Monday, March 31, 2008
Ladies and gentlemen, God bless America.
Oh, and my Tar Heels as they roll into the Final Four.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Seems like a prayer that might be good for many of us, family brokenness or no.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
But in the culture that the Scripture was written, the corporate you was the default understanding. It was a culture full of people who understood their identity to be much more deeply tied to the corporate community (and the specific geography, for that matter)--family, town, synagogue were much more prominent in the self-understanding of the times.
As a result, we miss the rich corporate nature of the Biblical story that is tacit and implicit in the narrative. And, as a result, our "applications" of our Scripture readings are understood as a private, personal affair rather than something that implicates all of us who are in this together. I am accountable to not only these Scriptures but to my neighbor who is reading this in community along with me.
So try this next time you're reading your Bibles: put a "ya'll" in place of the "you" and see how that changes things...or maybe "you's guys" for those of you more north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Monday, March 24, 2008
"The early church fathers called Jesus' struggle in the Garden of Gethesemane 'the garden of obedience.' And they did this as a deliberate contrast to the first garden, and the first Adam, who faced a similarly significant decision but who chose disobedience."
Two gardens. Two Adams. One the cause of all the misery in the world. The second the hope of all peoples everywhere.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Reading today the story of the crucifixion in Matthew, a few phrases stand out to me…
*After the bread and the wine: When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
*“Friend, do what you came for.”
*Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
*Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him…
*They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.
Good Friday doesn’t seem so good at this point. Death and all of its derivative cousins (injustice, cruelty, and the like) seem to have the upper hand. For some of us it’s tempting to rush past the pain and messiness of Good Friday to the tidy ending of Easter morning. But there are mysteries here worth pondering. There are realities here that must be dealt with.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Peter comes, Cornelius and his whole house is converted, and Peter is converted to the work of the gospel among the Gentiles. Fast forward a couple thousand years and you've got me, a Dutch-Scottish Gentile worshiping Yahweh.
One of the teaching points at church that morning was this: good people need Jesus. Cornelius was about as good as they get. And yet the Peter is not sent there to affirm Cornelius' goodness. Peter is sent there to tell him about Jesus, the good news about his life and death and resurrection and the forgiveness of sins in his name. Good people need Jesus.
There was a huge celebration of Eve Carson's life today on campus. Thousands of people came to hear stories about her. And the stories were inspirational. By all accounts she was a tremendous and fantastic leader, person, student body president. You either felt inspired by her seemingly boundless energy and love for people or ashamed for being such a complete slacker and waste of a human being by comparison.
And as I heard the stories, it began to make more and more sense why we sang the alma matter and "Carolina in my Mind" at her services. UNC was her life. She poured herself into the work of making the University a better place for everyone. To make Carolina a better place was her life's work, it was her passion, the thing that she oriented her life around.
So here we are. A tremendous and gifted and wonderful woman who crammed more into 22-ish sleepless years of life than people twice her age...and yet it still all feels so empty. And I'm coming away from this experience more convinced than ever that work, even good work, even good works, even great relationships, even great family...none of those stories is big enough to give our stories the profound meaning that we long for, that we were created for.
Eve was a Cornelius. She was a good person, a great person. She needed a Peter. I have hope that there were inklings of the gospel at work in her life. I'm more committed than ever to developing and raising up leaders, Peters, who will be humble, bold, loving, committed, gracious, passionate, patient, gentle, in the speaking of the gospel...even and especially to the people who don't seem to need it.
Monday, March 17, 2008
A new Pharoah comes to power in Egypt and sees all these Israelites running around and this is what he says:
Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.The fear of losing their slave labor force drives this Pharoah to order that all the Hebrew boys be killed at birth by the midwives.
Our fears have the power to dictate how we behave in our sphere of influence with potential for disastrous or glorious results. There are parents who hyper-over-protect in fear. There are students who are driven by fear of failure to live 24/7 in the library. There are "wildly successful" professionals in every sector of industry and business and ministry and service and non-profit who are driven by deep-seated fears that tyrannize them to work harder, faster, more creatively than others.
To be fear-driven in our motivation as a primary motivator is to eventually be ruined by fear. It has the power to wreck our lives...and not only ours, but the people around us as well. It is a terrible motivator because it does not last, it does not give back life, it only takes it away. Decisions we make out of fear are often poor and hasty, defensive, grasping.
Many of these parents/students/professionals are tremendously gifted people who have allowed their gifts to be hijacked by fear. What if instead of fear moving to hard work and creativity, they (I) allowed the Holy Spirit to enliven these gifts and move me in faith, hope, and love to do the good works God prepared in advance for them (me) to do?
Perhaps in some ways it's impossible to be completely free of fear as a motivator. Perhaps the only real solution is to come to a place of identifying our fears, confessing them before the Lord, repenting of them as they rear their ugly heads, and asking the Spirit to replace our fear-motivated living and working with faith, hope, and love over the course of our lives.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
In John 11, the gospel writer John records a tremendous story: Jesus raises a friend who's been dead for many days back to life. Astounding! I would like to think that if I had been there with my peeps, even if we were skeptical to that point about Jesus, we would have come to our senses and realized that this guy was the real deal--or at least worth taking somewhat seriously.
But here's what John says about the aftermath of the raising up of Lazarus:
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.Just to clarify: these folks went to the religious leaders (the Pharisees) not to pass along good news. They went to tell them that Jesus was gaining more and more followers. That things were getting more and more rowdy. They were tattling, not testifying. In John's telling of the Jesus story, this is the last straw. The religious leaders set out to kill him from the point of Jesus raising a dead person back to life. Pause and consider that for a moment--how deeply would you have to be set against a person to want to put them to death after they've raised someone back to life from the dead?
Hillary haters, perhaps you could chime in here and give some insight. Ya'll can get pretty intense.
So here's the deal as we head into Easter week: seeing is not believing. In fact, it is possible for us to become so deeply entrenched in cynicism and skepticism that we dig a hole and harden our hearts and miss the wonder of simple miracles in front of us...even to the point of missing the point of a dead guy being raised from the dead. To decide ahead of time to not believe is to not believe, no matter what the evidence.
St. Augustine talked about a posture of "faith seeking understanding." I think that this is critical to enter into any true mystery of faith. If we lead with skepticism, doubt, or even reason, we will find a way to explain away just about anything we find. If we can move forward into Easter by faith, even just the slightest bit, I believe that God rewards that, blesses that.
This is not to say that we chuck our minds or stop thinking. It's just that we've been taught that skepticism and doubt is a better way to approach the world than faith and belief is. I agree with Tim Keller who invites us to "be skeptical of our skepticism." What if skepticism is simply a poor or the wrong set of glasses to view reality through? What if nothing truly wonderful can be apprehended that way?
P.S:For those of you not in the Triangle area who aren't inundated with news about the Eve Carson shooting from last week, there's good news: they've made two arrests. Pray for students as they return this week from spring break and continue to process this stuff, would you?
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
On Saturday I talked with a man who was struggling with his faith. He is extremely intelligent, a math major, and confesses to be prone to excessive critical analysis about everything. One of his struggles with faith is the feeling over hyper-emotionalism in the Christian sub-culture. This is part his struggle and partly a feeling that the people he is in class with every day would dismiss Christianity if they came to a meeting where people were singing pretty songs and lifting their hands in the dark.
Sixteen hours later I was driving back from the conference with Fred Williams. Fred is an older, wiser man who has ministered to students off and on for many, many years. He is black, and the head of all our regional black campus ministries. He is also currently doing campus work at Shaw University and St. Augustine college, both a part of the HBCU network (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Fred had brought about a dozen Shaw and St. Aug's students to the conference and for many of them it was their first foray into white Christian world.
I'm always interested in getting Fred's perspective on issues of race and culture, so I asked him what the hardest part of the weekend was for the students he brought. He said that the hardest part for his students--and often times for him personally--is that they mostly come from southern, black churches where worship is passionate and vibrant and alive. He said that the hardest thing for a person coming from that background to enter into is the emotionally flat worship experiences of the people around them: hands in their pockets, looking off, looking bored, etc.
Two totally different cultural experiences and expressions and expectations of worship. We're trying to serve both types of students in one experience. Oi.
Clearly, this isn't simply an issue of race--there are white folks who are drawn to a more passionate worship experience and African-American folks who are drawn to a more cerebral worship experience. But in real-life, real-time, here in the South, our IV staff community trying to work through what it means to be reconciled as brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a real issue.
On paper at least, we can see how these two approaches should bless one another: love the Lord with all your mind, love the Lord with all your heart. In reality, however, these tensions are felt and experienced and chalked up to racial and cultural differences that will take a lot of work, sacrifice, and hard and honest conversations--not to mention the anointing of the Holy Spirit--to work through.
Monday, March 10, 2008
I think that there's a couple of extremes on a continuum when it comes to our desires and prayer. On the one extreme, some folks pray that God's will be done as a smokescreen: they don't really trust that God is interested in hearing their requests or that he'll grant them, so the "your will be done" prayer is a way of avoiding genuine interaction with God. This would seem to defeat the purpose of prayer. If you related to your parents like that, it would be unhealthy. Similarly in this case with God. To be too afraid to lay your genuine, heart-felt requests before the Lord is symptomatic of a deeper issue of distrust and lack of freedom and the intimacy that I think God wants for us.
On the other extreme is the person who goes to God with an ultimatum: do this, or I refuse to believe in you/trust you/whatever. Throughout the gospels the demand for a sign or a miracle is used as a proof of shallow faith. Jesus hardly ever grants such requests.
It would seem that the best way to approach this tension is to hit somewhere in the middle. We genuinely and with reckless abandon come to God with our desires, our hopes, our dreams, our goals. In the process of praying those things up to the Lord, we submit them to Him. That's a real submission. Not a "fill out a card and submit it in the mail" kind of submission. A real submission, a full giving over of all our desires to the Lord. We lay out all that we want and in the end we entrust those things to God.
A pastor I once heard challenged us to take a good look at our prayers to see our idols. The things that we pray for the most might be the places where we are most tempted to worship something apart from God: family, success in a business or ministry context, etc. This is, I think, an interesting challenge worth considering on a regular basis.
I think that what's happening in prayer is so much more about the process of transformation than it is about outcomes. Outcomes matter. But who we're becoming in the midst of those outcomes, both the ones that we want and the ones that we don't, matters infinitely more. And so we must pray to the Lord with all our heart for the things that we want...and then leave those things there before him, allowing him to sort through all our jumbled motives, desires, fears and hopes so that he might purify those things and in the process purify us.
1. We live in a world where 22-year-olds get shot to death.
2. The campus leadership has nothing more to offer (and indeed, nothing more that they COULD offer, even if they believed something more themselves) than "live the Carolina way."
3. The Christians on campus could offer something more from The Story of hope, redemption, healing, and forgiveness but:
a. when we do get a chance to speak, we often say something stupid or
b. when we get a chance we often duck the opportunity to speak altogether.
4. With Spring Break this week, we don't have a chance to offer a more large-scale response to the issues and questions that this whole thing raises but even if we did, I don't know that anyone would come.
Pastors after September 11th often say that their churches were packed-out. I don't know that crisis in my context (i.e. Bible-belt big state University) drives people to seek out answers from the Christian community.
There's probably a couple reasons for that: first, we don't have street-cred on campus; i.e. we don't have the trust built to engage at these levels. And second, students in the South think they already know what we'd say.
As I rehearsed these issues in my head on the way to campus, I was getting more and more worked up.
And then I started talking to people. I heard about Abby, who knew Eve Carson, and how she walked around in her grief offering to pray for others who were close to her...even those she didn't know particularly well. I talked with Calin who found himself talking with a confused and sad suite mate about the situation. He listened well, asked questions...and then shared some of his journey with this man who's talked off and on about faith issues with Calin before.
Just a couple of stories, but it was enough to rescue me from my death-spiral of pessimism. If that's what I'm hearing, there are probably dozens, maybe hundreds more stories that I'm not. The Lord is good to redeem tragedy. Even here at UNC. There's issues we need to work through (how to talk about hope in tragedy, gaining street cred) but the Lord is not limited by our issues. That's good news, a small ray of hope in the midst of this ongoing tragedy.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
A few of my InterVarsity students knew Eve. Mostly the entire campus is just in shock. We canceled our normal Thursday night meeting and joined in with the campus candlelight vigil. That's where Jesus would have been.
It was good but hard to be there tonight with hundreds, maybe thousands of students. It is good and right for us to mourn together. It is necessary to grieve, essential to mark the passing of a major student leader on campus who was very popular and very well loved. Students told a few stories, the administration invited students to care for one another, to seek help if they need it. These are all critical parts of the process, important things for students to hear.
But on the other hand, there's so very little hope. The vigil had the forms of Christian worship but none of the power. Instead of hymns there was the Carolina alma matter and Carolina on My Mind. Instead of a homily about the hope of redemption and heaven in the midst of suffering and sadness there was only a call to give one another a giant group hug and to live out 'the Carolina way.'
Here's the deal: a 22-year-old student was shot to death a couple days ago. That's completely messed up. The students need something more than James Taylor and the alma matter and some candles to get us through. Unfortunately, secular campus culture doesn't have anything else to offer.
Every now and then I start to become entranced by the siren song of secular pluralism. Maybe having the dominant operating system of our culture be a vapid, non-committal, vague acceptance of anything and everything is a good thing for a crazy-diverse place like the United States. But then I see how completely impotent secular pluralism is in dealing with any of the things that really matter--like calling people to make an ethical decision that would require sacrifice...or helping people actually deal with the death of a peer--and I wake up and come back to my senses.
Please pray for the students. Pray for a couple of the administrators that I respect for their love for the students: Dean Blackburn and Winston Crisp; these guys are working overtime right now. Pray for the family and friends.
And pray that the hundreds of students that were there tonight might hear the good news of redemption and the power of God to overcome death somewhere in the next week as they continue to process this event. There is more to help these students deal with the painful reality of death than was given them tonight.
their own mess. Yesterday's post is for them, the good news that evil
is not all-powerful.
Other folks have a basic world view tbat says everyone is basically
good and that there's just a few bad apples who mess tbings up for the
rest of us. This post is for them.
Evil is only a parasite to the good...but it has indeed ruined
everything and everyone. People are not basically good. They were
created good, in the image of the perfect God. But now we are ruined,
the image has been marred by the Fall.
For those of you who struggle or push-back on this concept, here's my
challenge. For one week keep a journal of every selfish or prideful
or snotty thought you have. Just for one week, actually pay attention
to the conversations and voices in your head.
Evil does not have the last word, but it does have the first word when
it comes to how we naturally relate to the world around us.
The Reformers talked about the 'total depravity of man.' This can be
mis-construed to mean that everyone is completely wretched through and
through. Clearly this is not the case. There is much that is good in
the world. But absolutely none of it is as good as it was intended to
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
I think the root of our struggle with the problem of evil is this: even our better attempts at explaining how it and God function in the same reality don't deal with the root issue. Liz's argument of God limiting his own activity/intervention in human affairs I think is true. But that still doesn't answer the root question: if God is all good and if God created all that is (angels, people, etc.), then where did evil really come from? Who or what gave birth to evil?
In our own understanding it would seem like an obvious alternative to the good, but before anyone had ever experienced or known evil it would be as foreign as us thinking about breathing in liquid mercury rather than oxygen to survive. It just wouldn't even make sense.
Here's why I think our solutions to the problem of evil fall short: Scripture never tells us where evil comes from. There's the one best chance of us getting a direct answer in Job. And all God says to Job is "where were you?" Where were you when I formed the world, made the stars, etc. etc. Read those last couple of chapters of Job, and we get the invitation into mystery rather than a neat solution to the problem.
So we don't get a reason for evil. Scripture never tells us. And all our attempts at answering it are okay, we just need to at least confess that they are at best guesses--and to confess that some guesses are better and more faithful than others. I prefer to confess to be agnostic about the origin of evil--I just don't know.
But here's what we do know:
1. We know that evil barely exists. Evil exists solely as a parasite to the good. There is absolutely nothing that is purely evil and we must not give evil that much creative credit or power. All evil can do is take what was originally created as good and twist it into bad. We are not dualists. There is no equal and opposite person to God, no duality between good and evil. It is a complete mismatch. God wins. Hope wins. God is God over all things--Satan is God's Satan, he is on a leash. There is no eternal battle between good and evil that is being waged. God is God. All things were created good. All things have been corrupted (to varying degrees) by the parasite of evil. But there is no such thing as "raw evil." There is, however, such a thing as "raw good." One day, that will be all that there is. One day, the full reality of God's power and the reality that evil barely exists will be fully lived in, enjoyed.
2. We know that we get the solution to the problem of evil. We don't know where it comes from, but we do see how God has dealt with it. He deals with it by taking all of it on himself, at great cost to himself, to pass judgment on it once and for all. It is finished. All of evil has been conquered and will one day be no more. God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
So Dr. Ehrman, UNC's resident Biblical studies professor extraordinaire, is releasing a new book called "God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer."
In order to serve the good Doctor and to save his breath, a note to Christians re: suffering and one of the pre-packaged answers we try to give for it.
A student of mine was in Dr. Ehrman's Old Testament class last semester. In said OT class, he would regularly go off on rants about the problem of suffering and the insufficiency of the answers in the Bible. One student offered this pre-packaged Christian solution: the only way for us to know good is to know evil. Apart from seeing what is bad, we wouldn't see the good as clearly, wouldn't understand the goodness of it.
This, my friends, is patently false. We do not have to know evil in order to appreciate good. God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before the worlds began did not experience the presence of evil in their perfect relating and were perfect for it. In heaven, we will not be bummed out that there's not adultery and murder and more poverty and homelessness and disease in order for us to more fully appreciate all that we have.
We do not have to know evil to know good. Indeed, one day we will know nothing but good and we will be a whole lot better off for it.
If we can get past this particularly poor excuse for the problem of suffering then perhaps we can move on to a more meaningful exploration of the issue.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
So over the weekend Zoe and I were in the playroom and she wanted to bop around some balloons that were floating around. The problem: there were four balloons. And she couldn't bring herself to part with any of them in order to simply play with one. The right enjoyment of balloons was thwarted by the stubbornness of a two-year old who was incapable of playing with just one. Not only could she not play with the balloons as she watched them helplessly float to the floor, her concern for them made it impossible to play with anyone else--like me, for example.
This seems to me to be an epidemic in our stuff-driven culture. We have so much--I have so much--that it is impossible for me to enjoy any of it. I cannot bear to put anything down, so I try to keep everything going, all the plates spinning, all my gadgets functioning. I barely know what my new-ish Ipod can do, but I've just gotten this new laptop and I'm trying to figure that out so I can't take the time.
This isn't just true about technology--relationships, work, all of it. Am I living thinly, just skating across the surface, trying to hold onto all the balloons that come my way? Or am I willing to let some things drop, to focus on one or two things and live fully present to the joy and wonder and full possibility of those things?
Maybe if I did that, I'd have space to consider that my Good Father likes to share in the opportunity to play with me as well.