Who Am I?

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!

Memorial Day

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 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).

Serving others

I was encouraged by this excerpt this morning:

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.

The Old Testament

A few months ago, I mentioned that I was finding myself tangled in all kinds of questions related to the Old Testament and its continuity with the New Covenant and the Christian faith. Now that summer is here, I have decided to tackle that lengthy beast head on. I began studying an Old Testament survey textbook today (haven't picked up a textbook in 2.5 years, except to sell some old ones on Amazon!). I say all this to keep myself accountable to this endeavor. I already find myself getting tangled in new questions, such as "What presuppositions am I bringing into my reading of the OT?"

This encouragement from Paul in his letter to the Romans has given me motivation in this study:
"For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

Speaking of Paul, here's a random quote from a Money book that I am reading right now at Aroma. The context is a comparison of the Apostle Paul's life with that of his contemporary, Caesar. "2000 years later, people around the world recognize which of these two men made the eternally important contribution. They name their children after [Paul] (the prisoner) and their salads after the emperor!"

Gospel Centrality

On Tuesday, Fred, Marcellus and I drove down to St. Louis for a workshop at The Journey, an Acts 29 church with a few campuses in the St. Louis metro area. Our good friend, Dan, works part-time with this church and is also a full-time student at Covenant Seminary. Dan invited us down for the day to attend this workshop, which was one of the free quarterly workshops that The Journey hosts. Their desire is to equip and connect regional church planters and pastors...and it's free!

We met at their Tower Grove campus, a beautiful, remodeled Catholic church that the Journey purchased, complete with a convent, school and other buildings.

The guest speakers for the day were two pastors from Sojourn Community Church (also Acts 29) in Louisville, KY.

The first dude, Daniel Montgomery, spoke on the topic of "Gospel Centrality." It was a very dynamic, rich and foundational message for us to hear. We were saturated in the Gospel for about an hour as he impressed upon us the need to realize that the "Gospel changes everything"; it is to "inform and transform all things."

He walked through the first few chapters of Romans, and we saw that the Gospel of Christ is what Paul's life orbited around (Apostolic), the Gospel is what the entire Scripture points to (Biblical), the Gospel is all about Jesus (Christological) and his Cross, Kingdom and Grace (Tim Keller: doctrinal, activist and pietistic, respectively), the Gospel calls us into community (Eccesiological), and the Gospel is the core of God's mission (Missiological). We spent the largest chunk of time discussing the Cross, Kingdom and Grace of Jesus: do our individual local churches focus on one more than the other at the cost of teaching the depth and breadth of the Gospel?

Some of the questions that I left asking of myself and of my local church:
Am I picking and choosing what I want to focus on in the Gospel?
Does my life orbit around the Gospel?
What is our church "all about"?
Do I believe that the Cross is sufficient for all of our needs and broken places?

Is the Gospel becoming "bigger" as my understanding of the depth of my sinfulness and the greatness of God's holiness expands?

Are we a "best practices" church or a "theology-centered" church?

What does it mean to live in the good of the Gospel daily?

What is our plan for presenting everyone perfect in Christ?

The second session was on the topic of Christian Liberty, led by Mike Cosper. We talked about the dangers that can come with the freedom that we have in Christ, leading us down legalistic or licentious roads. We discussed the importance of knowing our conscience (and others) and our context, when facing often controversial matters, such as politics, alcohol, media, language, spending habits and parenting styles.

Looking at the realm of media, Mike talked about the proverbial "big 3" that some Christians often use for their media filter: sex, nudity and profanity. Similar to some of the narrow filters that conservatives often use in politics (abortion, homosexuality, scientific research methods), we neglect other messages that the media feeds us. How often do we ask ourselves "Why am I watching this TV show, this movie?" or "Why am I consuming this media product?". The answer is not simply to just turn it off, but to understand the messages that we are receiving and to remember Romans 12:2, in which Paul urges us not to conform to the pattern of the world. In other words...don't just veg out in front of mass media (TV, movies, internet, etc), but actively engage with them.

Another example that Mike discussed in the razor edge between license and legalism was the way in which we degrade political figures. We forget that George W and Hillary are image bearers of God. Again, this doesn't mean we cannot be critical or that we have to just shut off our political sensors.

The key is to discover Gospel Freedom in which we center ourselves on Christ's righteousness, and not on the extreme margins where we get involved fruitless arguments and judgments over TV, beer, "cuss words", etc.

Apart from the great teachings, it was great getting to hang out with some guys who made their way to the workshop. Got the chance to catch up with Abe, a former I-Lifer. Good times.

Here's a God-moment: we were over at the Luminary (the Journey's Center for the Arts, located in the old convent) and bumped into some guys from an Acts 29 church in Omaha. Told this guy Bob that I was a missionary with GCM and he pointed me to one of his buddies, JD, from Omaha as well. He told me that he is going to GCM staff training so that he can go to South Africa to begin a church planting movement with Acts 29 (GCM and Acts 29 have just recently begun to form a relationship). His wife is from Cape Town. No way, I told him. Having spent 6 months there, I have been dreaming about opportunities to return in ministry. GCM has not had any Africa connections, much less South Africa connections, like they have in Europe, Asia and Latin America. We exchanged contact info. He hopes to be in Cape Town before the year's out. His desire is to start justice and mercy work in the townships and to establish a church-planting hub for Acts 29 in Cape Town. Too cool. He and I were thrilled that we had the chance to meet. We'll see what God has in store there...

Will Smith?

This guy, Kimmie Weeks, is from Liberia and has been an activist for poverty and child slavery since he was 14. Kinda looks like a younger Will Smith at first glance, don't ya think?