Ignited


Amber and I walked into our apartment last night at about midnight after an intense weekend at Ignite in Indy. Ignite is a national gathering of GCM campus churches, that packs a punch of dynamic, Word-based teaching and preaching, long segments of musical worship and a wide spectrum of workshops. I want to share with you some of what I gleaned from the weekend, so I'm just going to barrel through all of the different sessions and workshops I visited.

The general theme of the main sessions was centered on the local church and the fact that the bride of Christ is the hope of the world, whether we like it or not.

Main Session I

-Noel Heikkenen talked about our "Big Buts."
-Busyness and loneliness are two cancers killing Americans
-Our busyness is "born of a vague fear that we are wasting our time", which is a recipe for loneliness
-We were meant to be a part of a team - the local church body
-Noel walked through Hebrews 10 and all the delicious, nutritious lettuce or "let us" in that chapter
-10:24 - we don't gather together to wait for Christ to come back with the mothership, we gather to spur one another on to love and good deeds to the glory of the Father (the word "spur", sometimes translated "motivate," can also be translated as incite or provoke - yeah!)
-When are you more likely to enter into good deeds for Christ - while playing your Wii or while spurring one another on to go out into the world?
-"We live in a world where the only thing people commit to is having things their own way." Anon
-The thing we are to commit to is the local church...
-BUT "the church is screwed up!" people say
-Don't talk smack about Jesus bride!
-BUT "I got hurt!" people say
-Physical muscles grow by tearing and so we grow through spiritual tearing
-Noel closed with the following analogy: Some communities gather and they are like a bundle of marbles. You put 'em in a bag and smoosh 'em together, but they turn out the same when you release them. Christ-like communities are like grapes. When you smoosh them together, they affect and bruise one another. When you poor them out of the bag, they leave changed.
-There are good reasons to leave your local church, but most of peoples reason's are not good or Biblical

-Noel is a super-charismatic, hilarious, relevant and Bible-based teacher. I've yet to hear him give a poor message. This talk reminded me of how counter-intuitive Christian community often is, but that it is the best thing that anyone could find. So, don't let your But get in the way.

Main Session II

-John Drage, pastor of The Rock at Mizzou, spoke on the topic of "Satisfied Customer." Unfortunately, I was battling the usage of this metaphor during his entire talk, but I still was impacted in a really positive way. I initially felt the metaphor cheapened Jesus and the Gospel, but then I realized that John's intention was to find a simple metaphor that everyone could relate to.
-Everyone is looking for "It"
-e-bay claims to have "It" - seen the commerical?
-The band then covered the song "Where do you go for love?" - great question. Where doyou go for love?
-Drage then read John 9:1-41 - Jesus heals a blind man by spitting in some dirt and wiping that on the guy's eyes
-The Pharisees couldn't recognize the blind man's need and thus the power of Jesus' healing because they themselves were "blind"
-There are hurdles that trip us up when we encounter Jesus, like the characters in John 9 did:
-Bad Theology
-Chasing the show (spectators, people watching the healing)
-Slaves to fear/people pleasers
-Self-righteousness
-Am I satisfied with Jesus? Or am I a dissatisfied customer?

Workshop I - Theater of the Human

-Wayne Wager and Brent Dickman, from my local church, led this seminar, which was intended to expand our appreciation of the beautiful art in "secular" film and help us see the truths of God that can be witnessed. We watched 10 clips from the following films:
-Matrix
-Saints & Soldiers
-Chariots of Fire
-To Kill a Mockingbird
-Blood Diamond
-Spartacus
-Sophie's Choice
-Good Will Hunting
-Rudy
-Wayne and Brent also gave us each their list of 40 films we should see before we die
-Along with many others, I left this workshops having had my emotions taken on a wild roller coaster ride. I walked into the workshop with a disconnectedness, feeling a bit emotionally dry, but these film clips reminded me of many of the beautiful truths in God's creation, but some reminded me of the cruelty of the world and our need for hope in God.
-The Blood Diamond clip was the most powerful for me. Never before had I sensed God speaking so directly to me through a secular film (or probably any film). Even though I had seen the movie, it grabbed me afresh this time. I won't ruin the movie for you, but for those who have seen it, it was the scene where the father speaks to his son, Dia, calming him down from doing something evil, reminding him that "You are Dia. You are my son. I love you. Your mother and sister are waiting by the fire..."

Workshop II - "Can someone tell me how to read this thing?"

-Jeff Eads is a pastor in PA and he talked with us about the difficulties of reading the Bible
-To begin with, he walked us through several reminders:
-Remember that when you read any Scripture, there is a long history and that context, the text itself and your own contemporary context that come into play. The Bible was not originally written "to me." It iswritten to us, but it is a historical document as well.
-Remember to put yourself in the shoes of those whom you read about
-Follow your curiosities. Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions, no matter how insignificant they may seem to be, because they may lead you to more relevant questions. Don't just ask questions, find answers!
-Have proper expectations. Everytime you meet with a close friend, you don't walk to the coffee shop thinking "Man, Bob better wow me today." Yes, we should come expectantly for God to speak with us, but don't think your going to have a mountaintop reading experience every day.
-Jeff then led us through the beginning of the book of Ruth. We asked lots of questions and learned how to set the stage for the reading of this beautiful story.
-Jeff also suggested that before you study any book, you first read the entire thing through in one or two sittings, to get a feel for the story, just like how you read a novel or watch a movie.

That's not even the end of day 2...I'll continue with remainder of Ignite next time.

Quotable

Woman: "...I work three jobs."

President Bush: "You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that."

Must Everything Change? II

In the time since my first post on McLaren's latest book, Everything Must Change, I wound up finishing the entire book, but that feat didn't come easily.

My initial intention was to make posts as I traveled along through his book, but there were points at which I wasn't sure that I wanted to review it any longer. I scribbled and underlined in this book more than any other book I've read in a while and more than once, I was tempted to cease reading it. That's just the kind of book it was for me and it was what I signed up for--challenging. My initial intention was to get my first taste of the widely-influential and controversial writing of McLaren and be challenged in the process. I got more than I bargained for.

However, I don't think I am prepared to be a critic of McLaren. Unlike many of his often militant critics, I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt here and try to learn from his understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Many of his critics have labeled him a heretic, slamming him for abandoning orthodox Christianity; however, if every heretic were as sincere, passionate and thoughtful in their life-giving attempts to follow the Way of Jesus as McLaren seems to be, then I wouldn't be too upset.

That said, let's revisit the book.

I left off, having introduced McLaren's two preoccupying questions.

The author goes on to tell a story of a visit to Cape Town, South Africa (A city that is very dear to my heart, having lived there for over 5 months. I can attest to the injustice and poverty that is spoken of.) There, he met a young, Christian healthcare worker. The young man had gathered several pastors who were preaching to the poor in Khayelitsha and shared his anger over the destruction that many of them were doing for the lives of AIDS victims in particular. This conversation became a very heated debate and left a lot of ruffled feathers, because the young man felt that they were too focused on "being born again" for the next life and they weren't concerned about helping the people in this life, or "being born again in a fuller sense of the term."
Explicitly eluding to Jesus' words in John 3, this conversation between the young, saddened, Christian man and the pastors who were preaching in the slums where he worked, raises a question that is a major thread throughout the remainder of McLaren's book: is the message - the Good News - of Jesus strictly one that promises life in heaven after we die, with some possible trickle effects of hope and justice in this earthly life or does the Good News of Jesus provide hope of major transformation for not just our individual lives, but for society as a whole?

To a fault, I think McLaren likes to express the alternatives to our conventional paradigm in an extreme manner, nearly creating two diametric poles of what is possible in following Jesus. He does occasionally remind the reader that there is much good in the traditional views of what it means to be a Christian (more on that later), but it seems to be an afterthought most often. That being said, I still greatly appreciate his boldness in confronting the degree to which we have compromised Jesus and the Kingdom of God for our allegiance to the "suicidal system."

The suicidal what? More in Part III.

Congrats to Central Illinois


Good news for mostly boring (that's what those city slickers tell us) Central Illinois. Mattoon, Illinois (for you coastal dwellers, we're the state otherwise known as Chicago) will be the site of FutureGen, the "world's cleanest coal plant." It's good to know that my home state is on the front lines of helping to reduce the environmental impact of our energy-guzzling society. I don't know much about the science of it, but the world wide web told me this:

"For the first time coal gasification will be integrated with carbon dioxide, CO2, capture and geologic sequestration to prevent this greenhouse gas from adding to atmospheric accumulations responsible for global warming."

The governor visited town, but that's not always too impressive. I remember when governor Jim Edgar visited my home town of Sparta, IL to present a sizable check to a Mexican corporation that was going to take over the Spartan Printing Plant. They took the money and ran. Woops.

A governor, this time Blagojavich, visited my home town again a couple years ago because Sparta was going to become the home of the World (yes, World) Shooting Complex. Knowing about our town's history of eliciting phony business, lots of skepticism ensued, but wouldn't ya know it, the Complex is drawing in 1000s of shooters, today. Yee-haw.

Between the Old and New

Has anyone else ever been troubled when thinking about the continuity of the Old and New Testaments? I've grown up with a solid exposure to the story of Scripture between Genesis and Revelation, but I have often been troubled when thinking about how the events of the Old Testament, or God's actions and promises, coalesce with the life of Jesus that I read about in the New Testament.

You hear a message about Samson or Jonah or Joseph and it's all good and has great "takeaways" for Godly living, but how does it relate? What's the underlying story and purpose? Jesus was a Jew and his life and culture were wrapped in Jewish history - the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Exodus and King David and the Temple and the Exile and the Return, but everytime I read from the pages of the Old Testament, my mind wanders to Jesus: how does this all fit together? Are God's actions and character consistent from the dawn of time in Eden up through the Incarnation of Christ and up to today? I believe so, but they are still tough questions.

The more I read Scripture, the more I want to understand how the stage was set for the arrival of Christ on planet Earth. Using N.T. Wright's analogy, I want to understand the acts of the play that preceded the act when Jesus walked the earth and how those acts shape the act in which we live today, before the arrival of the final act when Jesus will reign eternally over his kingdom in the new heaven and earth.

As I've been thinking more about these things, I picked up the book Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher Wright. While reading today, I found the following thoughts to be particularly profound.

"For Paul, the very Gospel itself began, not just with Jesus, but with Abraham. For what, after all, was the Good News? Nothing other than God's commitment to bring blessing to all nations of humanity, as announced to Abraham.

The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you.' Galatians 3:8
...

"Salvation is, and always was, a matter of God's grace and promise. The idea that the difference between the Old and New Testaments is that in the Old salvation is by the law whereas in the New it is by grace, sets up a totally false contrast. In the Old as in the new, it is God who takes the initiative of grace and calls people to faith and obedient response. In the book of Exodus, eighteen chapters describing God's might act of redemption, in fulfillment of his own love and promise, come before the giving of the law..."

For the longest time, I think I've somehow constructed the image in my mind that there lies some mysterious waters of confusion between the Old and New Testaments. But I am beginning to see that the only thing between them is God's unchanging grace and fulfilled promises. The picture is beginning to look more and more like a continuous landscape, rather than two separate land masses, bridged only by some superficial knowledge of how Jesus is God. Jesus is God, but Jesus was there in the beginning and when God promised to Abraham that he would bless all nations through his lineage, he set in motion the story that is for all people, not just Jews.

Robots

At what point am I supposed to get depressed when robots play musical instruments with more skill than me? Not just trumpets, but now violins, too.

On another note, I like change, so I gave the blog a minor facelift. I'm probably the only one who cares, though. lol.

Wedding photos

If you're interested in looking at photos from our recent wedding, you can view them here:

http://www.mjphotography.biz/photos

username: king
pwd: jonathan-amber

YHVH

I found this video after browsing Pernell Goodyear's blog, who is a pastor at the Freeway. Think U2.

Teaching to Change Lives

I just finished up Teaching to Change Lives, an excellent book by Howard Hendricks. His humor, wit and stories from years of experience make this a challenging and practical read. I highly recommend it for anyone involved in teaching, mentoring or leading, or for anyone who just wants to be challenged in the ways that you approach learning. The flesh of his book is laid upon a skeleton of seven propositions:

“The effective teacher always teaches from the overflow of a full life”

“The way people learn determines how you teach.”

“Maximum learning is always the result of maximum involvement.”

“To truly impart information requires the building of bridges.”

“Teaching that impacts is not head to head, but heart to heart.”

“Teaching is most effective when the learner is properly motivated.”

“The teaching-learning process will be most effective when both teacher and learner are adequately prepared.”

Mover


Two weeks ago, I had my first chance to teach at our weekly worship gathering (Saturday Night Grace). I gave the final talk in a series "Spiritual Climate in Crisis." You can listen to it online. I'm new at this, so it's not too long-winded :) Unfortunately, you'll miss out on some fun images I shared, such like these:

I read a couple books as I researched and thought about the topic of the Sabbath. I recommend the Sabbath by Abraham Heschel, for some Jewish, historical background and Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva Dawn, for a contemporary, Christian perspective. Dawn shares some thoughts for intertwining some of the beautiful Jewish practices into our remembrance of the Sabbath. Also, check out JR's post on the Sabbath.

I'm a big fan of benedictions, so I wrote one out for this teaching. I pasted it in below. All in all, I really enjoyed this first experience of teaching/preaching/talking/presenting/dialogue-ing (however you choose to call it). God gave me a great peace as a I prepared and spoke. All honor to Him.

"When you want to keep moving in an attempt to do it all, I pray that you may learn to break free from the toxic climate that we live in today and learn to breathe in the fresh air of the Sabbath. May you come to understand that God gave us a beautiful gift in the rhythm of the Sabbath: freedom from the need to justify ourselves by the work of our hands and a foretaste of his eternal peace and rest in the world to come. And may you come to know that Jesus Christ came to bring us fully into God’s rest, fully into harmony with him and his creation and that he alone is the Way to that rest. Amen.
"

Remembering old friends

After four years of lost contact, I had brief, but refreshing, conversation with an old friend just before Thanksgiving. And so, I want to give thanks for friends that God has placed in my life during seasons of change.

Four years ago, I was in South Africa for six months and God gave me a few close friends during my still-hard-to-believe-it-was-real African experience. About every six months, I reconnect with one of those friends, Sam Adams (yup). We update eachother on our lives and encourage eachother in our respective ministries. Originally from Zimbabwe, where his parents worked with an NGO, Sam moved to Cape Town and was attending the University of Cape Town and helping to lead the college ministry at Jubilee, the church that I attended while in Cape Town. I remember lots of stimulating conversations about poverty, the Church and the work of God's Spirit in our world.

The previously mentioned friend, whom I reconnected with online the other day, was also from Zim. Tami Mugadza was a chatty guy and he seemed to know about everyone, which was fitting since he had political aspirations. Found out that he's living in Beijing right now and moving to South Korea for a year to teach English. Tami and I talked about racism and politics in Africa, about language and spirituality and I even heard bone chilling stories of demon possession from back in Zim. Tami also introduced me to some locally grown music: house music and kwaito, among others. You should check them out.

I also remember Luke. Luke Balemba (I think?) was an incredibly intelligent and friendly bloke. He came to South Africa from the DRC and in one year, he taught himself English, without any prior education in English. He owned a little convenience store down the street from my house and was a student at a technical school in Cape Town. If I remember correctly, one of his brothers was a pastor in Oregon.

Thank God for old friends and chances to rekindle those friendships.

HuckChuckFacts

Okay, remember how I posted on Chuck Norris' presidential endorsement? It gets better. Check this out...thanks goes to Chris R for tipping me.

Must Everything Change?

I often enjoy reading books and listening to teachers that challenge my paradigm and presuppositions. So, currently, I'm reading Brian McClaren's latest controversial book, Everything Must Change. And his book is certainly not disappointing me in my desire to be challenged, although much of his discussion pertains to topics that often plague my conscience.

I haven't done a book review in a while...actually, I've probably never blogged a true book review, but I have a few spare minutes to start one, so here ya go.

McClaren opens with two questions that have bothered him for much of his Christian life, questions which were the impetus behind this latest book: What are the biggest problems in the world? What does Jesus have to say about these global problems?

He then reveals the inspiration for the book's controversial title. He and his daughter were at a conference in Berundi, along with fifty Christian leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa. There, they discussed what the Gospel meant for Africans, who had experienced years upon years of suffering. They had received a message that God cared about their eternal salvation after they died, but what about their present circumstances--the genocide, the hunger, the famine, the disease, the injustice and corruption? They wanted to know what the message of Jesus had to say about their present life in East Africa. McClaren, along with other leaders, talked about how Jesus' message was one that included the arrival of God's kingdom on earth, not just helping us get to heaven (see: Lord's prayer).
At the end of the conference, a young woman sat motionless. McClaren approached her and she said with wide eyes, "If Jesus' message of the kingdom of God is true, then everything must change."

Subsequently, McClaren asks, "if we were to apply the good news of the kingdom of God to global and societal problems, what could change?"

...

What could change?

...to be continued

It's Totally Like Whatever

"Totally Like Whatever" a poem by Taylor Mali



This next pome is just plane funnie. You half to list it.

"The Impotence of Proofreading" by Taylor Mali


Well, if Chuck Norris says so...

I don't want to know what will happen if we don't agree with Chuck Norris, who has endorsed Mike Huckabee for President of the USA.

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2007/10/22/martial-arts-tv-star-picks-presidential-candidate/

ps, who is Mike Huckabee?...

Guess I'm gonna have to get back in the swing of blogging

Beat ya, Ty.

:)

Can't wait to read about your tie with a picture of you wearing a tie, Ty.

Well...this is likely going to be my final post as a single man. I am tying the knot this weekend. See ya'll on the other side.

wow...I now realize how much I emphasized the confusing nature of the English language. I used the word "tie" in like three different forms in this post. Yay, English.

Big Baby

Sheesh...even our newborns are big nowadays.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20995289/wid/11915773?GT1=10412

T-Shirts and Mercy

This post goes a bit beyond the scope of some of the safer things that I normally talk about on this blog.


I was working out at IMPE on the U of I campus yesterday and the back of a sorority girl's t-shirt caught my eye:
“You haven’t done anything until you’ve done a Phi.”


Hmmm. What kind of response is that type of message supposed to elicit? I don't need to tell you what most guys are going to think of when they read that. Confession: My mind immediately began to judge her. "Who wears a shirt like that?" I thought. "Why not just post your phone number and the words 'I'm easy?'"

But then my mind went to another place. I remembered the life of Jesus and how he interacted with a woman once, who had literally been caught in the act of adultery. Here's the story, from the Gospel of John. It speaks for itself.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”


I have a lot to learn from Jesus. His forgiveness, the degree to which he could extend unheard of mercy, his compassion--it's quite incredible. And on top of that, he really, in a sense, had faith in the woman. He believed that she could actually go and sin no more. Why else would he have said it? Now, I am sure that she fell into sin time and again in her life, but she knew that there was a God would would forgive her and show mercy, rather than condemn her.

Trying to connect with college students

http://illinilife.blip.tv

I suppose every job has its moments. A lighter side. I get to have fun now and again. My co-worker and friend, Ty, and I spent the afternoon before classes began (on Quad Day) trying to connect with new students on campus. You'll just have to watch.

Playin it safe


Wow. It's been too long since my last post. I need to get back into this.

I was riding Hot Magma (my bike) just yesterday when I remembered something that God revealed to me a couple summers ago. It is really easy to play it safe with people. Always talking about sports or the weather or hobbies or the latest episode of The Office or classes or work or upcoming vacation plans. The simple reminder was that I need to be watchful that I don't fall into the safe talk trap. If there was ever a man who didn't play it safe when talking to others, it was Jesus and if I'm trying to follow him, I better remember that. Jesus was always subverting the expectations that people had of what a Jewish "religious leader" should have been saying. As Paul said, we are the "stench of death" to some and the "fragrance of life" to others. But how potent is the odor that I am emitting? Do people feel loved by my words? Challenged? Encouraged? Motivated? Stretched? Accepted? Or, do they just feel, well, ordinary after we finish talking?

I have so far to go.

Map My Run

Here is a new internet toy for some of you runners out there who may be unfamiliar. I had used GMaps pedometer prior to this, but I've recently fell in love with MapMyRun.com. It is a great, interactive tool for runners. You can not only easily trace a running route, but you can do other fun stuff like create a profile and keep an online training log of all of your running stats.

At the table

Tolerance is weak
Love is power

We’ve been the ones having the door opened for us
We’ve been the ones pointing the finger at them
It’s they that have been silenced
It’s them that we have ignored
It has been about us and not them

We’ve spoken words that do not leave us uneasy
And tolerated their presence all around
We’ve consumed our time struggling to satisfy our appetites
For things we do not need
Our focus has been on the mirror instead of the light source

In God’s family there is neither rich nor poor
No one is labeled Jew or Gentile
The slave and the free are all one
None are tolerated
But all are accepted

What if when we leave this temporary place of lodging
When we exit these temporary bodies to travel home
And we receive our invitation for the Great Feast
The insatiable appetites of the temporary world will receive their full
There will be no mirrors, but only The Light

And at last when we think we are receiving our great reward
When we are directed to walk forward and open the door to see
As we turn the knob and slowly open the door in anticipation
It turns out we aren’t opening the door for us but for them

Sounds begin to fill the Great Hall
These sounds are quite unfamiliar to us, but somehow we understand them
For they are the sounds of every tongue and every tribe
The beholders of these words pour through the doors and fill the room
Our dismay is written on our face

For it is them that fill the seats
It is they who sit down for the Great Feast
What if I only see they
What if I’m just the one in a room full of them
And finally I find my seat, not at my table, but at theirs
I look around, feeling quite alone in my skin

The Light spreads throughout the room
He is also the King and he himself is our Feast
His presence removes all hunger and thirst
Under the illumination of his Light all look lovable and free

For then I finally realize that love is power

His power, which drew men unto him
Men who knew the darkness of their souls
Souls that were silenced by this world
Full of greed, and hungry for love

Now each one’s appetite is satiated
With an eternal love
That excites every sense within
And we are finally satisfied

Trails and Trials


7.7.07 was supposed to be the "most blessed" day ever, or something like that. Woops. I guessed I missed the memo.

As the sun was peering over the mountains in the East on the seventh day of the seventh month of 2007, my friend, Marla, and I drove my friend's Ford Taurus down the campsite driveway toward the race headquarters for our big event of the day: the Leadville Heavy-Half and Full marathon (Marla running the latter and I the former).

Leadville, CO sits at 10,100 feet above sea level. The air is thin, the whiskey runs free and the mountains surround this little historical mining town with majesty and power. Doc Holliday and Jesse James both inhabited this mountain town back in the 19th century, and I visited the historical saloon where they gambled. Leadville has a couple of famously hard trail races and I had the privilege of participating in one of them: the 15 mile "half" marathon. 7.5 miles uphill to 13,200 feet and then back down. I was neither prepared, nor feeling confident about this race. Four hours? Five hours? I had no idea how long this race would take me. Would I even finish? I was truly placing my faith in God to bring me to the finish line without collapsing on the 13,000 foot peak.

Despite the fact that I tried to convince myself that I was merely going to attempt to competitively hike this 15 mile race, my nerves were jittery. I made a couple runners' stops at the john and we were on our way. With the sun shining incredibly brightly directly in my line of sight, I was exiting the driveway very slowly and cautiously. Not cautiously enough, apparently. I failed to notice a telephone pole directly in front of the car. I turned the car right into it. Marla yelled "stop" but it was too late. The damage was done. So, with an hour to go before the race, I had to deal with the reality that I just drove my friend's Taurus into a telephone pole (a pole, mind you, that was litterally within the bounds of the driveway we were driving on). Of course, my mind immediately wandered to the financial damage that I had just done. I nailed the bumper, fender and headlight. But, I put it behind me and we made our way to the race starting line.

As I looked around, I noticed that nearly all of the other runners were decked out in the type of gear that only experienced marathoners, trail runners and ultra-racers would be wearing. I figured I was in over my head and was just praying that I would be able to finish the race respectably, but after having the fender bender and a less than adequate night's sleep the previous night, I wasn't so sure. The gun went off and all 500 of us started making our way up the mountain.

At about mile three, after Marla and I parted ways for our respective race courses, I was running alone and I noticed a couple women running ahead of me. "As long as I don't let any more women pass me, I'll be just fine," I thought. Immediately after those words filled my mind, two women passed me, one to my right, the other to my left. Dangit. There goes that. I was just running to make it to the first water/aid station. It appeared at about mile 3.5 (there were no mile markers). The entire race had been uphill so far, but to my surprise, I was running about a 10 minute pace. I snagged a couple snacks, some drinks and my confidence boosted a bit. I started to find the runners high. The worries of the morning were long gone and I was feeling saturated by the beauty of the environment and the freedom and clear mindedness that comes with running. I began passing a person here and another person there. At about mile 6 we were making out way up a very steep switchback, with about 1200 feet of elevation to go before we peaked out at 13,200.

Sooner than I expected, I arrived at the halfway point (7.5) and slipped out a "hallelujah." I was really surprised by my own time (1:55). This meant one thing and one thing only in my mind at that point: I could somehow break 3 hours. I downed my drinks and banana and began my controlled fall down the mountain. One hour later, I crossed the finish line, breaking three hours and somehow obliterating my modest goal of 4-5 hours.

So, despite the trials of the morning, I somehow dominated the trails. Stealing a quote from Eric Liddell, I genuinely felt God's pleasure during that race.

10 questions

John Werst, a pastor from Oregon, visited LT last week and gave two high-impact talks on being "Peacemakers" and another on "Life Management for the Long Haul." He had some highly relevant thoughts for us and God really spoke to me in many areas. I wanted to toss a couple of his thoughts out there for the world wide web.

"Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional."

In communicating with others, "commit to understand, then to be understood."

10 Questions to help you discern if you are maturing in Christ:

1. Are you more thirsty for God than ever before?
2. Are you more and more loving?
3. Are you increasingly sensitive to the Holy Spirit and aware of God?
4. Are you governed more and more by God's Word?
5. Are you concerned more and more with the physical and spiritual needs of others?
6. Are you more and more concerned with the Church and the Kingdom of God?
7. Are the disciplines of the Christian life more and more important to you?
8. Are you more and more aware of your sin?
9. Are you more and more willing to forgive others?

10. Are you thinking more and more about being with the Lord Jesus?


Beyond our normal margins

Here are two interesting articles that I've read recently.

The first is by Scott McKnight
Getting the Gospel Right

The second is an interview with Shane Claiborne
Dish Water, Smart Bombs, and Life Together

I want to re-read both of these. There's some good stuff here. Some stuff I'm not sure I agree with and some stuff that I know we've been missing for a while. What do you think?

Colorado 2.0

I'm well into my third week here at 8,010 feet in beautiful Estes Park, CO. I often find it hard to grasp that this is part of my full-time job. Not because I don't work, but because it is taking a great paradigm shift in my mind to see that what I get to do is "work." So often, I worship at the altar of efficiency and productivity, but you can't use those metrics when you are in a relational-oriented career!

As this blog post title suggests, this is my second version of being in Colorado for GCM's leadership training program. Version 2.0 has an entirely different look, because I am not a student anymore. When I reflect on what I learned two years ago, I remember that I learned a great deal about distractions. And goal setting. Relationship building. Prayer. Scripture meditation. Leading. And sharing my faith in Christ. But that was just the beginning. What does v2.0 have in store?

Already, I am discovering that God would be pleased if I learn more about servanthood. How often do I go out of my way to serve someone else? How often do I inconvenience myself for the benefit of a friend? Here's another one: muliplication. That's something I haven't thought about since math class, but more than once, we've been hit with 2 Timothy 2:2 out here at LT. The Church won't grow without it, but we don't talk about it enough. Paul wished to entrust to Timothy something that he would in turn entrust to reliable men who would turn around and teach others. That's four generations of multiplication right there.

Colorado 2.0 seems to be a sequel to 1.0 in a lot of ways. I was stretched immensely in being transparent with others about the hope that I have in Christ, but I am still so weak in this area. Does my passion overflow to others? Do they even know I give a rip about Jesus Christ?

So, imagine that you are sitting in a coffee shop. You've got your favorite magazine open, with little coffee stains smattered across the pages. A stranger sits down next to you. Or, maybe it's an old friend from high school. You start chatting and before you know it, he or she throws out a question that you don't hear too often (or ever for that matter): "What do you think of Jesus?" How would you respond? Whether you call yourself a follower of Christ or not, I'm interested to hear your answers.

May snowfall

I found some time to upload a few photos that I shot a few days ago of the fresh snowfall here in Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of these are on the YMCA property or nearby in Moraine Park. I woke up a little late, so some of the fresh snow had melted, but my buddy, Rob, got some amazing shots after sunrise. Unbelievable. Straight out of National Geographic. This was definitely my first May snowfall, so I'm just glad I was awake before it all vanished.

See a few photos here.

At 8000 feet

I suppose I've had a bit of a drought for the past few weeks. From blogging, that is. I arrived in breath-taking Estes Park, CO six days ago, which will be my home for the next couple months. Between going to NC for my brother's graduation, packing up my apartment and moving to CO for the summer, it's been a busy couple weeks, but I'm all settled in the Rocky Mountains and it feels so good to be back.

I've gotta run, but I just have to say that it is so beautiful, awesome and peaceful here. I look forward to getting some posts up very soon!

This video is rated PG

So, this is...

I have a friend, who...

Sometimes in college...

Okay, so if you have ever...

I give up. You just have to watch it for yourself. Yes, this is my good buddy, Charles Hoover IV (not really the fourth, but it sounds cool, doesn't it?).


Next stop. Conan.

Finding the right words

N.T. Wright on "Discovering Help in Prayer" from Simply Christian:

"Help is at hand not least in those who have trodden the path ahead of us. Part of our difficulty here is that we moderns are so anxious to do things our own way, so concerned that if we get help from anyone else our prayer won't be "authentic" and come from our own heart, that we are instantly suspicious about using anyone else's prayers. We are like someone who doesn't feel she's properly dressed unless she has personally designed and made all her own clothes ... We are hamstrung by ... the idea that things are authentic only if they come spontaneously, unbidden, from the depths of our heart."

I deeply appreciate the recent move in evangelicalism over the past few decades toward conversational prayer with our Father; however, I believe that Wright has a very valid point. So valid, that he could have written this paragraph about my own life. So often, prayers in our evangelical communities turn into "Father Weejus" prayers (check out the Spring issue of "Leadership" magazine), when we pray "Father, we just ask you...Father, we just want you..." Many of the prayers that have been prayed down through the centuries by the "great cloud of witnesses" that have gone before us, are prayers that are concerned more with directing our focus toward God's name and God's glory, rather than a preoccupation with being a creative wordsmith in our conversation with God.

Without a doubt, if our prayers become a heap of legalistic phrases, rather than a cry of the heart, then we should move on to new forms in prayer. Wright gives a few suggestions for guided prayer, not the least of which is the Lord's Prayer, a prayer that Jesus gave directly to his followers. When they wanted to learn to prayer, Jesus didn't give a seminar on finding the perfect words, but instead he offered a prayer directly to them.

Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we too have forgiven our debtors.
Do not bring us to the time of trial,
But rescue us from the evil one.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
Now and forever.
Amen

I'll be the first to confess that prayer is difficult and I have great lengths to grow. Sometimes, the simplest prayers are the most authentic, as the tax collector revealed to us: "
God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Noteworthy

"Jesus--the real Jesus, the living Jesus, the Jesus who dwells in heaven and rules over earth as well, the Jesuse who has brought God's future into the present--wants not just to influence us, but to resuce us; not just to inform us, but to heal us; not just to give us something to think about, but to feed us with himself."
-N.T. Wright, Simply Christian

Up a bit earlier than usual

I beat the sun up today. That doesn't happen very often.

I read an article yesterday. An editorial really. It made me laugh. Outloud. I was at the bus stop and I was just sitting there, laughing outloud, everyone else thinking in their head, "Who laughs outloud at the newspaper?" Here is the excerpt.

"I recently ran across a survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago that took a look at which professions had the most job satisfaction...Members of the clergy topped the list with an 87 percent job satisfaction rating. That makes some sense that they're happy. I mean, they are working for God and all and you can't really argue with his benefit package. Sure full medical and dental care are nice, but everlasting life, that sort of thing is a whole hell of a lot nicer than even a company car. On the downside, I bet they really get tired of working weekends all the time..."

If you're curious about the rest of the results, firemen came in second at 80%, authors (74%), teachers (69%), Psychologists (67%), the list goes on.

I don't consider myself one of the clergy, for sure. I'm just a rookie at this whole ministry thing, but I have to agree with the weekends part. Although, I only work Saturdays, not Sundays, which isn't half bad.

Post script

For all the Rolands in the world, when I say "it's good to remind myself how rich I am"... I mean it's good to face the reality that I am much closer to the wealthy man whom Jesus warns rather than the poor beggar on the side of the street. I don't remind myself of my rich-ness so that I can remember to go and swim around in my pools of money like Scrooge McDuck and then go nuts at Best Buy (or Amazon.com, which is much easier for me to mindlessly dump $25 bucks into...but you get "Free super saver shipping"...i know, i know....Of course, I'm on Amazon Prime now. sheesh).

Gut check

It's always good to remind myself of how rich I really am. btw...if you haven't watched "Rich", one of Rob Bell's latest Noomas, I highly recommend it.

$8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market.

$30 could buy you an ER DVD Boxset OR a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.

$73 could buy you a new mobile phone OR a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

$2400 could buy you a second generation High Definition TV OR schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.

See how rich you are at the Global Rich List.


New Zealand is full of sheep

You never heard the real truth about Dolly, the cloned sheep.

I have a new movie coming out (look closely), which brings to life everyone's greatest fear: killer sheep. I'm not kidding. Check it out here.

One year already?

It's hard to believe that it's been about one year since I wrote the last post about the Invisible Children. In the past year, there has been progress and a great deal of awareness raised about the devestating circumstances that thousands of Ugandans are living in. These three guys have shown the world that we can do something. It started small, with just a vision to go to Africa and report back to America on some of the "invisible stories" that the media doesn't tell us. It's true that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, but grows into an enormous plant.

Do we have the faith to step out? To stand up for justice? To "lay down our lives for our friends" in the name of love? In the name of Christ?

Invisible Children has moved us. It's shaken us. It's inspired us. This movie (among many other documentaries and literary pieces) has shown that the world is small. We live in a global community. We must care for our neighbors across the street and across the Atlantic.

We can all take action once again. Last year, the makers of Invisible Children created a "Global Night Commute" to remember and share the voice of the night commuting children of northern Uganda. This year, there is a similar opportunity with a different name. Displace Me. Visit the site to understand more and be a part of a movement that is taking a stand. A movement that is calling all Americans to fight for the rights of the poor and needy.

I'll end with a quote that I just read this week: "Live simply so that others may simply live."

Glory that doesn't fade

Maybe you've heard of "Faded Glory," ya know, the Wal-Mart clothing line. We're not talking about that kind of glory here. Although, maybe we are, in a sense of the word. There is this sort of glory that men and women the world over are striving after, a glory that can seemingly be obtained by possessing the right stuff. That is the glory, which is fading.

My good buddy, Fred, gave a teaching last night on 2 Corinthians 3:1-11. He spoke about "glory" and he got me thinkin.

Did you know that the Advertising industry in America spends about $145 billion each year. Just to get us to buy more stuff. Stuff that is supposed to make our lives more "glorious." Huh.

I've been reading a really good--and long--article in the Washington Post over the past couple days. Maybe you've heard about it. It's been on the news. But after last night, thinking about fading glory versus glory that lasts, the real life story has taken on an altogether new meaning.

The article is about a man named Joshua Bell. Maybe you've heard of him. He's only, like, the best violinist on the planet. The Washington Post got an idea in its head that it would ask Bell to bring his $3.5 million dollar violin to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station of the D.C. subway and set up for a little recital. He'd open up his violin case, play some magical violin music and see how the busy D.C. commuters would respond. Bell, who doesn't seem to take himself entirely too seriously, at least not enough to balk at such an idea, agreed. Donning some blue collar clothing and a baseball cap, he set up shop at the L'Efant station and prepared to wow the unsuspecting subway crowd, a bunch that likely is subjected to varying degrees of musical artistry in the subway tunnels on a daily basis. It was a free concert with a world-renowned violinist this time, though. How do you think the crowd responded? If you don't want to know and would like to read the article for yourself, stop reading this post.


Bell could have taken any composition and played it masterfully, but instead, he chose one of the most difficult pieces ever written, "Chaconne" by Bach. Bell says of the piece, "it's not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It's a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect." Bach's "Chaconne" is also considered one of the most difficult violin pieces to master. Many try; few succeed. But Bell played it and he played it well.

So, what happened?

The people barely noticed. That's what happened. A few at least paused in their stride, to hear a few notes. The man is a musical genius, playing one of the most beautiful violin pieces known to man, and the busy commuters barely noticed.

Says Bell, "It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah...ignoring me."

"At a music hall, I'll get upset if someone coughs or if someone's cellphone goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change."

Bell played something that was really, fundamentally, glorious. The music was beautiful. It displayed the creativity of a master. But hardly anyone seemed to care. Focused on reading their newspapers, checking their daily schedules on PDAs or finishing up the latest Sudoku, the D.C. commuters ignored the glory and beauty of Bell's violin playing, and traded that glory for the temporal, fading glory of the everyday, benign pleasures of this world.

How often do we do this very thing, each and every day? Trading the unsurpassing, marvelous glory of our Creator for the fading glory of the world?

I'll leave you with a final thought, a quote from Fred last night: "In a world that praises glory that is fading, we, as Christians, must re-calibrate our lives to recognize glory that is unseen."

the joy of Easter


In a garden God first put us
to live in peace and joy.
In a garden God suffered tears
and sweat of agony.

In a garden
God rose to life
and restored to all creation
life and joy and peace.

O gardens with new life
Rejoice with us. Alleluia!

When Christ rode into Jerusalem,
the stones were ready to cry out
and proclaim him Lord of all creation.
When Christ died on the cross,
the earth shook and the rocks split
sharing the loss and devastation.

After Christ was buried in the tomb
the stone was rolled away,
rejoicing and revealing
the glory of our risen Lord.

Now is Christ risen from the dead
Alleluia!

O let all things visible and invisible,
earthly and heavenly,
all people, tribes and nations,
saved by the blood of Christ
join with us to praise and glorify
the Lord of all creation.

He left his heavenly throne
to suffer with us and release his damaged creation
from death, sin and decay,
that we might be in Paradise with him
and live forever in his joy and peace.

Alleluia! Glory to our Risen Savior
Alleluia! Glory to our God

Science as Worship.

Here's a simply written column by the well-respected scientist, Dr. Francis Collins (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Collins, http://www.genome.gov/10000779). He discusses how he landed at the intersection of Science and Faith. Read it here.

A few excerpts:

"Challenged by one of those patients, who asked "What do you believe, doctor?", I began searching for answers. I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as "What is the meaning of life?" "Why am I here?" "Why does mathematics work, anyway?" "If the universe had a beginning, who created it?" "Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?" "Why do humans have a moral sense?" "What happens after we die?"

"By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship."

Fotos

See. Honduras.

Here.

Fernando & Eddie

Not too long ago, I wrote a couple posts about "becoming a kid," inspired by Jesus' statement that in order to enter into the kingdom of God, we must become like little children. Obviously, not in the litteral sense. It's about humility, dependency, healthy fear of God, wonder, love, the absence of self-suffiency.

So, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the fact that God continued to communicate this message to me when I was in Honduras. I met Fernando and Eddie during our first day in Honduras. They are brothers who live next door to Esperanza and Carmello, whom I wrote about in my previous post. Their father died when they were very young, too young to even remember him. When I visited their home, their mother, Maria, pointed out his picture, which hung right next to the front door.

From the moment I met these to young boys, who are 8 and 10 years old, I knew that we were going to be friends that week. Fernando especially took to me. He learned my name immediately and each day, he would periodically call it out, just hoping that I would turn and smile at him. "Jon-a-tin." He'd smile and say it again twenty minutes later. Fernando has never had an earthly father, so my heart especially goes out to him, as does the Lord's: "...his name is the LORD—and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling..."

Each day, Fernando and Eddie would show up to help us in our work. They wanted to help us dig holes for the new fence. They wanted to help paint. They wanted to help carry rocks. They just wanted to be included. I quickly learned some key words and phrases. "Me turno," I'd say and then I'd start digging. "Se turno," and then I'd let Fernando have a go for a little while. They were also fascinated with our gloves. I'd let Fernando wear them occassionally throughout the day, but I'd have to say, "Guantes, por favor," and then he'd return them without question. But far and away, Fernando wanted to wear my sunglasses more than anything else.

One day, after I had finished cutting some of the pieces for the fence, I walked inside to find shade and some water. I was covered in saw dust, which clung to my hairy arms an filled my ears. Fernando followed me in and unsollicited, he began brushing it off of me and even stuck his little fingers in my ears to clear out the dust.

Periodically, each day, Fernando would walk up beside me and just grab my hand, hold on and follow me. If I left my camera sitting out, he'd put it back inside of my backpack for me.

One particular day, Fernando, Eddie, Kyle and I sat down in the middle of the dirt road. We had finished up most of the work for the day, but the physical labor was secondary in importance. We sat there and the two brothers began teaching Kyle and I some Spanish. We'd point to things and mutter, "como se dice?" They would patienty and repititously say the proper word in spanish, sounding it out phonetically. I was so impressed by their teaching skills. I discoverd that if you give your undivided attention to these kids, they have all the patience in the world. But then again, they don't have video games, internet, email, mp3 players and TVs to distract them and make them bored with us.

By the end of the week, I had grown quite attached to Fernando and Eddie, but especially to Fernando. Through the course of the week, he had shown me what it means to love someone and to come to the Lord like a little child. On Saturday night, after the church service (after becoming a Christian the previous day, their mother brought them to church!), I walked outside of the crowded church building. I was looking for the two boys. I didn't get to say a final goodbye. I didn't spot them, but found another friend instead and was busy talking with him through a translator when I spotted Fernando out of the corner of my eye, running toward me. He came up and threw his arms around my knees and embraced me. "Adios, Jon-a-tin. Adios." Not quite ready to say goodbye to this little guy yet, I asked the translator to convey a few thoughts to him for me. He eventually left with his mom, but not too soon thereafter, he came running back again, "Un mas photo!" He wanted one more picture with me. I slung him up so that our heads were at the same level and we took our last photo together. I made my way inside to find the group and there came Fernando and Eddie again! But this was the grand finale. We took our last pictures and said our last "adios."

I learned a lot from Fernando that week. How to love. How to serve. How to listen. How to be patient. How to be a friend. How to be a child before our mighty King.

Thanks, Fernando. I miss you, buddy. Hopefully, I'll see you next year!

Where do I begin?

For the past few days, I've been telling the story of Choluteca, Honduras. To my fiancee, family and friends. I will keep telling the story. There is just so much to tell. I've been fortunate enough to go on many week-long mission trips and each has held its unique value, but this one felt pretty special. Maybe the best one yet. Yes, I think it was.

I don't have much time right now, but I wanted to get some initial thoughts written. So, where do I begin? How about I tell you one story. The story of Esperanza & Carmello.

Esperanza and Carmello are married, with seven children and live in Limon, Honduras, a small, impoverished town, located about 7km from Choluteca. About a year ago, the family was living in a delapidated, makeshift shack. Carmello only has part-time construction work and in their prior living condition, Esperanza had no work. Then Esperanza met some men from the GCLA (Great Commission Latin America) church in Choluteca (Iglesia Gran Comision) and Esperanza had a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ.

Today, Esperanza and her family have a brand spankin new home, built with a concrete floor and cinder block walls. Approximately 15' x 15'. When our team arrived in Choluteca, Esperanza's family had been given not only a new home, but Esperanza had a full-time job at a tortilla factory (Tortillaria) that the church opened recently. The women who work there pump out 20-25,000 tortillas each day! We were given the honor of beginning the construction of a bathroom and kitchen for the family and we also built a green picket fence. A young man named Francisco, who lived down the road, told my friend Cellus and I, "That's the nicest fence I've seen around here."

For one week, my friends and I had the privilege of loving and serving this beautiful family. As we hugged Esperanza goodbye, her eyes filled with tears and then her face lit up with a smile. The joy that comes only from God oozed from her pores. The people in Esperanza's community have seen a difference and they've been asking questions. I'll tell more stories about them soon enough.


We're bringing serving back.

Today at 2pm I'll be heading up to O'Hare with 14 friends for a week-long missions journey in Honduras. If you think of it, please remember our team when/if you pray to God this week. We're in for quite a weather transition. 40 degrees in Champaign today. About 98 degrees in Choluteca, Honduras last time I checked. So why Honduras for spring break?

Starting with my first missions trip several years ago, there has been something beautiful and mysterious that has happened on that and each successive journey. I've become more closely tied to the friends that I serve with on those trips. I've seen God move to restore lives, reinstill hope, bring smiles to kids faces, magnify the name of His Son, unite diverse peoples and awaken exciting dreams that lie deep inside some. On man, whom we were helping to reconstruct his little inner city church in Memphis, TN, helped put it all into perspective: "You're my miracle." I don't take any credit for this. Major props to God.

So, when I had another opportunity--this time to help lead--to go on a short-term trip this spring break, I jumped at it. Matt and Lacey, a young couple in our church, went to Honduras last spring break and they had a vision to lead a team down there this year. So, after several months of team meetings, raising financial support and gathering donated items for Hondurans, we are all packed and ready to go. (okay, not packed yet...) I could tell you myriad cool stories from how God provided for us. (e.g., a huge financial gift that I got in the mail, virtually unsolicited from a Honduran woman in Chicago, whom I had met several months ago).

The plan is this: we'll begin construction of a home for a woman named, Esperanza, and her children, we'll be serving at a Malnutrition Clinic, two of our team members will be assessing the nutrition needs and training the mothers to feed their unhealthy children, we'll be helping out the local church with whatever needs they have and hopefully we'll be living out the good news of the kingdom of God through our words and actions.

I need to start packing! Now where's that sunscreen....

Never Fails.

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


Love never fails.


Those last three words hung over me like a fog that wouldn't lift. Their gravity pulled me in, deeper and deeper. Before, the words of this famous passage ran together as one lofty view of what true love is. It is what we should aspire to. It is the love that a husband and a wife should have for one another--at least it seems to always be read at weddings.

But those last three words. I just couldn't get them out of my head. "That's the love I have for you." That's what I sensed, deep in my gut. God's love never fails me. His love always finds me. A simple truth that constantly evades me, leaving me feeling helpless, feeling like I need to do something to earn his favor. That I need to have just the right amount of sorrow before he will remove my transgression from his memory.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the further, nor any powers, neither heighth nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39

It defies logic, but I have to continually stand on this truth. Otherwise? I wouldn't be standing on much of anything.

sun.

One of my friends was saying tonight that he loves overcast days. He loves winter. "Good thing you still don't live in the Caribbean," I said. "Yeah, that'd just be depressing," he shot back. Hard to imagine. He just can't understand how everyone hides during the winter and then today when it's the first amazing day of spring (sunny and 75), everyone comes out of the shadows, looking all chipper. People he hasn't seen in months he says. Well, spring is my favorite time of the year, but I enjoy the snow enough that I'm not a recluse during the winter. The weather does change my mood, though--sometimes too much. It's amazing how good of an elixer some good ole fashioned sunshine can be for my soul. That first nice day of Spring when you can open the windows and let the fresh air flood the room. The first scent of a neighbor grilling. Mmmm.

So, the past two Sundays have given us pretty decent weather and I've enjoyed my Sabbath by taking some time to walk around my neighborhood and shoot some photos. Here is my latest photo set on Flickr. . . still working with a low-level digital camera, but it'll make me appreciate an SLR if I'm ever so spoiled.

Congratulations, Illinois

You rank #7 in CFLs purchased since the beginning of 2007. That's equivalent to taking over 7,000 CO2 emitting cars off of the road.

I was an engineer once.

Every once in a while, the engi-nerd inside of me rises from the depths. Today was one of those days. I wandered around the highly acclaimed Engineering Open House on campus today and even stopped at a few booths to talk to the people. For some reason, the challenge beckoned me once again. Even though most of this stuff is over my head. These amazing engineering projects reminded me how God's creativity and design is seen everywhere, from computer science to biomechanics. To top it off, I come home and visit my friend Ritish's blog, where I found this post. Even if you're not an engineer or a math geek, you'll get a good laugh. I guarantee it.

Becoming a kid again, II

"Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." -Jesus

Manning contends that to be a disciple of Jesus, to become like a little child, we must be willing to accept ourselves as ones who have little importance in comparison to our King. Only when we recognize our low position will we receive a "privileged place in the kingdom." This privilege comes not from us proving our importance, but from God's delight in us, simply becuase we have humbled ourselves as his children.

Talk about a counter-cultural position. Certainly unique from any other faith in our world.

In Luke 18, a rich young man comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Manning says that:

"It is no coincidence that Luke juxtaposes the passage of Jesus and the children immediately preceding the verses on the young aristocrat. Children contrast with the rich man simply because there is no question of their having yet been able to merit anything. Jesus' point is: there is nothing that any of us can do to inherit the kingdom. We must simply receive it like little children...The New Testament world was not sentimental about children and had no illusion about any pretended innate goodness in them...If they receive anything it can only be as a gift."

Poetic

The poetry, wonder and truth of Psalm 96 resonated in my soul this morning:

1 Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.

2 Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.

3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

4 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.

5 For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.

6 Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.

9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of his [a] holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.

10 Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns."
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;

12 let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;

13 they will sing before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his truth.

one-eyed

Becoming a Kid Again

I'd like to do a few posts on what Jesus taught about becoming like a child. I'm in the middle of Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning, and he offers a few thoughts. Here is one for today:

"When Jesus tells us to become like little children, in order that we may enter the kingdom of God, he invites us to forget what lies behind."

There is a story of a Zen monk who was being chased by a ferocious tiger. He raced to the edge of a cliff, glanced back and saw the growling tiger about to spring. The monk spotted a rope dangling over the edge of the cliff. He grabbed it and began shinning down the side of the cliff out of the clutches of the tiger. Whew! Narrow escape. He stared down and saw a huge quarry of jagged rocks five hundred feet below. He looked up and saw the tiger poised atop the cliff with bared claws.

Just then, two mice crawled onto the rope and began to nibble at the rope. What to do?

The monk looked to the side and happened to see a strawberry within arm's reach growing out of the face of the cliff side. He plucked it, ate it, and exclaimed, "Yum-yum; that's the best strawberry I've ever tasted in my entire life!"

A New Age

It has become a cliche phrase that beauty queens mutter from the stages at Miss America pageants, but yearning for "peace on earth" isn't a new adage. And it certainly isn't a desire to be dismissed, thinking it's some "pie in the sky" wish. Who doesn't want "peace on earth?" Some--very few--may deny it, wanting instead a power to rule the earth in their own power.
Heaven on Earth, we need it now
I'm sick of all of this hanging around
Sick of sorrow, sick of the pain
I'm sick of hearing again and again
That there's gonna be peace on Earth"
-
Peace on Earth
, U2
In our gut, sitting on the throne of the seat of all of our desires, is the two-headed yearning for Peace and Love. From the day man rebelled against God, we've been reaching for it. We've failed and at times, in little ways, we've succeeded. But it doesn't last. We want it, though.

The ancient writings of a prophet named Daniel foretold of the fall of four of the major empires in history (Babylonian, Median, Persian, Macedonian), and each was compared to a different fierce animal of the earth. But there was another king who would come, Daniel wrote. One who would be a "son of man." One who would usher in a fresh kingdom. One who would bring lasting Peace.

"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." Daniel 7

Enter Jesus.

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him..."

So often, eternal life is thought of as this far-off dream of life after death. And it is that. But it is much more. It is life now. It is to enter into the very life of God, here and now in this life. To be drenched in his peace and his love and his abundant grace. But is also an expectation. A hope. Of a superior age, a new age when Peace will reign over all and believers in Christ will experience unobstructed fellowship with their creator. Forever enjoying his perfect love.

I want that.

I need that.

I was created for that.

Now? I anticipate its full realization, and just enjoy the peace that has already been given through redemption in Christ.

art

I'm reading "The Heart of the Artist" by Noland and I wanted to share a couple quotes from the book. Thankfully, there has been a resurgence of the arts within the Church, but we are far from realizing the potential of the whole realm of the arts to capture our wonder as is expressed in this reflection by John Fischer:


“When artists reach into their colors or to the notes of a musical score, into the developing solution in a darkroom tray or to the flow of words on a page, they are interacting with the eternity God has placed in their hearts…Because their minds cannot fathom what their hearts know, they feel the weight of the God-placed burden. Art often seems irrational, because the heart is reaching beyond the mind…trying to find the meaning of its existence.”

Francis Schaeffer had these sentiments in regard to the mediocrity and resistance to the pursuit of excellence in the arts with regard to the Christian:

“Of all people Christians should be addicted to quality and integrity in every area, not be looking for excuses for second-best. We must resist this onslaught. We must demand higher standards. We must look for people with real creative integrity and talent, or we must not dabble in these creative fields at all. All of this does not mean that there is no room for the first halting steps, for experimentation, for mistakes and for development. But it does mean that there is no room for lazy, entrenched, year after year established mediocrity, unchanging and unvaried.”


Is Schaeffer to being too elitist? I recall Colossians 3:23, which says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as if working for the Lord and not for man." Sounds like pursuit of excellence to me...

Building friendships

If you live on or near a college campus or in an urban area where international students live, consider this quote from an Indonesian student who came to study at USC:

"Before coming to the United States, I loved the music, films, freedoms, and I thought, the people. Now I'm not so sure. It's hard to make friends here. Everyone is so busy, into their appearance, and clueless about the rest of the world. I long for friendships where people can talk intelligently about world issues, travel, art, and life outside of our little worlds on campus. To be honest," she says, "I feel lonely a lot of the time. I don't get to see much of American life other than on TV or the area surrounding my university."

Certainly, this isn't true across the board, but over 500,000 international students are studying at American universities right now and over 70% of them never enter an American home! So, in other words, on average, we pretty much suck at inviting in "strangers" and those from other cultures. :) Let's change that! International students (speaking as one who was once an int'l student in another country) really want to get a "window into America" and we have an opportunity to give them a really positive experience to take home to their friends and family. As Christians, we can really reflect Christ by simply giving someone a ride to the grocery store, inviting them over for dinner or helping them learn English. If we aren't to show them respect and love because of the universiality of the Gospel, then who?

As an international friend told me recently, after I asked him if he had any American friends after being here for eight months, "No, everyone is really busy." Ouch...