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.
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...
#115 Promising to Learn a New Language (around 6pm tonight with my brother-in-law and cousin)
#112 Hummus (definitely loved me some hummus today)
#106 Facebook (browsed some friends profiles just a few minutes ago)
#103 Sweaters (wore one today)
#100 Bumper Stickers (had a conversation about that today)
#99 Grammar (found a grammar error while reading TIME today)
#97 Scarves (yep)
#94 Free Healthcare (pretty much)
#90 Dinner Parties (went to one tonight)
#87 Outdoor Performance Clothes (wore some running tights and some Columbia gear today)
#86 Shorts (managed to wear shorts today as cold as it was)
#84 T-Shirts (right now)
#83 Bad Memories of High School (had a brief conversation about that tonight)
#81 Graduate School (Amber is applying now and I'm even thinking about it)
#78 Multilingual Children (thought today about how I'm going to teach my kids all kinds of languages)
#76 Bottles of Water
#64 Recycling (liked that today)
#54 Kitchen Gadgets (today, again)
#44 Public Radio (listened to a piece on NPR about translating works of literature)
#36 Breakfast Places (just had a conversation about what "breakfast place" we'll eat at in the morning - think it'll be La Peep)
#35 The Daily Show/Colbert Report (looked for that on the TV today)
#32 Vegan/Vegetarianism (yup, again today, talking with my bro-in-law about the benefits of this)
#12 Non-Profit Organizations (talked about these today)
#8 Barack Obama (yes, I confess)
#1 Coffee (drank a bit more than normal today, even had some hazelnut biscotti creamer)
ok. that's scary.
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.
You can read about it here.
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.
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 another planet or universe sitting on top of western Europe. This really opens up the possibilities of Trans-Atlantic travel. I think I'm going to go ahead and jump on Travelocity now and book a vacation for October, the time that physicists project the first electrons may actually collide.
In other news, millions of people around the world are dying of hunger in a massive food crisis.
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"
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 after that :) But, as Amber and my sister and I headed out, winding our way down the mountain road, we were greeted by a big black bear slowly making his way across the road. A great finish to a great vacation.
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. This is what I want to live for. This is worship. This is...life."
Jesus said that there is a real enemy - a ruler of this temporal world - who comes to steal, kill and destroy life. He does not want us to have life as God intended it in Eden. But, Jesus has come into this world that we might have life - zoe - abundant, God-filled life.
So, I ask myself, "Is God real?" Yes, I believe that fully.
"Throughout history, what has been the revelation that tells me about God?" The Bible, I believe.
"What does the Bible say is God's ultimate revelation of himself on earth?" Jesus.
So, as I sojourned through these questions this morning with several more clarifying questions in between, I ended up here: what really matters? Jesus.
My mind immediately jumped to a short word from, John, one of Jesus' closest friends while on earth.
He said, "Whoever claims to live in God, must live his life as Jesus did." 1 John 2.6
All these questions about what really matters seem to lead me to the same place. I'm sure that I will continually wrestle with questions of a specific, secondary calling in life and choices over this endeavor or that one, but as I zoom out and look at my life from the end, I know this:
I do not want my life to end with a question mark. I want it to end at the cross.
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 literary form of the gospels is too detailed to be legend."
C.S. Lewis, a renowned literary critic and former atheist recognized that the literary form of the New Testament gospels was incredibly distinct from any other form of fiction written during the first century. Instead, it resembles a form of first-hand account reportage - not legend. The gospel accounts record details (e.g. numbers, facial expressions, sleeping quarters) that were not consistent with the fiction of its day.
"Don't immediately assume that the Bible can't be trusted culturally."
Keller suggests that a reader consider that their problems with some texts might be based on an unexamined belief in the superiority of their current historical moment over all others. To reject the Bible as regressive is to assume that you have arrived. Also, Keller suggests that the reader consider that bothersome passages may not be teaching what it appears to be saying. For example, slaves in the first century were treated much differently than the New World slaves that we now think of when reading about "slaves." Keller is not condoning slavery, but merely pointing out that we a culturally conditioned paradigm that may not be consistent (and often is not) with the contemporary reader of the gospels. We should enter the Scriptures carefully, in community and with an open mind to the possibility that God's ways may in fact be higher than our ways!
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 direct conflict with Christianity or the Bible. And the answer is "of course, not!" There is no reason that the findings of science, including evolutionary biology (I know, gasp!) cannot be consistent with the loving, omnipotent, creator God whom Christians worship. Yes, there is much debate within Christianity about a literal six-day creation account versus a metaphorical six-day (The sun and moon were created after "days" one, two and three) creation account, but the reality is that while we can and should develop Biblical convictions about creation, we cannot disprove the possibility that God used some forms of evolution to bring forth parts of creation. His ways are higher than our ways.
[Aside: the reality of a creative and loving God makes science and nature that much more beautiful, meaningful, captivating and hopeful. Without an omnipotent, everlasting God, is science not just a search for power? Without God, there is then no such thing as "good" - we each define "good" and science becomes a power struggle to find a piece of reality that will somehow "save us." I guess we all recognize our need to be rescued from something. If physical naturalism is the only explanation for our origin and purpose, then there are no morals, there is no justice, there is no love - we are only animals, the strong taking over the weak. Is that the story that our reality tells us, though? Why would a man jump in front of a moving train to save a stranger? Yes, I've heard an answer: because through evolutionary psychology he has learned that that action will somehow result in a greater benefit to his tribe. ]
Keller closes on a hopeful note: "We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order...Jesus has come to heal the world where it is broken...Jesus' miracles are..a promise...that the world we all want is coming."
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?
Related to the subject of heaven and hell, C.S. Lewis once said, "There are two types of people. Those who say to God, 'Thy will be done' and those to whom God says, 'Thy will be done.'"
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: Christ chooses us. Our life is to be a singular response to his Call.
While praying to the Father, Jesus said, "I have glorified you on earth by completing the work that you have given me to do."
So, I guess I have to ask myself once more, "Can a single lifetime represent a single motive?"
I think so, but it might take me a bit to get there. What do you think? Do you have focus?
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 has resulted in different forms. But again, even as a corporate character weakness, the proclivity toward violence in the history of Christianity is not an aberration among all human society. Countless regimes have carried out untold violence due to their own "trancendentalization" of some other concept.
We've all seen people waving signs that say "God hates &*#$%" or passing out literature condemning to hell everyone wearing improper clothing. These actions by a small proportion of misled, overzealous individuals who appear "over-committed" to their faith have caused many to wave off Christianity altogether. The problem, Keller says, is that these "fanatics" are not so because they are over-committed to Christ's gospel, but because they aren't committed enough. Yeah, that's right. The good news of Christ is one that is based entirely on grace. So, these "fanatics" are not fanatics of Christ's humility, grace, mercy, love and acceptance.
Keller separately addresses the slave trade which many have chalked up as one of the greatest blots on "Christian" history. But, Keller points out that in Britain and in the New World (and similarly in apartheid South Africa), the loudest voices against the slave trade were in fact Christian activists.
After posting five of the seven objections thus far that Keller addresses, I am wondering, what are some that you have asked or faced?
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 Joseph in the Bible who became a powerful and influential leader in Egypt, second in command, only after enduring some - to the casual observer - "pointless" suffering.
Keller then argues that suffering may be, if anything, evidence for a God. Former atheist, turned Christian, C.S. Lewis stated that suffering provided a better argument for God's existence than against. "How had I got this idea of just and unjust? What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?"
Keller says that the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death and destruction of the weak, so on what basis can an atheist judge the natural world to be unjust or evil? Now, to their defense, I think the problem of suffering question is posed to question how our God could actually be good rather than why is there suffering period, but it is a reasonable question, nonetheless.
Keller then moves on to discuss how through Jesus, Christians discover that God put himself "on the hook" of human suffering. Consequently, Christianity does provide resources for making sense of evil and suffering. Keller also addresses the idea that Christian beliefs just provide consolation in the midst of suffering, but actually our faith holds to a restoration that will right everything that has been wrong and "everything sad will become untrue."
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."
Is that even possible? Does such a all-inclusive code of ethic, removed from any absolute truth, even exist?
Should "religious people" be forced to leave behind a part of themselves when entering public dialogue? These are significant questions to be wrestled with, especially in light of the current presidential race.
If we zoom out and define religion, Keller says it is a "set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things" that we should spend our time on - our "master narrative." It follows then that everyone argues a position from their "narrative", even if it is an implicit "religion."
Are there "neutral and objective arguments" that would convince everyone in the political arena that we must not starve the poor? No, says Keller.
Keller argues that we cannot find neutral ground, because there is no neutral ground and we should not therefore be expected to leave behind, or privatize, our "religion." Everyone has an implicit code of ethic, whether they argue it from an evolutionary psychological position or from the Quran or from the Bible.
He touches on this in more depth in later chapters.
I am finally going to separate from my pickup that I have driven since I turned 16. Almost ten years.
Honestly, it is kind of a relief to move on from ole red. Amber and I are downsizing to one vehicle, simplifying things a bit, hopefully.
If you're interested in checking out the details of my "For Sale" posting, you can look at it here.
It's a total chick magnet.
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.
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 thesis" has been largely discredited. Relgious affiliation is no where close to diminishing all over the globe. In fact, Keller mentions, that it isn't even the secularized, thin Christianity that is growing, but a robust faith with belief in miracles and authority of Scripture.
Here, Keller gets into some finer detail, because this ethos is becoming more common as our culture polarizes, becoming both more secular and more religious.
"All major religions are equally valid and basically teach the same thing."
How anyone ever makes this argument with a straight face is beyond me, but it is somewhat common. Someone who claims that the doctrinal differences between Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Christianity, etc. are negligible and they all worship the same God is merely developing their own different doctrine as they refute the doctrinal differences between the other religions.
"Each religion sees part of spiritual truth, but none can see the whole truth."
Alas, we find the famed Elephant illustration. You may be familiar with it. Several blind men come up to an elephant and each touches a different part, coming to a different conclusion about what type of object the elephant is. The leg makes it to be thick, like a tree. The ear makes it seem thin and flat. The tale makes it seem snake-like. The illustration backfires because the one who sees this all happening is one who is not blind himself and must be able to see the whole picture.
"Religious belief is too culturally and historically conditioned to be 'truth.'"
Here we find a claim that because we are all "locked into our historical and cultural locations, it is impossible to judge the rightness or wrongness of competing beliefs." Again, the claimant is exempting himself from his own razor. If I were born in Morocco, wouldn't I be a Muslim? Well, if the secularist were born in Honduras, might he be Catholic?
"It is arrogant to insist your religion is right and to convert others to it."
Keller points out that is is certainly a mostly Western idea that it's problematic to believe your religion is "best." It is deeply rooted in Western self-criticism and individualism. When someone claims that a Christian cannot make exclusive claims to a superior knowledge (it's not really superior, but) and that God is unknowable, is not that claim a "religious belief" in itself?
I think I'll save Keller's thoughts on "Privatization" for my next post...
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 on that one), then it will be difficult to have an intelligent conversation with a skeptic.
"People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic."
We cannot hold beliefs because we simply inherited them (which is why college ministry is particularly interesting, because so many new students are grappling with this inheritance issue for the first time). Struggling with our own doubts is a process that will undoubtedly lead us to a stronger and more respectable position, Keller says. He also argues that all doubts, however skeptical or cynical they may seem, are really a set of beliefs.
"You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B."
Keller goes on to urge Christians to wrestle with their personal and the culture's objections to our faith. As Peter says, "always be prepared" to give a reason for the hope that you have!
Keller shares three stories of transformation from his congregation of individuals who have wrestled with their doubts, moving from a secular position to a position of faith in Christ, and then he closes the intro by reminding us that Jesus responded to doubt by challenging Thomas to not acquiesce in doubt, and he responded elsewhere with a blessing to the man who honestly acknowledged his doubt and unbelief.
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.
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 encourage you to listen to it, then read the story. It truly is one of God putting a new song in our hearts.
"Nov 2007. Bluetree are heading out to Pattaya Thailand to participate in an event arranged by Belfast missionaries living in Pattaya, Thailand called Pattaya Praise. We’ve no expectation of the event; we were just looking for an opportunity to serve somehow.
We didn’t know much about it before we left, but Pattaya is a dark place. It’s a small seaside town notorious for it’s sex trade. Throughout our time there we heard countless stories of girls who are bought from their parents for a price, sold to the sex industry at ages as young as 5 years old. Arriving in Pattaya the spiritual climate seems to change, it’s hard to define, but there is a very tangible change. On the bus journey in we’d been our usual cheery selves, but entering Pattaya at 10am and turning on to a street lined by girls ready for business, the bus became very quiet. We’re in total shock. It’s a sunny day but it’s incredible how dark it feels.
’Walking street’ we learn is the epicentre of the sex trade in Pattaya, it’s about a mile long and at night springs to life with neon signs. Thai people are generally conservative in their dress sense – it’s generally considered provocative to bare your shoulders. But on their street the girls are wearing very little, and offering anything you can imagine for a price. It’s easy to look around with human eyes, see the depravity and get angry. You see older men walking hand-in-hand with young girls – as a daddy, that’s hard to take in. It’s easy to get angry, it’s easy to judge – but that’s not our job, so we grit our teeth.
We were in Pattaya to be part of a praise event not far from this street, the soul purpose of which was to worship and show God’s light in a dark place. We wanted to play more than the scheduled slots while we were there, so we found out that one of the bar owners would let us play a worship set in her bar on the proviso that we brought as many from the missions team who would buy coke-a-cola all night. We walk in to the bar which is about the middle of walking street, girls are lined up on the stairs waiting for business. We get set up, we’re really nervous and quite uncomfortable but we kick in to a familiar beat of worship and soon it’s ok. God starts to speak and we started to move in to this spontaneous song. The truth is when you worship in a place, you start to see God’s heart for that place. What would God say to a place like this?
Amidst the depravity God says, I’m the God of this City, I’m the King of these people and Greater Thing are Yet to Come, Greater Things are Still to be Done HERE. The song wasn’t written before that night, but we came out of the bar having worshipped with the song that is now the title track of our album – God of this City (Greater things). The song isn’t just for Pattaya – it’s for your city, and it’s true. By faith we must expect that greater things are still to be done."
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." Farmer was incredibly eloquent, well-prepared, dressed in a three-piece suit, a talented pianist, but Francis walked up with flip flops, a small notecard of speaking notes and he said that he is "probably one of four Chinese people who can't play the piano."
So, because Francis' gift is not necessarily one of an artistic-bend, he stuck to his strength. As important as it is to be excellent and to work very hard in our creative expression that God has gifted us with - it's stewardship - we must never forget that the Holy Spirit has to show up, otherwise it is all for naught. True change will only happen with the Spirit. We can manipulate people left and right with crazy-cool stuff in the Church, but if the Spirit is not a part of it, no true change will happen.
"Give me talented people and I can grow any church - even a mormon church...But I want something more - which is everything!"
Stop and think: Have people ever seen your good works and then turned and praised God? Or has it been, "Hey Francis, that was a great message. Hey Francis, that was an awesome video you made."
"I'm so bored with what I know I can do. I don't want it to be about me."
Think about this more a moment: it was to our advantage that Jesus left the earth and gave us his Spirit. To our advantage. Don't you think that we should have a higher view of the Holy Spirit? Did people leave Pentecost saying, "Wow, that guy John is awesome - he learned Portuguese in like 5 seconds. No! They praised God and were saved. Shouldn't there be a massive difference between me standing here and the person next to me who doesn't have the Spirit?! Then why do some of our neighbors have more peace and joy than you! You are a temple of the Holy Spirit!"
Do people leave your church services with a bigger sense of awe toward God?
People can go to the movie theater for a good show, but they should be experiencing the almighty God when they come to worship. Are they?
God reduced Gideon's army from 32K to 300 men because he wanted to show them that it was him that would show up and give victory.
Francis said that the greatest compliment he ever gets is when people come up to him after a service or he sees and old friend from pre-ministry days and they say, "You??"
After this session, I made a word collage to express what God has inspired in my heart. God definitely showed up and elevated my view of him and his Spirit, through his interpreter, Francis.
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 reading promoted by the internet is a "style that puts efficiency and immediacy above all else" and it may be "weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when the [printing press] made long and complex works of prose commonplace." Wolf also believes that our tendency is leaning toward becoming "mere decoders of information" rather than readers who make "rich mental connections that form when we read deeply."
Much like the way that native Mandarin speakers form a different neurological circuitry for reading ideograms, the media and technology that we are currently immersing ourselves in is playing a role in reshaping our neural circuitry today, i.e. we are learning to read and think differently than we used to.
Researchers are discovering that even the adult brain - previously thought to fall into rigidity - is "very plastic" and "has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly."
Just think about how the invention of our modern timepiece - the mechanical, ticking clock - has reshaped our lives, the way we think and respond for daily activities. "In deciding when to eat, to work, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock."
The consolidation of our technological and communicative activities into one device - the personal computer w/ internet - allows us to check the time, headlines and email all at once, leading to scattered attention and diffused concentration.
A quote by one of Google's founders may well sum up the underpinnings of this transformation of our thinking that has walked down the aisle with the advent of the internet:
"Certainly if you had all the world's information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you'd be better off."
But, Socrates may have had been on to something, when he wrote that "as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they cease to experience their memory and become forgetful...and because they would be able to receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, they would be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant."
What do you think? Are we losing our ability to read and think deeply? I am certainly excited about the possibilities that the internet age has birthed, but I am wondering if I shouldn't be more aware and cautious of its power over me...in more ways than one.
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 disease, I'm not interested in being healed."
"It was said that DaVinci would not take 'yes' for an answer."
The second stop was the friction that occupies the artist's mind.
"It is the rubbing - the friction - that brings about the stylistic synthesis that the church so desperately needs."
"Friction is invited to take off its shoes and sit a spell."
"We find it a necessary ingredient in our creative pursuits."
-We must constantly welcome diversity in our creative experiences in the Church - "contrary to popular opinion, the people whom we serve in our churches are not stupid" - they like being led strongly.
Thirdly, he stopped to look at the "pen and lips" of the artist.
"Shame on the artist who cannot articulate the oral, olfactory, tactile or audible creation that has been given for our consumption."
Referring to pro athletes on TV, he said, "I'm almost sure that I'm going to hear someone commit linguicide."
"The artist should be able to explain his sculpture in a way that Stevie Wonder or Andrea Boccelli can himself see it."
-It has always been amazing that Christ has been called the Word of God
The fourth stop was to notice a cloud or vapor that looms overhead.
-Sometimes, we do just get lost in the wonder and awe of God's creation and there are no appropriate words
-Silence and mystery have their place
The last stop was at the Truth (God's Word) that must be the foundation in the artist's mind.
-"In him, we live and move and have our being"
-Our art needs the theological underpinnings
"Don't be afraid to mention God in your art."
I was very inspired by Farmer. He helped me to loosen the chains of insecurity or fear that sometimes come trailing behind me when I seek to be creative. God created first. He wants us to follow him in that, too.
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.
Here's a nugget - "Creativity is not optional. It's stewardship."
Mark's communication motto - John 12.49 - God shows him what to say and how to say it - "content and packaging"
1. Big Idea - from the Ferguson brothers at CCC in Naperville, IL - "less is more" - the pressure of a bed of nails is diffused by a 1000 points, but one nail will stick it to ya.
2. Trailers - "the movie screen is the postmodern stain glass" - a movie trailer for your message will engage a theater-crazed culture.
3. Culture series - choose topical series that engage the culture. We live in a culture that is Biblically illiterate, but music and film literate - speak their language.
4. Cross Pollenation - "I believe that ever -ology is a branch of theology."
5. Get Demographics - understand your congregation's make-up and know what their needs are. Sometimes the message idea that is least voted for is the very one that they need to hear.
6. Sermon Props - Jesus used all kinds of objects from everday to give his message a punch, such as mustard seeds. "The most important truths must be communicated in the most unforgettable ways." anon.
7. Off-Site Sermons - get out from behind the pulpit and out into the world to teach. Video messages from the site of where you almost died in a car crash, for instance, can be powerful.
8. Sermon Branding - instead of calling the series "1 and 2 Timothy", call it "Potential"
9. Metaphors - find them and use them!
10. Pray - without it, numbers 1-9 are nothing.
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've lost the art of remembering (OT - altars) the places where God gripped us.
Mark walked through Matthew 10:5-16 and camped on verse 16, in which Jesus tells his disciples that they must be as "shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" as they go and preach the good news. What does this look like in a worship gathering context?
Part of this innocence, he argued, is checking our motives. Why are we in this? Is it for our kingdom or God's? Return to that place of a soft heart of humility and dependence, remembering that it ends and begins with God. Mark showed us a video of a baptism celebration that they had in the Patomic. It was very inspiring - taking us back to the basics of our motivation in ministry.
Second, we must be shrewder than a serpent. Eluding to the enemy being described as a serpent, we must be even more shrewd than it in our approaches.
We must know our culture. We must be able to exegete the culture - not just the Bible. Contextual intelligence has been found to be one of the top - if not the top - components of an influential leader. Do I "understand the times" (1 Chronicles 32)?
Mark said that one of the values of his church is that "irrelevance is irreverance." Chew on that. He said that they take incarnation seriously. Just becuase a church is reaching the culture doesn't mean that they are watering down the gospel.
Mark argued that we have forgotten (or never known) what it is like to enter into a worship service for the first time. Today, people like to sample. Websites, webcasts and podcasts can help people do just that. He said that a way we can be shrewd is to use technology for even more powerfully positive purposes than the enemy can use it for his.
This may have digressed from the topic of shrewdness, but he made a good point that too many people are wasting a lot of sideways energy in the kingdom - bickering and complaining about the little things that "those other Christians over there" are doing. He said that he was very tempted to be angry about some new church plants that were starting in DC theaters (that's our vision!), but instead they prayed for those church plants and gave them money to help them get off their feet. Cool.
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 :)
Tony reminded us that we have the Holy Spirit who has filled us. It all starts there. He said that moving from his numbing job as an ad guy to a creative dude in ministry, was like "finally rolling in the grand piano and now learning to tune it and play it to his best ability."
Tony's ideas for better brainstorms:
1. Separate your "to-think" meetings from your "to-do" meetings
2. Your team should be like a joke without the punchline (a joke most often is filled with people that normally don't go together)
3. Don't think outside the box...think inside the circle, the circle of your creative community. He said what we all think these days "we're tired of the Box metaphor." The metaphor was created when Disney generated the 9-point puzzle. Parameters (see above) help us to be even more creative.
4. Ditch the 'doh - toys rarely, if ever, help us be more creative. They distract.
5. Creative environments don't often generate better ideas - people do. He showed us images of his former employer - this totally rad place, but he said it was just as stifling. They'd have to leave.
6. Walk the Roads - take notes about everything that you encounter on the roads. Jesus used metaphors that he gathered from walking out among the people.
Tony said corporations are paying big bucks for this "new" idea of walking the roads - paying creatives to just go to a bar and be a fly on the wall and listen to people's stories, interests, hobbies. We'd be amazed at the things that influence us each day.
On that note, Tony showed us a video. It was so good, I wanted to imbed it here for you to see.
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 problems in the world and what does the message of Jesus have to say about them? He spoke about the Suicidal Machine we live in and the problems of the Planet (Prosperity), Peace (Security) and P (Equity) and the primary framing stories we are living within (Domination, Revolution, Isolation, Scapegoat) and finally the alternative framing story that Jesus Christ offered – to live in the kingdom of God and its new reality of reconciliation rather than destruction.
McLaren also gave us a glimpse of why these questions first became important. When he was working a youth camp back in the day, he asked the kids what were the primary questions they were facing in the church. The kids responded with topics such as predestination vs. free will, guitars vs. drums, etc. He then asked them what questions/topics were important to them - the things they cared about and talked with their friends at school about. They responded with things like poverty, racism, over-population, etc. He put the two lists next to eachother and was amazed that there was NO crossover. That was a problem. That is a problem.
Quoting Shaine Claiborne, he joked that if "the Church won't get involved in these issues, then the rock stars will cry out."
McLaren said that we have been saved not only for the afterlife, but also from wasting our lives here on earth. We need a both/and, not an either/or. He was asked about the redemptive work of Christ and he responded that of course he believes in that, but apparently there are some people out there who "know better than I do what I believe."
McLaren talked about how God cares about the soul and the body, the eternal and the temporal. And as artists, we should appreciate that because so much of art is an intermingling of the two.
He left us with five challenges:
1. Integral worship - give a higher and fuller view of God through our worship and teaching
2. Humanize the other - we are so accustomed to dehumanizing the other in our country, but we must unearth the real, human element of people's stories of suffering and joy.
3. Humanize ourselves - stir and unveil our own emotions and stories, lead people to inconvenient thoughts
4. Revalue creation - celebrate the beauty in creation and its reflection of the Divine as we see in many old hymns, such as Come Thou Fount, How Great Thou Art
5. Revalue (Redeem) our relationships and connectedness
"You all have been doing an amazing job at making the Church better because of art, but I hope that you can see now that maybe God wants to make the world better because of the Church."
Nancy and Brian also brought up two men who lead Fair Trade organizations, one in California (Trade-As-One), the other in the Dominican (Peralta). Both have markets set up here at the conference, where we can get products such as messenger bags made from recycled rice sacks - very cool. The memorable thought from the Trade As One guy:
"How often do you vote? (every couple years) No, you vote every time you open your wallet." Know where your money is going and what you are supporting.
Day One of the Arts Conference was basically awesome and I look forward to the two remaining days.
Day 1 – Session 2
This session began with an UNBELIEVABLE violin performance by 14 year-old Emily from
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.
“It may be one of the things that distinguishes us from animals, but it is more than that. We need to create and art speaks to our emotions. These emotions are necessary for living – otherwise it is like being in a desert without water. It feeds you and changes you. It makes you a better human being. It does not leave you the same ever again.”
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
Day 1 – Session 1
The conference opened up with a fantastic drumline sequence. Already, I was blown away by the auditorium and stage that
Nancy Beach, arts director at Willow Creek, started things off after the drummers. We walked through Psalm 40 (the Message) together, particularly the first few verses – “He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from the deep mud”, “He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip”, “I waited and waited and waited for God”, “He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise song to our God.” She did a great job of ushering us into a time of interaction, reflection, silence, prayer, journaling, confession and rejoicing and it really laid the foundation for the theme of the conference – ARISE.
We also witnessed a fairly well-done drama during this session, during our reflection on “He lifted me out of the ditch.” The drama was based on Romans 7:18-19, where Paul reveals the everyman inside. The drama specifically highlighted the struggles of three people in job ethics, pornography and food/body image disorders. The lyrics of the drama’s closing song were:
“I do not want to do what I’m about to do, but I cannot stop. I’d gladly trade my nothing for your everything. I just get so scared that I might drown. I never saw my shadow until I saw the light. I need more light to drown it out…Hope casts me headlong into you.”
A couple closing thoughts:
“If we aren’t careful, we will create (or "do ministry") more out of memory than out of imagination.”
“What are we doing to proclaim new songs to our assembly?”
“Are we painting the fullest picture of God (that we know of) through our worship and teaching? Don’t conceal anything.”
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 beautiful day for a game. The Cubs were down 8-0 to the Rockies in the 5th, but they came back (thanks in part to former Cardinal, Jimmy Edmonds) and won 10-9.
Ty and Laura dropped us off at our hostel, which turned out to be mostly a gem, especially compared to what we could have paid at a normal hotel. We stayed at the Arlington House International Hostel, located in Lincoln Park, just minutes away from the Zoo and an El Train stop. We got a private room (not common for hostels) and we were pleased with the cleanliness and location.
After dropping off our bags, we caught the train and rode the brown line to the Art Institue. During the summer on Friday evenings, you can enjoy free admission from 5-9pm. Thank you very much.
We woke up way early (not planned) on Saturday and made our way to Navy Pier. It was an unbelievably beautiful day and we got to the Pier before any other tourists. We found a little table right on the water's edge and enjoy the sunshine and lakefront breeze.
After enjoying a couple hours at the Pier, we spent most of the day walking around downtown sites and shops. We ended the evening with dinner at The Village, an Italian restaurant in the Italian Village on Monroe St. The service, atmosphere and food portions were great. The food itself was fairly standard, but enjoyable. It was a good carb meal for our race the next morning.
The main event came on Sunday morning, which was the original cause for the mini-getaway to Chicago. We both ran the "Run for the Zoo" 10K at Lincoln Park Zoo. About 4000 runners came out and we had another gorgeous day to top off our weekend. The race course wound through the zoo, lakeshore drive and harbor area. Amber really surprised herself with a time of 54 minutes and I finished in 44 min. My legs were tiring at mile 3 already, but I was able to push through for a strong finish. The first mile was difficult because of the crowded pack trying to make it through the narrow pathways in the zoo.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the zoo and conservatory and wrapped up the weekend with the train ride back home to Champaign on Sunday evening. It just takes a weekend in Chicago to remember how small and quiet Champaign really is. I think I really enjoy what both cities have to offer. It was a weekend that I won't soon forget.
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, 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 before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!
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 Jessie gave him this really awesome name. You might have heard of it: Jonathan. (: Also found out that Fluff and his fam will likely be moving up to Champaign for a year, starting in February '09. He works for a private environmental firm and he will be leading a toxic cleanup in north Champaign ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDK3Ry_eiFc&feature=related).
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.