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.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Pushing Past Ooginess

This past weekend Kelly and I went to my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary celebration. Sixty years! I might not ever go to another one of those again--congrats, Oma and Opa, on a marriage that has stood lots of the tests of time.

Kelly's mom came down for the weekend to watch our slightly-sick kiddo's (she is wonderful). That meant that Kelly and I got to go a whole 27 hours without singing "The Wheels on the Bus," having our three year old boy ask to see his own poopy diaper ("Whoah! Big stinkies daddy!") or passing graham crackers to screaming kids in the back seat.

This also meant that we got to sleep in for the first time in what feels like centuries. And after nine and a half hours of coveted sleep on Sunday morning, I felt like absolute crap. Sluggish, dazed, and flat-out more sleepy.

What this does not mean, of course, is that I shouldn't ever sleep in again or that my body doesn't need more sleep. What one sleep-in morning revealed was that my body craves sleep, and that I probably need about a week of nine and a half hour sleeps before my body recovers from all the ways that I abuse it.

I thought about this as I was driving home and thinking about my students. An alarming number of them report to me that they absolutely must be busy all the time because they do not like what goes on in their minds or their souls when they stop. They feel oogy when they stay still, so they keep going and going and going.

This is like trying to pour concrete over a swamp. Eventually, unless you drain the swamp, the swamp will win. For some of us, there is plenty of initial push-back when we sit still for very long. Lots of us have medicated ourselves enough to try to cover over the soul-dissonance that's occuring deep within us.

But until we learn to push past the ooginess, there is no real wholeness. Repentance, redemption, freedom, joy, forgiveness, love...these are not things found in cover-up and escape. These are only found if we're willing to take the longer, harder road of working through the initial angst of our bodies, minds, and souls to the joy found on the other side. This is the way of Christ. And until it becomes our way many of us will simply be stuck with our own noise and very little peace.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Last week's finish on campus wrapped up what has definitely been the hardest year (out of eleven total) I've ever had on campus.

There were a couple hugely significant and difficult events. But I think what I've struggled most with is that this year has been one of pretty constant criticism and conflict. I've never had so many various and different people upset at me about so many various and different things during my time in ministry.

My inner people-pleaser is not pleased. This is a good thing--part of the Lord's redemption of this year. The Father's pruning back of dead branches that suck life away hurts. It is a severe mercy that I (often reluctantly) submit to.

Some of this I knew I would be getting into when I left my former campus, Virginia Commonwealth University, and came back to my alma matter. The simple fact is that on the whole, VCU students are laid back and ridiculously teachable. UNC students, on the other hand, are selected and bred to be passionate critical thinkers. There's also a much greater sense of "entitlement culture" at Carolina than there was at VCU.

I knew that UNC students would push-back more--which I sort of knew that I needed. And they have. And at points this year I've given them plenty of reason to do so.

This has been humbling and frustrating, sometimes at the same moment. I've had to apologize often, stand my ground a handful of times, be in process with lots of folks. I'm grateful to many of them for how they've been gracious and patient with me. Many folks that I've had conflict with this year have handled it with integrity and an up-rightness that has been simply astounding. Others, not so much.

So here's the deal: Jesus tells us how to deal with someone who we have conflict with or who has sinned against us. He does this not simply for his own amusement, but so that we will actually do what he says. You can click here for the Scripture or I can summarize: go to the person first. If they won't listen to you, go back and take someone(s) with you. If they still won't listen, bring the matter before the larger church body.

Most of us, of course, get tripped up at step number one. And so the whole thing becomes a soap-opera circus debacle.

Much Christian community nastiness might be avoided if we actually did what our Lord commanded us regarding the proper handling of conflict.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Closing Ceremonies, Part 2

Here's part two of what I would have said tonight, had we not already been running over a half hour by the time I stood up to wrap things up:

And so here we are, at the end of a crazy year.

For many of you, you’ve been on this roller coaster I just described. And what I want to say to you again tonight is this: Hope wins. Doesn’t matter what our experience is, how you’re doing right now, how you’re feeling right now.

Jesus has come and faced all our worst fears, all our worst enemies, and he has overcome them by his victory at the cross and the empty tomb.

Death is no longer the last word, life is. Sadness does not have the last word. Joy does. Conflict does not have the last word, reconciliation does.

And even in the midst of our unanswered questions, even in the midst of all our heartache and brokenness and concerns and wanderings and our own rebellion and sin and turning our backs on God—all that stuff does not have the last word.

Hope Does. Hope Wins.

There’s a joy riding this roller-coaster ride because we know that the ride has been tested already, it has been prepared for us, we are walking the paths laid out for us by a good and loving God who invites us to climb on and seek him out as we enjoy the ride, even the hard parts.

Scripture talks explicitly about this link between suffering and hope in a couple passages that I’ve been clinging to for myself and for us as a community:

James 1:2-4

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Romans 5:2-8

And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

And this is the deal for us tonight as we wrap things up. There are literally thousands of people on this campus this year who have had up and down years. There are literally thousands of people who have struggled through the ups and downs of conflicts and questioning life direction and wondering who they are

Suffering and struggle and hardship is a reality for every single one of us. The difference for those of us who follow Christ, those of us who are under the canopy of God’s grace and mercy given to us in Christ is that we have been promised and we know that the struggles that we face must serve to bless us in the long run. All of our suffering is guaranteed to be our servant and not our master. Struggle and heartache and difficulty is always redeemed for those of us who are Christ-followers.

The tragedy on this campus is not that hardship happens or difficulties or crisis happen; the tragedy is that for so many people tragedy and hardship goes un-redeemed because they are separated from God’s love given to us in Christ.

And maybe some of you are here tonight. Maybe some of you have struggled all year long and you’re not a Christ-follower, or maybe you have been in the past but you know you’re not right now.

Maybe some of you are trying to follow Christ in some areas of your life and holding out other areas away from him.

The invitation to you tonight is simple: to repent, to follow Jesus with your whole life, to bring all of your life under this canopy of provision and blessing and redemption, where all of our pain and suffering and struggle and heartache is forced to submit to us rather than forcing us to submit to it.

Closing Ceremonies Part 1

Tonight I'm speaking at our last large group after a roller-coaster ride of a school year. Here's a snippet of how we're going to talk tonight about the year we've had together:

When I was a kid I was very much afraid of roller coasters—anyone else afraid of roller coasters when they were kids?

I anticipated the deep abiding, primordial feeling of dread as the coaster cranked up the hill, higher, and higher, and higher, knowing and absolutely sure that my death was waiting for me on the downhill on the other side

And it took me quite a while to finally overcome that fear and finally get up the courage to climb on and enjoy the ride, it took me a while to discover the joy of riding a roller coaster, the joy of being out of control and letting the roller coaster do with me what it will.

This is a great analogy for us tonight as we wrap up because this year for many of us individually and as a community has very much resembled a roller coaster ride.

We started out this year with one of the best first six weeks of New Student Welcome I’ve ever experienced in my 11 years in campus ministry which culminated the last weekend in September at New Student Retreat at the beach with 115 people! To give you some idea of how amazing those first six weeks were, we had 36 go to New Student Retreat last year!

And then something happened in October that I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on but collectively as a chapter from early October all the way through mid-December, we hit what I’m affectionately referring to as PUGAD: Period of Unfortunate Gloom and Despair. It was like a fog moved into our chapter, and person after person was dealing with deep, personal crisis.

I’ve been doing this for 11 years, and at this point in ministry I pretty much expect about 20% of the chapter at any given semester to be having “that semester”—hard stuff with family, friendships, dating relationships, faith struggles, whatever.

But last fall, it was easily 60 or 70% of you were just in a severe funk. And it went on, and on, and on. I've never been more relieved to have a semester end.

And so we started the spring semester with a large group series entitled Hope in the Midst of Brokenness. And the fog started to lift. A bunch of us went to Emmaus and were re-charged there, 24/7 Prayer was phenomenal, a bunch of folks went on the Spring Break trip. Everything seemed to be moving forward, the ship seemed to be righting.

But then after Spring Break, we lost Jason Ray. And a couple weeks later Christie Smith was in her accident. And we felt the weight of some of the same questions from the fall: where is God? Does he hear? Is he for us? Why is this happening?

And we've had some great times these last several weeks, but as the ride comes to an end, some of us are left wondering, what was this year all about?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Heaven and Hell, Old and New, Part II


Thank you for a detailed response. I guess the best way I can explain my thoughts on heaven, hell, end times, etc. is to tell you what I have come to think about what the Hebrew Bible and history have to say. Then, maybe when we have talked that through I can explain where I am

The ancient Israelites, it seems to me, had no concept of an afterlife until the introduction of Greek ideas of an 'underworld,' which was less associated with reward and punishment and more just where people ended up. I would agree 100% that ancient Israel (I'm, a little unfairly, speaking in general terms here) equated "salvation" with God's favor in the here and now. Having been to Israel, I can attest to the fact that, even today, many Jews are more interested in their ability to survive as a people as a result of God's favor, than with any guarantee of reward in an afterlife.

The writing of the New Testament books within the 1st Century AD coincided with a general loss of faith amongst the Jews with respect to reward and divine favor in this life. Within this spiritual restlessness, the Pharisees, unique among Jewish sects for believing in both an afterlife and free will, became the most influential group in the rise of Rabbinic Judaism, post-Roman conquest. I have no doubt that Roman ideas of the afterlife, including giving an account of your life at the end, had some influence on Jewish and Early Christian thinkers.

So, to my mind, Israelite, Jewish, and Christian understanding of the afterlife have been at least in part shaped by cultures around them. Because of this, I am hesitant to attribute 'common ground' to the various models of the afterlife found in the Bible. I am likewise reluctant to consider the ancient Israelites ideas of "salvation" a "pre-figuring" as you state, because their ideas were well developed in their own right.

Please understand I am not trying to be patronizing in giving the details and history - just trying to explain my view.

thanks again,


Thanks for your response to my e-mail. I've got a couple of quick thoughts in response to your concerns.

1. I think you might be a little quick to ascribe cultural influences to the after-life concept in the NT. Jesus talked more about afterlife, specifically heaven and hell, than any other person in the NT and he did so without any apparent need to explain what he was talking about. In other
words, during the Sermon on the Mount, he simply warns that certain people are in danger of hell but doesn't have to explain what hell is. So I wonder if there's more understanding of after-life "in the Jewish air" than you give credit for.

I think the real question/issue is rooted in what you mention about 1st-century Judaism. What happens in the inter-testamental period in terms of the concepts of heaven and hell that Jesus can just show up and start talking about it and people seem to really get it?

2. I completely agree with you that the concepts of law, land, torah, and temple were all very much established in their own right by the time Jesus gets on the scene. However, just because a concept of what it means to be the "people of God" has been well-established does not mean that it was not intended to be a pre-figuring of the realities to come.

When Jesus' apostles, all deeply devout Jewish men, started preaching about Jesus, crucifixion, and resurrection, they realized that absolutely everything needed to be re-understood in light of this event. If Christ was, indeed, the "telos" or the "end" or the "purpose" of the law, then perhaps everything needed to be re-evaluated in light of him. This is why Paul takes three years in the desert after his conversion--it takes a lot of work/thinking to re-evaluate one's whole worldview!

The Jewish now Christian disciples of Christ were reckless and ruthless and insistent that all of the Jewish way and laws and understandings of religion and God and law and worship and all of it now had to be radically re-understood in light of Jesus, Messiah, the one who fulfilled all of it.

If you're interested in reading something that I think would speak your language in terms of taking 1st Century Judaism tons more seriously than Christians historically have written by someone who's a deeply committed Christian thinker/theologian/cultural critic/scholar I'd strongly recommend N.T. Wright in general and "The New Testament and the People of God" specifically. If you want someone who's definitely committed to Christianity but not satisfied with how Christians today deal (or don't deal) with the OT and with the Jewish roots that Christianity comes from, you owe it to yourself to read some of his thinking. If you're interested in a taste of it, check out his web site: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/

Thanks again for this interaction, Colin!


Monday, April 23, 2007

Heaven and Hell, Old and New, Part 1

An e-mail conversation between a student and myself from a couple weeks back:

I was reading an entry on your blog (March 1) and came across a topic that I have been considering heavily lately. Here is the section that brought it up:

"There's some bad thinking that gets passed around about what Christians think happen after it's all said and done. We do not end up in heaven. We are not sitting around on wispy clouds strumming harps. When all is said and done, God is so deeply committed to what he has created that he does not abandon it but he heals it completely and dwells here, along with us."

Am I right in assuming this is what you believe heaven will be for all of us (those under Jesus)? I have been studying Biblical Hebrew for the past year and it has become clear to me, that what the Israelites and the many Jews of the OT believed about the afterlife was not the 'heaven in the clouds' that you mention.

This has made me re-examine what the NT authors say about heaven and I don't know what to make of it. The verses you mention in Revelation 21 really got me thinking. Do you think that all the heaven doctrines of the biblical authors can be reconciled, or do you think that this "revelation" of a new heaven and new earth is radically different from what they were imagining? Or neither?



I think that basically the OT idea of "salvation" was pretty earthy and pretty specific: it was all about Israel here on earth. This was Jewish salvation: to have the land, the temple, and the Torah all to themselves as a distinct and separate people. Some of this was a mis-construing of the promises of Abraham (in other words, God's people were always to be "a light to the Gentiles" not just a hoarding of God's blessings) but I think that this wasn't all off. God really had promised the Jews the land, so it makes sense that this was their concept of salvation.

So what I think we get in the NT in terms of John/Revelation is actually just that concept, blown up to it's fullness. In other words, the OT idea of Israel/"land" being salvation was just a foreshadowing or a pre-figuring of the true fulfillment of God's promises: all of this earth is to be made new and given to God's people who are in Christ--in the end, we really do get land. Not just Israel, but all of it! I think that these aren't at odds, it's simply that the NT concept of salvation and what all this is pointing to is a fulfillment of the OT story and promises and ideas.

I think that the bad thinking in Christian circles is largely drawn from Dante and from other writers throughout the centuries who have taken bits and pieces of the Scriptures and have developed writings around them. Most of these folks were solid believers, they just picked up on bits and pieces of the Story and developed it somewhat imaginatively.

The Left Behind series is (what I consider a bad) example of taking a couple of rather obscure passages about end times and the rapture and building a whole bunch of bad theology (that happens to sell a lot of books and that God happens to use/redeem in some remarkable ways to bring people to himself) that further misses the true end towards which all of us in Christ are headed, God's final fulfillment of all the promises and all the hopes of his people.

But I think that the key ideas of the NT being the final fulfillment of the OT story is really what's crucial to your question. This isn't in conflict, like I said, it's rather the ultimate goal towards which the OT promises of land were just a pre-figuring.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech Updated Prayer Request

This was sent out yesterday by Robert Howe, International Student IV staff worker at Virginia Tech:

Greetings from Virginia Tech – let me update you on what’s happened since Tuesday morning:

· We’ve seen incredible demonstrations of campus unity, not only in the university-sponsored convocation and candlelight vigil, but also at a noon prayer gathering on the drillfield on Wednesday. I believe that our ongoing, united prayer efforts, which gave us such a sense of community even before April 16, will be the starting point for campus healing and renewal.

· We are still tired – I was hoping to sleep in this morning, but I awoke at 8 am to the sound of an interview in my living room between my roommate/coworker Wes and a reporter from Christianity Today! We’re doing our best to handle the media attention and our unexpected public relations role.

· Sadly, the missing student I mentioned in my last e-mail, Lauren, was one of the victims. She was a very close friend to some of the people involved with our ministry. We also grieve for the disproportionately large number of international students and faculty who died.

· The impact on the Korean community is deep – there will be a Korean Students Assembly tonight at a local church. Friday night, the InterVarsity chapter will meet together for worship and fellowship with Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a group with many Korean-American students. Please pray for God’s love to take away all shame and guilt from Korean community members, and that as a united international community, we would all identify with the sinfulness that led to this tragedy as well as a common hope in one savior, Jesus Christ.

· Towards this end of international unity, I am hosting an open gathering tonight for international students to come and share a meal, their stories, and their prayers and worship songs. Pray for God to give us hope, peace, and clear direction about what healing steps to take next.

Thank you so much. If you are receiving this e-mail as a forward, know that I appreciate your prayers as well, and the support we’re receiving from all over.

In Immanuel, God with us,


Robert A. Howe

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship @ Virginia Tech

International Student Ministry

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What's Happening to the Boys?

Last night Kelly and I had Kelly's principal and her husband over for dinner (Kelly works at a center for homeschoolers once a week). They are phenomenal people, thoughtful, full of various interests and the type of people who are interested in you even though you aren't nearly as interesting as they are.

One topic of discussion was the decreasing numbers of males at most colleges and universities. Boys are getting left behind in the public school systems at an alarming rate. In the very near future, UNC-Chapel Hill, my alma matter and where I work, will be 70% female. That's 70%. That's crazy.

To the cynical reader this might seem only just. After all the system been biased towards boys for much of American history. But it would seem that there's got to be some way to correct historical biases without mowing down a generation or two of boys.

Being the dad of a boy now, I wonder about his schooling experience. It is not just bowing to stereotype to say that boys are generally more "kinetic" than girls are. To sit at a desk and learn is not going to be as easy for boys as it normally will be for girls. I realize that there are exceptions to this, but on the whole these things are true.

In the African-American community, educated women struggle to find "marriage-able" men because at the college and university level the numbers are anywhere from 75% to 85% female. One student confessed to us at a conference on dating and sexuality that she and her friends didn't expect to get married the way that the white women did, and that was cause for bitterness and frustration. At the rate that boys in the white community are getting lost in the education system, there might not be all that much need for forgiveness in the not-to-distant future.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech Prayer Requests

So as we're all watching this unfold on cable news, here's an e-mail that I got from one of the IV staff up in Blacksburg this morning:

So many have asked how they can pray for us, and I am encouraged by the support of friends from around the country and the world.

Here’s some specific requests from our fellowship:

One freshman still has a roommate that is missing. We are hoping that she may have been only wounded, but we have yet to hear from her.

Thankfully, two of our students overslept and missed their classes in Norris Hall during the shootings. However, one of those students lost his professor, and four of his classmates were wounded.

One senior in our fellowship was actually in a classroom in Norris Hall during the shootings. With the help of some classmates, he set up a barricade to prevent the shooter from entering the room. The shooter fired shots at the door, but failed to enter.

One junior needs the most intercession. She is a resident advisor in West Ambler Johnston Hall and was a good friend to one of the victims who was murdered in this residence hall. The victim was a fellow resident advisor.

After an intense and painful day, we are in mourning. Fortunately, there were no students in our fellowship who were wounded or murdered. However, a number of students have friends, hallmates, and professors who lost their lives. On campus, I am deeply encouraged by the love and comfort that our students give to each other and their friends. The Body of Christ is truly at work here. Though it feels like a dark cloud is over Blacksburg, God is present. In this time of mourning, Christ is with us in our pain. In Christ Jesus we find our hope and refuge!
Thank you for your prayers and for sharing in our pain.

Wes Barts

Monday, April 16, 2007

Imus and Context

Last week, nationally syndicated radio sports talk guy Don Imus got fired for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy headed hos" during his talk show two weeks ago. Over the course of this weekend, someone mentioned reading an article that said that if Imus was black, he wouldn't have gotten fired. The article cited rap music lyrics that regularly demean and degrade black women.

My response to that: duh.

Okay, given that Biblically we're called to holy speech and that I think that any abuse of words is an offense to the one who is the Living Word, context matters. That is, words are always important, but words always come in the context of a speaker (or blogger, or whatever). And of course words have different impact depending on who they come from.

Instinctively, of course, we all know this. A family member calling you a name versus a random driver on the street versus a co-worker have different types of affects on us personally. But when we move it to a structural level (between genders or between races) it becomes much more politicized and much more explosive, and so suddenly previously rational people become much more irrational. And some of this comes from the very real feeling that many whites have that just about anything we say in or around issues of race can and will be used against us.

Several hundred years ago, white slave traders gathered together "blacks" who previously had identified themselves not as "blacks" but as people of specific tribes and clans and nation-states. They were re-named by whites in an effort to commodify and conquer them--this is a classic move, used historically by Babylonians in OT times and Romans as well. To have the power to name or re-name is significant. The same thing was done with "Indians."

Whites became whites in the "New World" entirely of their own volition.

So to have the right and/or power to name (or re-name) one's own people group is significant. And to honor the naming or re-naming of a person or a group of people is important. To violate that across structural levels does carry greater weight than it does within the same people group.

This doesn't mean that any person can say anything about people in their own people group (i.e. clearly much of the language describing women in some rap music is offensive and demeaning) but it does mean that we as white folks must understand that there's history here in terms of how language and names and titles and descriptors are used. So yes, context does matter. Who talks about what people in what ways makes all the difference in the world.

Imus got paid to use words, he used these words absolutely wrongly and it cost him his job. This was probably more about advertising dollars than real conviction about the proper use of words, but I think it's an important opportunity to begin to think more about words and their contexts.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It's A...

So in classic male fashion, I can't remember if I've posted the fact that despite Kelly and I's own best efforts, we are pregnant with baby #3. We're due in mid-September.

Today we got the ultrasound, and we're all about finding out gender. We've got too many over-achieving grandparents who are eager to know: pink or blue?

Over the weekend we were discussing our possible en utero name for the baby--many people come up with nicknames for the baby on the way, names like "peanut" or "jelly bean" especially if you're keeping the name a secret until the baby's born, which we do. It keeps us from getting too much unsolicited response about a name we like.

So we were discussing the possibility of the en utero name being "Baby Oops." My father-in-law and I were delighted about this possibility. My wife, less so. Something about the baby's future self-esteem issues or something. So we came up with an alternative: what about "Daisy," short for "Oopsie-Daisy." There, no self-esteem problems to be worried about whatsoever...except if it was a boy. Gender identity issues are no laughing matter.

So anyway, the ultrasound pictures revealed today that we needn't worry about gender identity issues. "Daisy" it is. We're having a girl. She's looking healthy and well, and we're very excited about (and a little anxious about) life this fall.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Final Good-Byes

The campus hosted a memorial service and celebration of Jason Ray's life late this afternoon. Afterwards I was able to meet Jason's dad and hand him several poster boards of prayers that students had written-up at our prayer meeting for him the Sunday after he was hit. His dad clutched them with great joy, describing how meaningful it had been for him to hear how much his son was loved.

Being a dad now myself, I can resonate with this a little bit. If want me to like you, just tell me how much you like my kids.

I'm encouraged by how my students have worked through all this these past couple weeks. Thanks, too, for so many of your prayers. If you're interested, you can donate to the Jason Kendall Ray Memorial Fund via his home church:

Jason Kendall Ray Memorial Fund,
c/o Concord Christian Church
3101 Davidson Highway
Concord, NC 28027

Any questions, please call the church office at 704-788-6315

Late last week we got word about another student that won't get the same type of press but could definitely use your prayers.

Christy Smith was a student involved with IV at UNC for the past couple years. She took off this fall to go to China with YWAM and then was working at Windy Gap, a Young Life camp outside Asheville, NC. She was thrown from a horse last week, hit her head on a post and then hit the ground hard. She's in a coma in Asheville and has had some brain swelling. Doctors are cautiously hopeful that she'll make it, but it could be a long, long, long road to recovery--perhaps a year or more before she'll be able to function independently.

Since she'd been gone for a little while and was a quieter person, this is hitting a smaller portion of my students, but it's still tough. I'd love your prayers for us as we continue to slug through bad/hard news...

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Bad (and the Good) of Knowing Right Answers

This past weekend I was talking with a friend of mine about some of the struggles that Kelly and I had in our marriage, particularly in our first few years. We were in and out of marriage counseling several times between years 2 and 5 as our marriage brought out some of the deep-seated issues that we had brought with us into marriage.

One of the things that made our struggles particularly splash-worthy was that we were pretty arrogant during out engagement period. We pretty much thought we had it all together. We called ourselves "A.P. Engaged"...old-school high school speak for Advanced Placement Engaged. Pride doth indeed goeth before downfall.

I was sharing about how having the right answers made our struggles that much more surprising and in some ways more difficult. We knew what needed to happen or what we thought we needed to say to one another when conflict arose. But actually having a real relationship and working that stuff out was much harder than we thought it would be. The right answers didn't really serve us all that much.

But as we talked further about this, I opined that having right answers is better than having wrong answers. Even if you can't get there, at least you sort of know where you want or need to go. There is clearly a place for learning right answers. It's just important that we understand that knowing what is true or right or good and living that out are not the same things.

I think that this is what the Scripture writer James is talking about when he writes, "Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!"

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Nobody Knows What to Do with Resurrection

So I heard about a recent survey where 75% of people who do not call themselves Christians believe in the resurrection. That is, they believe that Jesus bodily rose from the grave but they apparently give it little weight in terms of how they live their lives or where they place their worship.

As an aside, I think that this is the death-knell of much mainline, theologically liberal "Christianity" that capitulated throughout the 20th century to the demands of modernity which insisted that miracles (the immaculate conception and the resurrection chief among them) could not have happened.

I was talking with my brother on Friday. He was preparing for the Easter sermon for his church in Philly. He was talking about how he came to realize at one point in his life that he had a basic Christian framework where the resurrection was pretty much useless. Not that it was bad, it just didn't matter very much in his scheme of the Chrisitian life that Jesus had risen from the grave. Somehow, that didn't quite match up with the Biblical writers, so he began to re-evaluate his framework. His operating assumption was that this was true for most Christians, so he was going to try to help folks understand the significance of the power of the resurrection.

As an aside, as he described his previous theological framework that somehow had the resurrection MIA, I pondered that I, too, might have an under-developed appreciation for the significance of the resurrection.

So basically there are non-Christians who don't know what to do with the resurrection and there are Christians who don't know what to do with the resurrection--alas, even including yours truly. I'll emplore my brother to post in the "comments" section some of his thoughts from the sermon he gave this morning, but in the mean time I think it's worth asking: anyone out there know what to do with the resurrection--I mean, besides eat ham after hearing about it at church?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Why "Good" Friday?

From our Good Friday service tonight:

"It is called Good Friday because what needed to be done, has been done. The curtain was torn from top to bottom because it could not be torn from bottom to top. What had to be done, has been done. What needed to be done, has been done."

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sowing with Tears

Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy. (Psalm 126:5)

It was two weeks ago on Friday that we got the news that Jason Ray had been hit. A group of about eight students and four staff were sitting together doing leadership selection that was planned to go Friday night and all day Saturday. When we got the news Friday night, we immediately stopped, prayed, and called it a night.

The next morning I was praying and wondering and thinking: what the heck do we do now? I knew that leadership selection could easily go from 9 a.m. until 1 or 2 in the morning. Then the Lord brought to mind this passage and a sermonette I once read by John Piper

There are times in our lives when the tears just won't stop coming. And sometimes that means that we absolutely must stop, take some time, regroup, allow the pain to be processed. But sometimes there's work that must be done, and the tears just have to come with us. And so we have to simply say, "okay, tears, this day's work will be done with you." Sometimes the tears are co-mingled with our work, and that's just the way it has to be.

The Psalmist is writing this about the time of Babylonian captivity in this particular psalm. He writes to celebrate the faithful Israelites who did what needed to be done even while they were in captivity.

Sometimes we're in seasons of mourning, of captivity. It's just how it is. There are times to step back and mourn that, but there are also times where, really, we just need to suck it up and do what must be done, even with tears. Of course we see that perfectly done with Jesus this weekend in Gethsemane. And we do so leaning into the hope that there's reaping on the other side, and that reaping is profoundly and uniquely joy-filled.

And so two weeks ago, we sowed while we wept. I was proud of my students and the promise of reaping with songs of joy was realized as we wrapped up at 1 a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday morning with over 80 leaders set in place to serve for next year.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Two Large Crowds

The convergence of both Jason Ray's death and Easter this weekend has prompted me to reflect again on this Scripture story from Luke 7:

11Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."

14Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" 15The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

16They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." 17This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

This is a slightly revised version of a poem I wrote in response to that Scripture passage that I posted back in the fall...

Two Large Crowds

Two large crowds converged the other day
just outside of Nain
Each with a Lord in the lead.

The Un-Maker had long ruled in that country
since the day of the Great and Terrible Exchange
the day the Icons cracked under the weight of pleasing to the eyes lies.

The Again-Maker was a young upstart contender
or so it seemed to the Orphans in the Land of the Ruins

Each Lord a singular point
a large crowd in His wake.
The Un-Maker wake: Heavy. Weeping. Mourning. Loss. Somber. Dreamless.
The Again-Maker wake: Jostling Glad Eager Expectant Hope-filled Laughter
Each person bore the fruit of life lived in its' leader's wake
(Every one is found in one wake or the other.)

The Un-Maker. The Again-Maker.
Only one can have the final word
one must
as these two crowds converge

The Again-Maker had won small skirmishes with His Yes
But Death--
The Un-Maker's greatest No--
Had never been beaten.


Yes or No?
Is Life, History, Creation
a tragedy or a comedy?
Weeping or Laughter?
Death or Life?

The Un-Maker who had widowed her before
now struck her childless
And all those with her
cracked and crumbled under the weight
of the rule of the Un-Maker

The widow and her coffin meet the Again-Maker:
The Again-Maker touches the No
that had ruined all his masterpiece
And all is tensesilencestopped

Living Words:
"I say to you, get up!"
And the son
is given back
to the one
from whom he came

Just as He would do
in his again-making re-gathering of all creation
When this Son also rises.

Joy swallows mourning.
Life swallows death.
Yes triumphs over no.

Hope Wins.

Two large crowds converged the other day
Just outside of Nain.

Monday, April 02, 2007

"So...How was the Funeral?"

Lots of folks tried to ask me about the funeral at church and elsewhere over the weekend. I mean, what do you say, "How was the funeral?" It sounds kind of trite, really.

But in answer to the awkward question, the funeral was about as good as a funeral can get. The Lord was worshipped and Jason was remembered, and not the other way around. I hope that my own funeral might find this formula as well as Saturday's did.

News reported that a couple thousand people came for the wake on Friday night--for six hours people came to pay their respects and say good-bye. I just went for the funeral, they said about a thousand were there for that.

It was good for me to be there. I made some good contacts with students that I'd been thinking about and praying for that I hadn't seen yet. It's funny, too, how the social dynamics change in a situation like that. Students that might have avoided me in other contexts because they've basically disappeared from InterVarsity over the course of the year came and sought me out, were eager just to make contact and hug and say hello. A few of them I'm eager to follow-up with to make sure that they're processing things okay, healing in the aftermath of all of this.

It was good to say good-bye to Jason. I only teared up a couple times. Once when the parents came in. The second time was when his brother (about 20 years his elder) shared on behalf of the family. He looked so much like Jason, and sounded so much like him, it just brought back lots of memories.

Palm Sunday at church we sang lots of songs with "heavenly" images. I found myself weeping again, but I think joyfully this time. Joyfully, and exhaustedly, probably.