Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What will ground you in 2012?

(a blog repost from earlier this year)

In their book, The Sacred Romance, John Eldredge and Brent Curtis noted that our culture produces a "thinning" effect on our souls, causing us to become "light", airy, and vulnerable to whatever blows in from the winds of our post-modern culture. They called this "ontological lightness, the reality that when I stop "doing" and simply listen to my heart, I am not anchored to anything substantive. I become aware that my very identity is synonymous with activity."

I a recent newsletter, Eldredge reflected on how, in the 10+ years since the publication of The Sacred Romance, this condition has only gotten worse. The piercing and tattooing movement, the "simplicity" movement, the increased obsession with celebrities, and the popularity of "reality" television all point to a deep need for substance, grounded-ness, and a deeper sense of self.

And with social media like facebook (and blogs….gulp), one writer noted that "we can digitally represent ourselves without having to be ourselves."

It all seems so hollow. Yet I am as susceptible to this as the next person.

In the book of Acts, chapter 17 verse 28, the Apostle Paul, in presenting the news of Jesus to a curious crowd of skeptics and seekers in Athens, notes that "in him we live and move and have our being." Any other place we look for groundedness comes up short.

How will you stay grounded in 2012?  If you are a Christ-follower, what will you do to remind yourself that you are one in whom Christ dwells?  What will you do to keep your identity rooted in Him?  How will you resist the pull to anchor your identity in someone or something else?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Drill Sergeants, Cell Phones, and Guilt

Guilt, we all experience it.

You know the drill.  Your pastor gives a challenging sermon.  You feel exposed and guilty.  Things in your life need to change and you find yourself squirming a bit, thinking, “Yes, I need to work on that, I need to do something about that.”  A self-improvement regimen starts forming in your head as you say to yourself, “I need to read my Bible more.  I need to pray more.  Maybe I can get an accountability partner to help me with that.”  You envision yourself successfully following your action plan for spiritual growth.  Guilt has moved you to get to work and fix yourself.

What’s going on here?  Have you ever thought about exactly how you experience guilt?  I think most people experience guilt like the shrill, piercing whistle of a drill sergeant jolting his recruits out of their slumber at some ungodly hour of the morning to begin whipping them into shape.

For many of us, this is how our conscience works:  we know we fall short in some area and, when exposed by a sermon, a book, a friend, etc., we feel guilty.  The piercing whistle of guilt goes off in our heads and our inner drill sergeant demands that we get to work.  Powered by our own effort, we push ourselves towards growth and transformation.  This is particularly true for those of us who are high-capacity, get-it-done type individuals.

It’s time we re-consider how we respond to guilt.  If we stop for a minute and really listen the next time a wave of guilt hits us, I think we could “hear” something different.  Instead of a piercing, shrill whistle, what if the experience of guilt is more like a ringing cell phone?  Instead of guilt demanding that we get to work on our flabby souls, what if our guilt is actually inviting us into a conversation.  Not a conversation with ourselves, with our “inner drill sergeant”, but a conversation with our Savior, the one who knows us better than we know ourselves, the one who knows that we are far more broken and needy than we want to admit and more deeply loved and cared for than we ever dared to hope or imagine.  A conversation with the one who took our guilt on His shoulders because He knew that no regimen of our own creation could ever remove our guilt and transform our hearts.

The next time you’re sitting in church and you hear the call of guilt, what would happen if you ignored the drill sergeant and picked up the phone?  What if you took the time to listen to the one who knows that what you really need is not a self-improvement regimen, but an encounter with His unconditinonal love?  What if you were honest with Him and admitted your neediness and ongoing struggle with sin?

You would have the opportunity to drink deeply from the forgiveness and mercy poured out for you at the Cross.  You could open your heart to the outpouring of grace made available through the Cross and the Spirit.  And then, from that place of dependence, you could move forward, cooperating with what he does (or does not) tell you to do.

Beats following a drill sergeant any day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Leadership and Vulnerablity

In my guest post on Michael Hyatt's blog today, I suggested that, like those who train for acting, public speakers must give thought not simply to how to craft a better delivery, but how to more fully offer themselves as they communicate their message.  The challenge to fully offer ourselves, warts and all, is one that all leaders face, not just public speakers.

Offering our imperfect selves is difficult.  And aren't leaders supposed to put their best foot forward?

It is tempting to hide behind preparation, expertise, education and experience.  But those who hide cannot lead well.  Hiding hinders our ability to lead effectively.

In a radio interview, Dan Allender, psychologist and author of "Leading with a Limp" made the following statement about leadership:

"I think if you were to peer into many leader's hearts, they remember believing.  They remember their first love.  But in one sense, the posturing has so eroded something of their own capacity to be real and to be alive...that they've become somewhat robotic and certainly distant.  And that kind of leadership never is a person that you would want to deeply follow."

We must move away from posturing as leaders and risk simply being ourselves.  We must be vulnerable.  Instead of always putting our best foot forward, we must put our flawed foot forward.  This is an incredibly difficult and terrifying thought for many of us who lead.  Yet it is our vulnerability that puts us on level ground with those who follow us.  We become more real in their eyes, more authentic.  Admitting failures, confessing our confusion over the way forward, and naming the conflicts we face in ourselves and with others reminds those who follow us that we are stumbling forward together.  It can lead to the kind of teamwork that no amount of formal leadership training can produce.

People are drawn to genuine disclosure, not exhaustive disclosure.  Exhaustive disclosure of every piece of junk isn't the point, nor is it necessary.  No need to air all of one's dirty laundry to everyone (But you ought to air it to someone...a topic for another post).

So take a risk and lead from your heart.

We need you.

We do not need your degrees or your years of experience.

We do not need your best impression of a good leader.

We need your best expression of an honest leader.

Someone like that is worth following wholeheartedly.

QUESTIONS:  Do you think vulnerability is an important quality in leadership?  Is it overlooked?  Have you ever seen it in a leader you admire?  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm guest posting on Michael Hyatt's blog tomorrow!

Michael Hyatt has quickly become one of my favorite bloggers.  He is the chairman of Thomas Nelson publishers, the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the world.  He writes insightful, practical posts on leadership, technology, communication, writing, and whatever else interests him. He's taught me much about how to become a better blogger.

I was honored to guest post on his blog this Friday.  My topic is "What an Acting Coach Taught me about Public Speaking."  I based it on a conversation I had with my wife's acting coach, Kim Tobin, .  Please stop by his blog tomorrow to read it and be sure to leave a comment!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My top three reads for 2011

Even with the craziness of life with two newly adopted children, I somehow managed to feed my voracious appetite for books.  I discovered a lot of great reads in 2011 but these made it to the top of the list:

1.  "Jesus, the CIA, my Father, and Me, a Memoir...of Sorts" by Ian Morgan Cron.  Great writing.  Honest, humorous, touching, and heart-breaking.  Cron chronicles growing up with an alcoholic father.  Though I grew up in a mostly functional family, I still encountered some of my own wounds within Cron's story.  One of the best books I've read in a long time.

2.  "The Reason for God" by Timothy Keller.  Truth be told, I plowed through this book a few years ago but read it so quickly that I didn't really get to benefit from it as much as I wanted.  I am taking a small group through a DVD curriculum based on the book and read it again as preparation for the study.  This is, hands down, one of the best explanations of the reasonableness of Christianity that I've ever read.  Based on his question and answer sessions with skeptics after his church services, this is a great gift to give to someone looking for answers from a gracious, thoughtful Christ-follower.  Reading it reminded me of why its reasonable to be a Christian in the 21st century.

3.  "Kisses from Katie" by Katie Davis.  How do you explain a high achieving homecoming queen who moves to Uganda and becomes the mother of 14 girls?  You don't.  Instead, you read her story and learn from this remarkable young woman and her heart of compassion for those in need.  I was inspired and challenged while having my categories completely rattled.

What were your best reads of 2011?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What is a pastor?

What exactly, is a pastor?

Who are we and what do we do?

In his book, "Under the Unpredictable Plant," former pastor Eugene Peterson, using the Old Testament book of Jonah, reflects on the role of pastors and the pressures they face in shepherding their flocks.  In one section of his book, Peterson elaborates on a dilemma that I often find myself facing as a pastor.  He reflects on the issue of the central role of pastors.

Are we messiahs armed with great listening skills and compassionate hearts ready to rescue weary souls struggling with physical or emotional wounds?  Are we managers eagerly looking for able bodied men and women who can unleash their talents in building the church and advancing the kingdom of God?

These are important questions to consider.

Who are we really?

Are we saviors arriving on the scene to bring healing to the wounded?  Are we supervisors equipped to bring order, direction, and administration to the work of the local church?  Or are we primarily called to something else?

I find myself drawn to both of these important roles.  It is a great honor to offer help to families in difficult situations, serving as the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of Jesus.  And I love putting my planning and organizing skills to work in finding and coaching small group leaders, serving as a good steward of the gifted men and women God has brought to our church.

But Peterson argues that each of these roles, as important as they are to pastoral work, is inadequate to serve as the core identity of a pastor.  Instead, he suggests that we serve primarily as those who pay attention to the Spirit's activity occurring around is, in us, and in the lives of the men and women we encounter in our daily interaction with those who make up the body of Christ.  We are the ones called to help the Samuels in our lives recognize and respond to the voice of God who calls out to them (1 Samuel 3:1-10).  The classic title of this particular pastoral role is "spiritual director."

Ironically, Peterson identifies this role as what we do when we don't do the visible things that we get paid to do.  It is our most significant work and yet it is the easiest to dismiss and by far the most neglected aspect of our role as pastors.  But if we do not help busy men and women stop and pay attention to the Father's activity in their midst, then who will?

How do you practice spiritual direction in your own ministry setting?  Do you tend to default to one of the other two legitimate roles of ministry?  How do you keep the other roles of ministry from crowding out this most central work?  How do you help others recognize and respond to the Spirit's work in their life?  How can we practice the other roles of ministry while living from the central role of attending to the Spirit's voice, both for others and for ourselves?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent: Permission to Rejoice and Permission to Mourn

I love Christmas.  I could hardly wait to get the tree up and the lights set up in the yard.  Our boys are at a fun age for Christmas.  My 3 year old is completely enamored by the lights and decorations and is looking forward to celebrating Jesus' birthday.

But Christmas also makes me melancholy.  I actually warned my wife about this when we were dating, just to prepare her for the cloudiness that shades my normally sunny nature. Christmas was hard for me as a single adult.  I'm not sure if it was the loneliness I felt of not having someone to share the holidays with or the sadness of recalling happy Christmas memories from before my parents divorced.  Maybe it was a mixture of both.

In recent years since I've gotten married, the melancholy has largely vanished from my Christmas celebrations.   Unfortunately, it still ambushes me from time to time.  I want to banish it away so I can embrace the joy and life of the Christmas season.

In his book, "Living the Christian Year", author Bobby Gross recognizes this tension and encourages us to give ourselves permission to sing and permission to mourn during the season of Advent.

Truly, there is much to sing about at Christmas:  a Savior is coming who brings light to our dark world, a Shepherd is arriving who will lead us to living water and to the bread of life.  Emmanuel, God with us, is on his way.

Though our savior arrived in Bethlehem many years ago, and though he indwells those of us who follow him, we wait for more.  We wait for the second advent, the momentous day of his second coming.  And while we wait, we live in this "in between" time with a mixture of joy, hope, and lament.

There is much to mourn as I wait:

  • A young friend of mine discovered she had a brain tumor a few weeks ago and is preparing for surgery next week..
  • The wife of a good friend of mine is enduring chemotherapy in a battle with breast cancer
  • Last week, a co-workers endured a tragic loss.  Halfway through her pregnancy, her baby's heartbeat stopped.  A few days later, she entered the hospital to deliver a stillborn baby.
This world is not the way it was supposed to be.  Our address used to be paradise.  Eden.  And one day, we will relocate to a new home in a new heaven and a new earth.

But right now, we live in the remains of what once was as we wait for the arrival of what will be.

Living in this "in between" time stirs up joy over what has already come, hope for what is to come, and sorrow and longing as we endure life in a fallen world and wait for the world to come.

Romans 8:23 describes our condition well.  We "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies."

Groaning inwardly and waiting eagerly. We are invited to do both.

Somehow, giving myself permission to feel melancholy at Christmas thins out the heavy haze that often descends upon me during the holiday season.  I can welcome the melancholy as a friend, knowing that it is a reminder that this world is not my home.  I can be OK with it.  I can normalize it, knowing it is not a bad thing.  I can move away from self-absorption and towards God in prayer.

I can do both:  I can celebrate the season wholeheartedly, and enjoy the view from the perspective of my children while accepting the waves of sadness that wash over me from time to time.

I can sing and mourn, and offer up both as prayers while waiting eagerly for his return.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Double Advent (repost)

(I wrote this post in December of 2009, our last Christmas without children).

Joy to the World!
The Lord is come, let earth receive her king!
Let every heart prepare him room…

Preparing room in our hearts for Jesus.  Isn’t that what the Advent season is about?

But how does one actually prepare for an event as monumental as the arrival of Christ into the world?  At the moment of our conversion, did we ever pause to consider the enormous significance of his entrance into our lives and what would happen when he arrived to take his rightful place in our hearts? And during this season of Advent, are we prepared to welcome him into our lives anew?

If we’re honest, I think the answer is "yes and no."

The dictionary defines the word "advent" as "the arrival of something momentous."  I have to wonder, though, when those momentous occasions occur, do we truly realize what is arriving?

This year, as my wife and I take time each week of Advent to pause and "prepare him room", this season of preparation is taking on a deeper meaning, for we are actually preparing for two advents.  We are preparing for both Christmas day, and for what is affectionately known in our adoption agency as "gotcha day."  We long for this day, a day that will finally arrive after eighteen months of paperwork, social worker visits, blood tests, two sets of fingerprints, waiting lists, court dates, and a marathon flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.   A day when we meet our little one/ones for the first time and become his or her (or their!) forever family.

Everything in our lives is about to change dramatically.  Nothing will be the same.

Are we prepared to welcome this infant into our lives?  Yes and no.

So much will have to change, starting with our names. The stockings hanging over our fireplace have the names "Brian" and "Tracy" stitched into the fabric.  Those will have to go.  Next Christmas, the new ones will read "Mom" and "Dad."

Our home currently feels like a haven of safety and comfort in the world.  Our new family member will quickly challenge that assesment and will reveal to us a world of dangers we either never saw or comfortably ignored–things like exposed electrical outlets, glass keepsakes, and unlocked medicine cabinets.

Our current media consumption, our time spent with friends, our waking and sleeping schedules, our leisure time…it’s all about to get tossed out the window and replaced with something new.


The arrlval of baby Jesus seems so innocent and unobtrusive, yet a moment’s reflection on the upheaval awaiting expectant parents like us ought to move all of us to stop for a moment to seriously consider the transformation and upheaval awaiting all who sincerely welcome Christ into their lives.  We are far too comfortable with the Christmas celebration.

But Advent is not a season of fear.  It’s a season of joyful anticipation.  For when Jesus arrives, his upheaval involves rescuing us from the kingdom of darkness and transfering us into the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12-13), the true resting place for our restless hearts.

So let every heart prepare him room this Advent season because the glorious disruption that awaits us, the feast that we only begin to sample this side of eternity, promises to enfold us into something and someone beyond our wildest dreams.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Need an idea for your next Sunday morning small group promotion?

If you are a small group pastor and you need an idea for your next small group promotional piece, here's a video that my wife and I developed, with the help of filmmaker Beau Brotherton.  We stole borrowed the concept from a similar video that Buckhead Church in Atlanta.  My wife, who is an actress and photographer, took the majority of the photos and helped arrange the stories.

Small Group Promo from Beau Brotherton on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Expensive lessons in leadership

It remains one the most painful leadership lessons I have ever learned.  The campus ministry I served with invited me to take a position as a team leader in Romania.  My team was made up of four recent college grads and a thirty-something friend who took a year off from her work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.  

This was my first leadership position in our organization and I relished the opportunity to lead.  To prepare for this, I threw myself into every leadership training opportunity I could find:  A week with the national team as they trained the newest campus directors and four weeks in Colorado at our ministry's Leadership Development Project, where I was exposed to leaders in business, psychology, academics, and the church world.  I submitted myself to tests, mentors, and opportunities.  I was prepared...or so I thought.

Two weeks into my arrival in Romania, full of enthusiasm and excitement.  Armed with training, ideas and a team of young men and women, I fell flat on my face.

One of my team members didn't like having a leader.  He didn't like authority and I became the lightening rod for all of his hostility towards authority figures.

He didn't like me,

I wanted to be liked.  

Desperately so.

My desire for approval, even from someone who didn't like me, was so strong that it undermined my ability to lead well.  I hesitated to make decisions.  I feared making hard decisions.  Confronting him didn't change the situation.  Appeasing him made no difference.. I tried simple friendliness.  Nothing worked.

I was determined to get him to like me...to a fault.  I wanted to be liked more than I wanted to lead.

My determination to win his approval was costly.  Team meetings were draining and hindered our effectiveness in ministry.  In the midst of the challenge of cross cultural ministry and the stress of living in a foreign country, our team meetings could have been a place of encouragement and support.  Instead, weekly staff meetings stole more life from each of us.

Why didn't I send him home?.  I wanted to believe that I was dealing with the equivalent of a minor paper cut that simply needed a band-aid of friendliness.  Instead, I was facing a cancerous growth that required radical surgery and removal.  I committed one of the classic errors of leadership:  I refused to face reality.

That year in Romania was costly.  I learned several expensive lessons, among them are the following:
  • Leadership isn't about being liked.  It's about leading, even when its tough.  It is not about making everyone happy.
  • Reality is your friend.  Good leaders face reality.  They confront it and respond to it, even when it's tough.
What are some of the expensive leadership lessons that you have learned?

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Pastor's most important task

What is the most important task for a pastor?  To craft compelling sermons?  To develop a rich personal prayer life?  To learn how to listen well?

What would you say if someone asked you that question?

Dallas Willard, philosophy professor at USC, former pastor, and prolific writer on the topic of spiritual formation, would say that the task is this:

To arrange to live with deep contentment, joy, and confidence in one's everyday experience of life with God.

What would it look like to arrange my everyday life so that it was characterized by these three things?

  • Deep contentment.
  • Joy.
  • Confidence.

How do I do this in the midst of a hectic life of work, family issues, poopy diapers, date nights with my wife, bible study, piles of bills, soccer in the backyard with my boys,...all the stuff of ordinary life?

We often tend to separate our spirituality from everyday life when in reality, ALL of life is spiritual, not just the explicitly "religious" moments.  It is in the ordinary moments of life that we can find the richness to be enjoyed and the satisfaction we desire.

In another context, Willard encourages pastors "to have substantial times every week where they do nothing but enjoy God.  That may mean walking by a stream, looking at a flower, listening to music, or watching your children or grandchildren play without your constantly trying to control them.  Experience the fullness of God, think about the good things God has done for you, and realize he has done well by you.  If there is a problem doing that, then work through the problem, because we cannot really serve him if we do not love him."

Instead of adding some kind of spiritual activity to my life, I need to look for God in the midst of what is already happening in my life.  I must look for the ways he has blessed me and enjoy what is right in front of me.  I need to open to God in the midst of my very ordinary life.

What about you?  What can you do to live your everyday life with deep satisfaction in Christ?

Monday, October 31, 2011

God, evil, and suffering (The Reason for God part 15)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

How does a Christ follower reconcile his or her belief in a good and powerful God with the reality of suffering and evil?  Honestly, there is no easy answer.  This is, in my opinion, the achilles heel of Christianity.  This is the toughest issue to resolve because, at the end of the day, it is ultimately a irreducible problem.  It can never be removed by argument.  And really...who among us is going to "feel better" about horrific tragedy if we have a crisp and clear answer to this issue?  None of our philosophizing about this issue will get God "off the hook."  Yet ironically, philospher Peter Kreeft comments that, "the Christian God came to earth to deliberately put himself ON the hook of human suffering."

Keller points out that, while Christianity "does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair."   Keller makes the following observations and claims:
  • Jesus did not face his death with the fearlessness that one would expect of a "Braveheart"-type hero.  He was deeply disturbed and shook up by his impending death (Mark 14:33-34), tried to avoid his death (“If it be your will…take this cup from me”—Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42), and when he was on the Cross, cried out that God had forsaken him (Matthew 27:46).
  • Why this reaction?  He was more overwhelmed by his death because it involved something he had never known:  As God incarnate, Jesus had never been separated from God the father until now.
  • "We cannot fathom...what it would be like to lose not just spousal love or parental love that has lasted several years, but the infinite love of the Father that Jesus had from all eternity. Jesus’s sufferings would have been eternally unbearable. Christian theology has always recognized that Jesus bore, as the substitute in our place, the endless exclusion from God that the human race has merited.
  • "The death of Jesus was qualitatively different from any other death. The physical pain was nothing compared to the spiritual experience of cosmic abandonment.  Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment.
  • "If we again ask the question: “Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?” and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we now know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.
What does the idea of a suffering God have on your understanding of the problem of reconciling belief in God with the reality of evil and suffering? 


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Strange evidence for God (The Reason for God part 14)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

Keller makes an astounding claim in his chapter dealing with the tension of God's existence in a world full of evil and suffering.

While readily admitting that this is an enormous problem for believers, he notes that it is potentially an even greater problem for unbelievers. He notes that C.S. Lewis initially rejected the idea of God because he couldn't reconcile God's existence with the cruelty of life. But as Lewis pondered it, he concluded that the problem of evil was even more difficult to reconcile with his atheism. In his mind, suffering actually “provided a better argument for God's existence than one against it.”

Lewis stated that:

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of 'just' and 'unjust'?...What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?...Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too-for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies...Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple."

Many of our modern objections against the existence of God have to do with our sense of fair play and justice. We believe that people ought not to suffer or inflict evil on one another. But evolution is based upon the principle of natural selection and it depends upon the death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak. On what basis can we judge the natural world to be wrong and unfair? We can only judge it by admitting that there is some sort of extra-natural or supernatural standard by which to make the judgment. Otherwise, we are just offering up our own subjective opinion.

“The atheist does not have a good basis for being outraged at injustice,” says Keller, “which, as Lewis points out, was the reason for objecting to God in the first place.”

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga put it this way:

Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness [if there were no God and we just evolved]? I don’t see how. There can be such a thing only if there is a way that rational creatures are supposed to live, obliged to live…A [secular] way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort…and thus no way to say there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness. Accordingly, if you think there really is such a thing as horrifying wickedness (…and not just an illusion of some sort), then you have a powerful…argument for the reality of God.”

The problem of tragedy and suffering is a problem for everyone. At first glance, it does seem as if taking God out of the equation would make it easier to grapple with, but it doesn’t. It is at least as big a problem for unbelievers as it is for believers. 

Since the problem of evil is a problem for all of us...how do you reconcile it?  If you are a theist of some sort how do you reconcile evil and suffering with belief in the existence of a good and powerful God?  If you are a skeptic of some sort, how do you reconcile your belief that there is such a thing as an objective standard of justice and fairness in a world that is simply the product of chemical reactions occuring over time?

We'll unpack a few of Keller's thoughts on how a Christ-follower might approach it in my next post.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Review: "Kisses from Katie"

Kisses from Katie

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference in Atlanta and had the privilege of hearing from Katie Davis, a remarkable young woman with a story full of so much sacrifice that I found it almost impossible to believe.

This remarkable young woman from Brentwood, Tennessee had the kind of life that teenage girls envy: student body president, homecoming queen, a boyfriend, a sports car, and plans to head to college. She turned her back on all of it to launch a sponsorship program for needy children in Uganda. Today, at age 22, she is the mother of 14 girls (yes, you read that right) and leads a child sponsorship ministry that cares for over 400 children, providing them with an education, food, and medical care.

Her story blows me away. I don’t have a category for someone like her. Yes, she's young, but wow, her sacrifice and humble trust in God inspires me. For those of us living in the USA who claim to follow Christ, it is easy to learn a lot about Jesus without really doing what he said to do. In her book, Kisses from Katie she writes, "As I learned more and more of what Jesus said, I liked the lifestyle I saw around me less and less...Slowly but surely I began to realize the truth: I had loved and admired and worshipped Jesus without doing what he said.”

For her personally, this realization led to her serving the poor in Uganda. She writes, “I fell in love with a beautiful country of gracious, joyful people and immense poverty and squalor that begged me to do more. It was happening in so many ways, and I couldn’t deny it. I wanted to actually do what Jesus said to do.”

“So I quit my life.”

Not all of us who follow Christ will be led down a path that leads to a third world country, but her response to Jesus’ command to take care of the poor and sick sure makes me want to reexamine how I live my life and makes me want to live with more intentionality w

You can learn more about her ministry here, follow her blog here, and learn more of her story by watching the video below.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Saint Bernards, "No see 'ems", and suffering (The Reason for God part 13)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

In Keller's chapter entitled "How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?", he cites philosopher J.L. Mackie's book entitled, "The Miracle of Theism." Mackie asserts the following:

"If a good and powerful God exists, he would not allow pointless evil. But because there is much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist. Some other god or no god may exist but not the traditional God."

Yet other philosophers have discovered a flaw, a hidden premise in this reasoning. That premise being that, "If evil appears pointless to me then it must be pointless." This reveals a tremendous amount of faith in one's cognitive faculties. A faith that asserts that, "If I cannot see or comprehend a point to suffering and evil, then there can't be a reason for it."

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga unpacks this hidden premise with his "no see 'ems" illustration. He states that if you were looking in a pup tent for a St. Bernard and you didn’t see one, it is reasonable to assume that there is no St. Bernard in your tent. But if you were looking for a "no see um" in your tent (a tiny sand gnat with a huge painful bite) and you didn't see one, it is not reasonable to assume that they are not there. Because, after all, no one can see 'em.

Keller then notes that "many assume that if there were good reasons for the existence of evil, they would be accessible to our minds, more like a St. Bernard than like "no see 'ems", but why should that be the case?"

Pastoral experience sheds more light on this as well. Over the years, in both my own life and the lives of those around me, tragedy and pain at times bring personal and spiritual growth. If, over time we can see good reasons for suffering in at least some of pain and tragedy of life, then isn't it possible that, from God's point of view, there are good reasons for all of it?

Keller concludes the following, "If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn't stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can't know. Indeed, you can't have it both ways."

Keller goes on to claim that, while evil and suffering isn't evidence against God, it could actually be evidence for the existence of God.

More on that unusual claim in my next post.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Problem of Evil (The Reason for God part 12)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

The day started out like any other. I rose early from my bed and after taking care of a few things; I headed out the door for a quick early morning trip to the grocery store. As I headed back home and drove out of the store parking lot, I noticed that the traffic was unusually light for rush hour in Miami. I turned on the radio and caught the middle of a broadcast about something unusual. I couldn’t figure out what was happening but the grave tone of the journalist’s voice told me it was serious. Upon returning home and walking in the front door, my roommate, who was normally at work by now, was watching the television, staring in disbelief. I quickly discovered why. Images of the twin towers burning and crumbling to the ground poured from the TV set. I sat in stunned silence, horrified at what was taking place.

The French writer Simone Weil said that only two things can pierce the human soul: beauty and affliction. On September 11th, 2001, the spear of affliction cut deeply into the soul of every American with terrifying force. Like a blast of cold air or a slap in the face, we woke up afresh to the reality that we live in a world full of evil and suffering.

Every person, when confronted with the tragedy of life asks, “Why?” “How can this happen? How can God allow this?” Regardless of one’s belief or lack of belief in a supreme being, God is almost always questioned when we face the problem of evil.

For Christians, the problem of evil is enormously difficult. This, I think, is our most difficult issue to reconcile with belief in God.  Our belief in the truthfulness of the bible creates a difficult dilemma. Both the Bible and our own experience tell us that the world is filled with the presence of evil. But the Bible also tells us three important characteristics about God:

1. God is all knowing.
2. God is all-powerful.
3. God is good.

These three characteristics of God, combined with the reality of evil, create our dilemma. If God is good and loving, then it is reasonable to think that he wants to deliver the creatures he loves from evil and suffering. If God is all knowing, then it is reasonable to believe that he knows how to deliver us from evil and suffering. And if God is all-powerful, it is reasonable to believe that he is able to free us from evil and suffering. Yet each day, we wake up in a world full of acts of evil and awful suffering. If God is really loves us, if he’s all knowing and all-powerful, then why doesn’t he do something?

I'll start unpacking my thoughts and Keller's in my next few posts, but for now, how do you respond to the reality of evil and suffering in our world?  Is this a "defeater" for you regarding the possibility of the existence of God?  If you are a believer, how do you reconcile the tensions I list above? 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Love and liberty (The Reason for God part 11)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

In my small group this week, we talked about the fact that some people reject Christianity because they view it as a confining straightjacket. They see it as an oppresive system that stifles human flourishing.

Keller makes the following observation,"What is the environment that liberates us if we confine ourselves to it, like water liberates the fish?  Love. Love is the most liberating freedom-loss of all.

One of the principles of love - either love for a friend or romantic love - is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy.   If you want the 'freedoms' of love - the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings - you must limit your freedom in many ways."

His observation brought to mind a sappy country western song I heard years ago sung by Paul Overstreet called "Ball and Chain."

Love don't feel like a ball and chain to me.
When I am with you my heart beats wild and free.
If you are my jailer darlin', throw away the key!
'Cause love don't feel like a ball and chain to me.

It makes a point that anyone who's been in love can resonate with.  I sacrifice for my wife because I love her.  When we were dating, I looked for ways to please her.  My behavior changed dramatically and from the outside, it looked restrictive but from the inside, it didn't feel that way at all. 

Over a lifetime though, a love relationship will only be healthy if both people surrender their independence and sacrifice for the other. It would be exploitive if only one party did the sacrificing and giving.

Keller notes that, "In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us - in his incarnation and atonement.  In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death.  On the cross, he submitted to our condition - as sinners - and died in our place to forgive us.  In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, 'I will adjust to you.  I will change for you.  I'll serve you though it means a sacrifice for me."

"Once you realize how Jesus changed for you and gave himself for you, you aren't afriad of giving up your freedom and therefore finding your freedom in him."


Monday, October 3, 2011

Freedom and Constraint (The Reason for God part 10)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

Is Christianity an oppresive religion?  Is it a bunch of confining rules that stifle human freedom and flourishing?  That was our topic of discussion for this week.

One of things we noted as we talked was that freedom is a bit more complicated that it first appears.  For example, if I want to lose weight, I have to restrict myself from certain foods.  Yet this restriction leads to a life of health.  If I want to learn how to play a musical instrument, I have to restrict myself to practice, practice, practice.  But this practice leads to an expansion of freedom of musical expression that would not be possible without restricting myself to a training regimen.

Granted, restriction alone doesn't lead to freedom.  Discipline has to be congruent with one's nature and capacities. My wife is naturally gifted in artistic expression.  Several years ago she confined herself to the island of Manhattan and for two years, she attended The Neighborhood Playhouse, where she submitted herself to a training regimen that brought to fruition the gifts and abilities that she possessed.  If I had gone through the same process, the results would have been terrible!  The restrictions my wife placed upon herself were congruent with her nature and thus brought her great freedom of artistic expression.

In light of this reality that freedom often comes through the right kinds of constraints, Keller posits that, "If we only grow intelectually, vocationally, and physically through judiciuos constraints-why would it not also be true for spiritual and moral growth?  Instead of insisting on freedom to create spiritual reality, shoudn't we be seeking to discover it and disciplining ourselves to live according to it?"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are all of us narrow and exclusive? (The Reason for God part 9)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

In my last post, I wrote about the three ways our culture attempts to deal with the problem of the divisiveness of religion:
  1. outlaw it
  2. condemn it
  3. or privatize it.
Of these three, I mostly encounter the second approach:  condemn it.  This approach takes the form of statements that are peppered throughout our culture. These statements are so common and so supposedly self-evident that to question them, one is automatically thought to be bigoted or narrow-minded. 

Over the years, I've heard statements like these:
  • "All major religions are equally valid and basicalhy teach the same thing."
  • "Each religion sees only a part of the whole. None can see the whole truth"
  • "It is arrogant to insist that your religion is right and to convert others to it."
The interesting thing about these statements is the assumptions that all of them make.  Assumptions that prove to be quite problematic.

The first two statements all assume that the one making the claim has exclusive access to all knowledge of spiritual reality.  The third statement is actually self-refuting, for the one stating it is trying to persuade or convert the listener. 

If we are honest, we have to acknowledge that all of us hold to beliefs about the nature of ultimate reality that are exclusive.  Keller rightly notes that, "It is no more narrow to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions (namely that all are equal) is right.  We are all exclusive in our beliefs about religion, but in different ways." 

Keller argues that our approch should not be to get rid of religion to get rid of divisiveness:

"It is common to say that 'fundamentalism' leads to violence, yet...all of us have fundamental, unprovable faith-commitments that we think are superior to those of others.  The real question, then, is which fundamentals will lead their believers to be the most loving and receptive to those with whom they differ?  Which set of unavoidably exclusive beliefs will lead us to humble, peace-loving behavior?"

Christianity contains fundamentals that produce people of peace, love, and justice. At the heart of Christianity is a one who forgave his enemies and died for them.  Those who follow him and learn from his example cannot help but be compassionate, empathetic, and tolerant with those outsde of their faith community. 

Tragically, many who claim to follow Jesus look nothing like him. Their divisive, self-righteous, violent behavior is not derived from actually following the example of Jesus, but from ignoring it.

Do you think that all of us have "fundamental, unprovable faith-commitments that we think are superior to other" or is Keller overstating his case?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Aren't all religions the same? (The Reason for God part 8)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

This week, we're tacking the topic of exclusivity.  In my years of working in collegiate ministry, before coming to work at Grace Fellowship, I frequently ran into this type of objection to Christianity.  It gets voiced in different ways, such as:

  • "All religions are basically the same"
  • "There can't be one 'right' religion, that's intolerant and close-minded"
  • "All religious paths are equally valid, they are like multiple paths up the same mountain"
  • Religious exclusivity leads to intolerance, division, and even violence.  The view that their is only "one way" is bigoted and extremist."
And so on.

In "The Reason for God", Tim Keller admits that religion often creates a slippery slope in the human heart.  Those who think they have "the truth" look down on others who don't.  Those who think their practice of the truth will somehow save them and make them right with God feel superior to those who don't believe as they do. This can lead to self-righteousness, divisiveness, and aggression towards others. 

In response to this, our culture has proposed three solutions to the divisiveness of religion:

1.  Outlaw religion:  Religion is too destructive.  The world would be better off without it.

2.  Condemn religion:  Criticize it so heavily that it will be emotionally and psychologically undesirable to hold to any strong, exclusive belief.

3.  Privatize it:  You can believe it passionately, even evangelize for it, but keep it out of the public square.

All three of these solutions to the damage that religion can cause are being promoted in our world.  Do you think that any of them are effective?

Keller, while acknowledging the destructiveness of religion, claims that none of these can deal effectively with the divisive tendency of religion.

What do you think?  Are any of these solutions valid?  Would you propose something different? 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Reason for God (part 7)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

Here is a brief clip from Tim Keller, explaining why he wrote "The Reason for God" and "The Prodigal God."  He states that his main thesis in "The Reason for God" is that "it makes more sense of life to believe in God than not believe in God."  It makes more sense of what we see and experience.  What do you think of his thesis?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reason and Experience (The Reason for God part 6)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

During our Sunday night discussion of "The Reason for God", the members of my small group shared about the role that both reason and existential experience played in their decision to follow Christ. Our stories varied. Some had to think through the basic tenets of Christianity before becoming Christians. Others began their spiritual journey with powerful experience of the presence of God and then entered a season of working through the rationality of their faith. Some combination of reason and experience was present in all of our stories. Mine was no different.

I grew up in an irreligious home. I rarely attended church except for occasional visits to Sunday school or Vacation Bible School with friends in the neighborhood. Like a jigsaw puzzle with no box top, I collected pieces of the Christian story but had no idea how it all fit together until, at the age of 13, someone essentially gave me "the boxtop"...an outline of the New Testament that explained the gospel, the invitation of eternal life to all who received the forgiveness and leadership of Jesus. Finally, the puzzle pieces of Christianity that I collected over the years fit together into a coherent whole. I began to follow Jesus and experienced a sense of His presence, peace, and power that I had not previously encountered.

That experienced remained unchallenged at first. Though my family was irritated by my enthusiasm for all things Jesus, they rarely offered a direct challenge to what I believed. The more significant attacks on my faith in Christ did not occur until I entered college. Starting my freshman year, everything foundational belief I held was dismantled.  I was forced to think deeply, read widely, question persistently, and examine fully "why I believed what I believed." Like a body with no germ fighting agents, my confidence in the veracity of Christianity was vulnerable and needed to be either strengthened or replaced with a trust in something more reliable.

And strengthened it was.

What about you? Whether you are a skeptic or a believer, all of us have reasons for the beliefs we hold and experiences that support or contradict those beliefs. Did you come to your position first through experience, then by thinking it through? Or vice versa? Or a bit of both? Do you have a reasonable basis for "why you believe what you believe?" Do you seek as much evidence for your current world view as you do for the alternative world views that you dismiss?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Objections to Christianity (The Reason for God part 5)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

Our small group began studying the "Reason for God" DVD last night.  We'll spend six sessions discussing some of the most common objections to Christianity.  Before I begin blogging about our first discussion, here is a list of the objections we will be discussiong:

  • Isn't the bible a myth?  Hasn't science disproved Christianity?
  • How can you say there is only one way to God?  What about other religions?
  • What gives you the right to tell me how to live my life? Why are there so many rules?
  • Why does God allow suffering?  Why is there so much evil in the world?
  • Why is the church responsible for so much injustice?  Why are Christians such hypocrites?
  • How can God be full of love and wrath at the same time?  How can God send people to Hell?
If you are a believer, which of these objections to you hear the most from skeptical friends?  Which objection do you wrestle with the most and why?

If you are a skeptic,which objection do you find the most troubling and why?

Though these objections are considered among the most common, are there any other objections that you think should have made this list?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Way Forward (The Reason for God part 4)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

If skeptics and believers often demand too much in the way of "proof" for God's existence, then are we stuck with relativism?  Are stuck with no way to evaluate what we believe?  Keller proposes a way forward that he calls "critical rationality."  He notes that even scientists evaluate data with the belief that they cannot come to a conclusion that is irresistible.  If, for example, there is a better way to explain the data that seems to support evolution, then the theory of evolution will need to be seriously overhauled or abandoned.

"Critical rationality" means that "there are some arguments that many or even most rational people will find convincing, even though there is no argument that will be persuasive to everyone regardless of viewpoint.  It assumes that some systems of belief are more reasonable than others, but that all arguments are rationally avoidable in the end...this doesn't mean we can't evaluate beliefs, only that we should not expect conclusive proof, and to demand it is unfair.

If a theory explains the data and events better than any other theory, then it is excepted, even though in the "strong rationalist" sense, it is not proved.

With this in mind, philosopher Richard Swineburne argues that belief in God can be tested and justified (though not proven) in the same way.   "The view that there is a God, he says, leads us to expect the things we observe-that there is a universe at all, that scientific laws operate within it, that it contains human beings with consciousness and with an indelible moral sense.  The theory that there is no God, he argues, does not lead us to expect any of these things."  Belief in God fits better with what we see and observe.

Keller notes that even though we can't prove our view of God, that doesn't mean that we can't evaluate the grounds for different religious beliefs and notice that some views, or even one view seems more reasonable than others.

What do you think of this approach to evaluating beliefs...does this seem like a corrective to the demand for airtight rationality on one hand, and absolute relativism on the other?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is it reasonable to believe in God? (The Reason for God part 3)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.)

In recent years, a number of books on the topic of atheism have been published.  Their authors (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, etc.) insist that there really aren't any sufficient reasons for believing in God.

But what do they mean by sufficient?

Keller argues that these popular atheist writers are demanding a "logical or empirical argument for God that is airtight and therefore convinces almost everyone.  They won't believe in God until they get it."

These authors are looking for evidence for God based on verifiable sense experience or a logical explanation that any sane, clear thinking person simply could not reject.

Keller also notes that some Christians are guilty of this same demand when they claim their arguments for faith are so strong that only the close-minded, stubborn or fearful would reject them.

He thinks that the demand for what some have called "strong rationalism" is problematic, given that the majority of philosophers think that strong rationalism is impossible to defend.  For starters, this position is self-refuting.  The belief that "I only believe what my five senses tell me" is a statement of  philosophy about science.  It can't be verified empirically.  It is ultimately a belief. 

Another problem with strong rationalism is that it assumes "that is is possible to achieve 'the view from nowhere', a position of almost complete objectivity" that is simply not possible.  When we evaluate ideas, we all bring experiences and beliefs that influence their thinking and reasoning.  Because of this, it's not fair to demand an argument that all rational people would have to assent to. 

What do you think of this point?  Are these pop-atheist writers demanding too much?  Do Christians at times claim too much?

Keller proposes a way forward, beyond strong rationalism and relativism.  A position that he calls "critical reasoning."  I'll discuss it in my next post.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Leap of Doubt (The Reason for God part 2)

I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book.  Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occuring in my group.

I want to kick things off discussing how Keller lays out his approach.  In his opening chapter, he suggests that both believers and skeptics should approach doubt in a new way and that by doing so, even if they don't change their positions, they will come to a place of greater humility and graciousness with those who disagree with them.  This is certainly a worthwhile goal in a culture like ours; one that seems to grow more polarizing with each passing day.

Keller first suggests that believers look at the reasons behind their faith:

"A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it.  People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probling questions of a smart skeptic."

Keller then suggests that skeptics look for "a type of faith hidden within their reasoning."

All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs.  You canot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B."  For example, "some people say, 'I don't believe in Christianity because I can't accept the existence of moral absolutes.  Everyone should determine moral truth for him or herself.'  Is that a statement they can prove to someone who doesn't share it?  No, it is a leap of faith, a deep belief that individual rights operate not only in the political sphere but also in the moral.  There is no empirical proof for such a position. So the doubt (of moral absolutes) is a leap."

What do you think of Keller's suggestion for how both believers and skeptics should approach doubt?  Do you find it helpful or unhelpful?  Would this promote more gracious dialogue and less shouting and name calling?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Reason for God (part one)

My church small group is about to start a new DVD based study this fall of Tim Keller's best selling book "The Reason for God."  The study is unique, in that Keller interacts with a group of skeptics in unscripted sessions that cover six of the main objections to Christianity he regularly encounters from visitors to his Manhattan based congregation. My posts this fall will be based on the book, the DVD study, and comments and discussions occuring in my small group.

Check out the trailer below:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Changing our default settings

Recently, during the "Small Group Summit" webcast, Dr. Bill Donahue, Pastor of Small Groups at Willow Creek, made the comment that "we default to content because it's safer than going deeper."

Though he made this comment in the context of small group ministry, it certainly has broader application in church ministry. For don't pastors place enormous value on the content of a sermon in bringing change to the lives of the men and women in their congregations? And what about our church sponsored classes, Bible institutes, Sunday school gatherings, Christian bookstores, etc.? Church members are swimming (drowning?) in content.

What would it look like to lead a congregation to a new "default setting"? One that invites men and women to venture out of the shallow end of the spiritual formation pool, beyond the safety of information and into the deeper waters of transformation? How can we begin taking steps beyond a content dump?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How my son is raising me

"A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."
G.K. Chesterton

My two year old son is full of boundless energy. He simultaneously delights and exhausts me. Yet he also invites me to pay attention to the world in a way that reveals the nature of God in ways I hadn't considered, as Chesterton so masterfully describes in his observation of children.

On a more sobering level, my son invites me to ponder the junk in my heart that I would rather ignore, the anger that flares up so easily when I am annoyed by his stubborn will or his consuming curiousity, the reluctance I have to embrace him when he has lashed out at me with the typical intensity of a two year old. But how else will we learn to "bless those who curse" us without the instruction we receive from our defiant children whom we love so deeply?

Have you ever considered how God uses ordinary relationships with family and friend to form us? How is God using your family members to conform you to the image of His Son? What is he teaching you through those around you? What are they revealing to you about the character of God?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Is your marriage more than fizz?

How is your marriage these days? In a recent blog post, Pastor Jim Martin wrote that people often view marriage like an icy cold can of coke. You pop the top, hear the fizz, drink in a satisfying beverage, and toss away the empty can. Your thirst returns, you see another can of coke, and the process begins again. Martin writes, "Are we to be a people who just look for the next cold can that promises some fizz? Or do we know that marriage is more than fizz. Fizz is nice. Yet, marriage is much more than fizz.

All around us are people who flaunt the possibility of fizz. Again and again, men and women are seduced by this possibility. It could be that a woman is attracted to this possibility because she is being ignored and neglected by her husband. It could be that a man is attracted to another woman because he attracted to the possibility of fizz.

Marriage is more than what I can get out of it in any given moment."

Maybe a better way to view marriage is like a good bottle of aged wine. The wine-making process that leads to a smooth, buttery, glass of Merlot involves cultivation, pruning, harvesting, crushing, storing and aging that over time results in something richer and more complex than simply a glass of sweet grape juice.

My wife and I lament the fact that in my family of origin, my dad left my mom and went off searching for the "fizz" of the early years of their marriage. Sadly, he missed out on the richness of life with a spouse that comes through the shared ordinary moments of life: the joys and challenges of raising children, learning to live with one another, building a life together, sharing heartache and laughter, conflict and oneness.

Why do you think so many people are unwilling to persevere through the less satisfying seasons of marriage when their patience, commitment, and hard work can reap a rich intimacy that builds over time?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Common Grounds

What grounds you?

In their book, The Sacred Romance, John Eldredge and Brent Curtis noted that our culture produces a "thinning" effect on our souls, causing us to become "light", airy, and vulnerable to whatever blows in from the winds of our post-modern culture. They called this "ontological lightness, the reality that when I stop "doing" and simply listen to my heart, I am not anchored to anything substantive. I become aware that my very identity is synonymous with activity."

I a recent newsletter, Eldredge reflected on how, in the 10+ years since the publication of The Sacred Romance, this condition has only gotten worse. The piercing and tatooing movement, the "simplicity" movement, the increased obsession with celebrities, and the popularity of "reality" television all point to a deep need for substance, groundedness, and a deeper sense of self .

And with social media like facebook (and blogs....gulp), one writer noted that "we can digitally represent ourselves without having to be ourselves."

It all seems so hollow. Yet I am just as susceptible to this as the next person.

In the book of Acts, chapter 17 verse 28, the Apostle Paul, in presenting the news of Jesus to a curious crowd of skeptics and seekers in Athens, notes that "in him we live and move and have our being." Any other place we look for groundedness comes up short.

How do you stay grounded? If you are a Christ-follower, what do you do to remind yourself that you are one in whom Christ dwells? What do you do to keep your identity rooted in Him?