Monday, December 07, 2009

I'm Blown Away...And You Will Be Too!

This story starts off like my morning did -- mudane with a mixture of awe and frustration. I'm running on two hours sleep right now after finishing my last big paper of the semester. I was staying at my friend Russell's house out in Arlington Heights and I was running late to campus. The awe came from seeing the snow actually settle on the ground & in the trees for the first time this year. Beautiful. However, it was quickly met with frustration as I was backed up in traffic as I merged onto a major road. We were at a dead stop for the most part, but there was enough space for a car in the lane left of me to enter my lane just in front of me. I let out a loud "Uuuuuuuggghhhh" as the car came in, not so much upset with them as with the painful reality that I was gonna be extremely late to class and consequently in dropping of my paper. I texted my a friend in class to let him know I was in a dead halt with the hope that he would tell the professor, who would ultimately be sympathetic to my situation, right?

Well about thirty seconds after texting him I see a Toyota 4-Runner to my right trying to pull into traffic from a side street that was perpendicular to us. But the lady driving wasn't slowing down; in fact it looked like she was gonna try to cut to her right, go offroad, and avoid everyone altogether. That didn't work. Instead her 4-Runner barreled right into the Toyota Avalon directly in front of me -- the car I had just let in! First words out of my mouth: "OH SNAP!"

Here's where the story gets creepy, weird and beyond coincidence. Let me remind you that I am on my way to campus to drop off a paper on how the God of all things is a Trinity -- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, yet all one at the same time.

I pull up in front of them, figuring that I could be a witness to the whole thing. The lady on the passenger side of the wrecked Avalon, all shaken up approaches me as I tell her that I'll be a witness to everything. She proceeds to tell me that she and her husband are on their way to her sister's funeral. In that moment my heart dropped for them.

Next, her husband, a Middle Eastern man about my height, comes up to me as we're trying to figure out how to call 911 from a cell phone (Note to readers: "911" doesn't work on cells; *999 is what you call for an emergency. I didn't know that. I think it makes little sense). He was calm and collected, but amazed. He began to tell me how right before the lady crashed into them he was trying to console his wife by explaining to her how God is in complete control and that he can let anything happen at any moment, including them getting hit by another car in traffic. He said that no more than five seconds later the woman ran into them!

His wife is on the phone and I come to find out that her sister was only 48. She was a doctor of some kind and died of cancer. He said they couldn't get to it in time. At this point are standing at the other woman's car, writing up a statement we can all sign since no emergency vehicles would come at this time for this type of accidnent. The lady asks me where I was heading. "I'm heading to school, ma'am." The man asked what I studied. "I study theology." They both were like, "theology!?!" as if this wasn't weird enough.

I noticed the lady shaking heavily, shifting between composure and crying. I offer my coat. I think she was in shock because this was capping off a difficult morning for her already. She has a headdress on. She's covering up her bald head. She herself has cancer. She was actually on her way to chemotherapy before she hit the Avalon. Yeah, the Avalon driven by a man taking his wife to her sister's funeral. Her sister who died of cancer.

In the midst of all this, the man finds to begin conversation with me about God. He tells me that he's Muslim and actually a direct descendant of Muhammad. At some point I tell him that I'm actually driving to school to drop off a paper on how God is Trinity. We could have gotten into some interesting discussions in that moment, which he really wanted to pursue. I didn't. I went to my car to get my cards, of which, interestingly, I only had two left. I felt it best to let his wife grieve and let them get to the funeral, so I gave him a card to contact me. The other one I gave to the lady as she drove off to her chemotherapy appointment, knowing somewhat the pain and confusion she has in her life right now. She took it and with a soft, perplexed voice said, "you study theology, eh?" I tried to say compassionately, "yes, call me anytime."

I then got in my car, drove off, blown away at what just happened.

To recap. I'm late dropping off a paper on the Trinity. I let a car in front of me that proceeds to get hit by a lady. The car in front of me has a devout Muslim man and his wife whose sister just died of cancer. The woman who should have hit me, hit them instead as she is on her way to chemotherapy because she herself has cancer. The Muslim man in the midst of all this wants to talk to me about God and how he's not Triune, even though he knew I just finished an extensive paper on it less than five hours before. All this in a matter of 20 minutes.

I was silent in my car. I didn't know what to do. Eventually I was like "Holy Crap!!! Did that just happen???" I began to pray because I didn't know what else to do. I can't make up a story like that (someone might be able to, but not me). I can't chalk it up to chance or coincidence, though I know many would want to. I still have yet to flesh it out any life lessons personally as the story is still fresh and nearly unbelievable. However, I do hope they both call me at some point. It just seems like that was not an end, but a beginning.

Finally, to top it all off I arrived to class just as they finished, ready to tell everyone and turn in my paper. When I got there I found out the topic of our last lecture: God's providence.

By His Grace.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Classes In Spring

I find that my updates pertain more to my job at Trinity than my life while in school at Trinity. That's okay...for now. I am spending much time in reflection these days about how I desire for my life to be lived, which may in turn result in certain changes for the future. For now, though, I'm not quite sure. Thankfully I do not have a "fan base" save the four of you or so who follow this bad boy. In any case, here's another vid:

What Class Are You Most Excited About? from Trinity International University on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"Professor Run-In" With Ed Stetzer

Hey all,
As many of you, some of you, or none of you know, I work in Graduate Admissions at Trinity. My current position focuses on developing a presence in the various social media outlets that have become so popular over the years, particularly on Facebook and Twitter.

One of the perks is what some may consider a more "favorable" position in the light of professors, giving me the opportunity to sit down with them and talk. The most recent idea created is called "Professor Run-Ins," which is explained in the video below.

My first interview was with Dr. Ed Stetzer. In case you don't know who he is, be sure to begin by visiting his website, Dr. Stetzer is a seasoned church planter, conference speaker, and currently is president of LifeWay Reasearch. In short, Ed's kind of a big deal. I recently had a class with Dr. Stetzer, or "Stetz" for short, on Becoming a Missional Church. It was a week long, but was one of the best classes I've had at Trinity thus far. Stetz's heart for Jesus, His church, and His mission in this world shone through from word one and I am grateful for the short time we all had with him.

Here is the video:

By His Grace.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Impromptu Yo Yo Video

It has been an insane amount of time since I've updated my blog. Unfortunately, I do not see myself jumping back into the game anytime in the near future. I think about it quite a bit, but none of the thoughts lead to fingers punching away at keys. However, I made a quick video today that gives a tiny glimpse into how things are going. Here you go!

By His Grace.

Monday, September 07, 2009

"With Sickness In Our Bones and Sores On Our Flesh, You'll Never Be Gone From Us, You'll Never Be Gone"

Here is one song during this past week's service. Everything is written by Jon, the lead for Milano, a band which is associated with The Line as part of our Patron Program (I will explain this in a future post. For now, allow the video to load, sit back, soak in the sounds, and worship along with them. It is a beautiful song.

By His Grace.

The Line: Revolution is Restoration Bootleg: Never Be Gone from Aaron Youngren on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Humans Being Appreciated As Human Beings Day

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. -Gen 1:27

Man is the glory and garbage of the universe. -Blaise Pascal

I want to see a humans being appreciated as human beings day. I fully appreciate individuals who walk down the streets with the heads held high acknowledging the existence of other human beings with a head nod, a smile, or a simple "hey". Understandably, people in conversation may be enthralled with each other as they stroll, but we have substituted real human interaction with screens that play blaring music, send e-mails, check news and sports scores, or simply just glow as we mindlessly tap them in an attempt to avoid all other life forms around us.

My words are brief here for now, but I have given quite a bit of thought to this ever since I was in college. During that time Jesus took hold of me and I began to see the world differently. Much like when Copernicus discovered that everything doesn't revolve around the earth, but the sun, while in college I began to see that the world does not revolve around us, but God's Son. Put more bluntly, people are not here for me and to serve my purposes. The same goes for you. We all exist - whether we comply or not - to serve Jesus and His purposes; beautifully, He actually came and modeled for us how it should all be done.

This is partly comedic, partly serious. This will be fleshed out over the coming weeks, months, and years - first in my life, but then in print as I hope to see a revolution occur in our lives, one that opens up our eyes to see how the little, momentary, almost effortless acts of merely being human can spark change in the lives of those around us.

By His Grace.

Monday, August 24, 2009

3 Observations of City-Dwellers in Natural Lands

This weekend about two dozen of us traveled northward to Wisconsin just to get out of the crazy city for a couple days. Whether one is in school or not, the end of August always seems to be a transitory time for many, so this weekend was wonderful for us to retreat and rest before the storms of life rage.

In our brief time there I made three keen observations (well I think they're keen, but you can judge for yourself. Sidenote: Can someone bring back "keen" as an adjective not to describe something one does, but who someone is? "Gee, you're keen." It'd be real swell if someone could do that.)

  1. You know you've got a bunch of people from the city when at night, pitch dark, in the middle of nowhere, the only thing you have for a flashlight is either the backlight to your phone or the Flashlight iPhone app. Someone says, "Anyone have a flashlight? I can't see." Someone else responds with, "Hold on, I do. I've just got to pull out my phone." Then there's the awkward, repeated need for the person to push the buttons on the phone in order to keep the light at maximum power. This is where the person with the iPhone steps in with, "Put that weak flip phone away. I've got a flashlight on my phone! I don't need to press buttons all the time like you." This is another way iPhones are better, Apple is genius, the App Store dominates, and we are idiots. However, the Zippo app just might make you look cool in that situation. Nope. Nevermind.

  2. City-dwellers like to kill everything within a two foot radius of them. We were sitting outside by a small body of water, reeds dancing as if the wind was playing music. We were surround by trees as we looked out over the water into the distant, green hills. In a group we spent some time in prayer, much of the time in silence; a few folk prayed out loud. During some of those times my ears would perk up to the sound of a foot stomping the ground. I'd look back to catch a glimpse of that same foot twisting in the dirt as if putting out a cigarette. I knew it wasn't a cigarette because they don't allow smoking on the grounds and he's a Christian and Christians would never smoke. I wisely deduced that this person (who shall remain nameless) was killing woodland creatures of some sort. This happened a few times and got me thinking about all the times in the short span we were there that people freaked out at the sight of a bee or a spider 1) as if these critters aren't already in the city and 2) as if the critters in the woods somehow have the power themselves to kill with a sting or a slight touch to the skin. And of course, like with all things unknown, the most logical step to take is to kill them.

  3. During that same time out by the water I found it ironic that some of the most ardent environmentalists and eco-friendly advocates live in cities. Cities made of lifeless slabs of concrete and cold, hard steel. You are aware that in order to make the city from which you battle for all-things-green that there once was open land and free roaming for both person and creature alike, that there was real green before being "green" became a symbol for activism and dare I say elitism? I have no problem with trying to be good stewards of the environment in which we live; in fact, I hope we are all living "green" in some way. I'm just saying we should do so with some humility, understanding that our paved roads (however craptastic), walk-ups, sushi restaurants, and Starbucks haven't always been there.

Rollin' With The Bentleys

I-94 can be a trip sometimes. This was one of those times. Enjoy the ride with us as we explore the challenges of chatting with British folk in their Bentleys. They drive on the right side of the car!!!

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Don't Believe In A Place Called "China"

I am testing out some thoughts I have which result from a conversation I had today:

I've never been to China. I've never been anywhere closer than thousands of miles away from China. However I have read words about the country and its history; I have seen pictures of the landmass we have labeled China; I have seen videos and artifacts that claim to be from China; I have met people from this place, all of whom speak a different language than me. Although I have never been to China, I am fairly confident that the area with this name exists.

But does China's existence depend on either my knowledge or experience of it?

Has China existed throughout history, even when people didn't have access to the same kind of evidence I have now? What if I never lived in China or met anyone who has lived there, Chinese or any other ethnicity? What if I never met a Chinese person? What if I have never seen a video or an artifact from there? Would it still exist? What about never seeing pictures or a map? What about never reading a word about China?

Is the existence of China--or anything for that matter--predicated on my knowledge of it, whether that knowledge be intellectual, experiential, or both?

Given what we do know, what if I were to go to someone stranded on a desert island and try to convince him or her that China existed, but all I could use were my own words? Would that person be justified in rejecting my claim that China existed?

These are a few of the many questions I have as I wrestle through this idea of existence. I would really love to know what you think. I will engage in any comments posted only if I have more questions, but I will stray from pushing any sort of personal agenda. Feel the freedom to write whatever you want, even if derogatory. I will only be slightly offended.

The Long Trek Up Long's Peak: Part 1

On July 26th, along with my friends Rick & TJ, I climbed Long's Peak--a 14,000 ft. mountain--for the second time (the first was back in 2007). Using my newly purchased iPhone 3G S, I chronicled the journey with short clips at various times. What we did in twelve short hours you can experience in nearly 12 excruciatingly long minutes. Here is the first of the two-part miniseries dramody.

By His Grace.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Yeah, We Meet At Schuba's

What the heck is a Schuba? Who is Schuba? Do I eat it? Talk to it? Play it?

I should probably backtrack. Many of you know that I am heavily involved in a start-up church (don't confuse with company) called The Line. It all began back in September for me. I moved to the city of Chicago (don't confuse with Chicagoland) down in January as Aaron, the lead planter, his wife, Kayla, and their three children moved to here from Seattle. There was only a handful of us at first, meeting regularly at their apartment in Lincoln Park.

Needless to say, nothing is conventional. There are no "12 Steps for a Church Plant" that ensures success (if there are, shoot them immediately--the gimmicks, not the people). We have tried our hand at a bunch of different things as we seek to know Jesus more, the city more, and how we might see the city to know Jesus more. I am completely out of my comfort zone on so many fronts, but it cause me and the rest of us in the church to depend on God and trust that His Spirit is moving. One verse that really struck me as we were starting up is in Acts when God tells Paul not to give up on his mission.
"Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people. -Acts 18:9-10
We have done informationals, strategy session after strategy session, city learning times, doctrine studies, celebration nights, and regular old fashion church services. We are still a plant. We are still small. We are still seeking the Lord, believing that His people are here and we must continue to speak, preach, teach, and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So what about Schuba's? How does that fit in? Well seeing as how nothing is conventional, one of the most challenging things for a beginning church in the city--and nearly any church for that matter--is meeting space. Congregating in the pastor's home is good for only so long. The intimacy can quickly turn into BO. In other words, we can wear out our welcome, wear out the family, and cease to grow, stinking the place up rather than emitting the sweet fragrance of God. The other challenge for a beginning church is having enough of the green paper. It's barely coming from the inside and people on the outside aren't usually directly involved enough to stay committed in the long run. The flow can run low.

So in the city, where borrowing seems to always come with a fee, even if it's your neighbor's sugar, we are faced with the challenge of finding a building that holds a church of 30 (on good days).

We thought we had a solution when we landed a small room at a church in one of the neighborhoods near by. We held a big event at the Congress Theater on the 26th, and when I say big, I mean we topped three digits in a space that could fill 4000. I assumed that the event would get some new faces at the church we had been gathering in. However, in the middle of the week we lost the church due to circumstances I am not aware of and we had no place to meet for this past Sunday.

Enter Schubas. Schubas is a bar/restaurant/music venue that has hosted the likes of Sufjan Stevens, the Fleet Foxes, and Andrew Bird. I don't know how Aaron did it, but we got an e-mail on Wednesday saying that it looks like we will be meeting here. The amazing thing is we got such an amazing deal, it is the perfect size, and the people that work there are extremely kind to us! Aaron arrived at 8:00 am on Sunday morning to see if things could be ready by the 11:00 am service, and everything was set up already! We have a sound guy who really wants to work that slot every Sunday and I think we will be blessing them with beautiful music by Milano (members of our church who make up the band for a program I will write about int he future) along with solid preaching by Aaron.

I arrived on Sunday, and was utterly blown away. In so many ways this place is perfect for us in where we are at as a plant. In fact, a couple came to the church this weekend after the girl had flown in from Florida bummed she couldn't go to church. She and her boyfriend were outside getting ready to eat breakfast at the restaurant when they found out we were having a service in the music room!

This is a God thing. I am extremely pumped about the location and where we are at as a plant. People are moving to the city. The gospel is being shared. People are coming to Jesus. God surely does have many of his people here.

A Whirlwind Weekend

I stepped in the door of my apartment around midnight this past Thursday. It was absolutely empty except for what remained in my room. With each step on the wood floor it echoed. My roommate--whom I met on Craiglist back in January when I first moved to the city--was all moved out and was planning on just coming by in the morning to do a few things and sign the check out sheet. It was bittersweet because God had truly blessed me with a roommate I enjoyed and got along with well. I have no nightmare stories of the randomness that Craigslist provides so often. He wasn't a vampire. He didn't steal from me. He didn't leave a trail of dirty clothes, dishes, or toilet paper in his wake. He was a genuinely solid roommate, so it was somewhat sad to part ways.

But I also knew what I was getting myself into. As George and Wheezy sang, "Well, we're movin' on uuupp..." It wasn't exactly to the East Side. It literally was a move up--four floors from the second to the sixth. I moved in with two guys who are a part of the church plant: Peter, who is from around here, but has never had a roommate before, and Jake, who just moved up from Texas on Saturday to be a part of the church.

Needless to say quite a bit of adjustment has occurred in just the four days since I've been back. The apartment is much bigger than the previous one and most people I know are jealous of my room. We are at the end of the hall facing the street we live off of. I have three enormous windows that overlook buildings all around and I can even catch a glimpse of the lake and the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. I will be doing a video tour some time soon, so you can see exactly what I'm talking about.

The move is going smoothly and I think we are all gonna get along really well, especially because Peter brought a sweet flat screen to the place equipped with seemingly every kind of system known to man. He even brought art too. We are cultured now.

In the middle of the move we had to pause and enjoy at least some momentary rest at our sweet new digs for church...

10 Days of Work and Pleasure: Pleasure

Two years ago I had spent the entire summer out at CSU before hiking Long's Peak.
Two years ago I had become acclimated to the altitude in Colorado before hiking Long's Peak.
Two years ago I had played multiple sports multiple times before hiking Long's Peak.
Two years ago I had gone on a backpacking trip the weekend before hiking Long's Peak.
Two years ago I was two years younger than I am now.

That was all two years ago.

One of my goals for the pleasure portion of the Colorado trip was to hike a 14er (a 14,000 foot mountain). The original plan was to hike something other than Long's Peak because I had conquered it before. However, my good friend Rick had never done it and he convinced us (TJ and me) that we should do it again. So we did.

To hike Long's the group must start in the dark. We chose 2:00 am as our start time. Without too much detail, this meant 20 minutes of sleep for TJ and me, zero minutes of sleep for Rick. I woke up feeling woozy, dizzy, frizzy, and any kind of "zy" you can think of. I was hesitant to go, but made it to the car. That was the first step.

Long's is a combination of hiking and climbing. Labeled a "Class 3," Long's can be very difficult at points; in fact, only 3 out of every 10 people make it to the summit. It's a 15 mile round-trip, 7 1/2 up and back. The first 6 miles up takes about 3 hours, the other 1 1/2 miles takes about three. I didn't think I was even going to make it past mile 3. I literally wanted to fall asleep every step of the way. When we stopped the eyes definitely shut and all the rocks looked like fluffy pillows waiting for my head to crash on them (which would have been bad).

Somehow, I made it to the Key Hole (it looks like a hole where a key would go. creative, I know), which is where the photo at the top is taken from. We got there about 6:30 am. I let TJ and Rick go ahead because they were steaming past me already. Therefore I mainly climbed alone, stopping often, and even sleeping on the side of the mountain for about 30 min. Passers by actually were jealous, knowing I had claimed a sweet spot.

I eventually made it to the top by 9:00. On my way up I saw Rick and TJ coming down. They were shocked along with me that I made it. They continued past me, and again I found myself alone. The way back down was much more difficult than the way up. My body felt like it was slowly falling apart, like a car that has minor problems fade into larger ones. The machine is no longer what it was.

Walking down the path for a few miles was partially a sigh of relief, partially realistic exposure that two years can do a lot to a body, even if it is only 26 years old. The bones groan along with the fallen creation, awaiting the day when there will no long be any pain.

10 Days of Work and Pleasure: Work

Summers in Ft. Collins, CO have become etched in my calendar since 2005 when I joined staff with Campus Crusade. In 2006 I drove through there during my lone ranger, cross-country tour to visit some friends who were going through some training. The following summer in 2007 I went out to try my hand at some classes to see if the seminary thing could be in my future (we know how that turned out). Sadly I was unable to make it in 2008, but it was with great anticipation that I would be there in 2009 somehow, some way.

Thanks to my job as a recruiter with Trinity along with my substantial connections with Campus Crusade, I was able to work a recruiting trip in during the National Staff Conference that occurs near the end of the CSU summer. I flew out on very little sleep, expecting that it would be a theme for my time out there because I wanted to get as much time with people as possible.

The first half of the time was spent working quite a bit. We had a table at a this thing called a Ministry Fair (still kinda unsure about the name, but whatevs). We were nestled between two of our big rival seminaries and we had many stare downs and duels because that's how we do. I learned how to be crafty and dominate selling points, while running down Crusade staff who walked by in order to keep them from hitting up the other tables.

In all seriousness, my co-worker, Emanuel, a pro at this stuff, is solid friends with the guys from the other seminaries, even going on a morning hike with the rep from DTS! It was so great to see how little we are legitimately in competition with one another and how instead we really just want to serve people as best we can in showing how a theological education may benefit them.

On top of that, so many old friends stopped by the table and I got to catch up with mad crazy folk. We made a substantial number of contacts with whom I will be following up over the next couple of weeks. By the end of it all I was pretty horse and ready for some rest, but I should of known better.

Remember, I came in expecting to sleep very little. That's exactly what I got...

Nearly Four Crazy Weeks

It all began on Wednesday, July 8th when my boy Casey Sapp rolled into town (well he had been here for a few days from China, but to me he had just gotten here). We hung out for a bit and drove out to The Wetendorf's. There we would begin what became five full days of festivities because Mr. Zach Wetendorf and Ms. Morgan Cawthorne were getting married that Saturday. I was the Best Man for this spectacular event and I do believe I had one of the best times of my life. I think the wedding and reception were so gospel-centered, where, although the day was in many ways about Zach and Morgan, they made sure to point everyone there, Christian or not, to Christ. The day itself lasted nearly 12 hours when all was said and done, most it being us cutting a rug on the dance floor.

When the dust settled and Zach and Morgan hit the road, friends still remained here, including my old-boss-still-close-brother, Jimmy. We got to tour the city a little bit and get some solid time together before he went back to Florida. Less than 24 hours later my Auntie arrived! The revolving door of festivities and visitors had not stopped; in fact, she and I kicked it into high gear. We had a solid mixture of regular tourist things--top of the Willis (Sears) Tower, Millennium Park, etc.--along with regular local things--going to a movie, visiting The Wetendorf's in the burbs. I had a wonderful time with her here and I believe she would say the same thing if she had some words to type in this bad boy.

Again, less than 24 hours after she left, I was on a plane headed for Colorado. That's where the next entry picks up.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Quick Question For All My Party People!

I was driving home in the car (as opposed to my horse buggy), listening to a man recount a night of partying with the metal band, Skid Row. He mentioned that he had a blast with them--from what he could remember.

Well if my memory serves me correctly, the nights that most of my friends and fraternity brothers would brag about the following day would be the ones they could remember the least. In fact, it seemed as though the measurement of fun was based on how much one could remember: If you remembered a lot, it was a good time; if you couldn't remember anything at all, then somehow the night turns out to be one of the best nights ever.

My question is this: If the best times of your life are measured by how little you remember them, shouldn't the first two years out of the womb be considered the greatest?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pour Out Your Wretched Heart Before God and See What He Does!

How often do you want to hide from God?
How often are you angry with God, even though you claim you don't even believe in Him?
How much do you want to just yell at the top of your lungs at God, but only because you want to be a "good" person, you don't do it?
How often do you want to tell God you love Him?

Trust is solely dependent upon the reliability of the object of that trust. Can I trust a monkey to survive in the trees of the jungle if I put him there? Of course, because in that realm of life he is trustworthy. But can I trust in that same monkey to rescue to world from the current economic crisis we're facing? Yeah, I could try, but if I was serious in doing so and kept trying, I'd be wrapped up in a nice white jacket and thrown into a pretty room with padded, white walls.

What about God? Can I trust God at all times, which includes by implication in all places with all circumstances? Couple this with an exhortation to pour out my heart to him, a heart that often mistrusts, rebels, hates, spites, scorns, what do I see? I am confronted with the only reality that there is such sweet freedom in the God of my refuge! It's my heart that lead me to want to hide from God (Gen. 3:7-8), is deceitful beyond comprehension (Jer. 17:9), spewing forth all kinds of evils (Matt. 15:19-20). Yet I am challenged--commanded--to pour my heart out before him in all its brokenness, anger, hurt, and doubt. Who is this God I am called to trust? Will he not turn his back on me if I pour out this wretched heart before him?

I must conclude that I trust in God because he is not a monkey, though I know some want to caricature him in that light. Rather, he is the One who revealed just how trustworthy he is when he took on flesh and entered into this mess of a sinful world and loved his people. Who is more worthy of my or your trust than Christ who, knowing my heart even as I feebly attempt to hide (Jn. 2:24-25), loved me and gave himself up for me (Gal 2:20)? Jesus Christ is truly my refuge in times when I feel I can go anywhere or do anything and in times when I am absolutely lost and confused. What immense freedom there is knowing this dark heart can be pried open and laid bare before the Living God of all creation only to be treated with the utmost care and love by the blood of the Lamb, restored to its rightful purpose by his Holy Spirit.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge to us.
-Ps. 62:8

Today you might be hurting. You might be angry with God. You might feel dirty and unable to look to God. Your heart might not be able to trust him. But I ask that you fix your eyes at what Jesus accomplished in the past on the Cross and by his resurrection to change your life in the present so that you may be with him forever in the future. He wants you to pour your heart out before him--no matter what condition it is in--turning from it all, trusting in him, and seeking refuge in his freeing love.

By His Grace.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Chicago, The Lovely City?

You'll see it lovely. I never will. But it will be lovely."
       -Daniel Burnham on the roof of the Reliance Building looking out over the city of Chicago

Exactly 100 years ago today.

These words were spoken by the great architect of Chicago whose impact on America still ripples today, thanks largely to his success in directing the World's Fair of 1893.

I just finished reading The Devil in the White City and these words show up near the end of an amazing book as the author, Erik Larson, provides the falling effects of the pivotal characters in his novel and in history. Though in the epilogue, the words to me serve as a prologue to the 100 years since they were uttered. In fact, I believe they perpetuate one of Larson's major goals of the book as he himself states that

Beneath the gore and smoke and loam, this book is about the evanescence of life, and why some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible, others in the manufacture of sorrow. In the end it is a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black.

Last night I got to experience this lovely city while at the Taste of Chicago. In the heart of Grant Park, with the magnificent skyline surrounding me, I gathered with a group of friends to watch 4th of July fireworks bursting forth from the harbor. The small group I chilled with was one among hundreds of thousands of people resurrecting a faint remembrance of President Obama floated in the cool night air--the last time this many people were gathered there. This time people did not stop in harmonious awe for the historical election, yet the influence of exploding fire was mesmerizing for most of us. Afterward we had the freedom to prance on Michigan Ave.--which was designed by Burnham--without the hinderance of blasted cars or buses. Save some times where crowds prematurely started running at the sound of a pop, some ganja scents in the air, and some sirens for emergency--all of which are inevitable at something of this magnitude--the evening matched the loveliness Burnham dreamed of.

However, as I read Burnham's words myself I couldn't help feeling twinges of pain, knowing that for however lovely Chicago really is, for the moments that it seems to shine as brightly as the White City, the deep corruption, hyper-segregation, widespread violence, and profuse death still roar from the streets like a lion defending his territory. The Black City was not destroyed by the force of the World's Fair; instead it thrived as evidenced by Dr. H. H. Holmes, America's first mass murder. The roots of a glorious, yet dark, past have allowed Chicago to grow massively, but the growth--masked in many ways as a beautiful city--cannot hide how troubled it truly is.

As with the bid for the World's Fair, Chicago is now at center stage for the 2016 Olympics as the heavy favorite. The city will have much time to prepare, unlike Burnham and Co., but the process I'm sure will be eerily similar. Buildings and parks will be created for the event alone; jobs will be created only to be lost; money will be spent, but more will be made; stars will be born and their fame will carry them. Yet in the darkness, the true city will scurry about like a rat without being thought of or bothered. The figurative cliché may ring true: You could get away with murder.

I can't help but agree with Burnham in so many ways. I'm just beginning to learn how lovely Chicago really is. However I'm also learning that the problem is that it's just too easy to say it's lovely from a rooftop and much harder when staring The Black City right in the face.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Pastors, where are your priorities?

Another long day in traffic. Another extended period of time listening to NPR. This time it was a short opinion piece by Daniel Schorr on the now bizarre case of Gov. Mark Sanford and his cheating ways. The title--"Cover-Ups Hurt Cheating American Politicians"--explains the premise of the three-minute long segment I heard as he opined that cheating doesn't necessarily hurt politicians (see Silvio Berlusconi in Italy for example) but the fact that American politicians cover-up their cheating does (see Bill Clinton).

However Schorr ends his time by opening us up to his own bewilderment:

One is left to wonder what makes politicians like ex-Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Gary Hart of Colorado jeopardize promising careers by cheating on their wives. Henry Kissinger famously said, "Power is the great aphrodisiac."

First, if he is right, the career wouldn't necessarily be jeopardized if politicians in America were as forthright as Berlusconi. As much as we claim propriety in this nation, I have my doubts. However, I was immediately saddened by the priorities expressed in these words.

Does one really have to wonder so long to figure out what makes promising politicians cheat on their wives? Could it be that Schorr and men like Sanford and Edwards see the political career as jeopardized by cheating on their wives as opposed to their marriages being jeopardized by their pursuit of power? Schorr's quoting of Kissinger touches it somewhat, but what he communicates in his words is that marriage should serve the career advancement, thus if the marriage is in danger, the career is in danger. Therefore politicians must do whatever it takes to portray the image that the marriage is okay, even if it includes covering it up.

What a devastating, broken view of marriage. Sadly this happens in our churches too. Professors in all my classes communicate time and time again the devastating effects of pastors who get their priorities all mixed up. They cling to their positions as pastors, finding identity in the power they have instead of it being in Christ. As that lust takes over it permeates into other areas of life, many times leading to cheating on their wives. Then, as if utterly blind, they try to hide their sin instead of confessing it, thinking that their pastoral position is jeopardized by cheating instead of being repentant because their marriage is destroyed by their lust for power.

I have to ask, pastors, where are your priorities?

Pastors, please know I am praying for you. I pray you do not see marriage in life as something that advances your own personal cause or career. In a conversation one evening with my pastor I was reminded that I should see marriage as a main vehicle for mutual service, sacrifice, and love that exalts Christ. I hope I see marriage as a beautiful, but incomplete picture of our relationship with Him--the Church as His Bride.

In doing so I trust my public service as a pastor will be honest and full of integrity, giving as opposed to self-serving. Schorr, Kissinger, and countless others have power wrong. Power is not the great aphrodisiac. Real power is found in great sacrifice.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Nothing Like Sex With No String Attached, Right?

One day I was driving to a meeting west of Chicago. My fingers fumbled through the radio stations I listen to, one being NPR. Brenda Wilson was at the beginning of her piece entitled, Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships. She begins with the basic reality facing our society today:
The hookup — that meeting and mating ritual that started among high school and college students — is becoming a trend among young people who have entered the workaday world. For the many who are delaying the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing, hooking up has virtually replaced dating.

This shouldn't be too surprising seeing as how many of us were brought up in small social enclaves that encouraged this, not by our parents of course, but in those late night "sleepovers," free summer days with no supervision, or studying, which was the great excuse for "going over to Johns for a party to get completely wasted and hookup with a wall because I'm so blitzed."

Yeah, hooking up has always had a loose definition as far as I know, especially when hearing of my friend's latest hookup, which could be anything from a long night to a long stare, a real girl or a fake story. One girl in the report mentioned that, "For me, it's been anytime that I was attracted to a guy and we spent the night together. It has been sex; it has just been some sort of light making out. That's the beautiful thing about the phrase. Whatever happened is hooking up."

As I have heard of studies done on young people taking longer and longer to move out of their homes (this is prevalent in Italy), this seems like another way where people are postponing responsibility and commitment. As Wilson writes, "Marriage is often the last thing on the minds of young people leaving college today." The average age of marriage for both men and women is higher, where the gap in between college and that time is not filled with dating, but with hooking up. I find it to be a paradoxical combination of frightened independence and heightened individualism--basically I don't want responsibility for anyone but myself and I don't want to be committed to anyone that's going to hinder that.

Wilson draws out powerfully the result of this hookup era, citing words from one of her interviews.
Today, Wilkerson says people hook up via the Internet and text messaging.

"What that means is that you have contact with many, many more people, but each of those relationships takes up a little bit less of your life. That fragmentation of the social world creates a lot of loneliness."

Fragmentation is the key word. The relationships take up just enough of your life for you to get what you want out of them and that's it. I believe this feeds into our highly self-protective culture where everything needs to be safe and in so many ways hooking up is a lot safer than love. Why? Because love is vulnerable. Love is intimate.

This is the note that Wilson ends her article on: What do we do with intimacy?
Hooking up started before the Internet and social networks, but the technology is extending the lifestyle way beyond the campus. Deborah Roffman says no one is offering this generation guidance on how to manage what is essentially a new stage in life.

The dilemma for this generation is how to learn about intimacy, she says: "How am I going to have a series of relationships that are going to be healthy for me and others, and going to prepare me" for settling down with one person?

The dilemma for this generation is how to learn about intimacy. This coupled with the striking suggestion that "no one is offering this generation guidance" is the resounding call to the Church. To be frank, for all our talk about the "close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ" have we neglected modeling what true intimacy looks like? Are we just like those in the hook-up culture who seek to get exactly what we want out of the Church, which is just enough to feel gratified for the moment, but never really engages the heart and soul? The hookup culture is akin to our walking in late to church and leaving early to remain unnoticed and uninvolved. The hookup culture is akin to our sitting in front of our Bibles for 10 minutes, almost mindlessly reading, just so we can tell our friends later that day, "Yeah, I read my Bible today," as if it were your conquest for the day. The hookup culture is akin to being in the sea of faces at church or in a bible study, having a lot of relationships, but never really being known or discipled.

We must ask: Is the Church in America the best model of intimacy for a culture that is longing to experience it?

Fact is much is lost in the hookup culture, but it is just one of countless realities in our lives that contribute to who we are as Americans, or better yet human beings. We want to be the pampered rulers of our own, individual kingdoms. For us it's earplugs for our ears only, screens for our eyes only, and as this story points out, hookups for our pleasure only. But we are designed for so much more. If the Bible is true, the first point is that our God is a deeply intimate God, first within Himself as a Trinity, and then with us, as we are created in His image. Intimacy with our God is characterized by "love" and "abiding" in Him.
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him (1 Jn 4:16).

We can only abide in him as we recognize that our shallow pursuits of hooking up leave us empty--pleasure with no joy, gratification with no gratitude, relationship with no intimacy. We are shells of who we are meant to be.

I am sure the definition of intimacy here differs from Brenda Wilson and Deborah Roffman and yours, but I would argue that it is the correct definition and is what we all truly desire. God has modeled it for us, showing that intimacy is found in self-sacrificing love:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation of our sins. (1 Jn 4:9-10)

We are human. There are always strings attached, even if we, like the puppet, don't know that they are. They can be toyed around with by the puppet masters of this world or they can serve as a reminder and a call to true intimacy where we could be attached to the only One who truly can provide it.

Friday, June 05, 2009

So Many Questions, Yet One Answer

Today I had a conversation with Bob (pseudonym) who asks for money on a corner near my apartment. He and I have established somewhat of a relationship over the past two months. Part of that relationship includes me getting food for him from time to time and us talking about Jesus. By this point he knows me well enough to say my name when we meet, ask me what I'm doing, and that I am praying he knows Jesus.

Bob is a smart man and extremely honest. He spends some of his time in the libraries around the city reading books on sociology and psychology and he has no shame telling me that if I were to give him money he would buy alcohol with it and that he doesn't really want to work because he can't give up drinking. In fact, he was in college, but dropped out because alcohol got the best of him. 30 years have passed since then--all on the streets. The addiction runs deep, but denial of it is not in Bob's vocabulary or demeanor. We have talked of freedom, not found in the system, but in Christ. However, like a job, Bob doesn't think he can give up alcohol for Him. I have tried to explain the beauty that we can never clean ourselves up in order to enter God's presence and know Christ. In fact, God does not even tell us to do that. We come as we are, sinners jacked up in countless ways, trusting that Jesus' blood washes us white as snow. His work, not ours. His glory, not ours. As I mentioned in the previous post, title to all our biographies should be "Sinners saved by grace."

This story may not resonate with anyone who reads this. Maybe for some, but for most you probably won't identify yourselves with Bob thinking there are no parallels in your lives with his. That may be the case situationally. You aren't on the streets; you aren't dealing with a serious addiction; you aren't alone in life. Instead you probably have a nice place to live, are eating well, and have plenty of friends. Life seems to be good. But that's where the relationship with Bob converges. He likes his life as it is. If you like it, why change it, right? But is it possible that people's lives here on earth can actually be content in shackles? Is freedom found in contentment or contentment found in freedom? For that matter how do we define freedom?

I end with questions as opposed to an answer because, like Bob, most people don't like the answer when the big questions are asked. I've given it before; I've given it here. The answer doesn't change, but the questions do remain.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Rough Reflection: Andrew=Sinner Saved By Grace

I am sinful. Sin is a serious--gravely serious--matter. Recall that Paul wrote of himself near the end of his life that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Tim. 1:15). The immediate observation is that the words for himself are in the present tense; Paul continued to see himself as the "chief of sinners." Yet he writes in that same passage about God's grace coming to him. Paul received Christ's mercy (vv. 12-17). Credit is given where credit is due--Paul as a sinner, Christ as his Savior.

This is tough because we don't have much recorded about Paul's regular struggles. We see repentance at his encounter w/ Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and there may be one other instance in Romans 7, but besides that there really is no recording of Paul's "sins." However, Paul did not see himself as the foremost sinner merely because of past sins, nor was it because he was struggling with blatantly sinning, taking his salvation for granted and living some kind of outlandish lifestyle in complete opposition to God though claiming to be a Christian.

I believe Paul saw in his heart utter corruption beyond self-repair. He knew only Jesus could restore him, that Jesus was, is, and forever will be the only human being to ever walk the earth who was capable of changing his heart and all our hearts. Paul saw his life as an example of God's power, writing, "I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life" (v. 16).

What Paul knew, I must know. Like Paul, I do not lose my identity while I am on this earth. I am the one created in the image of God, who, marred by sin in every way, is known as "a sinner." This truth is coupled with the glorious reality that my identity is also completely wrapped up in Christ's life-saving, merciful, perfectly gracious work to where I am also one who is "saved by grace." So here and now, in every day that I walk on this earth, I am a person whose identity is found in sin, but more so in salvation from that sin because of Christ.

I am Andrew, a sinner saved by grace.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Prayer For Panting

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
-Psalm 42:1-2

Two things I am convicted by as of late. The first is that the God I believe in is the living God. Admittedly this is sadly easy to forget when learning a dead language and when reading a bunch of dead guys' books. Easy still more when in constant conversation about concepts and ideas that truly are lifeless apart from the Person of God. Thanks be to Him that His Word is living and active (Heb. 4:12), which so beautifully leads me to repent and remember that my God is not dead--never was, never will be. He is the living God and God of the living (Lk 20:38).

Secondly I am convicted about my longing for God, my desperation for Him. I pray to be like the deer whose very life depends on the water. I pray to be like the author, who seemed to understand his immense need for God. I see how God is not like stagnant, murky waters, but is like fresh, flowing waters. He is not a God that I should just settle for and hope that I might live; He is the God Who is deeply desirable in Whom I know I do live! I pray for eternal panting of the neediest kind.

I understand that some of these words may make no sense to some people who read this. The categories I use may seem confusing. "Why even long for God at all like this?" you might ask. Well trust me, there are times, many times, where I ask the same question. Sometimes it just doesn't mean much. Sometimes they are just words on a piece of paper. But reality hurts wonderfully when I am smacked in the face with the power of Jesus Christ.

I am reminded of something many people call the gospel--the truth that this God actually entered into the world He created, the world that had turned away from Him, and He walked completely innocently among us all. He taught, he preached, he healed, he loved, he challenged, he rebuked. He called people out; he got angry at stubborn, arrogant people; he ate with the fringe shadows of culture. Eventually he gave himself over to the people who hated him. He allowed himself to be mocked, abused, beaten, laughed at, only to then be nailed to a cross and be put to death gruesomely.

Yet in that he conquered our rebellion, our hatred, our selfishness--my numbness and deadness--and rose from the dead to prove once and for all that he truly is God, the living God. His words resound today as he said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn 11:25-26). He is calling everyone now to turn to him, to turn from death to life because we can only have life in him who lives forever.

I hope I have made myself more clear. Life is at stake.

By His Grace.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Am A Sophomore

There have always been literate ignoramuses who have read too widely and not well. The Greeks had a name for such a mixture of learning and folly which might be applied to the bookish but poorly read of all ages. They are all sophomores.”
-Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book, p. 12

I really think I can fall into this--a dangerous trap indeed. Thus I have started reading the book quoted above in hopes to change that.

Come alongside me as I seek to change.
Don't be a literate ignoramus.
Don't be a silly sophomore.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Do You Respond To People Who Are Rude?

During my morning drive I usually listen to Greek vocabulary (insert nerd comments here) or I keep the radio off all together. However, when I started the car talk radio was blaring as yesterday I must have been belting out lyrics to the latest Top 40 hits. The topic caught my attention right away so I decided to listen on. The folk on the radio (I don't even know the station to be honest) were talking about how they respond when people are rude to them. I found it intriguing on several levels:

  • They spoke of doing kind acts where people don't respond in kindness. For example, a guy who desires to be "chivalrous" actually holding the door open for a lady, yet when she passes through she doesn't say anything. Was her lack of a "thank you" rude? How would you respond gents? Should we expect kindness in return for kind actions done to us?

  • At the check-out counter. They were gave the example of actually trying to interact with the person who is checking out our groceries or clothes or whatever, but the person has no desire to talk. I encounter this quite frequently in the city. Should I expect a person who sees countless people come through the line, many of whom themselves are rude, to be kind to me if I am kind? How should I respond if they don't say a word, don't even look at me, tell me my total, give me my change, and move on to the next customer?

  • A guy shared a story of a woman in a Corvette flicking him off in traffic. This man at 6'4", 220 lbs said that he got out of his car, walked over to hers, and proceeded to spit on her driver's side window as a way of telling her that she shouldn't be rude like that...awesome. Is that the right thing to do, to respond to rudeness with an equally rude or even greater rude action?

There were several other examples given, but I found it interesting that many of them on the radio, and I would include myself in this, have this high expectation that if I am kind to you that you actually owe me kindness in return, that in fact it is your responsibility as a human being to be kind back to me. If you aren't kind to me then you have violated my right to receive kindness from you and therefore I can in turn be rude to you and show you that you should have been kind. Is that how I think? Is that how you think?

Well, they shared one response that I found cutting in various ways. When asking for response from listeners, they mentioned that someone texted in a response to rude people. What was it? "Jesus loves you" of course. The DJs then said, "Dang!!! That's a good one. That one hurts."

By His Grace.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Are You Restless?

This is brief meditation as I work through one of my texts for a class.

What is restlessness?
I just quickly took a glance at a dictionary definition of restless (I love the Dictionary function the Mac by the way); here's what I found--"[A person or animal] unable to rest or relax as a result of anxiety or boredom." I haven't heard too many conversations these days about cats or kangaroos being restless, so I will refrain from delving into this issue with animals. However, with these "tough economic times" restlessness is an everyday reality to the teacher who might lose her job in the latest round of layoffs, or the father who has lost 50% of his 401k in the past eight months. I am accused often of restlessness because I bite my nails; I simply argue that it's just fun. However, are any of us willing to go so far as to say that restlessness is actually sinful?

What is sin?
Before entering into thoughts of restlessness, it would be important first to define sinfulness seeing as how the idea or concept of sin is a bit muddled these days, often being played down to a weak slap on the wrist with a feather. A basic definition of sin is "placing something else, anything else, in the supreme place which is [God's]" (Erickson, 598). Sin is making anything else a god besides God.

Further thinking here requires us then to ask "What is God like?" because our definition of God is going to influence the magnitude of offense in replacing Him with something else. For example if we define God as Crest toothpaste, replacing Him with Colgate doesn't seem that bad. But if God is the God of the Bible, the God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, fully good, loving, just and holy, deserving of our praise and worship, replacing Him with our significant other or money or whatever is frighteningly horrible. Too often we are guilty of making God out to be as trivial as the former instead of recognizing the reality of the latter.

Sin can be an action, like stealing, where the object becomes greater than the God who is our Provider (Matt 6:25-34). Sin can be something we would consider part of our nature, like selfishness or greed. Jesus famously teaches that not only are adultery and murder sins, but that our lustful desires and unjustified anger are sins as well (Matt 5:21-30). Finally, I would venture to say that we all could quickly admit that we are imperfect people, never doing everything "right." If I am allowed to define rightness as always keeping God in his rightful place, then I can suggest that we are all sinners, and to this the Bible would agree (Rom 3:23).

Is restlessness sinful?
So back to the original question: Are any of us willing to admit that restlessness is sinful? Here I draw from the text in my class, which discusses various effects from sin. In it, the author writes how restlessness is one such effect:

Finally, sin often produces restlessness. There is a certain insatiable character about sin. Complete satisfaction never occurs. Although some sinners may have a relative stability for a time, sin eventually loses its ability to satisfy. Like habituation to a drug, a tolerance is built up, and it becomes easier to sin without feeling pangs of guilt. Further, it takes a greater dosage to produce the same effects. In the process, our wants keep expanding as rapidly as, or more rapidly than, we can fulfill them. It is alleged that in answer to the question, "How much money does it take to satisfy a man?" John D. Rockefeller responded, "Just a little bit more." Like a restless, tossing sea, the wicked never really come to peace. (Erickson, 635 bold added)

Are you restless?
I meditate on this because I do not think restlessness is relegated only to these "tough economic times." I saw it living in a fraternity house where the each night needed to surpass the next in how much alcohol was consumed. I went to a school where guys thought the next girl would be the "best they'd ever had." I interact with people now who think that buying a home will complete them, where getting married will solve all the problems. I see it in the classic example given above dealing with drugs, when a little fix becomes a large problem. And because "we are all sinners" I must really first look at myself and see that my restlessness is in how I will do in school, how I can support myself, how successful I will be in the church...yes, even in finding someone who I could call my wife. I am willing to admit several of I am sure many other issues in my life where I am restless and thus sin by replacing God with my little gods of success, money, and marital bliss. I guess I am wondering if you are willing to do the same.

Rest for the restless heart
It would suck if I just ended there, instead of asking "Where do we go from here?" The author of my text in this section only describes the effects of sin, but does not share what the solution is. I propose that even if I got straight A's in school (which I would be a miracle), I would want all the money; if I had all the money I wanted to take mad crazy people out for good food and drink I would want the big church; if I planted the big church with lots of people who love Jesus; I would want the amazing wife. Something would always be nagging at me. I would remain restless.

The only answer I know of to restlessness is rest and the Bible gives the only solution that I personally know of--Jesus--Who leads us into our complete rest in God now and forever. Jesus said,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:28-29)

In our labor He calls us to Himself for rest. In our burdens He beckons us to Himself for rest. As Moses led the people of Israel through the wilderness to the Promised Land, Jesus leads us through the depth of our sin by His death on the Cross in order that we might find rest in God, the ultimate, final, eternal Promised Land (Hebrews 3:7-4:13).

Augustine sums this up well in his Confessions as he reflects back on a life filled with restless pursuits, including a strong desire to hook up with women, writing poignantly over 1600 years ago:

Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.

In His Rest.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bike Week Weirdness

So the posting on both Facebook and my personal blog has nearly ceased this semester. But when something like this comes around I have to muster up all that is within me to get back to the blogosphere.

I am home for my Spring Break so I am making my rounds throughout FL visiting as many people as I can in a short period of time. Last night I was driving to my mom's during the final few days of Bike Week in Daytona. I was on the phone with a friend when I noticed out of the corner of my eye two bikers, one of who looked like he had his dog strapped to his back. I thought "this could not be" so I examined more closely. What I noticed instead was the skin of a wolf on the passenger's head! The entire wolf from head to toe was on this guy's head and every time he turned his head the body wagged back and forth as if it was alive. I pulled right up next to him just in time for him to look over at me, smile with his sunglasses on, giving me a big upward nod--all combined to convey some kind of coolness I didn't really think was evident. Passengers are never the cool people on motorcycles, even if they were to have the skin of a mythical creature like a unicorn or a minotaur on their heads.

Here's the best photo I could find to convey what I'm talking about. I can't even imagine what people who actually went to Bike Week saw.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Taste of Lincoln Park

This video has been up on The Line's for a while, but now it carries even more weight for me because I live within a five minute walk from this place.

View Larger Map

I forewarn you that this short clip of where I live contains some of the most foul, sexist, and racist language you may have encountered in a long time.

Also, if you have the time, go to the actual YouTube post of this video to see the comments people have posted. I'll let you come to your own conclusions on those:

A lot of work lies ahead.

By His Grace.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Being Fully Human

Some beautiful words on humans being "the image of God:"

"Every human being is God's creature made in God's own image. God endowed each of us with the powers of personality that make it possible for us to worship and serve him. When using those powers to those ends, we are most fully what God intended us to be, and then are more completely human."

-Millard Erickson, Christian Theology pg. 536

Saturday, January 31, 2009

25 Random Things About Me...Um, Yeah, I'm Doing This

This has been something going around on Facebook and I realized it might be good to share it on this blog as well, seeing as how some of you who read this (the 2 1/2 of you that do read this) know little, if anything, about me. So here are some random facts to whet your pallet.

1. I am only doing this because I see that those who tag me actually want to learn about me. Other than that I think this is one of those e-mail things that goes on forever and I am fighting it even as I type. However, I will continue.

2. I am a Gator fan. I attended UF from 2000-2004, during the odd transition between the glorious Spurrier years and the anomalous Zook days. Now we are on top and it is a joy.

3. I have my own language which people make fun of. Keeps 'em on their toes.

4. I lived in Italy for a year and have been to 11 different countries. I can speak Italian decently enough to get around and hold a conversation. I would love to move back.

5. I like starting new things and am almost always up for a new adventure.

6. I am a reader, but not voracious. People usually take precedent over books.

7. I like chick flicks, but only those that have a strong male role. This has been discussed at length and I feel justified in sharing this truth here.

8. I now live in Chicago officially. I am a mile south of Wrigley and about 3 miles north of the Loop. I can now also make fun of those people who say they live in Chicago, but are really in the burbs. people. You get me every time.

9. I am growing more in love with this city everyday, even with all the mess going on. I do hope to see such great change here, and when I say that I mean deep, heart-penetrating change that can only happen through Jesus Christ.

10. I love sports and am fairly athletic. I am deceptive with my 5'7" frame and love it when guys out on the court (basketball) say, "That cat can ball."

11. I think it's safe to say that I have a "big" personality. Not like Santa Claus big, but one that has some kind of effect on people in both good and bad ways.

12. I love drinking coffee, particularly in the morning at my desk with low light and some good music playing. This is a great environment for some good reflection, prayer, Bible reading, ect.

13. Even as an adult I think Disney World is awesome. In many ways I am still just a kid, even though I'm the ripe old age of 26.

14. I honestly think 30 Rock has passed The Office as the best comedy on television. I'm a sucker for witty, smart, subtle humor and Alec Baldwin deserves mad crazy cred for his performance week in and week out.

15. I am an ENTJ (I stole this one from Angela too...thanks!) and am still wondering what that actually means. I have transitioned in life from an F to a T, which means my heart has gotten colder and my mind has gotten sharper. At least that's how I interpret it.

16. I thoroughly enjoy learning about how we come to where we are at in life. Thus I like the history of places, but more so individual people I meet along the way.

17. I hate running errands. It doesn't matter what they are; as soon as they are in the category of "errand" I hate them. Post office, food shopping, etc. Dumb.

18. My favorite meal is shrimp parmigiana, which I think only my family makes. That makes them all the more better. Yeah, more better.

19. I think long conversation over a good bottle of wine is time well spent.

20. I thoroughly believe I am exactly where God wants me to be in life right now. This is the first time in a really long time and the contentment is wonderful!

21. I once had extremely long hair, not too many years ago. If you don't believe me, you can watch this video:

22. I like to write, but do not consider myself a writer. It would be nice to publish something some day, but I think it is more for the sake of wanting something published than because I actually want to write something of substance for a mass of people. Maybe my heart will change at some point.

23. I prefer cold weather over hot weather. I like visiting hot places in the winter and all that, but do not like living in them. I am glad not to be in FL and I think the winter here is not as bad as people say. They're all just naysayers.

24. I hate sleep, but don't like waking up in the morning. Not sure how that works, but that's me.

25. I'm still wondering if all that I wrote was the best use of my time. The previous sentence gives a lot of insight into who I am.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Liveblogging From Class...

4:17 CST: I am sitting in a class of a little over 50 people right now as one of our professors it talking about a topic I thoroughly enjoy--preaching.

I have never liveblogged before, but my major motivation for doing so in this very moment is to stay awake. I am sitting right in front of him so falling asleep on the table is not the best thing.

4:19: 1 Pet. 4:10-11 is an important passage for us to consider with regards to preaching because for him who speaks does so as if speaking the very word of God. This is humbling and for us as preachers we are not to be after our own glory, but for the glory of God. This is for his honor, his praise, his approval--not ours.

(Sidenote): I never thought that it would be possible for me to fall asleep in a class where wholeheartedly enjoyed the topic covered, but I am discovering that is not true. If I am tired, I will fall asleep. Do not give me the "caffeine" solution because I have had enough today to cause a herd of cattle to win the Kentucky Derby--yes, the entire herd.

4:26: This particular prof is uber-passionate. His voice is powerful and echoes throughout the entire room. Although it's a lecture, I think everyone in the room knows he was once a preacher. He has looked at me several times, directly in the eyes as if he knew I was gonna pass out. Oh how I'm thankful to be blogging.

4:28: Two reflections from Numbers 20--1) It is possible to be extremely successful in the eyes of others...being the most popular preacher/ be "America's Pastor"...tremendously successful, but be a failure in the eyes of God. On the flipside, it is possible to be seen as a failure in the eyes of people, but be successful in the eyes of God. 2) We need to trust him enough in situations where we may not be in the favor of others. We must listen to God, otherwise the temptation may be to go to "what works."

4:34: "rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr" That's what happened in my notes earlier as I was dozing off with my hands on the keyboard. Other words like thoghtns or schubert mcshozzledoo flowed from my sleeping mind through my fingers to the keys. Weird.

4:36: There has been an exchange between the prof and a student asking some serious questions about preaching. Which leads me to wonder more about this topic because I hear rumblings that some in our culture are against the idea of preaching. Is that true? If you are reading this and have thoughts on that, I would love to hear from you because I am only now getting exposed to this idea.

4:42: "It is snowing outside. It is dark already. I can't believe that. It is snowing and dark--in January in Chicago!!! How is that possible?" That seems to be the reaction of so many people here in this state. They are all shocked or saddened as if they were expected 70 and Sunny. "15 degrees outside??? I can't believe it!!!" I know this has nothing to do with class, but it surely has been in my head all day.

4:44: Preaching is given to us to build faith and persevere faith. That is enormous and the implications are huge. What a great need!

4:46: Class over. I made it.

By His Grace.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Free From God's Wrath, Firmly Rooted in His Favor: Reflections

I understand that if you tried reading this, you may have fallen off at some point. The paragraphs are long and I may not be a strong enough writer to keep your attention for that long. Totally understandable. But here I conclude with my reflections on this biblical doctrine that has a profound affect not only on my life, but on the entire world.

If we're honest with ourselves, we can't ignore it. We can try and suppress it as much as we want--we think we are succeeding in that--but it stares us all right in the face. The bloodied body of Christ on the Cross has had a deeply profound affect on every corner of the globe, impacting every life that has ever entered or will ever enter this world. He reigned gloriously as King from the Cross when he died and continues to reign over us all as our risen Lord.

Here are my reflections.

The doctrine of propitiation carries with it enormous practical implications. For one, it is very personal to me as I struggle with feeling accepted by others and by God. To know that out of love God sent his Son, Jesus “to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10) and that “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20b) is extremely assuring in the midst of this constant battle. A consistent gratitude for this reality allows me to experience God’s unsurpassing grace and extend it to others.

Secondly, the doctrine of propitiation presupposes God’s wrath of all man because of our sin, thus I am not only grateful for Christ’s sacrifice for me, but I am motivated to evangelize those who do not know Jesus because God’s wrath still remains on them (John 3:36). However morbid the warning may be, the promise is all the more amazing because it is wrapped up in God’s love, grace, and mercy all found in Christ on the Cross. Propitiation tells us that we do not need to work hard for God’s acceptance or to appease his wrath because Jesus has accomplished it all! This is beautiful news to those like me, always striving to be accepted by someone, whether it be parents, a significant other, a superior at work or God himself.

Thirdly, the doctrine of propitiation should not be minimized by any means. In the introduction, I alluded to an ongoing debate over the so-called controversy surrounding Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice where some see it more as expiatory. The Bible leaves no room for this substitution of terms because it robs the very clear attribute of God’s wrath and his hatred of sin, of which he does not merely wipe clean, but actually satisfies throughout Scripture (see Isa 5:25; Jer 6:11ff). We are by nature children of wrath, dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1-3) so knowing that Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf that we might be called the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21), he also became on the cross the vessel of God’s wrath that we are supposed to be (Rom 9:22). This only intensifies the exquisite harmony of Scripture and the complete, sacrificial love of God found in his redemptive story, allowing not just for sins to be dismissed as expiation suggests; propitiation instead addresses sin, its weight, and its punishment all in Christ’s death on the Cross, fulfilling his own words, that he came to give his life and be a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Therefore, from a systematic theological perspective, we as lay Christians, pastors, and theologians, must seek to defend humbly the key doctrine of propitiation against those who attack it in the name of love because its bearing on our personal lives, our worldviews, our ministry, and most importantly our view of God is too great to ignore, for as A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.” In doing so my hope is that we all will grow to know God’s love even more greatly that we in turn can share Christ’s magnificent propitiatory sacrifice with the world out of joy and gratitude for what he accomplished, and ultimately glorify him with fervent worship forever as favored saints in his kingdom.

By His Grace.

Free From God's Wrath, Firmly Rooted in His Favor: Part 4

The New Testament on Propitiation

The English translation of “propitiation” from the Greek, hilastērion, occurs four times in the New Testament: Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, and 1 John 4:10. Though this may seem limited, the concept itself is scattered throughout the New Testament beginning with Jesus. He taught his disciples that he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priest and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt 16:21; cf. Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22) because he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; cf. Matt 20:28). Jesus knew that through him God’s wrath would be turned away explaining what happens if people do not obey him when he said, “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36b). Jesus, the Christ, God incarnate (John 1:1, 14) understood that he was the one who would free mankind from its sins as his propitiatory sacrifice ushered in an expansion of atonement and God’s favor across national boundaries—so both Jew and Gentile could participate (Eph 2:15-16)—and also time boundaries—from the temporal to eternal—all summed up well in his words, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, emphasis added).

This introduces issues of continuity and discontinuity between the OT and NT, which can be addressed partially in looking at Paul’s use of “propitiation” in Romans 3:25. Leading up to this section (Rom 3:21-26), Paul establishes convincingly that both Jew and Gentile alike are totally depraved as sinners who deserve nothing both the utter wrath of God (1:18-3:20). In a loose way, this echoes back to the Passover in Exodus as God’s judgment and wrath was not partial, but applied to everyone (cf. Ex 12:12-13). Thus Paul writes, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (vv. 22b-23). And just like the Passover, but with greater implications, Paul continues to say that those who believe “are justified by his [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (vv. 24-25; cf. 1 John 4:10). Christ’s shed blood averts the wrath of God as with the Passover, yet in receiving him by the faith the individual is also justified and redeemed. Furthermore, Paul’s use of “propitiation” in this context most likely describes Jesus as the “mercy seat” found in the tabernacle, which provides overtones to the Day of Atonement.

Advancing the theme further is the writer of Hebrews, who states, “Therefore, he [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (2:17). This clear reference to the Day of Atonement establishes Jesus as “high priest,” yet he was different from all others. For one, his offering did not include making propitiation for his own sins because he was without sin (Heb 4:16). Secondly, the propitiatory sacrifice made was not an animal, but Jesus himself! Here we see the reference back to Genesis where God provides the sacrifice, but in this instance it is God’s flesh being given up. The writer of Hebrews writes that our great high priest Jesus,
Entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (vv. 12-14)
The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was infinitely superior to those of animals, which could never take away sins (Heb 10:4), making him “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (v. 15). Also, Jesus’ propitiation was greater than the others in that it was ultimate; there is no longer a need for an annual atonement because he offered himself up as the final, everlasting atonement (Heb 10:11-17). Finally, the faithfulness of Jesus’ offering should be noted as it contrasts the vain sacrifices made in much of Israel’s history who came only to do the will of his Father (Matt 26:36-44) and who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

Therefore Jesus’ propitiatory sacrifice is continuous with the Old Testament insomuch as the Old Testament allows with its partial fulfillment of propitiation, yet it is gloriously discontinuous in that Christ’s sacrifice is offered to all mankind (1 John 2:2), once for all satisfying the wrath of God, placing those who put their faith in him in God’s eternal favor. Jesus is the perfect sacrificial Lamb of God, the only who can take away the sins of the world (John 1:29) and who, along with God, is the temple of the new creation, filling it entirely with their glorious presence (Rev 21:22-27) where there is no more crying, no more mourning, no more pain, no more sin, no more shame, and no more death (Rev 21:4). Jesus Christ as our propitiatory sacrifice is the greatest gift of God’s grace mankind has ever known.

By His Grace.

Free From God's Wrath, Firmly Rooted in His Favor: Part 3

So I started a series of posts explaining a biblical theology of the doctrine of propitiation. This began over a month ago, but all blogging ceased since that time due to inclement weather, which caused my fingers to freeze, disabling my ability to type. Only recently have they thawed allowing me the chance to finish this up. I will be posting the rest of them up today, but if you are interested in the previous posts, click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

I continue by tracing through other vital Old Testament passages, before moving into the New Testament. I conclude with reflections, both for myself and for the world.

The Passover & The Day of Atonement

Sacrifices continued to be made throughout early biblical history, most notably in God’s covenant with Abram (Gen 15) and the ram that took the place of Isaac in Abraham’s testing (Gen 22), but neither of these contribute to the development of propitiation in ways that have not already been addressed. The two passages that do warrant attention are those that include the two most significant sacrifices in the history of Israel, the first Passover in Exodus and the institution of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus.

The Passover (Ex. 12:1-32) refers to the tenth and final plague on Egypt right before the Exodus, the most significant event in Israel’s history up to the time of Christ, including “over 120 explicit OT references in law, narrative, prophecy and psalm.” By mere adjacency in the story, the Passover should be seen as a key section in the Old Testament. This tenth and final plague of God relates the story of God passing through the land of Egypt to “strike the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast (v.12), yet also “passing over” the households of Israel which had blood spread on the doorposts and lintel (vv. 3-7, 13). In the narrative, Moses commands the elders of Israel to follow exactly as the Lord says, thus the firstborn of Israel live, while the rest of Egypt suffers immensely to the extent that “there was not a house where someone was not dead” (v. 30). The Passover was an event, but it also became a memorial day on which a feast was to be had in remembrance of what God did (vv. 14-20, 26-27).

At the center of was the unblemished lamb and its blood. The final plague included all firstborns, both Egyptian and Israelite; God’s wrath and judgment was impartial. The only thing that distinguished Israel was the slaughtered lamb’s blood on the lintel and doorposts; without this sign, judgment would have fallen on them. Watts suggests, “The special instructions regarding the animal indicate that Passover is an atoning sacrifice.” The salvific, propitious nature of the lamb’s slaughter and blood should not be ignored as the meaning of sacrifice deepened for the nation of Israel at such a crucial juncture in its history, a meaning they would have been reminded of as often as they celebrated the Passover feast. It is no surprise then that Jesus Christ himself is considered the Passover Lamb by several New Testament writers (John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor 5:7b; 1 Pet 1:19) culminating in the book of Revelation as the slain Lamb who is praised and worshiped (5:6-16).

Although the first Passover lamb was propitious, the annual Passover feast was for remembrance, not atonement. As the people of Israel became a more solidified nation, God implemented a sacrificial system, which included atoning sacrifices (Lev 1:1-6:7). The most important sacrifice, however, was made on the Day of Atonement, instituted by God at Mt. Sinai (Lev 16:1-34), Israel’s most solemn holy day when the entire nation fasted (v. 31). Only on this day once a year, the high priest alone was to enter the Most Holy Place through the veil which separated it from the Holy Place with the blood of a bull as a sin offering for him and his house along with the blood of a goat for the sins of the people (vv. 11-15) and by this he will have atoned for his sins and the sins of all the people for the entire year (v. 34). So running concurrently with the growing identity of Israel as a nation was the explicit nature of sacrifice, which contained an atoning purpose, “for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev 17:11).

The brief study of Genesis established that sin provokes the wrath of God and brings death and this did not change for the Israelites; they were responsible to God for their sin, deserving his wrath and their own death. The fact that God established a sacrificial system and a Day of Atonement is further testimony to his love, grace, and mercy, as he allowed an animal to be substituted on behalf of the people who sinned against him. Yet as the story of God’s chosen people progresses what becomes transparent is that sacrifices are offered up to God in vain, neglecting God’s call for repentance and obedience of the heart (1 Sam 15:22; Ps 51:16-17; Isa 66:3; Amos 5:21-24; Mic 6:6-8), with God remaining wrathful. Though this is the case, God established the statute of the Day of Atonement forever (Lev 16:31), ultimately being fulfilled forever through the final Day of Atonement, namely Jesus Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. The writer of Hebrews picks up on this, with Christ as the archetype of both the high priest and the perfect sacrifice entering into the holy places once for all to atone for the sins of mankind with his own blood (Heb 9:11-14).

More on this will be discussed in the next section, but for now what is important to know is that the theme of propitiation is fully developed in the Old Testament as early as the Passover, but more explicitly with the giving of the law and the establishment of the Day of Atonement. As mentioned previously the people of Israel continued to miss the point of this gracious gift God had given, hypocritically offering sacrifices while remaining in sin. So God, in his great patience, yet soberly warning, says through the prophet Malachi to close the OT canon, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (4:5-6).

By His Grace.