Posts from Urbana 09

Next December, we'll gather in St. Louis with 20,000 students and missionaries at the Urbana Missions Conference:
Urbana is a large-scale, empowering missions event held every three years and is the most diverse gathering of students, recent graduates, missions practitioners and church leaders in North America. 
I've been to Urbana three times. I actually have had two job interviews at Urbana conferences. God has used Urbana to call and challenge me, to mold and shape me, to equip and inspire me.

At the last Urbana, I took time in between sessions to share what I was learning and thinking about during the conference. I've posted links to that series here:

Your Neighborhood is smaller/bigger than you think
Notes from Jim Tebbe's opening talk

Three M's from the Incarnation
Notes from Ramez Atallah's exposition from John 1:14

Grab Phrases
Conferences like Urbana have a ton of content. Here are some of the potent quotes.

Trust in the Sovereignty of God (Patrick Fung and Greg Jao)
An interview with the President of OMF and Urbana's MC (and chief celebrity)

Five Steps for Nathaniel
Notes from Ramez Atallah's exposition of John 1

The Short Post
A quick reflection on the day's teaching

It's about the Kenosis, Stupid
A more thorough reflection/application of the incarnation

A Credible Witness
Why don't people believe us?

What are you so afraid of?
An application from Brenda Salter-McNeil's sermon.

The Gospel Looks Fake
A reflection on the ethnic diversity at Urbana (and in the church)

The Secret is Where You Start
Seriously ... start small, here, now

The New One is not like the Old One
God's kingdom is a kingdom unlike any we've ever seen

Mercy, not sacrifice

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

This quote from the Old Testament comes up several times in the Gospels. Jesus says that things would be very different in the world if people understood this truth about God.

Mercy, not sacrifice ... this is what God desires.

We tend to exalt sacrifice in campus ministry. Sacrifice moves us.

We tell stories of sacrifice: the young man whose parents disowned him when he decided to be a missionary to students, the student who rides the bus for an hour to lead a Bible Study on campus, the Staffworker who sets aside great opportunities to follow Jesus.

There is something beautiful about sacrifice.
But that is not what God desires.

It's not that sacrifice is evil. God himself sacrificed himself for us, for our good and for our salvation. And through history, God has used our sacrificial systems to communicate to us truth about ourselves and about him.

But God desires mercy, not sacrifice.

One reason for this is very straightforward. If all God wanted was sacrifice, we would quickly create systems that required other people to sacrifice. Humans have a wild capacity to ask others to sacrifice. We ask children to sacrifice for our careers. We ask young soldiers to sacrifice for our safety. We ask the poor to sacrifice for our financial freedom.

And religious systems have frequently used principles of sacrifice oppressively. The hungry are asked to sacrifice because we don't harvest on the Sabbath. The sick are left sick because we don't want to dishonor the Sabbath. Sacrifice.

God desires mercy, not sacrifice because he wants us to be merciful toward others, and not sacrifice them.

The second reason God desires mercy is because he is merciful. God did not give us what we deserved. He held back. He showed mercy. Our devices and desires demanded that we be sacrificed, for the good of humanity, for our own good even (that we not be allowed to grow in our evil). But God choose to show mercy.

God wants us to be merciful because he is merciful.

Our world is full of conversation about sacrifice. In economics, people are talking about shared sacrifice. In politics, people are talking about sacrificing ego and agenda in order to compromise and work together. In the church, people are talking about sacrifical serving and sacrifical giving.

But there's very little conversation about mercy.

What would happen if the people of God decided to be merciful wherever they could, whenever they could, with whoever they could?

Start to obey today

There will always be a better time to begin being obedient.

But delayed obedience is a form of disobedience.

If God prompts you to pray, pray immediately, even if you can't pray for long, even if you don't know exactly what to pray about.

If God prompts you to give, don't wait too long. Don't give greed and selfishness time to chip away at the generous impulses of the Spirit.

If God prompts you to serve, don't put it off. Don't run the risk that he will move on and do the beautiful thing he wanted to do without including you.

If God prompts you to forgive, do it quickly, before the seeds of bitterness take root in the soil of your soul.

What would happen if all of God's people were quick to obey?

Health and Wealth and Knowledge

How do you know that God is pleased with someone? What does God's favor look like? What will you find if you look at the life of a thriving Christian?

One false gospel claims that the best Christians will be healthy. Freedom from sickness reflects your freedom from sin. A healthy body stands as the outward manifestation of a healthy soul. Strengthening your faith-muscles gives you a healthy glow. You'll live long.

Except that this didn't work for Jesus or the early church. Few lived to ripe old age.

Another false gospel claims that the best Christians will be wealthy. God blesses those he loves with material abundance. To the faithful, more will be given. God enlarges your tent if you obey him (especially with the tithe). You will prosper.

Except that this didn't work for Jesus or the early church. Few lived with great wealth.

Live long and prosper. Few evangelical Christians will claim that this is the goal of life or the good news about Jesus. Jesus didn't join our humanity, live a life of love, die on the cross, conquer sin and death, and rise to new life just so we can live long and prosper. He wants more for us than health and wealth.

We know this.

We ... know ... this.

Know.

This is the temptation for us. To measure by knowing. To measure not by health and wealth, but by knowledge.

Which books have you read?
Who and what can you quote?
Who do you recognize?
Do you know arcane theological terms?
Do you know the Alpha according to its nature?
Did you catch that reference to the Infancy Gospel of Thomas?


Knowledge, like health and wealth can become a false North Star for the Christian life. It's tempting for us to think that all God wants from us is to grow in knowledge, that a little more knowledge will solve all our problems. We look for answers in the latest books. Fight the latest controversies, thinking that if we're on the right side, we'll be accepted by God. We think that a little more knowledge will end war, end poverty, end racism and sexism and fanaticism.

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This is where the Haiti Test comes in so handy.

The Haiti Test is a test my friend Evan Keller over at Entrust uses to fish for cultural snobbery in spiritual life. It goes like this: "if it isn't true in Haiti, it isn't true at all." The Haitians who most love Jesus don't experience health and a wealth. The earthquake shook everyone. Disease and poverty effects everyone. And the godliest people seem to suffer significantly.

With this in mind, it certainly wouldn't be fair to claim that a man in Haiti who was never taught to read can never be as favored by God as faux-Ivy Leaguers like me. By virtue of my education and comparative wealth, I will always have more knowledge, more access to knowledge, than that man in Haiti (and most of the people who ever lived).
---------------------------------------------

Now, you might say "Didn't Jesus have knowledge? And weren't the founders of the church wise?"

Sure. I'll give you that. But so were the Pharisees and the Sophists. They memorized the Scriptures. They were in constant dialogue with the most brilliant minds of their day. But they still missed out on Jesus.

Though wise, Jesus didn't make wisdom our goal. He didn't say "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you have great knowledge."

What did Jesus say?

If the mark of a disciple of Jesus isn't knowledge or health or wealth, what is it?

Seasons of Vocation

What do you do when a job you loved doesn't look so lovely?

I've had several conversations this week with folks who are finding themselves feeling uncomfortable with their jobs. Asked a year or two back, they would have said that they had a perfect job. Ask them today and you'll hear awkward stammering.

The world of vocation has shifted in our generation. 

It used to be that you worked in a job or for a company for decades ... until retirement. My mentor, Bill, worked for Kodak for something like 30 years. 30 years. Can you believe that? 

Today's job market isn't built for long-term commitment. And we aren't equipped (or willing) to make the sacrifices to roll with traditional vocational structures. We have different expectations for work.

I've seen this first-hand in my life. My desire to be a present father has deeply influenced my recent vocational shift (ie. the move from Campus Staff to Area Director). I knew that I couldn't work in the same rhythms and still be the kind of father I wanted to be.

This is one reason people fall out of love with jobs. A job that fit you in one stage of life may not fit you in another. That's not a criticism of the job, the people you work with, the organization, mission or cause. In fact, you may be able to adapt and thrive despite your shifting life stage. Or you may need to look for something else.

If you're finding yourself loving a job less and less, take a quick look at your life season. Was there a recent change that could explain the discontent?

Who do you know that is experiencing vocational discontent? Do you think you could help them see that a change in life stage may require changes around their work?

What is VS What could be

"Leadership is all about vision."

How often have you heard that? Vision ... painting a picture of what could be, making it feel like it should be ... that's vision, that's leadership.

Or is it?

As I've engaged in more intensive fundraising through December, I'm wondering whether I should talk about "what is" or "what could be".

I've been reporting to donors, letting them know how their money has been put to work and letting them know what God has been doing through our ministry.

And it's kind of exciting. We have 305 students involved. 9 chapters. 11 conversions. 17 supporting churches and over 100 donors.

God is doing amazing things: taking care of our students, taking care of us.

But I wonder if I'm showing enough "leadership."

We're serving 305 students but have only 3 paid Staff. We have generous supporters, but are running pretty short of our operating budget (you don't want to know the numbers). We're reaching 9 campuses, but I know of 14 campuses in our Area that have 0 campus ministry whatsoever.

We could have 500 students involved pretty easily.
We could add several staff pretty easily.
We could plant ministry on most of those empty campuses ... pretty easily.

But this sounds so sales-pitchy: "We could do all this stuff if we just had enough resources."
And this sounds so independent: "We could do this and we could do that ... and sprinkle some Jesus in there somewhere."

But I'm told that this is "vision" ... this is leadership. And I wonder why it makes me feel so uncomfortable. Am I even a real leader?

How do you decide when to talk about "what is" and when to talk about "what could be"?

What would Jesus picket?

"I'm against picketing ... but I don't know how to show it"
                                                           - Mitch Hedberg
The Westboro clan plans to come to Broward College Central tomorrow. These are the people who picket soldiers' funerals and carry signs talking about all of the people God hates. They call themselves Westboro Baptist Church, but I'm not sure I want to call them "Baptist" or a "church."

What would you do if the Westboro people showed up at your school (or workplace or church or party or neighborhood)?

I'm tempted to counter-protest, to pick a fight, to make a scene.
I'm tempted to flood the airwaves, steal traffic and divert attention.
I'm tempted to overwhelm them with love and kindness.
I'm tempted to convert, infiltrate their organization and do something incomprehensible.

But then I imagine Jesus' response to them and get confused. He did all of these things.

He made a whip and drove out the moneychangers.
He drew the crowds away from the religious hypocrites.
He healed and forgave and protected.
He died on the cross and rose from a grave.

And I realize that I can't do all of these things. Not all at once, at least.

So, what should I do? What should we do?

4 Challenges to Biblical Inerrancy

As I mentioned in yesterday's post (Understanding the Other Side), I had the opportunity recently to play Devil's Advocate in a debate about biblical inerrancy.

Biblical inerrancy is a tough topic to pin down. When I think about it, I think about the idea that Bible is true and trustworthy, accurate and reliable, perfect and authoritative. I think this a great doctrine. So, how would you attack it?

Here are the four best arguments I could find to represent the anti-inerrancy side ...

Contradictions

The Bible is full of apparent, on-the-face contradictions.

What is Jesus' genealogy? Did Jesus feed 4,000 or 5,000 or both? How many angels were at Jesus' tomb? What were Jesus' last words? Google "bible contradictions" and you'll find a lot of people who excel at close reading and need new hobbies.

Contradictions seem to undermine claims that the Bible is perfect. Sure, we can still trust the Bible even if it has some imperfections, but where does this leave inerrancy?

Incoherence

The story of the Bible unravels and unfolds turn by turn. We learn more and more about God and his ways as the story unfolds. Some laws pass away (yay cheesburgers!). Some practices pass away (sacrifices for ex.). Some institutions pass away (temples and Levites).

And this raises the question: "what does it mean to say that the whole Bible is inerrant?" There are parts of it that we can learn from, but shouldn't obey. There are parts that are outright lies and errors (see Job's friends' speeches). For generations people have talked about "a canon within the canon," prioritizing some scriptures above others. But where does this leave inerrancy?

Process

The Bible you read today didn't descend from heaven and it wasn't mined from the earth. It came to us through a long and convoluted process. This process involves transcription, transmission, canonization and (for us non-Greek-readers) translation.

Most tight definitions of inerrancy hold that the Bible was only perfect in autograph form (ie. only the first edition was perfect). After that, errors creep in. As do biases. Where does this leave inerrancy?

Authority

The last challenge has to do with the locus of authority. Is the Bible your authority or someone else? Most evangelicals would say that the Bible is the ultimate authority (sola scriptura). Inerrancy protects our capacity to trust the authority of the Bible.

But where did we get the Bible? And how do we read it?

The reality is that the early, proto-orthodox church decided on the contents of the Christian Bible (for more on this, see The Canon of Scripture by FF Bruce). And we bring our community with us when we read the Bible (try to read Romans without hearing a Luther track laid over Paul). The fingerprints of men are all over the Bible.

Where does this leave inerrancy?

Can you think of other significant challenges to biblical inerrancy?

Understanding the other side

This past week, we had a debate at FIU MMC about biblical inerrancy. The concept of inerrancy revolves around whether or not the Bible is true and trustworthy, accurate and reliable, perfect and authoritative.

As a Staffworker with InterVarsity I regularly affirm:
The unique divine inspiration,
entire trustworthiness
and authority of the Bible.
I believe in biblical inerrancy, as do all of our leaders. But, for the purposes of the debate, we needed to find someone (on short notice) who could represent the other side.

So, I stepped up.

I presented a 30 minute argument, answered questions and did my best to represent the a theological position that I don't hold.

Have you ever tried to do that, to represent the other side?

As I prepared, I found myself struggling to empathize with the other side. All of their arguments seemed easy to unravel. They lacked nuance or a complete picture of the facts.

Often, discourse stops that this point. We assume the other side are all pinheads. We assume they are idiots or jerks or fools. We listen to people who affirm our views and affirm our views until we can't understand how anyone can disagree with us.

Look at politics or theology. You'll see distinct communities ... tribes ... who gather and amplify each other's beliefs. Amplification in the echo chamber can be great (or horrible). And it often comes at the cost of empathy and understanding.

What do you do to help yourself better understand the other side?

A Psalm for the South Florida Area

This was scribbled in my journal as a reflection exercise as part of my day-long retreat on Monday. It's based off of Psalm 103, a psalm reflecting on God's past goodness and grace.

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
  all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
  and forget not all his benefits - 
who unites us to himself
  and removes all our rebellion,
who holds us together when we're out of control
  and keeps us from collapsing,
who does the work despite our inadequacy
  so that our youth is not spent in vain.

The Lord sees and cares about the unseen and unregarded and unreached.

He guided Doug Stewart as he drove up and down the coast,
  planting seeds of ministry that waited decades to sprout.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, 
  slow to give up and abounding in creative generosity.
He will not always accuse,
  nor will he abandon our Area forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
  or repay us according to our selfish past.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
  so great is his love for our ministry teams.
As far as the East is from the West,
  so far has he removed our disobedient strategies from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
  so the Lord has compassion on the students who long for revival on their campuses;
for he knows how we were formed,
  he remembers our limited capacity.

As for our Staff, our days are like grass,
  we flourish in ministry for a season;
our call or our funding shifts
  and our chapters soon forget us.
But from everlasting to everlasting,
  the Lord's love is with our students
  and his righteousness with the generations that follow,
with those who follow his calling
  and remember his love, grace and truth.

The Lord has established his throne in heaven
  and his kingdom extends to every campus.

Praise the Lord, you Christian faculty
  you wise ones who love his truth,
  who love students for his sake.
Praise the Lord, all you Staff,
  you beautiful servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, every campus,
  everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.

Have you ever tried re-writing a Psalm to help you reflect and express yourself to God? Try it out!

Out of Rhythm

The "holidays" throw us out of rhythm.

We tend to operate on a weekly and daily rhythms. Every week has a rhythm: church, football, work, work, work, football, etc ... And every day has a rhythm: alone time, God time, work, family time, tv time, sleep.

But during the holidays ... no rhythm. Every day looks different. Every week looks different.

Seasons of disturbed rhythm can be very helpful:
  • They can release us from areas of unhealth in our regular rhythms
  • They can re-energize us
  • They can allow us to work on short projects
  • They can help us focus on what really matters
For example, over the last week, I've spent a lot more time with Amy and Will. I've read quite a bit, spent a lot of time in prayer and have listened to a lot of podcasts (Amy, Will and both of the dogs sleep in the car). It's been a good time ... out of rhythm.

But now I'm getting back into a rhythm, even if only for the few weeks before Christmas.

And as I do, I find myself paying careful attention to the things that make it into my new rhythm. Moments of rhythm-construction provide us with windows into the condition of our souls.

The rhythm I'm constructing this week (and for the next) is full of frantic work.
The rhythm I'm constructing this week has no space for exercise.
The rhythm I'm constructing this week has little space for God or my family.
This feels problematic.

But the problem isn't the new rhythm. That's temporary and easily fixed. It's a small task to rearrange your schedule. But what if our rhythms reflect realities that exist in our hearts?

"Why am I constructing this particular rhythm?" This is a question that we can all ask during times of transition, creating space for insight and reflection. Use the turmoil around the holidays to take a peek at your heart. What's going on in there? You can tell a lot by the rhythms you create.

What do you notice about the rhythm you're creating in this space between Thanksgiving and Christmas?

The Oppression of the Fair

Fair is fine as long as we're just going for a ride

Many of us hold fairness in high esteem.

But what does "fairness" look like?

Fairness frequently means that everyone gets treated exactly the same. Equal pay. Equal portions. Equal time and attention.

In a fair world we are judged on our merits. This can be a motivating force. Work hard and, in a fair world, you will be rewarded. Treat people fairly and, in a fair world, you will be respected.

You could make an argument that fairness makes the world go around.

But fairness can also become oppressive.

Out of a desire for fairness, we race to the bottom. We refuse to do good because we can't do it for everyone. We treat everyone fairly, but no one well.

And, out of a desire for fairness, we focus on our rights, what we deserve and want, what we've earned and what everyone else is getting. This focus blinds us to what we have, robs us of gratitude.

And, out of a desire for fairness, we ignore people's differences. We miss out on the good and beautiful gifts diverse communities have to offer. We treat everyone fairly, but long for something more.

We all, secretly, when pushed, desire more than fair treatment. Friendship. Love. Grace. These are all unfair ... and beautiful.

Instead of fairness, we should pursue generosity, goodness, godliness and gratitude. After all, isn't this what God, through Christ, has given us?

Where have you seen fairness fail to satisfy?

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com and penywise

Gratitude


What do you have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Overwhelmed


 How do you feel when God calls you to do something huge?

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Unfair


What could be better than fairness?

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Naturally Disappointed


Have you ever been disappointed by someone who didn't know your expectations?

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng and jlumbv

Access


How hard is it to get through the front door of your ministry?

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng and jelle80nl

Travel project

Inspired by the folks over at despair.com and the Demotivators meme, I'll post a couple of captioned pictures between now and Tuesday.

Have a wonderful weekend!

3 Steps Toward Outside the Box Ministry

The box is a cage ... escape!
Describe the box

Before you can intentionally step outside the box, you need to find the walls of the box. You need to acknowledge the walls. You need to describe the walls.

Describing the box helps us generate a desire to escape. Will. It takes an enormous amount of will to break outside the box. The box is comfortable and safe and becomes invisible quickly.

A clear knowledge of your limits helps you grow.

Create a visualization

I find this so helpful. I draw out our systems. Boxes and circles and lines. Notecards and whiteboards. Flowcharts.

It's one thing to know the box, it's another thing to see the box.

My idea generator kicks into high gear when I start sketching.

Break down and swap

Once you've described and visualized the box, try a swap exercise.

Think about it with new student outreach ...
Instead of ice cream, try attracting people through a social justice cause.
Instead of short conversations with the many, pursue deep conversations with a few.
Instead of asking them to join us, offer to join them in what they're doing.

The easiest way to break outside the box is to pick a wall and push.

Where do you need to push?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com and hotblack

Incremental thinking locks the box

Enter the box at your own risk

Remember the rotary phone?

Technology improved and the rotary phone became quaint. Soon, every phone had buttons. Then they lost their cords. Then they worked in the car, then anywhere. Phones got smaller and thinner.

Then someone thought outside the box.

Phones started getting bigger again. Now, they have cords you can attach when you need them. And I wouldn't be surprised if, eventually, those Apple folks put their iPod rotary device (aka "click wheel") on a new iPhone.

Thinking outside the box turned a phone into an iPhone, into a smart phone.  All of the sudden, people stopped thinking about how to make the box bigger and better and started to think about how to escape the box.

To break the lock on the box, you have to give up on incremental thinking.

What does this look like?

Take something that's super-InterVarsity, super-campus ministry ... new student outreach. Every Fall, every InterVarsity community all across the United States connects with new students. All of these InterVarsity groups do something that looks like an Ice Cream Social. Good advertisement. Good organization. Good follow-up. Lots of ice cream and lots of students to connect with

But chapters tend to flat-line with NSO. Eventually they reach the same number of students every year and, no matter how much better you make your ice cream social, you can't break that threshold.

One outside the box idea that broke that threshold was a progressive dinner. We engaged fewer students (40 rather than 200), but had more of them stick with us (35 rather than 20). More attention, deeper connection, longer involvement. Outside the box.

But how do we come up with the ideas?

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com and karpati

Short Series: Outside the Box Ministry

How would you escape this box?


Getting outside the box is one of the most difficult things to do in campus ministry. 

With every campus ministry ... InterVarsity, Cru, FCA, Wesley, BCM, BSU, CCM, RUF, Navs ... you'll find pretty much the same structures (something that looks like NSO, something that looks like Large Group, something that looks like Small Groups, etc ...). It's hard to get outside the box in ministry.

Churches struggle to get outside the box too.  So do justice ministries.  So do missions agencies.  It's hard to get outside the box in ministry.

Outside the box ministry comes from outside the box thinking.

Thought patterns around ministry often focus on expansion and improvement. "How can we do what we've always done but just do it a little bigger, a little better?" And this would be fine ... except for the box.

And there is a box, right? Campus ministries plateau. Sometimes this happens to an individual campus. Sometimes it happens to an entire organization.


How do we think outside the box?  Let's do a Short Series.

Photo courtesy of chadra and MorgueFile.com

Why the grass on the other side of the fence almost always looks greener

"I'm not sure, but I swear the grass is greener over there"
"The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence"

This proverb isn't in the Bible, but don't you wonder if it should be?

Think about your health, your relationships, your body, your home, your job ... your life.  Aren't you tempted sometimes to think that everything would be better if you could just get "over there"?

There are two reasons ... big reasons ... why the grass on the other side looks greener.

The first reason the grass looks greener is Ignorance.

That better marriage may be icy.  That better job may be boring.  That better house may have a huge mortgage.  That better body may have cancer.  "Better" isn't always better, but we struggle to see this.

The metaphorical fence that stands between us and the greener grass keeps us from seeing the downside.  And the upside catches our attention.

I remember thinking I might go to graduate school and become a professor, so I'd be able to leave the stress of fundraising behind.  A few months later, we had some freshly minted professors join our Small Group and ... all of the sudden ... the grass on the other side of that fence didn't look so green.  Deadlines and job insecurity, bureaucracy and meetings and costumes.  There was a lot I didn't know.

So much of our dissatisfaction in life is due to mistaken ideas formed in ignorance of the facts.  Before you quit your job or your marriage or your church, check yourself for ignorance.

The second reason the grass looks greener is that it really is greener.

As a homeowner, I've had brown grass.  I've had dead, brown grass-pretending-to-be-dirt, lying flat beside a neighbor's sweet green turf.  I didn't care well for my grass and - as a result - the grass on the other side was greener.

And maybe this is the point.

Who cares if the grass is greener on the other side?  If the problem is with me, it won't matter which side of the fence I'm on.  If my grass is dead because of my mis-management, that fresh field on the other side of the fence won't be green for long.

There's much to be said for godliness with contentment.  

What would life look like if you were just content?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com and HaddyConsulting

Bonus photo comes from the good people over at despair.com.  It's a great place to do your ironic Christmas shopping.

Wherever you go, there you are

Focus on the Family ... of Jesus



Jesus showed up in a human family, a messy, crazy, wild human family.

The Gospel of Matthew starts with a genealogy, displaying this family.  I'm always tempted to skip over genealogies in the Bible.  I know that all Scripture has value, but some passages have a value that's harder to see.  But there's something special about this genealogy.

On the surface, the most interesting thing is the inclusion of women.  Even though Jewish identity is traditionally passed down through the mother, all of the genealogies in the Bible focus on fathers.

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah's wife ... these women all stand outside the normal stream of God's people.  They are included through marriage, through desperation, through stories filled with pain.  But their names are remembered.

In Jesus' family, you find a liar, a weakling, a thief ... and that's just the patriarchs.  Other ancestors visited prostitutes, murdered rivals, cheated on their wives, had multiple wives, worshipped other gods, and took advantage of the poor.

And then there's the dozen or so people we've never heard of, names like Shealtiel, Abihud, Azor, and Matthan.  In fact, most of Jesus' ancestors were ordinary people, people you've never heard of.

What does all this tell us?

Jesus enters a diverse family.
Jesus enters an imperfect family.
Jesus enters an ordinary family.

And his ongoing family ... the church ... we're not that different.

Jesus joined with people like us: people who's families are unique, people with characters in their family, and people who don't know their roots.  He joined us ... united himself to us ... to save us.

How could Jesus save us if he wasn't part of our family?

"The Last Judgment: Jacob, Abraham and Isaac in Heaven" by Andrei Rublev courtesy of WikiPaintings.org

Which Son is the Lost Son?



Have you heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son?

A father has two sons.  The younger son demands his inheritance before his father passes away, squanders it and then comes home looking for mercy.  The father welcomes his son home and throws a party.  But the older son refuses to participate.

Which son is truly lost?

At the end of the story, the younger son is in the father's house, enjoying the party.  The older son is out in the field, angry enough to die. And we learn something about each of them.

The younger son understands the father's mercy.  He manipulates and takes advantage, first in the shake-down, then in the return.  But he receives the father's kindness.

The older son doesn't seem to understand the father.  He acts surprised by the father's mercy to the younger son.  He feels like he's slaved away all these years, trying to please his father, without success.  And when the father tries to bring him into the party, he refuses.

Which son is truly lost?

I guess you can be lost, just out in the field.  You can be lost even after years of doing the father's work.  You can be lost and well-behaved.  You can be lost, even as you talk with the father about "the lost."

How do you know if you're lost or not?

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt courtesy of WikiPaintings

Fully Adopting Jesus

You knew that Jesus was adopted, right?
Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary ... Adopted by a guy named Joseph.

Somehow, this third clause never made it into any of the ancient creeds. 

But maybe it belongs.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit: Jesus is linked to God.
Born of the Virgin Mary: Jesus is linked to humanity.
Adopted by a guy named Joseph: what does this show us?

Over my years of campus ministry, I've heard painful and beautiful stories of adoption.

One of my friends, through tears, shared that his adoptive son started asking questions about his birth parents.  The son felt confused, unwanted.  And his adoptive father ... his father ... well, his tears came because he remembered the season before the adoption.  He remembered the longing, the prayer, the saving up and selling stuff and sacrifice ... all so he and his wife could welcome this child into their family. 

The son was wanted.

And perhaps this is a hint to Joseph's place. 

An adoptive parent does a wonderful, mysterious thing.  An adoptive parent shoulders a burden that doesn't naturally (literally, by nature) belong to them.  An adoptive parent includes the child into a new family story.  An adoptive parent says "Even though you weren't born into my family, you are my family." 

Through Joseph, Jesus is linked to the large and wild biblical narrative.  Jesus is adopted into a family with kings and prostitutes, liars and warriors, people of faith and doubt and perseverance.

Now, you might think, like me, that Jesus being born of the Virgin Mary (who was a Jewish teenager) would already link him this wild biblical narrative.  But in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, Jesus' ancestry is traced through Joseph, the adoptive father.

We could dig into why the gospels trace the genealogy through Joseph and not Mary, parsing theology and revisiting the church fathers.  But I notice another facet of the story here.

Look at how completely Jesus was adopted!

Jesus may have been conceived without Joseph, born without Joseph ... but his story can't be told without Joseph.  His adoptive father was fully a father to him.

And by being adopted, Jesus becomes truly like us. 

As we stand before God, as his children, we are all adopted.  We are all wanted and chosen and included in our Father's story.  And though we may not know how to live in this new family, as adopted children, we have a Savior who knows what it means to be adopted.  Perhaps he can help us.

Why does it matter that Jesus was adopted?

"St. Joseph and the Christ Child" by El Greco, courtesy of WikiPaintings

A Gospel Written to Make Disciples?


I've always had trouble understanding the Gospel of Matthew.

Luke tells us why he's writing his Gospel:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Mark also lays it out:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,
And John, you've got to read to the end, but he also says:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
But what is the Gospel of Matthew all about?  Why did he write it?

This month I'm studying Matthew in my personal time in Scripture.  I'm listening to a sermon series, reading a commentary and really, really digging through Scripture.

Today, I read an idea by Stanley Hauerwas, that Matthew wrote his Gospel to help men and women become disciples of Jesus.  This resonates with the Great Commission, which calls the church to make disciples.  Will this idea hold up as a guiding idea for the Gospel?

Why do you think Matthew wrote his Gospel?

"Inspiration of St. Matthew" by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, courtesy of wikipaintings.org

Forget the chicken and egg


What do you do when you identify a problem?

Your ministry has plateaued.
You feel distant from your children.
You see your weight increase to unhealthy levels.
You are having trouble communicating with your spouse.

If you're anything like me, you want to get to the bottom of it, whatever "it" is.  You want to figure out why the problem is happening before you try to fix it.  You want to deal with the problem at the source, pull it up by the roots.

But, sometimes, this sets us on the Do Nothing Path.

Some problems remain difficult to unravel.  Do I feel distant because we're not communicating or are we not communicating because I feel distant?  Do I overeat because I'm sad or am I sad because I overeat?  Am I doubting my call because of the plateau or is the plateau flowing from my doubt?  Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

When we can't get to the source of the problem, we freeze.  We remain inactive, waiting for a solution that will allow us to backtrack out of our problem.

But, sometimes, the way out is to move forward.
And, sometimes, insight into the source is hidden in the solution.

What would happen if we stopped obsessing over the source and moved on to the solution?

Photo courtesy of MorgueFile and peachyqueen
For a funny video on this theme, check out "Fix it" from SNL

Reading Scripture in Church and Other Small Things



I had the opportunity to read Scripture at church this week.  Once a month or so I get to grab a microphone, a Bible and a break between songs to read a pre-selected passage.

Our church tries to have Scripture read every week.  When possible, we even have people read in both English and Spanish (though it is funny that we read the NVI but would never read the NIV).

When I read Scripture as part of worship, here are some thoughts that go through my mind ...

"Thank you Jesus I'm not singing!"
"What does the passage say?"
"What does the passage mean?"
"Does my reading capture both?"
"Slow down and e-nun-ci-ate"
"Don't forget to say 'This is the word of the Lord'"
"Run!"

I can read well without any preparation, but I like to prepare:
  • I study the context of the reading to better understand the meaning.
  • I try out various rhythms and inflections to better communicate the meaning.
  • I read the passage, aloud, over and over so my delivery is smooth.
  • I try to memorize (even though I'll be reading).
  • I pray that people would be - not just hearers of the word - but doers also.

It's easy to take small responsibilities like this lightly, to wing it.  But there is a certain joy to being faithful in small things.  That attention to detail, that extra 5 minutes ... that may mean nothing in a 3 hour-long seminar.  But it could mean a lot in a 1 minute-long Scripture reading.

Where is God giving you opportunities to be faithful in small things?

For God's Sake Take Notes in Church


Today, millions of people will sit, listen to preaching and forget everything that is said.

Every week, I spend 38 minutes listening to my pastor preach.  Over the course of a year, this adds up to over 32 hours ... listening.  I want to remember what I've heard.

This desire to remember is bigger than a miserly desire to maximize my time.  Most preaching is worth remembering.  Someone has looked at Scripture, thought about how to communicate, and has delivered a sermon.  Out of respect, I should do my best to remember their ideas (even their bad ideas!).

But that's not all.

God speaks to us through his word, molding and shaping us, commissioning us and equipping us for his mission in the world.  And for his sake, I can't let sermons bounce in one ear and out the other.

That's why I take notes in church. 

I want to remember what I hear.

What do you do to help yourself remember what you hear?

5 Ways to Overcome Creative Blocks


Work creatively for long enough and you'll get creative blocks.

When this happens, pressure builds.  You need a sermon illustration, but have no ideas.  You need an essay topic, but nothing comes to mind.  You need a recipe, but nothing's appealing.

Committed creatives push through these blocks (or try to!).

Here are 5 ideas that can help you overcome creative blocks ...

1) Change your environment

This is my go-to move when I'm writing.  I turn the TV off (or on).  I turn the music on (or off).  I sit on the floor or stand at the table.  Sometimes I change venue (from office to living room or coffee shop).  Sometimes I change clothes.

Our environment has a big impact on our creative capacity.  Distractions and multi-tasking temptations drain energy needed to break through mental blocks.  Small changes in environment can quickly and easily have a big impact.

2) Hunt for the source of the block in the bigger picture ... and remove it!

From the ground level of environment to the 10,000 feet.  Big picture, is there anything keeping you from creating?  Are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired?  Are you pressed for time?  Are you afraid?

Often, our creativity blocks have nothing to do with our particular creative task. 

This summer, I was creating a sermon while also carrying on a very emotional e-mail exchange with a relative.  I kept getting frustrated with my writing ... "Why isn't this coming together?  Why am I blocked?"  The answer was simple.  The emotional energy I would normally use to create the sermon was being poured into the e-mail exchange.  Once the source of the block was located, it could be easily removed (ie. compartmentalized).

3) Drop optional side projects (temporarily)

You may notice that my writing here on the blog sometimes slows mysteriously.  I'll have weeks where I only post once or twice.  I know that this is a little weird for those of you who get this in your inbox.  Days with nothing, then weeks with long posts.

When my creativity gets blocked in my work, I'll pause the blog to allow me to focus all of my energy on the project at hand.  Last week, I was preparing for a big evangelistic outreach on campus.  Next week, I'll be writing material for the LaFe Florida Conference.  So, I expect to write here a little less.

You only have so much creative energy.  Sometimes blocks appear when we're working at the edges of our energy.  We can get more energy (see above and below) or work with what we have.  I try to do both at the same time.

4) Repair your rails

The concept of "rails" is a concept I've learned from Todd Henry over at The Accidental Creative. [If you're unfamiliar with Todd's work, check out his podcast (available on iTunes)]

Rails are rhythms, habits and practices that free up creative energy for creating. 

By deciding "I'm going to try to write every day in 2010," I took away the need to make a decision every day on the "Am I going to write question?"  Your rails might be an editorial calendar, a writing ritual, a specific way you organize your equipment.

Creative blocks can emerge when our rails break down.  You find yourself spending all of your creative energy away from your creative arena. 

5) Re-examine your purpose for creating

Why are you doing this hard work?  Forget that and, eventually, you'll have a hard time creating. 

Everyone who works creatively needs to keep returning to the "Why" question.  The answer doesn't have to be profound.  It's okay to answer "For money" or "For fun."  But answer the question.

Clarity on the "Why" frees you to do your thing.  If you're doing this project for fun, have fun with it.  If you're doing it for money, adjust your expectations and focus on specifications and do sufficient work. 

We freeze up when we start treating paycheck work like it HAS to be fun or play work like it HAS to be perfect.  Knowing why you're doing it frees you up to actually do it (whatever "it" is).

What do you do when you hit a creative block?

On Incarnation and Inspiration

How did we get the Bible?

This question kept coming up during our outreach this week.  It's complicated.  Confusing.  Important.

Evangelical conversations around the origins of the Bible tend to focus on it's perfection and defensability.  God inspired human authors to produce the Scriptures.  Revelation.  "The Bible," Evangelicals say, "is inerrant and infallible." And I'm all for that.

But when I think about the Bible - and more specifically the doctrine of inspiration - inerrancy and infallibility aren't the first things that come to mind.

Attempting to run the right way around the circle, I start with Jesus.

We know God most clearly through Jesus.  Paul the Apostle and poet called Jesus "the image of the invisible God."  In Jesus we see God's character and priorities clearly displayed.  He reveals God perfectly to us.

But we tend to ignore this idea when it comes to talking about the Bible, inerrancy, and inspiration.  We tend to start in the wrong place, with a God who is abstract.  If God had revealed himself primarily as omniscient and omnipresent and omnipotent, we would expect the Bible to be primarily precise and thorough and beyond argument.

But what if God's revelation through Jesus sets a pattern for his revelation through Scripture?

God's revelation through Jesus wasn't precise.  It was full of horrible inefficiency.  Decades, dusty roads, death.  And people were so confused.  "What did he mean?  Why did he do that?  Who is he again?"  These questions swirl around Jesus, filling the air around him.

God's revelation through Jesus wasn't thorough either.  He forgot to talk about homosexuality, abortion, waiver wire pick-ups ... all of the important things.  Jesus focused on what he considered important, in both his action and teaching.  But his priorities weren't ours.

And, let's face it, God's revelation through Jesus wasn't beyond argument.  He had doubters and haters from the very beginning (think Herod), throughout his ministry (think Pharisees), at his death (think Romans), and to this very day (who do you think of?).  He left room for doubt.

But if precision, thoroughness, and ... well ... being beyond argument aren't the priorities that illuminate God's revelation, what does?

I don't know that I know, not exactly.  But I know it's messy and relational and enough.

What about you?  What do you think God's incarnation tells us about God's inspiration?

Show Respect in Evangelism



In InterVarsity, we work hard to show respect to the people we engage.

And this proves remarkably difficult when talking about the deep matters of our faith.

Perhaps you've experienced this.  A conversation about faith.  Some significant disagreement.  Your words can't convince.  It isn't as clear to them as it is to you.  You feel your face begin to flush.  Beat beatbeat beat. Your heart pumps a little faster.  And you start to say things.  Sarcastic things.  Snide things.  Arrogant things.

Disrespect.

When the flames of disrespect flicker behind my eyes, I'm a terrible evangelist.

Even if I'm talking about love and salvation and Jesus, that disrespect overwhelmes my words.  All my hearers hear is: "Breaking News - This guy thinks you're stupid, immoral, weak and ... mostly ... less than him."  And that sounds like bad news.

Showing respect is costly.

You don't get to say everything you want to say.
You don't get to show your depth of insight.
You don't get to share the full story.
You don't get to win.

But you might get heard. 

What do you think is the hardest part of showing respect in evangelism?

Photo courtesy of http://www.morguefile.com and Clarita

Anticipatory Fear



We're doing a big evangelistic outreach on campus tomorrow. 

We're hoping to help students take steps closer to Jesus, to generate conversations, to push people to rethink what they believe and why they believe it.

And I am afraid.

This fear has become familiar over the last several years.  I feel it almost every week.  It never goes away.  I feel it in my bones, aches of anticipation.

It doesn't take much to kick off this fear: evangelism, fundraising, preaching, new student outreach.  I'm so easily made afraid ... at least, in advance.

When I'm talking to potential donors or sharing the gospel or standing in front of a group of people and talking about Jesus, that fear mostly fades away.  For me, the hardest part is the anticipation.

My anticipatory fear causes me to flip through the worst possible outcomes, to expect resistance and persecution, to prepare myself for failure, for rejection.  Layer by layer, fear builds.

But in the face of anticipatory fear, I hear Jesus say:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
And here's why this is so important ...
  • Anticipatory fear weakens us to face the trials of today
  • Anticipatory fear forces us to face trials that never come
  • Anticipatory fear distracts us from what God is doing today
So, how do we combat anticipatory fear?

Photo courtesy of http://www.morguefile.com and monosodium

Saved to ... ?



But what happens after Jesus saves us?

Jesus saves us from sin. But what does he save us to?

Over the last few weeks, I've given this some thought and have three ideas. And for my baptist friends, they all start with the same letter (you're welcome).

Saved to sit

Our salvation is not conditional.  Jesus doesn't rescue us because we serve some greater purpose in his grander scheme.  The love God gives us is a gift, lavishly given.

Disciples of Jesus are invited to sit at his feet.  To worship.  To learn.

But too often followers of Jesus just sit.

And perhaps this wouldn't be a problem if our God was a stationary God.  But the God of the Bible is a mobile God, a God who wasn't carved by human hands or chained to an altar in a temple.  Even the grave could not contain him!

Saved to shelter

A decade or so ago, Larry Crabb cast a vision of the Christian community and titled it "The Safest Place on Earth." And there's something in this that rings true.  The church shouldn't just be a place to sit, but also a place to extend safety.  A shelter.

This idea informed the Celtic monastic communities.  Not shelters from the world.  Shelters for the world, placed strategically in the world, inviting the world to vibrant life in Christ.

This idea of shelter reminds us that there are other people who are also united to Christ.  This pushes against self-centeredness and against a temptation to make God in our image.

But we are saved for more than shelter.

Saved to serve

Our salvation comes through our union to Christ.  And he suffered and died, abandoned safety and security and shelter for the sake of the kingdom of God ... not to be served, but to serve ... and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Often, our theology of substitutionary atonement deceives us into believing that Jesus took all the pain onto himself, leaving us with a life of ease and comfort.  Calls to serve clang uncomfortably in our ears.

But serving opens up a fresh vein of intimacy with God.  If we don't serve the church in some way, we miss out.  We can connect with God when we sit and when we provide shelter.  But God is a servant.  And if we want to be with him, we must go and do likewise.

What else are we saved to? (bonus points if it starts with an "s")

Photo courtesy of http://www.morguefile.com

25 Great Ideas to Kickstart Crossing Cultures


  1. Read a book that had to be translated into your native language
  2. Cook a meal that’s a standard dish from another culture
  3. Watch movies and TV shows from a different cultural community
  4. Visit a culturally focused group on campus
  5. Jump on the computer and do some research
  6. Listen to diverse music
  7. Travel as a learner, not a tourist
  8. Make a friend from another cultural community
  9. Invite international students over for a meal
  10. Read a book about another culture
  11. Take a mission trip to another country
  12. Take a mission trip in your own city
  13. Set yourself up for a cross cultural church experience
  14. Pray for people in another cultural group
  15. Ask God to give you opportunities (and the courage to make the most of them)
  16. Learn some words and phrases in another language
  17. Look for opportunities to speak to someone in their native language
  18. Visit a restaurant that serves food from a cultural group that’s not your own
  19. Get to know your own culture a little better 
  20. Put yourself in a situation where you’re outnumbered
  21. Take a class that you think will open your eyes
  22. Learn some worship music from around the world
  23. Go to Urbana
  24. Study the theology of the Incarnation
  25. Read A Beginners Guide to Crossing Cultures
Got any other ideas?

4 Practices to Help You Cross Cultures


Short and sweet ... but useful ...

1) Be humble enough to hold your assumptions loosely
2) Be observant enough to allow your assumptions to be corrected
3) Be compassionate enough to sacrifice your comfort
4) Be on the lookout for opportunities to connect

3 Thoughts on Culture


Culture is everywhere. Culture is deep. Culture matters to God.

These three thoughts formed the theoretical framework for one of the seminars at Sonburst last weekend. Wes Foster and I had a great time leading A Beginners Guide to Crossing Cultures.  And I thought I'd pass these thoughts along to you ...

1) Culture is everywhere

If we're going to cross cultures, we need to know that the world is full of culture.  You can't escape culture.  There's no such thing as an acultural space.

Some cultures are distinctly marked by "cultural blindness."  Deeply in the majority, folks from these cultures often feel that they don't have a culture at all. [For more on this, check out J. Alex Kirk's excellent blog post Why McDonald's is Ethnic Food]

But we know, from our experience in missions and in student ministry, that everyone who engages in cross-cultural ministry starts somewhere ... starts in their own culture.

Seeing that culture is everywhere makes it possible to ...
  • Understand why crossing cultures is necessary
  • Figure out how to get started crossing cultures
2) Culture is deep

If our only principle around culture was "culture is everywhere," we might expect that crossing cultures is easy, comes naturally and happens all the time.  But that's not our experience, is it?

While some cultural artifacts float on the surface (music, food, fashion), there are powerful and almost immutable cultural forces residing in the depths of our souls (hierarchy, time-sense, communality, perception of determinism).

The deeply entrenched culture we carry with us into cross-cultural interactions could serve as an anchor, holding us back, or as a foundation, allowing us to build.

3) Culture matters to God

From Genesis to Revelation, culture matters to God.  God creates culture, shapes culture, enters culture, redeems culture.  And God sends his people to the ends of the earth, crossing cultures along the way.

So often, when we talk about crossing-cultures and diversity in the university, we ignore God's deep passion for cross-cultural relationship.  We forget that God can help us cross cultures.  We forget that all of this matters to him.

But the God who sent Jesus to redeem us sends us across cultures to tell the story of his love.  And if God could take on flesh, crossing from heaven to earth, ultimate culture crossing ... he can help us.

What other principles would help us cross cultures?

Anyone interested in culture would do well to read Andy Crouch's Culture Making

Photo courtesy of http://www.morguefile.com and grietgriet

The Beloved Community


What is the most distinct thing about the Christian community?

Two missteps ...

To think that we are more moral than other people

This holier-than-thou attitude drives people outside the Christian community crazy.  It makes them feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.  And on top of that, it's not true!

The Christian community, if you scratch the surface, ain't perfect.  We lie and cheat and hurt each other.  We get arrested and have skeletons in the closet.

To think that we are more useful than other people

Many of us inside of the Christian community act like God recruited us for our jump shooting ability.  He saw us playing before the foundation of the earth and knows that, with the Holy Spirit and a regimen of planking and squat-thrusts, we will change the world.

But God doesn't talk about our potential hardly at all.  Instead, he talks about his choice, his initiative, his love.

And this love is what makes us distinct.

The most distinct thing about the Christian community ... we're loved by Jesus

In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul sets to work to rework the household codes of ancient Rome, demonstrating the impact of the gospel on the closest inter-personal relationships ... but he gets distracted.

When talking about the love and respect that should characterize marriage, Paul wanders off and starts talking about the relationship between Christ and the Christian community.

And it's marked by love.

Love of mysterious origin
Love characterized by sacrifice
Love that brightens, cleans, presses and purifies
Nourishing love
Uniting love
Mysterious love

Is this what comes to mind when you think about Christ and the church?

Photo courtesy Morgue File and earl53

7 Exhibitors Who Helped Make Sonburst Great

This year, we made a more intentional effort to invite exhibitors to Sonburst.  We wanted to share access to our students, hoping that these exhibitors would help students lean into God's calling for them to enter into mission with all of their lives.  Here's who we managed to recruit to connect with our students ...
Asbury Theological Seminary
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Mission Year
Reformed Theological Seminary
The Underground Network
Veritas Study Abroad
Wycliffe Bible Translators

Who should we make sure to invite next year?

Seeing and Supporting


People who know InterVarsity tend to love InterVarsity.

But how do you get to know InterVarsity?

What if you weren't involved when you were in college?
What if there wasn't a group where you went to college?
What if you didn't go to college?

This year at Sonburst, we tried something different.  We invited the Staff team to think about people who we really wanted to give a chance to see InterVarsity.  And we created a program for these folks.

Some of them will help us connect with incoming students.
Others will pray for us.
Still others will advocate for us in local churches.
Wouldn't it be great if they supported the work financially?

We wanted to create space at Sonburst for people to see what God is doing so that they can understand why we ask them to support this work, to pray and serve and give.

Why would they support something they haven't seen?

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng and johnjazz

John Stott quote from Sonburst

I don't normally post quotes on this blog, but Femi Adeleye shared this reflection from John Stott on Matthew 25 during his talk on Friday night at Sonburst and I was curious enough to look it up ...

I was hungry,
   and you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned,
   and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked,
   and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick,
   and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless,
   and you preached to me the spiritual love of God.
I was lonely,
   and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so holy, so close to God
   but I am still very hungry – and lonely – and cold.

John Stott, Issues facing Christians today

Love God by Loving Your Neighbor


Femi Adeleye talked about the Parable of the Good Samaritan on the first night at Sonburst, challenging students to think about loving their neighbor.

One challenge we face, when talking about loving our neighbors, is to see how loving your neighbor is connected to loving God.

We often pit these two against each other.  The spiritual versus the physical.  Faith versus works.  The Social Gospel versus ... well ... can there be an Anti-Social Gospel?

And, in the story of the Good Samaritan, this tension appears.

The priest passes by the man on the side of the road and so does the Levite.  We don't know why they passed him by, but their spiritual vocations seem to indicate they had some religious purpose.  Perhaps they had just come from the Temple and didn't want to risk rendering themselves unclean by touching a dead body.  Perhaps they hurried off to prayer.  Maybe we're reading too much into the text.

Either way, the Good Samaritan, by helping the man on the side of the road, fulfilled the "Love your neighbor as yourself" part of the "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" answer.  But what about the "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" part of the answer?

In Matthew 25, Jesus says that whatever we do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of his, we have done for him.

So, loving your neighbor ... in some mysterious way ... is loving God.

How should this truth influence our conversations about loving God and neighbor?

Who is the church?


In our Jaded by the Church seminar, Danny wrapped things up with a talk about Jesus and the church ... out of Matthew 8-10.

A leper - rejected by the church - touched by Jesus.
A centurion - hated by the church - helped by Jesus.
A woman - ignored by the church - healed by Jesus.
A possessed man - feared by the church - set free by Jesus.
A paralyzed man - boxed out by the church - forgiven by Jesus.
A tax collector - shunned by the church - called by Jesus.
A dead girl and a sick woman
Blind Mute Lost Harassed Helpless

Jesus includes all of these in his ministry.

And in Matthew 10, he sends his disciples to go and do likewise ...
... to build the church with these people (and people like them).

As we follow Jesus, we become the church, extending Jesus' love to a jaded world.

What sort of church will we be?

Jaded by the church ... forgive

The conversation about forgiveness felt vital.

Forgiveness doesn't imply forgetfulness.
Forgiveness doesn't imply friendship.
Forgiveness doesn't imply innocence.

We helped students see why churches caused pain and hurt ... so they could forgive.

We helped students see their own contribution to pain and hurt caused by the church ... so they could forgive.

But forgiveness sometimes takes time to settle in. So we wonder what God will do after the conference.

What would help you forgive the church?

Jaded by the church ... approach

Teenagers, college students and 20somethings are leaving the church in droves.  A quick glance around the evangelical scene reveals gaps and fractures around our age group.

This is one of the reasons we're doing the "Jaded by the church" seminar.

But I'm worried about pushback (I'm almost always worried about this).

I don't want our conversation to devolve into "Bride Bashing."

God loves the church.  Mysteriously.  Wonderfully.  Graciously.

We should go and do likewise. 

This is why the confessional approach is so useful.  It acknowledges that the church is broken, that the church hurts people, that the church makes mistakes ... but it also personalizes.

It's one thing to wag your finger and say "You should forgive".
It's another thing to say "I apologize. Please forgive me ... and people like me."

Have you ever apologized for something someone else did?

Jaded by the church ... apology



Over the years, I've learned a lot about the Christian art of apologetics ...
  • classical apologetics (Father Gonzalez introduced us to Aquinas)
  • presuppositional apologetics (Pastor Vance shared Bahnsen)
  • conversational apologetics (Nikki Chao taped Ramsden)
  • humble apologetics (IVP published Sire)

And there's an apologetic opportunity at Sonburst (InterVarsity's Florida Divisional Fall Conference).  On Saturday afternoon, we'll have 70-100 of the conference's 500 students in a room to hear about "Jaded by the church."

It will be a daunting moment ... starting that seminar.

Students will be coming from all different places experientially and emotionally.

Some will love their churches.
Some will hate all churches.
Some will be hurt.
Some will be confused.

All of them will have stories.
All of them will have questions.

And it all connects with God and the gospel.

It's an apologetic moment ... not because it's a moment for argument ... but because it's a moment to defend the faith by apologizing.

Someday, I'll write my book on Confessional Apologetics.  Until then, I need to prepare a meaningful apology, to prepare to talk about my own sin in a way that helps students to see God's mercy, to extend Christ's forgiveness and to feel hope for the church.

Have you ever seen someone put the "apology" into "apologetics"?