What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


July 31st in campus-ministry world means one thing: total chaos is about to descend on my hitherto summer-time feel of a placid and settled life.

My days recently are full of e-mails and details and planning and imagining and trying to remember to pray as I do all of it. It's all about multi-tasking and juggling and keeping plates spinning and trying real hard to not let things drop.

Today, in the midst of all of that, I blocked off the whole day to re-work my chapter that I'm contributing to the new Small Group Leader's Handbook that should be out by Christmas, 2009. My re-write isn't due for a couple more weeks but I know that once things get started on campus my life will be campus events and fighting to keep family time carved out. Not much room for hand-wringing over verb tenses.

There's a funny thing that happened as I approached today: I was really dreading it. When I'm in multi-tasker mode, the thought of slowing down to actually focus on any one thing for longer than 30 seconds feels really hard.

But a funny thing happened as I sat down and went to work. I really, really enjoyed it. What a tremendous thing to actually sit down and focus on one thing for longer than 30 seconds!

I wonder if there's some broader application to how we think in a high-speed world and how we are teaching students to think in a multi-tasking, multi-media world. The long, hard work of thinking deeply about anything is not something that seems to be valued. Or maybe I'm just hanging out in all the wrong circles.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Average price of a package of diapers: $16

Estimated number of packages used each month over the past 30 months: 1.75

Estimated hours spent in Time Out: 6

Estimated hours of sleep lost over the past 30 months: 700

Having my little girl snuggle up next to me to read (well, recite) her favorite book as we get ready for bed: priceless.

Monday, July 28, 2008


"So are you an optimist about human nature or a pessimist?"

This question was posed to me last week at the beach by Kelly's cousin Lisa as we were with Kelly's extended family. This annual family gathering at the beach is always a high point in my year because there are always at least one or two really thoughtful discussions with people who at all kinds of different places spiritually. Lisa, in particular, is good for at least one really good conversation.

The question has stuck with me over the past couple days. Am I an optimist or pessimist about human nature?

I told Lisa (and I think that I still stand by this) that I'm an optimistic pessimist. I think people, left to their own devices, will always be a mixed bag of some good and some bad. I think that people, innately, are broken--sin corrupts all of our motives and relationships with one another, with power, with money, with the environment, all of it.

But I'm optimistic in that I believe that redemption, hope, transformation, change is all possible. And I believe that people are capable of much beauty and love and generosity and power used rightly. I believe that by God's grace this can happen fitfully and in fragments even apart from the power of Christ. But I believe that this happens most fully and only finally and ultimately by the power of Christ, through his Spirit.

And so in the end, I end up being an optimist. In Jesus Christ's resurrection, death has already been defeated. The battle has already been won. My new, fully redeemed name is already written. Death and my own sins and the sins done against me do not have the last word. God does. Hope does. Hope wins.

There's some optimistic pessimism for you.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beach Reading

So I don't like reading fiction. My wife gently mocks me for this.

On our honeymoon at a bed and breakfast on the coast of Florida, she's reading normal beach books (think more "Kite Runner" than "Trashy Romance Novels") and I'm reading a pastoral theology book (I think I was in my John Piper "Future Grace" phase at that point). I like to say that ideas interest and motivate me. Some might say that I'm just a nerd. Tomato, tomato.

But this past week I felt the need to really unplug, so I took a couple of fiction books with me. After trying one new book and not liking it all that much, I returned to an old friend: C.S. Lewis' "Till We Have Faces."

I first read "Till We Have Faces" about six years ago. I didn't really "get it" until the wow moment about 3/4 of the way through the book, and then I realized I had probably missed a whole lot along the way. Re-reading it this time around, I was mesmerized. It isn't often that I get caught up in a book the way I was for a couple days last week. It was glorious.

"Faces" was C.S. Lewis' own favorite out of all of his works--and if you know his stuff at all, you can see why. The story that he crafts brings together so many of his passions and gifts: holy imagination, theology, psychology; there's wit and doubt and struggle and pride and intriguing characters and all of it is wrapped up in a well-told story. If you've got any recreational reading time ahead, I'd highly recommend it. Then re-read it when you get done. It's worth it to really get it.

Of course, after I finished with "Faces" I regressed in my fiction-reading-therapy program and picked up a rather ambitious tome: "The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition." 452 pages. Some of the pages are half footnotes. I'm off to a good start. We'll see how far I get before the school year starts.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

i was going to blog today...

but i'm at the beach with my family and I decided to take a nap instead.

talk to ya'll when I get back

Friday, July 18, 2008

Redeeming Facebook

So I like Facebook. Except when people think that Facebook friends are real friends. They're not. Unless you actually spend time with them. Some of my students are very bewildered by this.

But we're putting Facebook to good use around here this summer, and I wanted to pub a couple things real quick.

First, if you're a UNC-InterVarsity alum, we just started a new Facebook group to try to help folks re-connect: UNC Alums in IV. Check it out if you're a Tar Heel IV alum.

Secondly, we're getting the word out about InterVarsity at UNC for incoming high schoolers. If you or someone you know is coming to UNC next fall (or if your youth pastor or local Young Life staff know someone who's coming), pass along the InterVarsity New Student Welcome Facebook Event.

You need a Facebook account to access both of those sites.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Forgiving Davis

Our four and a half year old son Davis is eager to please, earnest, and very, very emotionally intense.

The other day he hit his little sister Zoe. A common occurrence around these parts, but one that requires a time-out nonetheless. Time-out for Davis is less an exercise in personal reflection than it is an opportunity to verbally work out his conflicted inner-world of anger, shame, and desire to make amends.

After the time-out was over, we debriefed why he was in timeout and then he apologized to Zoe for clobbering her in the head. Issue settled.

Only not for Davis. Fifteen minutes later he was still apologizing. Zoe had forgiven him, I had moved on, but Davis couldn't forgive himself.

"Son," I said sitting down next to him in the midst of a string of continuing apologies, "Zoe's forgiven you, God's forgiven you, and I've forgiven you. Sometimes we have to learn how to forgive ourselves. It's okay, son. You don't have to feel bad any more. You're forgiven."

Davis doesn't always track with those types of conversations. But he was completely dialed into those five sentences. And afterwards, he seemed to settle down and move on.

This won't be the last time I probably have to have that conversation with him. But I hope and pray that Davis might learn the power of forgiveness and so be free to not live under the joy-killing power of guilt and shame. It's a journey that lots of grown-ups and almost-grown-ups are still working on.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


A number of years ago I was reading the Christmas story and I was struck that Caesar was a counter. He calls for a census that sends Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Perhaps there were good reasons for the census, but it seems to me that at least part of the reason was sheer pride. Caesar liked knowing how big Caesar's empire was, because it made Caesar feel good about Caesar's self. Caesar was a counter.

Several pages to the left of that account we meet Abram/Abraham in Genesis. God speaks a tremendous promise to this man--he will have not just a child in his old age but through him all the people's of the world will be blessed. God invites him to step outside and count the stars. That's how your offspring shall be. God invited Abram/Abraham to be a counter.

What makes one counting holy and one counting deplorable is more about motive than it is about the counting itself. Caesar's counting is about self-aggrandizement. Abraham probably doesn't actually count the stars, but he is invited to allow his imagination run wild at the prospects of a nation so great that it is literally un-countable.

Abraham's "counting" is done in awe and wonder and it gives glory to God. Caesar's counting is about grasping and gloating and it gives glory to Caesar.

Here, I think, might be a piece to thinking about what it means to grow well. And I don't think that this is simply applicable to a ministry context. What if business folks, students, parents, teachers thought about the fruits of their labors the same way? In every context we are at various points invited or forced to do some evaluation and critique. This can be done in awe and wonder or it can be done with the hidden motive of propping up the "self" that is doing the counting. Such counting is idolatrous and destructive. To count in awe and wonder is life-giving.

Just ask Abraham.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Theology of Growth

Part of my travels last week involved a five-day think-tank experience with InterVarsity nationally thinking about how individual IV chapters on campuses grow.

In some parts of Christianity, "growth" is the goal--bigger and better is what it's all about. In InterVarsity culture, on the other hand, there has historically been skepticism surrounding growth.

We have over 750 chapters across the nation. Of those 750 chapters, 355 of them are smaller than 30. Some of those are un-staffed chapters. But many of them have IV staff that are either content with a smaller community or have no idea what to do to help grow their community.

One critical piece that we kept coming back to was that we needed a healthy, Biblical foundation for thinking well about growth. We need a theology of growth especially since in IV circles we're well aware that there are bad reasons to pursue growth (self-aggrandizement, for example).

But there are also good reasons, deeply Biblical reasons to pursue growth. It starts with the call of Abraham--look at the stars and count! That's how many your offspring will be! And it continues throughout the Old Testament and the prophetic tradition that calls Israel to be a light to all the surrounding nations. Jesus, of course, picks this up as well: a crop that bears fruit 60, 80, 100 times; the kingdom of heaven is like a tree where all the birds of the air find rest.

Healthy things grow. Growth in and of itself is not an indicator of health (see Joel Osteen). But the absence of growth is a good indicator that something is not functioning as vibrantly and Biblically as it could...or should.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


After being on the road for the past week, today I was reunited with my wife and kids.

Nothing says happiness for me right now more than my four-year-old and two-year-old squealing with delight as they run up to me in the airport and giving me long, snotty hugs...except for maybe the follow-up embrace of my wife.

It's good to be home.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

New Word

I'm working this week with a group of writers to re-write the old IVP classic, the Small Group Leader's Handbook. In the process of working with this great group of folks, one of the writers coined a new term that I think demands instant English circulation.

Dooficity: the personal ownership and exercise of internal doofus-ness. Ex: "I was kicking myself for my dooficity in forgetting to pack my swim trunks for the trip to Water World."

Look for the actual usage of "dooficity" in the new version of the Small Group Leader's Handbook due out a year from December!

Monday, July 07, 2008


One last post about "Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance" and then I'm done, I promise.

So one of the premises of the book is that as we struggle with self-acceptance, we create an idealized self. This self is an impossible, super-sized version of ourselves. Of course, we can't live up to this--or only in the rarest moments. So we are alternately full of ourselves and hard on ourselves, depending on our performance that day.

What strikes me about this notion of the idealized self is this deep, hard-wired desire that all of us have to have a new name. We long to be something more than we are. We want a new name and so we create one for ourselves.

What the Lord offers us is a new name. Our true name, the real us. But rather than accept that offer, we prefer to try to work it out on our own, to establish our own name on our own terms for our own sake. We are attempting to redeem ourselves rather than accept the gift of redemption being offered to us from the outside.

This, I suspect, is the cause of most of the misery in our world.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Pride and Self-Contempt

It's this internal supposition of perfection that I talked about yesterday that Cooper proposes is the link between pride and self-contempt.

I (speaking strictly hypothetically here, of course...I never actually struggle with any of these things myself) might be struggling mightily in my daily life with low self-worth. I kick myself for my flaws that seem so glaring to me. I rehearse over and over again the things that I don't like about myself: my social awkwardness, my innate lack of intelligence, my physical appearance, and on and on.

But lurking beneath those voices of self-contempt is a pride system. Namely, that I should be nearly flawless in those areas. If I hate my social awkwardness, it belies that my assumption is that I should be socially flawless. If I hate how dumb I am (or how dumb I appear to be to me and those who have been kind enough to point out my stupidity) it belies that my internal standard is that I would be perfectly intelligent--perhaps in every area.

Cooper points out that the root word of arrogance is arrogate, which means to ascribe to oneself qualities that one does not have. This, he says, is the issue with our areas of self-contempt. We create an idealized self (see my post from last week about this) that torments us by ascribing to ourselves qualities of perfection that we do not have. We take perhaps root qualities or abilities that we do have and blow them up exponentially. We then kick ourselves for not living up to that impossible internal bar of perfection.

In effect, we fail to allow ourselves to be human. We cannot stand ourselves because we cannot live up to the idealized self that we have created in our own imaginations as a tool to navigate our own shortcomings. A complex pride system is at the root of our self-hatred. Both of which must be dealt with, repented of, or they will torment us our whole lives

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Very soon I will be in a series of meetings where I will be tempted to all sorts of comparison, insecurity, pride, self-doubt, and attempts to prove myself among my peers and those who are higher up the food-chain than I am. As I've considered this over the past week or two, I've been giving a little more thought and prayer than usual to the underlying issues in my heart.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged on a book called Sin, Pride, and Self Acceptance. A book that's doing so much good work in my soul, I'm re-re-reading it. As one might expect, the author (Terry Cooper) talks a good bit about this issue.

The essential problem in our insecurity as it plays out in comparing ourselves to others, as Cooper sees it, is an underlying, un-spoken, pre-supposition. Namely, that I should be better than other people. This is true whether our comparison comes up "positive" (i.e. we compare and find ourselves coming out favorably, thus feeding our pride) or if our comparison comes up "negative" (i.e. we find ourselves lacking in comparison to others).

Either way, the fundamental, fatal flaw is the internal standard that we have that we ought to be better than other people. If we didn't have that expectation, we would not be so elated when it turned out to be true or so deeply crushed when it turned out to be false.

Consider how differently we would interact with people if we entered into a social or work or academic situation where we simply assumed that I would be me and they will be them and each of us will bring different things to the table. That is, imagine how differently our lives would be if we would allow others to simply be real people and allow ourselves to simply be a real person: warts and all.

Apart from the supposition that I'm supposed to somehow be superior to others I'd be much more free to enjoy the gifts that they bring to a situation and be much more settled in my own skin. The whole comparison game is rendered moot. Imagine being free to not even bother to break out the scale of my gifts/experiences/winsomeness/charm/wisdom/leadership/whatever abilities v. yours!

That's what I'm hoping I can do during these meetings. I'll let you know how it goes.