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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Saving the Whales, Leading a Freaking Bible Study, Finding Time for What Matters

So for the past six or seven weeks on campus, each large group meeting we've been casting vision for what we think a Christ-Centered Community looks like.

We've talked about a community of grace and forgiveness, a community of faith, a community of hope, and a community of love. And last week, after four weeks of positive vision, we talked about what we don't want to be.

And last week I got a chance to speak into a sickness at UNC: the sickness of busy-ness. Student life at UNC presses students to do so much. As an InterVarsity community, we long to go against that grain. We are not going to be too busy for significant relationships.

The problem is that my students got to UNC by being over-achieving, stressed-out high schoolers. Then they come to UNC. And of course, it doesn't get any better because now they're surrounded by 17,000 other over-achieving, stressed-out people.

One startling realization for many freshmen: if you skim the top 12% off of every high school and put them in the same context, not everyone's going to be in the top 12% any more.

This can either bless them with the realization of their limits, or it can drive them to an even greater degree of frenetic activity. Alas, many choose the latter path: pre-med/pharmacy/nursing/business/law, must-have a 3.9 GPA, must save some whales, tutor some kids, keep some sort of social life....and for the Christian kids, add on leading a freaking Bible study to top it all off.

This, of course, is simply a mirror-reflection of our frenetic culture. My students just have more free-time to cram more stuff into their lives because they're not working in one place from 8-6.

But here's the deal: nobody had more significant work to do than Jesus. Nobody. And he made the time and space for significant relationships.

So if the volunteering/Bible study leading/major path/work habits of your life mean that you do not have time for significant relationships, then it is almost guaranteed that you are not doing what God would have you to do. You are over-committed and out of step with the Spirit. If Jesus had time given his responsibilities and the nature of his calling, so must we.

That's not just a word for my students, is it? It's been ringing my own ears for most of the past week...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Blankie, The Invitation, and Dropping Cumbersome Nets

One of the things about having little kids: when you're leaving to go somewhere, they always want to take their most-recently-used stuff with them. The blankie, the matchbox car, the Thomas trains, the recently strung together bead necklace...whatever.

This weekend, I traveled with 115 students to New Student Retreat. It was awesome. And as I spoke out of an old favorite passage, I was reminded of the difficulty of leaving stuff behind.

"Come follow me," Jesus said, "and I will teach you to fish for people."

This is how Jesus starts his relationship with four guys who will end up being his go-to church-starter, Bible-writing guys. An odd invitation, if you think about it--not why most of us Jesus-followers decided to follow him.

"And immediately they dropped their nets and followed him." A crazy, over-the-top response.

The disciples leave everything that they've known, their security blanket, their family business, all of it. If it would have been me, I would have tried to bring the nets with me. It's what I've always known, it's what's expected of me by my family, and it could be something to fall back on should this whole Jesus thing not work out.

But they have to leave the nets. Jesus is going to lead them through deserts and forests and cities and those nets would have only tripped them up. They have to leave the nets, there is nothing left in that for them.

Most of us who are Christians follow Jesus with one foot in another door of some sort. Most of us are walking around, trying to follow Jesus, with our hands full of another option, a personal back door, something that we're not willing to let go of, forget about, put aside in order to follow fully.

And it shows.

You know what happens if those guys don't drop their nets and follow Jesus? Absolutely nothing. Jesus still starts his church. They live their lives in relative ease and die anonymous fishermen. Instead, I'm blogging about them 2,000 years later.

There's no limit to what God can do with someone who is willing to drop their nets and follow him. I'm freshly convicted and emboldened coming off the weekend to do just that.

Now if only we can get the kids to buy-in, it'll make going places a whole lot simpler...

Monday, September 28, 2009

F.A. Part 2: Freedom from Comparison and Competition

When I was on staff with IV at VCU, there was a guy on staff at another school in Eastern Virginia who was ridiculously gifted: Kevin. Kevin went to a school where there was no IV chapter. Within four years, it had grown to like 300.

We'd meet as a staff team every couple of months. And sometimes it was hard for me to get overly-excited about what God was doing through Kevin. I felt jealous, threatened, insecure.

And eventually, God had to hold up the mirror and press me: either I could celebrate what God was doing through Kevin or I could kick against the goads and live in jealousy and insecurity. The choice was mine, but the invitation was to repent. One choice would bless me, the other would lead to bitterness and smallness of heart.

Eventually, I repented, but it still wasn't always easy to celebrate what God was doing through him...even when I clearly saw God doing good stuff through me as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a couple problems.

Problem number one is that most of us are functional atheists. That is, we live most of our lives as if there were no God, as if we had no good Father who watches over us and provides for us and who loves us.

Problem number two is that our identity then becomes driven by what we can do or produce. Our culture is a performance-based culture. So our identity becomes driven by how well we perform.

And the invitation in Christ is to be free of comparison and competition. Because comparison and competition is always a lose-lose deal. Either we compare and come out looking better, which leads to pride. Or we compare and come out looking worse, which leads to envy and jealousy and self-contempt.

Neither of these gives us life. In the operating system of comparison and competition, every new person we meet is a potential threat to our very sense of self. That doesn't exactly set us up for a lifestyle of serving one another, humility, and genuine love and trust towards one another.

In Christ, we are invited to a life that lives larger than the lose-lose operating system of comparison and competition. In Christ, I am deeply loved by my Father, apart from my performance.

And that frees me up to celebrate and be glad in others as well as to be appropriately glad in the works of my own hands done in cooperation with God's Spirit. There will always be people better than me at everything. My identity isn't wrapped up in having to be better than everyone else. I can just be me. That'd be a novel way to live.

Can you imagine how much more freedom we'd experience if we didn't live a life fraught with comparison and competition and all the ill-fruits that bears?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Freedom from Functional Atheism

Just got home tonight from our Thursday night large group. I was the speaker understudy for a sick co-worker (get better soon, Jfarm!) and the topic was "Pitfalls of Christian Community." The basic idea: what are we NOT going to be about as an InterVarsity chapter?

I proposed that there was one core pitfall that all Christians wrestle from whence springs all the other pitfalls of Christian community: functional atheism.

A working definition of functional atheism: to proclaim on a Sunday morning (or Thursday night) that Jesus is Lord and that he is good and that he is intimately involved in the world and in all the details of our lives...and then to live the other days of the week as if none of that were true.

Us Christians do this all the time. We sing true and powerful songs about God's goodness and power. We nod our heads in agreement as we hear truth proclaimed that he loves us.

And then we walk out the door and live as if it were all up to us, as if there were no God and we have to do what we have to do to get by, to survive and advance, to scratch and claw our way through life.

We live our lives as functional atheists: professing one thing in a "religious" context and then living completely differently the other six days and 23 hours of our lives.

And tonight as we worked through the "nots" from 1 Corinthians 13 (love does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs) I was in essence trying to call us to put functional atheism behind us.

The Christian life is to be lived with Jesus as Lord. One of my hopes for my students when they graduate is that they'll understand something of what it means for the gospel to shape life in real-time, with real-life situations: angry at a co-worker, tempted to hit porn, an argument with your spouse, raising kids, coaching soccer, angling for a promotion.

Jesus is Lord over all those situations. Part of our work and the work of the Holy Spirit, is to help us to live into that reality in all aspects of our lives.

And if we did that--if we actually repented of our functional atheism and lived into the power of Jesus' Lordship in all aspects of our lives--it would radically and relentlessly and gloriously set us free.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Durham PD, The Christmas Tree, and Law Push-Back

On a street that serves as a common cut-through between two main drags in our neighborhood, the cops often set up one of those "this is your speed" displays. You know, one of those contraptions with the speed limit sign and a neon display telling you how fast you're actually going.

The one they set up down the street is pretty sweet. If you're speeding a little bit, it flashes your speed back at you. If you're more than five over the limit, lights flash and pop and sparkle.

It's probably an indicator of how broken I am, but I sincerely delight in making that thing light up like a Christmas tree every time I blow past it. There's something about having the law right in front of me that makes me want to break it even more.

This is something of what Paul is trying to argue as one part of his master symphony that is the New Testament book of Romans. The law (i.e. the Ten Commandments and all that accompanies) is a good thing, but when it meets with messed up people, it arouses rebellion rather than compliance.

So throughout the Old Testament, the Jewish people who have the law are both blessed by it and struggle to actually walk in it...just like any of us would have done.

That leaves us with a good law, people who are still completely messed up, and an extremely significant need for some other way for all that's gone wrong to be made right again.

Enter Jesus. Enter the Holy Spirit who not only speaks the law back to us but actually softens our hearts so that rather than push-back against the law, we can walk in it, delight in it.

Certainly this is a process. God's still teaching me what it means to delight in his law rather than live in my natural state and reject it.

And I probably need to work through my issues with the Durham P.D. and their speed-informing device down the road...but I love celebrating Christmas in September.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Emerson Meets Worship Meets Soy Milk

In response to yesterday's post, my good friend and fellow Fight Club member Ben Bowman emailed me this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
The gods we worship write their names on our faces, be sure of that.
And we will worship something - have no doubt of that either.
We may think that our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of the heart -
but that will out.
That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will determine our life and character.
Therefore it behooves us to be careful what we are worshipping,
for what we are worshiping we are becoming.
We are hard-wired to worship. It is not a question of if we'll worship, but where and what. We can route our worship this way or that, but we cannot turn it off.

Emerson here echoes the Psalmist who writes about the worship of idols made of wood and stone: all who worship them will become like them--that is, dumb, mute, foolish.

Not only must we worship, we must inevitably become like that which we worship.

And so the question for all of us is one of the most important ones we can ever grapple with: what am I worshiping today? Success? Money? Security? Escape? People? Power? Applause? To be left alone? All this fights for our religious affections and worship.

But this created necessity to worship must have an appropriate outlet. We must breathe--this tells us that we were created for oxygen. We must eat--this tells us that we were created for food. To attempt to breathe soy milk would be deadly. To try to meet our hunger for food with a meal of rubber shoe soles would not be the appropriate response to the drive planted within us.

And so we were made to worship God. And to worship other things necessarily leaves us hungry, never satisfied, like drinking salt water.

What are we worshiping today? What are we becoming as a result? It will, indeed, write its name on our faces and shape our souls.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Child Pornography and Sunday Morning Worship

Yesterday morning I was reading a disturbing front-page story about a man who got tangled up in the underworld of child pornography.

His story was part disturbing, part tragic: sexually molested as a child, discovering his dad's porn magazine a few years after that, drugs and alcohol addictions conquered, sexual addictions that remained un-conquered and that eventually over-ran his life. And now he's awaiting sentencing, minimum of five years.

A separate story ran next to it about how the internet has fueled the exponential growth of the child pornography industry over the past ten years.

Yesterday was Sunday. So of course I'm reading this as we're getting ready to go to church. And a part of me wondered: what's the point of sitting in a room of beautiful (and not-so-beautiful) people and singing songs and listening to someone talk about a good God when messed up stuff like this is going on in the world?

I went to church smarting. I was angry at the crap in the world and wondering what good it did to go to church in the midst of it all.

And then I got there. And then I noticed the words we were singing, the truths that we were being taught. I took the bread and the wine. And I remembered what good it all did.

Everyone worships something. The man in the article had his life built around sexual addiction that fed a disfigured industry that led to a disfigured soul and the exploitation of kids. That's the power of worship, mis-directed: lives not just destroyed but mangled in all directions.

And so I must be there on Sunday mornings. I must be reminded to worship rightly because my culture invites me to worship wrongly--and then they wonder what happened when it careens out of control.

Child pornography happens because right worship doesn't. We exist to worship, and so we will--one way, one thing, or another. And so I must worship God. And I have come to believe that he has made himself known in Jesus in a uniquely historical way.

And so I worship this God, so that I might not fall into my own version of a mangled and disfigured life with consequences in every direction. And I call others to do so as well, that they, too, might worship rightly and avoid the destruction that inevitably follows a life of mis-directed worship.

Child pornography needs Sunday morning's worship. To be sure it's not a magic potion, not a cure-all--there's all kinds of broken, messy, mis-directed worshipers gathered on any given Sunday morning in any given church.

To worship on Sunday morning does not guarantee that right worship will happen. But to not worship on Sunday morning, almost certainly guarantees that it will not.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ephipanies at the Bath Tub

Tonight, at the end of a very good but very full day, at the end of a very good but very full week, I was giving my three kids a bath.

Some nights bath time is full of joy and off-key singing: The Wheels on the Bus, The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, the ABC's, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, all the hits.

But tonight as I soaped the kids down I found myself miles away in my head. I was thinking about work. I'm not exactly sure what I was thinking about--all kinds of things, probably. But I realized in the midst of bath time that I was completely checked out.

Davis just started kindergarten this week--his first day of school. We survived and he's still alive, five years later.

Zoe had her first soccer practice last week. She told us she was ready, we thought she'd end up picking daisy's in the outfield. Instead, she was totally dialed in, dribbled and shot like a champ, and outlasted and blew by all the boys on the team.

Emma Kate just turned two and is reciting books back to us. She'll be reading War and Peace to me by Christmas.

Five, three, and two. Davis, Zoe, and Emma Kate. This only happens once.

I love my work. And I believe it matters. I wouldn't be doing fourteen years later (that's fourteen years of fund raising) if I didn't believe in and love what I do.

But my kids matter more--not to mention my wife, who deserves my fullest attentions and affections. I'll forget by tomorrow what I was thinking about tonight while the kids were in the tub. These little ones, they'll still be here. I want to be fully present to the people in my life who matter the most.

So I'm looking forward to unplugging for a couple days over the weekend and enjoying my wife and kids. Tomorrow's the first day of soccer games for both Davis and Zoe this fall--I'm coaching or assistant coaching for both their teams.

I can't wait to watch Zoe blow by those boys.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

De-Planking My Own Eye

One of the great parts about my weird job is that occasionally I'll discover that the things that I'm given to work on or teach on are as much for me as they are for my students.

So last week I spent many hours working on a talk about hope. I talked about the importance of finding our hope in a Person (Jesus) rather than the fragility of a specific sequence of circumstances. I posted a bit from that talk last week after I gave it.

So I gave the talk on Thursday night. And then Friday morning, as I was journaling and praying, the scales were pulled back and I realized that in one specific area of my life, this was exactly what I needed to deal with.

I had a whole wad of hopes bundled up in a far-off hoped-for series of circumstances that was stirring up in me a spirit of animosity, greed, pride, competition, comparison, jealousy, anxiety, and grasping.

I had spent all week working on a talk for other people and hadn't realized that there was a plank in my own eye that I needed to pull out! My hopes were in all the wrong places. I needed to repent, to change my mind, to fix my eyes not on a hoped-for specific sequence of events and circumstances but on the person of Jesus Christ, who invites me to follow him personally into the hope that he has for me.

This was only furthered by a reading that I happened upon from one of my favorite authors, George MacDonald. I've mentioned him here before, but I'll fill you in again: if you like anything that C.S. Lewis writes, you need to read George MacDonald. When you do so, you realize how much Lewis "stole" from his mentor.

Seeing this made me feel not quite so bad about how much I steal from C.S. Lewis.

Here's a taste of George MacDonald at his best: "In anything that a man does apart from God he must fail miserably--or succeed even more miserably."

Oh that God himself might be my good. That my hope might actually be in him and his goodness rather than flimsy and fragile circumstances. And that I might actually run away from anything, even "success," that would be divorced from his goodness and presence.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Problem of Getting God's Spirit

So one of the things that Jesus promised and that Christians have always said about what it means to be a "Christian" is that God's Spirit lives in us. This, of course, sounds like a wonderful thing. Only it's often the most disappointing.

It's disappointing for Christians because we often don't feel very different from anyone else. And perhaps it's disappointing for those of you who know us for much the same reason. "God Save Me From Your Followers" is a fun bumper-sticker illustrating this situation. If these are the people who have God's Spirit, who needs that?

In the book of Acts, we get the story of what happens with Jesus' disciples right after he leaves them. And the first thing that happens is that they have this tremendous experience of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes down and they are all able to speak in different languages.

The cool part about that: it happened at Pentecost, which is an international Jewish holy day. People from all over the Mediterranean were there to celebrate.

So this gift of the Holy Spirit was given for this specific time, to these specific people, with this specific point: the disciples had a mission, they had work to do (to explain about Jesus to an extremely diverse audience in town for Pentecost), and the Spirit was given to them to accomplish this work.

Ask most Christians about our own experience of the Holy Spirit, we equate it with warm-fuzzies. Look at how the disciples experienced the Holy Spirit, and it had nothing at all to do with warm-fuzzies and everything everything everything to do with God's mission on this earth.

Perhaps the reason that most of us Christians have such a shallow experience with the Holy Spirit is that we do not understand that it's not given to us primarily to help us to not cheat on our taxes/exam/spouse/boyfriend. It's not primarily given to us to navigate an important decision.

We do, indeed, get those things along the way. But that's not the primary function of the Spirit according to Jesus and the rest of the New Testament.

The Holy Spirit is given to us to be a part of God's mission--serving the sick, caring for the poor, leading a Bible study, bringing up kids in the faith, fighting for justice, and even (with apologies to all who find this distasteful) sharing our faith.

If we miss that mission, we miss out on experiencing the Holy Spirit. And sometimes, perhaps even more tragically, we engage with that mission and don't even realize that the Spirit is right there alongside with us, empowering us, and longing to do so even more.

Either way, most folks in my little corner of Christendom have a long way to go in entering into this incredible reality of God's Spirit living in us...including and especially me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Spain, Spin, Beasties, and Staying Anchored

In junior high (1986-89) I lived in Southern Spain--my dad was in the Navy and we were stationed on a base in Rota. Over the past several weeks I've had a Facebook explosion of finding old junior high friends, particularly over the weekend.

This has generated several odd internal responses. The first is the nagging compulsion to go to Itunes and download the entire Beastie Boys "License to Ill" album..along with some select Bon Jovi.

The other is to wonder about my impression on people I haven't seen in over twenty years. If I last knew me with big hair, braces, and glasses, how would I appear to me now? It helps that I've got some of the cutest kids on the planet, but beyond that, what kind of impression does my Facebook page leave?

In the late-80's, as I was hanging out on the beaches of Southern Spain, a revolution was happening. Computers, once made for the exclusive use of corporations and businesses, were making their way into homes. The personal computing revolution was on--giving each home and individual power that was inconceivable 30 years ago...and giving us some entertaining Mac v. PC commercials.

A similar movement has happened with the advent of Facebook and other social networking sites. Public branding, spin, and image management, once the exclusive domain of corporations and celebrities with agents to help them, is now everyone's right and responsibility.

It's now all our jobs to try to make ourselves look better than we actually are, or at least for those of us who hazard getting plugged into the social networking world.

Jesus has very little to say about Mac v. PC (in spite of what many Mac users might want to insist). But he has very much to say about the significance of where we find our identity.

To try to find our identity in an image or how others perceive us or by angling for approval of others is death. The invitation goes out from the Scriptures: don't spend your life on a mirage of approval and applause! Don't build your life striving for something that can't ever satisfy!

Instead, we are invited, all of us, to enter into a deeper, stiller, more significant life. A life rooted in the Land of the Trinity--God's country, the place where he has the last word on us and where his delight in us as his children speaks freedom from the tyranny of applause and acceptance and approval.

We were made to hear "well done." But in the end, it's God's well-done we were made for, not one another's. When we try to build a life (or Facebook profile) striving for the approval of others we build our life on something that will ultimately collapse back in on our souls, robbing us of true life. Approval of others is far too small a thing to anchor our lives around.

So I'm fighting to stay in that place this morning. But it might be time for a little Beastie Boys addition to my music library in the mean time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hoping for the Atari v. Hoping in the Someone

So it seems that we're stuck in a dilemma. On the one hand, we're hard-wired to hope. Every one of us had childhood hopes--to be a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, to get the Atari for Christmas, to live in an r.v. when you grow up, to get a ferret one day, to have your parents stay together, whatever.

And yet we're also hard-wired to avoid pain. And all of us have disappointments, things that don't work out. Enough things don't work out, we start to try to shut down the hope mechanism inside of us. We wall off, become cynical.

Cynicism is a secondary response to the primary one of pain and disappointment and sadness.

And so we're trapped in a tension. We want to hope innately, but we also don't want to hope too much. It hurts to be so vulnerable.

It seems in the Scriptures that God says a couple things about hope. First, it's good to hope. And second, that our hopes are too precious a thing to be build on fragile circumstances.

God comes to us in Christ, and he invites us find our hope in him. Not in everything turning up roses. If the content of our hopes is in our circumstances, that structure will inevitably fail. It is not strong enough to carry the weight that we're putting on it.

So God says to us: "put your hope in me." This is not a means to the ends of everything turning up the way we want. This isn't bartering to get God to give us the stuff we really want. It's the end, in and of itself.

Our hope is not meant to be loaded up in a particular alignment of events. It's given to us to build on someone: God.

My dad is the kind of guy who just gets things done. As a kid, if the toilet was broken, my math homework was too hard or there was problems in the neighborhood--if dad was around, I knew everything would be okay.

Not that he knew how to deal with everything. And not that it was always a quick and easy fix. But if he didn't know, he'd find someone else to take care of it. When he was present, I knew that eventually all would get worked out.

That's what it means to hope in someone rather than something. That's the invitation God extends to us when it comes to something as precious as our hope.

I never did get that Atari.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Squashing Fisherman II: Prayer & The Spice Girls

Anytime you read some Scripture that makes you think of the Spice Girls, it's worth meditating on for a while.

So yesterday we talked about how the disciples still don't get it, even as Jesus is getting ready to leave them. Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God, the disciples are asking about the Kingdom of Israel--and by that, meaning a geo-political-military establishment.

From my vantage point now, I'm a bit incredulous: they're still clueless? After all this time?

But if I step back and consider all this, it's an extremely short trip from the disciples requests to many of the things that I've prayed for over my life. How many things have I asked for along the way that I look back on now with a mixture of horror at the request and relief that it was not granted?

How many things am I currently praying for that I'll look back on in five or ten years and think the same things?

Jesus, in his patience and love, invites us to ask with reckless abandon. To quote the great prophets, The Spice Girls: tell me what you want, what you really, really want.

Ask your Father, he says, he'll provide for you. This authentic, genuine asking is part of what it means to have the faith of a little child. A child asks for what she or he wants without pretense and without qualifying or hedging too much.

And so we are invited to ask for the things that we want. But not all requests are created equal.

And there's a call for us to grow up into Christ. Part of that growing up means that we always stay playful as a child in approaching our good Father.

And part of that growing up means that as we submit our requests to God in the fullest sense of the word. We submit our hearts' desires to God, and in the process he is not only considering those requests, he's also shaping our hearts to desire his will.

It's a process that's never done, but it's essential to growing up in Christ-likeness.

So we shouldn't be too hard on the disciples and some of us need to embrace the Spice Girls-exhortation to tell God what we really, really want. And we should all be glad that he doesn't always give it to us.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Calling off the Ascension and Squashing these Fishermen: The Patience of Jesus

Last week I was preparing a study in Acts chapter 1 with my small group leaders and I was really struck by a characteristic of Jesus that's always good for me to remember: how patient he is with us.

In Acts 1, Luke tells us that Jesus spends his days post-resurrection talking about the Kingdom of God. As he is sharing his final moments with his disciples just before his ascension into heaven, they ask him a rather different question: "Are you now going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?"

Okay, so if I'm Jesus here, I'm about ready to squash these little fishermen and start over again. Call of the ascension. Bring in the understudies! Let's get some new disciples in to replace these guys.

They still don't get it: the kingdom of God is not equivalent to the Kingdom of Israel--at least, not the way that these guys are thinking about it. And Jesus is literally moments away from leaving them for good.

But Jesus doesn't call off the ascension. He gently redirects them: "It's not for you to know the times or dates that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you."

Moments later, he's gone.

Jesus, in his last moments, is generous and patient with his disciples. He trusts that the Holy Spirit will make things clear to them, that they will get it in time. He is not angry with them here, he's never anxious.

Jesus trusts that the Father and the Spirit will help these guys sort out the difference between God's kingdom and Israel's kingdom eventually.

It should give us great confidence that Jesus is this way with his disciples. It is how he is with us. You and I also have a hard time differentiating between God's kingdom and our own picture of what the future "should" look like. We would like to have our own kingdoms come, rather than his.

And Jesus, in his infinite patience and wisdom, pursues us, invites us to repent. And he does so gently, persistently, doggedly. He will not quit on us. And there are times when his discipline feels painful. But his word to us is always yes, always love, always goodness and purpose and truth and grace and joy. Always, always, always.

That's not only good news for each of us. It's also instructive for how we need to be towards one another. We don't squash each other. We re-direct, speak truth, over time, and trust that the Spirit is also at work.

Easier said than done sometimes. It's harder for us to give one another grace than it is for Jesus to do so. For some of us, it's much harder to give OURSELVES grace than it is for Jesus to do so. For some of you, that's the toughest trick of all.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Brothel, the Casket, and Labor Day

Labor Day weekend every year comes at just the right time for me. Not only is it a chance to rest after the frenzied pace of the first couple weeks of school, our annual Labor Day tradition reminds me why I do what I do.

Her senior year, my wife Kelly lived in a house of nine women in Chapel Hill/Carrboro. All of these women were involved in InterVarsity as undergrads.

At the end of their year together, they (along with a couple of women who didn't live in the house me and my roommate referred to as "the brothel") committed to reuniting every year on Labor Day.

Fourteen years later, we just returned from Ocean Isle Beach. This weekend's festivities included 29 people--the original women plus husbands plus a fleet of children. Unfortunately, a couple of folks couldn't make it this year.

Most of us were involved with IV at UNC while in college. We have all been together often enough over the years to feel like family. Fourteen years later, all the marriages are still intact. Fourteen years later, all of us are still walking with the Lord.

I have been doing this job long enough to recognize that campus ministries go through seasons--some times things are strong, other times the group doesn't quite gel. We were involved in a particular season of IV at UNC that was extraordinary.

My goal for my students is that they will graduate UNC with life-long soul-caliber friends. Friends who will bring them to Jesus. Friends who will stand with them at their wedding and carry them out in their casket and in between love and encourage and rebuke and speak the gospel to them.

Kelly and I had just such an experience. And this weekend, I was reminded what a tremendous gift it is.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Love Triangle: You, Jesus, and the Mat

I just got home after our week 2 large group on campus--the first full week of classes, heading into Labor Day and it's been a great start to the year.

Tonight I spoke on what it meant to be a community of faith. And I used the passage from Mark 2, the paralytic on the mat.

To sum up: paralyzed guy gets carried by his friends to see Jesus. They can't get to him because of the crowd where he's teaching, so they climb up to the roof, dig a hole in the ceiling and lower him on his mat in front of Jesus.

I don't think that there's any greater picture of a community faith than this: to be a group of people who are so radically committed to getting on another in front of Jesus that we'll do whatever it takes, even tear holes in roofs, in order to get you there.

But in order to live as a healthy, interdependent community of faith, we have to understand our relationship with the love triangle of you, Jesus, and the mat.

There are three more extreme ways that we can relate to the mat.

1. Some of us don't want anything to do with the mat--we want mat-independence.

We don't want to be needy or broken, so we won't lie on the mat. And we don't want to have to be bothered to help others who are needy or broken, so we won't carry the mat. We've bought the uniquely American myth of the radically independent and autonomous individual.

But to have any part of Jesus means we must deal with the mat. Because the only way we come to him is by lying on it, confessing our need and his sufficiency. And the only way we follow him faithfully is by helping to carry others to him, and taking our turn on the mat when need arises.

The call here is to repent. Independence is a myth, a lie. We are hard-wired for relationship, first with God, then with one another. We must learn healthy inter-dependence. We must learn to relate rightly to Jesus and to the mat.

2. Others of us love the mat, in fact, we're mat-addicted. We love crisis, drama, and all the attention and affection we get when we're lying on the mat. Perhaps it starts as genuine need, but we grow comfortable here, become used to being the center of attention. For some of us, it's the only way we feel loved.

The call here is to hear Jesus words: "take up your mat and walk." Jesus speaks words of healing over us, and calls us to trust him--his love is sufficient for our needs. The call to those who are addicted to being on the mat is to walk in the power and healing of God. That's a process, but it starts by being willing to get up off the mat.

3. But the most common issue here at UNC: those willing to CARRY the mat for others but who are unwilling to LAY on the mat themselves. These folks are willing to serve, but hate not having it all together, hate being needy or broken or vulnerable.

And we can make it sound so spiritual: I don't want to impose. I don't want to be a bother. I don't want to sound like a whiner.

But the reality is that the reason we won't lie on the mat, even when we need to is one word: pride. That's not selfless or spiritual at all. It's just death. And the call here is to repent of that pride and to die to our desire to be seen as strong or powerful or polished and to engage in real relating with the people around us, Jesus, and the mat.

There's a time for all of us to carry the mat for others and a time to lie on the mat ourselves. That's genuine, real, healthy, interdependent Christ-centered community.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Crock-Pot-Waiting our Way to Character

So it seems that there are times in our lives when God wants us to wait. I hate waiting. Never been any good at it.

But when it comes to forming character, few things seem to do the trick as well as learning how to wait. It's perseverance without the clear obstacle. It's battling without an enemy. It's overcoming our own impulses to want to grab for control. It's waiting and trusting that something good is coming on the other side.

God calls us to wait because he's more interested in who we're becoming than what we're doing. He wants us to be people of character.

Many of us would like character--at least in theory. We'd just rather find a quicker way to get there.

But character is not formed in the microwave. Character is formed in the crock-pot.

And so we must learn how to wait. We must learn to embrace the waiting as part and parcel of the gift that is on the way, not just as a necessary evil to speed quickly through on the way to getting that gift.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Nomination for Grandmother of the Year

Last spring I was listening to a series of podcasts about raising kids from my old church in Richmond, West End Pres. One of the few things that pastor Steve said that all of us should be doing is praying every day for our kids to know the love of Jesus and for their future spouse.

There goes my father-of-the-year candidacy. I felt like I'd been occasionally catching but mostly missing the boat for much of the past five years.

Better late than never to cover those things I suppose. But still, I realized that I'd been mostly mired down in praying for survival (for us and for them) rather than praying important, long-term prayers for my kids.

Then I went to see my parents for a weekend early in the summer. My mom and I were talking about how great her grandkids are (a topic she rather enjoys discussing, crank her up and you'll have a hard time shutting her down).

And then she gave me a tremendous gift: "You know," she said, "I pray for them every day. That they'll know the Lord and that they'll have spouses that do, too. Just like I used to pray for you guys, and look how well that worked out!"

I realized at that moment that I am a part of a community of faith, a family of faith. I have a unique role and responsibility to raise my kids as faithfully as I can. But it's not all on me to pray, teach, and lead my kids to Christ. If I step back and look at it, there's a ton of folks doing this alongside Kelly and I.

I'm speaking on "A Community of Faith" this week at our large group meeting. Mom's gift/story won't make the cut--college students don't quite connect with the intricacies of the whole parenting thing. But in my own life in the past couple months, it's been one of the most palpable experiences of being a part of a community of faith.

Thanks, Mom. If I can't get father-of-the-year, you're still in the running for grandmother-of-the-year.