll probably post some core thoughts from my talk over the next few days. In the mean time, please pray, we need it...

Monday, February 26, 2007

33's Ebenezer

Yesterday, I turned 33. A rather un-remarkable birthday in the grand scheme of things, but it birthdays are always good times to pause and reflect on things.

In the Psalms, David is always remembering God's previous faithfulness when he's doubting the current circumstance. Throughout the OT, they build piles of rocks as memorials, ebenezers, of God's faithfulness. I find that I do a poor job cultivating my spiritual memory, so birthdays are good to force me to do so.

*At eight and a half years, I'm delighted to say that marriage is both the best and the hardest thing I've ever done. There have been multiple points, particularly early on, when I could only say that it was the hardest. But the Lord has done a remarkable work in our marriage to make it a safe, growing, wonderful space. The Lord has done this as we've persevered. It's a great thing.

*I love my 2.3 kids. Davis and Zoe and the one on the way increasingly command more and more of my heart affection. Being a dad has been challenging to my patience and my high-sleep needs, but I delight in my kids, and I continue to discover the joy of fatherhood.

*My work at points in the past six months has been about as hard as any time in my eleven years in campus ministry. We're not entirely out of the woods yet, but there's a sense that the fog is lifting and good things are happening again. Overall, I continue to take great joy in my work and the people that I get to work with.

*I've got a handful of life-long friends who I have history with and who continually bless me at unexpected times. We're developing good friendships here locally.

*And of course, there's my internal world. I'm still not as peaceful as I wish I were, nor am I as joyful as the Lord invites me to be. Anxiety and fear are the twin inner-world sins that rob me of much life.

*Some fun 70's child memories:
First music purchased: Michael Jackson's Thriller
First movie seen in a theater: Empire Strikes Back
First home video: Betamax my mom bought in 4th grade
First cd player: 8th grade
First cd: Beastie Boys, Licence to Ill
First Ipod: this weekend, given to me by my wife with the help of some family

One programming note: you'll need to type in the complete address to get here from now on: www.piebaldlife.blogspot.com

Friday, February 23, 2007

Recanting (Sort Of)

So last night's joint worship and prayer night was really, really good. There are definitely some sub-sub-cultural differences between the two groups, and it felt like everyone brought their good stuff to the table.

In thinking some more about the whole question of unity there are a couple important caveats that I wanted to post on.

First, the most true thing about Christian communities is that we are already one in Christ. The hard work of being reconciled across all boundaries (theological, cultural, racial, economic, geographic) is already done in Christ. The work of unity is not a work from scratch. The hardest part that we couldn't do has been done for us on the cross. It is already completed, it is only ours to participate in faithfully.

This is hard to live out "structurally" (i.e. between churches or various Christian organizations). It is even harder to live out inter-personally.

Secondly, I am all for joint Christian events when their mission includes prayer (as ours did last night) but even more so when their mission includes cross-cultural reconciliation. There is tremendous work to be done to move the Christian church from a de facto status of segregation to a genuine expression of the corporate body of Christ. This work must be done intentionally, or it will not happen at all.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Unity with a Purpose

Tonight we're capping off our participation in 24/7 Prayer with a joint meeting of InterVarsity and Campus Crusade, the two largest Christian groups on campus. The purpose is for us to gather together as a larger body of Christ to pray for the campus, to ask God's blessing on this couple square miles of land that we occupy along with 25,000+ other students, faculty, and staff.

Students, of course, love this kind of stuff. There is generally a low-level grumble on campus that there are multiple Christian student groups. Why do we have to be divided? And every year or two a group of students decides that they want to be the group that gathers all peoples together. There's some sort of all-campus Christian pep rally thrown (where each group still sits together with it's own people), we all go home and things go on as usual.

There's a number of things going on here. One is that it genuinely does feel like you're the only one following Christ seriously on a secular campus--even in a relatively large community like UNC's Crusade (650) or InterVarsity (325). So just being in a gym full of other Christians makes you feel a little less like a freak.

And there's the very good desire that we not have a sense of competition or comparison. Inevitably every year there's some inter-group run-in where someone feels that their people are disrespected. Then the anecdotes get passed around, and before you know it, everyone in Crusade says that IV sucks...which of course makes us think that they suck.

So we need to work to make sure that we have healthy, cooperative relationships. But here's my deal: we could literally expend hundreds of work-hours trying to do joint events all the time. I'd much rather we spend that time, energy, money, and effort into mission outside ourselves than expend it trying to make sure that everyone plays nice.

There are tons of students on campus. We need more than one fellowship on campus to do Kingdom work in all the nooks and crannies of it. We need to be for one another, to honor and respect one another, certainly and by all means. I enjoy meeting with the other campus ministers and hearing what God's doing in their ministries.

But please, let's not waste time with Christian pep rallies. We have bigger missional fish to fry. We're gathering tonight not just for unity sake but for this work of prayer that we've been called to and engaged in together. And that makes it worth it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

24/7 Prayer

Last Thursday at 9 p.m. we kicked off 24/7 prayer on campus. Students signed up from various Christian groups on campus to pray at all hours of the day and night for the campus, state, nation, world and for rest, reconciliation, and personal healing.

My hope and prayer is that this might turn into an annual thing. It's been fantastic for everyone involved thus far. I think that ten years from now we'll look back on this 24/7 prayer event as the spark that sent missionaries all over the globe and the turning point in terms of seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people coming to Christ.

But in the mean time, it's been a great opportunity to talk about the bigger Story. 24/7 prayer is a participatory thing.

Hebrews tells us that Jesus is always interceding perfectly before the Father for all people. 24/7 prayer has been happening for a long time. Our praying is always and only an echo of that perfect prayer. Not that it doesn't matter that we pray. Indeed, Revelations talks about the bowl of incence that is the prayers of the saints that are poured out on the earth as part of the bringing about the end and the beginning of the renewal of all things.

It's just that when we pray, be it at 2 a.m. or over our noon-day meal, it always behooves us to remember that prayers is always already happening. This is a participatory action, not a voice crying out in the dark inky void of the universe.

In fact, we would be wise to listen first. To see if we might catch some whiff of what is already being said, to see if we might join in concert with the Voice that is always going before the Father.

Monday, February 19, 2007

More Scriptural Normalization: Beyond Eisenhower or Clinton

I read an article a couple weeks ago that has to do with my last week's post on Scripture as the Christian's normalizing media. It's a great example of why Christians must be rooted in something much bigger than current cultural norms.

During the Clinton era, many folks (especially Christians) were deeply disturbed by the Monica Lewinsky affair. However, there were plenty who felt like it was not that big a deal. At least not a big enough deal to kick the guy out of office. The economy was soaring, after all.

Let's say, strictly hypothetically, that back in the 1950's a tape surfaced of Dwight Eisenhower repeatedly using the "n" word to describe black folks. This would have probably upset many people. But in all probability, it would not have resulted in his dismissal from office. It wasn't all that unusual or abnormal for the times. Alas, even for many who called themselves Christians.

Now let's switch the actions, but keep the presidents the same. Eisenhower has the affair in 1955 and Clinton uses the "n" word in 1996. Chances are that the ramifications are quite different for both men.

This duplicity is why we must have our norms anchored in something much greater than the current cultural trends. Both actions are deplorable. And if we do not have something outside of ourselves to help see things as they really are, we will be too deep in the weeds of the culture to be able to discern what is good and what is completely jacked up.

We must be ready and able to winsomly and/or prophetically speak into a culture that will not always understand--even and especially our own Christian culture that often doesn't look much different. The call to desegregation in the 1950's sounded strange to many Christians. There are issues now in the broader culture that the church needs to lead in addressing. And we could be, if we would read our Scriptures as our normalizing media--both when it kicks us in the butt and when it comforts and soothes.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Post-Valentine's Day Thoughts

The fine line between being a "romantic" and being a "stalker" is in the appreciation (or lack thereof) of the person on the receiving end of the attention.

Of course, then you get married and then you've got carte blanche to do both...and very often people end up doing neither!

Media Through the Lens of Jesus: Confessing Community

So the second crucial piece for any kind of genuine transformation to take place is what I'm currently calling "confessing community."

Post-modern culture in general celebrates authenticity. Be you, keep it real, do your thing--these are all common slogans. The general mood of the times is that people might be free to be real, be authentic, and that the communities that we share life in together would be real, be authentic.

This is a deeply biblical value. But for Christian community, we cannot stop there. Christians are called to participate in communities that do not value authenticity simply for authenticity's sake. We are called to be communities of transformation, not just honesty.

And so, we are called to be confessing communities. Confession means both that I'm honest about my stuff and that I'm looking for transformation, freedom, change. My stuff does not have the last word. Transformation does. Jesus does. Hope wins.

In my deeply pluarlistic mission field, this does not fly so well. The secular university would prefer that we simply affirm wherever anyone happens to be at this point in time. It is not up to us to try to "fix" or "convert" or "change" people.

Now clearly there is something that Christians need to take heed of here. We are often too quick to try to fix people, too heavy-handed in our approaches. Christian community is supposed to be full of messy, broken people who are in process of transformation. So we have this tension that we must balance faithfully and well.

But the place of transformation is and must be the last word in our communities, not simply authenticity. We must not confuse the means (authenticity) as the ends (which, in the Christian worldview, is transfomation into Christ-like-ness).

And so confessing communities are the places where we are both free to be a mess and free to move out from under the tyranny of that mess into the glorious Lordship of Jesus Christ. Apart from both of those ingredients, there is very little hope of genuine, long-term change.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Media Through the Lens of Jesus: Thoughtless Consumption and Scripture

On the first night that I gave that talk, I had students sketch the Media Tightrope image and place themselves on the spectrum: were they towards the Thoughtless Consumption end of things or Retreat/Isolation? I then had them put that in a bowl as an offering to the Lord that they would be willing to move if God called them to do so.

I looked over the sketches later that night. It was about what I thought it would be. About ten on the Retreat end of things, about ten put themselves in the sweet spot of Thoughtful Engagement and Humble Abstinence and the other 130 nominated themselves for Thoughtless Consumption. I think this is fairly typical among white evangelicals, regardless of age.

Sunday morning I gave the "take home" charge. How were they going to leave the weekend and implement genuine changes? I offered two keys that the Spirit uses for transformation in our lives: Scripture and Community.

One of the functions of media in our culture is that it "normalizes" things. It teaches and re-inforces what "normal" behavior is. Even sub-cultures that celebrate being abnormal use media to reinforce and help create the standard deviation. So Goth kids and Gap kids and Hip-Hop kids are all consuming various forms of media to help them understand how to navigate their particular sub-culture.

For the Christian, we've been given something that is to teach us what normal is. It's called the Scriptures. The Scriptures are to be our "normalizing media." It teaches us what it means to live life, to become more fully human.

Given that 130 out of 150 students at our conference were in thoughtless consumption mode when it comes to media (and I think this is typical), guess whose messages about normal they're/we're more likely to internalize?

God has given us a book to teach us and to normalize us. He knows we need something to help us, so he gives it to us. And woe unto us if (for example) we are looking to Grey's Anatomy for instruction on how to live out our relationships with one another rather than obeying the Biblical call to submit to one another out of reverence for Jesus Christ.

We have got to find a way to internalize that book. It's not always easy. It's not always straight forward. But we have got to find a way to write it in our hearts and in our minds and to get The Story into the very fabric of our being so that we will have an accurate and true understanding of what normal is.

Otherwise, our Christian communities will not have much of the vibrancy and light that they were intended to have. And our lives will be just as stale as much of the rest of the world.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Media Through the Lens of Jesus: Walking the Media Tightrope

I just got back from a weekend conference that we did with over 150 InterVarsity students from across the Eastern Carolina's entitled "Media Through the Lens of Jesus." We wanted to drill down into this important topic in students' lives, but we wanted to do so with great care. It's too easy and predictable to do a Christian conference on media where all we do is bash it for the whole weekend.

I got to do the lead-off talk on Friday night. And I talked about the spectrum of Christian experiences and positions when it comes to media. On the one end of the spectrum there is thoughtless consumption. Faith and media have very little to do with one another, we just take in whatever the heck we want and question anyone's right to say anything about it. This was me for much of my high school and early college days.

At the far other end is a position of retreat/isolation. This is the total removal of yourself from engagement with secular media and it's often loaded up with rules and regulations and a legalism that is quite burdensome. This was me during my junior year of college in reaction to where I had been previously. It sucked. By the end of my junior year my Christian walk was this onerous, joyless duty. I always felt like anything I did recreationally had to be specifically and clearly pushing me in my faith. I felt claustrophobic in my faith. I was also pretty judgmental of everyone else around me who engaged in media choices that I didn't feel free to.

My point was that neither one of these extremes of Thoughtless Engagement or Retreat/Isolation is a faithful place to be.

If those two ends of the spectrum are poles, imagine a wire running between the two poles creating a tightrope. It is always easier to hug a pole than it is to walk the wire. It always feels safer to cling to one extreme or the other than it is to walk in between. Neither one really requires much thought. But I believe that for most Christians, being in step with the Spirit, walking by faith, requires us to leave both extremes and to walk the wire.

I called the middle "The Sweet Spot: Thoughtful Engagement and Humble Abstinence."

I believe that we are called to engage media thoughtfully and intentionally. If an image-bearer had a hand in creating something, there is an echo of that image-bearing-ness present, however distant or faint. The desire for forgiveness, longings for eternity, redemption, hope--all these are evidence of Ecclesiastes 3--"...he has also placed eternity in the hearts of men, but they cannot fathom what he has done from beginning to end."

But there will be some things that we will abstain from consuming. Some things are just not healthy for our souls, good for our witness, or both. And that requires humility in understanding that my things and your things as a fellow believer might be different. It doesn't mean that there isn't room for you to call me out on something if you think I'm making foolish decisions, but it does mean that there's grace and space for us to make different decisions.

The call all weekend: to do honest self-evaluation, and to move to the sweet spot.

I'll blog more of the content from the weekend over the course of this week, there was some real good stuff that we covered.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Unfurling the Father's Yes

So I have to admit that, being the older son myself, I've had some sympathy for the raw deal that the eldest got. How come he wasn't celebrated?

But the Father's response is so overwhelming, so vast in its' offerings that it silences all objections.

" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.'"

"My son" is a direct and yet gentle corrective to the "slave" terminology used by the son in his objection. Sonship is right-relating to the Father. To the son who is angry and self-righteous, the good Father re-extends and re-confirms his commitment to right relationships, to a loving, caring, gracious relationship. "My son."

"You are always with me." This gift of presence, this being with is so crucial to the New Testament understanding of what Jesus does in terms of how people can now relate to God. Immanuel means "God with us." Full access at all times to the throne of grace through the work of Christ is this new covenant. God has come to dwell with his people and he offers us this 'with-ness.' God himself is the great gift, the very good news of the Christian way. There is no greater gift that heaven (or anyone else) can offer.

"And everything that I have is yours." Indeed, if you look at the story closely, the Father divides his estate between BOTH children after the younger one petulantly demands it. The older son had full access to everything that the Father had in his possession. All of it. Had he known the Father's heart, all he needed to do was ask and he could have enjoyed, partaken of any of it. But he is so fixed on his own righteousness that he has no idea how gracious and generous the Father's heart is. Contemplating this led me to the Scripture in James, "you do not have because you do not ask."

Next time you pray, consider using these three concepts to direct your prayer. What if Jesus came to you and said these things:

My son/daughter.
You are always with me.
Everything I have is yours.

Meditating on these things has driven me to much worship these past two weeks...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Missing the Yes: Elder Son Style

The story is really about two lost sons, not just one. The prodigal son is lost when he takes his Father's resources and spends it on his own appetites. The older son gets lost on his Father's own farm.

Here's how he responds when the lost son comes back and the Father throws a party for him: 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

"Slaving away." What's happened as the older son has dutifully stayed home is that he has worked hard but missed his Father's heart. He's missed out on his Father's yes. And the key to understanding what's going on here is the word "slave."

To mis-relate to the Father is to necessarily mis-relate to everything else. The boy is a son, not a slave, and his Father loves him dearly--dearly enough to run out after him much as he does for the returning Prodigal.

If we mis-relate to God our Father, we cannot help but mis-relate to everything else: family, friendships, work, ambitions, dreams, money, recreation. To miss out on this relationship is to miss everything.

Alas, the converse is not necessarily true: to correctly relate to the Father does not automatically mean we will relate correctly to the rest of our world and lives. Right living in the Land of the Ruins is always a learned characteristic. But to miss this foundational relationship is to guarantee a life of mis-relating to just about everything else.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Missing the Yes: Prodigal Style

[Note: this post picks up on the end of last week's posts about redeeming ambition. -Ed.]

So it was with the sermon and the misty-eyed Sports Illustrated moment in mind that I went last Monday to a day-long spiritual formation retreat put together for IV staff in our region. I tried to hammer out there what exactly it was that I wanted.

I articulated it thusly: I think what I’m ambitious for is to be as near the epicenter of God’s unfurling “yes” to the world in Christ Jesus as I possibly can be in my locales: my neighborhood, my home, and on campus. If the story of the New Testament is the story of God making known to all the world that he is the “YES” God, that all his promises are yes to us in Jesus Christ, then I want to pick up on that story and be a part of it, have some role to play whenever and wherever he would allow me to do so.

And from this place, I began to engage the content of our spiritual retreat day: the story of the Prodigal Son. And what I wanted to see was how it is that both of these sons miss the joy of the Father's yes. And I wanted to ask the Lord to help me be fully aware of how my good desires can go wrong: I know that it does so often for so many people in so many spheres of leadership--from Enron to televangelists.

The first part of our day, we focused on the Prodigal Son himself. How does he miss the Father's heart? How does he miss out on the good Father's yes? It seems to me that the crux of the matter is that he takes the Father's resources and goes and pursues his own appetites.

I'm all too familiar with this temptation! To take the Father's good resources and go and try to do my own thing, to pursue my own appetites, to build my own kingdom. What the good Father instead invites me to do is to take his gifts and offer them back to him: show me how to use these alongside you! Let's go to work together!

This is participating in the Father's yes in his ways, in his timing, with the supreme and ultimate benefit of being in his company. The invitation: to repent of my attempts at building my own kingdom with His resources.

I don't think this is solely a temptation for folks in ministry, although it has particular expressions for those of us who are "religious professionals." But my guess is that many folks, in all kinds of walks of life, struggle with the temptation to take resources that are gifts from God and use them in sorts of wrong ways.

Sports Weekend in Review Grab-Bag

*Super Re-Cap: So the Bears were what we thought they were. And the Colts offense nearly let them off the hook.

Scenario #2 from my post on Saturday is what played out, only instead of the Colts choking the Bears (well, Rex Grossman, who was the actual Superbowl MVP in terms of who was the most important player on the field that determined the outcome of the game) gave it away. I think, though, that the Colts ability to win an ugly game is what made the difference for them this year. They won a sloppy, low-scoring affair with the Ravens earlier in the playoffs and then again yesterday to bring home the championship. I was thrilled for Manning and of course Dungy.

Now it's time to switch into full-time college basketball mode, which of course leads to...

*Triangle Hoops Madness: So my beloved Tar Heels feel to N.C. State this past weekend in Raleigh, while Dook lost to Florida State in Durham. They get together this Wednesday night for their first of two annual grudge-match games. Who's loss hurts more?

Obviously, I was hatin' the Heel's loss on Saturday. But realistically, this is a team loaded with young talent. The only question for UNC is if their freshmen will be ready come tip time of the NCAA tournament. For NC State, this was their Superbowl--they played their best game of the year against a team they hate and they won. Way to go, 'Pack, thanks for participating in this year's college basketball season. They'll go down with a slight wimper early in the ACC tournament and they can look back on the framed clippings from their win Saturday as a happy moment from the season. Meanwhile, the Heels will be making a run at the National Championship. Saturday's loss was tough, but it's all learning curve for the Heels at this point.

For Dook, however, this loss was pretty nasty. They lost earlier in the week to an average UVa team in OT, and losing at home against an average Florida State team doesn't bode well for them. They've got talent problems (i.e. not enough) and chemistry problems, and they don't seem to be getting much better as the season progresses.

Generally speaking, no matter what the talent levels, UNC-Dook manages to split the series. We each win at home. My guess is that Dook will probably defend their home floor this week as we take the 15 minute trip down the road. But I wouldn't be surprised if we went there and stole one from them.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Super Picks

Okay, so I don't normally post on Saturday, but it IS the National Holiday Weekend known as the Superbowl, and I feel duty-bound to redeem myself from two weekends ago.

I can see two different scenarios playing out:

Scenario 1: It's All Mental
Remember several years ago when the Red Sox finally beat the Yankees in dramatic fashion in a 7-game series where they were down 3-0? They won four straight to vanguish their hated foes and march on to play the Cardinals in the World Series. The Cardinals were a very, very good team. And there was much talk about the let-down after the emotionally-charged series against the Yankees. But the Sox had finally done it: they had beaten their nemesis and nothing was going to stand in their way. They steamrolled the Cardinals in four straight. It was all mental.

So, too, the Colts have finally vanguished their foes and will breeze to a Super-blow-out: 42-14

Scenario 2: Defense Wins Championships
In this scenario, the defense always wins. Peyton Manning is forced into a sloppy game, throws three interceptions, gets more and more spun up and flustered as they outgain the Bears 450 yards to 124 but can't seem to put the ball in the end zone. The Colts defense plays well, but the Bears score on defense, special teams, and manage one good drive on offense to pull off the victory: 20-12.

Which scenario do I think will happen? Football's mostly mental. The Colts win big.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Assessing My Ambitions

That sermon kicked off several days of internal assessment. A large part of my piebald life is trying to sort out my own desires, dreams and plans from the Lord's. This can make me hesitant to take risks or lead the ways that I sometimes need to.

But to understand Jacob's story in this fresh light and to see God's love for him (as well as God's own commitment to burn off the crap associated with his ambitions) gave me fresh energy to deal honestly with my desires before the Lord.

Monday morning, with the sermon still fresh on my mind, I was reading Sports Illustrated (my source for spiritual revelation second only to the Scriptures themselves). I was reading about Boise State's absolutely crazy (and shocking) win over Oklahoma in their Bowl game. As I read interviews and descriptions of the game, I found myself getting choked up. What is it about this, Lord, that strikes such a deep chord in me?

I think this is it: I want to be a part of something much bigger than myself. I want to be connected with a community or team of people that does something glorious, unique, remarkable. This impule in itself in not Godly--I would probably want this whether I were a Christian or not. But the way that God is at work shaping and refining me is to take these desires and wrap them around the Bigger Story.

What I found after a couple of days considerating these things was that of course I'm a pretty mixed bag. Motives are slippery things to get a hold of, and at best mine are mixed. But I think 6.5 days out of 10, I'm pretty excited about God's story. And I think that number is growing.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Redeeming Ambition

This past Sunday our pastor looked at the story of Jacob and Esau. This might be familiar even to those of you who don't know much about Christianity. Jacob's the younger of the twins, Esau the older, born to a family lineage that's been promised to be the household that God uses to bless all the nations.

Esau is described as the outdoorsmen. Jacob (whose name means grasper) is a homebody. But my pastor talked about the connotation of these descriptions being that Esau was somewhat ambivalent about his place in this very important family line. Whereas Jacob very much valued his family and the importance of what was happening in and around him.

So Esau sells his birthright for a bowl of stew to his grasping and coniving younger brother one day when he's come in from hunting and he's starving. Jacob then conspires with his mother (who liked him best) to steal the blessing from Esau upon his father's death bed. Jacob's life is more or less a record of conspiring, manipulating, and plotting.

Throughout the Scriptures, God refers to himself as God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But far and away, of these three OT patriarchs, God associates himself with Jacob. It seems like an odd choice for a holy God.

But one of the points from this past Sunday was that Jacob was ambitious to be a part of the blessings of God. He was always grasping and wrestling, yes, but often it was to be a part of God's work in the world. He was eager to be involved in God's story and he asserted and inserted himself time and time again.

God's work throughout the story of Jacob's life was a purification of this ambition. God constantly refined, humbled, stretched and rebuked Jacob. But his deep passion to be a part of the work of God in the world was a good thing. God can redeem even ambition, if it's ambition centered around the right things.