Friday, November 30, 2007
She told lots of positive, warm-fuzzy stories about God's work while she was abroad. She was also honest about how hard it was to deal with things like police harassment and many years of labor without always seeing concrete results.
She summed up one of her stories profoundly: "God does not owe you anything just because you do the right thing."
Entitlement is a cultural pandemic. It is woven into the basic framework of our country: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are not bad things. I rather enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But spiritually, this breeds a consumerist mentality about God that is utterly repugnant. The whiny demanding-ness of our entitlement issues is uttered loud and clear when it comes to thoughts on God. Both the vaguely spiritual and the committed Christian feel that God has basically let them down on his end of the bargain...whatever that is. Remember a song from the late '90's? A band called Dog's Eye View and the song is called "Everything Falls Apart:"
I met God this afternoon ridin' on an uptown train
I said, "Don't you have better things to do?"
He said, "If I do my job what would you complain about?
Nairy's comments cut me to the quick. If I do what God wants, I feel like he owes me to come through for me exactly how I think he should. To let go of that frees me up to then receive what he actually has for me.
Why do I think that God should throw me a parade when I do the right thing? Is that really all that commendable?
Thursday, November 29, 2007
The topics of discussion have included the following: predestination and
freewill, how does prayer work, do all religions lead to God, homosexuality,
the problem of evil (twice), dysfunctional community and unhealthy
relationships, breaking up with a significant other, dealing with family
issues that came up over Thanksgiving, Guatemala or East Africa, Romania or
China, obey God or honor parents, depression, and putting the finishing
touches with my Coordinating Team on plans for next semester which could
quite possibly be the most creative and thoughtful semester of ministry that
I've ever been a part of in my thirteen years on campus.
Good thing the semester wraps up next week. I get a whole lot more done
around here without all these students getting in the way.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
One of the key components of the church life in this setting is the church calendar. Rather than just the normal stuff like Christmas and Easter, the whole year is marked: Advent, for example, is the weeks leading up to Christmas and then Christmas itself is twelve days (hence the 12 Days of Christmas song).
There's a long stretch in the church calendar during the fall called "Ordinary Time." So called, I suppose, because it's rather, well...ordinary.
A couple of weeks ago I was meeting with a student who asked me a simple question: "What's up with you?" I realized that I didn't really have much to report. I sort of floundered through a couple of perfunctory comments about the kids and my overall sense of the ministry on campus.
But as I was doing so, I realized that this might be a good thing to talk about. I stopped myself from running my yapper pointlessly and started to think out loud.
In a culture that is obsessed with adrenaline, how do we process life when there's no headline news? What about "ordinary time?" Is it enough, as the Scriptures invite, simply to "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?"
This seems to me to be a pretty critical skill to develop. Most of our life is spent in ordinary time. Figuring out how to savor the times between the high's and the low's seems to be fairly critical if the life of faith is to actually have much bearing on the life of real people.
Monday, November 26, 2007
So the question is, what do we do with this Thanksgiving thing?
I'm not sure I've got an answer for the "what" question. I think that what our ancestors did to the natives here was pretty atrocious. National repentance is really the only answer. But I don't anticipate that happening any time soon.
But the question of "thankful to who?" is one that we've got to deal with. "Thanksgiving" makes for a poor noun. It's supposed to be a verb. We're never thankful in normal life apart from someone, an object, to be thankful to.
Have you ever had someone start out complimenting you and end up complimenting themselves? Or have someone start out thanking you but end up in vague, vapid sentimentalism? I think that these are basically the only options we have for God-less thanks giving.
The sane among us know that we have much to be thankful for. But since we've taken God out of the equation, we don't have an outlet for that thanks. So thanks-giving, which is a gloriously humbling and excellent 'bringing us back down to earth' exercise whenever we do it, suddenly just becomes yet another exercise in self-aggrandizement now that God is no longer the one that we have over us to give thanks to.
Or it becomes just another chance to reflect on nice things. How very nice.
Again, I'm not real sure what the solution is. I'm not advocating for a return to some glory days of America the Christian nation (I'm not sure those ever existed). I'm simply saying that the impulse to give thanks is a right and proper one. And to take away the object of that thanks giving is to create more moral and spiritual confusion, since that's the whole point of this whole thing called life anyway.
Friday, November 23, 2007
1. Food. In my family here in Concord, NC (just north of Charlotte), food is an art. Yesterday was no exception. Glorious sides of homemade cranberry salad, squash, homemade yeast rolls, homemade stuffing (including oysters), and lots more to go along with a great turkey and ham.
2. Family. We gathered together at Aunt Wendy's and Uncle Wesley and Bradley's house in Mooresville for Thanksgiving along with Oma and Opa and Uncle Steve. Davis turns 4 on Saturday and we'll have the same crowd plus a bunch more coming in from Pennsylvania and Georgia to celebrate.
3. Football. Some seriously great football going on this weekend. The Packers and Cowboys both looked sharp on Thanksgiving day in their tune-up before they go head-to-head next Sunday afternoon to see who's the best in the NFC. I just finished watching LSU get knocked off by Arkansas in triple overtime to once again upset the BCS applecart. All I really want for Christmas is a playoff system!
Lastly, allow me to introduce you to a favorite chorus of mine around the holidays. It's to the tune of "Country Roads," that 1970's classic by John Denver, just a little re-written for the next generation...
take me home
to the subdivision
where I belong!
take me home,
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The one line that stuck out to me from your talk was when you said that you came to realize that you were afraid of putting God in the center of your life because you're afraid that He wouldn't give you what you want. I'm in that exact spot. To make a silly metaphor, I'm in astronomy right now and we briefly discussed the make-up of an atom. God isn't my nucleus - he's my 1st energy level - the closest you can get to the center without being the center. The problem is making that change.
I think that relationships are my nucleus - although my relationships (or lack thereof) with guys are the main kind, it's also the relationships with my friends and family as well. I have such a hard time being ok with being single. It's been over a year since my last relationship and I'm tired of being lonely. I know God should fill that void, but it's hard to let Him occupy that space.
So what do I do now? It's hard to know what you SHOULD do and not know HOW to do it.
Thanks for listening!
a couple of random thoughts:
First, there's no magic formula for this. the process of allowing God to be at the center of your life is just that--a process. You've got 18-21 years of NOT living that way to overcome, which is a lot to try to "undo!"
Second, I really believe that the life of a Christian is a life of repentance. We become more like Christ, we discover what it means to live life more freely and fully as we see our sin, ask for forgiveness, and turn away from it. So what maturity means for a lot of our lives is that we shorten the 'lag time' between seeing our sin and repenting of it.
Third, I think that you've got to learn to both hate your sin and love the life that's offered in Christ for something better. We all sin because we think it's going to benefit us, right? That's the original lie in the garden, it's the same lie I believe every day. So part of our work is to not just know cognitively that somethings wrong or off, but to really think through and envision the consequences of a life lived in messed up ways.
So for me, to continue to live my life with people at the center rather than God would basically put me in the place where people had way too much power over me. It wasn't good for them or me--if people didn't make me feel good about myself (which is a ton of pressure on them) then I was a wreck.
When my identity and security and confidence is rooted in Christ, I'm freed up to be a way better friend. I can love more recklessly. It's less about me and more about actually loving others rather than trying to get something out of them, trying to suck life out of them that they can't really ever give to me.
Knowing that, picturing how great it would be to actually live like that pushes me to really dig into the scriptures to begin to understand my identity in Christ. Galatians and Romans have been critical in my understanding of what it means that I'm a child of God first and foremost. that understanding and subsequent attempts to live that out has been the story of my walk with Jesus for most of my adult life...
Monday, November 19, 2007
So I went down to campus, helped everyone get on their merry way and went home and went to bed early. The next morning I drove a gloriously fall-painted two and a half hours up to Yale, Virginia, and got there before the morning session began.
The seniors who shared over the course of the weekend did a great job blending vulnerability and honesty with the hope of change and the good news of tastes of redemption in the hard places.
The theme of "How to lose your life in 3 days" was expressed thoughtfully and thoroughly by each of the six seniors who shared over the course of the weekend what it looked like for them to follow Jesus into redemption in the midst of their own struggles with control, family, identity, depression, and GPA-drivenness.
I think that the reason why almost everyone likes movies or stories with redemptive themes is because that longing for redemption of those hard times or broken places is hard-wired in our souls. We were made for perfection. We don't have it. And so we long for things to be made right, don't we?
And I appreciate even more so when I hear concrete, real-life stories where that redemption, that making-things-right, is happening in real-time. Often less "neat" than a movie, but all the more real because of it. It anchors me in hope.
Saturday night is men's and women's prayer. We break up along gender lines, sit in a circle, put one chair in the middle, and invite people to get prayer for whatever they need prayer for. Each year incredible stuff comes up during this time: issues with alcohol and drugs, family, guilt from things in the past, sexual sin, loneliness and brokenness and the like. For many, it's the first confession of something they've been dealing with and thus is the first step in the process of healing. We almost always have to cut that time off with more people wanting to talk.
Sunday morning all 142 students packed it up and left. And I left grateful for the good work God's doing in our chapter to press us into deeper places of life and redemption as we lose our lives for him and his sake that we might find them again.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Seniors really lead this retreat and the theme they selected for this coming weekend is "How to Lose Your Life in 3 Days." They're talking about what happens when life doesn't quite turn out how you expected it: majors fall through, relationships don't work out, etc. A number of seniors will be sharing honestly about their struggles through college...and what it means to trust in the Lord when life happens to your plans.
All of this is continuing to work out our vision for this year of "a missional community of grace living out Jesus' invitation to raw, intentional, transformational relationships in order to bless the campus."
We'd love your prayers for this weekend. Specifically for new folks who are coming--be they freshmen or just new to the community over the course of this semester. We'd love prayer for the seniors who are speaking. We'd love to come back from the weekend with a deeper sense of family doing life together in the Lord.
One of the things that I've been most moved by this past week as I've talked with students about our vision statement and as we're planning for next semester is how Jesus did it. He didn't change the world by writing a book. He called people to himself in the context of a community. He started with people. Jesus calls us to himself to be in community; community is designed to point us to Jesus...who points us back to community. It's a cynergistic feedback loop that is designed to bless us, stretch us, change us.
We'd love to see that developed and cultivated more deeply over the next sixty hours...and pray for my strength and health, as I've got more snot in my head than I thought was humanly possible right now...
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
Here is Emma Kate's 2-month picture that we took of her last week next to her giraffe. This is in part to give perspective. For those of you who are new to Piebald Life, we stole this idea from some friends of ours. By taking a monthly picture with the same stuffed animal you really get a sense of how quickly they're growing and how big they're getting.
Perhaps even the least detail-oriented of you will notice she's definitely asleep.
I have ranted in this space before about our children's sleeplessness (see Prayer and Cursing for a particularly frustrated post). So let me also use the blogosphere to trumpet the good news: our children are turning into solidly good sleepers.
Emma Kate is a dream. At eight weeks old she has already put in multiple 10-plus hour nights of straight sleep. To put that in perspective, on Davis' baby calendar we celebrated a night of four straight hours of sleep at around six or seven months. Emma Kate has some rough days, but on the whole she is a tremendously gifted sleeper.
Davis and Zoe, meanwhile have come around some as well. For eight straight weeks from early-August on they were getting up between 5:15 and 5:45. Every. Single. Day. No weekends.
Now they're consistently sleeping to 6:30 and some days even eek into the 7:00 range. This is heaven.
Of course I love 'em no matter how well they do or don't sleep. But sleep definitely makes it easier...
The meeting was a good one. There were some areas of definite growth we could celebrate and point to. And there are definitely some areas where we need to improve or develop for next semester. It's those "areas that need improvement" that get me when I'm not healthy.
I'm in a job that I love, working with a large community of people. I invest a lot of time and energy into what happens with InterVarsity at UNC-Chapel Hill. And the danger is that I become so overly-invested in all of it that I hear any criticism of the chapter as criticism of me.
One barometer of my soul being "off" is that I do not have healthy differentiation between me and the chapter. There's me. There's the chapter. They are not the same thing. And yet from time to time I'm in meetings or conversations with people who are critical of what goes on with IV and I find that I'm disproportionately defensive. This is a good warning sign for me that I need to reset my identity and my security in something much healthier than the ups and downs of people's experiences of the IV community.
So that's what last week was about. It was about remembering that my name and my identity and my security are wrapped up in Christ. I am a dearly beloved son who is known and tended to by a Good Father. Without that, I'm just a gaping wound walking around hoping that someone will say something nice about me (or about the chapter) so that I'll feel good about myself. I'm not free to love people. Without knowing who I am in Christ I am so desperate for affirmation that I can only see people either as threats or as opportunities for compliments to be manipulated.
I don't think that this is just a hazard for IV staff. For anyone who is heavily invested in work or a community of people or a project or their kids it's tempting for us to find our identity in how things "turn out." Are people impressed with my work? Do my colleagues appreciate what I'm doing here? Do my kids "show well" around our friends or their teachers or at church?
The solution is not to "care less." That would be an abdication of our divine calling to work. The solution is to care more. Care more for the precious gift of security and purpose and identity that has been given to us in Christ.
And then let love flow, let grace flow, let the investment of energies and time flow. Only this time rather than trying to prove ourselves or make a name for ourselves or manipulate people into liking us (and calling that "service"), we can genuinely give of ourselves unselfishly, freely, recklessly, gladly, joyfully...and then rest when it's time to rest. Because I'm loved fully I can give without self-concern and I can rest without worry about what others might think about me. That's real freedom.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
What some of us do when we see Jesus talk about God as Father is we think, "well clearly he doesn’t really mean that—he’s just trying to give us an image or symbol that we can understand."
But here’s my question and my proposal: what if God’s not the metaphor? What if we are the metaphors? What if God is the absolute real father, the most real and true and genuine and authentic father in all the universe? What if your dad is the analogy? What if we’re the metaphors and God’s the real thing? What if God's the substance and we're the shadow?
What if we are hard-wired to have a Father who loves us and we’re so made for a good Father that God in his mercy comes to you and to me tonight and says: "I’m your father; I know your dad screwed it up and we need to deal with that, but don’t let that keep you from meeting the need that you were made for: you were made for a good Father. Everything in you is crying out for a good Father. I made you for that. I made you for me."
I found some really interesting information out about fathers and how having a dad around affects kids as I was doing research for this talk. Check these things out:
1. According to a long-term study conducted in the
2. A Journal of Marriage and Family study found that the presence of a father was five times more important in predicting teen drug use than any other sociological factor, including income and race.
3. A published Harvard review of four major studies found that, accounting for all major socioeconomic factors, children without a father in the home are twice as likely to drop out of high school or repeat a grade as children who live with their fathers.
4. A Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency study concluded that fatherlessness is so predictive of juvenile crime that, as long as there was a father in the home, children of poor and wealthy families had similar juvenile crime rates.
Here’s the deal: we were created for healthy family relationships and all of us have unhealthy family relationships to some extent or another. Some of you are deeply wounded by who your dad is and what he’s done.
But we’ve all got to survive. So many of us have shut down, pretended it didn’t matter. We’ve hardened our hearts, steeled ourselves against the pain of the abuse or the neglect or the distance or the attempts to control and micro-manage your lives.
But there’s a design flaw there: you can’t just wish away your need for a good Father. It would be like being born with a crippled leg and pretending like you could just play through life like a person with two fully functional legs.
And so what it means for you and me to be healthy for us tonight is to come to God as a good Father and ask for his help!It means that we go to God and say, “my dad’s a mess but I know that I was made for a good Father, would you be my Good Father?”
And if you’ve got all sorts of baggage associated with the word Father, then take Fatherhood away from your earthly dad but don’t miss out on the relationship that Jesus invites you to participate in with a Heavenly Father who always loves you perfectly.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
1. Jesus is not saying that God is a man. God is not "gendered." He transcends gender.
2. In the same vein, femininity and womanhood is not foreign to God. God transcends gender but he does so in such a way that both the masculine and feminine are present in Himself, not foreign to him. Sometimes "transcendent" can come across as so far removed from something that it has no dealing or part of it. But this is not the case with God. In Himself is the very essence of masculinity and femininity. Both male and female are image-bearers.
In fact, there's a strong tradition in the Old Testament of associating God with wisdom. God is wisdom and wisdom, rightly understood, is God. And wisdom is almost exclusively referred to by the feminine article, particularly in the book of Proverbs. If you want to get in touch with God's feminine side, take a look at Proverbs and how wisdom is personified, active, pursuing, calling out, inviting people in. The feminine wisdom of God is a powerful part of the character and nature of God.
3. Finally, as Jesus invites us to pray "our Father," there's one last thing that I think he's not saying. I don't think he's just speaking metaphorically. I don't think he's just grasping for an earthly image or something that we can understand...
Monday, November 05, 2007
In two of the four biographies we get the same really powerful bit of teaching from Jesus about prayer:
9 "This, then, is how you should pray:
" 'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name...
Prayer was a big deal to the Jewish folks in Jesus’ day just like it is today to many people who practice various religions. And the question of how to pray or what was the most effective prayer was a hot topic for many of Jesus’ contemporaries.
And so people asked Jesus, "how should we pray?" And Jesus is an authority on the subject, the records of his life are peppered with prayers, times he pulled away to pray. And Jesus’ response is important for us to consider as we talk about this issue of God as Father
In answer to the question: “why do Christians insist on calling God Father?” we first point to this prayer that Jesus has given us and say that we call God "Father" because we have been invited to do so.
Jesus opens up this prayer with two words that change everything: Our Father—it's an inherently relational word--there's no such thing as a "father" apart from having a child.
If you look back over the Old Testament and at the ways that Jews had prayed to this point, there is almost nothing whatsoever that looks like this.
Eight. In all of the Old Testament God is only referred to as "Father" eight times in approximately 3,000 years of recorded Jewish religious tradition.
So here’s Jesus, a good Jewish teacher, who knows his OT and knows what’s up with prayer and how the people have related to God over the course of the past several thousand years. And he’s teaching his disciples this model prayer and he pulls this name, this title from the outer margins of the religious understanding of the day and puts it front-and-center: Father.
This is a Copernican shift in Jewish religious history, it's a complete paradigm shift for the average God-worshipper to refer to the God of the universe as "Father."
I’ve been in campus ministry for 12 years and what’s abundantly clear to me is that the issues surrounding family brokenness and issues of pain and hurt and distorted relationships is growing exponentially.
Every year I see more and more family brokenness and every year I see more and more clearly how family issues seriously affect people’s experience and understanding of God.
In fact my guess is that tonight for seven out of ten of you, family dynamics has some sort of negative affect on your experience and understanding of God—even though most of you aren’t aware of it. If you’re here and you’re a Christian or you’re here and you’re not a Christian or you’re not sure what you think or what you believe—it doesn’t matter.
Family is such a critical place of formation and where our foundational understanding of how the world works is formed. And since none of us have the perfect family, all of us have some issues from our families that we need to work through in order to have a healthy and right understanding of God and of the life of faith.
And so we're going to do a series of large group talks surrounding family and we’re starting off tonight with this whole concept of God as Father. The reality is that all of us have earthly fathers or father figures who have failed us. For some of us the pain and the depth of hurt and the amount of anger and bitterness that swirls around the idea of our earthly fathers is a major, major issue in our lives.
And so when we speak of God as father, there’s this whole package of emotions that come with the idea of father and for some of us our instant response is to push away, to push back against the whole idea of “Father.”
For some of us the title is unacceptable because of our own experience of "father"--whether that's a dad, a stepdad, a father-figure who failed us, or some combination of all of the above-- and for others of us the title is unacceptable because it seems pretty sexist. Why do we have to call God by a masculine title?
And so the question is why? Why would Christians insist on using this sexist name for God when nearly everyone’s got some baggage associated with it?
It seems that philosophically it doesn’t work because of the gender issues and pragmatically it’s got all this baggage, why not re-think this whole thing? Why do Christian insist on calling God Father?
Thursday, November 01, 2007
1. Halloween at UNC-Chapel Hill is like Mardi Gras. Literally tens of thousands of people (an estimated 80,000 last year) descend from all over the state to Franklin Street for drunken craziness.
We decided that we wanted to steal an idea from IV at the College of William and Mary and run a "Pancake House" for students during Halloween night. When you think Halloween, who doesn't think pancakes?
Students cooked all afternoon and made over 1,500 pancakes. We pitched a tent on south campus away from the Franklin Street craziness in order to make sure that we were serving mostly UNC students. We got tables and printed up flyers and got music cranking...and people came by the truckloads.
We had intended to serve from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. but we ran out of pancakes by 1:00. "Awesome" was the buzzword of the night. InterVarsity students who were helping to make it happen kept saying, "This is AWESOME!" Dozens upon dozens of the guestimated 600-800 students who stopped by said, "This is AWESOME!" Word spread throughout campus that we were down south giving away free pancakes and students just kept coming and coming and coming.
I was planning on leaving around midnight. I left at 1:00 as pancakes were running out. I came home super-amped on extrovert adrenaline.
Some events are keepers, others go in the "we'll never do that again" bin. This event is a keeper. Next year we could double the pancakes and still give them all away.
2. Tonight was our outreach-oriented large group meeting on campus. I spoke on the wonder of God as Father. The place was packed out (nearly 300 students) which is rare for a mid-fall large group with the grind of tests and papers. People invited friends. Maybe some of the people were from the Pancake House the night before. The energy was super-high for worship and people were very receptive to my talk. There were about a half-dozen students who cried through most of it as I talked about the reality of our dads who don't give us a faithful picture of God as Father.
At the end a couple people made significant decisions to connect with God as Father, either to commit their lives or re-commit their lives to the Lord.
I'm home now, a little overly-amped from all that's gone on the past couple days...and a little ashamed of all my worrying. What good does it do me? Why do I demand my "right" to be anxious? Lord, help me...
I'll post some over the next couple days posts from my talk tonight. In the mean time, gotta' go try to get some sleep.