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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Star Wars on Betamax: Finding Our Place & Our Story

A decade ago, when the first Star Wars prequel was about to be released, I was about as amped as anyone that I knew. I had watched the oldest Star Wars on our family betamax (don't hate) at least fifty times, maybe one hundred. More Star Wars, more often, that's what I was saying.

And then, of course, they actually came out. And they were awful. And I went from "more Star Wars, more often" to "leave well enough alone."

There were many problems with it, of course. The story-line was terrible.

But one of the main problems was that they attempted to put supporting actors in main actors' roles. When you put supporting actors in main actors' roles, they simply cannot carry the story--even a good story. Perhaps especially a good story.

This is something like what happens with our own lives when we try to live as if we were the main actors. Our lives are meant to be a part of the Epic story, the story that's being written throughout the whole of the history of the cosmos.

When we try to live our lives as if we were the main actors instead of God, our lives ring hollow, they're fake, bare wisps and shadows of what was intended. Our lives become poor copycats of the grandeur and power and purpose that the Author intended.

Our work is to constantly be yielding the main actor role of our lives to the Lord. To follow his lead, rather than demand that it be the other way around. To walk in his story, rather than try to create our own.

The human catastrophe is that so many lives end up wasted, ruined, pointless because we demand that our lives be our own stories, with ourselves at the center. This is a recipe for a Star Wars, Episode 1 category of mistake.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Life or Productivity?

I'm with the kids today--living the crazy life for one day this week that my wife experiences most of the time. Museum this morning, rest time for the big kids, nap time for the little one, afternoon of playing, dinner, baths, bed.

In all of this, there's basically one hour (happening right now) where I get to decide what I want to do. Rest time for the big kids affords me sixty minutes of un-interrupted do whatever I want to time.

As this hour approached, I was calculating how much I could get done and all that needed to happen: a weekend and Monday morning's worth of e-mails un-answered, a bunch of other things that clamor for my attention.

In the midst of my rush of thoughts, my Bible and journal were on the table and the question arose: do I want to be productive or do I want to be holy?

Most days like today, the question doesn't even come up. Most days like today I just dive into my one hour of work like a frantic screaming banchee. So much to do! So little time to do it!

But the healthiest, most on-going result of my sabbatical this past school year was a fresh commitment to spending time with Jesus on a daily basis. Before anything else gets done, I spend time in Scripture and prayer.

Just now, that meant fifteen of my sixty went to journaling, reading the first part of Galatians 6, and praying for my family, the campus, and all the "stuff" that I typically do on a Monday office day, offering it to him.

The question of holiness v. productivity helped me to think more clearly about my priorities. I deeply believe that six months, a year, five years, ten years spent continually choosing wisdom, holiness, Jesus, and life over and above the tyranny of the urgent, the demands of stuff to do will make a difference in the quality of person that I'm becoming.

If I had spent those fifteen minutes answering e-mails, would I have even remembered that a week from now? How much of my best time and energies goes towards stuff that I don't even remember or really matter in the long run?

Of course, it's not always an either/or. But sometimes there is a clear decision to be made, a cost to choosing life.

Gotta' go, just thirty minutes left before the kids are released and I'm back on duty.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Poll: In Honor of the King of Pop

In the wake of yesterday's news about Michael Jackson, I think it's time to post a couple poll question that I've been sitting on for a while:

1. What was the first music that you remember distinctively being "yours"--a gift given to you, something you purchased, something your parents gave you, etc.

2. What was the first music that you remember deliberately purchasing? Or maybe, first purchases in different mediums (vinyl, tape, cd, mp-3)?

I'm posting this today in honor of Michael because, like most of us Gen X'ers, Michael Jackson's Thriller album was the first album I remember being mine. My parents got it for me circa fifth grade, I think as a reward for a good report card.

Along the way I got a number of albums on vinyl--Prince's Purple Rain, Tears for Fears Everybody Wants to Rule the World (anyone remember the song "Shout?"), and the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop.

But the music that I first remember deliberately purchasing was a tape, Van Halen's 1984 (Jump was a favorite song) And later on cd: Beastie Boys, License to Ill.

Funny how I obviously purchased my first mp-3 much more recently, but somehow making the purchase at the Itunes store just doesn't quite have the same memory staying-power as buying music at the music store.

Perhaps that's fodder for a post for another day.

Okay, so now it's your turn (although this will probably work better on Facebook than here): What was your first piece of music that you remember as being "yours." What were your first purchases in different mediums along the way?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Moving into Freedom From Guilt and Shame

All this is well and good. But how do we move beyond cognitively getting our minds around this (which for some of us is hard enough) but to actually inhabit this as reality, as the most true thing in the universe (which it is)?

A couple of thoughts:

1. The Spirit of God is not the Spirit of shame and guilt. God's Spirit is always the Spirit of faith, hope, and love who leads us into faith, hope, and love--even and especialy when disciplining us. This is foundational for how we relate to the voices in our heads.

2. The Spirit does bring conviction. Sometimes in our internal experience, it's hard to know if what we're feeling is genuine conviction or false shame and guilt.

If we've sinned, it is appropriate to feel guilt and shame--we are guilty and we have something to be ashamed of! The world in many ways would be a much worse place if no one ever experienced guilt or shame.

But the Spirit's goal in bringing conviction is always to lead us to repentance. The goal of the Spirit's "no" to us is to bring us to the "yes" of re-connection with God.

Therefore, if we have repented of our sin and the feelings of guilt or shame still linger, it's not the voice of the Lord we're hearing any longer. It may have been initially, but that work is done. We can confidently war against the guilt and shame at work in us after we've repented. Post-repentance, those voices (whether they were true convictionn initially or not) are not the servants of the Lord.

3. The process of forgiving ourselves (i.e. dealing with our guilt) is just that--a process. There have been times when I've been so angry with someone that I've needed God to help me to forgive them just 500 times that day. And by his grace, tomorrow it'll just be 450 times.

Similarly with us. Embracing forgiveness offered to us by the Father for ourselves might require that we fight for it, work for it, and remind ourselves 500 times today that we are forgiven. By God's grace, perhaps tomorrow it'll just be 450 times.

4. If guilt is focused on the past, shame is often focused on our present and future. Am I man or woman enough to deal with the present or future challenges? Do I have anything in me that is valuable or worthwhile?

The gospel says both "no" and "yes" to this question.

First, the no. In and of ourselves, we cannot do what is required of us, least of all what is required of us by God. Our flesh and our gifts and abilities, no matter how well-developed or disciplined or cultivated, cannot do the work required by God.

But yes, by God's grace, we can do the work that he has prepared in advance for us to do because it is not just us doing it. Paul is adamant throughout the NT that it is God's grace working through him, the Spirit working in him, God at work in him.

It is this fresh inhabiting, indwelling of God that empowers us, enables us to rise to the challenges of our lives. We live out of the new name he has given us, and in that, we are confident to move ahead.

5. We need community to speak all this back to us, because we will forget it.

If we have not spoken the gospel of grace, forgiveness, new name, the Spirit's work in us, to one another, we have failed to be the community and family of God that he has called us to be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Freedom from Guilt and Shame for my 7-Eleven Employees

Sunday I'm preaching at Raleigh Chinese Christian Church--it's the English service, for those of you who are concerned that my Mandarin and Cantonese might be a bit rusty.

I'm re-working a talk that I've given twice before because the concepts continue to be fresh and needful for me: Freedom from Shame and Guilt.

I've posted on this each time that I've given this talk, but since blog readers turnover faster than the employees at your local 7-Eleven, I want to gather up some thoughts from previous posts and then share some fresh developments tomorrow.

The reason why a talk on shame and guilt matters is because all of us hear the voices. Those voices in our heads speak to us about our past mistakes (that's guilt) or our current deficits of ability or character (that's shame).

Guilt is feeling bad about something you've done. Shame is feeling bad about who you are.

Since we all hear voices, and we generally don't like what they tell us, we all have various strategies to deal with our voices:
  1. Religious stuff--maybe if I get God to like me, it'll all be okay
  2. Hedonism/Escapism--how many drinks or sexual experiences or highs or movies or hours of sporting events or hours of video games does it take to quiet the voices?
  3. Moralism--never mind religion, I'll just try to be good enough to prove something to whoever that is that's talking to me about my shortcomings
  4. Activism--if I save enough whales, I'll make up for what I did
  5. Work-a-holism--if I make it through law school or dental school or med school or if I make partner or manager or vice-president or make enough money, then I'll prove myself
The problem, of course, as most of you realize by now if you stop long enough to think about it, is that none of this actually works. That's why most of us don't stop long enough to think about it. We feel stuck.

In fact, if it's up to us to figure out a way to quiet the voices, then we're dead. Nothing we can do will silence them.

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

To live under the gracious umbrella of the Lordship of Christ is to be freed from the onerous and impossible task of trying to take make up for your past. If Jesus is Lord, then you no longer have the last word on you; Jesus does. If Jesus is Lord then he is Lord over all of you: present, past, and future.

If Jesus is Lord then your life is not your own and your future is not yours to worry about and your past is not yours, not even yours to regret. Let me say that again: if all of you is given over to Jesus, then your past is not yours any more, not even yours to regret. It is in Jesus to redeem, to heal, to mend, to fix, to make whole, to wash away. It is not up to you to fix it.

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No Attention Span Needed

My friend Margaret sent me this video after my post last week about my obsession with my cell phone. He's talking about the effect that media culture has on our souls.

As if to prove his point, about half-way through this really thoughtful and engaging 8-minute clip, I started to write an e-mail. Oh, the irony.

Check it out, stick with it, it's not bad...for a Wheaton guy.

Okay, after a couple of failed attempts at my first post with a video embeded, I'm realizing that I don't really know what the crap I'm doing and I'll have to get some help. Either I'm doing something wrong or it's just not working.

Sorry, here's the link, maybe one of you can help me figure out how to actually put it here in the body of my post: No Attention Span Needed

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Grandparent Genome Project

After spending this weekend with the wife and kids at my parents house, I believe I'm ready to go public with my theory on what happens when the people who I formerly referred to as "my parents" become this thing called "the grandparent."

The findings are still in their infancy, but here's what we believe might be happening.

Upon hearing the first shrill cry of the first grandchild, the pituitary in the specimen heretofore referred to as "the parent" releases an unprecedented number of endorphins. They become "the grandparent."

These endorphins have uncanny affects on behavior, memory, and relational patterns.
For example, the mother who formerly considered Rice Krispy Treats a breakfast treat and who considered Froot Loops to be a snare from the pit of hell, suddenly bends over backwards as "the grandmother" to ensure that no breakfast at her house goes without syrup, powdered sugar, cinnamon, chocolate, or a dizzying combination of all of the above.

Such behaviors can cause the human who formerly knew "the grandparent" as simply "the parent" to wonder who is this woman and what have they done with your mother?

Please do not be alarmed. Our findings show that in most cases, there has been no
extraterrestrial interference. We believe that for the most part, the extraordinary changes in behavior are the result of the grandparent genome.

Of course, in a small percentage of cases the grandparent genome appears to be absent and upon hearing the first shrill cry of the grandchild there is no endorphin release. In these cases, there is no over-the-top doting, no spoiling, no worshipping the ground the grandchild walks on.

Such cases, though rare, are the cause of much sadness and heartache to the specimens who are now the parents of the grandchild. Which perhaps goes to prove the necessity and importance of the grandparent genome.

Our findings, as noted earlier, are still in their infancy. We will release more information as it becomes available.

Friday, June 19, 2009

For My Dad on Father's Day Weekend

When my dad retired in June of 1992 after over twenty years in the Navy, it was a big whompin' ceremonial deal.

My dad spent his last three years serving at the Pentagon. There's lots that he can't tell me about what he did during his time there, but suffice to say he had at least some face time with a group of guys called the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The ceremony, held at our church in Northern Virginia, had plenty of high-ranking officials on the program offering speeches and celebration of many years of service.

But the biggest memory that anyone has of the retirement ceremony was something that happened that wasn't on the program.

About three-quarters of the way through the ceremony, a late-middle-aged gentlemen stood up and asked if he could come forward and say something. In a crowd packed with fully-regaled military officers and decked-out friends and family, he wasn't particularly official looking.

Everyone was a little nervous as he slowly moved to the podium.

He introduced himself; he was a janitor at the Pentagon. This did little to calm anyone's fears about what might be coming next.

"Me and the other janitors have been talking," he said, "and we're going to miss Commander Kirk." I think he then proceeded to present my dad with some kind of plaque or memento of some sort.

I had just graduated from high school a week or two earlier. At a pivotal point of my life, where I was about to step into a fuller sense of adulthood, I was taught a valuable lesson in what it means to really be a man.

My dad was a guy who rubbed shoulders with people of influence. But the janitors knew his name. And he knew theirs. That's the kind of man I want to be.

I hope some day that my own kids might be as proud of me as I was of my dad that day. Happy Father's day, dad, thanks for teaching me about the importance of not finding yourself too important.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Cell Phone, A Psalm, and Getting My Eyes Fixed

During our visit to Richmond last weekend I was perpetually trying to connect with people that we were trying to meet up with. So my cell phone was constantly buzzing with text messages and calls.

At one point my wife looked at me as I again glanced at my phone and said, "You've been looking at that thing all weekend long!"

That's made me think this week about my eyes, my thoughts, how I can so easily get fixed on something that makes me look down, that narrows my perspective.

I so easily get caught up in small annoyances or inconveniences in my life and think that they're major catastrophes.

Or maybe you'll resonate with me on this: I get so focused on scheduling for tomorrow that I miss what's happening right in front of me. I spent all day yesterday scheduling for the today that I'm now mentally dis-engaged with because I'm so focused on looking ahead to tomorrow! What a fool I am to never actually get around to living because I'm so busy planning on living in the future!

So I've been thinking off and on all week: where are my eyes fixed? what does this tell me about my heart, my thoughts, the things that shape me most?

Then this morning I was reading Psalm 25 and came across this line: "My eyes are ever toward the Lord."

When there's the convergence of a comment from my wife and a word from Scripture, that generally means that there's something here for me to pay attention to.

So I'm thinking about this today, thought I'd invite you in. Where are your eyes fixed? What does that tell you about your heart, your thoughts, the things that are shaping you most right now?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fifth Grade Social Dynamics and the Power of Invitation

I remember it well, in part because it was one of my few elementary school victories.

When I walked into my 5th grade class one early-fall morning, there was an envelope on top of the chair turned upside-down on my desk. Inside the envelope was an invitation. Jonathan Wilmeth was having a birthday slumber party. And I was one of the five guys invited.

This catapulted my social standing in the class. All year long we had slumber parties, and I got invited to each one. Unfortunately, I peaked socially in fifth grade--it was all down hill from there until college!

If the Christian story is true, then a Relationship is at the center of the universe: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

And if the Christian story is true, we are made in God's image, and therefore we are innately relational beings.

And if the Christian story is true, then what's gone wrong with the world is broken relationships: first with God, then with one another (between individuals, in families, between people-groups or nations, between the genders), then with the earth, and then with how we relate to things or work (think of the dad who loves his car or his investments more than his kids).

The Christian story calls those broken relationships sin.

So if a Relationship is at the center of the universe and broken relationships are what is wrong with the world, then one of the most explosive relational dynamics at our disposal is the power of invitation.

Invitation is an innately relational thing. To invite someone into a relationship with you is one of the most significant gifts you can give anyone. To invite someone to relate rightly to their world, their parents, to their GPA, to their car or kids, to their money, and especially to their Creator is at the heart of making broken things right in this world.

And of course, invitation to do the wrong thing has power to further complicate and destroy the creation.

Many of you have deep and lasting regrets because you took someone or something up on an invitation to do or try or relate in a way that was destructive, foolish, or just turned out poorly. You slept with that person. You tried that business venture. You took on that project that sucked all your time and energy away from other things.

If we are innately relational beings, and broken relationships are what's wrong with the world, then the power we have for good or ill in invitation is one of the most overlooked relational dynamics in the world.

I think Jesus understood the power and importance of invitation. I think this is why he starts his ministry with a powerful and essential invitation: "Come, follow me."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Meets God's "Yes"

So if we're supposed to "revere" our parents, what do we do when our parents are destructive, manipulative, are flat-out evil, or (to quote some old school Will Smith before he was the Fresh Prince of Bel Air) they just don't understand?

Steve here called us to put up some real boundaries. But he framed it in a really unique way: we withdraw from our parents in situations like this in order to help them to stop sinning. In other words, we are revering them by blessing them with the freedom from the sin that so easily entangles.

I wanted to riff off of this for a second.

The way that the Scriptures talk about God is that his word to his creation and his people is always "yes." Yes to love, yes to goodness, yes to rest, yes to joy, yes to life, yes to joy.

The only time God says no to us is in response to our no. God comes to us and says "I want to bless you with every good thing in Christ." We say, "No, I don't want that, I want my own blessings on my own terms, thank you very much" And so God says: "No. I that won't actually bless you. No, here's the blessing I have for you."

God's only "no" is to our "no" so that ultimately we might receive his "yes." Put another way, God's no always serves his yes.

And so it should be with our relationships. We say "no" (in this case) to our parents when they are abusive or manipulative towards us, we do so that they might know the "yes" of God.

I encourage dating students to break up as soon as they are pretty sure it's not going to work out. That "no" frees them and the person they're dating to enter into the "yes" of begining to heal and move on.

In the New Testament, Paul commands the people of God to "take off" certain practices in order to "put on" these other, better, practices--saying no, in order to say yes.. "No" is never the last word in this life. God's no is always to serve the bigger yes.

When we are in step with the Spirit, we are called to be "yes" people. Ultimately in Christ we are full participants in God's whopping, giant "YES!!" to all his creation.

That means there's plenty of places where we have to say no. But it's always a no that serves a bigger yes. When we hold onto that yes, we are free and joyful people, indeed.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Richmond Re-Visited: Brittney Spears, Pastor Steve, and Leviticus

Over the weekend the whole fam returned from whence we came: a blitz through some friends, a wedding, and our old life back in Richmond. One of the many highlights from the trip was returning to the church that was our home for nine years, West End Pres.

During my nine years under the pastor, Steve Shelby, he taught me to apply the gospel in real-time. He also taught me much about how to speak and teach--honest confession of sin, hilarious stories, bringing it back to Jesus. He was a tremendous preacher before, and he's just gotten better since I've left.

Sunday he was vintage Steve--and I'm not just saying this because he told me afterwards that he reads my blog (it felt like Ansel Adams saying that he liked my photos or Brittany Spears saying I could write a mean pop-song or how Luke felt when Yoda told him, "no more training do you require").

He talked about the biblical command to honor (in Leviticus "revere") our parents. A couple of highlights here, some more thoughts tomorrow:

1. The word for "revere" used in the Leviticus passage is only used in two contexts: God and our parents. Think about this.

2. Our culture generally paints parents (particularly dads) as unhelpful or simply idiots. We are smarter than them, so of course we don't owe them anything.

3. But the biblical command does not leave it contingent on whether or not our parents are 'worthy' of reverence. There's no conditional clause here. We are commanded to revere, honor our parents, whether they deserve it or not.

That doesn't mean we jump every time they say to or that we put ourselves in harms way, but it's not about whether or not they deserve or have earned our reverence.

4. And that's because God has ordered the universe so that we can never experience true life apart from learning submission. If we will not submit our lives to God, we cannot know life.

So God has ordained the family unit to teach us submission. He has put us in our family for our good and his glory. How we respond to the place where he has put us is about our parents, but it is also about us. The family is our training ground for walking in submission to God.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hitting the Rawest Nerve

Few things evoke so strong a reaction in us as someone taking our deepest fears about ourselves and speaking them back to us. We feel as though the curtain has been pulled back, we have been discovered, found out.

Sometimes the thing feared and spoken is true. Sometimes, it's a lie. It is almost always impossible to know the truth of the matter immediately.

I think this painful dynamic is what is actually at the center of what makes break-ups and divorces so incredibly painful. It confirms the deepest fear (in this case a certain lie) many of us are tempted to believe about ourselves: that we are unloveable.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Plausible Deniability

So really, the great thing about the fact that North Carolina has not (yet) passed a law outlawing cell phone use in the car is this: should one be talking to one's self in the car and realize that the person in the car next to you is staring, you can pick up your phone and pretend to be on speaker.

This is all speaking strictly hypothetically, of course.

Now if only there were some way to cover for nose-picking...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

For Us Pathologically Over-Committed Ones

Last week Kelly and I were talking about eleven years (!) of marriage and what the significant decisions and moments have been.

Kelly cited some decisions I made in the first five years to say 'no' to extra things that I would have otherwise liked to have done. This helped to build trust in huge ways with her. She was able to relax in my love because I was making decisions, important small decisions, that told her that I loved her.

Kelly pointed out that this is a great example of our 'no' meaning 'yes' and our 'yes' meaning 'no.'

Every time you say yes to doing anything, you are saying no to doing a thousand other things that you could do with that time. As someone who is a classic "move towards" person (see yesterday's post), I am generally inclined to say yes to anything cool that comes my way.

But by saying no to some of those things, I was saying yes to something else, in this case, my wife. This was especially hard when we didn't have any particular conflict. I had to learn the value of protecting our incidental time together.

Initially sometimes I said no just because I felt like I should. But as I practiced, saying no became a joy. I began to realize not only was it healthier for our marriage, it was also healthier for me personally.

I think recognizing that our "yes" means "no" and that our "no" means "yes" is important for those of us who have a tendency to over-commit...and sometimes neglect the things that are most important.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Target or a Flea Market? Understanding You for Your Best Life Now

So let's say that you and I are both listening to the same sermon on forgiveness. And let's say that at the end of the sermon, you feel forgiven but I don't.

As someone who teaches in a variety of contexts, I'm really interested in how people learn. How do we process, engage with ideas or concepts in such a way that we not only cognitively understand them but actually come to inhabit them, make them a part of who we are?

Obviously, some of this is mystery, the work of the Holy Spirit. But there are some patterns that we can identify about how people learn, how they approach new information or ideas.

A friend of mine recently sent me a set of concepts about how people learn or approach new ideas called "Neuro-Linguistics Programming."

This has proven helpful to me as I understand how I learn as well as how I work in a team environment...and how I relate to my wonderful wife. Take a look:

1. There are three primary learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic (some add "Reading/writing" in there as well).

So the sermon on forgiveness (which is primarily an auditory experience) will be enhanced by power point images or a visual aid of some other sort, since something like 60% of the population are visual learners.

2. Global to Specific or Specific to Global. Global to specific learners want the headline first, details after. Specific to global learners are more scientific. They want a full case to be articulated leading up to the final conclusion.

3. Move Toward or Move Away. "Move toward" people are aggressively interested in new ideas, goals, outcomes. "Move away" people are more likely to see the cost involved in a new idea and be more cautious in moving in a different direction.

I'm a "move toward" person in a big way. This can have serious negative consequences in my marriage, as I'm married to a wonderful "move away" person. Understanding this dynamic has helped me to be more patient in proposing an idea and more appreciative of the fact that not every idea I have is a good one.

This also has significant outworkings in my work. I tend to crank out ideas and goals by the boatload. This can overwhelm or intimidate or just plain annoy my co-staff and the students who work most closely with me.

I have to work hard to keep communication lines open and ask for forgiveness regularly. And sometimes, I just need to shut up. I usually realize that too late. But I'm working on it.

4. Procedural or Options. Procedural people like routines and systems. Options people like to create their own ways, or have lots of freedom and flexibility in how they work. Think shopping at Target (procedural, organize, clearly marked) v. shopping at a flea market (mass, happy chaos).

None of these is right or wrong. It's just preferences. All of them could have sinful outworkings if left un-redeemed.

But knowing this stuff can make you a kinder, gentler, better spouse, co-worker, roommate, and friend. Enjoy!

Monday, June 08, 2009

What I Do with Old Testament Genocide

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading the OT book of Joshua. One major part of the book that (rightly, I think) disturbed me and others who read Joshua is the command from God to utterly wipe out the indigenous people in the promised land. Including the kids.

What do we do with these passages that seem to qualify as genocide? I don't think that there are easy or pat answers, but these are some things that help me as I wrestle through these passages:

1. If historically we've erred on the side of "might makes right," our 21st Century Western sensibilities have swung in the equal and opposite direction: we tend to romanticize indigenous peoples. Or to re-work the above statement: "to have been oppressed makes right."

Some of this is a good and healthy corrective. Clearly the history of western colonization and oppression is something that needs to be repented of. Indigenous people and cultures have been wiped out in arrogance and pride.

But in at least one case, the Hittites, God had spoken in an earlier passage of judgment on them that would be passed when they had fulfilled "the full measure of their sins." In other words, just as Israel was carried off into captivity by the Babylonians as discipline, so too for the Hittites.

Some of these people were doing things like child sacrifices, not just sitting around playing nicely with one another, innocently minding their own business when mean Israelites came and slaughtered them.

This doesn't deal with all our possible questions, we don't know what the other people were like, but it is indicative that there's more going on here than we know.

2. Jonah helps me. Jonah, if you recall from the recesses of your Sunday school class, is an Israelite prophet sent to Ninevah. This is unique in that nearly all the other prophets that we have record for are sent to Israel, not to other peoples.

So what we have is one example of God sending his prophet to non-Yahweh following peoples. This is at least indicative of God's heart for those outside of Israel.

Again, some of this is guesswork, but the reality is that there may have been many more Jonah-types out there, sent by God to other peoples to call them to repentance, just as Jonah was.

What we have in the Scriptures is the story of God's primary work in the world in and through Israel. What other things God was up to in the world, we do not know. We have hints and allegations, enough to know that while Israel is the primary means for God's blessing the world, it's not the only place where he's moving.

Who knows but that the Hittites and all the other people in the promised land didn't have prophets who went before the Israelites, calling the people to repent?

At the very least, the story of Rahab helping the Israelites (and thus being spared) in Joshua helps us to see that God's saving activity was active in at least one of the families in the city.

3. Lastly, I look at Jesus. Do I see, in him, judgment, righteous anger, the stern warnings to repent and the threat of certain destruction and/or death if his warnings are not heeded? Yes, yes, and yes. Jesus talks about hell more than anyone else in the Bible.

So judgment is not foreign to God. Nor is mercy and grace, which triumphs over judgment, seen supremely in Christ.

But this is not a case of "angry God" in the OT and "nice Jesus" in the NT. That's too flat of a charicature that does not do justice to the mercy of God exhibited in the OT or the full picture of Jesus that we get in the gospels.

Like I said, this doesn't answer all our questions, but it helps me to at least grapple with some integrity and honesty before the Lord.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Embracing or Revolting Against Liturgy: The Thieving Bastard

Many of you who have been with me for a while know that I've been attending All Saints Church for the past couple of years. It's a great not-so-little-anymore church-plant full of gracious and loving people.

It's also got this whole crazy Anglican, formal, liturgical worship service. The service is full of prayers that we read together, responsive readings, kneeling, and the like. Most weeks have learned to enter into it well, but some weeks it's still a struggle.

But last night I had a dream that either confirms that I'm feeling at home with the liturgy or I'm pushing back against it more than ever. Maybe my wonderful readers can help me decide.

In my dream, Thomas, our youth minister, was leading a responsive reading in the middle of the service. Here's how it went:

Thomas: "Do you renounce the evil one, the thieving bastard?"

Congregation: "We renounce the thieving bastard indeed!"

Like I said, seems like it could go either way. What do you think?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

What's Wrong with Dads...And Why

The other day I was at the beach and noticed a dad of three kids who spent the whole time taking pictures of his kids rather than playing with them.

I'm not sure if this is symbolic of how he relates to his kids or not, but it got me thinking about us dads, how we hide behind other things rather than relate to our families (wives included), and why that is.

What we hide behind varies by temperament and personality: work, hobbies, the yard, the house, the t.v. One student's dad hid behind serving. He would do anything for anyone. He even served around the house in the name of helping the family but he was running--he was emotionally detached from everyone in the family.

Even as I watched the photo-taking dad the other day, I realized that I was tempted to sit there and hide behind thinking about how dad's hide rather than digging in the sand with my own kids.

Why do we hide? Larry Crabb's book The Silence of Adam is far and away one of the best books on men--what's gone wrong, and what repentance looks like.

Crabb proposes that the story of the fall of Adam and Eve is instructive about men's sin. The Genesis account explicitly says that Eve gives the fruit to Adam "who was with her." Adam is there the whole time of the temptation and says nothing.

The curse is then pronounced, and all of Adam's curse has to do with work. And so, men are bent towards work.

Adam's silence in the face of relational chaos is indicative of our brokenness. In the midst of the temptation, Adam is silent when he should have spoken.

Crabb suggests that men were made to live by courage, not code. But we prefer code. We like to know the rules, have a clear idea of what to do, when we're right, how to proceed, what's expected of us.

Work, hobbies, the yard, all have codes and clear outcomes. The family is chaotic, uncertain and unpredictable. It is much easier to blog than to husband. It is much simpler to be a CPA than to bring up wise and character-rich children.

I hope and pray that I might be a dad who chooses to live into the familial relationships that God has given to me rather than to choose the easier path of work-aholism or escapism by other means. I, too, have the longing for code in me. It is work to choose the path of wading into relational chaos where I'm not always sure what's expected of me.

But I hope that what marks my time as a huband and a father is the courage to quit hiding behind the metaphorical camera and join in the fray with my wife and kids. That life, I know, is much more rewarding indeed.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Things Said Wrightly

Few theologians in the world are more disliked by people on different sides of theological fences than NT Wright.

Wright seems to draw the most ire from the secular, liberal critics on his views about Jesus.

I just finished an eight-ish week project: "Jesus and the Victory of God," 650-page, massive work by Wright whereby he painstakingly takes on the various views of Jesus put forth by secular and liberal Christian-ish scholars who have attempted to "salvage" Jesus from Christianity and make him...well...ordinary.

In the process, Wright also debunks some fairly cherished traditional Christian views as well. Here's a couple that I will try to summarize, with apologies to my brother and other folks who are much more familiar with Wright than I am:

1. The Pharisees were not sitting around wondering how to get to heaven when you die. They were an occupied people. Jewish hopes swirled around land, Torah (their Scriptures) and the Temple. The Torah said that periods of exile and punishment would be amended upon repentance.

So the Pharisees were calling the people to stricter Torah observance not to get to heaven when you died but so that God would deliver them from the Roman army. Jesus objects to this (and other) attempts at being the people of God that were prevalent in the culture: it wasn't about nationalistic zeal, it was about turning the other cheek.

2. Nearly all of Jesus' parables about judgment have been read by Christians for the past several centuries as an end of the space-time continuum. Jesus comes back and judges all people. Many scholars have argued that Jesus thought the world was going to end in his lifetime, and so he was proven false.

But Wright argues that Jesus follows in a long line of Jewish prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah in announcing God's judgment not as an end to the world but as a call to Israel to repent.

Jesus pronounced himself as being sent to the lost sheep of Israel. He is speaking a word of warning specifically to Israel: if you do not repent from this line of action (everything from militaristic uprisings to oppression in the name of religion), judgment is to come.

In the OT, this judgment came in the form of Babylonian captivity. In the immediate aftermath of Jesus' ministry, the judgment came in the form of the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Jesus was vindicated not only by his own resurrection, but by the prophecy being fulfilled.

Of course there is talk about end-times judgment in other parts of the New Testament. But to over-ascribe this subject to Jesus is to miss out on his actual message.

I've just started Wright's book Justification, his response to his critics on the other end of the spectrum: the angry Christian conservatives who dislike Wright's views of Paul.

So far, I have to say, Wright's winning this argument as well.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Your Opportunity to Share in My Millions

Recently, Kelly and I took a long trip, aided and abetted by Maria, our GPS. Maria is so named after Julie Andrews character in "The Sound of Music," my wife's deep and abiding childhood love.

And, of course, we had a choice at the outset: American English or British English. And given that choice, what warm-blooded American wouldn't choose the cooler accent? Hence, Maria was born.

This has sparked an ongoing conversation between my wife and me about our ticket to fortune: GPS accents that not only are cool, but are also respond in keeping with their culture.

For example, the Jamaican-accented GPS: "You missed da turn, mahn! No worries! We recalculate it. We get there eventually, mahn!"

Or, the drunk-angry-Scotch-Irish accent I refer to as Uncle Argyle: "Ay, laddie! You missed the turn! You nitwit! You listen to your Uncle Argyle and we'll all get there much faster!"

Kelly recently had a nice additional wrinkle: theme-based, celebrity voices.

So the Christian GPS voice would, of course, be Kirk Cameron. And Kirk would say something Christian along with every direction he uttered. For example: "Take a u-turn at the next light. A u-turn is like repentance. It means to turn away from your sins. If you don't do the u-turn in your own life, you'll get Left Behind."

One could imagine an NFL-themed GPS, with a voice by John Madden in his first encore performance post-retirement. Perhaps a Sierra Club GPS, a "Twilight" GPS, the sky is the limit.

So, my dear friends and readers far and wide, here's your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of our millions: any ideas for culture or theme-based GPS-voices? Get in now!

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Doctor, My Job, and the Weed-Infested Flora and Fauna

Saturday at the park with my kids, I struck up a conversation with another dad. He was a doctor, like most of the people I meet in the Triangle area.

He asked me what I did. I paused. After all, we were having a good conversation.

And my line of work can often be a conversation stopper.

After the words "campus minister" are spoken, here-to-fore delightfully engaged and interested folks can often suddenly become very attentive to their children, become enraptured with examining the local weed-infested flora and fauna, or steal an exaggerated glance at their watch and utter in feigned surprise, "Look at the time!"

But rather than give one of the many evasive answers that I've developed or stolen from other IV staff over the years (my personal favorite from Kristen Greenholt: "I work at UNC for a non-profit, faith based, student leadership development organization) I told him the full truth: "I'm a campus minister at UNC."

"Oh yeah?" he asked, genuinely sounding intrigued, "I wish I had gotten involved with something like that when I was in college. Instead, I was so dialed into the pre-med track that those four years were pretty much wasted socially and spiritually."

I was deeply sobered.

One of my goals for my students is that they would graduate with two to eight friends who will stand with them in their wedding and carry them out at their funeral.

Further, my prayer that those two to eight friends will remind them of the gospel when their marriage gets hard and will encourage them towards Jesus as they get ready to meet him face-to-face.

This doesn't happen for everyone, but for the vast majority of my students, it does. And it has for the past thirteen years. In fact, I start to take for granted that most of my students graduate with this kind of gift.

Talking with my doctor friend at the park on Saturday was a gift from the Lord to me as I have a bunch of fundraising to do this summer--something that always makes me re-think my calling to campus ministry!

Jesus loves students. And what I get to be a part of with students during this season of their lives is uniquely wonderful.

And so I can be proud of what I do. I was reminded again to believe in it deeply. And even to be appropriately proud of it, in a healthy, God-honoring kind of way.

And I can even be glad to tell random people at the park about it--even if it does occasionally cut short their poor kids' trip to the park.