Audio from this Sunday's talk: A Christian Perspective on Abortion

Thanks so much for all the encouragement you've given me on this talk. I'm sorry there wasn't time for questions at the end, but I'd be happy to dialogue with you if God or I stirred anything up for you.

Here's the audio:

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Audio from last week's talk

So...I took part of this week off and the blog fell a little behind. Thanks to those of you who noticed and mentioned it to me.

Here's the audio from last week's talk on Encouragement:

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Street Cred notes

This past Sunday, Pastor Brad Mullinax spoke on about "Street Cred," pushing us to think about Jesus' credibility and how we reflect that in our own lives. Brad is the Pastor at Neriah Baptist Church here in Rockbridge County. He and his wife Bethany love Jesus and, wonderfully, love college students. Below are my notes from his talk:
How does our culture view Jesus?
- An accessory...something to use to make your life a little better
- Disposable...to be used when convenient, but tossed when costly (see politics)
- A problem-solver...to be used in times of crisis, but tossed in times of calm

Our culture uses Jesus

Matthew 16:13ff..."What's my street cred?"...urgency, revelation, this stuff will change your life

2 Corinthians 2:17...fragrance of life, fragrance of death...temptation to water-down for acceptance

2 Timothy 4:1-5...everyone to listen to this, have an answer not an argument, tell a story...it's about both life and proclamation

You are here for a reason!

Donald Miller's thoughts

In my talk last Sunday, I referenced Donald Miller's thoughts on voting Democrat. Although I don't agree with everything he says (especially with his endorsing of a candidate), I found his approach to be interesting. Check it out:
Burnside Writers Collective

and

Talks online

I've started posting our Large Group talks on-line, if you'd like to re-listen to them. The website is: Large Group Talks. You can also listen to last week's talk here:

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Notes and thoughts from Burr's talk

Last Sunday, Burr Datz asked and reflected on this question: "What does it mean to be called?" With his usual clarity and easiness, he offered up several implications for our calling. What follows are my notes and some of my responses.

John 15:16ff calling

"No one goes home humming a homily"...proceeds to play The Summons
I love the way Burr included music in his message. This song, along with the song at the end, created space for to process his message and let it soak in before rushing back off to our busy lives.

Defining freedom...for some, the definition of freedom is to choose for yourself...what happens to this definition when we introduce themes of calling..."You did not choose me, I chose you."

Mark 1...Jesus' calling and baptism...helplessness as a child and teenage love as images of being chosen..."You are my Beloved Son..."

Jesus' choosing is irrevocable...relationship full of call and response...surrender...this proves difficult because we are fallen...Romans 11...we are always going to need mercy because we are always going to mess up...The law is information, love is transformation...love is a response to being chosen
I love how Burr pushes us toward a relational, rather than rule-based dynamic in our life before God. This often proves difficult for us, as we forget daily that God is a person, not an idea
Being chosen can lead to arrogance...this is why grace is so important...look as the stumbling examples God gives us (Moses, David, Jonah, Peter)...they are us...called = flawed
If we are all called by God, then there's no room for pride. Were we not broken, flawed, fallen, we would need no call. But we have one. What does this tell us about ourselves? About God?
Luke 1...Mary as an archetype of chosenness...Her "thy will be done" echos into the teaching and life of her Son and Savior...Barrenness is a fantastic symbol of where we are not in control...Mary shares her news
Protestants often shy away from the Mary character in the Jesus story. But she is included for a reason. Burr deftly shows us her chosenness and responsiveness, along with her blessedness.

There are a lot of Protestants in GCF and the room definitely tensed up when Burr mentioned Mary. I really appreciate his ability, as a Catholic, to navigate those tensions without undue provocations or compromise. Burr reminded me that I need to think more about the role of Mary in the redemption story.

The possibility of miracles

Miracle Max: Have fun stormin' da castle!
Valerie: Think it'll work?
Miracle Max: It'll take a miracle.




In the passage we looked at this week - John 9 - we saw a miracle. Or did we?

They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. "Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?"
-John 9:18-19

Can miracles actually happen?

Water to wine?

In John 2, Jesus turns water to wine. But when we say "wine," what do we mean? Is this alcohol or is this grape juice? I'll present the best points in both cases and let you decide, but remember...this passage isn't about drinking! It's about Jesus revealing his glory to his disciples and their placing their faith in him, about John revealing Jesus' glory to us and us placing our faith in him.

Alcohol

1) Contextual - in v. 10 the MC (ruler of the feast) chides the bridegroom for the order in which he brings out his wines. The MC reasons that one should bring out the good wine first, then, once everyone has "well drunk" (KJV) or "had too much to drink" (NIV), switch to the cheap stuff. The implication is that this wine, newly brought out, would have intoxicated the guests.

2) Lexical - the Greek word translated "well drunk" or "had too much to drink" - "methuo" - is found 6 other times in the New Testament, each fairly clearly referring to intoxication or drunkenness rather than slaked thirst or satiation [Mt. 24, Acts 2, 1 Cor 11, 1 Thes. 5, and Rev 17 (2x)].

3) Character - the Jesus of the Bible went to parties, was friends with sinners and was remarkably generous. He reveals God and God is a God of the festivals, the God who "brings forth...wine that gladdens the heart" (Ps. 104:14-15). It is in keeping with the character of this Jesus and this God to open wide the doors of celebration, freedom and love - to bring forth good wine - even if some will abuse it. That is our story, after all.

Grape Juice

1) Contextual - in John 2, Jesus turned over 100 gallons of water into wine several days into the wedding feast. None of the characters appear to be intoxicated, even after having "well drunk" or "had too much to drink." Additionally, the water-turned-wine might have been consumed in its entirety during the feast (how many people were at this wedding?), a great difficulty if the wine were stronger than grape juice.

2) Lexical - the Greek word for wine - "oinos" - can refer to a range of beverages, from fermented, alcoholic wine to the juice still in the grape. Additionally, "good wine" - "kalos oinos" - does not necessarily mean the wine was aged (increasing its alcohol content) and could mean that it was filtered (decreasing its alcohol content). Other ancient Greek sources create space for both options.

3) Character - Would Jesus have attended a wedding with out-of-control drinking? Would he have provided alcohol to people already headed toward intoxication? Jesus could not create wine and stand innocent when it is abused (Hab. 2:15, Lk. 17:2). He wouldn't tempt, provoke, endanger folks in that way.

Thoughts?

The blog is back

With the start of the new school year, I'm restarting the yosteve blog. This blog is designed for commentary and conversation around GCF's Large Group and Small Groups. Check it out if you want to go deeper!

What the "Trinity" taught me about marriage

Over the years, I've been privileged to gather weekly with Scott, Michael and Lucas. At some point soon after we started gathering, I started to think of these guys in Trinitarian terms. This is a little weird, I know. In our first few weeks of meeting together Scott shared about fatherly concern, Michael shared about struggles as a son, and Lucas shared deeply about his joy in the Holy Spirit. So, I started thinking of them as the "Trinity." I'm a nerd.

Over the years, these men have helped me be a better husband. They've taught me more than I realize about marriage (mostly by example).

Marriage involves union
They taught me that marriage involves union. The Bible speaks of a husband and wife becoming "one flesh". Distinctions blurr in a way, but you also find your strengths and weaknesses standing out in sharper relief.

Scott talked about this a bit on Sunday and often shares about this when we're praying. Susan's illness impacts him deeply, deepest when he is at his husbandly best. He can no more ignore her illness than he can ignore an illness in his own body. The shallow comforts Christians offer to the sick and suffering prove unavailable when one is deeply united to the person in need.

Scott can't ignore Susan's illness, but that's almost immaterial, as that's not his desire. He loves Susan and is united to her and wouldn't change that for all the world. Scott and Michael and Lucas share over and over again that the deep union that we experience in marriage opens a way to a deep joy. Surely it must be with joy that Christ is united to his bride, the church.

Marriage shows your need for a Savior
These men follow Jesus so well: faithfully in the academy, in their families, in their Christian communities. I look up to them (and not just because they're taller). But over the years, they have over and over again shared how their marriages have helped them understand their need for a Savior.

One day, I came to the lunch frustrated with Amy. We had had a fight, she had not done something the way I wanted it done and I was angry. As I complained to my friends, Michael offered this gentle correction: "It's hard to see your strengths manifest themselves as weaknesses in your wife, to catch yourself saying 'I could have done that better' or 'Why doesn't she just do it the way I told her to?' But, when I catch myself saying things like that, I'm probably catching myself being prideful, being arrogant. Where do my strengths come from?"

Now, Michael's an economist-poet, so he probably said that more efficiently and beautifully than I just did, but it connected with me so deeply. Over and over again I catch myself forgetting my need for a Savior. It's so easy for Jesus' saving to slip to the back of my mind, but being married helps with this. How often have we been driven to prayer and to Jesus when our sin manifests itself in our marriages! And how great a Savior!

Marriage calls forth prayer
Week in and week out the "Trinity" gathers for prayer. They pray for their wives, for each other, for each other's wives and for a dozen other things. And I get to join them.

We do more than pray and, to be honest, prayer sometimes gets pushed to the corner of our get-togethers, the last-minute bowing of heads before rushing off into the tyranny of the urgent. But we pray. We pray when we're together and all throughout the week. And no one is more amazing at this than Lucas. He prays for his wife and his kids and his work. He gives thanks for his dog and prays with his vet. Lucas prays with us when we're struggling to love our wives. I'd love to follow him around and see how much time he spends praying. He'd probably say 'Not enough' and the rest of us would chuckle and secretly admire him.

Together, these men have helped me to pray. And I need their help. I'm united to Amy in marriage, but I'm a sinner in need of a Savior. On top of that, Amy - wonderful though she is - is a sinner in need of a Savior. How can this union survive without prayer? How can I pray without help? The deep prayer of married sinners nourishes my union with the Triune God.

Thank God for the "Trinity"!

Humble accountability (pt. 3)

So, by tomorrow...I meant Saturday.

The body-language used in the Bible is both literal and metaphorical. God calls us to love, care for, worship, suffer patiently, and live in our physical bodies. He also calls us to participate in what he calls "The Body of Christ."

Now, what gets called "The Body of Christ" in the Bible also gets called "the fellowship" or "the Church". And one could just substitute in "Church" for many places where the Bible reads "Body of Christ". But this would be to rob the Bible of much of its richness and beauty.

What is God trying to communicate to us when he talks about the church as the body of Christ? AllaboutGod.com has an excellent intro to the idea posted here, but I think a lot can be learned for the dual uses for the word "member". You can be a "member" of a fraternity, sorority, hall, class, club, most-wanted-list. Your body also has "members": arms, legs, appendages, etc...

We are called to be "members" of the body of Christ: to belong and to belong.

And this influences the way we approach accountability.

I am part of the same body as you, therefore I must hold you accountable. What you do influences me too!
I am part of the same body as you, therefore I must approach you with humility. What you do is my doing too!

Isn't that a wonderful, odd concept?

Humble accountability (pt. 2)

So...bodies.

There are two body-knowledges that will help us as we pursue humble accountability. First, there's the knowledge of the broad biblical teaching on our physical bodies. Secondly, there's the oft-used, seldom-thought-about image of the body of Christ. Let's start with the physical.

In Genesis, God gives the man and woman bodies. They can glorify him with these bodies, serving him with hands and minds and stomachs. When the man and woman fall to sin, their bodies continue to be of use, revealing their limitednesss, revealing God. When Abram and Sarai long for a child, they long to see the promises fulfilled through their bodies. When Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert, they hungered and thirsted and sacrificed and worshipped with their bodies.

The biblical religion is an earthy religion, full of dirt and flesh-tones. And this religion hits its climactic stride with what Tom Oden calls "the body language of God." Jesus comes in a body, dies in a body and rises in a new, glorious body: the firstborn from the dead. And he will return, return soon (maranatha) in that same body. And "we will meet him in the air," in bodies.

The Bible claims over and over again that bodies are good: corruptable, dangerous, but good. And if bodies are good, they also matter to God. So, what we do in and with our bodies is significant, connected to God's work in and through us and in and through the world.

We need to be convinced of the goodness and significance of our bodies if we are to engage in humble accountability. If what we do with our bodies is dirty or shameful, then why talk? If what we do with our bodies is unimportant or meaningless, then why talk? Goodness and significance make us care and hope and form a framework for the accountability that will help us be more like Christ in our bodies.

Tomorrow, I'll flesh out the body-of-Christ aspect of humble accountability.

Humble accountability

We have the potential to offer our friends a great deal of help as they follow Jesus. In fact, I would offer that if we don't help each other, many of us will cease to follow Jesus wholeheartedly in the years to come.

Most people would agree with this idea. We need each other.

But for many people, college presents a time of divided and dividing life. We develop pockets of rebellion, closets of darkness, and subterranian caverns of habitual sin. This is especially true when one considers the arena of our sexuality. How many people do you know who are struggling with pornography? How many couples do you know whose private sexual relationships don't reflect their public convictions? How many quiet rationalizations rise up around us during this time?

We need people to de-privatize our lives, to pull us out of the shadows, to remind us that our sin is not truly hidden, not truly private, and not without consequence.

We need what had come to be called accountability. And the key to good accountability in this arena is clear thinking about bodies. I'll blog more on this tomorrow!

Lauren Winner on Sex

My favorite essayist is Lauren Winner. You're heard me refer to her several time, talking about sleep or work. She writes with a great deal of insight and wisdom. Check out this excerpt from her book on sex:
The bottom line is this: God created sex for marriage, and within a Christian moral vocabulary, it is impossible to defend sex outside of marriage. To more liberal readers, schooled on a generation of Christian ethics written in the wake of the sexual revolution, this may sound like old-fashioned hooey, but is the simple, if sometimes difficult, truth.

To read more from her on this topic, go to this excerpt or (even better) buy the book: 'Real Sex'

Notes from Chaplain Park's Talk

Whenever Chaplain Park speaks at GCF, my notes always take a quote (rather than outline format). That being said, some of Chap's wise and helpful words include:

"What is it that distinguishes us from everyone else?"

"The presence of God, the Holy Spirit of God is our distinction (Ex 33:14, Mt 28:16-20)...Would it be like a loving Father to send us out alone?"

"What you have going on in you spills out. Relate to God and you will be witnesses. The more of God we have living in our souls, the more living we will have."

"If you had seen what they [the disciples] had seen, wouldn't you speak up? Would you be a witness? Why wait for the Holy Spirit then? Witness requires supernatural power."

"If you believe, you have the Holy Spirit; but don't be satisfied with a trickle when God offers you fountains, rivers of living water flowing up in you."

"Now, I'm not looking for a particular manifestation, but a supernatural one."

"Don't be afraid to receive this gift from God."

Notes from Dave's Talk

Last Sunday, Dave Shepley spoke on evangelism, using Rick Warren's reasons to live for the world. Here are his 5 points:

1. Your mission is a continuation of Christ’s mission
2. Your mission is a privilege
3. Telling others of eternal life is the best thing you can do for them.
4. Your mission has eternal significance.
5. Your mission gives your life meaning.

"The best use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it"
- William James

Prayers from Mock Convention (pt. 2)

Gracious God,

Thank you for the opportunity we've had here today. While we've been working this morning, we trust that you have been at work in us and in the world. Thank you, God.

We want to see change. We want to join you in changing this country and the world. But who are we to do this?

Are we people who will act justly
or people who will do anything for victory?
Are we people who will love mercy
or people who will seek power?
Are we people who will walk humbly before you, God,
or people who will strive against you to the bitter end?

The results are not final and none of us yet know who we will be. But we know who we want to be.

Gracious God, as we leave this convention, guide us to the Way, the Truth and the Life that will lead to justice, mercy and humility.

Keep us safe and make us holy.

Thank you, God.

In your great name we pray,
Amen.

Prayers from Mock Convention (pt. 1)

Gracious God,

We know that you love the students gathered here this morning. They are creative and intelligent, beautiful and strong, honorable and generous. Truly, they are made in your image. We appreciate them and worship you. You are amazing!

This morning, we hear you call to us "to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly" before you. But we confess that we often consider justice too costly, mercy too weak, and humility unelectable. We know this is not right; it's not your desire and it's not our desire. But this is the way it is. Please intervene, Lord.

We need you.
Our candidates need you.
Our parties need you.
The whole world needs you.

Please help us "to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly" before you.

As we enter into this morning's activities - learning, politicking, having fun - we don't exactly know how justice, mercy and humility will impact this process, but we want it to. Help us, God.

In your name we pray,
Amen

The Moral Witness of the Church

Dr. King presented one of the greatest identity-calls anyone has ever heard. Every year, I try to re-read his powerful "Letter from a Birmingham Jail". I'm moved every time I read it.

This year, the below quote spoke to me powerfully this year. As we think through our life as a witnessing community, let us listen to Dr. King.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

Resources to help with work

Check out the Renewing talks from Redeemer NYC.

Check out Lauren Winner's article on cell phones: "Against the Cell".

Check out Derek Anderson's article on perspective: "The Everything Trap"

Conference Details




Greek Conference
"Find out where Christianity and Greek-life connect."
When: Feb. 22-24 (2nd weekend of Feb Break)
Where: Greensboro, NC
Who: Greeks!
Cost: $50 (We'll scholarship the rest)
Register now! (Click here!)

Winter Conference
"Get the Word Out"
When: Feb. 8-10
Where: Rockbridge - Goshen, VA
Who: Anyone
Cost: $25 (We'll scholarship the rest)
Register now! (Download form off of Facebook: Winter Conference 08)

What happened to Work?

A horrible crime has been committed. Our relationship to work has been vandalized. I currently have three persons of interest (ie. suspects). Who should I investigate more intently?

My Current Persons of Interest:
- Technology
- Politics
- The Fall

Technology (height: shorter; weight: lighter)

Is technology behind the vandalization of our work?

New technologies give us tighter connections to the world around us. Think about how Facebook and Blackboard influence the way you do your school-work. Blackberries, cellphones and even pagers fill the working world. We can work anywhere, but now work follows us everywhere. Through technological ever-presence, work invades our lives.

The impact of technology on work extends to the macro-level as well. Technology has brought about big changes in the way the global labor market works. Jobs for humans have been replaced by machines. Jobs require more training, more specialization, more work-before-the-work. And so work has become more complicated and - for many - less rewarding.

Work invades our lives in new and more complicated ways every day. But the broken relationship to work is not limited to brilliant college students in rural Virginia in 2008. Places in the world without our technology feel this breakage. People throughout history have felt this breakage. The problem goes deeper and has been around longer. Technology may be a conspirator, an accessory to the crime even, but not the mastermind.

Politics (both right and left handed)
...Is the government not doing enough?
...Is the government doing too much?
...But there are problems with work across geography and history

Don't rush through Rush!

Tired feet drag along the Colonnade. Students go to class, but struggle to pay attention. Their minds drift, replaying last night's conversations. All 100 of them.

How can someone have 100 conversations in one night? Contact evangelism? Speed dating? Bartending? All of these seem like possibilities, but that's not what folks spent last night doing. This week is Rush Week (aka Formal Greek Recruitment Week). Rush week has taken a friendly, highly-relational campus community and made it...even more friendly?

Authentic connection seems rare during Rush. As people move from conversation to conversation, rushing from house to house - literally rushing - something happens. Rush stirs up our longing for deep relationship.

That longing - the longing for deep, authentic relationship - should resonate with us as Christians. This longing is stirred for us during worship, during silent retreats, during times of trial and temptation. God meets us in our longing, at the point of our longing. In our loneliness, God gives us himself and his church. This is what we have. This is what we extend to our friends.

So, don't rush through Rush! In all of your 100 conversations, you have an opportunity to extend to your new, potential friends a much-missed authenticity. You might have opportunities to present the gospel. You might have opportunities to listen in a Christ-like way. You might have opportunities to pray. Keep your eyes open. Don't rush through Rush!

Welcome back, servant-God!

Winter term has arrived! Friends reconnect on the hill, Small Group Leaders plan their first gatherings for the term, and the Large Group team wrangles some great ideas to help us go deeper. What is God doing during all this?

God is serving in the rush parties.
God is serving in the dorms.
God is serving in the classrooms.
God is serving in the dining hall.
God is serving the faculty.
God is serving the students.
God is serving the staff.
God is loving.
God is active.
God is a servant-God.

"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45

Let us also look for opportunities to serve.