Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolved: To Undergeneralize People

This is the time of year when people will make resoultions for the next year, taking about as much time to make them as they will to break them. I am in this boat. I resolve ever year not to bite my nails. Since I resolve that every year I am sure you then know that each year I fail. I admit that my fingers are ungly (ungodly ugly).

But there is one resolution that I established way back that I will am planning on building on this coming year: to undergeneralize people. Let me explain.

Someone close to me, we'll call her Betty, was explaining how she was shopping for the ever-important ingredients for what would become all the delicious Christmas grub at Publix, where shopping is apparently a pleasure. However, when she was getting ready to check out her pleasure turned to frustration. You see, she was strolling down the front aisle gearing up to check-out when a lady approached her head on. The horrible dilemma of who would get out of who's way ensued. Neither was willing to budge at first, so the person dear to me decided to move herself and her hefty cart from her left-side (the other lady's right) of the aisle to her right side, letting the other woman pass. Apparently the other woman didn't mention any words of gratitude so the person close to me, assuming the woman had "forgotten," said "you're welcome" to her. This woman, who, I am told, looked wealthy and had a child with her, responded snidely by saying, "I didn't need to say thank you; I was on the right side." Each woman went their separate ways and if the other woman is anything like the one so special to me, she was talking to all her friends about that ridiculous event that destroyed her Christmas spirit.

I know this because Betty went on to overgeneralize about this woman. She began to talk about this rich woman who felt like she owned the world because she's rich and can do whatever she wants just felt like she couldn't get out of her way for the "little person." Betty continued by saying how this rich woman was setting a poor example for the child with her who was probably going to grow up just like her. Betty's issue wasn't with the woman specifically, but with the rich woman who she overgeneralized, applying certain assumptions to her based on possible past experiences or constant exposure to ridiculous "reality" TV shows that highlight entitled celebrities and their tirades on five-star hotel management for not having the bathtub filled with Dom Pérignon heated to a steamy 102 degrees when they arrived.

Now don't get me wrong; I think overgeneralizing is okay in certain instances. I learned in a college intro psych class that humans develop schemas that categorize individuals into larger groups in order to keep their brains from overworking. This is the basis of our stereotyping. Let's face it, stereotyping just makes life easier, and in many instances they can be true. Paul does this very thing in his letter to Titus when talking about the people of Crete. He writes "One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true." (Tit. 1:12-13). From this he goes on to command Titus to "rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith" (v. 13). Stereotyping, or overgeneralizing, is easier and often helpful.

But it can also be harmful if we rest on it for all our interactions. One of the things we learned in my Gospels class this semester was the discipleship of the "little people" in the Gospel of Mark. These "little people" were those who were outside of the group of 12 disciples who followed Jesus but who, unlike those disciples in most instances, exhibited true, trusting faith. What is startling how the examples of "little people" are all those who could easily be overgeneralized as outcasts - a demon-possessed man (5:1-21), an unclean woman (5:25-34) and an outsider Gentile woman (7:24-30) to name a few - all had personal interactions with Jesus that revealed the true nature of their hearts. For example, the Gentile woman, who was most likely wealthy in her own right, has this powerful verbal exchange with him, which in essence reveals her humility, that she would love to be a dog in the presence of Christ! At the core of this is the fact that Jesus, even though overgeneralizations were available to him, chose in these instances to undergeneralize and treat each person in his or her particular circumstance.

Back to Betty. What if Betty, instead of depending on overgeneralizations, sought to undergeneralize in that instance. No, the wealthy woman wasn't acting humbly per se, but what undergeneralizing seeks to accomplish is an understanding of that person in that particular circumstance. So instead of thinking of her as a rich snob, what if she was having a bad day or was frustrated about her family situation this Christmas? What if the rich lady was actually struggling financially and was stressed with all the money she was spending? Betty may never know the specifics, but fighting against overgeneralization and functioning from a position of undergeneralization may allow Betty, you, and me to be more compassionate, patient, and understanding with those we come across each day. And in doing so, I believe the gospel can be shared more effectively.

So this year I resolve to resist a heavy dependence on overgeneralizing and fight for more dependence on undergeneralizing. Are you with me?

By Hs Grace for this New Year.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

O Christmas Tree

Second video in a row. I guess I am chronicling this Christmas. Yes, I have much work to do (as you can tell, the beard has not been shaved in a while), but video breaks are always fun and needed.

By His Grace.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jay-Z and I Are Related

I'm a huge fan of the program Fresh Air on NPR. I got hooked after host, Terry Gross, interviewed actor Gabriel Byrne. She is not the most polished interviewer, but her questions probe deep and people always seem to embrace it. This week she had the opportunity to interview Jay-Z on the eve of the release of his new book, Decoded. If you listen to it, you'll hear how awkward all of it was. I hear it was the same during her interview with Tracy Morgan. I just got the sense that she has the confused appreciation for Jay-Z and just doesn't know how to express it. Either way, a 45 second exchange within the first five minutes the most profound. Here's how it went down:
[Terry Gross] In talking about sampling, I'm reminded of something you say in the book that I thought was really interesting. You know you talk about your parents having a big record collection. You're father left when you were very young, I think when you were nine, and you say that most of your friends' fathers had left. You say "Our fathers were gone usually because they just bounced, but we took their old records and used them to build something fresh."
After a long pause, he goes on profoundly to say, "Yeah....yeah, I guess there's a bright side to everything." It seemed to work out fairly well for Jay-Z, right? Well, outside of fame, fortune, and a sweet ability to create rhymes, if I were to meet Jay-Z we would be able to talk about one thing we have in common - growing up without a dad. He had his pops for several years and even afterward it seems there were echoes of his dad around as Jay-Z listened to the words of other people even though his dad was silent in his life. Everyone of us without fathers still have some kind of records they left behind.

Interestingly, I've been wondering about what "records" my dad has left behind for me. For those of us who grow up without fathers, their imprint is still left on our lives on some level. Genetics definitely plays a role, but the footprints of absence make an enormous impact as well. This is a time in my life where I am thinking about how to take those footprints - those records - and make something fresh too. I acknowledge that my father made some very poor decisions, decisions that could easily haunt me the rest of my life (I do wonder if Jay-Z thinks about that at all). However, at the risk of sounding repetitious, God is a father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5) and I know the true Spirit of adoption as God's son through Christ, the one True Son (Rom 8:15-17; Gal. 4:4-7), so though my earthly father was not around, my heavenly Father is always with me. I have nothing tangible from my father; he never "left," he was just never there to begin with. Yet, as I've said, now is the time of my life where the intangible records are being understood all the more, and with my heavenly Father, I can make something that is not only fresh, but redeemed.

What about you? Have you considered what records your father has left for you, whether he was in your life growing up or not? If so, what are they and what are you doing with them? Whichever way they come, with heartache or with joy, do you see the opportunity to make something fresh with them?

By His Grace.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Be A Bold Stalker

You may have read a few blog posts back about my Britney Spears-like attempt to try something new (and somewhat profitable) with my blog.  Well in that attempt I did actually write a post that was privy only to the elite core of individual(s) who actually signed up for the blog. Here is that premium post for your reading pleasure per gratis.

The Internet culture has bred funky styles of stalking since it first started. One of my friends recently tweeted, "what bad traits does the internet inflate in your life? in mine? stalking." Now I know that nobody's initial reaction to that is one of disgust or concern. If I gave you a link to her Twitter account your next move wouldn't be to dial 911 and report her maladjusted behavior. You most likely laughed, or if you're a bit more subdued in nature you smirked, smiled, raised your eyebrows - all in affirmation that you are just like her.

Blogs, YouTube, and especially Facebook have brought our stalkerish ways into the light like never before. Hear me right: They have not made us stalkers; they have revealed us to be stalkers. We all spend countless hours doing intense "research" on people. We've all had those moments where, in a conversation with someone, we realize they know way more about us than we've shared personally or vice versa. It's the "Hey, I'm going to New York this weekend and saw some pics of you and your friends when you went there four years ago" conversation. We all have at least one of those "friends" we know so well on the screen, but still manage only to have awkward interactions in person. It's a hesitating wave or a head-nod of acknowledgment that we are, in fact, real people, yet don't want to acknowledge that we know where the person went to high school or have read every entry in his/her blog since they started in 2002.

Now all I'm saying is that we step up our game. If you're gonna stalk, stalk boldly. Be like the guy who leaves weird love letters in your locker or bangs on the door at 3 am sobbing. If you read a blog post and have had some kind of response to it, write a comment. If you watch a video where someone is sharing an idea, and you have thoughts, share them. You see a status update or pic you like, at least give a good ole thumbs up. The Internet culture is actually inviting you to openly stalk. Don't go so crazy so as to slash tires or be like Alicia Silverstone in the 1993 smash-hit The Crush, but seek to embrace an openness to your stalking you may not have thought about before.

These days I am trying to make it a point to leave a comment on blogs I read or videos I watch. I am trying to write something to people on FB if they write something witty or I ReTweet or @reply like crazy on Twitter. If you write me, I will always respond, even if just to say thanks. Don't be a timid stalker, but a bold one, one that starts conversation in a virtual community that fosters that very thing.

What do you say? Will you join me?

By His Grace.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nobody Knows Me At All

Two weekends ago I went to a concert with some friends to hear a band called The Weepies. The Weepies are described as a “pop folk” band who have developed a pretty strong cult following for a combination of their chill, coffee-shop sound and their mesmerizing harmonies of the husband (Steve Tannen) and wife (Deb Talan) vocals. The venue, Space, was intimate (as in dozens of fake candles “lit” all over the place) trying to create an environment that the 200-plus people there were close friends.

The concert lasted about 90 minutes. I honestly was a little disappointed about the length. However, I loved hearing the background stories of some of their more popular songs. A song called "Riga Girls" is about a time when Steve actually clicked on one of those spam links in his e-mails and it took him to a porn site (surprise surprise). Deb walked in moments later and "caught" him. They talked it out and wrote the song about how false of a world it all is. The lyrics make a ton more sense:
Just a little bit of snake oil, tin foil
It takes so little charm to keep you hanging on
But it's a facade like the sky, like the moon, like your eyes 
Yet it was a song I didn’t know that grabbed most of my attention. It was called Nobody Knows Me At All. Here is one verse from that tune:
When I was a child everybody smiled, nobody knows me at all
Very late at night and in the morning light, nobody knows me at all

Now I got lots of friends, yes, but then again, nobody knows me at all
Kids and a wife, it's a beautiful life, nobody knows me at all
What I was most surprised by was that out of all the songs they played that night, this was the one that people knew the lyrics to the best and sang the loudest along with the band. It is a song about being alone and being unknown in the middle of crowds and the flow of life. There was great irony in the sea of dozens of people from all walks of life joining in one voice to proclaim their “unknown-ness.” The tone of the song is lighthearted as if being unknown can make you “happy as a clam.” It is a stark contrast from the same theme found in Billy Joel’s Piano Man as he sings, “They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness/but it’s better than drinking alone.”

I can’t help but think that this airy sound couched in smiles as each word is sung covers over the true loneliness of being unknown. Furthermore, this is a husband and wife duo, two people who should know each other in every sense of the word. This is in fact how we are made - to know and to be known. Whenever people say, for example, “he knew her in the biblical sense” they speak of the sexual connotations found in verses like Genesis 4:1, where Adam “knew” Eve and she bore Cain.

The word carries the strong sense of intimacy that is not lost on our relationship with God. To be known by God is to be known in the most intimate of ways. This is why the marriage motif is so strong throughout the Bible, especially in the Church’s relationship to Christ. Ephesians 5:22-33 shares that marriage on earth is but a reflection of how the church relates to Christ, drawing on the narrative of Adam and Eve’s consummation when the “two became one flesh.” This is, as Paul says, a profound mystery. Though a mystery, the theme of intimacy and being known by God is traced from Genesis to Revelation, from first creation to New Creation. It is in this that we see our knowing God and being known by God being established, being lost in our sin, and being restored in Christ. God has created us for intimacy with Him and with each other. We are made for relationship. We are made to be known.

Are you singing a song like this? Do you feel like nobody knows you at all despite being surround by a few friends or hundreds of acquaintances? I can’t help but want to join in their song because I know what it is like to try to find solace in my loneliness, but I can also stand alone in silence with joy in my heart because I am known so deeply by my God who created me for him. Do you know him?

By His Grace.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

I'm Pulling a Britney Spears

Many of you may remember when Britney Spears used to be a good singer. Well, maybe you don't remember that, but you will at least remember the debacle of her first marriage. You know, the one that lasted 55 hours?

Well I am pulling a Britney Spears. For one, I am not a good singer either. For another, I filed for an annulment a little over 48 hours from my previous decision to use The process is complete and I am moving back here. I have several reasons for this, which I could explain, but don't think it is too necessary. If I had a publicist, I would point you to him.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to write, record, and share here and for you to read or watch what is going on. Thanks for being a part of this. It is a joy. Continue to be on the lookout!

By His Grace.

Monday, November 01, 2010

A Blog That's Worth It

So I've recently been introduced to this sweet new newsletter called

There is a shift in today's Internet economy that is explained really well by this guy where he mentions as a key player.

If you've gotten this far, then you know where I'm going. All the craziness that is this blog is going through a shift and I hope it is a shift you will be a part of. For only the price of two MP3s, a cup of coffee, or anything else that cost $1.99, you can sign up for my newsletter, JackedUpCat, for $1.99 a month. That be it!

This blog will, for the most part, end. The content you see here you will receive via e-mail through JackedUpCat. You've seen this blog. Much will be in the same vein. Some will change. In essence these are thoughts on jacked up living from one jacked up cat, hence the name.

I'd love for you to sign up and enter into this venture with me. The payments work through your Amazon account, which most of us have. So what are you waiting for? Click below and hook it up!

By His Grace.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

BIV #7: Get Out of the Should World

Do you live in the should world? What can't you help but see yourself doing in 2, 5, 10, 50 years? What's holding you back? Hear what's holding me back and throw some thoughts in.

By His Grace.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Might Think I'm Twisted...

...but I have loved the shift in weather over the past week here in Chicago. The storm that past through on Tuesday was apparently one of historic proportions. I didn't get outside that day until about 4:00 pm. I found myself actually leaning backward to walk forward to keep from being pushed to the ground by the wind. And I love that.

I think the temperature has now permanently dropped, safely transitioning us to the late-autumn, early winter. The wind and the trees are making music together and the final bit of leaves have changed color from beautiful yellow and red to straight up dead as they lay on the ground. And yes, I think this is awesome too.

This will happen this year I'm sure. Sweet!
I am a huge fan of autumn. It is my favorite season. But I have a special place in my heart for winter. Maybe it's because my nicest clothes come out this time of year. I busted out my sweet winter coat that I will now probably have to sport until May. I have no problem with that. This means more fires, hotter drinks, the first snowfall, and soon-to-be holiday cheer. People are inside more. I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing because I believe this leads to more conversations that are substantial and longer.

And just as people have complained about how the summer was too hot, they will complain about how it is too cold. Even in the fall each day was either too hot or too cold. I'm still trying to figure out the optimal temperature for us, but I think it is 72.82983 °F. Regardless, I'm going to embrace the change, enjoy the negative temps, and love every moment of it.

Do you think I'm twisted? I do.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Killed Him

I came to the end of the Gospel of Mark this morning in my reading. This tells the historical events of Jesus' last days, including his crucifixion. While reading Mark 15 I was reminded that I cried out loud with the crowds, Σταύρωσον αὐτόν -- "Crucify him!" The echoes of these cries reverberated in my head and were sent down into the pit of my stomach because I could hear my own voice. One of the greatest problems of humanity is that we are so prideful to think we do not have it in us to kill "good people." If Jesus were to walk in this world today would he be loved or hated? My guess is that he would be hated. Why? Because he was convicted by objective truth and taught out of that conviction. He claimed that the core institution of our society, the family, would split over him. He claimed he was the only way to know God.. He claimed authority to cast out demons and heal people and raise people from the dead.  

A woman has committed adultery. She is continuing to live in that sin. Her husband tries to love her as best he can throughout the whole time. Her response to his love is nothing but disgust and hatred. She says she doesn't want to have anything to do with him or his love. She's lied repeatedly. She's tried to steal from him. She says that she wants to leave and that his love is pushing her away. I do not think it is a far stretch to believe that at some point she probably wished he was dead so that she wouldn't have to deal with him and his love anymore so she could just go on with her life.

This is what happens when darkness is exposed by the light.

At first it will try to hide, stay in the dark. If that can't happen darkness will try to fight, avoid, push away, and eventually kill the light. We are all capable of what this woman did to her husband. We are all capable of murderous intentions. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. He loves as the Most Perfect Husband. I am not crazy at all to think that we as the adulterous wife would gladly cry out "Crucify Him!" if it meant we could go back to our lover.

But God shows his love for us in that  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Christ's death is no mere example of sacrifice. He died for me despite me. It is a death that brings about true and everlasting reconciliation between the faithless Bride and the faithful Bridegroom. Christ's death and resurrection draws his Bride back.

We don't need to hide anymore. Living in darkness is not where we are meant to be. When our sin ceases to satisfy, when our lovers fail to give us all that we desire, we know that our Groom is waiting patiently and lovingly, with forgiveness in his heart. He will tell us that he took our sin and our death so that we can turn to him and have life. I killed Jesus and through it he has rescued me.

By His Grace.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fatherless Generation

I grew up without a father. By this I mean that he was never a real presence in my life emotionally, physically or spiritually. My mom and dad never married. Though we lived in the same city during most of the first 12 years of my life, I only saw my father twice (as best as my memory recalls). He was not one of those washed-up deadbeat guys who was in and out of jail, struggling with drugs or any of the stereotypes that are associated with fathers who are not in the lives of their children. My dad was in fact a successful businessman. He was a co-owner and operator of a high-end steak and seafood restaurant, which he began around the same time I was born. They closed their doors in January. I know because I read about it on the Internet. I saw a picture of him in that article, serving customers (with what I know of him, I know he loved to be a server there). It was the first time I had seen him in over three years. As you can tell, this has affected me more than I realize. It is coming to the fore as each day, month, and year passes. I have heard the phrase "father wound" tossed quite a bit. I'm sure there are technical definitions behind it and I'm sure experts have weighed in on what it exactly means. I don't know those definitions or the experts, but I do know what I've carried throughout my life and I think "father wound" is both appropriate and lacking. Maybe father gash?

Wound or gash, one of the beautiful realities I have come to seize in really just the past year has been God's adoption of me as his son through the True Sonship of Jesus Christ. This verse sums it up pretty well:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. -Galatians 4:4-7
I have known these words since I first read them over a decade ago. But it is as if they are being experienced for the first time in my life, much like those instances where you catch yourself throughout the day and just say, "this is all real." Much of life is mindless; but those moments when reality meets mind make life poetic, raw, emotional. That is when truth is known holistically.

Each day I am relearning that God is a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). Part of that journey is looking at the lives, experiences, and stories of those who are in a similar boat as me. Tonight, I just picked up the book Fatherless Generation, a new release by John Sowers, president of The Mentoring Project. I am looking forward to this read, since it is the first book on the topic I have read since I read To Own a Dragon by Donald Miller back in 2006. Donald Miller started The Mentoring Project to address the issue of boys who grow up without dads seeing as how it was part of his own story and part of thousands of boys' stories nationwide. John Sowers, who also grew up without a father, joined them a few years ago and is now president of The Mentoring Project.

I will be tweeting quotes from the book throughout my read. I'm not sure how long it is going to take to finish it. The book is short, but hundreds of other pages need to be read for school as well. It will get done sooner or later; my bet is sooner.

I've read the Foreword by Donald Miller and I'll end with a poignant quote, which I am glad he admits. He shares what's on my heart, what is true for me, but also what may be too shameful for me to admit myself:
Fatherless men need friends who are proud of them. It feeds our souls to have friends who are proud of us. John can write a book and lead an organization, but in the end, he's a fatherless kid looking for somebody to be proud of him. I know because that's exactly who I am too.

By His Grace.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thoughts from the Sufjan Concert

So I got to hit up the Sufjan Stevens concert on Friday. Many of you know who he is. For those of you who don't I invite you first to go here and here. My friend Nevair was able to snatch up tickets immediately after they went on sale. They were sold out in a matter of hours for the historic, several-thousand seat venue, The Chicago Theatre.

My thoughts are brief, but as follows: Unlike many others it seems, I knew what I was getting into with this concert. Sufjan has recently released a new album, The Age of Adz. It is a pretty far depature from what fans have come to know and love. He has acknowledged this, noting the challenges of growing in his song writing. At one point in the concert he mentioned how he is trying to revamp his entire methodology, whatever that means.

The opening song was the title track from his album Seven Swans. Strong with banjo and building to a large climactic repetition of the lyric, "He is the Lord," this song is a favorite among many. When it ended, he lay the banjo down and I thought it was symbolic of the transition he is making in his music from his trademark sound to this new, experimental groove marked with even more instrumentation coupled with synthesized sounds, and for Sufjan, heavy electric guitar.

The rest of the night featured his new album. I believe all the tracks on the album were played except for my favorite and perhaps most controversial, I Want to be Well. There were moments when you wanted to dance as badly as he does. There were moments when you wanted to just sit there and take all of it in. There were moments of utter confusion and brilliant clarity. The concert was a complete event that elicited both pain and joy for me.

The concept of the album centers around a schizophrenic apocalyptic painter/drawer, Royal Robertson. As best as I can gather from what Sufjan said during the show, the album is an exploration and expression of the "internal cosmos" that is universal to all humanity. However, this was tempered for me when Sufjan stated earlier in the show that New Age thought is a bunch of "B.S." Maybe as Sufjan struggled so much with his writing and expression, he found a connection with Royal Robertson, that ultimately reveals the schizophrenic in all of us that just wants to be well. Sufjan is fairly obvious about his Christian faith, so I am wondering if there the desire to express the real, deep struggle of walking in this world with Christ. There is so much more tension, heartache and brokenness than pop-evangelicalism allows.

Anyway, Sufjan closed the night with classics. He ended the main set with his most popular track, "Chicago," to feed all our deepest longings to be connected to him as a local. Then I was surprised he closed the three song encore with his most troubling and haunting song, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. He was alone on the stage singing, "I am just like him." Whatever highs were established earlier in the show were completely destroyed by the end of that as he walked off. Amazing.

Below is a two-minute clip from Chicago. This was the best concert I've been to for a long time. If you get the chance to see him on this tour, do it. You won't regret it.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sermon: The Road of Christ

I typically take the road most traveled by.
Robert Frost took the road less traveled by.
Jesus took the road never traveled by.
He's calling us to go on His road.

Here is my latest sermon that I preached at The Line

(Right click the "latest sermon" link and choose "Save Link As")

By His Grace.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Big Ears, Little Mouth

Last night I was grateful to God that he has big ears and a little mouth. To be sure, when God speaks, it is thunder and lightning, cracking throughout the world and shaking our hearts at the core (Ps. 29). His voice can also be a whisper that compels us to speak on the rooftops (Matt 10:27). God's voice, whether resounding or soft, is intended to be heard and obeyed.

Though that may be the case, God does not need to have a big mouth in order for his voice to be heard. In fact, as God's child I am thankful that in prayer God doesn't have the big mouth I so associate with those who have all their theology right and want to be the ones who have all the answers for me when I am struggling with something in life. There seems to be a correlation in the command for us to be quick to hear and slow to speak to God's character (James 1:18-20). God's ears are big enough to be patient and gracious in listening to me when I am simply complaining, venting, expressing frustration - all with no real desire for an answer. I am comforted by the fact that prayer does not need to be simply about asking God for stuff and hoping for an answer; prayer can also be about hurling all of my concerns and worries unto God because he cares for me (1 Pet. 5:7). This seems to flow not from pride, but from humility (1 Pet. 5:6).

Furthermore, my gratitude is magnified when my life clashes with those who are quick to speak and slow to listen. To be frank I think this is due to our theological paradigms that are threatened when someone in the community doesn't have it all together. This is coupled with our own wrongful desire to be someone's savior; we want people to say, "Thanks for your words. They had a huge impact, changed my life and now I'm all better." Yet Job's friends did more for him in their silence than they ever did in their speaking (Job 2:13). Next time you have the opportunity to listen to someone - whether they are complaining about their day, struggling in their faith, or even if they are disagreeing with you on something - when you feel like it's your turn to talk, wait just a little longer.

So if there is a prayer that I am lifting up to God which I hope he does answer, it is one that would lead for me, my friends, and for all Christians to be children that reflect the character of their Father. I pray that we will look like him everyday, with big ears that welcome words and little mouths that hold them off.

By His Grace.

Monday, October 04, 2010

When Numbers Do Harm

Pew released the results of a survey last week which in essence says atheists know their bibles almost as well Christians do and know world religions better. Headlines read, "Atheists, Jews top religious knowledge survey," and "Atheists, agonistics most knowledgeable about religion." First, let me say that Pew and groups like them, for the most part, do good. I have no real issue with the attempt to gain and report a broad understanding of the religious climate and understanding of America. Furthermore, I am also grateful for groups like LifeWay Research that do important studies on topics such as church life, evangelism, and missions. Finally, I am grateful of the individual men and women who God has used to pave the way for me to learn and grow as a believe through their own experiences, ministries, preaching and writing. One book that has shaped the way I think of church planting is The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch, in particular the chapter entitled "Communitas, not Community," where communitas,
Involves adventure and movement, and it describes that unique experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group of people inspired by the vision of a better world who actually attempt to do something about it.
These are good words that helped shape the way I seek to live in Chicago. Yet all the books, all the studies, all the experiences of others, and all the statistics can do major harm to us when we rely too much on them. Why? Because we will sacrifice names for numbers and people for percentages.

I was struck by this over the weekend because of two conversations. The first was with one of the physical therapy assistants where I am rehabbing my knee. He and I got into an excellent conversation about his church background and his current beliefs. He was open and willing to share where his heart is, holding a fairly subjective moralism common throughout the world - "If I'm a good person, I will have my reward." I was able to challenge him somewhat on his understanding of "good," on his view of God, what the Bible is, and who Jesus is. Then yesterday I was at the Gator bar here in Chicago for the game in which we were destroyed. I was there with an old fraternity brother who's a brilliant guy studying theoretical and applied physics at Northwestern. Through his study he is convinced there is some kind of creator, but isn't willing to go much further. I challenged him to take the next step to think about how a creating Being isn't a personal Being, especially when that Being created humans.

What I'm trying to say is that we can get really comfortable building our ministries and our churches off of the work of others. It is easy to say that atheists know religion better than Christians do, therefore we must respond in some way. It is another story to talk with your neighbor Gary and be humiliated in a conversation because you don't know anything about either Hinduism or his atheism. It is one thing to know that Chicago is a party city based off of the stench of beer on the streets in the morning and the statistics of how many people die each year due to alcohol related incidents. It's another thing to be at a bar packed with your friends John and Larry who don't seem to think much about Jesus but more about University of Florida football and drink specials.

Scripture has a lot to say both about numbers and names. The years of the earliest humans are given (Gen. 5), the number of the people of Israel is given from the beginning of Exodus on through the book of Numbers (Ex. 1; Num. 1-7). Censuses were taken (2 Sam. 24). The number of people present at Jesus' various feeding miracles is given (Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10) and the number of people who believed after Peter's first sermon is told (Acts 2:41). And there are numbers of great symbolic importance such as three, seven, and twelve. However, names matter more. God's name is given (Ex. 3:14) and at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess (Phil. 2:9-11). For the Jews at least, names were not arbitrary but spoke to what God had done or to the character of the individual. Jesus, the friend of sinners, called Zacchaeus and his persecutor Saul by name (Luke 19:2-8; Acts 9:4). Paul sent personal greetings to individuals throughout Romans 16, naming each one of them. And if God knows the number of hairs on my head, he knows my name, Andrew, the name of the person whose head their on.

Percentages are harmful when people are sacrificed for them.
Numbers do harm when names are never learned or forgotten.
Let us be a people who know more names than numbers.

By His Grace.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

History of Rap

I regret not watching this episode last night. Good thing we get this sweet clip. I especially think there's great comedy in the fact The Roots comprise the majority of the minority representation. Fallon and other late night folk definite do reach a specific audience. Enjoy.

By His Grace.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five Most Pressing Questions

Continuing the Discussion
Last week I began a short series on the Pressing Questions of a Growing Minichurch. There was some good interaction with a few folk here and on Facebook. Below is part two of this series:

Five Most Pressing Questions for This Growing Minichurch
Near the end of our leaders meeting last week, I asked the other guys what the five most pressing questions are that we are asking right now. Here are the questions what we came up with:
  1. What are the qualities of a Disciple-Making Disciple?
  2. How does one define a tribe or people group?
  3. Calling: Is it to what, to where, or to whom?
  4. How do church leaders serve and pastor the growing body while still staying "in the world"?
  5. What do we do when our Sunday attendance outpaces the structures we have in place?
To be honest we have been asking these questions since the church began. We strongly desire to be a church that reflects the model set down in 2 Timothy 2:1-2 in the context of Chicago in general and the prevalent arts culture specifically. How we've answered these questions has informed most, if not all, of the decisions we make. And still they are pressing.

What are you asking?
What about you? Whether you are a church planter, pastor of an established church, staff person, or just a member, what do you think the five most pressing questions are for your church today? If you have thoughts or comments, make sure to post them below. Looking forward to hearing where you are and how we may be able to help each other as we feebly attempt to be a part of Christ growing His church in the world.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dever, Driscoll, MacDonald: Multi-Site Chruches

Pulled this off of Justin Taylor's blog. Here are his comments:
Watch this on two levels: (1) to follow the content of the discussion about the pros and cons of multi-site congregations; (2) the way in which Mark Dever is slow to speak, quick to listen, and asks good questions to advance the discussion and change the tone of the conversation. Instructive on both levels!

I found it to be really informative. I will tip my hand and say that I am not a fan of multi-site churches, though I am growing more willing to be swayed. I believe it creates too much of a cult-of-personality and relies too heavily on a brand. A lot of talk goes into their effectiveness currently, but we honestly have no idea. It would be interesting to see what the comments were in the 80s and 90s on megachurches and their "effectiveness" now that we can look back and see the many sad results from them, including, but not limited to, Consumer Christians.

What are your thoughts?

By His Grace.

The "Facebook Message" Bible

So I was reading the infamous chapter 11 of 2 Samuel where David basically stalks Bathsheba and uses his kingly powers to "lay with her" even though she was married to Uriah. The thought came to mind while I was reading that King David would have been the first and worst Facebook stalker if he had access to it. I decided to tweet it and see what the response would be. After a little feedback I thought about what would happen if Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, and Euguene Peterson, translator of The Message Bible, teamed up for a new version. It would of course be aptly called "The Facebook Message."

Here is an excerpt from 2 Samuel 11:1-5 of The Facebook Message:
King David decided not to go out to war that season even though he was an amazing warrior. Instead he decided to chill on the roof of his palace and check Facebook all day while everyone else was gone. As he was doing so, he stumbled upon the of a beautiful woman he had never met before in his entire life. He clicked on it and saw she was from Jerusalem. Some other photos were public, but not enough information for him to get the best idea. He saw that they had a mutual friend so he contacted that person who also happened to work for him to see if he could get more information. That’s where he learned that she was married to this guy Uriah (her profile pic didn’t have him in it). He told this mutual friend that he had to meet her now, and, being the King, was able to do it. This mutual friend told her that David was FB stalking her and wanted to see her. Because he was King she came. Then he "poked" her. After a little while later she sent him a message on FB – “I am pregnant.”
We always trip on Facebook stalkers. We joke around about how they are creepy or even how we Facebook stalked someone that day. I know that my "translation" may seem a bit crass, but it does expose that even "a man after God's own heart" can be one jacked up cat who needs redemption.

By His Grace.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pressing Questions for the Growing Minichurch

We're Almost A Megachurch!
The Line Band prepping for one our services in July
At The Line staff prayer we were told that 99 people showed up to our most recent Sunday service. As your reading you may be thinking, "I could have been the 100th person!" Yeah, you could have...and won a prize. From this I continually joke that we are a burgeoning megachurch. The lobby of the Greenhouse Theater where we meet was almost overcrowded and uncomfortable, almost like a high school house party. We ran out of the Intelligentsia hand-ground coffee we typically serve to the few dozen who come. Programs disappeared quickly and people had to share. People had to sit on the side of the theater and some only saw the back of our Aaron's (the lead pastor) head while he preached. Oh how far we are from being a megachurch, but these are the wonderful, grace-filled problems of our growing minichurch.

If I had to guess, I would say that most established churches are asking questions regularly, but there also comes a time when certain structures, like staff, finances, are in place that make each week a little more routine. My experience as a leader in a young church plant has me believing that while in this constant state of flux, many of the questions we ask are more pressing and could drastically effect the direction of the church.

Over the past month several pressing questions have arisen I'd like to share. This is the first of at least a three part series that will come out each Wednesday over the next three weeks. My hope is that they open up discussion and create a forum for the questions you may have regardless of what role you have with your church.

Crowd to Core or Core to Crowd?
I had the chance to visit with a pastor of a church of 3,000 people down in Florida about a month ago. The method of how they planted their church is a "Crowd to Core" method, one in which they promote heavily, hold an event at a key time of the year, draw an enormous crowd and develop a core from that. Almost everything we do as a church plant is the reverse of that. The church started with a crowd of seven. The preaching began in a living room to a crowd of 10-15. Gospel Communities (small groups on mission) were launched small and strategically by neighborhood. We made a weak attempt at promoting our launch service in The Congress Theater. Though we put an emphasis on our Sunday service, the majority of our energy is spent thinking and praying through our Gospel Communities and our Cords, which are the discipleship groups of our church. Our mentality and method is for the mission to move from Core to Crowd.

After explaining this to the pastor, he said point blank, "I have never seen that work." Speaking strictly from a Western context, I am sure that there are exceptions to what he claims (Soma Communities comes to mind). I am also very aware of the conversation regarding the Church Growth model and the Missional model. But generally the fundamental question is raised,

"How should we be planting churches?"

From this comes other questions:

"Methodologically is it better to plant on a 'Crowd to Core' model or a 'Core to Crowd'?"
"What are the advantages to each? What are the disadvantages?
"Do we depend more on method than on the Spirit, prayer, and discernment?"

Many Questions, One Certainty
Over the next several weeks you will be exposed to more questions we are asking. We do have many questions, but are certain of one thing: Jesus Christ is building his church in Chicago and throughout the world. Thus our questions are not rooted in fear or insecurity. We are not reaching out and grasping tightly to every body that walks through our doors. The Line exists to be a witness to what Jesus has done and continues to do. We strive to make sure that the questions we ask are confidently rooted in Him.

I pray every local body remembers that whether you have one question or one thousand questions.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wild Adventures With Deer

I got to campus today around 6:15 am. To my great delight and surprise there was a deer chillin' right outside the Waybright Center.

Go on the adventure with me as I follow the deer around Trinity.

By His Grace.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Flee or Follow?

The Book of Jonah is always surprising to me when I read it. A few days ago I read just the first chapter. The major theme in that chapter is the "presence of the Lord" the phrase shows up 3 times in 16 verses (v. 3 twice and v. 10).

The key really is in the first 3 verses:
Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.
I was able to pull three observations from this:
  1. God's presence comes to us. This goes with what we said the first week in "Jesus makes the first move." There is no mention of Jonah's moral character, how he was living, what he was trying to do to bring God's presence into his life. It merely says that the word came to Jonah. And like the word coming to Jonah, Jesus came first to earth (John 1:14) and then, as believers, His Spirit has come into our hearts (Gal. 4:6). So not only is God present externally, but within each and every one of us who considers ourselves Christ-followers. God's presence in our lives is an act of divine grace and kindness.
  2. The word is God's presence. The OT is full of examples of "the word of the Lord." In fact, it shows up 438 times in the OT. Often it is assumed that the word of the Lord coming also means his presence. It isn't completely proper to say that God's presence is only established when we hear the word of God (i.e. read Scripture) because we have already established that something totally different has taken place in Christ with God's Spirit dwelling in us now. But it is right to say that the word of the Lord that has come to us in the Scriptures is the foundation by which we all live, testifying to his presence in us. Jesus' temptation is a prime example (Matt. 4, Luke 4). Although he had the Spirit, and although he is the Son of God, he depended on Scripture to resist temptation.
  3. The question we must ask is, "how do I respond to God's presence?" I think if we're really honest with ourselves, we will know we are like Jonah. We will know that God's presence is here, we have access to him, we can read his Word, we can pray directly to him, that He is guiding us, but everything in us says "FLEE!!!" Jonah was confronted to make a decision to what God was telling him to do. The transition between v. 1 & 2 tells us nothing of what went on in Jonah's head & heart; it's almost as if he knew immediately that he didn't want to hear this from God and wanted to get away as far as possible. The story shows that we can't run forever and God will pursue us. He cares that much.
I think God's presence is stronger than we give Him credit for. I think there's just so much sinful junk in our hearts and lives and minds that tells us to "FLEE" that we think God is absent from us. Reality is we are pursuing absence from Him. Are you avoiding the presence of God in your life right now and pursuing absence from Him?

The way forward is to ask the question, "Will I be honest with myself about how I respond to God's presence?" We can only answer "yes" from a humbled heart. It is in that humility of knowing my flesh is striving to flee that I am able to stop, submit to Christ and know the freedom of following Him.

By His Grace.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Big Idea #3

So I have decided to record these on Sunday nights and post them so they can be up all day on Monday. If that still frame image below doesn't make you want to watch the video, I don't know what will! This should be a good one for discussion so make sure to hit me up if you have any thoughts or questions or insights.

By His Grace.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Ordinary Planter

So I am recognizing Wednesdays, the day in which I designated to be a blog on church planting, to be difficult. I'm up by 5:30 at the latest and don't get to "home" until 10:00 p.m. at the earliest (I stay with friends 20 minutes from campus, which is such a blessing). What fun experimenting with being a regular blogger! Read this with anticipation for what's next. Sweat it out.

The Ordinary Pastor
Recently, The Gospel Coalition unveiled a new project called The Ordinary Pastor. The goal in two words: "Be encouraged."
Be encouraged when growth is slow and measured by generations. Be encouraged when guilt, fear, and the specter of failure form an unholy alliance against you. Be encouraged when young men grown fat on the feast of podcasts question your every move. Be encouraged when no one knows your name; it is written in blood in the book of life. Ordinary pastor, be encouraged: Your faithful labor in the darkened forest of obscurity is heroic.
I am not yet a pastor. Even the "yet" comprises so much uncertainty. Thankfully these concerns are of the Lord. Regardless of my own situation I am encouraged with the direction The Gospel Coalition is taking by highlighting the countless pastors who God uses on a minute-by-minute basis to preach the gospel of Christ, disciple people by the Spirit, and faithfully serve where they are -- all without ever being recognized by throngs of screaming fans who inject the pastor's material into their eyes and ears.

The Ordinary Planter
Building off of this is the real hard sweet truth that church planting is much like pastoring -- ordinary. I have been involved with a church plant called The Line here in a Chicago for about two years, since before the core group even lived in Chicago. We have had a swath of crazy and amazing experiences, but in all honesty that is how things go with any church plant. It's ordinary.

I was just reading earlier about Steven Furtick, a 30 year-old pastor who was first a planter. Starting in Charlotte, North Carolina, only four years ago with seven other couples, his church, Elevation Church, is over 6,000 strong. Their website says they've seen over 8,000 people receive Christ. He also has a book coming out, Sun Stands Still, which according to recent tweets may be sold out on Amazon before next Tuesday. But for every Steven Furtick -- or Mark Driscoll or Tim Keller or Rick Warren -- there are hundreds of men plowing daily to minister to several dozen individuals in cities of millions or towns of thousands. When they hold their first baptism service it can be in a kiddie pool at the rented gym or even the bathtub at the pastor's house. There is no explosion of growth in terms of numbers or conversions although the preaching may be powerful and burrow deep into the hearts of the 80 people who faithful arrive on Sunday mornings not only to listen, but to set up the equipment, pray, break down and do childcare.

This is the life of the ordinary church planter and the ordinary church plant. A study done by Dr. Ed Stetzer in 2007 states that there are 4,000 church plants annually. In a conversation with him around this time last year, Dr. Stetzer stated that after four years of the existence of a church plant the average membership is 75 people. Think about it for a moment. We have a tendency to glamorize not only the megachurch pastor, but also the megachurch planter, the individual (and families and core groups) that seems to see his church grow by the hundreds while he sleeps. Yet when we survey the landscape of church planting, we see planting following the pattern of pastoring -- it's ordinary.

The clock has struck 12:00 am. Tomorrow starts early again at 5:30 am (hopefully). Therefore I shall stop here. Please know that the direction of these posts is to share church planting experiences from those on the ground. This may include planter profiles, stories of conversion, challenges faced along the way, etc.

Are you looking to be a pastor? What about a church planter? Are you involved in a large church or a small church? How do you view the situation there? Are you like me, helping out with a church plant? What's your experience like? What about your pastor?

Just an ordinary guy with an ordinary blog helping out with an ordinary church plant

By His Grace.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Being and Doing

Today I was reading the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. I know what you're thinking - "Wow, Andrew...that sounds...just swell. You are reading the dictionary. Good for you." Well I came across these words for the article on Discipleship by Michael Wilkins. He points out that Luke had a unique way of describing discipleship. I'll let you decide on whether it is interesting or not. The first is as Followers on the Way:
For Luke, salvation itself is “the way” , a pattern of life revealed by God. This idea of salvation as a “way” leads in time to calling the Christian community “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), an early designation or title for the organized community of disciples, which eventually is known as “the church.” From the Lukan perspective, disciples must enter into and stride along that Way in the footsteps of their Master.
This is the call and the challenge to walk along the same path that has been set before us by Christ. It points to a life marked by sacrifice. This is how he continues in the article as he writes about the second aspect Traveling Along the Way:
Luke specifies that self-denial, taking up the cross and following Jesus not only characterizes entrance into the Way but life on the Way. With the addition of “each day” to the cross-bearing proclamation, the Lukan Jesus calls for daily self-denial, daily bearing one’s cross and daily following in the footsteps of the Master (cf. 9:23; Mk 8:34). Life on the Way involves being doers of the Word (11:27–28), because not all who are walking on the Way truly belong to the Way. Public statements of commitment must be judged by the fruit of one’s life (6:43–49; 19:11–27). That fruit consists, at least in part, in loving and doing good to others (6:17–36), proper stewardship of material possessions (6:35; 8:3), servanthood (22:24–30), prayer (10:2; 11:1; 18:1–8) and testimony to the Way (9:1–6; 10:1–12, 17–20; 12:8–12; 14:23–24; 24:44–49).
I was challenged with one thought after reading this: I talk so often of being in the Word daily, but I rarely ever talk about doing the Word daily. I get to school fairly early so I can read The Script, but my heart is stirred to wonder about the possibilities of daily doing the Word each day afresh. I don't think this means that I am not doing the Word daily. But how often do I and others tell people, "Commit to reading the Word daily"? I'm all about that. I just don't know the last time I told somebody, "Commit to doing the Word daily"? I believe the question of doing the Word needs to fall into the series of questions I have been trained or trained myself to ask daily:

Will I get out of bed this morning?
Will I shower this morning?
Will I brush my teeth?
Will I make coffee? Lunch?
Will I study after class?
Will I read God's Word today?
Will I do God's Word today?

For us all, this may not require any real change in our daily activities or lifestyle. Or maybe it will. Maybe it will radically alter how we pray each day, interact with friends and strangers, steward money, rest, and read God's Word. All I'm suggesting is that our approach to God's Word requires more thoughtfulness and intentionality than we give.

I believe reading the Word will inform how I do the Word. I am proposing for myself and whoever reads this that we take real action toward being as committed to doing the Word as we are to being in the Word.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. -James 1:23-25
By His Grace.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Best Worst Speech Ever

This is Phil Davison, now "famous" for this stump speech. "For the record: That's Phil Davison of Minerva, Ohio at last night's Stark County Republican Party's executive committee meeting to select a nominee to run for Stark County treasurer. He didn't get the nomination" (via

I was going to wait until Friday to post this, but I just couldn't resist. I honestly was laughing from beginning to end. I hope he is laugh about it as much as the rest of the country is.

(HT: Ryan Shields)

By His Grace.

The Big Idea #2

Hit me up!

By His Grace.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In the Mind or in the Flesh?

As I mentioned in my video I am really trying to work toward posting something of substance once a day. I was 3 for 5 this past week, skipping out on what I am reading and Fun Friday. The cultural analysis dealt with the whole debacle that was the Qu'ran burning. All that to say, I truly desire to be committed to this as it helps me regularly think through my day and process through all I'm consuming. So here I'm contributing thoughts on two books I am currently reading.

The first is a more technical text, Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. The title gives away the goal of the book - to see how truly reliable the gospels are in telling the life of Jesus. As honestly as he can being an evangelical Christian, Blomberg claims to "neither presupposed nor argue for the complete inerrancy, infallibility or inspiriation of Scripture, even just with the Gospel" stating further he wears his "historian's hat," not his "Christian believer's hat in this project." Early on in the book he applies this historical approach to the foundation of Christianity:
Christianity is based on the concept of God acting in history. Despite the oft-quoted verse 'we walk by faith and not by sight' (2 Cor 5:7), Christianity does not require a 'leap in the dark' or a sacrifice of the intellect. Paul is quoted entirely out of context when this verse is treated as a rationale for believing without evidence (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-8). Biblical faith is fundamentally committed to a God who has intervened in the history of humanity in a way that exposes his activity to historical study.
This is powerful on a number of levels:
  1. It is easy to jack up verses and Scripture, co-opting them for our own purposes. We treat each verse as the little strip of paper found in a fortune cookie that we keep in our back pocket, forgetting that the Bible tells the full story of God's redemptive plan. Though the verse numbers are helpful, sometimes I wish we could tear them out.
  2. God works in history. This assumes God exists and that the God who exists is at work in the world in an active way. God is somehow involved through the course of this world's movement - past, present, and future.
  3. We can study God's work. Being exposed to God and His work in the world, we can study, analyze, ponder, and explore his activity in such a way that we can make thoughtful, meaningful conclusions.
This can all-too-often occur solely on the conceptual level, however. Those last two points are logical possibilities and so it is easy to proceed by our strict commitment to logic, not to reality. Even if one disagrees with the tenets of Christianity, there is intellectual integrity within the system of Christianity itself. Thus we are prone to think of, and may even default toward, the idea that God works in history, holding Christianity only as a worldview instead of holding onto Christ, who is our life (Col. 3:3).

Here is where the second book comes into play. In his book, The Peacemaking Pastor, Alfred Poirier admits the dry intellectualism that never actualizes to concrete belief by labeling himself a "closet heretic." His heresy and that of countless other pastors? Docetism. He writes,
Remember the heresy of the ancient church? Docetism is failing to believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Docetism is the belief that the Son of God only appeared to be, or seemed to be, fully man.
This is of course a statement that has implied qualification. Poirer, nor the other pastors, object against Christ's humanity outright; he says it's simply sheer unbelief. Leaders of the church function daily with the idea of Christ coming to this earth 2000 years ago as God in the flesh, but it remains as mere concept with no real impact on how they pray, preach, counsel, evangelize, serve, or love. Seeking to move his readers through the mind to the heart, Poirer shares these convicting words:
Christ is no phantom. The real Jesus is no Hollywood Jesus walking two feet off the ground. The ministry of the Pastor of pastors in the ministry of the God-man--a man whose feet are blistered and dirtied by the long, hot days of walking dusty roads. In Christ we find a pastor whose hands are calloused by being about his Father's business--hands clasped in prayer, touching lepers, wiping eyes full of tears, and breaking bred. The first Pastor was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. The first Pastor was a lover of the real world even as he came to change the world.
We often speak of the Incarnation as God becoming flesh (John 1:14), but Poirier points us to the fact that the Incarnation also includes God living in the flesh, praying in the flesh, preaching in the flesh, serving in the flesh, and being the embodiment of love in the flesh by dying on the Cross in the flesh and raising from the dead in the flesh! How interesting it is that I have much more difficulty conceptualizing the reality that Jesus Christ ascended to heaven in the flesh and is in the flesh reigning over all things right now as I type about him. Yet it is truer than any of my weak ideas.

Does this change the way I look at history? Can I see Christ's hand in each day as I walk the streets of Chicago, serve at The Line, hear about the politics and who is going to run for mayor, or read the news about a Christian's in Indonesia being attacked?

Does it change the way I study God's Word? Do I see all the stories from Creation in Genesis 1-2 to Consummation in Revelation 21-22 as what has truly happened and what will truly happen? Do I see them all pointing to Christ? As I read, do I slow down and allow the words on the page to penetrate every fiber of my being because they are both truth and history?

What about how I look at culture or think about my calling? Do I know that God empowers individuals and groups to be culture shapers and makers? In every aspect of this world, do I try to find how God has somehow influenced it by His common grace (Ps. 19:1)? A popular paraphrase of Calvin's teaching is "all truth is God's truth," but do I take it a step further and say "all truth is the living God's truth"? With regard to calling, do I trust that Christ in the flesh is looking over me, loving me, caring for me each day? Do I surrender my day and my future to Christ who knows better than I do about what's really best for me?

What about you? Does Christ's Incarnation challenge the way you think and live?

In short, the reality of Christ in the flesh crushes all our petty philosophies. In the very least this should bring sheer power, intensity and inspiration to all that we say and do.

Oh how I pray that the Spirit of God will convict both my mind and my heart that I may know Christ is more than just some idea or concept or worldview, but is now and forever God in the flesh.

By His Grace.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sermon: The Most Shocking News

"Some news is good news. Some news is bad news. All news affects everybody."

What's the most shocking news you've ever received?
How did it affect you?
How did it change your life?

Here is the sermon on Galatians 4:1-7 I preached this past weekend at my church, The Line.

The Most Shocking News

By His Grace.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Burn Couches, Not the Quran

What first caught my attention last month about the notorious plan to burn the Quran on September 11 was that it would happen in my old stomping grounds of Gainesville, Florida. I spent a quarter of my life in Gainesville: four years as a student at the University of Florida and three more as a staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ. In those years, Gainesville residents mostly burned couches on the streets after winning national championships in basketball and football. The news devastated me in large part because it was happening so close to home and heart.

In less than a month this horrendous event has gained enough momentum to reach an international audience, capped with a statement by General David Petraeus. The commander of American troops in Afghanistan criticized the burning, saying, "It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan." Even the Vatican newspaper condemned the burning. The Dove World Outreach Center, with 50 people led by Pastor Terry Jones, has caused a backlash throughout the world that includes the general speaking on behalf of 120,000 troops in the Middle East and the largest church in the world.

Since this news first came to my attention, I have had to think and pray through a response to the burning. This story has already been covered from countless angles. Carl Trueman calls it "childish." Tweets abound, some of which attempt to find humor in the situation. So what do I have to add?

One of my closest friends, Jimmy, is the director of Campus Crusade for Christ at UF. By the grace of God, more than 1,000 students attend their weekly meetings. They are the largest student organization on campus and one of the largest in the city of Gainesville. This all means they have considerable influence as an organization with his words being loudest. After learning of the Quran burning, Jimmy was invited to speak at a protest organized by a group gathering together organizations of various religions around Gainesville. This is where he asked me for advice on what to do, because he is rightfully opposed to the burning. At the same time, he does not think protesting is the answer. However, if he does not lock arm in arm with the other Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., will he be viewed as being in favor of the burning? What will the hundreds of students involved in Campus Crusade think? What will the 50,000 students at UF think? He can't stay silent on this, so what's the response?

Here is what I shared with him:

It seems to me that the best road for a gospel-saturated Christian to take is not standing on the one side of the road with all-exclusive hate or on the other side with all-inclusive love. Both are ultimately extremes that do not address the heart of the issue. The middle road seems to be the only-exclusive love that Christ offers through the Cross, which rejects hating enemies (Matt. 5:43-44) and loving the the world (1 John 2:15-17) while embracing love of enemies and hating sin. The response we must have as Christians is to reject the utter hatred of people like Pastor Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center, while at the same time not making the mistake of being purely reactionary by standing on the other side of the road, united only in protest, not in love.

He is the one who will have to live out this calling all the more in Gainesville after this weekend is over. Please pray that the influence of Campus Crusade and all the solid churches in Gainesville does not get squelched due to this terribly sad showcase.

Finally, I am saddened that a church of 50 people will not only destroy the Quran, but also damage the credibility of all the churches out there that go unheard for all the good they do in the name of Christ. Though I should not be, I am astonished that a 50-person church has gained more attention than any 5,000-person church could by living out the gospel everyday. Christ's blood shed on the Cross in Jerusalem is eternally scandalous news that is overshadowed today by the scandalous news of Qurans burned by 50 people in Gainesville.

I pray that the Gainesville I've come to love will stay away from burning the Quran and get back to burning couches.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Big Idea!

Let me know what you think!

By His Grace.

Leaving Home

From time to time I pick up Charles Dickens' David Copperfield before going to bed. At the rate I am going, I will finish it by the age of 35. I am committed to reading some classics so I do hope I speed up the process in order to read more than one before my time on earth is up. I have read Dickens before back in high school, but seeing that David Copperfield is, in Dickens' own words, his "favourite child," I was intrigued to continue reading him with this book.

Near the beginning of the book as the older Copperfield looks back on his life he retells the time when he left home. I have no commentary on it, but when I read it I cried. Maybe somewhere deep inside of you is a child like David Copperfield:
The day soon came for our going. It was such an early day that it came soon, even to me, who was in a fever of expectation, and half afraid that an earthquake or a fiery mountain, or some other great convulsion of nature, might interpose to stop the expedition. We were to go in a carrier's cart, which departed in the morning after breakfast. I would have given any money to have been allowed to wrap myself up overnight, and sleep in my hat and boots.

It touches me nearly now, although I tell it lightly, to recollect how eager I was to leave my happy home; to think how little I suspected what I did leave for ever. I am glad to recollect that when the carrier's car was at the gate, and my mother stood there kissing me, a grateful fondness for her and for the old place I had never turned my back upon before, made me cry. I am glad to know that my mother cried too, and that I felt her heart beat against mine.

I am glad to recollect that when the carrier began to move, my mother ran out at the gate, and called to him to stop, that she might kiss me once more. I am glad to dwell upon the earnestness and love with which she lifted up her face to mine, and did so.

By His Grace.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

No Such Thing As Relational Evangelism

I do not believe there is such a thing as "relational evangelism."

Love is building relationships with people regardless of whether or not they believe in Jesus.
Evangelism is verbally sharing the gospel with people, earnestly desiring that they will believe in Jesus.

Without love they're just a project.
Without evangelism they're just lost.

By His Grace.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Get Out Here

Trying out a new thing by adding more dynamic content to the blog, including audio and video. The blessing of having an iPhone is the ability to do this. This is what I did with my Saturday night.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback you might have not only on the content of the video, but the general idea of short videos and audio clips, the best video hosts out there (i.e. YouTube, Viddler, Vimeo, etc.). Please drop a comment below and join the conversation.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I Can Shave, But I Like The Stubble.

The Talk of the 20-Somethings
I'm writing with a bit of conflict in my heart as I try to sort through all this talk of the 20-something lately. First it was the now widely circulated New York Times article which attempts to label the lack of taking on responsibility as "emerging adulthood." Jeffery Jensen Arnett, a psychologist who coined the phrase, says that this phase of life is much like the emergence of adolescence 100 years ago due to several sociological factors.
Among the cultural changes he points to that have led to “emerging adulthood” are the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy; fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling; young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.
These "cultral" factors naturally lead to the question, "is emerging adulthood a bad thing?"

For Mark Driscoll the answer is unequivocally yes. In a recent Washington Post article he wrote,
The New York Times Magazine ran a story this past week called "What is it about 20-Somethings?" looking at the new life stage of emerging adulthood. The article echoed what other recent studies are showing and something we've been saying at Mars Hill Church for awhile: The world today is filled with boys who can shave.
His response was not to call these "boys" "emerging adults," but rather "childish consumers" or, for those in the church, "cowards and complainers." They are marked by boys in mens' bodies who still live with their parents, have a part-time job to support their video game addiction that keeps them from ever having a steady relationship with a real woman. They can shave, but they either don't have money for a razor or, if they are hipsters, they choose not to shave at all.

My Sitch
I've been shaving since the age of 15. That doesn't necessarily mean I needed to shave at that age - I think I only did it about once a month - but I remember thinking that shaving signaled a transition in my life from boyhood to manhood.

At that age I wanted to be a man. I wanted to be the man that no man had ever been in my life because my dad was never in the picture and no one ever really stepped up to fill that void. At that age I had worked a few part-time jobs, but my main income was allowance. At that age I was a fairly young believer in Christ with no real spiritual support in the home. At that age I not only discovered girls, but girls discovered me, making for some very poor decisions. At that age I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I loved computers and thought that might be my track. At that age I felt misunderstood and left out of the most important social circles. Though there were some definite memorable moments in high school and though I am still good friends with a few from those years even today, I would much rather forget them. However, I do remember wanting to be a real man.

Fast forward to today. I will be 28 years old next Monday. I have been a believer for 16 years. I have basically supported myself since I left home for college, working mad crazy odd jobs and raising financial support through Campus Crusade for Christ and my church. I am now surrounded by excellent community. I live in a two-bedroom apartment with a solid believer who is a part of The Line, our small church plant here in Chicago. I finished college with a degree I didn't use, worked for Campus Crusade for four years, one year in Italy, three at the University of Florida, and now I am back in school getting my Masters of Divinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I start my third year in two days and I finish in December of 2011. I will be 29 1/2. Today I am admitting more than ever before in recent years that I have no idea what I'm going to do when seminary is over. Contrary to popular belief, seminary is not about getting answers, folks. I have more questions now than I did when I entered (not faith questions) as I wrestle with my calling before God. I will have no substantial debt when I am done thanks to countless supporters. But at this rate I will also have no real home, no real job, no real marriage and no real kids (I won't have fake ones either). Does this mean I'm not a real man?

Confused, Conflicted & Confessing
After reading both articles I am left confused. Has the category of "adolescence" been helpful at all or has it just screwed us all up, leaving us unprepared for adulthood? Is this idea of "emerging adulthood" legitimate on any level or is it just another educated human excuse for our sinful rebellion against God resulting in complacent cowards afraid to step into the roles He has created for us? I'm still wading through these, but admit I side more with Driscoll.

Moreover, I'm conflicted about my own life. I respect Mark Driscoll a ton. God has done amazing work through his preaching both around the world and in my life. Mars Hill has been a beacon of light in a very dark part of this country. His church planting network, Acts 29, is exploding and our church is being birthed out of it. Yet every time I read his articles or hear his sermons on this topic I struggle. I always feel like I'm second rate, like I'm not a man and I'm not worthy to even be consider one until I have "a marriage and a mortgage." This also goes for any kind of leadership in the church. I could never counsel a married couple because I just wouldn't know what I'm talking about. I could never be a pastor or be an elder because I'm not married, don't have kids and thus do not fulfill the requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

Being conflicted leads to confession. I'd like to believe that Driscoll is overstating his case to try to bring the pendulum to the middle. He's always been controversial and I think it's calculated because, in a culture known for such realities as the Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky, Passion of the Christ, and Jersey Shore, controversy brings out our passions and convictions and for some it persuades them to believe something they didn't before. So I want to take what he writes with a grain of salt, but I have to confess that I think he's both right and wrong. My confession begins with God. In that He is revealing that I am at a stage in life where the core of who I am is being exposed like never before, where the Spirit of God is leading me to see the gospel in profound and fresh ways. He is revealing that in many ways I am not a man I want to be, yet in many ways he is shaping me into the man he wants me to be. I ask "why" a lot to God, but I also say "I trust you" more. I am learning that I am not just a believer in Christ, but also a son of God and co-heir with Christ forever. I am learning that my life is not about my manhood, but Christ's. Whatever great men there have been over time, Jesus is infinitely the greatest (and he had no marriage, mortgage, or munchkins). He who needed no beard took on a beard for us so that we who do have beards could be called true men of God.

I can shave, but I like the stubble. It's the intentional appearance of indecision.

By His Grace.

Monday, August 23, 2010

No Intimacy on the Interwebs

I feel as though there is some irony in this post. I just noticed that I have 31 followers on my blog, some of whom are people I have met along the road of life, others are folk I will probably never know this side of heaven. Either way, they are real people (unless of course I have a band of spam followers), real people with backgrounds, stories, voices, work, hobbies, weekly schedules. Again, with a few of them I am a part of all that stuff, but with most I'm not.

The same goes for many of the other social media outlets I have ventured back into over the past three months. I have nearly 1,900 friends on Facebook; I am climbing toward a whopping 200 followers on The Twitters. In rural Texas or maybe a small town in the 1700s I might be considered a big deal - an important person if you will - with those kinds of stats.

Yet tonight a close friend, a real-life friend who has been verified by my own eyes, hands and ears, told me that he was shutting his fairly successful blog down because he was tired of the Internet culture. The five month hiatus from this very culture was swirling around in the back of my head so forcefully that it cause my head to nod up and down in agreement. I admit that I grew tired once again just reading his text and I was tempted to join him in the ranks of rebellion against the ever-growing trap of the finely woven Interwebs.

The problem I notice with myself and with countless others is our salivation at connectivity combined with our lack of thoughtful engagement on this still youthful platform. For some reason we hold that the same rules apply with the screen as they do in the skin. FB uses the now ubiquitous term "friends," which give some with already stalkerish tendencies the idea that they could just befriend that pretty girl in the random photo, message her, and they will be pals for life...maybe even at some point they will go on a date! Folks who are using Twitter strive to come up with a witty, sticky comment that will be retweeted by followers or @replied. That's the only reason I use it; my influence abounds with the massive following I have. Then there are podcasts, vodcasts, and soon-to-be 3D versions of both!

A saturation has occurred in the exponential growth of Interwebs connectivity and supersaturation is fast approaching. Every bubble bursts and I think the increase in weariness is due to the acknowledgment that we do not receive what we ultimately long for when interacting with other human beings - intimacy. It could be holding a loved one, hanging out with friends at a coffee shop, or the odd form of intimacy found in a loud argument between best friends or spouses.

I wonder when we will all grow tired. I wonder at what point in our lives we realize that the attention of thousands of truly nameless faces will never amount to the acceptance we have with those whose names and faces we know so well. I wonder when I will stop caring about how many wall posts I got on a given day or how many people are actually reading this and commenting. I am tired along with my friend, but bouncing off this is not the answer for me. Balance is.

I see a great platform for the gospel. The Interwebs is a place to begin at least telling the story of our great God and his redeeming project through Christ to restore our intimacy with Him forever. He is the Christ not of a Facebook profile or a Twitter account, not just some person I will friend or follow and never meet, but the Christ of flesh and blood, whose feet walked the very earth he created, whose voice was heard by thousands, whose wounds Thomas touched, and whose ascension the disciples. Through Christ I am not merely these words on a screen or a home video created on my Flip camera; I am an adopted slave, made a son of God, and a co-heir with Christ. I am able to approach the throne of God boldly and confidently and ask for anything. I have God's Spirit within me leading me, guiding me, praying for me. Why should I ever care who I am and how close I am with others in a virtual world when I walk with God everyday in the real one?

This is the closeness we all seek in this world of mostly empty connectivity. I just pray that as we all grow tired of it that we won't simply run to the next latest whisper, whistle or flashing light that promises a life it can never provide, but will instead turn to Christ because he is the only one who can give us freedom from the tangling web and intimacy with God.

By His Grace.