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On our own, this is impossible...

http://bible.com/97/LUK6.31.MSG
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them ! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. Bible.com/app

Conversations on Death

This morning I attended a bioethics lecture where representatives from Carle Hospital, Urbana Theological Seminary and guest lecturer of moral philosophy from Union University addressed some of the questions facing our society today regarding aging and end-of-life care for medical and religious professionals as well as a more potent perspective for us each as humans who will face our own and family member's deaths. 
In the midst of the research, surveys, data and trends discussed, a common thread stood out like a scarlet strand amid a complex tapestry of medical, economic, social, spiritual and familial concerns: a growing expression of desire to provide & receive care in a manner which is more compassionate and humanizing and attends to the spiritual, relational and emotional needs of those who are facing death. 
Dr. Cranston, a neurologist, shared that elimination of pain is actually not at the top of the list of why patients seek assisted-suicide: it's because they are lo…

Autumnal Splendor on this Misty October Morn

Thankful I snagged my camera this morning as I biked into campus. Couldn't resist snapping a few shots of this idyllic end-of-October morning.

7 Words that changed a Party and History

As students of Jesus, unfortunately we can easily drift from regularly and consistently looking closely at the actual stories of the days when Jesus feet strode the streets of Palestine, found in the four gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). At least I can. By God's grace, the Spirit has drawn me back to John's biographical telling of Jesus' life (the narrative which I most personally connect with.).

As I re-read the story of the wedding at Cana, I closed my eyes and visualized the encounter. I tried to hear the festive wedding sounds, see the celebratory atmosphere (difficult, admittedly, for my 21st century eyes). I meditated on the words found in John 2 and tried to open up my spirit to receive the story, to let it shape me. Rather than analyzing it, I tried to let it rule my heart and mind. This is the difference in Christian meditation: we let God's words - his voice, his Scripture - fill us and form us into the likeness of Messiah Jesus. Yes, we empty o…

Everyday on Our Campus

The advent of each Fall semester never ceases to shoot an arrow of wonder into my perspective as I watch the campus fill to the brim with 44,000 students from around the world. Hundreds of student organizations litter the campus, representing a mosaic of sub-cultures which make erase any notions of homogeneous UIUC persona. Point in case: this year, 9,400 international students from 115 different nations call UIUC home, pushing the campus to the top of the list of international student enrollments.

Tucked here in the cornfields of east-central Illinois is a crowded campus where young travelers roam, each whom is deeply loved by our Father, each who needs the transforming grace and power of Jesus Christ.

Recently, I had the privilege of sharing a message at our Saturday worship meeting about an "everyday radical" perspective on the subject of mission (We did a five-part Everyday Radical series on sex, money, Sabbath, emotions and mission - you can find the messages online at…

Tuesdays at Our House

Sitting on couches, chairs, stools and on the floor, we gather around one another. Having just finished up another homemade meal, our home fellowship continues a semester-long conversation on the subject of "getting to know the God whom Jesus reveals."

This night, we’re discussing: "What are the significant words, images, relationships and experiences which have shaped your beliefs about who God is? What are the words of Scripture which dominate your thinking about who God is?" Whether seasoned disciples, baby Christians or spiritual investigators, these questions compel each of us to evaluate our thinking, beliefs and actions about the fundamental question: "Who is God?"

One student talks about his history with his dad and how he is tempted to think of God as a demanding judge who is never satisfied. Another talks about the way media has unhelpfully shaped her thinking about God. We open Scripture and reflect on passages which students suggest. Feeling …

Who is with me?

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Who is with me?

The LORD who made the cosmos ex nihilo..
The LORD who walked with Adam in the garden.
The LORD who made a covenant with Noah to never again bring chaos to the earth with a flood.
The LORD who made a covenant with Abraham to give him a son, a good land and to make him a blessing to all peoples on earth.
The LORD who spoke with Moses.
The LORD who spared his people at Passover, liberated them from slavery and carried them through the Red Sea on dry land.
The LORD who revealed his glory to Moses on Sinai.
The LORD who graciously gave his covenant people a good body of law.
The LORD who provided manna, quail and water for 40 years in the barren Sinai wilderness.
The LORD who fulfilled his covenant and led Joshua in a conquest of rebellious inhabitants of Canaan.
The LORD who spoke to Samuel.
The LORD who chose th…

Are grace and law oxymorons?

It is common for new testament believers in Jesus Christ to hold a muddled view of the "old testament God." Was God full of grace before the incarnation? Was God less loving and more harsh before the advent of the Messiah? Was God all "law" in the OT and only warm fuzzy grace in the NT?

While it is true that history is a story of God's self-revelation and we have most graciously and clearly seen the radiance of God's glory in Christ Jesus, God is consistent and was compassionate and gracious before the incarnation.

I like what Hill & Walton say in their Survey of the Old Testament on their discussion of Deuteronomy:

"We are used to drawing a sharp contast between law and grace. This would have puzzled the ancient Israelite for whom there was hardly any greater display of God's grace than that demonstrated in his giving of the law. In the ancient Near East, gods were not known for their consistency. Worshipers were left to guess what might plea…

Students of Jesus

I want to learn to live well. In response to that thought, I know of no other response than to echo the words of Peter who said to Messiah Jesus: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
You alone, Jesus. We turn to you for life. We sit at your feet to learn to live this earthly sojourn. 
With this in mind, I was freshly bitten with wonder at the words of my Lord, spoken during his trial, as recorded by the apostle John:
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fa…

Rightifying the Wrong in this World

It was a bustling Friday afternoon at the local Starbucks. I sat in my static perch upon a street side bar stool from which I watched the dynamism of the streetscape move to and fro before me. Given that I was already in a state of contemplation in order to gather my thoughts for an upcoming teaching at Illini Life's large group campus meeting, I was well-positioned to carefully observe the scene which was about to play out before my eyes.

Awash in the refreshing warmth of a beautiful autumn day, two girls with Starbucks in hand were wrapped up in each other's words about their latest college experiences. Separated only by a window pane and anonymity, I watched as a wheelchair slowed to a stop adjacent the girls' cozy table and the two girls' afternoon bliss plummeted from its lofty perch. A woman whose face and posture bore the marks of a somber numbness made acquaintance with these two young women and presumably requested some form of charity. Rarely does such a scen…

adamah!

adamah - Hebrew, noun, meaning "ground"

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,
till you return to the adamah,
because from it you were taken;
for you are dirt,
and to dirt you shall return.
Genesis 3:19, God speaking to Adam

"By the sweat of your face." This phrase has always painted an image of a farmer sweating profusely on a sweltering day while hovering over a lonely shovel struggling to break up the dry adamah. I learned today that this phrase is actually an ancient Near Eastern idiom which speaks of perspiration-inducing fear or anxiety. What the Genesis narrative is telling us is that "humanity will now live their lives in an adversarial world with a constant, gnawing undercurrent of dread that there will not be enough, that their labor will not meet the need." (Epic of Eden, p. 111)

Unlike Adam, I don't physically sweat much in my line of work, but I have been increasingly aware of the "gnawing undercurrent of dread that there will…

Describing vs Explaining

Our daughter is quite verbal. With this affections for words, she likes to state what she observes when mommy or daddy leaves the house on certain occassions: "Daddy work." or "Mommy work." Were a stranger to hear her toddler-speak, rightfully, they would conclude that dad is indeed at work. Anna would have succeeded in describing my actions and locality. I went to work. But, has Anna really explained anything? No, she has merely described. And, here, we find a key lesson in observation. When a physicist tells you all about the interplay of mass and acceleration and gravity, he is describing gravity. If he's an honest physicist, he'll tell you that at the end of the day he can't truly explain it. Only when a scientist, or any human endeavoring to observe, embraces this mystery will he trod the less worn paths of humility towards truth, rather than the well-worn path of Sisyphean ascent.

Lewis on Prayer

"What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer? The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not folow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that compulsive empirical proof such as we have in the sciences can never be attained."

We cannot prove the causality of prayers to God and what we see happen anymore than we can prove the cause and effect of our "prayers" to man, Lewis says. For example, just yesterday my wife and I thought it would be nice to end our Sunday evening with a trip to the ice cream shop. We considered inviting our neighbors, as we were sensing we needed the company of friends, but thought they had a long weekend and we ended up traveling alone. We arrived, got our ice cream and sat down, and then looking over, we saw our neighbors drive up! They came anyway and we enjoyed ice cream together, ev…

Lewis on Excellence & Quality in Literature & Art

From Christianity and Literature, pp 1,2.

Lewis reflects on supposed "Christian" literature and art. He doesn't pontificate on the "literary value" that "written by Christians for Christians" but rather a "Christian approach to literature."

"The rules for writing a good passion play or a good devotional lyric are simply the rules for writing tragedy or lyric in general: success in sacred literature depends on the same qualitys of structure, suspense, variety, diction, and the like which secure success in secular literature.

...I question whether the badness of a really bad hymn can ordinarily be so irrelevant to devotion as the badness of a bad devotional picture. Because the hymn uses words, its badness will, to some degree, consist in confused or erroneous thought or unworthy sentiment."

Lewis's Commentary on the Modern Debunking of True and Sensible Virtues

In Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis opens with a critique of "Gaius" and "Titius" who have written a book - "The Green Book" - on English composition. Lewis observes the authors performing a great disservice to the pupil, failing to teach him virtues and values which certain objects and circumstances in the universe necessarily merit.

 “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”Abolition of Man, p.37

The Certain Death of Meaning

In the hands of a certain gardener,
Denying God and bowing to the material,
Words once sown in soils of Meaning
Are uprooted from fertile ground
Discarded into a heap void of fecundity-
Left to bake under an unprotected sun,
'Til the words shrivel
And life ceases.

From the lips of a 20 month old

Three memorable quotations from the lips of our walking tape recorder, Anna, utter on this past Father's Day weekend:

1. While sitting in a time out, we hear Anna begin to whimper and then she stops and these words fall from her lips: "Daddy back soon. Patient."

2. Walking back into the kitchen to get herself some seconds from the stovetop, Amber asked me, "You want more, babe?" A few minutes later, while the three of us sat at the table, Anna decided to chime in, "Want more babe?" I interpreted first and when I let Amber know what she was saying, we erupted in laughter. This, of course, was a cue for Anna to basically put those three words on repeat for the next five minutes.

3. As we loaded into the Buick Sunday morning, from her car seat, Anna with her finger in her nose says, "Booger out." It didn't take long for mommy to confess as the culprit who accidentally taught our precious daughter these adorably gross words :)

Have you considered?

In a world hungry to accumulate more music,
Have you considered sitting under a tree
To listen to the wind rustling the leaves?

In a world hungry for visual stimulation,
Have you considered lying under a canopy of stars
Strung out like diamonds across an endless canvas?

In a world hungry to being entertained,
Have you considered being led by a little child
Into the joys of simple and wondrous new discoveries?

In a world hungry for stories both fantastical and feigned,
Have you considered entering into the Grand Narrative,
Penned with vibrant characters and crescendos of tragedy and victory?

In a world hungry to dine on delicacies,
Have you considered savoring the words of Christ:
"I have food to eat that you know nothing about."



Thank you, Eric Metaxas

Having now encountered a trifecta of Eric Metaxas' influences - first, my reading of Bonhoeffer, then following Socrates in the City lectures and most recently reading his own telling of his conversion in Christianity Today- I am growing in my gratitude for the influences of this man in our culture. As a respecter of thoughtful writing and engagement with the mind of contemporary culture, I see the "Christ-life" being lived and shared by Mr. Metaxas, and I am grateful for his example - albeit from afar.

Presently, I am in a survey course of C.S. Lewis, and I remarked to a friend, "Who will be the "Lewis" of our generation when we look back fifty years from now?" I am beginning to wonder if Eric Metaxas might be among that company.

Lewis on Meaning in the Universe

“If our universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that is has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

Lewis on Time & Ownership

From the pen of Screwtape, a senior devil, addressing his junior, Wormwood:

"You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption 'My time is my own'. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours....The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defense. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels."

"And all the time the joke is that the word 'Mine' in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say 'mine' of each thing that exists, and especially of each man...At present time the Enemy says 'mine' of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to…

Too Small A Thing, Part 2

One common question that I did not address in my talk last Saturday is: Do I have to sell my stuff and give to the poor in order to follow Christ?

Where does this question stem from?

In Luke 12, we find a provocative series of remarks from Jesus. First, addressing the crowd, he tells a story of a rich man who built bigger barns for himself, collecting more possessions that he might enjoy his life. Jesus calls the man a fool and the story ends with the rich man's life being suddenly taken from him in judgment of his greed.

Jesus follows up this story with a personal address to his disciples, instructing them not to be anxious about material things, such as clothes and food, but rather to trust in the daily provision of their Father. He then instructs them, "“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will neve…

Too Small A Thing

For my Christian History course,  this week we are reading Martin Luther's letter to Pope Leo X in which he provides a powerful discussion of Christian Liberty. The timing of this assignment is significant and has incited many follow up thoughts for me from Saturday.

This past Saturday, I was called out of the bullpen to teach at our church's large group meeting on the University of Illinois campus - Saturday Night Grace. My assignment: take week two in a three part series taken from Prophet Isaiah's words in 49:6, where he shares a word from the LORD:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacoband bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”


Israel's vision of God was and is doing in the world was too small and the people of God today are prone to similar small-mindedness. Specifically, we chose to highlight three ways in which God is sending…

What Love Is

According to St. Paul, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson:
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never loo…

P2PU School of Webcraft

Once upon a time there was a young boy who was amazed by the internet. He landed his first ever job with the University of Illinois extension and his task was to create their first website. He embarked on a journey to learn HTML and successfully completed his objective. Now, sixteen years later, after having lost the wonderment that accompanied his early days of web sojourning, he is embarking on a new mission: to brush up on over a decade's worth of web progress and create his own website where he can display his photography portfolio and other creative works. Yes, facebook, blogger and the like still serve their purpose, but the curious artist in me would like to rediscover the art of web design which surely has redefined how we interact with our world. Onward...I will be using P2PU's School of Webcraft for said project.