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

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