Monday, June 30, 2008
Amen, Davis, that is our hope. One day the bad guys, even and especially inside of me, will all just be distant, faint memories, like a dream vaguely remembered. Come, Lord Jesus...
For another sweet kid moment, check out Kelly's post on a mommy blog that she contributes to.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Marriage has easily been one of the hardest things either one of us has ever done. That's not true for everyone,l but it has certainly been true for us. When people ask us what the most difficult parts have been, we often say (only partially joking) the first five and a half years.
But here we are, ten years in, and our marriage and our family is full of joy, grace and love. That we have made it through those hard times and come out on the other side with gladness in our hearts (and not bitterness) is a testimony to God's grace and power.
I love my wife. She is a tremendous human being, friend, wife, and mother; she is so amazingly gifted and talented in so many things that it is hard for her to settle in and figure out what her one thing will ultimately be. Right now, she graciously and lovingly "condescends" (in the classical use of the word, meaning to lower or submit oneself to another) to spend her days with three tremendous and often patience-testing kids.
Happy anniversary, to my wonderful wife. Thanks for living out "turning towards me and not away in difficulty and in hardship as long as we both shall live" (part of our vows we made together as idealistic and crazy 24-year-olds) for these past ten years.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I was talking with a good friend on Saturday about reading Exodus and the law. He asked me if I ever cynically wondered if Moses just made it all up.
I told him that I didn't think Moses made it up--it seemed too weird for one person to make up. What I do struggle with is this: I've got some questions that feel pretty important. There are issues in our world and culture that I wish the Scriptures spoke more concretely to, more clearly about. And instead I've got...regulations regarding intentional and un-intentional bull gorings?
But here's the deal: if I'm going to follow this God, he gets to make the rules, not me. If my most pressing questions are not the ones addressed in Scripture, then maybe what's gone wrong is not the Scriptures but my questions. Maybe I need to relax, take a step back from the tyranny of what feels urgent in my times, and allow the bigger, more timeless picture of God's priorities speak into the chaos of today--which will be different than the chaos of tomorrow.
I was reading a book by N.T. Wright yesterday, Evil and the Justice of God. His argument is that the Scriptures don't explain where evil comes from or why it exists. Instead, the Scriptures are the story of what God is doing about evil. And throughout the Scriptures, it's clear that God acts decisively to limit evil and remove the curse supremely in Christ but secondarily through his people. One man Abraham to the nation of Israel to the person of Christ to the Church.
So what's God saying about the larger problem of evil in the midst of accidental bull goring regulations? That he's going to create a people who will be his people, his agents, his light to the nations. He is committed to dealing with each and every generations' sins and brokenness and disasters and politics through a living, breathing, holy, faithful community of people.
And to a group of run-away slaves who have never known anything but slavery--over 400 years in Egypt as a slave-people, think about how much has happened in our history since 1600--God is helping them to live as a community, as a real nation. He is shaping and forming a people who will give birth to the Savior, who will change the world, conquer sin and death once and for all, unlock the way back to the Father, bring us home.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Drawing heavily on the work of early 20th century psychologist Karen Horney, Cooper proposes that pride and issues of self-hatred are really one in the same. This might sound a little psycho-speak, but stick with it and see if it makes sense.
The "self" pretty early on has a great deal of anxiety: whether that be inter-personal (i.e. with family members, peers, other relationships) or intra-personal (i.e. the basic reality that we are human, don't always do what we should, that we sometimes just don't like ourselves, the realization of death and the reality that our life is made or broken by our decisions).
Interpersonally, we try to find ways to reduce that anxiety. Horney identifies three ways: moving against others (the self-expansive, traditional pride solution), moving towards others (the self-effacing, co-dependent solution), and the moving away from others (the self-resignation, retreat solution).
The important things about all three of these movements is that they each block the possibility of genuine relationship with another. The other important thing in all three is that are each egocentric, that is, "always egocentric in the sense of being wrapped up in himself."
Intrapersonally (within our own understanding of ourselves), we also have anxiety. The way that we cope with that is by creating in our imaginations our "idealized selves." The idealized self is an image of ourselves whereby we take all of our own understandings of our best qualities of ourselves and blow those up exponentially. It's us, super-human, performing perfectly. Here's how Horney explains this:
"A person builds up an idealized image of himself because he cannot tolerate himself as he actually is. The image counteracts this calamity; but having placed himself on a pedestal, he can tolerate his real self still less and starts to rage against it, to despise himself and chafe under the yoke of his own unattainable demands upon himself. He wavers then between self-adoration and self-contempt, between his idealized imgae and his despised image, with no solid middle ground to fall on."
Friday, June 20, 2008
Say someone is rampantly sexually active, immoral, using people and tossing them away like a sneezed-in Kleenex. Is that person operating out of an essentially prideful and arrogance self-assertion? Is the sexual exploitation an arrogant extension and self-aggrandizing? Or is that person essentially operating out of fear, hiding, brokenness? Is that person running and hiding because they are afraid of dealing with the real "them?"
What if we changed the sin to an eating disorder? Or alcohol addiction? Does gender have anything to do with how we might answer these questions differently?
These are the questions probed in the book that I'm about half-way through called Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance by Terry D. Cooper. He traces the theological and psychological development of the centrality of pride as the fundamental human flaw through Augustine and Niebuhr, with an occasional nod towards Freud. It's not often that you see Freud and Augustine on the same side of a debate, so take a moment to savor that one.
He then discusses feminist theologian critiques of the "pride is the root of all sin" tradition (which I just finished reading)--which is really thoughtful in engaging the issues of how socially-constructed gender roles affect the root-source of our sin issues. These theologians argue that women's sin is basically the sin of deference, not pride. Women have traditionally allowed themselves to be subsumed by fear, to lose themselves in relationships rather than find themselves in relationships.
Terry then launches into a fairly charitable Christian critique of the humanistic psychological tradition that developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. This critique said that lack of love for self, quite the opposite of pride, was the root of all evil. Pride is simply a mask for hurt. Acting out in sin is caused by the wounds we receive throughout our lives. What we need to do is peel back the layers of hurt and embrace our inner-child. The "natural self" is then freed up, actualized, and we are able to serve and love and bless others rather than exploit them.
I think in the end, Terry will bring both of these threads together and argue that they're really just two sides of the same coin. But I haven't gotten that far yet.
In the mean time, if you're interested in thinking about why we sin, what we need to actualy repent of--and how to call others to do the same--this is definitely a book worth cracking open.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
At one point the pastor talked about the sin of passivity in men. This struck her as slightly off. "What about Jesus," she offered, "wasn't he passive in going to the cross?"
This has been rolling around in my head for a couple of days and the more I think about it, the more I think I agree with her pastor. Passivity is a core sin of men. And the more I think about it, no, Jesus wasn't passive in going to the cross.
All four gospel writers record Jesus talking about his imminent death. And Jesus is adamant about one thing: "No one takes my life from me." Jesus is going to die on purpose. It is not outside of his control. He is not passive.
Jesus is submissive. He submits to the will of the Father: "would that this cup would pass from me...but not my will but yours be done."
There is a huge difference between passivity and submission. Submission is a deliberate act of power--giving over power for a greater good, a greater purpose. Passivity is limp, apathetic, silent when speaking is required, weak when strength is required. Submission is strength serving the thing greater than itself. It is anything but weak. It is anything but apathetic.
Submission is subversive to all the ways that our fallen world understands power yet upright before both God and people. It is power put to proper use. It is power taking a back seat to relationships. Submission is clear-eyed, determined, long-suffering, on-purpose, to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes. Submission is strength properly exercised.
When Christ calls us, he calls us to come and to die. He calls us to be submitted to his Lordship. We are called to take all our strength and to put it under his authority in order to discover its right and proper use.
All of us, men especially, have a hard time doing this. And so men tend to either exercise power in domineering ways or run from the use of power in passive ways. But Christ calls us to follow his lead in submitting to the Father...and all of this so that we might have life.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
So it is interesting to note that Jesus, who in abridged form is quite popular with the non-church crowd, was not anti-institutional. Jesus said, "Follow me," and then regularly led his followers into the two primary religious institutional structures of his day: the synagogue and the temple. Neither institution was without its inadequacies, faults, and failures. The temple especially was shot through with corruption, venality, injustice, discrimination.
The temple was immense and beautiful. Jesus didn't seem to be impressed. All the same he didn't boycott the place. He didn't avoid either synagogue or temple. He regularly joined the prayers of in the small-town synagogues scattered around Galilee. He made regular pilgrimages with thousands of his countrymen at the appointed times of festival worship to the Jerusalem temple.
Those who followed Jesus, followed him into those buildings, those religious institutions. After his ascension they continued to frequent both temple and synagogue. Given the stories that the four Gospel writers have written for us, it doesn't seem likely that, if Jesus showed up today and we were invited to follow him, we would find ourselves taking a Sunday morning stroll out of the city: away from asphalted parking lots, away from church buildings filled with people more interested in gossip than gospel.
We sometimes say, thoughtlessly I think, that the church is not a building. It's people. I'm not so sure. Synagogue and temples, cathedrals, chapels, and storefront meeting halls provide continuity in a place and community for Jesus to work his will among people. Following Jesus means following him into sacred buildings that have a lot of sinners in them, some of them very conspicuous sinners. Jesus doesn't seem to mind.
A spirituality that has no institutional structure or support very soon becomes self-indulgent and subjective and one-generational.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I was talking with a guy who was wrestling with his faith and doubting just about everything. He was particularly struggling with the fact that he grew up a Christian. Had he been socialized into Christianity or was it genuinely his?
"I think I'd be able to talk much more effectively to other people if I had a different type of experience, maybe if I tried some other things for a while. I think that I'd be more settled in it myself as well."
Doing ministry among dis-illusioned Bible-belt college students, I have this conversation a lot.
"I agree that people's stories that have a variety of experiences and in the end come to Christ have a certain compelling-ness to them," I said. "But I don't think that you have to explore every other possible alternative before you can settle in on the truth. That'd be impossible, you can't explore every alternative. It is possible to know what is right without experiencing alternatives. I don't have try to get 2+2 to equal 3, 5, 9, and 12 to know and come to a confident conclusion that it equals 4."
"So it might be that you need to do some exploration before you can firmly believe that your faith is your own. But do not be so quick to assume that it's a foregone conclusion that the only possible way that you can know that Christianity is real is by shelving it for a season and trying a bunch of other options. That might be what you need to do. But it might not."
"And besides," I continued, "here's the good news about your boring testimony: you've never known a day where you didn't know that God loved you. You've always had some sense of God's love and watch care over you. Your whole life. Every day. That's how it was before everything went wrong. That's how it was intended to be."
This is good news for all of us who have "boring" testimonies of God's work in our lives: we don't have to experience darkness to know the light. We don't have to play the prodigal and run away to love the rich blessings of life at home. We don't have to first-hand experience lost-ness, the wages of sin, the let-down of living in the false promises of our culture and the soul-destruction of life according the ways of the Land of the Ruins to know that we are living in reality.
Here's how we know this is true: this is how Jesus lived. Jesus had the ultimate boring testimony. He never sinned, yet no one knew better the destructive power of sin. He lived in contact with the Father always and perfectly. And because of this, no one knew better than he did how messed up the "alternatives" were...no one spoke more deliberately, passionately and recklessly about the deceitfulness of sin.
Finally, he gave his life for people who lived in the darkness of sin that he himself never once experienced, in order that we who are born in sin might not have to live there any longer. Those of us who have been spared a more tangible experience of this because we were blessed to live in homes that brought us up into faith are invited to lean into the blessing and not curse it.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Whatever else it might mean, I'm sure it means that I'm really, really humble.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
As we brought down the invasive, aggressive trees down, Keith walked around with a large bottle and a paint brush. He painted each tree stump with a thick layer of herbicide.
"If we don't kill the roots," he said, "in a couple weeks we'll have five new shoots of the tree going back up. All that energy is focused back down on the roots and it re-generates very, very quickly."
It made me think of my own walk with the Lord. How much of my repentance is really just behavior modification? How often do I see my sin and just try to cut down the outward action...and leave the root, heart issue un-touched? How does that set me up for failure on down the road?
In thinking about this whole behavior modification v. heart change issue, it leads me to some interesting tensions. On the one hand, clearly the Lord talks about the essential nature of the internal world and the need for a renovation of the heart.
But on the other hand, sometimes I just need to stop sinning. Sometimes it's not clear what the root, heart issue is, and I just need to stop doing something or start doing something that I'm avoiding. I could psycho-analyze my sin to death. But really, as long as I'm sinning I'm continuing to walk in death, in the darkness.
So there's value in the "cutting off" of the sinful behavior, even the ultimate goal is that my heart would be changed. It would seem here again that there's power in embracing the "both/and" rather than the "either/or." As much as possible, I desire to have sin up-rooted and destroyed from before it would corrupt and destroy me. But sometimes I don't know what the root is. Sometimes I don't know what that up-rooting would look like.
So I need to ask the Lord to show me how my heart needs to be changed. But in the mean time I need to do what I know to do: cut down the sin...and ask for the Lord to do the work of spreading the herbicide on the invasive, aggressive plant that would do damage to my soul.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
*I think about Keith's deep disdain for these trees. He hated them because he grew up on that farm, he knew the land, and he knew the beauty that was once there and should be there still. Keith was jealous for the land to display its' proper beauty.
Thinking on this has sparked fresh perspective on God's jealousy. Scriptures say that God is jealous for the people whom he created. Jealousy is not a very admirable quality in most of us humans. But to think about Keith's jealousy for his land sheds some sweet light on the gloriously loving jealousy God has for us.
*The difference between Keith's perspective on the land as the land-owner and my perspective on the land as someone who was just there to work for the day and was worried about my own well-being (like heat-stroke, among other ailments) also has continued to linger in my imagination.
Jesus tells a parable in John 10 where he differentiates between the Good Shepherd and the hired hand. The Good Shepherd knows the sheep, loves the sheep, calls the sheep by name and they follow him. Ultimately, Jesus says, the Good Shepherd lays his life down for the sheep. The hired hand, however, is just that--a hired hand. They don't have the same love for the sheep. And so when trouble comes they flee.
Same sheep/same land, different people, different perspectives. One perspective is deeply invested in the sheep/land, the other perspective views the sheep/land purely functionally and ultimately has self-interest at heart.
It makes me wonder how I would approach my work as a campus minister differently if I had the same heart as the Good Shepherd for the sheep, or that Keith has for his farm. How would I think about the 17,000 students at UNC differently? How would I think about the 350 in our chapter differently? How would it change the world if believers everywhere shared the Good Shepherd's heart for their neighborhoods, places of work, the schools where they sent their kids?
Monday, June 09, 2008
Time for true confessions: I generally hate manual labor, particularly outdoor work. I feel that this is speaks to some significant character defect. My parents certainly instilled in me the value and importance of good, sweaty work. I just never really enjoyed it. There's always approximately five hundred thousand other things that I think I'd rather be doing while I'm out there, doing whatever it is that I'm doing.
But this past Saturday, I sucked it up and I went. I was told that we would be chopping down trees. Sounded like splinters waiting to happen to me.
We arrived and got settled with lots of water and some Krispy Kreme donuts--which makes just about anything palatable--and then Keith (who owns the farm) led us out to the area that we were going to work.
Keith led us down a trail and to a place full of trees. Given the extraordinary heat of the day, I was glad for the shade. But these trees were invasive and aggressive trees, Keith said. They were parasites, destroying everything around them. Just about all of them had to be brought down in order for the habitat to be returned to it's normal, healthy, intended state.
Our different ways of seeing these trees struck me as significant. I didn't own the farm and didn't know what was supposed to be growing in this space. To me, all that mattered was a little shade on a hot day.
But to the one who was invested in this plot of land and who knew what was supposed to grow here and who loved this space, the trees, no matter what kind of temporary shade they might provide, were destructive. They had to go, even if there was short-term cost of us sweating a whole lot more that day as a result.
It would seem in my own life that I am glad for a little shade. If things are expedient, comfortable, and pleasant for me now, then I am not going to be terribly inclined to give them up.
But the Lord who owns me twice--both in his creation of me and his redemption of me--knows what's supposed to be in my life and what is not. He loves me. He knows what he created me for. And so sometimes he demands that things in my life that are providing me temporary comfort get chopped down so that other things might grow up instead.
This chopping-down is always painful--Jesus talked about the Father pruning us, which is a nice way for us to go ahead and mix this metaphor. Sacrifice, giving up, repenting, cutting off, clearing out, destroying, up-rooting...these processes are seldom easy.
But the Father, who's creation I am and who knows me and loves me more than I know and love myself, sees and knows. So this morning in my journal, I offered up the plot of land that is my soul. I invited the Father to cut down whatever needed cutting. Today, anyway, I trust that whatever he says needs to go, needs to go. I pray for the faith to continue to trust that, no matter what the cost, no matter what he says needs to go.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Interested parties must be fluent in all American dialects and variations on the word "no" (i.e. "no." or "no!" or "No." or "No!" or "NO." or "NO!" and the barbaric, richter-registering, prolonged shriek of pure agony).
Interested parties must also be familiar with all variations of general defiance (i.e. "I want to do it all by myself!" or "I want you to do it for me!" or "I don't like that idea!" or "I don't want [insert name of parent in the room] I want [insert name of other parent who is most likely feverishly trying to find some reasonable excuse to be as far away as possible], or "I don't want to do [insert whatever reasonably fun and enjoyable activity that was just recently proposed here, i.e. eating nothing but chocolate for dinner, staying up as late as she might want, or slugging her brother at will]).
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING WARNING: Occasionally this model may display moments of warm and endearing behavior such as using "please" or "thank you" without being asked, sharing generously with a sibling, cuddling up to a parent while reading on the couch, or giving an impromptu hug. Do not be alarmed. These behaviors are normal and they are very, repeat very, sure to pass quickly. In the event that these behaviors do not pass, returns would gladly be accepted.
Contact management if interested
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
As spiritual as that sounds, that is a false spirituality.
That view does not take seriously the call from Romans 12:8 that if we have a leadership gift we are to lead with all diligence. To lead with diligence of course includes and means being intentional about prayer and seeking the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and committing to him all the work that he’s given us to do.
But it also means being thoughtful and intentional and strategic and doing the absolute best work you can possibly do and getting the absolute best training you can possibly. The work that God has given us to do is too important to do anything less. Prayer and training are not mutually exclusive.
God’s kingdom is worth your best and the people entrusted to your leadership deserve your best.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Again, it's the wrong action and we'll talk more about that later.
But right now what I want to do is mark this important leadership principle here that I want you to consider: leaders have a bias towards action.
Here's one thing that's important about this bias for action: action separates leaders from critics.
See there’s plenty of folks in your fellowship that see problems and get upset about problems but have no impulse to be a part of the solution. Those people are called critics--on my good days I call them critics or analysts, on my bad days I just call them complainers.
Leaders and critics both share the ability to diagnose a problem and to be upset about it. What separates leaders from critics is that leaders have an impulse to be a part of the solution, this bias towards action to change the course of things
I have to remind myself all the time that we need critics operating in humility and love and grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to help shape our communities and point out where we need to grow. But that’s a different talk and that’s not why you’re in this room this morning
You’re in this room this morning because God has called you to lead next year and that means that you’re called to action .
.And honestly many of you in here may have been in the critic's camp to this point and for you to step into leadership is an important part of God’s work in you to move you past criticizing to actually participating in his work to bring change and transformation.
It is always easier to be a critic than it is to be a leader. Moses sees something is wrong and he acts on it. This impulse needs to be refined, but it is a good impulse. It shows us that he is hard-wired to lead and serve his people.
It is always easier to be a critic than it is to be a leader. Moses sees something is wrong and he acts on it. This impulse needs to be refined, but it is a good impulse. It shows us that he is hard-wired to lead and serve his people.
Monday, June 02, 2008
[At Rockbridge a couple of weeks ago I gave a talk during one of our “Leadership Summits” where we bring together students from two leadership tracks to talk about Biblical leadership. This year we worked through the first four chapters of Exodus, looking at how God shaped the early life of Moses to prepare him to lead.
My talk was from Exodus 2. The quick summary: Moses grows up, goes out, sees an Egyptian beating up a Hebrew slave (one of “his own people”), kills the Egyptian, flees to Midian, protects some women by fighting off some mean shepherds, settles down in Midian and raises a family.]
This is our first glimpse of Moses’ personality before he’s famous. What’s clear from the beginning is something that’s important for us to dial into as many of you are on the front end of exploring your leadership gifts: The places of Moses’ discontent reveal the places where he is to going to lead. In this case with Moses, he is a deliverer. He has deliverer’s instincts.
Now his instincts aren’t perfect and what he does is wrong, we’ll talk about that in a minute. But when Moses faced a situation that is unjust everything in him cries out with an anger and deep discontent that he acts on with a definitive passion to deliver the one who is being treated unfairly. Moses here is faced with two different situations where things are flat-out wrong, where injustice is occurring. And in all three situations, Moses feels this compulsion to act because he is deeply disturbed by the situation
My friends, this is an important first place for us to pause for a moment: when you look around at the church or your chapter or the world at large, what are the things that really bother you? Where are your places of discontent?
What are the things that when you see them or hear about them you just can’t stand it? Or conversely, what are the things that just sound so very, very good to you that when you hear about that thing happening it brings such joy and energy and life into your soul that you can’t hardly stand it?
How is God beginning to burden you for the things that are wrong in the world? These places of discontent are often the places where God would have us to step up and to lead, to serve, to make a difference. And we need to be attending to that discontent, paying attention to it, looking for opportunities to engage with it rather than just try to play through or ignore it.
Because it’s this action and movement that makes us leaders.