Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I served the kids up and was busy fixing my own plate when I looked over to Zoe. She was picking up the small pieces of French toast that I had cut up for her and was licking the powdered sugar off each little piece.
So much for the nod to health.
I think that the Lord designed two year old girls to be good for the male ego. To be regularly out-smarted regularly by a pretty-in-pink sassy little thing really helps to put me back in my place.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I was talking with a good friend yesterday on the phone (one of my tortured introverts) and he had a good word: an over-reaction to a situation is generally a red flag that there's something deeper in you that needs to be dealt with.
So I spent some good time this morning journaling through this red flag. In the process, I stumbled across some pretty significant baggage I was carrying around from long ago. As I dealt with that, I began to piece together some other odd sounds in my soul that connected with that baggage.
I think that everyone's got baggage. It's just a question of whether or not it matches. As it turns out, my baggage is matching quite nicely--better than I previously realized.
I think that the Lord is good to patiently show us our sin. We couldn't handle it all at once. There's sin in my life right now that God won't reveal to me for another five or ten years.
I think the same thing is true for our baggage. I'm relieved that I don't have to process it all at once. But I'm also glad for good friends who will help encourage me to watch for those red flags...and for the Spirit who is good to pull back the curtain ever-so-slightly in order for me to take on what it is my time to deal with.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Cube world doesn't have many of those places.
I'm glad for my friends who do good work in cube world. But there are many reasons why I'm glad I don't spend my days there. Having a natural end point, something marks the end of this leg of the journey, is one of those.
I don't have summers "off" but I do have summers "different." Part of the work of the summer is to do the reflection and evaluation that I don't have time to do on the fly. It's good and important work that I enjoy when I've got (or have made) the time to do it.
I'll get there soon. In the mean time, a big part of my job is praying for students as they wrap up the year with exams. Ah, the joys of exams! But that's another post for another day...
Friday, April 25, 2008
So our culture clamors and longs for connection and relationships. But the problem is that because sin is at work in our world we also have self-defeating behaviors that undercut our ability to actually enter into community. There are several of these, the ones we talked most about were the addiction to convenience/a consumer's mindset to community and technology.
It is impossible to be a consumer of relationships and have those relationships actually develop the depth that we crave. Genuine community only takes place over a long period of time in a context of forgiveness and working through plenty of conflict and inconvenience. Real community is never convenient. As long as our own comfort and "safety" is our primary concern, we will never be in real community.
Secondly, technology; it can augment relationships but never replace them. If some of my students spent half the time in face-to-face conversations instead of updating their Facebook profile,they'd be much better off. Technology as a primary method of connecting doesn't work. It can round out or be a starting place but as a finish line it is a dead end. Technology apart from human contact is only further isolating.
The challenge with both of these issues is to get a hearing without sounding like an angry luddite. But maybe that's just the cost of speaking into culture
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Throughout John the imagery of darkness is synonymous with un-belief. Nicodemus, I would think, deserves some props for coming at all. But Jesus is not so enabling. He dazzles and confuses Nicodemus with a series of images and claims that leave Nicodemus more confused than when he came. John the writer sums up the conversation saying that those who do evil hate the light but those who live by the truth come into the light. Nicodemus is weighed and is apparently found wanting.
But this is not the last we see and hear of Nicodemus.
Later in John 19, Jesus is dead and the disciples are scattered. Someone has to bury Jesus. And here Nicodemus ("the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night") approaches the authorities in full view and asks to help bury him. He brings expensive gifts symbolic for the death of a king. He has made the move from darkness into light. Nic at night becomes Nic who loves the light so that his deeds might be seen for what they truly are.
Today my prayer is that I would love the light. That I would love the light and hate the darkness. That integrity and truth would be who I am and what I am becoming. No playing in shadows. No cutting corners. No part of me clinging to the darkness. All of me in the light so that what is death and evil in me might be exposed. All of me in the light so that I might know the Father who has sent me to follow after Jesus.
This is a journey. In my natural state I don't love the light because it exposes me for who I truly am: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But the Spirit is giving me new appetites, and a fresh and abiding trust in the exposure process. Apart from full exposure, there is no true healing.
Just ask Nic.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
I was talking with one of these tortured introverts just the other night. He was asking me why I had relationships such as these.
I think the answer is that I am an off-the-charts-extrovert who does not want his entire life to be comprised of externals. I want to have a rich internal life that fuels my work and my relationships. I want to be thoughtful and engaged in the world of ideas while at the same time working out those ideas in ministry and in my relationships.
One barometer of whether or not I'm actually living out this desire for a rich internal life is this blog. I started this thing because I had so much stuff going on in my head that it was getting a little bit crowded in there. I needed some way to process it. I needed a vent. So I started Piebald Life.
When I'm healthy--which includes reading thoughtful books as well as being in Scripture regularly and journaling--I've literally got thoughts stacked up like circling planes waiting to be blogged about. I told someone the other day that I blog about every 36 hours. Her response was, "About what?!? What you had for breakfast that morning?!?" But when I'm healthy, these posts are just piling up, waiting for expression. Sometimes I'll write up a couple of posts at the same time and just publish them later.
When my life overly-consists of externals, my internal world goes flat-line. And so my blog quality is a good barometer of my internal health. And these last several weeks have been pretty blah. Which is pretty indicative of the life I'm living right now.
But give me several weeks and summer time's here. And then it's a whole different ball game. And hopefully I'll have the space and time to pursue those internal-world things that give the external stuff of my life the quality and texture that I so deeply desire.
Monday, April 21, 2008
I spent the last several months searching near and far for other IV staff who could join me in this work. We wanted a diverse team from various parts of the country to help make this thing worthwhile.
After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, the team was assembled and we fly to Chicago-land last week to get to know each other, eat deep-dish pizza, and hammer out what this new edition of the handbook should look like.
As the time approached for these meetings, I realized I was in over my head in two ways:
1. I've never written a (hand)book before. I've never written a book with a group of other people before. How exactly does one shape a productive, thorough conversation? I mean, if it was just me writing this thing, I think I might know what I want to talk about and just get started. But it's not just me and in the long-run that's going to make this a better thing...but how do we begin?
2. I don't often lead meetings with other IV staff. That is, I don't often lead meetings with peers or those who are older than me/a pay level or two above me. Most all of my meeting experience is with students, where there's obviously some natural "I'm older, I'm the IV staff guy" type dynamics. Even if students don't like my meetings, they are more likely to be compliant (with the exception of the students who read this blog). The folks on the team were going to be mostly my age but a couple were older and a couple of them ran staff-level meetings all the time. My fumblings were going to be annoying for everyone, but for them especially.
So these were my thoughts as Thursday morning approached--the one full day we had together where we had to do almost all the work ahead. And Thursday morning's session more or less affirmed these fears. We struggled to get traction, bumped up against impasses, and I wasn't always sure that I was helping us to move through the process as well as we could.
But the team of staff were gracious and patient. And as the day progressed, the fog lifted. We began to take some steps towards clarity and the book began to take shape. By Thursday night, we had done most of the good work we needed to do. Friday morning we rounded out the framework and structure and we had lots of laughter and some inside jokes. Hugs all around on the way out to the airport and new friends on Facebook. What more could I have asked for?
Now everyone's back home and we've got some writing to do. Our goal is to have this thing done by November, it takes a year in the production process, and it's ready for your Christmas stocking by December '09.
I learned some good things about leading a meeting over a couple days and about the writing process. And I got to know some cool folks along the way. I guess it's not always bad to be in over one's head...
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I need something to fill the sports-shaped void in my life and baseball isn't it. Even the "summer" Olympics aren't really all that summer-ish. August is football season, meaning I've got more important things to do than watch twiggy twelve-year-old girls fling their mal-nourished bodies across large bouncy mats. You know why those girls cry after every routine? Because they're hungry!! Someone get that girl a cheeseburger for crying out loud!!
Breakfast at Wimbledon, anyone? I've got my lovely wife (who will spend many hours staying up past her bed time watching the aforementioned twiggy twelve-year-old girls fling their mal-nourished bodies across large bouncy mats) to thank for introducing me to the joys of tennis.
And since I owe her for that, maybe I can endure a little summer Olympics gymnastics along with her.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
In thinking about preparing Jonah ten years later, the situation is different. Our reporting nation wide as a movement have shown that by and large InterVarsity students across the country are way more connected to the broader campus than they were back in the old days. They have moved out of the dreaded Christian bubble.
But what we haven't seen along with that is a rise in the number of people who are responding to an invitation to Christ.
So this year as I'm preparing and looking over Jonah, the message is still "GO"...but go with the message. Students have been so deeply indoctrinated with the message of tolerance and pluralism that they are connected relationally but have been cowed by the culture to not speak a message of hope and forgiveness and redemption.
Obviously, this is something of a correction in our Christian culture. Christians have historically (and still some today) done evangelism poorly and obnoxiously. But realistically, 99% of my students are far, far from obnoxious. We have over-corrected. We have been sent by God to be a part of his work on campus. We're fine (for the most part) if that means doing something nice for people--which is a good thing. But we're very, very, very slow to speak the message that God has given us to bring.
Most students, both Christian and not, have a deep-seated loathing of the heavy-handed evangelistic tactics of fifty years ago. But really, that was fifty years ago. Those folks are still around but they are fewer and further between. If we go but do not go with our message, our going is a building of straw.
I hope being with students in Jonah can help us move towards a more faithful, reckless, winsome, joyful going with the message that we've been entrusted to go with.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Consider Jonah 1:1-3 (TNIV):
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish.
But that, of course, isn't the last but.
God sends a storm (NRSV: "But God"), Jonah tells the sailors to throw him overboard because he's the cause of this life-threatening situation. God provides a big fish (NRSV: "But God"), swallows him whole, Jonah spends three days and three nights in the belly and offers up a powerful prayer while he's there. The fish spews him out and the word of the Lord comes again to Jonah.
This time, of course, he's learned his lesson and he goes. Jonah walks Nineveh with the message of repentance and the entire city repents. And in Jonah 4, we get a series of "buts" that capture Jonah's back and forth with the God who is merciful both to the Ninevites and the stubborn prophet.
Jonah 4:1 (TNIV)
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.
Jonah is hacked off about God's mercy being extended to a people so evil as the people of Nineveh.
Jonah 4:4 (TNIV)
But the LORD replied, "Is it right for you to be angry?"
God refuses to let Jonah pout or get off the hook. He will pursue Jonah to the bitter end, just as he did the people of Nineveh. Jonah and God have some back and forth and Jonah sets up shop on a hill outside the city, hoping for a "shock and awe" show--that is, hoping that God would incinerate Nineveh in spite of their repentance.
God provides a large plant that springs up to give him shade and Jonah is happy. The next day, God sends a worm and the plant dies, and Jonah complains that it would be better for him to die.
But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this gourd, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left...?"
The book ends here, with the word of the Lord to Jonah. We have no idea if he repents, if his heart is softened towards the grace and mercy of God.
But what we do see is that God is radically committed towards having the last "but." The Lord will pursue Jonah and the Ninevites and you and I, even though we hear his voice, his commands, his calling and the very next word in our stories, in my story, is most often "but Alex."
The Lord will speak his "no" to us through storms, through fish swallowing us whole, through dreams deferred, through failures and struggles and challenges in order that we might finally, one day, come to delight in his very large, and very loud, yes. He is relentless. He will not stop pursuing us with his yes to our very last breath, be we petulant prophets, lost wanderers, hardened skeptics, or some combination of all of the above.
Friday, April 11, 2008
This week on campus we've done a really cool AIDS awareness event through World Vision's "See Orange" campaign. The way it works is that you order a bunch of bright orange shirts that say "Orphan" on them and the goal is to have 20% of the campus wearing them to point to the fact that 1 in 20 kids is orphaned by AIDS each year in sub-Saharan Africa.
This is our first time doing it and we learned some good lessons, but it was pretty cool to see not just IV students but others on campus walking around with the shirts. A great example of what it means that we can partner with all kinds of students to be a part of Kingdom purposes.
If you're a college student on campus or involved with campus ministry (and you know who you are) then I'd encourage you to check out their web sites: acting on AIDS and World Vision home.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
God didn't create us but just based on sheer numbers this sort of thing (Earth, humans) was bound to happen sooner or later. They supported this idea by asking me if God has anything to do with the rest of the universe. Though there may be life out there somewhere else (who knows) there certainly isn't any on the planets in our galaxy. So what does God do? Does He just take care of this Earth and us humans? Why didn't He create other people to occupy Himself with? The planets don't really need His control since they're just floating around out there. Why just us? What about the rest of the universe? What's the point of it?
I thought that this was an interesting question, here was my feeble attempt at a response:
C.S. Lewis actually tackles this somewhere when he asks a question in response to the "huge universe" question. Would the atheist prefer a small universe where nothing else existed but our galaxy? Would that actually change anything about God, prove or disprove his existence, or help us to understand our purpose any better? In some ways I think that this helps to put the question in its proper place. There's no universe/created order that would definitely/definitively prove or dis-prove anything about God or his existence.
Given that there is a huge, created universe, I think that there's a couple responses:
1. Random change explaining all of this is still a long, long, long shot. That something like humanity was bound to happen somewhere eventually is just not mathematically sound reasoning. That's like saying if I leave my office a complete disaster that eventually it's bound to tidy itself up somehow if I just leave it alone long enough. Multiply my office by a couple billion, still not a good chance that any of those billion offices are going to organize themselves into something intelligible. There's no governing principle or energy or intelligence to organize my office apart from something entering into the raw material and helping to make it happen.
2. I think that Scripture talks about creation pointing to God's character again and again...and I think that this is at least in part why the cosmos is so big; why the details are so infinitely incredible. Go to your local swamp and take a small sample and it's teeming with life. Bust out a map of the universe and the stars and black holes and how big and massive all of it is--all of this is meant to scream out to us that God exists, that there's design here, that it's been done on purpose. God is infinite. It's like he's taken a cheese-slicer and run it across his character: we get something of the variety and diversity of his creative power, just a taste, but we don't get the infinite-ness of his depth--it decomposes, things die, it doesn't last forever. I would argue that the vastness of all of this and the fact that it all hangs together at all is proof in the opposite direction from your atheist friend: random-ness just can't possibly account for all of it.
3. God has clearly ordered some things so that they run to some extent on their own--he creates the laws of physics and gravity and such. But those things are held together in him. Colossians 1 talks about all things holding together/consisting in Jesus. I think of it like all the cosmos
being gathered up in a tennis ball and that ball fully submerged in an infinite bowl of water. If at any point that ball ceased to be under water, it would simply cease to exist. Every moment, every breath, all of it is being propped up by Jesus, the Living Word through whom all things were created and in whom all things hold together.
4. Who knows about life on other planets and whether or not they are fallen and whether or not God has acted in a similar way as he has here on earth? Perhaps one day we will meet more of God's creation and discover that they, too, have a story of redemption, of a God who comes to visit them and to make things right...and of course the atheists will find ways to explain
that away as well...
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
The prime sickness at my beloved campus is the idol of perfection. Someone once commented to me that at a campus like Dook just down the street from us, it’s okay to be super-nerdy as long as you’re super-intelligent. But at UNC, there’s not only the academic pressure (which is admittedly less than at a school like Dook) but there’s also the social-polish pressure to be put together.
What this creates is a culture where perfection is the goal. All attempts that fall short of that, however well-intentioned, just aren’t good enough. And, of course, that’s the catch with all attempts at perfectionism. It’s never enough, is it?
What this leads to for some folks is the frantic grasping for the un-attainable goal of perfection. Which, of course, means that many of my students are very, very busy. They’re involved in every possible club that they can join. They write honors theses. They play intramural sports. They go to formals and attend various Christian meetings.
If you are an important person living the Carolina Way, you are busy. To be un-busy is to be un-important. No one wants that.
Several years ago I read a book by one of my mentors, Eugene Peterson. In one particularly prophetic passage he wrote about his visceral reaction to a magazine called “The Busy Pastor.” Busy, he argued, was not and should not be the adjective of choice for any pastor. A pastor is to not only speak the words of the gospel to the culture, they are also to embody the words of the gospel. A part of that, he argued, was to live a counter-cultural life that battled fiercely against a culture that equates busyness with importance...often with tragic results.
So here’s the reality: I’m overly-busy right now. April is always a frantic wind up to the end. We’re three weeks out from wrapping up another school year—my third at UNC, my twelfth on InterVarsity staff overall. And I want to spend these last weeks meeting up with students and wrapping things up. But it’s hard and time is getting short. I want to be available and accessible for important conversations that need to be had. But the preamble to many requests to meet goes something like, “I know you’re really busy but I was wondering if…”
Busy is not the adjective I want to describe my life. It does right now. Maybe I just have to be okay with setting up shop in the land of “busy” for a season…I just hope I don’t end up living here.
Monday, April 07, 2008
Clearly, I'm no basketball coach. And I'm not saying that I could have navigated the game better than Roy Williams did on Saturday night. But seriously, at some point during a 25-2 run don't you call a time-out and try to stop the carnage?
A couple of months ago I was talking with a couple at church who are in the small group Bible study that meets in our house. They are from Kansas and were letting me in on the deep emotional pain and baggage they have after coach Roy Williams jilted them to come back to Carolina. Ergo, they hate all things UNC. Especially, of course, the basketball team.
"How do you Kansas-ins feel about the other really flat States around you...say, Nebraska?" I asked, "Do you hate them too or do all of you wheat-growing States pretty much stick together."
"Yeah," said Paul, " we pretty much stick together."
So on behalf of all of us here in a dreary Chapel Hill to all of you wheat-growing States out there, congrats on a good win and best of luck tonight against Memphis.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
But there’s this tricky thing that goes on sometimes in Christian sub-culture: we place a high value on family.
There’s Focus on the Family and lots and lots of other Christian ministries that really push and fight for legislation and develop studies and books and Bible studies on the importance of families. This is a good thing. Families are good things and God has given us the family as a blessing.
In fact, if you’ve been around for a while, you know that I show a picture of my family just about every time I speak—here’s a recent pic of my great kids! I show pictures of my family because they matter to me more than anything else in the world.
But here’s the flip side of that and a danger that I want to avoid. The danger of me showing pictures of my great kids and family is that it somehow sends the message that this is the model of what a Christian life should look like.
The danger is that you might see this and think that this is the goal of the Christian life—to have a marriage and 2.5 kids that all have big round faces.
In other words, the message that you might be tempted to get is a Christianized or baptized version of the Jerry McGuire quote: You complete me, that these great little people and my beautiful wife complete me and that you need the same thing in your life or else you won’t be complete.
Let me say something here very clearly: I would die for my wife or my kids without even thinking twice about it.
But this is not the goal of the Christian life. The last thing that I want to do in showing pictures of my family is to re-create the myth that anything here on earth can complete you or me.
My completion is found in Christ. Your completion is found in Christ. This is the goal of the Christian life: single, married, kids, whatever. For some of you, you will never be married or maybe married but not have kids. If this is the life that God has for you than any grasping for anything else would not give you life but only lead to death.And as much as I love my family, they do not make me whole, only God can do that. If I put the pressure on them to make me whole, I start to use them instead of love them.
If you have this internal voice that says apart from a relationship you will never be whole, you will use people instead of love them. Here's the good news: we are in the process of having Christ work out his completion in us. We don't have to use one another in order to be whole.
Let's move forward with fresh freedom and joy into God-honoring cross-gender relationships, to know one another as image-bearers, that we might have a fuller understanding of who God is and might serve and bless one another with the grace of Christ.
Last week was Ladies' Night, Men's Night is in a couple of weekends. I was given the opportunity to do a brief "opening statement" (shorter than a talk!) as a part of the night. As it got closer I was getting more and more info from students saying that there was a bit more of a divide between the genders than we would like. So I took the opportunity to call us to be more intentional in community in the context of the reality that Jesus has anchored us in himself so that we might be freed up to serve one another....even cross-gender:
Blast from the past: how many of you have seen the movie “Jerry McGuire?” on cable somewhere every weekend for like five years, hopefully at some point you caught it.
Two very famous lines in that movie that got caught up in pop culture: the first was from Cuba Gooding Jr--what was it? “Show me the money!” And the second was actually signed in the movie by a deaf couple and then later repeated by Tom Cruise’s character what was it? “You complete me.”
My friends, here’s the good news: this is a myth. It is one of the myths that our culture circulate around about our romantic relationships and what we discover is that it is a big, fat, lie. No one can complete us. When we go into a relationship with the expectation that someone else can complete us, we put that person in the place of God and the only possible result is that we are always deeply, deeply disappointed.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been taught by our Lord that there is only one who can complete us, and it is not anyone here on earth. We have been made for relationships, yes, and romantic relationships are a part of that.
But our relationship with our Good Father in Heaven through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is what brings the completeness that we are longing for.
What this does for us my friends is that it frees us to be in relationships across gender lines with one another in complete freedom—you’re not looking to use someone to complete you, God has already done that. And if God has completed you, then you are free to not use someone else to get your needs met but instead you are freed up to serve someone else, to consider their needs as more important than yours
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Of course, Pharaoh responds exactly as God said he would: who is the LORD and why should I let you go? He then orders the slave drivers to make the Israelites make the same quota of bricks as before, only without giving them the straw to make the aforementioned bricks.
The people (who were initially thrilled about Moses' report that God had heard their cries) get angry at Moses and tell him to take a flying leap if this is what his return is going to mean for them. Moses goes to God and asks "what's up?" And God says that deliverance is still coming.
It strikes me as I read this story this morning that often what I think should happen as a result of my obedience and what actually does happen as a result of my obedience are two different things. I think obedience should equal "smooth." I do as God asks of me and people like me, the work goes forward, my kids sleep through the night without waking me up, and my NCAA basketball brackets come up golden.
Instead, sometimes obedience leads me to places of trying to make bricks without straw. I am forced to work harder, to be in places or relationships that are more strained, not less, I am pressed to a new breaking point, I am pushed to fresh places of consternation or temptation or even despair.
I think it's hardest to believe that deliverance is coming when we've taken a step of obedience in the face of obstacles and challenges and in return all we get is more obstacles and challenges. Apart from at least a taste of instant gratification, it's hard for me to wait for the full deliverance of the Lord.
It's the waiting in the times of difficulty and trial that is often the hardest part.