I will be on holiday for the next few weeks - celebrating Christmas multiple times with Amber's extended family, New Years in Champaign and then an 8-day mission excursion to Choluteca, Honduras. I am going to try to rest, love and listen well. Have a fantastic Christmas and start to your new year. May Christ and his love and peace be near to you.
Amber and I spent an hour or so at Borders on Thursday during our date night. It always provokes fun conversations and we walk away with a list of books that we'd like to eventually check out at the library.
One book we ran across was "Stuff White People Like." Hilarious. I had vaguely heard of this collection before, but had not seen the book or a full list of the stuff that white people like. It isn't so much the items necessarily as it is the way that the author describes these items that white people supposedly (read: actually) like.
I thought I'd glance through the list on the website and see what things I "liked" today. Yes, today. All of these...
"This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think - and thinking is anathema to religion." Richard Dawkins
Have you seen this one? Some Brits in partnership with Richard Dawkins will be putting signs up all over buses in London that will state: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
Probably, eh? I thought that atheists held that it isn't even possible that a god exists. This campaign will likely generate some fun conversations across the pond - on both shores.
After a period of political turmoil, new leadership in South Africa was appointed today.
Among Motlanthe's moves, he appointed a few new cabinet members, among others, who bring optimism for those hoping to seriously tackle the twin problems of HIV/AIDS and crime in a poverty-riddled nation, where Mbeki failed to adequately address these symptomatic problems.
In other news, we were off at our annual Fall Retreat this weekend in Lowpoint, IL. It was a highpoint of the semester thus far. We flew in Tammy L. Smith from Columbus. She's a firecracker who spits some serious game.
Curious about what the new Pope has to say about Jesus, I picked up his newly published Jesus of Nazareth from the library. So far, so good. Spent a couple hours reading that today as well as some Peterson, who never ceases to dazzle my imagination with his poetic language.
I'm most naturally an extrovert, a gregarious guy, who enjoys sharing life with others. But it's easy to fake "community," yet it's no substitute for true community where we sink our roots deep together in Christ, humbly revealing all of our weaknesses and strengths, our hopes and our fears, our passions and our dreams, giving of ourselves so that others can be more.
Tonight, we're wrapping up our "Fresh" series at Saturday Night Grace and my friend, Jon Dillow, will be talking about this very topic - "Choosing to Live in Community." We've got a few fun things planned, which shouldn't be a distraction, but should help us open ourselves to the deeper beauty of the message from God's heart.
Have you heard about this one? It's been all over the news the past couple days.
Construction of the world's largest particle accelerator was recently completed, a $9 billion project that will enable physicists to shoot electrons and photons and all those other -ons around a tube at ridiculously high velocity. They flipped the switch yesterday to get this geek-party started. The accelerator, located about 300 ft below the earth's surface, is located in France and Switzerland. Scientists are hoping to simulate the conditions found "less than a millionth of a second" after the Big Bang happened.
Does anyone else find it ironic that we are creating the conditions found at the time of the Big Bang?
Personally, I think I'm going to jump in line with some of the critics, who claim "that the experiment could lead to the creation of a black hole capable of swallowing the planet." Sweet.
Even better, maybe they'll create another Big Bang and we'll have a…
Voices. Images. Commentators. Words. To what source of truth can a man today turn? The soundbytes collide in chaos as I listen But the voice of the Beautiful One beckons my attention With his mercy and passion He attracts my delight In him there is peace In him there is light That illuminates my eyes And satisfies my hunger He lifts up my head and awakes me from my slumber As I echo the words Of one of the first brothers to see "Lord, to whom else would I go? Only you've got the words of life for eternity"
Amber and I arrived home a couple days ago after spending the week in the Smokies with my family. It was a really restful and peaceful vacation. My parents rented a sweet house up on the mountainside, outside of Gatlinburg, TN. We took a couple nice hikes, including an 8 mile roundtrip hike to the Ramsey Cascades, a 90 ft waterfall.
We spent a lot of time relaxing at the pool and the house and not as much in the tourist traps of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, except for some good ice cream and pancakes and a round of mini-golf of course.
By the end of the week, Amber and I were a bit sad that we had not yet seen a bear after pretty much everyone else had. My parents saw one as they were opening the door when they first arrived. My dad saw it out of the corner of his eye and thought at first it was a dog and reached over to pet it! My brother was out on a trail run and saw a couple cute little cubs, followed by the sound of a growling mama bear to his other side. His pace picked up a bit a…
Sitting at the kitchen table this morning, with my breakfast cereal digesting in my stomach, I found myself meditating on this question. It would not escape me. What causes me to care about what matters? Why do I want to give my life to that which matters? If I want to live for something that matters, then there must be something that matters.
As I meditated, journaled and navigated the deep waters of this question, I discovered that this is a question that has pervaded much of my thought for the past several years. Ever since coming to college really, but moreso over the past four years after my return from South Africa.
I realized this morning that when I find myself in a situation that seems void of joy, it is an experience that is often tainted by a feeling of tentativeness, uncertainty and a curiosity that wonders, "Does this really matter?" What I truly want is to live life with a certainty - a contentment - that says, "This matters. …
The final objection to Christianity that Keller discusses is the belief that "You can't take the Bible literally."
This chapter is jam-packed, but I will briefly mention a few of Keller's arguments for the validity of the Bible.
"The content is far too counterproductive for the gospels to be legends."
If the New Testament gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were just books written by some misguided Jews looking too hard for a Savior, then why would they include so much content that would be very culturally counter-productive to the advancement of their "new religion?" For example, if they were making up legend and promoting a false reality, why would they say that women were the first eyewitnesses and testifiers to the resurrection of Jesus - the leader of their "new faith?" A woman's testimony was not allowed in court at that time, so why not at least say that some men were the first to witness the risen Christ?
The sixth objection to Christianity that Keller often faces and thus addresses in Reason for God is the belief that "Science has disproved Christianity," or more aptly stated, "science has disproved the existence of a creator God and consequently, all theistic religions."
It is a much debated question today: are science and belief in God mutually exclusive? Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and others would urge us to believe so, but severing the two is not so easy and there are many prominent scientists of our day who are firm believers in the creator God of the Bible.
Keller first addresses the belief that miracles are scientifically impossible, because you can't empirically prove their reality. In response, he states that because science requires an experimental model to test everything, how could a scientist test the statement "No supernatural cause for any natural phenomenon is possible."
Next, Keller looks at the question of whether or not science is in di…
The next objection to Christianity that Keller addresses in Reason for God is the question, "How can a loving God sending people to hell?"
Real simple, nice and light-hearted question, right?
If you're looking for a hellfire and brimestone condemnation in the pages of Keller's book, you won't find one. Keller's response to this question is gently and respectfully discussed without compromising the absolute truth of the Scripture, and it was one of the better discussions to date in my reading on this topic.
The reality is, however, that this question is so delicate that I really don't want to wade into it in this blog post. I know, chicken, right? Not really, but if there is any conversation generated in the comments section, I would love to engage there.
What do you think? Why would such a place as "hell" exist? Could God be good, loving and just and simultaneously allow humans to dwell in a place of torment after death on earth?
T.S. Eliot once wrote "Can a lifetime represent a single motive?"
I come to the blogosphere today thinking about the topic of "focus", after just reading a chapter on the topic in Os Guiness' book, The Call.
Our world has become a smorgasbord of choice. We are overwhelmed, overloaded, saturated and fragmented. Is focus even possible anymore?
Recently, I have found myself desiring a more focused life. In my work - vocational ministry - I am often working in many different spheres, such as small groups, public communication, mission to the poor, art and media, raising funds, mentoring, shepherding, connecting with new people. On one hand, it's great that I am getting so much exposure, perhaps helping me along as I discover God's calling. But, I often feel fragmented and diluted.
What is a guy to do in a world that worships choice and change? I enjoy change as much as the next guy! But, it seems that only one reality can lead us away from the altar of choice: …
The fifth objection posed by skeptics that Keller addresses is one that has always been difficult to handle: "The Church is responsible for so much injustice."
Keller responds from three different angles: individual character weakness, the history of war and violence and finally, fundamental fanaticism.
It may feel like a straw man response, but the reality is that Christians are not perfect. We are saved by sheer grace, not by our good works. The Church necessarily attracts and is filled with broken people. After coming to faith in Christ, one does not immediately become a Mother Theresa. That said, there are many who have worn the name of Christ, but have not lived it or have likely never been indwelt by his Spirit.
Religion and Violence
Christopher Hitchens rightly argues that many religions often "transcendentalize" ordinary cultural differences so that opposite parties feel they are in a cosmic battle between good and evil. Historically, violence…
The third objection posed to Christianity that Keller addresses is "Christianity is a straightjacket."
Because our faith is one that is grounded in absolute truth, another way to think about this one is through this question: "Is a belief in absolute truth the enemy of freedom?" We do live in a society that worships personal freedom, so this is a worthwhile question.
Keller asks: Is freedom a "place" we eventually hope to find ourselves where there is no ultimate purpose for our existence, but only a purpose to define our own existence and live for our own pleasure?
This question of the existence of absolute truth and ultimate purpose is one that undergirds much of our political and social squabbles. So, some would say that truth claims are actually power plays for Christians to just get their own way. Unfortunately, many "Christian" leaders throughout history have used truth claims as power plays. But, we must dig deeper beyond the tarnished image…
The second objection to Christianity that Keller addresses is the ever-popular question, How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
In this post, I will not even get one toe into the depths of this timeless, difficult question posed to Christ-followers. Actually, Keller argues that this question is more of an issue for already-Christians, rather than non-yets. But it is still a very popular objection to faith in Christ.
Many philosophers of our day have agreed that just as goodness in the world does not prove God's existence, they have also agreed that evil and suffering can not disprove God. The assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil and therefore a supposed good God could not exist hides another premise that if suffering appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless.
If you ask around, you could easily find someone who has gone through a period of suffering and come out better on the other end. Keller shares some stories of this vein, and also points to the life of …
I am still plowing through Keller's Reason for God and as usual, I'm finding it much easier to keep flipping its pages as opposed to taking time for reflection. I really need to develop a better rhythm of reading, studying and reflecting when I pick up nonfiction. I digress.
After my last post, I realized two things. One, I need to keep these posts much shorter. Two, I need to preface these posts with an apology to Keller. I have no doubts that I might be doing him a disservice in these summaries, but I am trying my best to remain true to his thoughts as I post some *hopefully* succint reviews of each chapter.
The last section of the first objection chapter, There Can't Be Just One True Religion, deals with the solution that some propose: to keep religion completely private.
Contemporary political scientists, sociologists, etc have argued that in public sector conversations, one should "not argue for a moral position unless it has a secular, nonreligious grounding."
After his introduction on doubt, Keller begins the first section of Reason for God with a look at the seven most common objections to faith in Christ that he has received in his years at Redeemer. The first of these objections is "There can't be just one true religion."
This is the question of exclusivity. "There can't be just one way to God", "Jesus can't be the only way", etc, etc. Keller agrees that one of the major barriers to world peace, is in fact "religion." When you share a common set of beliefs with others, you naturally feel a superiority to those outside of that community who believe differently. The response to religion is then to either outlaw, condemn or intensely privatize it.
Outlaw Keller states that the trajectory of thinking for many years has been that the more scientifically sophisticated and more able to understand and control our environment, our need for religion would diminish. But this "secularization the…
I just started a new book, The Reason for God, by Tim Keller. If you aren't familiar with Keller, he is pastor of Redeemer in NYC, a church that is known for connecting with a broad cross section of New Yorkers - poor, wealthy, yuppies, artistic, multicultural.
I thought I'd make some posts related to the questions that Keller discusses in his latest book. I think I will enjoy this book because it is a very contemporary (copyright 2008), accessible apologetic, but it does not abandon orthodoxy. Ever since reading I Sold My Soul on Ebay, I have been thinking more actively about our age of skepticism and how a Christ-follower can intellectually, lovingly and respectfully engage others on the many current objections posed.
Keller opens up by addressing the topic of doubt, which is absolutely foundational for any discussion of apologetics. If we have not honestly acknowledged and wrestled with the doubts of our own faith (if think you don't have any, then take some time to think…
Have you read this one? I picked it up recently after having received several recommendations to read it. Nouwen has written an insightful, challenging, soul-stirring little book here that strays from wordiness and worldliness. Much like my recommenders, I now highly recommend this book to anyone interested in growing nearer to the heart of Jesus in their daily life and ministry. At less than 100 pages, it is a quick read that beckons to be read over and over again. I am sure that I will pick this one up more than once again in the future.
Nouwen overlays the conversation of Peter and Jesus from John 21 on the desert temptation of Jesus from Matthew 4. In doing this, he shows three of the most alluring temptations for a Christ-following leader in the church (Relevance,Spectacular,Power) and how Jesus' responses to Satan (in Matt 4) and to Peter (in John 21) reveal the ways in which we can humbly respond as we seek to be leaders who live nearer to the heart of God.
During our final session at the Arts Conference, Nancy had us stand up city by city as she encouraged us that God wants to move mightily through our gifts in each of our cities, all over the world. Once we were all standing, the band began to play a song that I had not yet heard. The lyrics of the song immediately resonated within my soul: "Greater things have yet to come, Greater things are still to be done in this city..." As we sang, a video montage showing city-scapes from all over the world played before our eyes. We truly live in a big, diverse world, but God is Lord of all and he is still moving. It was a very powerful song.
As the band drew to an end, Francis Chan came on stage. He said he could not leave without telling us the story of the origins of this song we had just song, God of this City. He personally knew the band who wrote it. Here is the story below that he told us, as found at the band's (Bluetree) blog If you haven't heard the song yet, I encoura…
This is the last installment in my debriefing of the Willow Arts Conference from last week. I've posted a lot of content here! God really captured my heart during this conference, so there has been no shortage of things to say and that certainly remains true for my review of the final session of the conference.
Francis Chan visited us from California, a man whom I was not familiar with before, but a man of God whom I quickly came to admire and respect. Francis is pastor at Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA. After one session with him, I would sum up his mission as one of trying to help the next generation develop a higher and bigger view of God and his intense love. You can visit his video blog site here or another interesting site of his juststopandthink.com.
Francis, a bald, expressive, middle-aged Chinese man, got us laughing right away, when he compared himself to the previous speaker, Richard Allen Farmer. He said "I couldn't be more different.&quo…
The article by the same title in The Atlantic caught my eye today. Similarly, the article asks, "Is the internet reprogramming us?"
The author writes that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. We struggle to read long pieces of prose, but instead we find ourselves skimming from one blog to the next, pulling out anecdotes and phrases that pop.
"My mind now expects to taking in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the seas of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."
Referring to a study of the behavior of online researchers: "There are signs that new forms of "reading" are emerging as users "power browse" horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins."
Maryanne Wolf argues that we are not only "what we read", but "how we read." She believes that the style of r…
This morning session on our final day at the Arts Conference opened with a talented young artist from California. Kendal Payne soothed our souls with her beautiful voice and captivating lyrics. I think I might have to look her up on iTunes.
Payne's performance catapulted us into a worshipful spirit and we were ready to listen to Richard Allen Farmer, who quickly became my favorite conference speaker up to that point.
Richard Allen Farmer is a seasoned, gifted pianist and vocalist who really knows how to use words to paint some beautiful images. About every other thing he said I was scrambling to jot it down because it was profound, beautiful, challenging or just so eloquently stated that I didn't want to quickly forget it.
Farmer decided to lead us on a tour of the artist's mind.
The first stop gave pause to the insatiable curiosity of the artist's mind. "We push the envelope, we push buttons...we'll push anything." "If curiosity is a…
Right-Brain Preaching Mark Batterson, National Community Church, D.C.
When signing up for workshops, I tried to diversify the speakers that I would hear. I didn't realize that Mark was leading my second and third workshops, but I am really glad that I was at both.
Before flooding us in practicals, Mark wanted to make sure that we - as the teachers of our church communities - remember this: we are nothing without the Holy Spirit. We must have God's favor. Yeah, we can manipulate people and get a rise in emotion through some creative twist on our sermon, but we should pray for God's favor. Simple, but great preface.
Mark started by giving us an introduction to neurology and the psychology of the brain. We are to love our God with all of our heart, soul and MIND.
Jesus was very creative in his preaching, often in parables of less than 250 words. God spoke in various ways at various times throughout history - he likes to keep it fresh and relevant.
Snakes and Doves Mark Batterson, Pastor of National Community Church in D.C.
Mark is a former Willow member and Trinity grad, who has planted a church in D.C. that has now grown to four sites in about ten years. It sounds like they are having a really positive impact on our nation's capital. National's vision is to meet in movie theaters (and near, or at, Metrorail stops) all throughout the city. You can visit them on the web at www.theaterchurch.com.
From the beginning, Mark struck me as a very genuine, positive, God-centered man who really wants God's kingdom to come and not his own. It was only after a failed church plant in north Chicago, that he and his wife found God's favor in D.C.
He opened by wondering aloud if David ever went back to the battlefield where he defeated Goliath. Did Zaccheus ever return with his grandkids to the sycamore tree where Jesus called him from? Did Lazarus return to the empty tomb of his own resurrection by Jesus? We'…
Attack of the Killer Brainstorm Tony B, Creative Dude from Windsor Crossing in STL
Tony is an animated, hilarious guy who worked for several years as a creative strategists for an ad/brand agency. He now works in ministry doing similar stuff, but with, as he said, "soul impact."
We opened up by brainstorming a no-budget birthday party for a 6 year-old boy who likes cars and turtles. It was a fun exercise to stretch our imaginations within some parameters. He came back to this thought later.
He briefly walked through two categories of brainstorming problems that he has witnessed: Process and Professional Problems. For example, the parade of "no, duh!" ideas, the theologian in blue jeans (i.e. can't give an elevator explanation), the laptopper (often me), etc.
He argued that these problems are the difference between "utter awesomeness and a big bag of barf." He like to use very poetic language :)
The Robbie Seay Band opened up the final session of the day. Their musical performance wasn’t overly impressive, but I really admired Robbie’s honesty as he shared the story of his turnaround recently from apathy to genuine concern for the poor and oppressed. He did a great job of expressing how Compassion International kids can change our worldview. I’ll give him this: he does have sort of distinct, raspy sound which makes him stand out in the pool of status quo “Christian” music.
Brian McLaren was on stage next for another interview by Nancy. I had been really anticipating his address, because I have been very challenged, encouraged and perplexed by his writing. I have only read his recent book, Everything Must Change, which has received its share of criticism. B-Mac (as I like to call him – we talked after the session was over. seriously.) opened by giving a highly filtered synopsis of the book, talking about the two operating questions – What are the biggest proble…
This session began with an UNBELIEVABLE violin performance by 14 year-old Emily from Michigan. This girl was unreal. She did things with the violin that I didn’t know were possible (and you know how educated in the violin I am). At times, it sounded like a banjo, flute, cello, kazoo, you name it. I felt as though I got a “free” ticket to a $70 violin concert. Maybe one step below Joshua Bell. After that spectacular performance, you can pretty much only go down. So, we moved from high art to low art and had a “Rock Band” competition. They brought up six volunteers from the crowd and had a battle of the bands show, complete with an Idol-esque panel of judges. It was a fun, entertaining crowd pleaser. This session featured one of the headline speakers for the conference - Gilles Ste. Croix, the founder and creative director of Cirque de Solei. Nancy interviewed him on stage and we learned about how Cirque was born and how it evolved into what it is today. He spoke about th…
I’m at Willow Creek’s annual Arts Conference, which is entitled “ARISE” this year. The vision is that God uses arts and artists to help pull us out of the muck of our darkness and brokenness and into his light and healing. So, we’ve come together to be inspired and equipped to be artists who are more in tune with the heart of God and the work that he is doing in our world. I’ve been excited about attending this conference for a while and now it’s here. I’ve actually never been to Willow Creek before. The only thing I have to say is that it is nearly “too much for my eyes,” to quote a man from New Guinea after seeing another mega-church in the Chicagoland area. I’ll try and give a run down of the week’s events. Day 1 – Session 1 The conference opened up with a fantastic drumline sequence. Already, I was blown away by the auditorium and stage that Willow has at their disposal. About 10 African-American guys and girls gave quite a mesmerizing drum performance on stage. It was fun to see a …
Amber and I had a memorable time in the windy city this past weekend. It really felt like a gift from our Father - blessing us with his favor so that we may turn and praise him for goodness. One of my favorite quotes from his Word is Matthew 7.11, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"
The weekend started out with a road trip up from Champaign with our friends, Ty and Laura. Ty got 4 tickets for his birthday and he shared two of those with us. What a super guy! We're going to miss him next year when he and Laura move to Chicago so that he can start school at NorthPark. We couldn't have asked for a better game. Now, I am still a diehard Cards fan, but I can enjoy a good win and I am not ashamed to root on the loveable losers. The weather forecast included thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes, but none of that ever materialized at Wrigley. So, we had a …
Who am I? They often tell meI stepped from my cell’s confinementCalmly, cheerfully, firmly,Like a squire from his country-house. Who am I? They often tell meI used to speak to my wardersFreely and friendly and clearly,As though it were mine to command. Who am I? They also tell meI bore the days of misfortuneEqually, smilingly, proudly,Like one accustomed to win. Am I then really all that which other men tell of?Or am I only what I myself know of myself?Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,Tossing in expectation of great events,Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all? Who am I? This or the other?Am I one person today and tomorrow another?Am I both at once? A hypocrite …
I've always enjoyed Memorial Day, I think. The start of summer. Grilling meat. Being outside without the nuisance of mosquitoes. Time outdoors with family and friends. Quite often, it all adds up to fond memories.
This Memorial Day weekend, Amber and I traveled south to spend some time with my folks back home, in Sparta. We enjoyed a nice, long weekend of refreshment. Mom cooked us some tasty food. We enjoyed sleeping in, with fresh breezes blowing in through the open windows. We took long walks outside. Played lots of games, including Quiddler, Scattergories, Rummy and Greed. The best part was probably seeing my mom up and about, feeling much better than she has for a while. She had major back surgery four months ago after a couple years of increasingly severe back problems. Oh, and we had blackberry pie, too....yummm-o.
We had a chance to visit my old, high school buddy, Chris ("Fluff") and his new wife and newborn son. They just had him five days previous! Chris and Jess…
Dennis Brock is a missionary in Swaziland. In the West we purchase so much excess for ourselves that we have an inflated sense of self. Brock says that while in Swaziland (which has been in a drought for seven years) buying excess goods is not necessarily an option, but he still faces the temptation to think of his needs before those of the orphans and AIDS victims he works with daily. He is determined to overcome this challenge so he can serve Christ and others more effectively. “Each of us faces a daily war against selfishness, including me,” Brock says. “We must be resolute in continually taking our eyes off ourselves and onto others who need help. Pray that God will awaken your soul, and He’ll do it.”
The photo is one taken from my two days of traveling through Swaziland on my journey to and from the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa.