Monday, March 30, 2009

Truth in movies

I've heard of people watching movies with the express intent of trying not to be persuaded by anything communicated in them. That kind of thinking is not Reformed. Now we shouldn't be oysters and watch or suck in everything without thought. But if you're only on the defensive, you'll miss a lot of really good stuff.

I was flipping through the channels Saturday night and came across American Beauty, a movie I had already seen. Now the movie is quite disturbing, somewhat graphic, and I don't recommend it. However in the few minutes I watched, I heard something quite profound. The teenage daughter's friend said, "Don't leave, and you should listen to me because I'm your friend!" The daughter's boyfriend responded, "You're not a friend. She's just someone you use to feel good about yourself."

How many "friendships" are just relationships where one party is using the other to feel good about him/herself through physical attraction, pleasure, social status, etc....? More than half, way more than half. Like the lad in the movie, I would not call such relationship a real "friendship."

Another movie Amy and I just finished was Into the Wild. We really enjoyed this one (though we could have done without a few scenes). Throughout the movie the main character ran from material possession and relationships, finally realizing nature alone was insufficient for real joy. He wrote, "Happiness is only real when shared."

How true is that! I see so many people retreating from relationships, and they are miserable! Happiness doesn't come in isolation but in community. Throughout the movie the main character (it is a true story so that make it even cooler, or sadder I guess) has so many experiences with random people, not to mention with Alaskan scenery, flora and fauna. I kept thinking, "How miserable it would be to not share these experiences with others?"

By the end, he comes to the same conclusion as the writer of Ecclesiastes: "If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" (4:10)

Biblical truth can and will be expressed through people made in the image of God. We shouldn't be surprised to see or hear it expressed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Helping God cross the street like a little old lady

While putting together my Keynote (Powerpoint for Mac) presentation for Christian Ed this Sunday, I listened to the new U2 album for the first time a few weeks. One of the lyrics in a song called "Stand-up Comedy," holds this thoughtful insight: "Stop helping God cross the street like a little old lady..." First of all, I think that's a hilarious image, whatever it means.

But I do think I see what Bono's getting at. There is much mystery in God, and we don't always "get" His ways. In fact we shouldn't expect to always "get" His ways, since He does remind us that His ways and thoughts are often not the same as ours; they are higher (Isaiah 55:8-9). While Bono isn't divinely inspired like the writer of Isaiah, I think he provides some helpful insight for we who are too quick to defend God's actions to others-as though we know the purpose behind them.

Sometimes we need to just say, "I don't know why He did it that way; it doesn't SEEM to make sense." Often times it is better not to defend God's actions to others (especially those suffering) as though He were a little old lady needing help some help to cross the street. We can believe He's fair and just, and at the same time say to the person questioning God, "I don't get it either." He's not a little old lady.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Technology and relationships

Kip from Napoleon Dynamite sang at his wedding, "Yes, I love technology, not as much as you, you see. But I still love technology..." For Kip, the internet allowed him to meet and marry his soul mate Lafawndah.

For our Wed night discussion at Thinktank (a group of folks from Hope and those outside the church who gather at Starbucks to discuss a variety of issues), we spent time addressing the pros and cons of technology and its effects on relationships and community. Different people had differing opinions on the benefits and detriments of the internet, but we didn't see any sort of generational consensus.

Certainly angry blog commenter guy who lives boldly behind a computer screen or anonymity is a negative. Other negatives expressed by a wide variety of ages included the potential breakdown of close intimate friendships. However, most of us did recognize that the internet actually helped to sustain relationships otherwise unsustainable due to conflicting schedules, physical disabilities, or geographic separation.

One of the most positive examples I can give on how technology and the internet has helped relationships and community is my kayak fishing forum. The online forum community does not serve as a replacement community. Instead it is only a starting place to begin and sustain relationships. Because of the forum, 50-60 men desiring relationships and community get together for fishing tournaments 4 times a year. And numbers of people build friendships through "meeting" and setting up fishing trips via the forum. I think that's a huge positive otherwise impossible without the internet.

Feel free to comment on how you see a negative/positive relationship between technology and the formation of community and deep relationships.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


After fishing Friday evening with a buddy of mine (Amy was supposed to be out of town-that's not how I spend most Friday nights!) we shared some good pizza and beer. During dinner I had the opportunity to further cordially share the gospel with him.

One thing really stuck with me: since I listened to him, he told me that he was glad to listen to me. He said something to the effect of "I can talk with you about this kind of stuff."

He contrasted me with the angry fundamentalist friend, with whom he DOES NOT and CANNOT enter into dialog. Now there are some serious hang-ups with science and faith, so I suggested The Reason For God. He said he would be up for reading some of that, so we'll see. If I learned anything, listening and love (fishing=love to both of us) opens doors for pleasant and reasonable gospel conversation. Even when you bring it up without the smooth gospel transitions like I placed on the church resource table this past Sunday!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Never go against the family

A line in The Godfather reminds us to "Never go against the family." I learned that one the hard way, well of course not as hard as if I were actually in the mafia. I lost the bet. I should never have bet against my son. I should have known that this incredibly persistent child would soon be walking. But I also kind of figured betting against him was like betting against my favorite team. Either way, you win. For my punishment of "going against the family," I will now have to bake a pie. Never done that before. Still better than the original bet, which was nixed by the wife. Fortunately. Here's the video.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My weakness is, "I care too much....."

A few nights ago Amy and I were watching re-runs of The Office on TBS. Funny how watching them on TBS is easy and quite enjoyable; but rarely will I ever actually put in a DVD featuring the same episode. Anyhow, Michael was interviewing for a position which appeared the obvious next step up. As I've learned in interviews, the one conducting the interview always asks you to share personal strengths and weaknesses. Micheal said, "Why don't I just tell you my weaknesses: I care too much about the company, and I work too hard. My weaknesses are my strengths."

When some of us admit our weaknesses, we may not do exactly what Michael does, but we don't do too much better. For instance, one acceptable weakness to confess is pride. It's acceptable to say, I struggle with pride. It admits nothing. But rarely do we admit how we struggle with pride. Someone asked me the other day, "How do you see pride show up in your life?" He assumed it was there, and just wanted to see how it popped its ugly head.

If an interviewer asks you a question about your weaknesses you are compelled to answer. You need to answer honestly, but there is always some fear in the back of your mind: "I need to be honest, but I don't want to tell too much and hurt my chances of getting the job."

We often look at relationships in a similar interviewing light. But when you find someone who will hear your weaknesses and not threaten you with any loss of relationship (like not being hired or being fired or looked at weirdly), it's a totally different ball game. And that interviewer/interviewed connection vanishes like the ACC in recent NCAA tournaments.

It sure is refreshing when you have relationships where weaknesses are talked about and accepted. Then you will experience the freedom and joy of the gospel far more than holding your cards too close to the vest.


I like receiving missionary prayer updates because it is very hard for me to pray generic prayers. A missionary our church supports has had serious VISA issues for some time, and I'm not talking about her credit card. The country, which shall remain nameless for her protection, is not helping matters out.

How hard would this be for a missionary? Put yourself in her shoes. You are compelled to be in a specific locale and work to translate the scriptures into the vernacular (language of the people), and yet things are becoming harder and harder to do just that. She's not praying for a Porsche or riches; she's praying for the Visa so she can translate scriptures.

This is a "What is the deal God" type moment for me, I can't imagine what its like for her! It really comes to me at an appropriate time as I've been personally wrestling with this question of "differently answered" prayers while preaching through Habakkuk (here's a sermon I preached on Habakkuk this past Sunday which some folks said they've found helpful). How it might feel like God is not on her side! But I also began to think of something like this happening to an old school missionary a long time ago: Paul. Instead of God letting him go to all the crazy places he had anticipated going, he gets locked up in a prison, spends time in house arrest, and then gets beheaded.

And yet the gospel went forth to the nations. Not my plan, but God sure did and does know what He's doing, even when it seems he doesn't.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Profound truth in a kid's song

Have you ever found that sometimes the simplest things can be the most profound? I overheard my 9 and 1/2 month old son's music playing today. He's not yet into U2, but I have to give him some time. He'll get there eventually.

Amy procured a CD filled with all kinds of kids' bible songs, you know the kinds with the ultra-high pitched (and sometimes freaky sounding) voices. Today, track number 1 particularly struck me to the core. I'm not sure of the title, but these are the lyrics, "I'm so glad that Jesus loves me....Jesus loves even me."

How often do we sit down and just let this sink in? Are we really so glad? That he loves even me? So glad that our circumstances don't mean as much anymore? Or are we only so glad when life is going well? Today, by God's grace, this truth just hit me. Today, right now as I write this, I'm gladder and more joyful than I have been in awhile simply because of this truth. Because God is loving, He will expose the idols in our lives so that we would run back to this truth.

If after a time, "I'm so glad that Jesus loves me, even me," doesn't have an affect on us, it may be that there are personal idols which have not been identified or repented from: comfort, and respect are some that I've been battling. We do battle by reflecting and delighting on this truth of the gospel. The gospel at some points is so profoundly deep and at the same time profoundly simple enough a child can get it. This child got it today.

Monday, March 16, 2009

St. Patrick's Day tribute to U2

Since today is St. Patrick's day, what better time to give tribute to Ireland's finest: U2? Like them or not, very few Christians have been able to live out their faith (well at least 2 of them profess Christ) and earn such a high level of respect from those outside the church. They truly have set an example for us all on how to redeem the culture: making quality music that expresses authentic truth. This song "Magnificent" performed on the Letterman show, is for all practical purposes a praise song.

There is no doubt they are the best thing to come out of Ireland. What would you say are the top 5? I'd have to go with celtic music, potatoes, red hair and peat. Where would we be without peat?

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Rex Streak

A few weeks ago, Jim Rome, my favorite sports talk host, interviewed former NBA player Rex Chapman. The following Monday and Tuesday he interviewed Rex Hudler and Rex Ryan. Then the "Rex streak" was born. Everyday there was a different Rex being interviewed and on and on until Rex #20. It was such a great interview that the streak was called. He wanted to end on a high note.

He departed from sports figures at times due to the fact that he was running out of Rex's. Before closing with an astronaut named Rex Wilheim, he began to get more and more obscure.

He was interviewing golf coaches for Louisville, defensive line coaches in the CFL, bass players for Pantera, college wrestlers named Rex. There were so many people who would have never otherwise been interviewed. They weren't famous. They weren't icons. Some weren't athletes. Some were really smart. But none were inherently worthy of a nationally broadcast interview. And some knew it.

All except for one gave great interviews. They calmed down, because Jim Rome (people either love him or hate him), made them feel welcome, important, and showed an interest in their stories.

He was treating normal people like celebrities. They said, "Jim, thank you for having me on." And Jim would say, "No, thank YOU for keeping the Rex streak alive." What started out as a simple and goofy thing ended up being quite profound. He legitimately enjoyed hearing their story and so did his listeners. He treated ordinary people as though they were more important than he.

What a concept! Of course its not new; it's been done before. Treating people as more important than we are and listening to their story.

Phil 2:3 "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves."

Now Jesus is the only who's ever applied this perfectly, but I still think, because Jim Rome (made in the image of God and still bears His image), can teach us by example through this "Rex Streak.'

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Discipleship Model III

This is my last post on the discipleship model and why it makes a difference not simply in discipling others, but on our own discipleship.

All of us, for the most part, inevitably fall into one of the three categories: "Head," "Heart," or "Hands." Nothing is intrinsically wrong with any of these categories. In fact, the church needs all three types of folks. Nevertheless, unless you want to walk around with a huge head (getting neck-aches), a huge heart (I'm really not sure of the medical complications associated with a heart too large-feel free to let me know), or huge hands (ruining a potentially lucrative hand model career), you need to examine which category you land. I'm being facetious of course; God calls us to grow in all these areas.

While fishing the other day, my friend and I discussed and confessed where we landed. Both confirmed the other's brief (between casts) self-evaluation. He was more of a heart guy (emotions, emphasis on the heart belief), and I'm more of a hands guy (being very practical, wanting to see how the belief makes a difference). Now that doesn't sum me up completely; I do like studying theology and philosophy, and I do like discussing motivations and heart idols. And all of us have elements of all three; that's how God made us. But clearly, we all do have emphases.

One way to figure out where you tend to land is to look at the books you've read over the past year. What kind do you 'by default' pick up? What kind of books do people need to recommend to you for you to read them? Mercy, outreach, commentaries, cultural engagement? Do you feel you need to grow the most in knowledge, personal devotion, or applying what you know to the world around you? In bible content/theology (head), in your application of the gospel to your heart and life (heart) or in serving others, relationships, mercy, outreach (hands)?

Finally, the best way, is to ask simply to ask someone close to you.
Once you figure out where you land, it's good to surround yourselves with resources like articles, blogs, books, and people who can challenge you to grow in areas you may more naturally neglect.

My reading/study has been more balanced than I initially thought (a Piper/Meheny sprinkling-how ironic I chose that word, since both are baptistic!), though it has been tilted in the department of the Hands lately (church models, sociological perspective of young adults and religion, community groups). My next purchase/reading pursuit will probably be Jack Miller's Repentance and the 21st Century man. I haven't picked out my next "Head" reading. First things first though.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Discipleship Model II

I'll continue some thoughts on my (though it's not technically "my"-I didn't come up with it) discipleship model now and show you how I've implemented it. I started a group for deeper discipleship with a few guys in the fall. As it would turn out, several have since moved on so the make-up of the group has changed. Nevertheless, the format of the group is to spend time fellowshipping, in accountability/prayer, and discussing the study.

Our first book was the Living the Cross Centered Life by C.J. Meheney. It beautifully expounds the gospel and the fact that we never outgrow our need to continually come back to the Cross. The book is great for young and mature Christians. I would put the book in the category of "Heart," since it deals so much with sanctification (growing in Christ). Now there are a plethora of good applications (Hands) and some reformed theology (Head) in the book, but the thrust of it is to challenge people to continually rely on the gospel (Heart).

The next, and current study, is one written by a seminary professor of mine named Richard Pratt. The Business of the Kingdom explores the implications of living out the prayer, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." Again, there is some theology behind the study, but most of that is addressed outside the study in his sermon on the Lord's prayer (which we listened to before starting the study; it's worth your 45 minutes, I promise). The rest of the teaching comes at the beginning of each section, and then requires the participant to practically and specifically answering questions tailored to one's own work setting ("Hands"). We've not finished this study yet, but I still highly recommend it for all employees, students, and those who own their own businesses.

Our next book will probably tackle something in the "Head" department and then repeat the cycle. Of course different people tend to be stronger in different areas, so that may cause us to spend more time in one of the three categories and not simply mechanically move from one to the next. Later, I'll discuss more about how this discipleship model applies to our own personal discipleship: our following after Christ, as opposed to their following.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Discipleship Model

I think a good model of discipleship is one which emphasizes all aspects of our person. The best model I've found is "Head, Heart, Hands." Now there is cross over from one area to the next, but each primarily represents a different focus. "Head" refers to the gathering of a normative, standard base of knowledge. If I were focusing on training someone in this area, I might emphasize reading books on theology, worldview, scripture interpretation (called hermeneutics), reading large chunks of the bible to understand the grand narrative, or looking up specific commentaries.

If I were focusing on the "Heart," I would spend time developing their understanding and application of the gospel, discussing the idols of their heart. I might recommend reading books (you can tell what tradition I'm from-a "head" focused one!) on sanctification, counseling, challenge them to pray with a Kingdom emphasis, discuss healthy emotive components arising from a relationship with Christ. And obviously I would address personal time alone with God studying and reflecting on His word in smaller chunks. Some call this a "Quiet Time," (and this is fine) though those words are also used for what parents make their children do when they're too old for naps, so I just call it "personal study," "meditation," or "devotions." Just my goofy opinion.

If I were focusing on developing the "Hands," I would challenge folks to display what they know and what they believe/feel by living out their faith through their actions. The book of James emphasizes this component of the faith. In addition, this area would include serving inside the church and outside in the arenas of mercy and outreach. We can't simply know more of Christ, simply delight more in Christ personally, but also need to serve Christ and build His Kingdom. Resources in this area would be "practical" articles/books/blogs assisting you to be a better parent, a more effective cultural influence, a better neighbor, a preacher, Kingdom centered employee or boss, etc...

Again there is cross-over and some studies/books/resources may hit on all three emphases but will generally fall into one category more than another. I'll explain more later on why I think its important to think in these terms. I've probably written too much already.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Your way right away is not a good way to write a story

I've had a chance to further reflect upon my Habakkuk 1 sermon, as I "re-preached" it-with some changes relevant for my audience of course-for RUF at USF last week. In addition, I also reflected upon Ruth 1, and came up with something new for my 2nd RUF talk. I began to see something very similar in both of these stories.

First of all both, Ruth and Habakkuk felt neglected, and perhaps "shafted" by the Lord. God wasn't writing the story the way they felt He should write it (but Hab was still right in crying out to God). Now approaching the passages from a historical distance, we can see how the Babylonian invasion was intended to produce repentance, which would usher in the Kingdom of God through Jesus. And Ruth was eventually-though Naomi couldn't see it at the time (and that's the point)-to bear her a son, who would become King David's great grandfather.

Naomi's problem and Habakuk's problem would have been "solved" differently if they were writing the script. And in the gospels, Peter's problems would have been "solved" if Jesus did not go to the cross but instead immediately became a militaristic king. Yet it was only by Jesus going to the cross that any problem (sin's punishment/power/presence) could be solved and His Kingdom come to the Earth. And that is clearly what Habakkuk was crying for.

None of us would have drawn it up that way. None. And that is the ONLY way God's Kingdom would come to Earth. You and I would have been right there with Peter saying, "Jesus, you're crazy, it's not necessary for you to die that way." Admit it. And if we were wrong about the cross, we might very well be wrong about a number of things when it comes to how God writes His story into the world today. He does things differently than we would do them. And while that makes me frustrated at times, knowing we would not have included the cross, should we really want it written any other way?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jury Duty

I had "jury duty" yesterday from 8am-6:15 pm. I say "jury duty" because all I did was sit in a holding room for about 9 hours (they did give us a lunch break). My two possible trials were canceled and they didn't need me for a back-up, so I gladly went home. At 6:15 pm. I did have the opportunity to discuss some of the gospel with a garrulous woman I met, agree to pray for her mother, and invite her to Hope, so it wasn't a TOTAL waste of a day. But it was really close to that. Can't think of a better way to spend a day off, eh?

Monday, March 2, 2009

RUF speaking tour now over

I completed my RUF speaking tour this Friday evening at Ft. Desoto park. On Tuesday night, I drove down to U.S.F. in Tampa to speak for their regularly scheduled "large group" meeting. I put "large" in parenthesis because that's what RUF calls such meetings-yet only 15 students showed up.

On Friday, my best bud Ande Johnson, UCF's RUF Campus pastor asked me (well he asked me at least a month ago; I just spoke on Friday!) to speak at his retreat. There were probably over 30 students in attendance as I began speaking at 10 pm that evening. It was fun having to use a flash light to read my notes and deliver my message to students circled around the campsite. A slightly different venue than when I preach, lead Christian Ed, Community group, youth group, etc...

When I think of people who've had the greatest spiritual impact in my lives, I think of several people very close to me, such as my Mom, and those who've discipled me over the years. But I would be remiss to ignore the various speakers at numerous retreats and conferences.

I'm thankful for all those who've discipled me and those who've sharpened me through their friendships. But I'm also thankful for all the "little people" those who've been a part of my life for only a small window-such as weekend. Even such folks as these have had a huge impact. I can only hope I was "little person" this week, serving alongside people who've put their blood, sweat, and tears into their ministries.