Monday, August 17, 2009

How should we live? (Final reflections on Luke 15)

After five months of living in Romania, the honeymoon was over. Though I loved the adventure of living overseas, the newness, wonder and excitement were gone. I missed home. I missed driving my car. I missed American efficiency, American food, and watching Star Trek in English,not in badly dubbed German with Romanian subtitles. I missed going to football games, and most of all, I missed my friends and family. At times I felt like an alien on another planet. I missed fitting into my culture and being “in the know.”

But if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I still experience, to some degree, that same sense of alienation even now that I live back in the USA. I have longings that go unfulfilled and expectations that remain unmet. I experience disappointment and heartache no matter where I live.

Living overseas gives one a certain “distance” from which to observe people. When I lived and worked amidst the Romanian people, I saw and heard them express the same sense of alienation.

But when I inhaled the rush of color that descended upon our city each Autumn, or stood in awe of the view from atop the snow-covered Transylvanian Alps, or when I laughed with friends or experienced the presence of God during worship or prayer, I got a taste of something that I could only describe as "home."

The Germans have a word for this universal experience. They call it sehnsucht. We don't have a word for it in English. More than nostalgia, sehnsucht denotes a deep homesickness or longing, but with transcendent overtones.

The writer best known for speaking on this "spiritual homesickness" was C.S. Lewis. In one of his essays (I think this is from The Weight of Glory), he describes these experiences as "the scent of a flower we have not seen, notes to a tune we have not heard, and news from a country we have not visited."

At some level, all of us are like the rebellious younger son in the third parable of Luke 15. We've all wandered away. We're all exiles looking for a home that seems to evade us.The parable in ends with a feast. A celebration over the fact that the lost, wandering, younger brother is finally home. Sadly, the feast is darkened by the fact that the older, obedient son will not join the party. The imagery evoked here is found throughout the Bible: heaven is pictured, not as a place of empty moralism or wild rebellion, but as a feast, a banquet of rich foods.

The film that captures all of this so powerfully is "Babette's Feast." The film is based on the short story by Danish writer Isak Dinesen, who was influenced by the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and his idea of the "aesthetic" and "ethical" approches to living. The characters in the film represent those who try to live out one or the other of these approaches to life. It ends with a lavish banquet where members of a strict, lifeless, and bland religious sect dine with a great general who chose the path of worldly success. He wonders if he missed out on what really mattered in life.

Under the influence of the warmth of the banquet and the sight, scent, and taste of rich foods, rivalries vanish and tensions melt away. Dour faces soften as forgiveness is offered and love and laughter flow. Finally, the general stands and offers a toast. Quoting Psalm 85, he says, "For mercy and truth have met together and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another."

Dinesen is hinting at a third approach to life. A place beyond the "aesthetic" and the "ethical." She hints at it in the imagery of a banquet where the diners have a momentary mystical experience when "righteousness and bliss" meet and kiss. What Dinesen's story illustrates is what Jesus' parable of the lost sons is meant to explain. Jesus is "the bread of Heaven."

In his book, The Prodigal God, author and pastor Tim Keller explains that, "both the sensual way of the younger brother and the ethical way of the older brother are spiritual dead ends. Jesus shows us that there is another way: through him. And to enter that way and to live a life based on his salvation will bring us finally to the ultimate party and feast at the end of history. We can have a fortaste of that future salvation now...a foretaste of what is to come."

ISAIAH 25:6-8

"On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine-the best of meats and the finest of wines.

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations, he will swallow up death forever.

The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the digrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken."

Friday, August 14, 2009

How should we live? (part 2 of 3 reflections on Luke 15)

In my last post, I explained how two common approaches to life, what the philosopher Kierkegaard called the "aesthetic" and "ethical", were dismissed by Jesus as inadequate. In fact, his approach to life was so different that Roman citizens referred to the first Christians as "atheists." This is difficult for us to grasp in the 21st century but consider the following: If you were living in the Roman empire in the first century and met a Christian and you asked, "Where is your temple?", the response would be, "We don't have a temple?" If you asked, "Well, what about your priests, where do they labor and where do they perform your sacrifices?", the answer would be, "We don't have priests and there are no sacrifices." The Christians' understanding of spiritual reality was so radical, so different from the norm that there was no "box" for it. Religion, as it was practiced then and as it is still practiced today, focused on doing something to merit God's favor and obeying to get in right standing with God. Obedience led to blessing and favor. Disobedience led to condemnation. The right sacrifice and the right behavior led to divine favor. Jesus, however, introduced something different. Something that could not be labeled as religion.

We see this in the New Testament accounts of Jesus, where it is the religiously observant people who are offended by Jesus and the irreligious people who are attracted to him. Whenever Jesus encounters a religious person and a racial outcast (John 3-4), a political outcast(Luke 19), or a sexual outcast (Luke 7), the outcast connects with Jesus while the religiously upright person does not.

The scene in Luke 15 is typical of Jesus' encounters with religious people. They are grumbling to themselves "this man welcomes sinners, and eats with them" (Luke 15:1-2). In response to their grumbling, he tells three parables to introduce a very different understanding of spiritual reality. In the final parable, the dutiful older brother, representing the religious establishment is left outside of his Father's embrace. Ironically, it is not his sin, but his goodness that keeps him from joining the party.

Shockingly, Jesus considers religious moralism to be a particularly deadly spiritual condition. He goes so far as to say to the religious people of his day that, "the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you" (Matthew 21:31).

What Jesus offers is life in the kingdom of God, not through religion, but through a relationship with Him. He offers himself as the temple to end all temples, the priest to end all priests, and the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. He sacrifices for us, offers his life for ours, paying the death penalty we owe for our sin and satisfying both the justice and mercy of God. His obedience and willingness to die in our place leads to our blessing and favor. His offer to us of a flourishing life in his kingdom as his lifelong apprentices leads to transformation that is not a result of our trying to earn anything but is the result of His Spirit at work in us, changing us from the inside out.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How should we live? (Part one of three reflections on Luke 15)

Have you seen the film Chocolat? It tells the tale of a woman who moves to a village in the french countryside to open a chocolate shop at the beginning of Lent. The townspeople, particularly the mayor, are concerned about her arrival. They live a life of strict moral diligence and don't know what to do with this woman who fails to fit into their preconceived notions of a life well-lived.

The film deals with the questions of how one should live their life. Like so many other films, books, and plays, it deals with two approaches to life that the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard calls the "aesthetic" and the "ethical."

The aesthetic approach to life is a life of sensual indulgence, a life of freedom from the confines of traditional morality. A life of radical independence, self-expression, and self-discovery.

The ethical approach to life is a life of moral diligence, a life of dutiful obedience to standards of right and wrong. A life of discipline, rigor and conformity to tradition and religion.

So much of what I seen playing out in our culture seems to divide along these lines. Our country seems to be growing more and more secular and more and more religious at the same time. On one side are those who are weary of religious people imposing their views on everyone else. On the other side are those who want to rescue our nation from the encroaching secularism by "taking back the culture" and returning to traditional morality.

This division between the aesthetic and the ethical is nothing new. It's even addressed in the Bible. This morning, with my senior pastor out of town, I was invited to take the pulpit and give the sermon. My text was Luke 15. In this chapter, Jesus is surrounded by a group of irreligious people, people from the "wrong side of the tracks", so to speak. A group of religious leaders are also present and they're mumbling to themselves, wondering why Jesus would have anything to do with these people. In response to their grumbling, Jesus tells them three parables. Though all three parables are similar, the third one is unique in that the two main characters, a wild younger brother and a dutiful older brother, represent the people in the crowd. The younger brother represents the "aesthetic" approach to life and the older brother represents the "ethical" approach.

Surprisingly, Jesus singles out both approaches to life as inadequate. He suggests something entirely different. He offers a way of life that is neither religious nor rebellious. A way of life that is neither strict and rigorous, nor lax and self-indulgent. A way of life that is not a balance between two extremes but an entirely different approach altogether. An approach so unique that the ancient Romans called the first Christians "athiests" because they didn't fit into any of their pre-conceived understanding of religion.

More on this later in the week.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Living beyond the ribbon of time

The redhead's recent post has me thinking about time.  Life has been good around our home but death has crept into the corners through the television updates on the passing of numerous celebrities, through the one-year anniversary of my father-in-law's passing, and through the recent death of an old acquaintance, a young thirty-something father of two who's body gave way to a long battle with stomach cancer.

Time passes so quickly.  News of death and loss makes me want to do everything I can to live in the present as fully as possible, not hindered by past mistakes, missed opportunities, or wounds, not distracted by anxious concern over what may or may not happen in the future.  The past is gone and the future doesn't exist yet.  All we have is "the now."

The ancient Greeks had two words for time:  chronos and kairos.  Chronos corresponds to the English word for time.  It has do to with measured time:  hours, minutes, and seconds.  It is represented by clocks and calenders, daytimers and blackberries.  It's all about productivity, efficiency, and punctuality.  Kairos is different.  It has to do with important events, timeless moments, glimpses of transcendence, and heart stopping encounters.  

One writer describes it this way:  "We exist in chronos, we long for kairos.  Chronos requires speed so life is not wasted; kairos requires patience so that life can be enjoyed.  Chronos drives us forward to get things done; kairos allows us to relish the opportunity to do them.  We perform in chronos, but we truly live in kairos." (Gerald Sitser, The Will of God as a Way of Life).

There are moments where we do have to focus on productivity and efficiency.  And there are times when we have to hurry.  But life is lived best from kairos, not chronos.  If we're not careful chronos can enslave us to a barren busyness that drains us of the passion and wonder of life.  Moreover, it deafens our ears to the voice of God who calls to us in kairos moments where heaven and earth intersect.

Life is lived best when we slow down enough to pay attention and enjoy the ordinary kairos moments:  things like laughter with friends, a good meal, throwing the best of ourselves into our jobs with passion, catching a great wave on a surfboard, receiving the bread and wine at the communion table, and unhurried time with our spouse.  

Life is lived best when we make it an art.  Life is lived best when we ignore the busyness, the push and pull of life, and we stop to enjoy the present.  Life is at its best when we live beyond the ribbon of time and the tick tick tick of the clock.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happy 2nd Anniversary Sweetie!

Two years ago today. Wow.

Hope we'll be making music and still going strong when we're old and grey like this couple. They've been married 62 years and played an impromptu recital together in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic shortly before his 90th birthday.

Here's to growing old together.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Up for adventure

The redhead and I caught the movie Up yesterday afternoon.

I can't remember the last time I was so deeply affected by a film. Within the first five minutes, my eyes grew wet with tears and by the end of the movie, I was a blubbering idiot in desperate need of an action film to redeem my manhood.

Stories have great power to move us, even animated ones. In a recent interview, Up writer and director Pete Docter said, "There's something of the divine in the way we respond to stories and how we're created as people—that we're so driven by relationship that even when we know we're just looking at a bunch of drawings, we still connect emotionally." Boy, do we ever! Even when we're not aware of it, our longing to connect with others moves in powerful ways.

The film had so many great themes: the consequences of misplaced priorities, the danger of devoting your life to the wrong things, the beauty and simplicity of an ordinary life, and our deep need to connect with others. I don't want to spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it yet so I won't give away too much here. Check it out for yourself. Just be sure to bring a box of kleenex.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Work is a rubber ball

"Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air.  You name them-work, family, health, friends, and spirit-and you are keeping all of these in the air.  You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball.  If you drop it, it will bounce back.  But the other four balls-family, health, friends, and spirit-are made of glass.  If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered.  They will never be the same.  You must understand that and strive for balance in your life." (Brian Dyson).

As much as I think balance is a never ending quest for the unattainable, I find myself resonating deeply with this quote.  I can drop the work ball and survive but if I drop one of the others, then life will never be the same.

What about you? Can you relate?  How do you keep from dropping the wrong ball?

Monday, June 1, 2009

More than Plain Vanilla

Nearly every summer during my childhood years, my parents would haul my sister and I up to Virginia to stay at my grandparent's house for the week. Though we loved our Nana and Papa Jim, after a couple of days in their home, we were usually ready to pull our hair out.

Nana's house was a tidy home nestled on a quiet street in Richmond. She had a garden out back where she grew the tomatoes that ended up in pots of her famous stewed tomatoes, a dish that still gives my sister and I nightmares. Everything was proper at Nana's house. No chips and sandwiches for lunch. Everything served on pink depression glass and good china. Days were quiet and peaceful. Evenings were set aside for card games like "crazy eights" that we played while eating bowls of vanilla ice cream or munching on popcorn.

A few days of this and we were ready to lose our minds. All we could think about was what was waiting for us across town, at my Aunt Anne and Uncle Graham's house. Anne and Graham and their four kids lived in a home that was nothing short of amazing for two kids from flat-as-a-pancake Florida. Their house sat at the top of a hill. A steep driveway curved around back. A creek ran behind their house and best of all, their home had (get this) ..a basement! Whoa! This was a room that was actually buried in the ground, something we never heard of or saw in Florida. And in that basement was a roomful of everything a kid could want: a closet full of boardgames, a pool table, a drumset and a big TV. But the door leading out to the garage opened up to the greatest find of all: not one, but two motorcycles.

We sat at Nana's house trying to look amused and well-behaved. But all we could think about was getting over to Anne and Graham's house. Sometimes, while sitting at our grandparent's house, my sister and I would call our cousins, just to find out what was happening at the fun house. One time, my sister practically begged my Aunt and Uncle to come and rescue us from the grandparent prison.

Sometimes, I think the way we think about "good" or "being good" or "living a good life" is sort of like how I perceived life as a child at my grandparent's house: it was a place to be nice, polite, respectful. A place to enjoy a few well-mannered amusements and perhaps be rewarded for good behavior with a bowl of vanilla ice cream. A place to be good, moral, and nice.


What if "good" is more like life at my Aunt and Uncle's house: a bold, risky place of adventure, excitement, new experiences, noise, games, relationships, fun, laughter, and new sights and sounds? What if "the good life" is a flourishing life full of abundance instead of a flat two-dimensional life of moral duty? What if it's a life rich with adventure, purpose, and intimacy?

It's easy to portray evil in popular culture. Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in the last Batman movie was dark, sinister, and amazing. It's harder to portray good in a way that doesn't come up flat. Evil is often portrayed as sexy, alive, and pulsing with energy. Good comes across as flat, ordinary, and dull.

Maybe the richer portrayals of good are found not in popular culture, but in the rich tapestry of men and women that surround us. I think about the bold risky lives of a group of my friends who want to make a difference in the lives of orphans. Tonight, the Redhead and I listened with excitement to these friends as they told us about their work in funding an orphanage in Uganda and their plans to take supplies over next week with a group of people from our church. Another couple talked enthusiastically and tearfully about the unsolicited generousity of friends who were funding their adoption of a blind infant girl from Ethiopia. Still anther couple suprised us all with the news that their family was about to grow as they announced their plans to adopt two more children from Kazakhstan.

These men and women are my heroes. Unselfish ordinary people living extraordinary lives rich with goodness in the fullest sense.

When Jesus promised an abundant life for those who would give up everything they had to become his disciples, I think this was the kind of life he was talking about.

It beats a bowl of vanilla ice cream any day.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Spiritual Formation blog launched

On Tuesday, my friends Kyle and Jamin launched a new blog that's all about spiritual formation. They've asked me to be one of a dozen or so contributors. I'll be posting there about once a week. You can find my first post on the site here. The site is still in its early stages but take a look and let me know what you think.

In case you were wondering, "what exactly is spiritual formation?", here's the deal: Spiritual formation is all about the shaping of our inner life so that our outer life takes on a certain form. In a sense, everyone, from terrorists to saints, is being spiritually formed. Their hearts are taking on a certain character and disposition, for better or worse, depending on how they are being shaped in their thoughts, feelings, wills, bodies, and social context. Christian spiritual formation looks at what happens when we follow Jesus as his disciples (or students). It focuses on how we can better cooperate with the work of his Spirit in changing us from the inside out so that we resemble him all that we are and all that we do.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Something to ponder

Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.  I know that by experience......That is why faith is such a necessary virtue:  unless you teach your moods "where they get off," you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion."  (C.S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity")

Monday, May 18, 2009

My first funeral

Monday morning of last week got off to an unexpected start.  My senior pastor stopped by my office and told me that three people connected to our congregation died this week. He was swamped with funeral preparations and with our Care Pastor in the hospital and unavailable, he asked if I would step in and perform one of the funerals.  I reluctantly said yes and for the next twenty-five minutes, I got a crash course in how to conduct a funeral.  

On Tuesday, I met with the widow and her oldest daughter.  I wrote the eulogy on Wednesday, met with my senior pastor for another brief preparation session that afternoon, and performed the funeral on Thursday morning.  

The experience was surreal.  I never met the man I was eulogizing.  His wife attended our church but he never came with her.  Fortunately, the family shared enough about him during our Tuesday morning meeting that I felt like I was able to honor him well.  Halfway through the service, during one of the hymns, I unexpectedly found my eyes welling up with tears.  I found myself torn:  do I let the grief and sadness wash over me and express empathy with the family, or do I pull back and lead the funeral.  I opted for the latter and hoped I didn't seem uncaring.  Someone had to lead this community of family and friends through the grief process and the closure of a funeral and burial and I figured that was my job.

I can't remember the last time I felt so alone and so invisible.  The family rightly focused their attention on the grieving matriarch, offered her comfort and support, and (rightly as well) ignored me.  My role was to serve.  But this was my first funeral and I wanted someone to comfort me and encourage me through this difficult task.  I prayed and begged God to speak through me and empower me to serve this group of grieving friends and family and honor the life of one they loved so much.

I felt honored to be able to serve this family in their time of need and intimidated by how small I felt in such a huge role as presiding over a funeral and leading prayer at a graveside.  It was definitely an experience I'll never forget.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Mother's Day like No Other

Five years ago, I found myself standing before an aisle full of Mother's Day cards at the local Hallmark store. This would be a Mother's day like no other. As a present for Mother's day, I had flown my Mom down to Miami for the weekend (where I was living at the time). My life was undergoing a major alteration and in the midst of this transition, I needed to her to know that her place in my life would remain unchanged. I hoped the weekend in Miami would help ease any anxiety she might be feeling.

Mom hadn't arrived yet and I was looking for the right card. But this card wasn't for her. I'd already purchased her card. This card was for someone else. Someone I had known about my entire life but had never met. This one was for my birthmother.

Several months earlier, after resisting years of gentle encouragement from my Mom (whom I was convinced was watching way too many positive adoption reunion stories on Oprah), I finally got my nerve up and contacted the archives unit of the Children's Home Society of Florida, my adoption agency.

Thirty seven years earlier, my a nineteen year old birthmother found herself with an unexpected pregnancy. At the insistence of her mother, she left her home in Connecticut and moved in with her cousins in Tarpon Springs, FL until I was born.  She gave birth to me that summer on June 10th. Seventeen days later, I was adopted by a young couple in Clearwater, FL.

Betty, my adoption caseworker, conducted the search for my birthmother. I thought it would take months or even years to find her.

She located her in about two hours. 

"She sounds really nice. You've got four siblings, five nieces and nephews, and one more on the way." 

I hung up the phone in shock.  Brothers and another sister.  More nieces and nephews.  It was almost too much to absorb.  My mysterious past suddenly came into focus.  My life-long questions began to have answers.

A few agonizing months later, in March of 2004, I received my first letter and photo from Alice, my birthmother. I learned about my "half" siblings: three brothers and a sister.  That April, we spoke on the phone and heard each other's voice for the first time.

We met that summer on June 27th at the duck pond near her home in Connecticut. Ironically, it was the same day I was adopted into the Owen family thirty-seven years prior. Her husband Hank, (not my birthfather) was with her. He walked up to me, threw his arms around me, and with his thick New England accent, said, "Welcome to the family!"  I gave Alice a big hug, not realizing that this was the first time she had ever held me.  She feared not being able to go through with the adoption process had she held me as an infant.

Though there is much, much more I could share, suffice it to say that my reunion with Alice and her side of my biological family has been a postive one. My adopted Mom has been a great support through it all and Mother's Day hasn't been the same since. This Sunday, two sets of strangers who knew about each other but never met will receive cards on Mother's day: my birthmother will get a card from me and my Mom a card from Alice.

Happy Mother's day Mom and Alice. Much love to you both for the irreplaceable roles you play in my life.

Me and my Moms at my wedding in June of 2007 (Mom on left, Alice on right)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hard or Easy?

I love teaching.  Give me an interested audience and a topic I'm passionate about and I'm one motivated speaker.  Tuesday night was no exception.  It was the final night of the Alpha Course. a twelve week course that introduces Christianity to those who want to know more.  Before me was a roomful of people from all across the spiritual interest spectrum:  spiritual seekers, beginners, and "returners".  These men and women spent twelve weeks covering every aspect of Christianity:  everything from who is Jesus and who is the Holy Spirit to what is prayer and how does God guide us?  Tuesday night was the wrap up session.  

My topic for the evening was "What now?"  In light of all they had heard, discussed and seen over the past twelve weeks, what now? As a discipleship pastor, I'm passionate about motivating men and women to become committed followers of Jesus.  As I spoke, I asked my audience if they thought Christianity was hard or easy?  For on the one hand, Jesus said that we had to give up everything we had in order to become his disciples (Luke 14:33).  But on the other hand, he said that for those who choose to follow him, his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).  So which is it?  It it hard or easy to follow Him?  

I think the answer is both: It is hard to give up your way of life.  It is hard to die to self and turn the driver's seat of your life over to Jesus.  But let's face it, being in the driver's seat ain't all its cracked up to be.  The on-going drama of life played out all around us, the family friction, the daily struggles, addictions and difficulties, the daily soap operas of "ordinary life" that we see acted out all around us are fraught with difficulty.  Much of this is a result of our stubborn determination to handle life on our own and our refusal to face our need to look for help from someone bigger than us.  It might be hard to turn your life over to Jesus, but it's not easy living without Him.  

In fact, it is much easier to live with Him on the throne of your life.  As I spoke that night, I quoted a favorite philosopher of mine, Dallas Willard, (professor of Philosophy at USC). Though there is a cost to following Jesus, Willard argues that there's a greater cost when we don't follow him.   He writes that not following Jesus, "will cost you abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, and the power to do what is right and resist the forces of evil."  In short, he argues that not following Jesus will cost you the abundance of life that He said he came to bring (John 10:10).

Yes, it's hard to turn our lives over to Jesus.   But when we do, when we enter into a relationship with Him and receive His forgiveness and!  We find ourselves living an eternal kind of life, a life that grows and flourishes over time.  

And that's a lot easier than life as usual.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Child's Privilege

Last Sunday, I caught sight of an unexpected connection between father and son. Jim, my senior pastor, was teaching the new members class at my church. While he was speaking, I looked down at my notes for a moment and then looked up, only to be mildly startled by what I saw. My pastor's youngest son (age 9) had wrapped himself around his dad's waist. Without flinching, Jim continued teaching, placing his left arm around his son. It was a heartwarming sight. Withough the slightest bit of hesitation, Jim's son had quietly barged into the room, marched up front, and embraced his father, completely unaware of a child's privilege to interrupt a meeting and steal moment of connection with his dad.

I can't help but think that this is what God offers to each of us who call him father. We can "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). We don't have to be afraid of rejection. We don't have to wait for the "right moment." We don't have to wonder if he will push us away. We just have to come.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Visitor

"Jane" (not her real name) showed up alone at my church last Sunday. My Mother-in-Law, who's never met a stranger in her life, introduced me to her. New to the church myself, I assumed Jane was a long time church member who wanted to meet the new pastor.  I was wrong.  "I'm a new Christian", said Jane. Apparently, Jane had recently become a follower of Jesus through the influence of a Christian neighbor who spent a long evening over a bottle of wine with Jane and her husband,  discussing his faith in Christ and answering their questions, talking and debating until the wee hours of the morning.

So here she was, by herself (husband and kids at home), and visiting our church in the hopes of finding a place to connect with other believers. This articulate university professor found herself convinced that Jesus was really the son of God.

We emailed the other day and I offered to recommend a few favorite books to help answer the questions she has about her new found faith. She wrote back and said she'll take me up on the offer soon.

So Jane, if you're reading this, here's a couple of books that I reccomend to those who want to investigate Christianity. You might even find these books helpful for that husband of yours who thinks we're all just following a bunch of fairy tales invented to keep people moral.

  • "The Reason for God" by Tim Keller. This New York Times bestseller is one of my all time favorite books on the veracity of Christianity. Keller serves as the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. His congregation is made up of skeptical New Yorkers, many who came from secular backgrounds and had no belief in God prior to attending Keller's church. My wife attended his church when she lived in Manhattan. She fondly remembered his Q&A time held at the end of each service, where Keller made himself available to those who had questions about Christianity. This book is a composite of those Q&A sessions and is a great resource for those investigating Christianity
Here's a brief clip of Dr. Keller, sharing a little bit about the book:

  • Another favorite book of mine is "The Case for Christ", by Lee Strobel, my friend Kyle's father.  Strobel was an athiest and a legal editor for the Chicago Tribune. He came home from work one day and to his horror, discovered that his agnostic wife had become a follower of Jesus. Intrigued, he began using his journalism skills to investigate Christianity and in the process, became convinced that it was true. Strobel's book is actually a collection of interviews with scholars and theologians. He puts his journalism skills to work interviewing experts and asking tough questions on a search to determine if it is reasonable to believe that the historical person of Jesus Christ is really the son of God. It's an easy, informative read and a great resource.