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.