What I Write About

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

Friday, August 31, 2007

Labor Day

Every year at this time my wife and I generally are gearing up for a visit that we look forward to with much anticipation: the Labor Day reunion. Kelly lived in a house with nine women her senior year, most of them were involved with InterVarsity. They've reunited on Labor Day weekend every year since graduation.

The husbands got bids about two years into it, which we enjoy since most of us knew each other in school and the guys who married in turned out to be alright.

So now there's something like 14 women, 13 husbands and 20 kids. And this year, we can't go, because we're on ready-alert stand-by to add baby #21 to the crew. My wonderful wife has been 8 months pregnant through the record-setting hottest August ever in North Carolina.


She thinks she deserves a t-shirt. I think she deserves a vacation to somewhere cold and refreshing. Like Antarctica.

So we're on stand-by for the little girl Kirk on the way. She's due September 6th, crazy how that means we're expecting her anytime between August 15th and September 20th. And so we can't go to Labor Day to see some dear friends with whom we share much history.

We rejoice at the life that's coming any day now, but we will miss our friends this weekend. It is good to have friends for life. And we do not pass on the chance to see them lightly.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Casting Our Vision Part I

After a couple of years now at UNC, I felt like it was time to really codify and articulate a big-picture, over-arching vision for what our fellowship was going to be about. Late in the summer at some IV staff meetings we discussed the importance of vision and discussed how a vision is often an answer to a problem. So I got together with my co-staff, and we hammered out both the problem at UNC and our vision that is the solution to the problem.

Here's what we came up with:

The Big Problem:
UNC is a campus full of prodigals, cynics, skeptics, seekers and cynics who are surrounded by remnants of "southern church culture" but few of whom are relevantly engaged with the gospel.

So the crux of the matter here is the reality that we've got all types of folks on campus and we've got all these churches everywhere (Charlotte, where 1/3 of UNC students come from, has the most churches per capita of any city in the U.S.). But there's an increasing dissonance between how people inside Christian communities talk about life, the world, faith, and the like and how people outside of Christian communities talk about those things.

So when conversations or conflicts or discussions happen, it's like ships passing in the night.

Add to that the reality that so many of UNC's students spent some portion of their lives in the church but are not currently pursuing a relationship with Christ in Christian community-- "prodigals." These students have a whole different set of issues.

All of this is a problem. At least for those of us who believe that God loves people and that God designed people to be in a relationship with him in community.

So here's our response:

The Big Vision:
To be a missional community of grace bringing the hope of the gospel to every corner of campus.

Key words: community, that's critical--it's in our DNA as humans and it's a hugely significant part of how post-moderns experience and understand bigger realities. But it's also critical that we exist for something bigger than ourselves.

So we want to be a community that is missional--obviously in our case, the campus is the place where we exercise and fulfill that mission. We believe that it's our job as a community to equip and bless students to be missional exactly where God has placed them on campus: the dorms, their academic disciplines, other clubs or organizations where they are active. That is, we want to cover every corner of campus.

And we want to be full of grace for one another and for the campus. Grace being that gentle but firm invitation to repent of a life of worshipping all kinds of other false gods and follow the one Real God that has come to get us, made himself known to us in Jesus Christ.

That's where we're headed for as long as I'm here, anyway! It's been fun to really feel like I've re-gotten to know this campus where I attended as a student, left for 9 years, and then have been called back to to serve and to bless.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Knowing God's Will

In my work with students, the big question that most all of them have at some point in their college career has to do with knowing God's will: what should I major in? who should I date? what the heck am I doing with my life?

I think that there are two extremes that are bad and that faith looks like something in between these two.

On the one hand, there are the martyrs. These people believe that the only way that something could be God's will for their lives is if it's really hard, it's really painful, it's really what they don't want to do, or any combination of any of the above. There are fewer and fewer of these, but they're still out there.

On the other hand, there's the consumers. These folks believe that if I'm not happy then God's not doing his job. God's will for my life has to fit exactly into my plan for my life. If it's comfortable for me, then I'm willing to do it. If not, well...

Alas, these are a growing breed.

So I think that life in the Spirit generally looks like something in-between. Sometimes we sacrifice deeply for the Lord. Sometimes he seems to just hand us an opportunity that's gift-wrapped just for us.

The work of prayer, involving our community (i.e. asking our friends what they think), reading the Scriptures and knowing our own "bent-ness" in these matters (do I tend to be a martyr or a consumer?) all contributes to being able to make a wise decision that is faithful and good.

But I think that ultimately it is the process that matters more than the final product. If we learn faithful processes, the outcomes over the course of our lives will generally be good. If we do not learn how to have wise processes, then our outcomes will not be consistently good.

It is amazing how many of us buy the powerful lie that change in circumstance is what we need in our lives to improve our lives. The problem with that, as one pastor I recently heard put it, is that everywhere you go, there you are. The common denominator is you. If we do not become changed people, we are not very likely to get different outcomes.

Much of life is learning how to make wise and good decisions. What that ultimately boils down to is becoming wise and good people. And that, I believe, is the work of the Spirit in us if only we will submit to it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Vanilla-ized Pluralism

A couple of weeks ago I read about a denominational-affiliated Christian campus ministry that removed the requirement that their leaders be Christians from their constitution. This move was, of course, applauded by many as being very open-minded.

I think that it's pretty dumb. And not just because I object on theological grounds (although I do), but because it cuts against the very pluralistic ideals that the University preaches so vehemently.

The passion and priority of the University message is summed up in the oft-repeated phrase "celebrate diversity." It is preached from the rooftops with missionary zeal, particularly from the Student Life/Student Services department.

This seems appropriate and good, but let's call it what it is: it's a call to conversion. The University values students converting to a world view framework of pluralism and tolerance. They hope to graduate students who are fully-converted and who can then in turn go and convert others to the same set of values and faith statements.

Enter the move by this campus ministry to remove the requirement of being a Christian in order to be a leader. To be consistent, there should be some degree of concern even by secular pluralists.

If the mantra of the University is "celebrate diversity" then the only way we have anything to celebrate is if there is something preserved that is unique. Each group brings different things to the table. If in their leadership selection processes they cannot discriminate to a certain extent regarding idealogical issues, then suddenly we're just all in the same mush-pit of ideas and thoughts.

In other words, we don't want College Democrats to have to have a Republican on their leadership team. They would then cease to be the College Democrats. We actually don't want Black Student Movement to be forced to have a white white-supremacist on their leadership cabinet. That would rob them of their unique gift and voice as a black student movement. We don't want the Jewish student group to have to have a Muslim on their leadership board who thinks that the nation of Israel should be wiped off the face of the map.

If there is no room for idealogical discernment in establishing the leadership of a group, then eventually there will be no diversity to celebrate.

On the surface the Christian group opening up their leadership to anyone of any religious persuasion (or none at all) may seem very "open-minded." But multiply that move by several hundred different organizations and all of the sudden we've got nothing but a vanilla-ized version of pluralism.

Friday, August 24, 2007

First Large Group Report

Last night, we had what might have been the best first large group I've ever been to.

Our first-time worship leader and large group coordinator and their respective first-time teams did fabulous jobs.

The space where we met holds 330 people. There were no empty seats and there were people sitting up and down the aisles and standing up in the back. My best guess is that we were in the neighborhood of 375 or so. There was a happy buzz at Yogurt Pump afterwards, from what I'm told. I got great and positive feedback from new students and returners today on campus.

So much for the rained-out picnic ruining our New Student Welcome. The battle belongs to the Lord, indeed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


One of the interesting things about the book of Nehemiah is that it's an Old Testament book about the nation of Israel turning back to God via the work of re-building the wall around the city of Jerusalem. The wall had been burned out and knocked down by the invading hordes as a result of the Israelites turning away from God.

Here's the trick: the Israelites hope and trust was always supposed to remain in God, not the wall. But re-building the wall was nevertheless the work that God called them to do. So the people were doing a work that God invited them to do that could nevertheless be their undoing in terms of keeping the main thing the main thing.

Enter New Student Welcome.

It rained last night on our picnic. The first rain we've had in what feels like months. The first time it's rained on the picnic in something like a decade. We squeezed in a little bit of the program and tried to get people fed and connected to their small group. But it felt rushed and a little frantic. Not exactly the welcoming, polished, creative, engaging event that I had hoped it would be. It's hard to be polished when you're running for cover.

I believe that I'm called to do New Student Welcome events. The picnic is a part of me being faithful to build this wall. But this morning as I was cleaning out Kool-Aid-sticky drink coolers, I reflected on my temptation to put my trust on the events to do God's work rather than on God to do God's work.

Generally speaking, God uses the picnic as a primary entry point for us to connect with new students. Just like generally speaking, God uses walls around cities to help protect his people. But every so often, the walls aren't there or the picnic gets rained out. In times such as these we are forced to consider where we've placed our trust. Is it the wall? Or the picnic? Or is it God and his Spirit who are bound by neither of these?

I'm fighting today to believe and trust in the latter.

A number of times in the Old Testament God says the Israelites have too many people in the army for the battle he's called them to fight. God wants to prove that he's the one who delivers his people, the one who wins battles, the one who is the Primary Actor. "The battle belongs to the Lord" declares the Psalmist again and again.

I pray that a month from now I'll be declaring the same thing with fresh confidence and enthusiasm.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Coming Up for Air

We're in mid-stream of the rush of the first week's activities. It's been a good weekend and start to the week, but there's lots ahead between tonight's picnic and Thursday's first large group.

One of the things that I really love about New Student Welcome is watching students step up. Sunday night from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m InterVarsity had a table at Fall Fest along with several hundred other student organizations. Thousands of students walk up and down the blocked-off street signing up on random listservs and getting information about various organizations.

In the midst of this chaos, I spotted Whitney, one of our leaders who had volunteered to help work the IV table for a couple hours.. Whitney is a wise, gentle, thoughtful person and an excellent small group Bible study leader. She's very relational one-on-one or in small groups but not exactly the kind of person you'd expect to flourish in a "work the crowd" kind of setting.

But I watched Whitney strike up a conversation with an interested student. I watched her ask thoughtful questions and care for this freshmen who was all by herself in a sea of people. Whitney got her contact info and continued to talk with her for a good five minutes--an eternity by Fall Fest standards.

The freshmen left with a smile on her face. She had just been loved on by someone who genuinely exuded Christ's love to her.

This is the work of practicing hospitality that I believe the writer of Hebrews calls us to. And it's a joy to work alongside students, each of whom does it slightly differently, in order to bless the campus.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Game On!

I know when I'm in the Chic-Fil-A line coveting the cashier's job that it must be August, and that it must be New Student Welcome time. Every year we amp up the events in order to welcome incoming freshmen and transfers.

This year's NSW is by far the most creative and most risky I've ever been a part of. We've got two picnics and a Shane and Shane concert at Chapel Hill Bible Church that we expect will sell out at over 1,000 students along with the usual line-up of Durham Bulls minor league baseball games, ultimate frisbee, junior transfer gatherings, and dorm-specific events.

We will have over 500 students fill out info cards between now and Tuesday night. We will cook up 700 hot dogs. I will stay up way past my bedtime.

Here are some things that we'd love prayer for over the weekend:

Friday Morning: South Campus New Student Move-In. In a rare showing of wisdom, housing is allowing students on the most densely populated part of campus to move in early. We'll have a small band of IVer's to welcome them.

Friday Night: Leadership Gathering. Pray for leaders as we gather together to prepare for the fall--worship, prayer, vision casting, planning and logistics.

Saturday Morning: New Student Move-In. This is the big daddy. Pray for divine appointments and good conversations...as well as for IV students to rouse themselves out of bed to help with this!

Sunday Afternoon: Back to Campus Bash. A chance for current IV students to re-connect and answer the question, "How was your summer?" ad nauseum.

Sunday Night: Fall Fest. Think Mardi Gras only without the alcohol (at least on-site) and with hundreds of student organizations with tables along the main street running through the middle of campus.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Saying Yes

Everyone has their spiritual gift. In my family, our spiritual gift is taking perfectly good worship songs and making them nearly useless by tweaking the words to suit our own purposes (my brother is particularly good at this--and congrats to him and his fam on the birth of baby Eliot!).

We've been working with our particularly strong-willed 19-month old girl on saying "yes" to us rather than her favorite word: "no." We needed a new refrain.

Enter "Trading My Sorrows."

"Trading My Sorrows" is a splendid praise song that regularly repeats this simple chorus:

"We say yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord!
Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord!
Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord, Amen!"

Some of you might guess where this is going. A simple exchange of "Lord" for the words "mama" or "daddy" and voila, we've got instant obedience! Zoe regularly walks around singing "Yes Mama, yes Mama, yes yes Mama!" It's music to our ears.

As we've laughed (and sometimes squirmed) about this around this house, it has struck me how much I actually want this to be true. So many times the parent-child relationship is characterized (or caricaturized) as a "no" relationship. I've been challenged recently to think about vision for my home. Here's my vision for my home: I want us to be a "Yes" house.

God says "yes" to us in Christ, says Paul in a letter to the Corinthians. So we say "yes" to one another as an echo of God saying yes to us in Christ. We say yes to our children's character, we say yes to love and laughter and joy and wisdom and safety and respect making and marking our home. And so we say no sometimes. But the no alway serves the yes, just as God's "no's" to us always serves his final and ultimate "yes" to us in Christ.

God always comes at us with a yes to every good blessing in Jesus Christ. The only time he says no to us is when we say no to that. So God says, "I want to bless you with every good thing in Jesus Christ." And we say, "No, I don't want that. I want to do my own thing." And so God, in his mercy says, "No! I will pursue you with this blessing though it takes all of your life, and though it leads you all sorts of unnecessary tribulation." His "no" only comes in response to our "no" as a vehicle for his "yes." Or to put it another way, his "no" always serves his "yes."

And in keeping with that, I hope that someday my kids will say that my "no's" always served a greater yes: yes to Davis, yes to Zoe, yes to the baby due any day now, and yes most importantly to the God who shouts his "yes" that echoes throughout all eternity.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Already, Not Yet

This morning, in a rare display of generosity that can only be the firstfruits of the fine parenting that he is receiving, Davis shared his trains with Zoe. Perhaps not an earth-shattering event in your world. But in the Kirk house, for Thomas and Percy and Rheneas to be handed over without total melt-down is a rare thing.

Eager to affirm this small act of kindness, I exclaimed to Davis, "What a good sharer you are!" It's not exactly true en toto, but it's the kind of person we hope and pray he is becoming.

One of the things that I appreciate about my co-staff Jennifer Hagin is her insistence on calling our students "men" and "women." They often don't like it. And quite honestly they often don't act like it. The men often act like boys and the women often act like girls. But they are in the process of becoming men and women. And to call them as such is both descriptive and prescriptive. It helps them to step more fully into what they are already becoming but have not yet fully realized or embraced or lived out.

In the Scriptures, God's people are often addressed as "saints." This is true even in the letters to the churches that are most difficult and most messy and the least saint-like. But the fact that these folks are not behaving as saints does not change their name. They are saints. They are becoming saints. Whether they are acting like it at this particular point in time or not is not inconsequential (there is harsh instruction in some of those letters, after all) but it is secondary. "Saints" is who they are. It is the name God has given to them.

So we, too, are saints. I don't feel like a saint today--I feel like a pretty normal guy who's got more on his to-do list on a Monday morning than I can get to. But God has called me a saint. He speaks a word to me that is both descriptive (who I am now, whether I feel like it or not) and prescriptive (who I am becoming, who I will be fully when all is said and done).

The challenge for those of us following Christ is to allow the names that God has given to us to become our primary identities, our primary paradigms and lenses for acting and viewing ourselves and the world around us. We then learn to live out of those names, to lean into them with all of our might.

We are already saints, righteous, redeemed, holy, beloved, rescued, transformed, healed, daughters and sons. And we have not yet even begun to taste the fullness of what all that will one day mean for the joy and delight of our souls.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The It's Hot Friday Grab-Bag

*Generally I prefer to reflect on something less inane than the weather. But for those of you who don't have the privilege of living on the East Coast, let me share with you that we're hitting day 3 of 100-plus degree weather.

Yesterday I was at a lake house with some students and the outdoor, shaded thermometer hit 90 by 9:30 a.m. I think that there ought to be some sort of law of nature against that.

*Sports Illustrated just last week mailed me their annual "Fantasy Football" edition. With baby #3 on the way in the next few weeks I know that fantasy football is on the sideline for yet another year.

However, scanning the magazine made me reflect wistfully on the many teams that I've G.M.'d over the years: the Aerobie Domes, The Richmond Fan-atics, The Richmond Tsunami (I changed the name mid-year to Richmond Sea-Cucumbers as my team received weekly beatings), and The Durham Crash just to name a few.

Most of these were pretty terrible teams, but the folks I had the pleasure of getting my beat-downs from were great people. In a world of cyber-relationships, fantasy football is a great way to keep up with guys that I would have otherwise lost touch with (and have definitely lost touch with since I've been out of the loop the last two years). I wonder if this is healthy or not...

*I have spent about a total of 30 minutes on YouTube my whole life. But 25 of those minutes I spent with some guys last week who showed me possibly the greatest musical display of all time and a must-see for anyone who grew up in the 80's and loved Inspector Gadget. Check out the Beatboxing Flute Inspector Gadget Remix if you haven't already...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Far as the Curse is Found

Perhaps the most glorious thing about Acts 2 is the powerful image of the curse of Babel rolled back.

Early in Genesis the people decide to build a high tower to 'make a name for themselves.' God sees what they are attempting to do and he confounds the project by giving them different languages.

Here in Acts 2 we see the curse reversed: the power of the Holy Spirit gives these men the ability to speak all these different languages in order to hear about the name and work of Christ.

The classic Christmas hymn says that God has come to make his blessings known far as the curse is found. Here in Acts 2, we see that is indeed true. Every tribe, nation, and tongue finds relief from the curse in the name of Jesus.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tivo-ing History

In Acts 2, the disciples are gathered together during Pentecost--a ceremony that brought together all kinds of Jews from all kinds of places in the known world. The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples and they begin to speak in all sorts of languages. The people from all over the world hear them speaking in their own tongue.

Some are surprised that these Galileans (read: "rednecks") might speak in foreign languages. Others mock them, suggesting that they've had a little too much to drink. Then the author of Acts records these words: "Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd"

Freeze everything. Forget everything you think you know about the last 2,000 years and Tivo all of history back to this moment. Peter stands up in the midst of this huge crowd. Peter stands up in an odd corner of the greatest military and political empire ever known to "western" humans to that point. One man, uneducated, leading an odd offshoot of an odd ethnic religion, whose founder was crucified by the will of the people about two months ago or so.

Peter stands and addresses the crowd. He doesn't stand alone, the eleven are with him. But he does not simply stand with the eleven. Someone has to address the crowd. Peter is perhaps the logical choice, but not the most stable or the most reliable guy on the planet. His history of being a disciple of Jesus was marked with very high high's and very low low's.

But someone must stand, someone must address the crowd. This movement needs leadership. And so Peter leads.

If you took a snapshot of the geo-political-religious landscape at this point, this would not appear to be all that significant of an event. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of religions in the Roman empire. If you had to put money down on this uneducated quirky religion being around 2,000 years later or the glorious Roman Empire, you would have bet the house, the farm, the land and your local aqueduct on Rome, not on Peter.

But here I am, along with hundreds of millions of others who have taken Peters' message that day seriously: one uneducated fisherman who was willing to stand up and address the crowd in the context of his community of witnesses. And Rome is something we read about in history books.

Behold, the power and the mission of God.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Work as Worship

If you're a Christian God calls us to do everything--including our work--as worship to him. Whether you be in cube world, chasing after little kids, getting ready to come back to school or just gainfully un-employed sitting around reading random blogs like mine and watching Price Is Right re-runs on the Game Show Channel.

The question that often comes in response to this charge is the question of how. How do we do our work as worship?

I was reminded recently of this story about Martin Luther (the dude who launched the Protestant Reformation) that I hope might point the way for us on a Monday morning.

Luther was once approached by a man from his congregation who was a shoe maker. He proposed to Luther that he wanted to draw the sign of the cross on the soles of each one of his shoes. This would be his way of turning his work into worship.

Luther shook his head. "Do not do that. Make good shoes. A shoe well-made gives glory to God."

Of course this story happens in the context of a conversation between Luther and Christian. I'm not sure what he would say about a well-made shoe being made by someone who wasn't a Christian. But for those of us who are trying to follow Christ in our spheres of work, I think the call to being a good shoe maker is a good note to sound at the beginning of a new work week.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Doing a Great Work

This past week I've been at Ocean Isle with about 12 IV staff from across the Eastern Carolina's area. We spent much of the week talking about vision using both the book of Nehemiah and Andy Stanley's excellent book on vision, Visioneering.

Stanley writes his book based on his own reflections from Nehemiah. In the introduction he says, "Visioneering is the engineering of vision. If I were to boil it down to a formula, it would look something like this:


As I read through the book and considered the places where vision in my own life and ministry fell apart, I realized it was the place of "determined action." I start off with clear vision, but don't stick with it as the every-day-ness of life sinks in. Bill Hybles says that "vision sinks."

So it really hit me how Stanley highlights how Nehemiah deals with one particular opportunity for distraction. There are a couple of evil dudes in the book of Nehemiah who are trying to stop Nehemiah's effort to re-build the wall of Jerusalem. They send word to Nehemiah as he is working on the wall, asking for a meeting where they intend to kill him.

Nehemiah's response: "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down."

Here's how Stanley applies this to family vision:

"Don't allow 'good' opportunities to rob you of your family vision. When you tuck your children in at night, just whisper to yourself, 'I am doing a great work and cannot come down.' Men, when you are tempted to pick up the phone and to tell your wife that you will be home late from work (again), just look over at her picture on your credenza and whisper, "I am doing a great work, I cannot come down." Then stand up, grab your keys, and head for the car."

I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.

Family. School. Work. Ministry. Vision sinks apart from determined action to see it through to the end. And so I need this little phrase from Nehemiah: I am doing a great work and cannot come down.