Thursday, December 21, 2006

Who are These "Wisemen"?

Last December, my blog was in its infancy. Now, a year later, I have had a blast writing about all sorts of things and even having a few people read some of what I write. This article was one of the first I posted on here, and since it is time that people are thinking about Christmas again (duh), I thought I would pull the old "re-post". Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

Of course you have seen them. They are the three tall old guys towards the back of the nativity scene that sits on your shelf. There is always one with dark skin, there are always three, and they are always present beside the crib...rather, manger of Jesus. But who are these wise men really? Scholars suggest that the biblical connection of these men dates back to the Exile, when Daniel is placed in charge of Babylon and "all its wise men" (Daniel 2:10, 48). These men were astrologers and great thinkers of their day and were perhaps instructed by Daniel about the God of Israel and the Prophesied Messiah that was coming, as he was their superior. There is a good chance that Daniel's influence and faithfulness to God in a pagan and foreign nation is the reason that we see these wise men, also called "kings" or "Magi", worshiping Jesus.

Nonetheless, grandma's old nativity set certainly has some inaccuracies it must work out. For one, they followed the star to Jerusalem from the east, and then to Bethlehem, a journey which probably took them years to complete. Thus, we would never see Wise Men and shepherds worshiping side by side as is so commonly seen (note: Matthew records Magi, Luke records shepherds, so there is no biblical claim that they worshiped the Savior together). Actually, the Greek word (I am not an expert in Greek, but I have friends who are) used to describe Jesus in Luke with the shepherds present denotes "baby", whereas the word describing Jesus in Matthew with the Wise Men is closer to "child". Thus, there is a good chance Jesus was several years old when the wise men dropped in. In addition, we have no way of knowing how many Magi were present. There could have been three or a dozen. We often assume there were three because three gifts are mentioned, though the true number is anybody's guess. As far as ethnicity, they would have most certainly been Persian, thus having olive colored skin and middle eastern features. In the end, we know for certain that men of wealth called "Wise men" visited Jesus and worshiped him and brought him gifts (which is also probably where the custom of gift giving at Christmas originally comes from). Pretty amazing that such men would worship a baby in this way. They must have known there was something special about this kid. He certainly was one extraordinary baby.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"I Can't Wait 'Til It's Over"

In the past week, I have had the opportunity to chat with a few people about Christmas and how close it is. These are not generally close friends, simply people at the bank, guys I play basketball with, etc. I have noticed a common theme in the responses people have to me pointing out that Christmas is only a week away (or however long at the time). They say, more often than not, "I Can't Wait 'Til It's Over!"

"I Can't Wait 'Til It's Over." Think about that. We have piled so many duties and stresses on to the birth of Jesus that we look forward, not to the day and reflecting on a day that changed the course of human history, but on when it has passed.

Is that the attitude we should be having about the day we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the Messiah? Have we lost the sense of awe and wonder that the coming (or Advent) of our King originally had? I think that the obvious answer is "yes, we have."

Imagine the shock, the absolute crippling terror that invaded the shepherds as they lay in complete darkness staring at the sky, until an Angel of the LORD appears. Imagine Mary, holding her new baby, remembering all the amazing things the Angel had told her about her little son. Now, there he was, sleeping in front of her in a feeding trough. Imagine Joseph, with his son coming at the least opportune time, wondering if they would find a place to deliver his baby, or if his young wife and baby were in danger because of so little room. Imagine the Wise Men, traveling years because of a belief in their gut that there was something special at the end of their journey.

Wherever you are this Christmas season, remember the reason we celebrate, and do whatever you have to do to connect with God and experience a bit of the wonder and anticipation that gripped those who were involved 2000 years ago.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A "Santa Clause-Like" God

About a week ago I finished rereading one of my favorite books of all time: Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller. In this book, Miller moves past the non-theological stuff, and becomes a theologian. He retains the non-religious factor, which is great, but it is certainly a different animal from Blue Like Jazz. If you have not yet read it, put it high on your list.

Anywho, the first time I read it was over the summer, during one of the busiest months of my life. I didn't have time to blog about it, as you can imagine, so the second time through, I left note cards in the pages where I wanted to blog. there are about 20 of them, so there will be plenty of stuff on here in the next months about this book. Trust me, it is all good stuff.

In chapter two, Miller is talking about impostors, and he tells a story of meeting Santa Clause as a kid. He goes on to say that he had a view of God that was much like Santa Clause for a long time, and thinks that many people today do too, because it is very convenient. Here are some clips of what he says, along with my commentary.

"I realize grown up people should not think God is like Santa Clause, but you would't believe how perfectly convenient it was for me to subscribe to the idea. The benefits were astounding."

"First: To interact with Santa Clause, I did not have to maintain any sort of intimate relationship. Santa simply slipped into the house, left presents, ate half a cookie, then hit the neighbors'. There was no getting us out of bed in the middle of the night to have sloppy conversations about why I was still wetting the bed."

Isn't it astounding that the majority of the people who would call themselves Christians do not have (perhaps don't even want) a personal relationship with God? I think that most people who are "religious" would fall into this category. However, in scripture we see that God offers himself to us forst and foremost. Relationship is the purpose of everything. Repentance. Forgiveness. Morality. Love. Law. It is all relational and a part of the big relational dynamic. Yet, there are a whole host of people who feel that they are right with God, yet do not have a relationship with him. Perhaps they think it would be too "sloppy." It would violate their intimacy and sense of privacy. They don't want to let anyone in, and certainly not God.

"Second: Santa theology was very black and white; you either made the list or you didn't and if you didn't, it was because you were bad, not because of societal pressures or biochemical distortions or your parents or cable television, but because you were bad. Simple indeed."

This is interesting, because I think there are certain aspects of Christianity that are very black and white (Jesus said "If you love me you will obey my commands"), and others that are incredibly complex. I think the truth lies on both poles. I feel that we must continually boil the message down to the most basic parts (where possible and appropriate), while at the same time acknowledging the complexities and exploring the mystery. I suppose that just like any relationship, it is bound to be complicated. I love my wife; simple. How does that translate into important decisions about our life together; complex.

"Third: He brought presents based on behavior. If you were good, you got a lot of bank. There was a very clear reward system based on the most basic desires of the human heart: Big Wheels, Hot Wheels, Legos. You didn't have to get into the spirit of anything, and there was nothing sentimental that served as the real reason for the season. Everybody knew it was about the toys: cold hard toys."

Wouldn't it be great if the Kingdom of God was based on the American principle of instant gratification. You help an old lady cross the street, you get $500. You read to a blind kid, you get good health for a year. You go to church this get the idea. But it isn't really like that. Relationships generally aren't (that theme keeps coming up). Instant gratification is rarely relevant outside of a marketing context.

"Fourth: Kids who were bad got presents anyway."

Ahh, yes. the old "everyone is included" idea. The problem with this is that it doesn't promote good behavior, nor is it realistic. It would be like saying, "You can be a jerk husband, and you will still have a great and happy marriage." The real world doesn't work that way. We do see Jesus spending time with the sinners, but it was because those people were more real than the hypocrite Pharisees anyway.

To conclude, my goal is twofold: to get you to think and to get you to read this book. Let me know if I do either one.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christian vs Christ-follower

I saw these funny vids over at the Think Christian Blog. They are spoofs of the PC vs Mac comercials, and they make some neat statements about the religion of Christianity, as opposed to following Christ. Check them out. I think you will enjoy them.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Garden, Not a Gamble

I got the opportunity yesterday to go to a wedding. A girl who was formerly of our youth group got married, and Angela and I were happy to attend. I have to say that after you get married yourself, you look at weddings completely different. Before they were boring services designed for women that were only delaying the food at the reception. I would guess that is how most unmarried guys view them. However, when I got married in August of 2005, all of that changed. Our wedding was awesome. Looking back I honestly would not change a thing. From the parent vows, to the message stressing the covenant relationship of marriage, to my best man (and best friend) dropping the ring, it was all the perfect mix of joy, laughter, sincerity, destiny, commitment and love. And now I am different, in so many ways, the least of which may be that I view weddings differently. As I sit and listen to the music, watch the processional, watch the grooms face as his bride is escorted by her father, listen to them repeat their vows to one another, see them officially announced as man and wife...I think of my wedding and everything comes back. I think of how I am still so amazed at how great it is to be married to an awesome woman who is so very loving. I am very blessed.

Anyway, I was struck by something that Jim, our Pastor and the one performing the ceremony, said that I thought was incredibly profound. He said that, unfortunately, many people view marriage today as a gamble, a virtual rolling of the dice, hoping the person they are pledging their lives to is the one, that it will work out. This has caused a whole host of problems in our world today, the greatest of which is the divorce epidemic and children living in broken homes, but I won't get into that here. Jim followed up with saying that marriage is more like a garden than a gamble. A garden you tend and plow and water and plant the things you want to grow and, with time, they grow. It is not a gamble; it is nature. It is the life process. Marriage is the same way. With love and respect planted, and a relationship nurtured, the marriage will bloom. Jim stated that in 40 years, each couple will have the result of what they have done to tend the garden. If we looked at Marriage like this more often, we would be better off. May we see ourselves as gardeners of the most important kind. My we love and respect our wives as much as we possible can, and in doing so, I think we will make the world a better place.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christians Being Christians

This is Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle talking about Christians being missional, or as I would say, Christians just being true Christians. He is a bit abrasive towards the "seeker" churches, but he makes some great points. Check it out.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Centrality of the Resurrection

I had a bit of a rough day today.

It happens to everybody. I've come off a long, stressful stint of business at the church. The pressures of life continue to chip away. In addition, a few big things happen that are very rare, but that heap on the stress. Days like this don't happen to me too often, so when I get like this, I think it's a much bigger deal than it probably is.

However, when I get like this, I tend to turn to the thing that, for some reason, gets me back on track: deep thought. Don't ask me why, but deep thought about some important issue gets me back on my feet. I think and then I write. I guess it's just the way I'm wired. Tonight, my thinking is on the resurrection of Jesus.

It has come to my attention recently that many Christians today don't believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Some have written about this, and I have blogged about it here. It's down right scary if you want to know the truth. The resurrection was the primary event in the life of Jesus, the primary theme in the preaching of the apostles, and the thing that makes Jesus different from every other religious leader ever. If you take the resurrection away from Christianity, you get foolishness. Insanity. Why would a group of people claim to follow a dead guy? I would argue that the resurrection is an, perhaps the, essential ingredient needed to call oneself a Christian. Other issues that we would call important, virgin birth, gifts of the Spirit, the Trinity, should hopefully be there too, but one could conceive of a Christian who had not fully accepted one of those issues yet. I cannot conceive of a Christian who denies the resurrection. The death and resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith.

Tonight as I was pondering this, I read again 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul is arguing for the resurrection. What a statement he makes. Paul states that if Jesus was not raised from the dead...

1. Our faith is useless
2. We are misrepresenting God, and
3. We are still in our sins.

He goes on to say that if Christ has not been raised, we may as well eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. This is all we have. However, if Christ has been raised from the dead, then we are no longer in our sins and death is not the end for us. We, too, can be raised from the dead like Jesus was. Which do I choose...?

In addition, the resurrection is not an event that a guy created in his basement wearing a bath robe. No, Jesus appeared to 500 people at the same time after he had risen from the dead. He appeared to the disciples as well. They were so convinced of this fact that they were willing to die martyrs deaths for this man. You don't do that for an executed criminal, but for a risen Lord? In a second.

And there it is. I have found myself back to a place where, despite my difficulties in life, my focus has again re-centered to Christ and what he has done for me. It is hard for me to stay depressed when I know a God who loves me as much as he does. Thank you, Lord, for your many gifts to me, and thank you for life!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Spoiled Kids

Allow me to take a step away from my normally spiritual conversation and be a tad cynical (okay, I guess that's not new). As I saw on Joel Maner's blog, you can buy just about anything for your kid nowadays. Want a lifesize princess chariot for your daughter? No problem. Want a 7 feet tall radio controlled talking robot? No problem. Want a working Zoltar machine like in the movie Big? No problem (the jury is still out on whether it grants wishes or not). It all depends on how much you want to spend ($47 thousand, $50 thousand, and $9 thousand respectively on the aforementioned three). This website tells of it all.

The sad thing is that there are actually rich parents who will buy these things for their kids for Christmas this year. Some of those kids will not be satisfied. Other families will not go to this extreme, but will certainly overspend on their kid, and continue the process of deeply rooting materialism into the next generation. I know, I sound like a bitter old man, but it's true! How many families do you know who have young kids that think Christmas is all about presents? I bet just about every single one. I can't say much. I was showered with gifts as a child too. My parents were not rich, but I was an only child, so I got more than the kid in the similar middle class family with 3 brothers. I have to admit, it was pretty great. I also have to admit, though, that it has lead me to need to often check myself for materialism. I have to be careful what I buy. I have to make sure I don't spend my money on junk. It is humbling to have to confess that, but it is true. Has materialism ever produced a content person?

What is the answer, then? Are we to no longer buy our kids gift on Christmas so they think all of their friends get the good stuff and they miss out? Are we to deprive our kids to make a statement? I don't know. I am not a parent yet, so I have some time to figure this all out. One thing I vow to do, though, is to make Christmas about Jesus, and to do this by telling his story every year and by helping others. Maybe we (Ang and I) won't get our kids presents, and let the grandparents' presents be the bulk (Lord knows that is enough). But regardless, we will make Christmas an event that instills into the next generation a message of love and of a life-even history-changing story. May we continue to journey towards making Christ the center of Christmas.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Donald Miller Interview

As many of you know, I got to tag along as a friend of mine, James Brown, got to interview Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz, back in September. I wrote about it here. finally, after the editing of the video is done and a copy made it into my hand, and I was able to transfer it to text, I am now posting the transcript of the interview. I tried unsuccessfully to post the video on myspace or youtube, but it is 3 times the maximum limit for space. I will continue to look into converting the video into a smaller format so I can post it on here for you guys. The transcript is not the best substitute, but you get the meat of what he is saying.

The interview was very conversational, so I did my best to keep it accurate. Unfortunately, that results in some grammatical issues and run on sentences. Please forgive that for now. I felt it was more important to keep it as close to the original as possible. I have added my own commentary in italics, if you care. If not, please feel free to skip over it. Also, forgive me as it is very, very long. I thought about posting it in 2 or 3 parts, but decided to just give you the whole thing and not mess with the flow by breaking it up. This is the longest post ever, but I think it is worth reading. Thanks ahead of time for reading it and I hope you enjoy. Let me know what you thought.

James Brown: Hey everybody, we are here with Donald Miller, and we are here to take a look at his book Blue like Jazz. Thanks so much, Donald, for coming…

Donald: Good to be here.

JB: …and spending some time with us. I don’t know if our community knows that much about you, so if you could tell them a few things about who you are; the essence of your being, what would you tell them?

DM: I love cats. I have over 50 cats in my house at all times.

JB: Really!? It must smell really good.

DM: When I come home. I’ve been gone for 3 weeks and they haven’t been out.

JB: Really? (laughs)

DM: I doubt it. But I love cats. My whole life is about cats. Cat posters, ceramic cats, cat snow globes. I collect cat things.

JB: Wow!

DM: Yeah.

JB: Well, my name is James Brown, I introduced myself earlier, but my dog I had for a little bit, his name was Ray Charles, so the two of us together made a fantastic pair.

DM: (laughs) I would imagine…that’s great.

The Interview started off on a fun note. If you couldn’t tell, Donald was making all of that stuff about the cats up as a joke (he confessed later off camera). Although, in a weird way, he did answer the question. He did give us a look at who he is as a person…because that’s him. He is a joker and likes to keep people on their toes. He also likes to make people a little uncomfortable, and you must admit that you were about half way through his story. Donald is a fun guy, and that is seen early on in the interview.

JB: So the title of your book is Blue Like Jazz. Can you tell us a little bit about the title, why you picked that?

DM: Yeah, ya know it’s not the greatest story ever but it was the working title. Usually if I’m working on a book it has a working title, then we come up with another title later when the book is done. So, we sat around for a couple hours, me and a bunch of marketing people, and we tried to come up with another title, but we couldn’t. We couldn’t think of one: most of them were very cheesy. So, Blue Like Jazz was the title we gave the book as a way of giving up on it. We literally were saying, “Well, let’s just throw it away and call it Blue Like Jazz.” And, I’m glad we kept it. I always liked it and wanted it but didn’t think I was going to get my way. Sometimes you don’t. And, uh, we kept it, and I really liked it because it is just a great metaphor for the idea…it makes sense to people, “Blue Like Jazz”, and yet it doesn’t make any sense at all. And sometimes that’s the way that not only faith works, but relational dynamics work that way too. We can’t really explain it, but you just sort of get it.

JB: It’s kind of a metaphor for it.

DM: Yeah. A metaphor for what faith actually is.

I love his explanation of the title for a couple of reasons. First, it gives us a bit of background as to the history of the book: that it was being given up on etc. We Americans like a story where an underdog prevails, and this book is sort of like that. Secondly, I love that even the title, he admits, is a metaphor. I feel that one of the things that Donald does best is attach metaphors to faith issues. He does that, even with the title. I also like the whole idea where he admits it makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense at all. His writing echoes that in places, and I think it is quite beautiful.

JB: Very cool. Also one of the things I thought was interesting about the book was the subtitle, in addition to the title, which is “nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality.” I’m curious, why do we need nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality?

DM: I don’t know that we need them. That’s just what it is. Ya know, that’s just what the book is. I’m not certain that we need them or that it’s better than something else or anything like that. I think that’s where I was when I lived the stories that were in the book, um, I think I was tired of religion, ya know, I was tired of trying to earn something with God. I was tired of what religion meant in a political sense, at least in our culture. And, I wanted faith, I wanted spirituality outside of the trappings of what religion meant, and religion has meant many different things throughout history. But, for me, in my context, it didn’t mean very many good things that I wanted, and yet I didn’t want to throw God out. I wanted that. So I just tried to explore what a relationship with God looked like outside of some of those religious trappings. And the book is a series of stories of what I’ve found.

Donald really hits on something here. More and more people are giving up on religion…myself included, because of what it has come to mean in our culture. I like how he says he was tired of trying to “Earn something with God.” I think we need to guard against religion and focus on a relationship with our God, which is exactly what Donald is doing. You’ll be happy to know, as I was, that he did go back to the church, something he talks a lot about in BLJ. I think the danger in people getting fed up with religion is that they will abandon the church and try to do it on their own, which almost never works and is seldom a healthy alternative. Donald is a good example of how to leave religion without turning your back on God or the church.

JB: With that being said, did you have an audience in mind when you were writing the book?

DM: No, I didn’t. And I normally don’t. I think that when you’re writing, you want to write to yourself and you hope that if you think it’s funny, someone else will think it’s funny. If you think it’s beautiful someone else will think it’s beautiful. And what’s great about that is that you’re not trying to sell anything. If you have an audience in mind you’re trying to sell something to them, and instead you’re just sharing your life and your story and your thoughts. And the other thing that is great about that is the people who are touched by that, you tend to click pretty well with those people. It’s a nice benefit of being yourself, of trying to be yourself at least, in your work.

This is the first place we see Donald mention this idea about phoniness and the beauty in being yourself etc. I agree with him on this issue. I think we have become too much of a salesman type culture. It is refreshing to me to hear him say that he was just writing to himself. I feel that is what I do in this blog…write to myself and hope others come along for the ride. Interesting thoughts.

JB: Tonight’s our kickoff for meal groups. One of the values for our meal groups is the idea of community, and I know that in your book you talked about the community you had with the fellow Christians at Reed College, and then those that you lived with in Oregon. What is it about community? What is it that our people should strive for as they begin these meal groups?

DM: (laughs) I don’t know. That’s not unlike saying “What does it look like to be in love?” It looks a million different ways to a million different people. Um…I think we’re obsessed with doing things right. And our obsession with doing things right illustrates our bad theology. It really does. It illustrates our desire for redemption outside of Christ. To some degree…this is getting much too complicated. I should just give you a simple answer like “people are happy” [in community].

This was a hard part to edit. He doesn’t really answer the question, but his reaction to the question is good enough to include. He talked a bit more about this later, off camera, but the point we should take from Donald is that community is not created with an easy formula, and our attempts to boil it down to an easy formula are sorely lacking.

JB: This book has obviously resonated with a lot of people, both religious and nonreligious people. People who have been in the church for years, and people that I interact with in a coffee shop that would never consider themselves to be in a relationship with God, but it resonates with them. The book seems to be for “now,” at this very moment. Is there something in culture that you recognize that this is resonating with?

DM: Well, I’m not sure what it is that people are responding to. I think…I think, ya know, when writing the book, I didn’t really expect that many people would read it, so there is a level of honesty there that you normally only reserve for your closest friends, and I think that’s part of it, which really tells us something about relationships, that it pays to be honest and be who you are. And, you lose some people, but those people you never would have had anyway, ya know, unless you were fake. And, so there is a level of vulnerability in the book, that, ya know…it taught me a lot, to do that and not know that anybody would read it, and then to have it take off has told me that it’s okay to just kinda be who you are; to at least try.

JB: So this idea of gut level honesty is really appealing. We don’t have that on a day to day basis in our relationships.

DM: No. Think about our culture; everything is fake. Everything is a spin on some half truth. So, we’re being sold products all the time. And in order to sell a product you spin; you point out the benefits and not the reality of what you’re actually going to get. So we encounter this all the time. Our politicians give us half truths …or they can’t get elected if they told us the truth. Um, unless you’re in Minnesota, apparently. You can get elected if you tell the truth. (laughs). Which in a funny way is really great. And, so I think it is so refreshing when someone comes along and they just tell the truth. It’s hard at first. I have a friend who just let me in on some difficulty in his life, not necessarily dark or anything like that, but I just found myself for the month or so after he told me about all this stuff kind of not wanting to talk to him, ‘cause I like things being [neat]…and then suddenly it occurred to me that everybody has this stuff and this guy just actually has the guts to be honest with me. And now I find myself drawn to that friendship and finding it to be real; that this is what I want. I don’t want the pottery barn catalog version of friendships, ya know. I want real life with baby toys around and cheerios. And the Pottery barn lamp is nice, but ya know.

JB: There’s a beauty in that.

DM: There is! There’s a beauty in reality. It’s an acquired taste. It’s not something that immediately you like. But once you acquire a taste for reality, for no BS, no spin, you actually lose your taste for all the sugar that we are constantly being fed, all the spin. And I think we have to break through that in community, in meal groups, whatever, we have to break through the spin and we have to go, “What am I really dealing with?” ya know, and “What’s really going on, both positive and negative?” and not delve into the negative and live in that place, ‘cause there’s so much hope that God gives us, but, at the same time to go, “Here’s where I really am.” “Here’s who I am” and “Here’s what I need” and we find true friendships in those places.

This string of dialogue is my favorite in our time with Donald Miller. He makes some great points about our culture and the relationships we have. You see how he has this hunger for truth and honesty, and this very strong distaste for “pitch” and “spin” and those sorts of things associated with selling a product. One of his primary messages, which he doesn’t connect here, is that god is not a product for us to sell: he is a Father we can choose to relate to and have a relationship with. I think that is a great thing to keep in mind for those of us in church work. How often do we sell Jesus as savior, but leave out the part where he says “Pick up your cross and follow me” or “all men will hate you because of me.” We have been selling Jesus as a self help manual, and it isn’t working. May we not spin Jesus. May we offer him to people in all of his humility and all of his offense.

JB: So as we wrap up with Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, are there any concluding thoughts for us?

DM: No, just have a great time. Meal groups are…I mean the idea of sitting around, together, with a group of people, is the closest picture that we have to the ancient church. It really is. Ya know, we go to these ancient cathedrals in Europe and we think “Oh, this church is a thousand years old” and “The way they did things…”. It is incredibly far removed from the actual church that the apostles started, which looked just like meal groups. They weren’t reading Blue Like Jazz back then. But, ya know, if you had the books they were reading back then they would be in Greek and we wouldn’t understand them anyway. Blue Like Jazz is in English (laughs). But have fun, and I think You’ll find God in those places.

It is good to see Donald point back to the ancient church like this…something we could all do more. It is also appropriate that he ends on a light, humorous note. That is Donald. I find it interesting that his goal, as it appears here, is “finding God.” What a great goal. May we vow to find God in whatever way we can and, if we do, I think we have found a great thing.

JB: Excellent. Thank you so much.

DM: Thank you.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


"I haven't had a bad day in 35 years."

His name is Steve.

"I have had a few bad minutes in otherwise pretty good days, but I never have bad days."

Steve's optimism is unmatched. He loves to smile and laugh. He always has a joke or a funny saying to share, like "The US Postal service is looking into this email thing...they are just looking for ways to make it slower and more expensive before they get involved." He bubbles with contentment and joy. He loves to serve. All of this is amazing considering the hand that life has dealt him recently.

You see, Steve ran a small restaurant in Hasting for 13 years that quickly became very successful. He got to do what he loved to do and get paid for it. Life was good. Then, in the spring, the landlord inexplicably wanted to get rid of Steve's business and get some new blood in the building, forcing Steve and his business to look elsewhere (the building remains empty still, 6 months later). With the prices of all of the new strip malls being driven up by national conglomerates like Starbucks and Chipotle, Steve was forced to rent a smaller place across the river in Prescott, a town a 6th of the size of Hastings. They now have days where they may only see 1 or 2 customers. They have gone from a very successful restaurant with many friends and regulars to struggling to get by.

What is Steve's response to all of this? "Any day I wake up on this side of death is a good day. And, even if I do go, I have made my peace and I'm not worried in the least!" he announces jovialy. This short, grey haired hippie embodies something that I think we would all do better to learn. With the rates of depression and suicide rising, as well as financial and social pressures at, perhaps, an all time high in this world, Steve remains of the forefront of joy.

The Bible talks a bit about this sort of thing. It offers advice such as "Be joyful always" and to "be content, no matter what the circumstances." The Psalms describe praise to our God as lifting the "spirit of heaviness," letting the "oil of gladness flow down." If this is the case, then why are more Christians not joyful, glad, and optimistic like Steve? Is it a spiritual thing? Is it an attitudinal thing?

I think both are true. But, more than that, I think we are at a time when we need Christians who love living. I am not sure we do anymore, honestly. A hundred years ago, hymns were being written saying things like "if I can just tarry one more weary day" the Lord might come back. I think, on some level, we still believe that today. Is that the attitude God wants us to have? Are we to limp along in this life hoping for the sweet release of death? Is that the best witness of the life changing power of Jesus and the joy that he brings?

To conclude, I quote Rob Bell in the Nooma Video Trees:

May you trust Jesus, when he says that death has been taken care of, and that you can live forever with God, that you're never, ever, ever going to stop living. May you believe that death has been taken care of, and you can be a partner with God in redeeming and restoring this fallen, broken, hurting world. That you can literally be a partner with God in making this the kind of place that God originally intended it to be. May you be the kind of person who, when you live this way, the very trees of Paradice are being planted.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Nerd Moment

I returned on Monday from traveling down south to see some old friends. The missionary I worked with a few years ago. The professor I worked for for 2 years. A good friend who was who was a student when I was there was visiting at the same time. The whole department of Bible professors. It was a great weekend. When I get in that culture again, I am reminded of how much of a nerd I am. I sat in on 5 classes on Friday, and it makes me realize how much I miss school. I just love learning in a class format.

Anywho, I thought I would look back at my top 5 favorite classes at Evangel. It was hard to narrow it down to 5, but I think I have done it. Here we go.

5. Intro to Psychology with Dr. Grant Jones

I was a psych minor, but when I took this class my first semester, I knew almost nothing about psychology. It turned out the class was awesome and a great intro into the field. It was one of those classes where it was fun to study for the tests because the material was so interesting. In addition, Dr. Jones was so good at tying in Spirituality and discussing faith matters in the contexts we were talking about. It made the class great.

4. Acts Book Study with Dr. Wave Nunnally

Nunnally was the man. Still is. He has such a handle on the historical context of the scriptures, as well as other factors that we tend not to think about, like geography. He lived in Israel for grad school, so he was immersed in the culture. In addition, Acts is something of his specialty. He has since written a full length commentary on the book which is amazing. I learned a ton about the book of Acts in this semester and which I could take it again.

3. Composition and Rhetoric with Dr. Nathan Nelson

I never would have thought that a composition class could be one of my favorites...but it is. This course is a big reason why I like writing so much now. Again, this class amazed my by how often real life issues came up in the context of faith and living. We only had 4 grades in this class, and it was 4 papers. That was a bit intimidating to a freshman, but I did good and learned a ton. I sat in on this class over the weekend and they were talking about the last paper, which involves exploring music for lyrics on social action. It was a great class all around.

2. Synoptic Gospels with Dr. Wave Nunnally

This class was so amazing. We looked at the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and learned about the characteristics of each. This class is still with me, as it has provided a framework for how I read the synoptics now. There were so many great questions asked and discussed in this class. The word I would connect with it is profound. It was a great one.

1. Jesus in the Gospels with Dr. Robert Berg

There are about three courses I could put on this list from Dr. Berg. He is simply a great teacher. He may be the best I know at presenting material, and then getting discussions going on the topic. He would often play the "Devil's advocate" and argue against whatever side students were arguing. He had inventive ways of illustrating points and making teaching points stick unlike anyone I have ever seen. This course was a seminar course on Jesus and his life. The culmination of the course was a project where we had to research one area of the life of Jesus and then do a half hour presentation on it. I chose "Jesus and Gentiles" and thoroughly had a blast doing it. I took this my last semester and wonder if maybe that it why it is my favorite. Regardless, it was a great class and I would love to take it again.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

To Invest in People...

Allow me to talk for the next few minutes about a personal thing in my life.

I spent the summer of 2003 in Thailand, specifically Bangkok, doing missions work with a team from my college and another Assembly of God school. There were 8 of us in our group who all worked together: Crystal and Rebecca, 2 of the greatest ladies that could be on a trip like that with me, who were, like me, from Evangel, and Mark, Dylan, Jasper, Duffy, and Niina all from Washington State, and amazing people in their own right. We became very close during this trip, forming something of a family bond. The missionary we worked with was Alan Johnson, a fulltime missionary to Thailand for 20 years. He spoke Thai fluently and led us all over the place; to slums to minister to the poor families, to putting on outreach services for youth, to Thai churches, and to other villages where we would have the priviledge to minister. His amazing wife Lynette would cook our food (what a great cook she was) and do our laundry. In addition to working with Alan and the other 7 students, I also got to work with the youth at International Christian Assembly (or ICA Bangkok), which was an English speaking church that had over 30 nations represented. These couple of months were some of the best in my life.

Alan and Lynette were like parents to us when we were there. I look back most fondly on the meals. In addition to feasting on great food (did I mention Lynette was a fabulous cook?), we would often have deep conversation about spiritual topics: the strategy of missions in Thailand, what Jesus meant when he said "The greatest will be the least and the least will be the greatest," how to treat people and show them the love of Christ, what it meant to be a great leader etc. I have never met anyone in my life who was more intentional with his conversations or who utilized opportunities to disciple young people better than Alan. I feel that I grew more in those months than I have in any other similar period in my life. Now, 3 years later, 4 of those 8 have gone back to Thailand for longer missionary stints, and 2 of those plan on being there full time. 2 are full time youth pastors. 1 is involved in various ministries in his home town. The last is an elementary school teacher in Missouri. 8 college students, from different states, with different goals and dreams and different reasons for going to Thailand, are now all changing the world and investing in people. I wonder how much of that is due to Alan being so intentional with us and the time we had, how much he believed in us, and how much he lived out and showed us what a leader who is sold out for God and people should be.

I leave tomorrow to drive 10+ hours to go visit Alan. The way it works is they spend 4 years in the field, followed by 1 year at home. If I don't take this opportunity to see him now, I may not get to spend time with him for a long time. My wife and I are struggling financially, and I am plenty busy at the church. But, for me to not do everything I can to connect with Alan at this time would be, I feel, bad stewardship on my part. Such is the effect that Alan was able to have on me in one summer.

May we all follow his example. May we all value people in an incredible way. May we intentionally pour ourselves into the next generation of world changers. Thank you Alan, for the difference you have made in my life, and countless others.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Thoughts on the Ted Haggard Situation

With Ted Haggard's confession being officially read at this mornings New Life services, we have now entered into the "wake," as it were, of this scandal. Before we continue to my comments, please be directed to the actual confession and press releases made publicly available:

  • Ted Haggard's Statement

  • Gayle Haggard's Letter

  • New Life Press Release

  • Latest CNN Article

  • Naturally, this incident is being likened back to the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals of the late 80's. It seems, at least so far, that this is less huge, for several reasons, but mainly because Haggard is not near as popular as either Bakker or Swaggart were. Here is a BBC news brief of the Swaggart situation to put it into perspective. No, this is a smaller thing.

    However, there certainly are some repercussions. I have met Haggard personally on one occasion. I have heard him speak on several occasions. I have read all of his early books. If you remember, I put his The Life Giving Church as 3rd on the most influential books in my life. I was accepted into the 24/7 discipleship program coming out of high school (I didn't end up going). Churches I am and have been a part of have done his "Loving Your City Into the Kingdom" projects and are members of the "Life Giving Network." Needless to say, there are not too many prominent ministry figures that could have fallen that I would have been more connected with (Perhaps Erwin McManus or Bill Hybels). Having said that, allow me to make a few statements about this incident.

    1. May We Maintain an Appropriate Response

    I think the 2 most common responses to this issue are to either say "Everyone sins; it is not a big deal," or "Crucify, crucify!" I think that both are unhealthy and inappropriate, and that the proper response is somewhere in the middle. This is very much a big deal, but we must hope and pray for forgiveness and restoration, rather than lifelong estrangement.

    2. Be Thankful for the New Life Accountability Board

    Not every church has the oversight that New Life does. That is one of the things Haggard stresses in his writings and that caught on more after he wrote about it. They have a very good accountability board that has and will continue to handle the situation well. One of the reasons Swaggart fell so hard is because he rejected the decision of the oversight committee. Haggard's best ally for his restoration and spiritual growth from this incident is the oversight team. It appears that they have done their job.

    3. He Seems Repentant

    Until I read his confession earlier, I was very concerned. Up to that point, Haggard had not seemed contrite and repentant. After reading his letter, however, it seems that he has become broken before God and has repented.

    4. May We, As Young Leaders, Get Our Lives in Order

    If there is one thing to take away from this, it is that we as young leaders must get our lives in order NOW. Do not put problems off, for they will catch up to you. "Your sin will find you out." These are not scare tactics. Rather, the battle is too important to lose anymore casualties like we have been. The Enemy will show no mercy. May we, as young men, draw a line in the sand and say that pornography and sexual addiction will stop with us. May we raise up a standard of purity that may be emulated. May we be the kinds of leaders that can and will change the world because our character is strong enough to handle the weight of our successes.

    Saddam Sentenced to Hang

    News came out today that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein will face the gallows, along with 2 of his subordinates. After a 9 month trial, one in which 3 defense attourneys and 1 witness was murdered, some manner of justice is finally served, and Saddam will hang. Seems appropriate (doesn't it?) a country so far behind in the political and social worlds would resort to one of the oldest styles of execution to forever down this director of evil.There is now an appeals process, which could take awhile. But, if the death sentences are upheld, they must be carried out in 30 days. So, in a little over a month, Saddam may be no more. By Christmas, this world may be short 1 evil dictator.

    The question I am pondering is “What do I think about this?” I am about 80/20 against the death penalty (a recent change) and am still wrestling with that reality. The reason is because I believe that God can change even the evilest of hearts…and since escape is never an issue, why execute? However, if there has ever been a time to utilize the death penalty, I would suspect this is it. So, I go back to “What do I think about this?” I ask myself what many of the feelings of the Shiites and Kurds might be. I suspect relief. Relief to know that the man who slaughtered countless numbers of their brothers and sisters will not longer be able to do so. Relief to know that, despite the apparant power that still seems to exist, no escape will be possible after Saddam is dead. Relief to know that it is possible for justice, or some sense of it, to be served in their homeland. As our President said, "Today, the victims of this regime have received a measure of the justice which many thought would never come." In addition, though, I suspect their is some uneasiness as well. What waits around the corner? War? Death? Peace? Who knows? The future remains very uncertain. However, I have to think that with such a powerful and evil person about to be dead, things have improved.

    So, as I continue to suspend judgment on this issue, I am tempted to waive my position on the death penalty, and think that this is probably the right thing. May we continue to lift up and support our fellow humans in this war torn land. May God show his face in a land that is still so dark.

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006

    Derek Webb, Part II

    I continue to be moved by the music of Derek Webb. I thought I would post the lyrics to another song (for lyrics are the meat of the song. If the music is the wrapping, the lyrics are the package). In this song, entitled Rich Young Ruler, a very intreaging title, to say the least, Webb talks about poverty and how it is all around us. His heart for the poor is unmatched, and he shares a similar concern that I do: that Christians do not care for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcasts like they should. He cuts through the red tape and makes a point about American christians. May we continually get better at loving everyone.

    Poverty is so hard to see
    when it’s only on your tv and twenty miles across town
    where we’re all living so good
    that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood
    where he’s hungry and not feeling so good
    from going through our trash
    he says, more than just your cash and coin
    I want your time, I want your voice
    I want the things you just can’t give me

    So what must we do?
    Here in the west we want to follow you
    we speak the language and we keep all the rules
    even a few we made up
    come on and follow me
    but sell your house, sell your SUV
    sell your stocks, sell your security
    and give it to the poor
    what is this, hey what’s the deal
    I don’t sleep around and i don’t steal
    I want the things you just can’t give me

    Because what you do to the least of these
    my brother’s, you have done it to me
    because I want the things you just can’t give me

    It makes you check yourself as to the things you are and aren't willing to give God. Thanks Derek.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    My Enemies Are Men Like Me

    As I continue to ponder this idea of war and what my stance on it is (or is becoming), I feel compelled to offer some insite from Derek Webb. By the way, if you haven't yet heard, you can download Derek's new album for free. It is very worth it ;). It has been out for a very long time now. Derek offers deep thoughts set to music about our world, a lot of them related to injustice. This one really got me thinking. I am not saying that I agree whole heartedly with him, but I think we have to agree that he makes a good point. Here are the lyrics to "My enemies Are Men Like Me."

    I have come to give you life
    and to show you how to live it
    I have come to make things right
    to heal their ears and show you how to forgive them

    Because i would rather die
    I would rather die
    I would rather die
    than to take your life

    How can i kill the ones i’m supposed to love?
    My enemies are men like me
    So I will protest the sword if it’s not wielded well
    My enemies are men like me

    Peace by way of war
    is like purity by way of fornication
    It’s like telling someone murder is wrong
    and then showing them by way of execution

    Quote by Martin Luther King Jr.

    "Non-violence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time...the need for men to overcome oppression and violence with out resorting to violence and oppression."

    When justice is bought and sold
    just like weapons of war
    the ones who always pay
    are the poorest of the poor

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    More on Books

    I go through phases with reading. I just came off of a month where I was reading a ton. I am now on a down phase...perhaps because I'm so busy. Anywho, since I am not reading as much, I am going to write about reading. Make sense? Here is a thing I stole off of Eric Peters' site. (By the way, Eric came to the Harbor for a concert yesterday and was awesome. If you have not checked out Eric Peters, do it!) It is a hodge podge of questions about different books you, or in this case, I, have read. Maybe I will encourage someone to read one of these by my posting this.

    1. One book that changed your life:
    See below to my last post. It is essentially this questioned answered in a very lengthy fashion.

    2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
    The first one that comes to mind is No Wonder They Call Him the Savior by Max Lucado. From my senior year in high school to my freshman year in college I went on a big Lucado kick. This was one of the 2 best that I read. I have read this several times. It is about the last week of Jesus life. It is one I should read every year the month before Easter just to get a grasp of that amazing last week.

    3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
    The typical answers here are survival guides. I don't want to copy everyone else, so I will go for my own, original cliche. The Bible. I know that that is the dorky Christian, Bible-nerd that I am answer, bit it really is true. I don't think I would get sick of it for a long time.

    4. One book that made you laugh:
    The hardest i can remember laughing recently at a book are the first chapters of both Searching for God Knows What and To Own a Dragon bu Donald Miller. He absolutely had me splitting at the side on each of these. It is witty humor, which I love.

    5. One book that made you cry:
    Hmmmm. I'm not much of a cryer, nor do I read many sad books. Although my heart went out in Searching for God Knows What for the boy Miller describes in his class as a kid. That has put me the closest in awhile.

    6. One book that you wish had been written:
    How I put an End to World Poverty, Hunger, and Disease by Nick Fox

    7. One book you wish had never been written:
    Probably one of the super boring ones I had to read in college. There were not too many, but a few. It would be great if one of those hadn't been around back then.

    8. One book you’re currently reading:
    Several, actually. I am one of those people that will have many books going at one time. Here they are:

    The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
    This is a philosophical novel written a long time ago that tells why the worship of self is the best way of life. Very anti-Christian, but interesting views nontheless.

    Bono by Michka Assayas
    This is just an interview with Bono. It is interesting to learn more about his life and history.

    The Search to Belong by Joshua Myers
    We are reading this as a staff at the Harbor. It is teaching me a lot about the different circles of intimacy that people share, and what is appropriate in each. unfortunately the church has not done well in the past in this area.

    9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
    I have The Life of Pi which comes highly reccomended from my friend Eric. It is on my list as soon as I finish one of these others I am working on.

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    Top 5 Books that Shaped My Life

    Christianity today came out with their Top 50 Books that Shaped Evangelicals (regards Tim Ellsworth). I went through the list and had heard of almost half of them, and had read six. I reflected on this...and wondered whether I was a bad Christian and a slacker or if the list was flawed. I think it is somewhere in the middle. I read a ton, but it is more current stuff rather than the "classics," which are mostly on this list.

    This list got me thinking, though, what are the most influential books in my life? I thought I would share with you a top 5 and explain a little about each. I did not count the Bible, because that would be a bit unfair. Here we go:

    5. Searching for God Knows What Donald Miller
    I read this book over the summer, and it was amazing. I didn't end up having time to blog about it on here because I was super busy, but this book was so great. He talks about God in story, and how we must always resist boiling God down to a step by step formula. He spends a great deal of time talking about "lifeboat theory," which I had decided before I was dedicating my life to stopping in my own life and in any other way I could. This book gave me the words and focus to do that. This is a must read.

    4. Courageous Leadership Bill Hybels
    I read this book when I was in Thailand doing missions work for a summer. What is unique about that is that the entire summer turned into a leadership development summer for me, and this book was a big part of it, in addition to the great people with whom I worked. This book taught me some important lessons in leadership and got me thinking and praying intentionally about the leadership in my own life. The timing was great, because a year later I would be up here in Minnesota serving in a full time leadership role at a church. This book was exactly what I needed and I am thankful God used it the way he did.

    3. The Life Giving Church Ted Haggard
    I read this book my senior year in high school when I was doing an internship at my home church, and then again right before my 2nd year in college. This book, as did Courageous Leadership, gave me a great love for the church, that has a lot to do with what I am doing today. Haggard separates out Religion and a Relationship with Christ and talks about how churches can foster those cultures. His thoughts on legalism versus life (he uses different words, but that is how I interpret them)early in the book remain with me, and I think on them regularly.

    2. Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller
    I read this book early this year, and if you read this blog much, you know that I have written about it a ton (here, here, and
    ). I have thought about it a lot recently as I met Donald last month and talked with him about this book. It really has been very influential in my life. I think before I read this book I was a "blind conservative." After reading it, I would still call myself a conservative, but I feel I am much more God centered in my thinking than before. Donald points out a lot of the problems that are giving Christians a bad name. Many of these have to do with religion. It was very refreshing for me, and has shaped my thinking in a huge way.

    1. Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis
    Finally, a classic made the list. I have read this many times. I put this number one because I give this book credit for me changing my thinking to more like a philosopher, to thinking things through and exploring them for myself. I think every person goes through that at some point in their life, and this book at a lot to do with that phase in mine. That may be one of the most important changes a person will go through. God wants us to be thinkers, and Lewis provides a great example of this.

    Hidden Sin

    I have been thinking a lot about sin recently. There are many reasons. The topic we are discussing in our series on Wednesday nights to the Students, the stuff I am reading, the struggles people I know are going through, sin in my own life. From all of this, I have come to a very specific conclusion:

    Sin is not a big deal to us.

    We see sin as if it were on a credit card...that we can spend whatever we want without worrying about it. We sin staggeringly often, but are seldom arrested in our hearts to change our ways. I am talking to myself as much as anyone else. I notice this all the time. It boils down, again to my point, that Sin is not a big deal to us.

    I think there are pretty much 2 reasons that this is the case in our world today. First, that we know the outcome: Jesus paid our debt. If all of our sin is covered, why is it such a big deal? We would never be so crass as to verbalize it as I am now, but I think it is what we tell ourselves. The scary thing is that Paul warns against this very idea. He writes in Romans 6:1-2 "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" Great question, Paul. And yet so many of us, I believe, are doing exactly what he describes, "Living in Sin." Sin is a way of life; a rut, if you will, that we have apparently no plans to get out of. Have you noticed how trendy it is to lie nowadays, even for Christians? Have you noticed how common it is for Christians to use profanity? Do you realize that according to, 60% of youth pastors admit to having viewed pornography in the past month? Friends, sin is a major issue, and we need to do all we can to remove it from our lives. The problem, as I return to my point, is that we view it as already taken care of. What if it were harder? What if we still had to sacrifice a goat to gain forgiveness every time we sinned? What would that cost us financially? Would it change things?

    The second reason I think that we view sin as no big deal, is that sin is primarily hidden in our lives. Sure, sin happens publicly on a regular basis on TV and the radio blah blah blah. But I mean in our personal lives, sin is so often hidden. What if we still practiced confession? The Roman Catholics did that for over 1000 years until it became legalistic and corrupt. The result is that we almost never confess anymore, and that leads to very little accountability on our part to change. When asked whether confession was necessary, C.S. Lewis stated that he wasn't sure confession was absolutely necessary, but that a man should at the very least make a list of his sins. We don't even get real and face our sins any more. What if we started confession again? And what if we no longer felt that we needed to hide our sin from everyone? I for one am sick of feeling like I need to pretend I have it all together. I am ready to throw in the towel on hypocritical perfection.

    What do we have to do to make sin a big deal again? It is a huge deal for God, that is for sure. Allow me, while I am here, to make a few comments to add balance to this discussion. I am not promoting legalistic perfection or condemnation. God is a God of grace, that is for sure. But, as in everything, there is a middle ground that is healthy, with ditches on either side. I fear that we may have fallen into the "grace ditch," and no longer view sin as a big deal. My intention is not to urge us (or myself) into the other ditch, the "legalism ditch." What I do hope is that those who are serious about God will get their lives in order, that they will do whatever they have to do to remove deeply rooted sinful behavior from their lives. Don't wait until later; get it done now. I realize that this view is very unpopular because of the discomfort and shame that results (but honestly, after several of my blogs in the past, do you think popularity is my goal?). However, I think God is calling me (and maybe you) to a higher level of obedience and sacrifice for him. To a more serious view of sin and a declaration to not live a lie any longer. May God help us as we journey on this road of righteousness together.

    As I continue these thoughts, I intend to go back to The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his reflections on "Cheap Grace" versus "Costly Grace." Feel free to join me as I continue this voyage to better understand what God is saying to me.

    Tuesday, September 12, 2006

    Wisdom From Bono

    I am reading a book call Bono which is where the U2 frontman sits down for an interview and the result is this book. It is raw (still in Q&A form), but a great insite into his life and journey. In case you didn't know, Bono is incredibly deep and insightful. I thought I would share some of that wisdom here a comment on it. I may do it more in the future too, 'cause there is some great stuff in here.

    Bono, at one point, is talking about how U2 got together and the rise to stardom. In the process, he reflects a little on the temptations. Here are his words:

    "[I]t turns out that that's a much more subtle threat than sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Self-righteousness, self-flagellation, these things are as dangerous as what you might call the worship of self."

    This struck me as a very interesting and accurate statement. Naturally, when they started on the Rock 'n' roll journey they had in their minds to avoid the vices and lifestyle that generally goes with that...Particularly in the 70's, things like sex and drugs. However, as you notice, he mentions that they became aware of other temptations, which I would suspect would be harder to overcome. Things like pride and self-worship. It makes sense, doesn't it? When you go from being a nobody to a somebody in a short amount of time...from a garage band to having thousands of people chanting your name...from a regular person to a rock would certainly be a temptation to "think more highly of yourself than you ought," as Paul warns against.

    The other thing that struck me about this is how true it is in everyday my life. As I look to avoid the obvious pitfalls in life, anger, list, materialism etc., I find that I find it pretty easy to become proud of myself. I look at my accomplishments, my job, my marriage, LiveWire Student Ministries, my academic record, and assume I am due the credit. I am fond of being fond of myself. I find that struggling against those other obvious pitfalls was merely a distraction against the gravest pitfall of them all, which is pride. As David Crowder sings, "I carry pride like a disease." Like C.S. Lewis says, "Pride is spiritual cancer; the complete anti-God state of mind."

    I am not alone in my problem. No. To think that Bono and I are the only ones struggling with this would be absurd. We live in a world, even in a church, where obvious sin is filthy, but habitual pride is so prevalent it is often overlooked. How can we help but struggle with this? Our world is built to cater to self.

    Lord, help me to put you first, others second, and myself third. Allow me to never again "forsake the riches of God's righteousness for the dung of my own ego."

    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    Meeting Donald Miller

    Tonight was a cool night. Donald Miller was speaking at The Upper Room, which I have known about for months and had circled on my calendar. Don Miller, as you know, is the author of several books, including Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God knows What. If you ever read this blog, you know who Donald miller is. I digress. Angela and I went early, because we wanted to make sure we got good seats. We got there an hour and a half early and besides the janitors and the worship team, we were the only ones. We popped a squat on a couch in the foyer and hung out for a while. After about 25 minutes, I see a man and a woman stroll by, heading for the sanctuary. The man is bigger than I expected, taller and more broad shouldered, but I recognize him anyway. "That's him" I said to Angela, and we both jumped up and followed. "Hey Don," I called. He turned around and I shook his hand and introduced myself and I asked if he had some time to hang out. His assistant (the lady with him) said that he had sound check. I asked if I could get him to sign a couple of books, to which he gladly agreed.

    He signed the books "All of Christ to Ya" and "All the hope of Father God to Ya." Ang and I got our picture taken with him (above) and chatted with him for a few minutes. I asked him what it was like to go from being a nobody to being a pretty famous author and speaker in a short time. He said he is asked that question a lot and doesn't have a real good answer for it. He said it doesn't change things as much as one might think, but he said he would think on it and let me know tomorrow (I get to go with a friend and interview him tomorrow).

    As I reflect on Donald as a person (in person at least), I am impressed by how down to earth he is. He has a humility and a meekness about him that is refreshing. He is not at all into himself, and by no means does one get the idea that he thinks he is a big deal. It is as if it shocks him that he is famous more than anyone. He told me that his next project is a narrative piece called A Map of Eden. I look forward to that coming out, as I have read everything else he has written.

    All in all, it was really cool to meet the man who is behind several books that I respect and admire. He certainly did not disappoint in person and I look forward to spending more time with him tomorrow. I will post another update tomorrow after the interview. Meanwhile, if you haven't read any Donald Miller, start right away. Move it to the top of your reading list. My recommendation is to start with BLJ, then read Searching for God Knows What, then Through Painted Deserts, then To Own a Dragon. I guarantee it will make you think and stretch you.

    Saturday, August 26, 2006

    Hybels' 4 Leadership Practices

    Bill Hybels has taught for years that there are 4 things that every leader should do at all times throughout his or her life. I have known these for a long time and practiced them, but I thought it would be a good reminder to put here.

    1. Read everything you can read about leadership.

    Hybels says that a leader should always be reading. I do this as much as possible. i am always looking for a good book to pick up. i am one of those people who could go to Barnes and Noble and sped $500 and be bummed that I don't have more time and money to read. Nonetheless, Hybels is right. Reading does so much to get your brain working, it communicates new information, and it helps you remember things better. That is partly the reason I started the reading list on the left. I love sharing the titles and thoughts on books I have recently read. do yourself a favor and always have a book or 2 with you when you travel or whenever. We all know that life surprises us with other being late and what not. those are great times to get a little read time in.

    2. Sit under leadership Training and teaching often

    There are tons of great leadership training seminars and DVDs that are easy to get and affordable. I am lucky because my church hold this as a value too, so I am able to go to at least 2 major leadership training events every year as well as countless leadership training nights and workshop type things. If you have a local church that values leadership, chances are they have some leadership teachings on DVD or VHS. I encourage you to explore this and grow yourself. There is also tons of good stiff on the internet. If you have not caught on to podcasting yet, you need to. There are great leadership podcasts out there that are designed to stretch and grow you as a leader. Check it out.

    3. Surround yourself with leaders who are better than you and ask questions

    This is the way I learn best; by asking questions. It is such a great way to process and clarify what is going on. Observe someone and listen to them. then, ask questions and dialogue. This is such a great way learn because it is dynamic, unlike speakers or books. I have always had 2 or 3 people that I greatly respected in my life that I was allowed to ask questions of. Pick the brains of people smarter than you. Most are very willing to help.

    4. Lead

    The last step is that you need to be leading something. There is no education like experience. We learn best by doing. Whether you need to volunteer to lead the food committee for the 65 and over small group that meets once a month or you are the CEO of a company, you need to be leading inorder to grow. When I was in college, our ministry profs would urge us to get involved in ministry, rather than waiting until we graduated. luckily I made some sacrifices and did that, or I would be sadly latent now. Lead whatever you can to help yourself grow as a leader.

    Thursday, August 24, 2006

    A Black and White Issue

    I read on Tim Ellsworth's Blog today the following story from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal:

    Twelve-year-old Joe recently asked Jesus to live in his heart.

    Yet the church where Joe accepted his Savior not even two weeks before will no longer allow the biracial boy to enter.

    On Aug. 6, during its scheduled Sunday night business meeting, Fellowship Baptist Church in Saltillo voted not to accept blacks within the church. More specifically, the congregation also voted Joe out and said he could not return.

    That evening Fellowship Baptist did not just say goodbye to Joe and an entire race of humans. With that decision the church’s pastor, the Rev. John Stevens, resigned, and at least one other family decided not to return to the Baptist Missionary Alliance congregation that averages 30 people.

    Of all of the issues a church can have, racism is the scariest. I have never been to Mississippi. Is racism still that abundant there that churches hate blacks, and apparently hate them so much as to expel a recent convert, a 12 year old boy no less, bacause his skin was a different color?

    How can a group of people read there Bibles and think this? Even more, how much is racism still present in our own hearts? Let us continue to become more like Jesus and forever continue increasing our "bandwidth" of who we think is included in God's love.

    Monday, August 21, 2006

    Across the Spectrum, Part 1:The Scripture Debate

    I was visiting some students who graduated from our ministry who attend Northwestern University in Orange City Iowa over the weekend and I took some time to check out the Bible section in their bookstore (I am a Bible nerd!). I ended up buying a fascinating book entitled Across The Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy (for sale on the left). Boyd is rather famous and has written ten books, including Letters From a Skeptic. He was also interviewed by Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ. Both are from the Twin Cities and teach at Bethel Semenary.

    Anyway, as the subtitle suggests, the authors tackle and discuss a number of the "hot" debates and interesting issues that are ubiquitous in Evangelicalism. I assure you that you have thought about many of these issues before. Their point is not to argue, but "to broaden students' minds by helping them empathetically understand a variety of perspectives while training them to think critically for themselves" (pg 6). That, too, is my goal of many of the discussions I lead as a youth pastor as well as the purpose of this blog. Thinking is good! Please don't get nervous at disagreement, but be open and willing to learn and understand both sides better.

    What I have decided to do, is post a series of articles on topics from this book. I will summarize each view and offer support for each one, while commenting and offering opinion the whole way. It will take us through nearly all of the "hot" debates in Evangelicalism and give us a lot of fun things to talk about. Here we go! This first one has to do with one's view of scripture.

    The Inspiration Debate: Without Error of any Kind vs Infallable in Matters of Faith and Practice

    Without Error of any Kind (The Inerrantist View)

    This view states that the Bible, in its original manuscripts was perfect in every way, including on issues like science, history, politics, and other and non-religious matters. The Bible is to generally be interpreted literally and all of it, every letter, is important and completely without error, or inerrant.

    Biblical Evidence

    The Bible certainly seems to teach that it is perfect (Isa 46:8-10, Ps 119:160 etc.). Jesus seemed to hold this view as well, using the phrases "God says..." and "Scripture says..." interchangably. Jesus also insisted that not even one letter would pass away from the law (Matt 5:18).

    Supporting Arguments

    1. Church Tradition

    The Church (universal) over the years has typically assumed and held to the belief that the Bible is without error of any kind. Augustine and John Calvin certainly believed this, as did Martin Luther, who went as far as to say "Scripture cannot err." This has been the popular view throughout history.

    2. A Logical Argument

    The Logical argument goes as follows:

    a. God is perfect and thus cannot err.
    b. Scripture is God-breathed (inspired).
    c. What God breathes retains his perfect character.
    d. Scripture cannot err.

    The argument makes sense logically. The only question is, are all of the premises valid?

    3. An Argument from Epistemology (How do we know what we know?)

    If we do not accept the Bible as inerrant, than the decision as to what is correct in the Bible and what is not is up to us, making us the ruling powers and not God. Who are we to decide what is and is not relevant and correct in God's Word?

    4. A Historical Argument

    "The Bible tells us that the heart is desperately wicked. There is a side of fallen humanity that consistently wants to run away from God. This is why it is so dangerous to deny the inerrency of scripture. We cannot trust our own fallen hearts and minds to decide what is true" (pg 13).

    "The denial of inerrency has almost always led to some form of heresy if not total unbelief" i.e. Jahovah's Witnesses etc. (pg 14).

    Infallable in Matters of Faith and Practice (The Infallibilist View)

    This view states that the Bible is right and accurate on all of the issues that matter and apply to faith (i.e. Salvation, Resurection, the life of Jesus etc.), but may not be accurate in "minor matters of history and science." I would basically say that where the former view insists that every word and letter of scripture must be true, this view would not make that claim and force scripture into such a box.

    Biblical Evidence

    "An honest examination of Scripture leads to the conclusion that the Bible is thoroughly inspired but also thoroughly human" (pg 17).

    The most convincing biblical evidence (in my opinion) can be summed up in 2 points"

    1. The writers of Scripture for the most part did not necessarily know they were writing scripture, and therefore inerrency was not their concern. For example, if we try to force a letter of Paul to discuss matters of science, when his agenda is to discuss church polity, we misuse the text to do something it is not intended to do.

    2. The biblical authors held a "premodern" view of the world. For example, the Hebrews, as well as all people in the ancient Near East, believed that the sky was "hard as a molten mirror" (Job 37:18), and that it was a dome that seperated waters above from waters below (Genesis 1:7), and that it was held up by pillars (Psalm 75:3, 104:2-3, Job 9:6, 26:11 etc.). We see this language as poetic, but history and archeology show us that this is the way people really understood the world. This is of course not true, and must weigh in on this argument.

    Supporting Arguments

    1. Church History

    Both sides argue that church history is on their side. This camp points to the the time in the 16th century when Galileo was excomunicated for claiming that the sun was the center of the universe, rather than the earth, like the Church believed due to an inerrentist view of scripture. It was quite an emberrassing moment for the church that was brouth about by an inerrantist view.

    2. Apologetic and evangelistic advantages

    If one claims that the Bible must be inerrant to be inspired, the credability of the Bible hangs in the ability of a person to resolve every error or apparent conflict in the Bible.

    3. Bibliolatry

    The innerrency view "tends to shift the focus of faith away from Jesus Christ and toward the accuracy of the Bible" (pg 20).

    Thoughts and Comments

    This debate has been a very divisive one through the years. It seems that this is broken up into the fairly radical conservatives who hold to the Inerrantist view, and every one else who believe the other. I think that the mistake of the Inerrantist camp is that they assume the Infallibilist view is throwing scripture out all together. The Infallibilist still hold scripture as the highest authority in the Christian faith, as that which everything is to be tested against, and as the revelation of God to his people. The Infallibilist are not suggesting by their view that the Bible is a Christian version of Esoph's Fables. If you have ever diologued with an Inerrantist, that seems to be the perception. I hope that this write up has shown that it is not the case.

    Personally, I fall into the 2nd camp with the Infallibilist. I am not completely there, but I would guess I'm about 90/10. I think that evidence like that presented in the 2nd point under biblical evidence about the "premodern" view of the world shows well enough that the Bible cannot be considered inerrant. I understand that I may be written off as a pagan liberal for saying that, but I guess that is the price I pay. I think that is a mistake, and it is not doing any good to the body of Christ to fail to dialogue about these issues. Let us continue to sharpen one another,continue to ask questions, and explore and seek the truth.

    Friday, August 11, 2006

    My "Pet" Peeve

    Allow me to rant for a moment on something that I know will make me far less popular with many people. I think that Americans are pet crazy. I look at how many people I know, many of them Christians, that own pets, many pets, and often times treat them like royalty. Allow me to give you some statistics on pets in America.

    63% of US households own a pet
    45% own more than one
    43.5 million US homes own a dog and 37.7 million us homes own a cat
    Americans spend $38.4 billion per year on pets
    $15 billion on pet food
    It cost approximately $1500/year to own a dog and $900/year to own a cat

    * All of the above statistics come from theAPPMA Website.

    I hope these statistics alarm you. When I was growing up we pretty much always had a dog as a pet. When I was about 5, my family got a dog. Later, when I was about 11, I can remember begging and crying for a dog for my birthday. My mom obliged. I say this to note that I am as much confessing and writing to myself as to anybody else. However, I think there are several alarming issues that need to be pointed out.

    1. Many of the "pet lover" people treat their pets like royalty. Consider the following trend in our society:

    High-end items to spoil companion animals are must-haves for pet owners that spare no expense to please their furry, feathered and finned best friends. Items include faux mink coats for cold weather outings, feathered French day beds for afternoon naps, designer bird cages, botanical fragrances and to top it all off, a rhinestone tiara!


    More and more companies traditionally know for human products are going to the dogs, and cats, and reptiles. Big name companies including like Paul Mitchell, Omaha Steaks, Origins, Harley Davidson and Old Navy are now offering lines of pet products ranging from dog shampoo, pet attire, and name-brand toys to gourmet treats and food.

    As I was driving home today, I saw a bumper sticker that said "My dog is smarter than your Honor Student" and a license plate frame that said "I Love my Dog." when watching game shows where celebrities are playing for charities, the most common trend you will see among charities chosen is that they involve saving animals, rather than stopping abuse or feeding the hungry. It seems that at times that pets are honored and loved over people. This is never said aloud, and no one would ever admit to it, but I have a friend who says that his dad has a better relationship with his 2 dogs than with his son. What message is that sending? Is it ever appropriate to spend money on lavish gifts for a dog or cat? Is that ever not a sin?

    2. Second, if our world was in financial order, this would not be such a problem. But it isn't. Last I heard the average person had approximately $6,000 in credit card debt. What percentage of those with credit card debt are pet owners? I'm not suggesting their is a correlation, but if you are dumping money into a pet rather than paying of raging debt, you are not being a good steward of God's resources.

    Also, do you realize that 840 million people in the world are malnourished (that is 3 times the population of the US)? 799 million of those are in the developing (third) world. 152 million of those are children under 5. And we spend $15 Billion/year on dog food, food that almost a billion people would find nourishment from were it available. We are letting the children of the world, children that Jesus honored in his ministry, starve so that we can buy our cat a sweater, or a dog a fancier pillow, or our bird a top hat. (All of the above stats come from

    3. Lastly, one of the primary reasons I hear cited in defense of owning pets is that pets are good company. Are we that lonely as a society that we need animals to keep us company? Have our social skills diminished to the point of not being able to build meaningful relationships anymore?

    Friends, I am not anti-animal, or even anti-pet. In addition, I understand that their are scores of areas of materialism like boats and 3 car garages that I could make similar arguments about (and perhaps I will), but let us focus on this issue for a moment. I am passionate about seeing poverty, AIDS, and hunger end in the world. I feel that pet spoiling is just one area in which we are doing an embarrassing job of being Christlike. Jesus seldom talks about judgment and Hell in his ministry, but the Bible mentions the poor over 2000 times (second only to personal redemption in scripture). When Jesus does mention judgment and Hell in Matthew 25, he connects it with justice, saying,

    Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

    It is as if Jesus is saying that the thing that separates his people from all the others is their view and action towards injustice. And that is really what we are talking about. In the words of Bono (from U2), "This is not a charity issue; it is a justice issue."

    So where do we go from here? I understand that one of the huge issues with the hunger problem worldwide is ignorance. Out of sight, out of mind. Well, let us no longer be ignorant nor should we any longer say "I don't know how to help." Here are some organizations that are great and trusted to do the very thing I am advocating. is a campaign dedicated to lobbying the US government to allocate 1% of the US budget to stop poverty, hunger, and AIDS in the world. is a worldwide organization that is dedicated to stopping the causes of poverty in the world. (quoted previously) is another organization dedicated to stopping poverty worldwide.

    May we be a people who will stand and fight for justice. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

    Thursday, August 03, 2006

    Some Thoughts on Israel and Lebanon

    I am back from a long hiatus from blogging, but should be back and regular now.

    As you guys know, I post about what I am reading and learning, and seldom post about topics on which I am an expert. Today is no different. There has been recent turmoil in the Middle East (what's new?) and this time it involves Israel, a longtime US ally and a nation many Evangelicals think the US has a duty to support, invading Lebanon, a country pretty much in shambles, because of the kidnapping of some Israeli soldiers.

    At this time, I invite you to read the article I read on this. It isn't too long and it is a good synopsis of what is going on as well as an honest opinion of the situation. The article is here and comes from the e-magazine that is highly recommended by Donald Miller called the Burnside Collective. I, too, recommend the site and the article. Here are some quotes from the article before I make some comments.

    There are many reasons why I find the particular kind of support that America gives to Israel disturbing; I will discuss two. First, on a yearly basis billions of American taxpayers' of dollars are going to buy weapons that are used to terrorize a refugee population (half of whom are children) that is already marginalized and living in extreme poverty. Second, the effect of our attempt to "build democracy" seems to be having the opposite effect - increasing violence and producing more "terrorists" and suicide-bombers. The hatred of America around the world has never been more acute, and I'm no expert, but I don't think this makes us safer.

    Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men, six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously wound four more, three of whom are under eighteen. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered -- death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo -- but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.

    I have never really known what to make of the whole "support Israel/don't support Israel" debate. I mean it is true that they were God's chosen people, but is that still true? I mean, I don't believe that "Replacement Theology" crap about how the Jews are out and the churh is in, because I think Paul makes it clear in Romans that this idea is bogus. But, it is certainly true that it is no longer soley about the Jews and about Israel. Even if it was, supporting terrorism and the slaughtering of children is not a very Christlike mission. I have to say that I agree with Penny in the article; that we have pretty blindly supported and are continuing to support Israel despite their wrong actions.

    This is a pretty hot issue, and one that I think many people don't know where they stand. I think it is hard not to condemn these actions if you are a Christian and you take an honest look at the situation. As Penny mentioned, Lebanon certainly started the war, but that does not justify a terrorist regime as an answer.

    Please converse with me about this topic. I am still processing and searching for truth myself. Thanks for your time.

    Saturday, June 24, 2006

    A World of Wars

    Here is a paragraph from Donald Miller's book Searching For God Knows What about war.

    In a way, the war in heaven, the war between God and those against God, is the war to explain all wars. If you really want to believe one side is good and another side is bad, if you really want to look back through history and find a perfect and innocent kingdom that was attacked by an enemy, you have to go back to the Garden of Eden. A perfect and innocent kingdom hasn't been attacked since then. Details are few because Moses hardly gets into it, but to be sure, the Bible paints a picture of a certain evil tricking innocent humans into betraying the God who loved them, the King who was their friend. They were enticed, they considered their options, and they wanted to be equal to God. It's ugly stuff.

    I think Donald hits the nail on the head by suggesting that the war that began thousands of years ago between God and Satan, with us humans in the middle as the thing being fought for, is the same war that goes on today. Our war with our neighbor, our war with Iraq, our war with our selves, all stem from this initial act of war. I also like the point he makes about innocence. Let's take innocence out of the picture when it comes to war. No country (or person) goes to war with purely innocent motives.

    War is a tricky topic, and I must confess that as I get older, I become closer and closer to becoming a pacifist. I'm not there yet, mind you, but I keep slipping closer every year. I realize that this is a painfully unpopular view to hold in America, but it is how I feel. I am still sorting out my feelings on this. I will keep you posted as to my further breakthroughs. Anybody out there with me on this?