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.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


So in contrast to last week's great expectations for our Thursday night gathering on campus, this week's prospects look rather bleak.


1. A home basketball game at 7:00 (our normal starting time) so we bumped large group back to 9:30. Will students come after already giving up two hours of their night to a basketball game? Hmmmm....

2. It's forecasted to be pouring rain at 9:30 tonight (real feel temp: a balmy 33 degrees).

3. I'm speaking and it's 6:29 and I'm not ready to speak yet.

Any of numbers one and two would most likely cut deeply into our turnout. Both? Not likely to be a great night.

David in meeting up with Goliath has a vastly different take on the obstacle that faces him as compared to the others around him. All the warriors to this point have been looking at Goliath's size and power in comparison to their own stature and abilities. What David does when he shows up is ask "who is this jerk who dares to stand up against the army of the Living God?" (loosely paraphrased). Rather than compare Goliath to himself, he compares Goliath to God. It makes all the difference. One smooth stone later, and Goliath is laid out.

So I'm trying to hold out hope that God's bigger than a home basketball game and that he can make the rain hold off for an hour or so and that he can help me pull this talk together in the next two hours.

I just struggle to really believe it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Modernity developed into a bonafide 'thing' in regards to a way of viewing history in Europe and America in the 19th and 20th centuries. As a framework for viewing history it emphasized the same rational scientific method approach that was resulting in unprecedented advances in technology and disease control in the west. If we could reason our way to a cure for polio, surely we could use the same reason to understand the events of history--including the Bible and other religious movements.

The enthronement of reason as paramount of course meant that anything super natural or miraculous was out of the question. If it couldn't be replicated in the lab it couldn't have actually happened.

So like a child who gets a hammer for Christmas and proceeds to hammer everything to death, modernist scholars went to work on re-interpreting the Christian tradition and the Scriptures.

The problem with this approach is not that it yields altogether unhelpful findings. The problem is that this way of doing Biblical studies is so incredibly narrow that it assumes a number of questionable things:

1. It does not take seriously that other peoples and cultures around the world understand history very differently. Put another way, ther is an arrogance about this way of viewing history that does not allow for voices other than western voices at the table.

2. Any approach to a text that a priori discounts the experiences of 90 percent of the billions of people who have inhabited the text seems to be a bit less than 'unbiased.'

Of course in many parts of our culture modernity is rapidly giving way to post-modernity. My hope is that this will lead to a genuine discussion and a real pluralism where all the voices are heard, not just those of white, modernist-biased scholars.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Oral Tradition in the New Testament

If I had come to the presentation this past Thursday when I was a student, I think I would have been looking for that one "silver bullet"--the irrefutable piece of evidence or idea that would convince everyone beyond a shadow of a doubt that the New Testament doc's were reliable.

Of course, that doesn't exist. That's why we have these conversations.

But there was a pretty compelling piece that Timothy Paul Jones presented last Thursday that I thought I'd pass along. In essence much of the conversation comes down to this question: can we trust that the oral tradition that was passed along about Jesus for many years before things were written down?

One issue that is regularly raised among New Testament critics is that the gospels circulated for many years before there were names attached to them. Then (the charge goes) in the second century in order to gain credibility and authority, they were randomly assigned names that were affiliated with people who had credibility and authority.

Dr. Jones countered that argument with a couple of important challenges. First, if you were going to start randomly assigning authors to the gospels, you'd pick more compelling and authoritative figures than Mark, Luke and Matthew. They're mostly bit-characters in the Biblical story. Peter and James and other apostles had more street cred than Mark and Luke and Matthew. John's the only one that you might fabricate, but the other three? A bit odd.

Secondly, the idea that the names assigned to the gospels were selected at random doesn't fit with the evidence. By the time the gospel manuscripts start surfacing with names attached to them, they are scattered across Italy, Egypt and Turkey. And here's what we find: every single copy of what we call Matthew has Matthew's name written across the top of it. If the early church was indeed just randomly assigning authorship at the very least we'd expect to find a difference in who's being credited as the author. But we don't. Every copy of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John has their names across the top, from Italy to Egypt to Turkey.

And so this not only lends credibility to the authorship being genuine but it also ties back into the reliability of the oral tradition. In a pre-literate culture, the primary way most people were oriented to their culture and history was through hearing their history, not reading it. And here we have a piece of concrete evidence that in this specific case of the authorship of the gospels, the oral tradition that went with each of the manuscripts across the Roman Empire for many years was extremely consistent--even when it might have been in the best interest of the powers-that-be to change the authorship to lend the manuscripts more credibility.

Friday, January 25, 2008


So last night's event was spectacular. We had a packed house at 5:00 and a packed house and some in the live-feed overflow at 8:00--somewhere between 850-900 students attended the sessions last night.

Dr. Timothy Paul Jones did a fantastic job of discussing the issues of variations in the New Testament documents and who changed what and why from a very orthodox Christian viewpoint without attacking or demeaning anyone. He built a strong case for why the Scriptures as we have them are reliable and trustworthy. He was willing to admit where there were guesses or suppositions along the way that could be disagreed with.

If you're someone who struggles at all with trusting the Bible, I'd really encourage you to check out his web site, read his book(s).

As we wrapped up the second presentation, I couldn't help but be proud and overwhelmed with the gifts and commitment and work of my student leaders. Liz worked hard and did fantastic , strategic p.r. to get the word out all over campus. Kelsey worked hard to get us great spaces for the two presentations and to get us the overflow room at the very last minute. Jenny stepped up and emceed in front a huge crowd with poise and graciousness. My students took risks and invited friends.

As I was praying in the car on the way home, I had this unique moment of clarity. This was my first time pulling something of this magnitude together. I made lots of small mistakes along the way. But none of them de-railed the event like they could have. As I was reflecting on how it came together, I had this thought: last night was most definitely a unique work that God had prepared in advance for us to do. It was his work. And he worked through my students and me and Timothy Paul Jones to make it happen. But it was his work. He made sure it happened. And we got to be a part of it.


Thursday, January 24, 2008


Over the summer I blogged a review about the book Misquoting Truth, which is a response book to Bart Ehrman's NY Times best-selling book Misquoting Jesus. Dr. Ehrman is the New Testament professor at UNC, and as you might imagine his class does not exactly engender much trust in the Scriptures or the good news it offers.

Tonight at UNC, Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, author of Misquoting Truth will do a major presentation at InterVarsity's large group. Actually, he'll be doing two major presentations. We anticipate the interest to be so high for this event that we're hosting a 5:00 presentation and an 8:00. There is capacity for 1,000 students to attend.

Please join me in praying for this event!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ministry Post-Modernly

Last week I posted The Long Trip about Willow Creek's realizations that they had engaged consumers with the gospel but had not done a thorough job of moving them from consumers to disciples.

Brad Barret asked this great question (along with some other good comment-ers) that I thought was worth posting about:

What do you make of the "you-centered" approach of post-modernism? Is it too much that we go way out of our way to reach the postmodern generation (which, I guess, is you and me), that we orient most of our programs around the comforts of the attendees?

Basically what I'm getting at is that the primary message from these churches is NOT "Jesus loves you", but rather, "we want you to be comfortable here..."

I think that there's an interesting tension developing in evangelicalism. On the one hand, there's the mega-church and post-mega-church movements. Guys like Rob Bell and others who have taken Willow Creek's baby boomer, seeker-oriented model and post-modernized it a bit, made it a little less suburban and more edgy. These are the types of churches that Brad's concerned about.

Then there's the reaction against the mega-church: there's the emergent church, and other off-shoots. But there's also a small but growing number of evangelicals who are moving away from pop-main-stream evangelicalism and moving towards more traditional, high-church experiences, full of history and liturgy and ritual and tradition and mystery. There have been a number of high-profile evangelicals who have converted to Catholicism over the past couple of years. And my own church and the movement of evangelicals to the Anglican tradition is booming.

So basically, there's folks who are really feelin' what Brad's concerned about. They're Christians who are concerned about the you-centered-ness of some of our churches. And so they're moving to a more high-church experience with more emphasis on the mystery; the vertical as opposed to the horizontal. And of course there are others who are taking what Willow Creek started and developing it for the next generation.

I believe strongly that we have to have both arms of the evangelical church to survive the shift to post-modernity. What has made and kept evangelicalism vibrant and alive in the U.S. is our tradition of re-inventing our ministry without losing fundamental and essential elements of Christendom. We might not even agree on all of what those are (Scripture, a conversion narrative of some sort, salvation in Christ by faith alone are a few core principles), but they're a part of our evangelical ethos nonetheless.

The urgency of the need to find ways to communicate the gospel to each successive generation because something is legitimately at stake if we don't has compelled us to re-think our forms in some radically good ways in the past twenty to thirty years.

Take a look at the Christian church in Europe for what happens when we stop doing this. The ministry situation in most of Europe is basically a complete re-start and it happened in one generation, maybe a generation and a half. This is what happens when we dig in our heels and say "this is how we've always done it." The mistake there is to think that those forms were somehow un-affected by cultural norms and expectations (in this case usually modernism as opposed to post-modernism) and so "that's how it ought to be." The fact is, modernism was no more amenable to the gospel than post-modernism is. It's just different battles we have to fight.

The culture and consumer engagement churches like Willow Creek force much of evangelical culture to at least consider how they're relating to the broader, un-churched world. I think that this is a really, really good thing...even if it there are some poor applications of it along the way.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Weekend Grab-Bag

A couple of quick things to blog about as the greater Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area braces for a whopping 1-3" of snow later this afternoon...bread! milk! toilet paper! everyone! Us Southerners don't know what to do with snow. I mean, my father-in-law up in Cleveland gets 1-3" of snow a day...in June.

*First, foolish sports prognostications: Eli Manning is terrible in cold weather, and Green Bay will not be friendly to him. The Packers win easily tomorrow. New England continues it's ride to glory with a hard-fought win over the Chargers in similarly miserable conditions.

*Oh, and my Tar Heels will continue to win close games by beating a scrappy Maryland team this afternoon and retain the #1 ranking in the country.

*On a more serious note, memories of Jason Ray have been pretty frequent over the past several weeks for me. My last real interaction with him was at our leadership retreat last year (at the same retreat center where we went last weekend) and of course I'm seeing lots of Ramses the mascot around during basketball season.

Part of what made last year's incident emotionally complicated was that there were no charges filed on the driver of the vehicle. Many of us spent time praying for the driver who certainly must have been struggling with feelings of guilt.

But just yesterday news broke that the 52-year-old father covered for his 25-year-old son who was illegally driving on a suspended license. They both face multiple charges.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to feel about this, but my initial response is just that it makes a sad situation even sadder. I sort of want to be angry at the both of them. But then I wonder what I would do if it were my son driving and I was the father in the car with him?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Family Vision (Draft)

Over the past several months I've been thinking about working with my wife Kelly to craft a family vision. This hopefully would help us to steer our way through the many choices we'll have to make regarding our kids and our family life.

Here's my first crack at forming that vision:

Vision: To be a “YES!” Family!
To live as a family in the power and wonder of God’s “yes” to us in Christ.
To echo and amen that “yes” to one another
To echo that “yes” to anyone that we might come in contact with

Scripture: For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ. And so through Him the “amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 2 Cor. 1:20

We say “YES & AMEN” to God’s invitation to know Him.
-Praying together at meals and at bedtime
-Regular Scripture reading with kids/as a family
-Going to church together as a family

We say “YES & AMEN” to Godly authorities that exist to bless us
-Mommy and Daddy submit to God, one another, and to the church authority and community that God has put in our lives.
-Davis, Zoe, and Emma Kate submit to God, Mommy and Daddy, to teachers and others in authority over them.
-Freedom to ask questions in a respectful way

We say “YES & AMEN” to laughter, joy, authentic relationships, character and wisdom
-We will laugh a lot!
-We will follow the commands of Scripture as the rules of our house.
-We will eat dinners together at least three times per week
-We will apologize when we wrong one another. We will keep short accounts and not hold grudges
-We will identify and encourage the different strengths and abilities that each one of us uniquely has.

We say “YES & AMEN” to loving and respecting one another
-Gentle hands, gentle tone and respectful words

We say “YES & AMEN” to a strong marriage as the centerpiece of a healthy family
-We will turn towards and not away from each other for as long as we both shall live
-Bi-weekly date nights
-Regular marriage conferences for tune-ups.
-Mama gets regular opportunities for personal space and renewal in whatever age and stage appropriate ways that we can afford!

We say “YES & AMEN” to the invitation to be a part of God’s mission in the world.
-We participate in all of our activities as agents of God’s “yes” to the world.
-We look for opportunities to serve and to bless our neighbors
-We practice hospitality in loving and welcoming in guests.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Long Trip

Several months ago I listened to a podcast out of Willow Creek, the church that launched the seeker-oriented mega-church movement in the mid 1980's. In the podcast Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow, was debriefing the results of a long study of their own congregation involving focus groups, surveys, the works.

The study found that the satisfaction rating among the congregants was highest among those who were not Christians or who had mostly recently become Christians. The longer a person was involved in Willow and the longer they had walked with Christ, the more likely they were to be dissatisfied with the church.

Hybels talked about the findings as a shock to him and to his staff. He talked about the need to move his church culture from a program-oriented one to one that is creating what he called "self-feeders." He confessed they had not done a good job as a church staff challenging them as a congregation to move to radical self-motivated, self-disciplined discipleship in Christ. Christianity Today picked up on the rumblings around Willow with their on-line blog post Willow Creek Repents?

I think that Willow's in a hard spot. They excel at engaging a culture that is consumer-driven. They do a fantastic job with programs that meet non-religious consumers exactly where they are. What they have discovered is that it is a long trip from consumer to mature disciple of Jesus. Programs can't do it. Personal spiritual disciplines and authentic community are the essential practices of a growing disciple.

I feel this tension myself. I work with 18-22-year-olds who have been deeply programmed to see themselves as consumers. The ones who grew up in Christian community often relate to those communities as commodities. In some ways it's not their fault. It would take a fantastically mature 18-year-old and/or outstanding parenting to fight against that flow.

So how do we both engage consumers right where they are and call them to something that requires a good deal more work than they're used to? To disciplines which frequently yield much less immediate results? I'm still working this out myself. My guess is that as Willow Creek "repents" they'll probably lead much of the evangelical sub-culture into the next twenty years of genuine discipleship of the consumer generations.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Men and Christian Community

One thing I thought about some over the Christmas break was the issue of men in Christian community. In InterVarsity nationwide, our numbers of men, particularly white men, have gone down while other numbers have gone up or remained relatively steady. This problem, of course, is not simply relegated to IV. The church around the world is largely made up of women. I was asked to participate in a panel at our National Staff Conference to present ways to get and keep men in our chapters.

I think one piece of the puzzle might be the VARK proportions.

There are four different learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Reading/writing and Kinesthetic. Church services (along with InterVarsity large group meetings) tend to be high on the Auditory. The sermon (at least in most Protestant circles) is the high point.

But the problem with that is that men tend to be visual and kinesthetic learners. So if we're not finding ways to engage them with images and give them opportunities to actually move somehow in response, it makes sense that they stop coming to our meetings and disengage from our communities.

I think that in order to engage men we've got to find ways to increase the use of images in worship and in our teaching. And I think that we've got to find ways to invite tactile response. I love that in our Anglican service each week we take communion. It's an active response to the preaching of the word. In my large group talks I've been trying to be more active as well for response times: exchange a slice of cheese for a cup of water, write your vow on a Duplo block and add it to others as an altar to the Lord, etc.

The Lord has made many men (and not only men but women too, obviously) to be visual and kinesthetic learners. Why do we not tap into our God-given creativity to find ways to engage men more effectively with the gospel?

Friday, January 11, 2008


Last night at our first campus large group meeting Mark Acuff, pastor of the Chapel Hill Bible Church, called us to mission in and as a community. He spoke from the theme verse for the semester from John 13: " 34 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Mark talked about how striking it was that here in Jesus' last hours, with the clock ticking and much to say, Jesus is passionate about both the men in the room with him AND the people who are not there.

There is much to be said about the fruit born out of loving one another. When we love one another we grow in character. When we love one another we discover more of God's character. When we love one another it helps our communities to grow spiritually.

But Jesus takes this command to love one another and he points it outward: love one another so that everyone will know that you are my disciples. Here at the end, Jesus has an eye towards who's not yet in the room. He is passionate about those who are outside coming inside.

Mark emphasized that this should not have surprised the disciples. Their adventure with Jesus began for some of them with a very similar theme: "Follow me and I will make you fish for people!" Jesus begins the calling of his disciples with a missional theme and he finishes it with a variation on the exact same thing.

The firm bookends of mission propels the disciples to go and change the world after Jesus is gone. And so it should for us.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Two Kinds of Parents

Several years ago I was hanging out with a couple students in their apartment just off campus. One of the guys was loading the dishwasher while the other one supervised. Conversation ensued about their dads and their philosophy on loading the dishwasher. It went something like this:

Steve: "Man, in my house my dad was always on us about cleaning the dishes thoroughly before they went in the dishwasher. It was like a twice-baked potato, only it was a twice-washed dish. He was paranoid about them not getting clean. I was always like, 'why do we have a dishwasher if we're going to wash the dishes by hand anyway?'"

Joel: "My dad was the complete opposite. He'd see us rinsing off the dishes and he'd say, 'What are you doing? Stop that right now. We have a dishwasher for a reason. If it won't get the dishes clean, we'll just get another dishwasher.'"

For some reason this conversation has stayed with me for eleven or so years as a picture of the two different styles of parenting. I'd like to be as care-free as the latter: if it doesn't work, we'll just get another dishwasher! If things don't quite go right, we can find creative alternative solutions.

There's a sense of living a fully-resourced life in the former that the latter doesn't have. Some of this is perhaps reflective of genuine realities (i.e. if our dishwasher doesn't work we don't exactly have the cash to go out and buy another one). But the general feeling that we don't live fearfully is attractive to me. We don't have to have a fearful approach to the small things in life that eat up our energies.

But I think I find myself more concerned about meaningless details like the Ranch dressing still on the plate in the dishwasher than freed up to just enjoy the more important stuff in life. Freedom from worry and anxiety (even and especially over small things) is an important part of the process of my life in Christ.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Staff Conference Sound Byte Highlights

After spending yesterday looking back over my notes from IV's national staff conference, here are the things that are still resonating in my soul this morning:

Our theme for the conference was "I am not ashamed of the gospel." We had several different speakers walk us through the first 12 chapters of Romans.

-The speaker the first morning had this to say about shame: "When shame covers us we think that the gospel is weak and so we must somehow make up for it with our great skills and strategies."

-Humility is our silent friend in leadership. Apart from humility we cannot lead in power...when we're humble we hear God's saving voice and not our own voice. In so doing we can be bold with God's boldness and say 'Behold, the power of God!' Humility is the laboratory of God's power.

-What if we challenged our students to use Facebook as an instrument for God's kingdom rather than a tool for self-advancement?

-Romans 8 is perhaps the single most significant chapter of Scripture in Paul's writings, perhaps of all the Bible. And it is all about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is referenced 22 times in 39 verses. It is the Holy Spirit at work in us that makes this gospel thing take root and work in us.

-Our slavery for many of us in ministry is a slavery to fear of failure. And so we live in our own power and become enslaved to our own ideas and plans and strategies. We straddle life in Adam and life in Christ and so we become imprisoned by our own stuff when we've been invited to new life and freedom.

-The call in Romans 12 to present our bodies as a living sacrifice of worship is profound. Bodies matter.

-The call in Romans 12 to worship after all that Paul has talked about in the first eleven chapters of Romans is simply reasonable. It is no great thing to worship a God who has done so much for us. It is our reasonable service. It is what we do because we live here. I do laundry and help clean around the house because it is a reasonable service as a member of this family, this house. In light of the life we've been offered and the place where we live, we worship.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Blogging like Mary

I'm an external processor. That is, the stuff rolling around in my head becomes more clear to me as I express it--a conversation, journaling, a haiku, whatever. This has been the tremendous blessing for me of blogging. Blogging has given me an outlet to process all the half-baked thoughts in my head. This is why the posts sometimes have large holes or don't quite make sense. The dots aren't always quite connected yet.

I returned home yesterday after five days in St. Louis at InterVarsity's national staff conference. And I have all sorts of half-baked thoughts rolling around in my head. Thoughts about I.V. as a national movement, thoughts from the fantastic teaching we received from the Scriptures, thoughts about ministry praxis, thoughts about all the football played over the weekend, reflections on how the Lord met me during my time there.

So earlier today I was considering this swirl of thoughts and wondering where to begin with today's post. And the Lord brought this passage of Scripture to mind: "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." That's Luke 2:19

Tomorrow I'm retreating for a couple hours with my staff team. We're going to take the morning to look back over the Scriptures that were opened up, sift through notes taken in seminars, pour over the spring semester's calendar of events, seek the Lord's Spirit and plead for understanding, wisdom, power, discernment, clarity. What would the Lord have us take home personally and for the campus this spring?

And so that means that for now I need to join Mary in not begin too hasty to make public what is not yet clear...or perhaps is just too precious for general consumption.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


I'm at an IV staff conference over these next couple of days.  This morning the speaker the speaker challenged all of us that the growth and impact of a leader is capped when humility is not present.
I've spent some time over the past couple of weeks praying and asking God to increase our chapter's evangelistic impact on campus.  I've been specifically praying that he'd help me to grow.  I've been asking for a fresh work of the Holy Spirit to newly empower my speaking and my ministry to see new people come to faith in Christ.

I think that in this morning's gentle "humility beat-down" I might have gotten at least a starting place for that growth. 
Funny how often I ask for things and don't really expect to get them.  Or I ask for things and expect them to come through a waving of a magic wand.  Instead, the path of blessing leads me to repentance, confession, self-abandonment.  I have work to do.  It is a good work.  Transformation and change come not through magic but through the power of the Holy Spirit as I submit to Him.  But there is something required of me to walk in the way of life: not more skill-development but more brokenness. 
This, of course, is how I got started on this whole path of life in Christ.  Why would I think blessing could come any other way? 

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Ill Omens

A couple of hours ago I dropped my cell phone/PDA/life organization tool in the toilet. What used to be a touch-screen is now just a screen.

I hope that isn't a harbinger of things to come in 2008.