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, February 29, 2008

Promotion Grab-Bag

Promotion of the day #1: shameless, self: an article developed from one of my blog posts at Student Soul

Promotion of the day #2:if only I could blog this well: stuff white people like (thanks Allison, Daniel, for this)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Amnesia of the Now

This past weekend we took around 45 UNC-IV students to join a hundred and fifty students from Eastern Carolinas at our annual Emmaus conference. This year the theme was (as you might surmise from my posts this past week) "Knowing God's Will."

Willis and Amy Weber, two of my faves on IV staff at the College of Charleston, gave a fantastic team-talk on Saturday night. We wanted to call students on Saturday night away from focusing solely on God's will for their future to being fully present to what God has for them in the now--right where they are, on campus, on purpose. Here's a little piece that Amy gave (that I'll paraphrase from memory) that has really stuck with me this week:

We're in a place in our marriage where we have several long-term, ongoing conversations that have serious implications for our future. One thing that I wrestle with as I face major life decisions is a sickness that I affectionately refer to as "The Amnesia of the Now."

Amnesia of the now sounds something like this:

"I'm only going to be here for a few more months. Why should I bother to invest in my relationship with my neighbors?"

"I'm probably only going to live in Charleston for maybe five more years, why should I bother to really invest in the community here?"

In college for me it sounded something like this:

"I can't wait to move in with my real friends next semester in the apartment. Why should I bother to care for these people here in my suite when I'm probably not going to hang out with them after this anyway?"

"I'm only in this class because I have to be and it's just one semester. Why should I bother to get to know the people sitting around me?"

This amnesia of the now robs me of any ability to live fully present to the present. It keeps me from entering into God's work as it unfolds all around me. I am always looking ahead to the mythological future rather than being fully invested in the places God actually has me right now.
This is no way to live.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Conscience & Holy Spirit

Last week I was meeting with a student and a book we were reading prompted this great question: what's the difference between our conscience and the Holy Spirit?

After some delay tactics followed up by some verbal processing, I came to something of a conclusion. Our consciences are just like our wills, imaginations, minds or emotions. Everyone has one. All of them are fallen or broken to some extent. Some people feel guilty about stuff they shouldn't feel guilty about (the over-active conscience) and some people don't feel guilty at all about stuff they should feel guilty about.

So the work of the Holy Spirit is to redeem our conscience so that it partners with the work of the God to bring true conviction where needed. The Spirit works to heal the broken conscience so that we ultimately might judge ourselves rightly.

I think practically speaking this means that we should pray for the healing work of the Spirit to touch our conscience and to align it with the formative work of Christ in making us whole people. Not every pang of guilt is from God. But a peaceful night's sleep isn't necessarily reflective of our true standing before God, either. Our basic temperament and upbringings are the factors that shape our conscience as we have them in our natural state.

Fortunately, neither one of those factors has to have the last word on any part of us. That's part and parcel of the good news of the healing and transformational work of Christ.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Knowing God's Will III

Often times when we're in critical places of making decisions, we wish God would just tell us, make it clear, what we're supposed to do. That happened to me once. Does that make me totally weird?

My now wife Kelly and I were dating long distance. We had just graduated from college and had just started dating for the fourth-ish time right before we graduated. I was starting on IV staff in Richmond, VA. She was in an intense ministry situation in an inner-city boarding school in Durham, NC. She lived in a house with four adults and approximately thirty kids.

I was up late. She was up early. We both were dealing with tons of transition. It was hard to catch time to really talk on the phone. So we would regularly meet in the middle: Denny's, exit 12, South Hill, VA. Hours and hours of bottomless cups of coffee and extremely average food.

About half through the year, after a meeting up at Denny's, I was driving home with tons of doubts and I decided to let God have it: "I don't know about this relationship, the time and effort and energy, our "fit" together, our different passions and gifts and loves. I just don't know if this is going to work. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know..."

And as I was letting God have it in the car with all my doubts and all of my "I don't know's" he spoke to me very clearly and said something very, very simple:

"I know."

That's all he said. He knew. He knew all my doubts. He knew all my fears. He knew her and he knew me and he knew what was to come.

And the question that left me with is the same one that we all have to deal with when it comes to our anxieties and concerns about the future: will we trust Him? Would I trust Him with all my questions? Will we trust Him with our concerns and doubts and desires?

You know what I did after I heard that voice? I turned on the radio, sang along all the way home--it was 1997, so probably Hootie and the Blowfish. And you know what? That was worship. For just a brief time, maybe an hour of my life, I trusted that God knew. And that was enough.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Knowing God's Will II

If we're honest most of us at some point in our lives of making decisions and following Christ hit a point of frustration: why does God make it so hard? Why can't God just tell us what the next step is?

Jesus gave his disciples a "knowing God's will" talk that I think addresses some of these questions:

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

Here's Jesus' priorities in his "knowing God's will" address, his last words to his disciples before he leaves them:

1. He is Lord. He has all authority and all power everywhere.
2. They are to go. They have work to do and they are not to shrink back from doing it.
3. Jesus is with them.

I think that the disciples, like us, would have liked a written point-by-point list of what was to happen next. Where should they go? What should they do? It would seem only reasonable that he might give them advance warning of the trials and challenges that lay ahead of them.

But instead of that, he gives them a much greater gift: the promise of Himself. He is with them always. He would never leave them. I think that most of us think of this as the conciliation prize, the thing that we get since we can't know more "real" things about the future. But Jesus does not. This is his best gift. His presence is the most significant thing that he can possibly give to us.

We would prefer a road map of our future. But the one who is Lord over all road maps is in the car with us. He does not give us a road map because he does not want to relate to us as one who is a dispenser of road maps. He wants us to lean into his very real presence. The full reality of his with-ness is most profoundly experienced in the times of trials and significant decisions.

Is God himself enough for us?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Knowing God's Will

This week I'm working on a talk on "Knowing God's Will." Here's a quick excerpt:

The most critical thing we have to begin with and hold onto as we begin this discussion about knowing God's will is this: God is much more interested in who we're becoming than in what we're doing. We are obsessed with the doing, with the next steps on our paths. God is obsessed with who we're becoming as we walk that path.

This is not to say that God doesn't care about what we're doing. God does care what we do, in fact Scripture says he has gone ahead of us and prepared good works in advance for us to do. But he cares about what we're doing insofar as it is the training ground for the person that we're becoming. He cares about what we're doing because our "doing" is part of what creates or re-creates (for good and for bad) our "being."

God is like an occupational or physical therapist. He gives us opportunities and relationships and work to do that works to rehabilitate our broken souls. He has us single, dating, married, working in this job or that in order to bring our sin and issues to the surface that they might be dealt with and we might be freed to look more like Christ. He is pacing us through all the seasons of our lives in order to transform us, change us, heal us, call us to repentance, life, grace.

When it comes to approaching the topic of knowing God's will for our lives, we've got to hold onto this core truth: God cares much more about who we're becoming than what we're doing.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Long Trip II

About a month ago I blogged on The Long Trip from consumer to mature follower of Christ. It's a difficult thing to take a culture full of people who function primarily as "consumer" (even if we don't cognitively think of ourselves in those terms) and to move them to becoming people who are willing to lay down our rights, our time, our energies, our very lives for the sake of God's kingdom, his work, his priorities.

I was still thinking on these things when I came across this passage from Hebrews 13:

11The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

The invitation to go and join Jesus in the place of shame, disgrace, and pain "outside the camp" captured my imagination for several days.

If our culture is full of "consumers," then let us imaginatively consider what it means to meet them at the "marketplace" in the city. Isn't that what incarnation is all about? Doesn't the Jesus event mean that God takes seriously the human context and that he does whatever it takes to engage people exactly where they are?

But of course we cannot stop there. The work is this call from the writer of Hebrews: to encourage movement to a new place outside the camp, outside the city gate, to the place of disgrace with Jesus.

So here's the challenge for your church and for mine and for my ministry on campus: to simultaneously engage the secular culture of consumers at the marketplace while at the same time leading people away from the marketplace to the place of disgrace outside the city.

Can we have structures and events operating at a consumer level while at the same time trying to wean people off of their consumerism? Or in attempting to do both at the same time are we automatically reinforcing the consumerism and thereby making the journey outside the city gate even more difficult, maybe impossible?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Doubt II

I was still thinking on these things from yesterday's post when I came across these words from Lesslie Newbiggin's commentary on John 1:43-51. In the passage, Jesus is gathering his first disciples. Nathanael is invited to meet "Jesus of Nazareth" by his friend Philip. His response: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

Here's Newbiggin's commentary on Nathanael's skepticism:

"Intelligent skepticism is not condemned, for it is the necessary balance which preserves the distinction between faith and foolish credulity. It is part of what it means to 'walk in the light.' There is always tension and conflict between the radical newness of the gospel and the necessary conservatism by which any human culture maintains its integrity...So skepticism is a legitimate starting point.

But it cannot have the last word, or nothing new will be learned. Philip's answer to Nathanael's skepticism is an echo of the earlier words of Jesus,'Come and see. The skeptic must suspend his skepticism if he is to have the opportunity to learn...[Nathanael] is willing to 'come to the light.' His skepticism is not carried to the point where the light that he has is put under a bushel so that the light becomes darkness."

Good, corrective stuff for the cynic in my head...who has the last word? Am I willing to suspend my skepticism, my cynicism? Or will that posture ultimately cut me off from the learning and growing that I need to do?

It is scarily possible to become permanently cynical towards everything. In which case, I cease to become a transforming, vibrant, fully alive human being.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


A couple weeks ago I was sitting in church and I hit an icy patch of doubt. What's all this about? What am I doing here? Is this all just a bunch of made up crap that we tell ourselves to make us feel better about life? It spun me around for most of the day.

As I processed later that afternoon with my friend Sam, I came to a place of some clarity.

For most of the last thirteen years that I've been in ministry, I have critically evaluated our ministry and specifically our large group worship meeting structure from the eyes of a hypothetical, cynical, un-churched student. That is, I've sought to think about how a cynical un-churched student would respond to the ways that we talk about life, faith, worship, prayer, God.

In many ways this has blessed me and my ministry. I have worked hard with my student leaders to be more thoughtful in welcoming un-churched folks into our meetings. We do not build our worship services around what a visiting un-churched person would want, but we do a good job of inviting them to be a part of it, to enter in and see if God might meet them there.

But there is a downside to me viewing everything through the hypothetical cynical un-churched person in my head: that person can't actually worship. If I'm always evaluating, critiquing, finding fault or looking for things that might turn off this hypothetical cynical person then I'm not entering into the experience. Instead of thinking about what this person might think about the worship service, I'm actually becoming that person. I'm not actually receptive to the work of the Holy Spirit. I'm not actually worshipping the living God.

It is impossible to worship cynically. It does not matter what my church does or does not do well (according to the hypothetical person in my head) to engage un-churched people. My work on Sunday mornings is to worship God. If that is not happening, that is my fault.

And if I'm unable to worship God while I'm setting up shop in this perpetual state of cynicism, it is no wonder that I hit an icy patch of doubt once in a while. It might be time to leave that guy behind for a while

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Confession #1: I've never done anything for Lent before. This has come as a bit of a shock to some of the people I talked to last week: A religious professional! Never done Lent! Maybe I should have my license revoked.

Confession #2: I'm a pathological people-pleaser. I am convinced that this is why the Lord has me in ministry--in order to put me in a place where it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time. I must put this addiction to death, or it will kill me.

This was abundantly clear two weeks ago as I received several criticisms, most of them second-hand (the hardest ones to take). I spent the better part of my days having conversations in my head with the imaginary critical parties. I was anxious, frustrated, defensive, wondering who it was that was saying these things about me.

So last Wednesday as I sat in our Lenten service and the pastor called us to put away whatever it was that we were tempted to medicate ourselves with apart from Christ for the Lenten season, I realized what I needed to give up for Lent. I need to give up caring what other people think about me.

I need to do this because it is my addiction. I need to do this not in a spirit of spite or arrogance but of humility and grace. My life is to be lived humbly and up-rightly before the Lord and honoring the people around me. It is not up to me to defend myself or my work. That is the Lord's job. I am to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. There's something refreshingly clean and un-cluttered about the simplicity of that command. That's how I want to live.

Where I wrong others, I am free in Christ to ask forgiveness. Where the offense is imaginary, I am free in Christ to not have to prepare the five-point outline as to why I was right. I do not have to live my life having conversations in my head.

So far this has meant mostly being more aware of how I subtly angle for approval or defend myself from criticism or how often I'm thinking about what others think of me. This awareness has given me fresh opportunity to repent. I've given up on trying to please people. My job is to live for my Father's well-done, no one else's. That's worth killing myself for.

I'm obviously a rookie at this whole giving things up for Lent business. I'm not really sure if this counts--it seems like it's a requirement for Lent to give up chocolate or Britney Spears news feeds or Game Show Network or something like that. But for me to give up caring what other people think about me for Lent will be some much-needed therapy for my weary and idolatrous soul.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Silver & Green

Several weeks ago when we had Timothy Paul Jones come and speak at UNC we had posterboards on display for people to interact with on their way into his presentation. At the top of each posterboard was a prompt or question that corresponded with an issue of forgiveness or unforgiveness in their lives. For example, one of the prompts read: "I or someone I know cannot forgive a former friend for something they did."

We handed students a red dot as they passed by and invited them to put the red dot on the posterboard that they most resonated with.

One of the posterboards read, "I or someone I know struggles with guilt or shame over something done or left undone." Here's my camera phone picture of how covered in dots that particular one was:

One week later I gave the talk "freedom from shame and guilt" that I've been blogging from these past several days. At the end of the talk, I invited students to respond.

We passed around sheets of silver dots and sheets of green dots. The silver dots were for students who were Jesus followers who realized that they were carrying around guilt and shame unnecessarily and were ready to step into the light and leave their guilt or shame there that night. The green dots were for people who weren't following Jesus or who hadn't been for a long time who were ready to make a decision to do so.

As we sang several songs about the power of Jesus to free us from guilt and shame, we invited students to come forward and cover up a red dot on the posterboard with a silver or green dot--a symbol of the old being swallowed up in the new life we have in Christ.

Here's the "after" picture:

Lots of powerful silver...and one glorious dot of green.

I'm not so foolish as to think that this is the end of shame or guilt for me or for my students. But the process of being freed from shame and guilt is a process made up of hundreds, maybe thousands, of decisions--both big ones and small ones. And I believe that for many of the students there that night, the step to put a dot up on a posterboard was an anchor-point decision that they can look back on next time the voices of shame and guilt come to haunt them.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Verdict on Our Strategies

But here's the deal for us if we're honest with ourselves: none of these strategies actually works. No amount of partying or religious stuff or trying to save the world or grade point average puts enough distance between us and our guilt and shame. It only takes a split-second of a memory, a photo, a smell, a phrase or word and it all comes crashing back on us, doesn't it?

All our strategies don't work. If it's all on us and if we're left to our own devices, then we're stuck. We're dead, actually.

But here's the good news: it's not all on us.

The earliest Christian creed was "Jesus is Lord." In context, this was a subversive political statement--"Caesar is Lord" was the creed of the Roman Empire. In our context today, you know who's crowned as Lord? You are. I am. Western culture has taken the autonomous individual consumer and attempted to make them--you and me--Lord.

The Christian story has a fresh invitation to you and to me tonight: it's not all about you. Jesus is Lord, not you. And that's good news because that means that it's not all on you to try to silence the voices of guilt and shame.

To live under the gracious umbrella of the Lordship of Christ is to be freed from the onerous and impossible task of trying to take make up for your past. If Jesus is Lord, then you no longer have the last word on you; Jesus does. If Jesus is Lord then he is Lord over all of you: present, past, and future. If Jesus is Lord then your life is not your own and your future is not yours to worry about and your past is not yours, not even yours to regret.

The solution to all our guilt and shame is not more work, but rather a cessation of work. Freedom is found in submission. Submission to the Lordship of Christ. That's the good news of the Christian story. That's the invitation that all of us are called to respond to.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What's Your Strategy?

I spoke on Thursday night about freedom from shame and guilt. Here's a little bit of how it went down:

There are a couple of things that we can say almost universally about shame and guilt:

1. Almost everyone struggles with it. Even those who don't seem to have any huge story of something catastrophic that they've done. Shame and guilt are in operation in our lives regardless of our performance--no matter how "good" or "bad" you've been, there's this free-floating shame and guilt in our souls that seems to attach to whatever raw material is available.

2. Because this is so, and because the voices of shame and guilt echo so loudly in our souls, almost all of us have a coping strategy of some sort. That is, almost all of us have some way that we try to put as much distance between us and the things that we're so ashamed of in our past.

What's your strategy?

1. Religious legalism. Some of us try to do as much religious stuff as possible in order to quiet the voices of shame and guilt in our lives. Some of you are leaders in InterVarsity and you serve like crazy. But it's not really out of love. It's really just an attempt at quieting the voices of shame and guilt.

2. Hedonism; that is, the obsessive pursuit of selfish pleasures no matter the cost to yourself or others around you. If I put enough drinks or sexual experiences or acid trips or pot-highs between me and the stuff from my past that haunts me, maybe that will finally help me to break free.

There's actually not much difference between these two. The first looks pious, the second looks cool, but it's really just the same journey running side by side. And neither of them actually works.

3. Moralism. Some folks don't want anything to do with religious stuff. They figure if they're just good enough, do enough good things, that'll put the distance and space they need between them and their guilt and shame.

4. Activism. UNC is a campus full of activists. But some of them are motivated by the deep hope that if they can make something right in the world out there, then maybe for once it'll be alright in their own heart and mind.

5. Workaholism. Some of you spend most of your lives in the library. And you think that if maybe you get the grade, make it to law school or med school, maybe then you'll be free from the voices in your head that tell you you're a failure, or your work yourself out of the pit of guilt that you feel like you're buried in.

All of us have guilt and shame operative in our lives. And all of us have different strategies to try to cope with it. What's yours?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Monday Grab-Bag

Some random thoughts for a Monday morning:

*Thursday night was a very good night--God was good to knock down at least one of the Goliaths by holding back the rain for a couple hours. The crowd was about half the normal size but some good things came of the night. I'll post more about it later in the week.

*The Giants played a great game last night. I have to confess that I was cheering for the Patriots, for history and all that good stuff. But the Giants defense was fantastic and the Patriots offense didn't really click until their final touchdown drive.

*I can tell from my blog posts that my life has been very task-oriented and not as contemplative or conversational. My first several weeks of the semester have been full of big projects that have kept me occupied mentally and physically.

Have you ever looked toward a weekend after a busy week for rest and renewal only to find yourself crabby and checked-out? I find that I have a hard time winding down from 100-mph, even when I'm given the chance to. My gracious wife helped to pull me out of my Saturday funk late in the day...I think that for me, anyway, it takes time not only to to gear up for a busy season of life but to gear down as well.