Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas from Bill Maher

I don't agree with everything he says here (watch out for some choice language) but his last line is perfect.

Friday, December 17, 2010

" . . . We Just Don't Want to Do It."

For the record, I don't think Jesus would identify himself with any political party.

Now, having said that, this is amazing stuff. First Jon Stewart gives us the news better than the actual news. Now is Stephen Colbert going to preach better than our preachers?

note: I tried to put the clip directly in here but the HTML was all screwy so I couldn't do it. Just follow the link.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sermon from last sunday.

I had the honor to preach at Northwest Hills Community church in Corvallis yesterday. You can follow this link and listen.

Thanks Church for letting me preach!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This is terrible

I saw this on the Rachel Maddow show tonight. It was a cheap shot and probably not all that important in the grand scheme of things but I laughed out loud. They actually made one of these!

Moral of the story? There might be a few.

The more high profile of a leader you are, the more necessary it becomes to have people you trust who will call you out when you are being a huge idiot.

Maybe there is a reason Jesus was born in a dirty manger in the middle of nowhere instead of center-stage as the Emperor of Rome.

Whoever wants to be the greatest must become the least. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.

I think there is a certain personality that is attracted to what these men do as televangelists. And I think that personality also makes them more likely to seek the highs of affairs and prostitutes and drugs.

But perhaps most importantly . . .

Never, under any circumstances, become a televagelist.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Just Answer the Question!

I got sucked into watching the election returns last night and ended up staying up way too late. But I want to share some thoughts about what I saw. For those of you reading on facebook, you may want to come to the actual blog site so you can see the videos.

This post is not about MSNBC. It is not about any of the hosts. It is not about what I think about republicans or democrats or the policies they champion.

The only thing I want to talk about is how the people who are interviewed respond to the questions given to them. So if you have time, watch the following videos and see if you notice a common theme.

Ok. Now check this one out.

And behind door number 3?

For the record, I agree with Chris. She does look hypnotized. I have never had a conversation with an actual person that resembled that. I have, however, tried to make things happen on a computer only to get the same error message over and over and over again. Interesting . . .

Did you notice something? Not a single one of the people interviewed answered the question that was asked of them. And they all should have been able to do it.


Perhaps because they honestly don't know the answer. But that would be silly. If you are not going to let the Bush tax cuts expire then you should (theoretically) have a plan for where the money for decreasing the deficit is going to come from. And you should have a specific plan because $700 billion is a lot of money.

They have said they won't cut anything from defense, medicare or social security. So where then? I simply cannot believe that they don't know.

So maybe they DO know but they just don't want to say. But why would they do that? Why would they purposefully without crucial details of their plan? Maybe because they know it will be unpopular? Well, you are already elected so what can it hurt to say?

To be honest, this is really what I think. I think that by taking certain things off the table, they know that the cuts will have to come from some other place. And it will probably be a thing that we totally take for granted and would never consider cutting from the budget, like the Department of Education.

Or maybe Michael Steele's reason is the real reason (jump to about 3:36 to get to it):

Yes, they were just too excited to answer the simple question.

But they were not too excited to spout off pre-programed talking points. Did you hear any phrases that seemed to keep coming up?

"The American people have spoken loud and clear . . ." (that phrase really doesn't mean anything)

"You're not listening . . ."

"Cut discretionary spending . . ."

"Big government . . ."

These interviews were essentially useless. There was no actual information given, only talking points. Talking points can be helpful if they actually mean something but these didn't. And it is SOOOOO frustrating!

You know why they use talking points? Because when something is repeated enough people start to believe it is true. That is why each of the people interviewed essentially said the exact same thing. The more they get the message out the more people will believe it.

They are not interested in a conversation or an interview. It is like the looked at each question as a way to get to the talking points, even if it made no sense at all.

This is not discourse. This is not debate. This is not conversation. This is not relationship. This is just not how real people talk to each other. The people in the United States government are supposed to represent us. And in my life, when I disagree with someone, I can still have an intelligent conversation with them by responding to the questions they ask me. Is it too much to ask that our politicians be able to do the same? Is this how they talk at the dinner table? (This makes me want to write a skit about it. Maybe I will do that someday . . .)

This is not what I saw here. They owe us straight answers. They owe it to us to talk to us like we are real, reasonable people capable of sifting through the facts and making an informed decision.

That was acting. And they did a good job not breaking character.

Or they really don't know what they are going to do.

Either way, no good.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

15 Authors in 15 Minutes

I am stealing this from Kathy Khang's blog and thought it would be fun to do.

Here are 15 authors whose work has influenced or impacted me in some significant way. A lot of these I have already talked about on this blog. Here we go!

N.T. Wright: This guy opened up a whole world of possibilities in my faith. Reading his work makes the Bible come alive in ways I didn't think it could. I have found a more compelling faith because of him.

J.R.R. Tolkein
: Lord of the Rings. Do I need to say more? No, but I will. I have read only a few books multiple times. This was one of them. I remember finishing it the first time and feeling like I was saying goodbye to my friends. I missed Frodo and Sam and wanted to start reading it again immediately.

J.K Rowling
: Yes, I love Harry Potter. I fought it for so long and finally gave in. Those stories are a gift.

Orson Scott Card
: Card can be hit or miss but when he writes a good book it is GOOD! Ender's game is one of my all time favorites. I have read it 3 times and the third was the most enjoyable. Each time I see more and more depth and nuance in the story. It is the kind of book that makes you want to write.

Tim Keller:
The Reason For God is one of the best out there. And this guy can PREACH!

Terry Goodkind
: He held my interest for 11 books in a row. The Sword of Truth had its high points and low points but that was a fun 6 months of reading.

Khaled Hosseni
: He has two books and I have loved them both. He helped me understand a culture that is foreign to me in a new way with powerfully moving stories.

Robin Hobb:
Another fantasy writer. I have only read one of her series but it was great. Everyone should go read the Liveship Traders. So creative and such great characters.

Rob Bell:
Gotta give a shout out to Bell. He sees things in such an interesting way and is a really great communicator. Looking forward to whatever is next from him.

William Goldman:
The Princess Bride. I have to be honest and say that I have been more influenced by the movie but he wrote the screenplay as well. The book was hilarious.

Jon Stewart:
Yes, he is an author. He and the rest of The Daily Show writers. America the Book was laugh-out-oud funny on every single page.

4 more! I can do it!

Henri Nouwen
: I have only read one of his books but and it was really short but it was so good. "In the Name of Jesus" was enriching, convicting, and thought provoking all at the same time.

Andy Crouch:
"Culture Making" was like putting on a pair of glasses and then realizing you have never really been able to see before. Yes. I think that describes it. I still think about that book often.

M. Scott Peck:
I have been required to read "The Road Less Traveled" twice. The first time i resented it mostly because I was not ready to receive what it had to say. The next time was much better. His thoughts on love and discipline will shape me for a long time.

Richard Foster:
You can't go wrong with this guy.

So looking at my list I notice that most of the authors I read are white men. So does anyone know some good women of color I should read?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ethics or the Cross?

It is a dangerous thing to cruise the religion section of the Huffington Post and I admire the guts of any Christian who posts something there. The comments section can be brutal. Most of the time I choose not to look at them. But today I did after reading an article by Jim Wallis on bullying.

A lot of the comments basically boiled down to this:
Christians, if they really want to stop the problem, will just need to stop being Christians because their teaching is the cause of the bullying in the first place. Jim Wallis is a hypocrite.

Then they would usually bring up something about the stupidness and impracticality of "love the sinner, hate the sin."

After reading them, I became convinced that most people hadn't even read the article. If they had, they certainly weren't responding to it. They were responding to some other beef they had with people who follow Jesus.

Another thing that happened (and I think Wallis was guilty of this a bit as well) was that the whole "discussion" devolved into ethics. It was all about the teachings of Jesus.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love the teachings of Jesus. I study them with my students. I wrestle with them. I am angered by them. But at the end of the day, I think they are not what it is all about.

If we are going to talk about bullying, we can certainly bring up times when Jesus taught about loving our enemies or serving each other or loving the least of these. And I think those are great things to bring up.

But if Christians stop there (and I think we have given that it seems EVERYONE thinks this is all about ethics) then we miss the whole reason for our faith.

We don't follow and trust and worship Jesus because he was a good teacher. We do those things because he was God in the flesh. We do those things because he took the sins of the world upon himself and died in our place. He suffered unimaginably for our sake.

And he did it for everyone. There is no one that his love does not extend to, even if they don't realize it or want it.

And God raised him from the dead, unleashing a whole new creation right into the middle of this one.

We can't stop at ethics! We always have to go back to the cross!

We stand with the bullied because we know that Jesus loves them and died for them and we cannot stand by while someone tries to take that away from them. We forgive and love the bully because we know that on the cross Jesus forgave the people that bullied him.

We know that God has shown that he loves the whole world, no exceptions.

It doesn't matter if we like the way someone lives. It doesn't matter if we disagree with them. It doesn't matter if someone is gay and you aren't sure that is a good way to live.

Jesus died for them.

That changes the whole conversation. I think that gives Christians a more compelling reason to stand up to injustice than anyone else can offer. Let's not settle for an ethics debate.

Let us remember the full story. Let us remember the cross. Let us remember the empty tomb. And may we and the world be forever changed by it.

The Mirror and the Open Window

I smashed a mirror tonight.

I set it up, grabbed a baseball bat and swung it right into the middle.

And it shattered into a million pieces (And it was Awesome!)

Mirrors are interesting things. Their whole purpose is to let us stare at ourselves. When I stare at a mirror, the one thing that becomes the focus of my vision is me. I am all that I see.

One thing I notice when I look in a mirror is my imperfections. I see the gut. I see the teeth that aren't quite straight. I see the zit that has no business being on a 28 year-old's face. Ear hair? WTF?

Other times I see the good things. Yes, I am a handsome man. My hair looks pretty good when it is short. If I was a girl I would be attracted to me.

And I want to know if it is possible that for most of us, myself included, the mirror has become the lens through which we view the world?

When I enter a new situation, am I looking at my imperfections? Do I see the ways that I am inadequate? Because I often find myself saying and doing things that are an attempt to make me look good. Like I need to prove myself to the people I am with. I will put someone else down (even someone who I know works their butt off to do what they do) because it makes me feel better.

In some sick way the people I am with have become tools to get me what I want. They have something I want and I will do what it takes to get it. It could be praise. It could be respect. It could be a job. It could be sex. But they have it and I want it.

Because I am looking into a mirror.

I also will enter a new situation and find all the ways I am better than the people there. I have managed to convince myself that I am smarter or better looking or more talented and that these people have nothing to offer me.

In some sick way the people I am with have become obstacles or threats. I can't associate with them because they are beneath me. Why would I waste my time there?

Because I am looking into a mirror.

All I can see is me. My wants. My needs. My goals. My desires. My hopes. My fears. My insecurities. My pain. Me, me, me.

I am starting to see the ways that this general posture towards the world is death. How much evil has been done in the world because people decided that their own needs were more important than the needs of others?

And I think that the worst way we do this is when we do it with God.

This is called religion.

Religion is viewing God through our mirror. We see our imperfections so we have to prove ourselves to God. So we do good. We go to church. We read our Bible. But it is all based out of guilt and shame. We are trying to manipulate God to like us more.

Or we think we are better than him. We think he owes us something. Or our good deeds and good works are already good enough and we don't need him at all. He can't offer us anything because we already have what we need. Submitting to him would be to lose all we have worked for.

That is what happens when God becomes all about us. Guilt, shame, fear, and arrogance.

So what is the cure? This feels like a big problem.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2:3-4

Humility. Humility is the cure.

Not thinking less of ourselves. But thinking of ourselves less. A humble person is able to care about the people around them. A humble person does not see the world through a mirror.

A humble person uses an open window.

There is only what is on the other side. They can see the people and the world outside. There is nothing getting in the way of them seeing, knowing, and responding to the needs of others around them.

An open window has no reflection.

But if there is no reflection, how will we know what we look like? How will we see the imperfections? How will we know when we look good?

We are going to have to trust someone else's opinion of us.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
-Romans 5:8

It would seem that this is God's opinion of us: We are sinners. We have rejected God by focusing on ourselves. We have brought sin, division, destruction, and death into the world.

And yet Christ dies for us because of his great love.

What would happen if we started trusting his opinion of us?

What if every day I reminded myself that I was a sinner saved by the amazing grace and love of God? And what if I began to see that everyone else was exactly the same?

What if I let Jesus smash my mirror? What if I stopped filling my vision with myself and began looking out the window to where Jesus was leading?

Well now that would change everything wouldn't it?

I would be free to love people because I knew I was loved.
I could be someone's friend not because I needed a friend (I already have the best one possible with Jesus) but because THEY needed a friend.
I could lay my life down for someone else's sake because someone laid down their life for me.

I pray that you will let Jesus smash your mirror.
I pray that you will trust his opinion of you.
I pray that you will follow him out the open window into his beautiful world where he is inviting you into life and life abundant.

So tonight I literally took a mirror and smashed it with a bat. I don't believe in seven years of bad luck.

I believe I just took a step into grace.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Springboards Into Who-Knows-What.

There were a couple of comments on my previous posts that were fantastic and very well thought out. They got me thinking about some other stuff so I want to take a little break and use them as a springboard for some different ideas.

So thanks commenters! (Interesting word: Commenter. Is that like a co-mentor? Like you are joining with someone else to mentor somebody? That was an example of a springboard.)

Here are the comments:
"And if it was proven there was no god tomorrow I doubt you'd change Ben because you strike me as a genuine person, not someone who is acting good to get past the white gates."

"We have broken from God, and our morals and ethics are an effort to be right with him be whole, clean, good."

Even reading these again I realize that I read them incorrectly the first time through. But I am still diving off! Huzzah!

In them I was reminded of MTD. That our morals, good works, and efforts are things that get us to God. The get us past the pearly gates. This may not have been what they were saying but I think that is basically what a lot of people think.

That isn't what Jesus taught. It is not what he lived. That is a religion of appeasement and I want nothing to do with it.

It is an ancient religion. I might say that most religions in history have been variants of that to some degree. They might say that something has gone wrong in the world and in order to escape this dreadful place we need to do enough good to prove to god we are worthy of moving on. OR to survive and live well here we need to prove that we are worthy of it. For a great 90 minute "lecture" on this I highly recommend "The Gods Aren't Angry" by Rob Bell.

Ok, I just kind of lost my train of thought. So I am going to jump back to the comments and dive in a different direction. Blog ADD much?

What do we mean by doing good?

My experience with people talking about being good or doing good is that it is usually a pretty generous definition. They also set a pretty low bar.

Be nice. Don't be a jerk. Don't rape or kill people. Occasionally get involved with a "cause" of some kind.

That is easy. I can do all of those without even trying. Why on earth would you invent religion to get that out of people?

According to Christians, at the center of the universe, of everything, is a God who loves sacrificially. There is a God who sacrifices himself for the people and the world he created and loves.

And by sacrifice I mean death. The God who is the source of all life is also the God who subjected himself to death. He entered into the self-inflicted suffering of his creation and let it do its worst to him.

And then, when it seemed all hope was lost he beat death by raising from the dead.

So when we as Christians say we follow Jesus, it literally means we are trusting that laying down our life for the sake of others is the way to find true life.

God created us to join with him in making something good out of the world. We said no and lost ourselves. We have been feeling the effects ever since. God loves us too much to stay that way. He made a way to join in with him again. The old way, the rebellious way (sin) must be put to death and God must raise us up. Then and only then can we be who we were always meant to be.

This has nothing to do with earning it or proving ourselves. It is God's grace that allows us to be redeemed this way.

(There is a lot I haven't filled out here. If you have questions, please let me know.)

So we have a radically different idea of what "being good" is: Sacrificial love. Laying down what we want for the sake of other people. Realizing that we are sick and broken and need a doctor's prescription to be made well again. Loving those who hate us. Praying for those who persecute us. Treating others like they are more important than we are. And a whole host of other counter-intuitive things.

We trust that this is what we were made for and that when God renews the world the way he renewed Jesus at the Resurrection, those things will be shown for what they are and God will use them to finally heal the world.

So in response to the first comment: I would still be nice (but probably a little less so). I would in general no be a jerk (when I liked the other person). I would not be raping or killing anyone but I can tell you that I would be WAY more likely to use people for my own pleasure rather than seeking to lay my life down for their sake.

I would change if it was proven there was no God.

What you would see is all the little ways I chose evil get magnified. Because I know that I am not a good person. I am selfish. I am lustful. I am arrogant. I probably think I am better than you. I have addictions. I am apathetic toward the suffering in the world. I am concerned first and foremost with my own comfort.

And if there is no God at the center of this who died so I could reclaim what I am supposed to be then there is no reason for me to change.

If this is all there is, then what the hell does radical self-sacrifice get you?

Ok. That is it for now. Again, feel free to comment and ask questions (like, why didn't you talk about the Holy Spirit?). Look what the last comments did!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

If This Is All There Is: Part 2

This is the second part of some thoughts I have on the potential implications of atheism being true. I am not so much concerned with the logic of whether or not it is true, just the implications if it is.

In my last post I talked about just a few initial thoughts on the role of humans if we are not created in the image of God. One thing I said was that everything we do it based on the need for survival and reproduction.

I think there are a lot of things that make sense if we are concerned for our survival. We ought to take care of the planet. We ought to ensure that future generations are able to have the same, if not better chances for survival than we do.

But that is assuming that the survival of humanity, or any other life on earth, matters.

What does the universe lose if we go extinct? What does it lose if our sun destroys our solar system? Well, given the sheer volume of stars and galaxies in the universe, I would say that it doesn't lose much.

The universe doesn't care about us. It is unfeeling and indifferent. And eventually it will run out of energy and everything will stop. At that point, there will be no one to care that we are gone or that we ever existed.

The universe, the planet, and human history aren't working toward anything. There is no goal. There is no story being told. It is just a bunch of materials spinning around and crashing into each other.

What is the ultimate hope of all our endeavors? There isn't one and there can never be one unless we can figure out a way to outlast the universe.

If we bring it home to a personal level, how much can one person possibly matter in this universe? Not at all I would guess. How many billions of people have lived and died and now have no one to remember them. They aren't any better than the flies that hatched from the dead rat that filled my room a few years ago. They were here and now they are gone. I may remember them but I will be gone one day and that will be it.

Everyone will be forgotten. It doesn't matter what they do in their lives. Even the most famous of us: Julius Caesar, Jesus, King Tut, William the Conqueror, Leonardo Da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Hitler, and Mother Theresa will all be forgotten at some point. Nothing they did will matter. What hope do I have?

So why does it matter how I live my life? Why does it even matter if I don't pass my genes on? I doesn't matter at all. My life, my existence is utterly meaningless.

When people argue so vehemently for atheism, I think they are actually arguing for the meaninglessness of existence. That is depressing.

I mean, if I died right now, sure, some people would be sad. But who cares? They don't matter. How they feel about things doesn't matter. They will eventually move on and get on with their meaningless lives.

Everything we do is meaningless. Every thought we have is just chemicals reacting to stimuli. There is no such thing as truth, only what helps us survive. And survival is not concerned with truth. Deer don't care that I don't want to hurt them, but they run away. Why? Because it helps them survive.

People say we invented God to explain things we couldn't understand. But the same brain that invented God also invented rationality. Even this whole ramble I have been on is nothing more than popping and fizzing in my brain because it thinks it will help it survive.

But who cares if it does or not? I think the only animals who would miss us if we were gone would be dogs. But they would get over it.

Basically, I think that when someone argues for a purely naturalistic universe, they never carry the weight of their argument to its full conclusion. And the reason for that is they would inevitably end up in total despair.

And so they (and we?) keep deceiving ourselves. Thinking that anything we do has any purpose that matters. That sucks.

If this is all there is.

(Note: As mentioned in my last post, I might be totally wrong about this stuff. There are smarter people than me thinking through it. If you are one of them, please let me know.)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

If This Is All There Is

I hesitate to write this post. Mostly because I don't even know all the things I don't know, still have much to learn, and am potentially unleashing an ugly comment war when it is done. So for the two or three people that will actually read this, please be civil. Thanks.

There is a lot of heated debate in our culture right now about whether or not there is a God. Whether or not religion a poison in our society.

Sometimes these debates and questions are fascinating. Sometimes I put down something I have read and feel like belief in God is absolutely necessary. Sometimes I question my sanity.

So today I will start a series of posts where I wrestle with the implications of there being no God, no ultimate purpose for the universe.

What if this is all there is?

One thing I find curiously absent from a lot of discussion is all the monumental, earth-shattering changes that could (and should?) take place if we finally decided that there was no God.

I want to try to apply this line of thinking to as many different aspects of life as I can. I am also totally willing to be wrong on all of them since, as I mentioned before, I don't know what I don't know.

But where to start?

I'll just start somewhere and go where the rabbit trail leads. This may end up as a ramble that briefly touches on many different topics.

If this is all there is, then human beings are not created in the image of God. We are simply a smart form of primate. Yes? We can't logically say that we have anymore right to live than any other species on this planet.

I might take it further. Farther? I can't remember which one it is. Anyway, what ecological niche do we fill? What do we contribute to this planet? What bad things would happen if we suddenly weren't here anymore?

Why should we be allowed to live?

Because my understanding of human history is we show up somewhere and everything starts dying. Seen a dodo bird or giant moa lately? No, you haven't because we killed them all.

We over-hunted the buffalo. We are over-fishing the seas. According to this site: "Meteorite impacts notwithstanding, scientists approximate that present extinction rates are 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the average natural extinction rate." In case you were wondering, the "present extinction rate" is caused almost entirely by humans. We are better at killing things off than anything else this earth has ever tried.

I think you could make the case that we are bad for this planet. And I didn't even talk about global warming.

If this is all there is and humans are only what I described above, then how can we say humans have rights? Nothing has a "right" to do anything. There is only what one person, group, species can do in order to survive. And if you can't do what it takes to survive then you don't get to pass on your genes and humanity is better for it because we weeded out some of the weak ones.

I hate to say this but who cares if a third of Africa is dying of AIDS? They don't affect my life at all. They weren't lucky enough to be born into a place that didn't have to deal with that. I will be able to survive and pass my genes on just fine without them. Plus, wouldn't it be better if there were a few less of us murderous humans running around?

And no, I don't care that it is people from my culture doing most of the murdering. My job is survival thank you very much.

Why is sex-slavery wrong? If anything, it is a brilliant way to force people to reproduce. Why do children have a right to a normal childhood? Why is it wrong to pay someone to have sex with a kid?

Tell me why it was wrong for those guys to fly a plane into the WTC? Tell me why anything is right or wrong.

The only thing that matters is survival and reproduction. The loss of a few thousand of us will not hurt our chances. There are over six billion of us. We are doing just fine.

That is, of course, if this is all there is.

Coming up in part 2: Why survival doesn't even matter

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Gift of Going First

In keeping with my one-post-old tradition of reposting something from someone else's blog, here is an old one from Stuff Christians Like. I just copied and pasted it but here is the link to the original post.

Have you ever been in a small group with people that confess safe sins? Someone will say, “I need to be honest with everyone tonight. I need to have full disclosure and submit myself in honesty. Like ODB from the Wu-Tang Clan, I need to give it to you raw!” So you brace yourself for this crazy moment of authenticity and the person takes a deep breath and says … “I haven’t been reading my Bible enough.”

Ugh, you, dirty, dirty sinner. I’m not even sure I can be in a small group with you any more. Not reading your Bible enough, that is disgusting. And then once he’s gone someone else will catch the safe sin bug too and will say, “I need to be real too. I haven’t been praying enough.”

Two of you in the same room? Wow, freak shows! I can barely stand it.

But what happens when people start confessing safe sins is that everyone else in the room starts concealing their real junk. I mean if I was surrounded by confessions like that in the eighth grade I would have instantly known I couldn’t follow the “not reading my Bible enough” guy with my own story:

“Soooo, this weekend when it was snowing I told my parents I was going to the dump to sled but instead I was really just digging through a 200 foot mountain of warm trash looking for pornography.” And the same principle would have applied to me in my late 20s. I wouldn’t have been honest sharing my struggles with Internet porn if everyone else confessed their “safe enough for small group” sins.

And that sucks. It sucks that as broken as we all are, as desperate as we all are for a Savior, we feel compelled to clean ourselves up when we get around each other.

But this blog has taught me something unbelievable. If I stop writing tomorrow, this will be the lesson I cling to the most.

When you go first, you give everyone in your church or your community or your small group or your blog, the gift of going second.

It’s so much harder to be first. No one knows what’s off limits yet and you’re setting the boundaries with your words. You’re throwing yourself on the honesty grenade and taking whatever fall out that comes with it. Going second is so much easier. And the ease only grows exponentially as people continue to share. But it has to be started somewhere. Someone has to go first and I think it has to be us.

We’re called to give the gift of second to the people in our lives. To live the truth, to share the truth, to be the truth.

Let’s give the gift of going second.

To be clear: I did not write this. I am just sharing it. But it is SO true.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I read the Jesus Creed blog everyday. Scot McKnight brings up some fascinating topics and read a lot of very interesting books. One he has been working through lately is a book called "Almost Christian" by Kenda Creasy Dean.

I have not read the book. But in reading about the book I have been introduced to her basic thesis: (I am copying this right off of his blog. If there are blogging copywrite things I don't know about, please let me know)

Dean knows that the best description of youth faith is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a set of factors that emerged from the National Study of Youth and Religion (see Christian Smith's writings). What is MTD?

1. God exists, God created, and watches over the world.
2. God wants us to be good, nice and fair to each other.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God is not involved except when I need God to solve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. That is a mouthful. I am just going to go ahead and say that I agree with her for the most part but I want to hear what you all think.

I would be very much interested in this question: Assuming that MLD is NOT what following Jesus is about, then what is following Jesus (being a Christian) about? Why is Jesus necessary? Why should people give their lives and put their trust in Jesus?

Please feel free to comment. I want to know what people think. Please also be respectful of people who comment something you may disagree with.

Just a quick note: No one ever got crucified for telling people to be nice and happy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Where Moth and Rust (and Termites!) Destroy

I recently read a book called "The Hopeful Skeptic" by Nick Fiedler. In the beginning of the book, he and his wife go on a 14-month trip around the world. As they are packing and putting things into storage and throwing other things away, he realizes that he has a peculiar connection to his books.

His books are trophies. They are conquests. They are badges of honor. Ones he hasn't read still sit on the shelf because he wants to look more intelligent.

His books begin to define him and give him value.

There was a lot of thought-provoking stuff in that book but I think I connected the most with that one little anecdote.

I have a large bookshelf that is built into my wall. It was one of the things I was most excited about when I moved into my new room last year. I have a lot of books and it would be great to have a place to prominently display them. And like Nick, they are a source of pride for me. It is a good feeling having an 11-book series all displayed in order with the knowledge that I have actually read all of them. There is a nice boxed set of Lord of the Rings. There is a growing collection of books by N.T. Wright so you know that I am smart.

I have a bunch of books around that I have no intention of reading again but I think they might be of use to someone someday. Then I can be the cool person who lent the book to the other person and helped them fix their life.

Just make sure you give it back to me.

The shelves have a sort of order to them. The shelf in this story was the one with my practicum books and a few other random ones that didn't fit anywhere else like Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and Michael Crichton's "Timeline."

Last night I grabbed Timeline off the shelf to read the opening paragraph. I noticed that the book was stuck to the shelf. I gave it a good tug and it let go. As I turned it around to open it, I noticed dirt clods on the edges. I forced the book open, which broke the clods. What was in them? I am glad you asked!


There were termites in my book! I inspected the shelf a little closer and noticed that they were building a colony out of my bookshelf.

A quick note: Here is a list of other things I have found in my house in the last few years: Kittens, spiders, giant spiders (notice how far south they are found), roaches, rats, a plague of flies (presumably from a dead rat. sick.), and flooding. This was a new one.

They were eating the binding on the books. It had been a while since I had looked closely at some of the books but they were literally rotting away on my shelf. It was disgusting.

My landlord came over and we picked up a chunk of books, threw them away and sprayed a termite killer on the shelf. This was repeated until we had them all.

All in all, I lost about 20 books. I have an empty shelf that is doubling as a termite graveyard.

And Jesus' words from the sermon on the mount started playing in my head.

19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

It was a eerie and very tangible reminder that the things we use to define ourselves are temporary. You never know when you will come home one day to find a termite colony eating your book collection.

Moral of the story? Termites are gross and don't put your hope in possessions.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Choir as Big as The Internet

I sang in choir for about 9 years beginning my freshman year in high school. It changed my life. This composer wrote one of my favorite choral songs of all time. This is not it but it is still pretty dang cool. I want to see if I can get in on something like this. Enjoy!

Eric Whitacre: A choir as big as the Internet | Video on

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What We Might REALLY Be Saying

The first thing I would like to do is completely undermine any shred of credibility I have ever had and say that I just purchased "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga on iTunes. Yes, you read that right. It is so freakin' catchy!

Now that I have all my unconfessed sin out in the open, I would like to share a thought I had today in church. It had nothing to do with the sermon. So to the guy who preached today, this is not about you buddy or anything you had to say. However, I totally tuned you out when I was writing all this stuff down. Sorry.

We like to say that following Jesus is first and foremost a relationship. On the whole, I like that description. I don't actually think we take it far enough most of the time but that is not the point.

My point is that through all our teaching on this "relationship," are we unintentionally totally undermining the entire thing with the way we do Sunday morning? Relationships are about interaction. They are about communication, spending time together, doing things together, living life together, figuring out and working through conflicts, celebrating. You know, the things you do with people you care about.

I am trying to think of any relationships I have that resemble a pastor giving a sermon.

Connection? If week after week after week the primary way we learn about God is through a monologue speech, doesn't that affect our perception of the subject of that monologue?

It is possible that I am making too big a leap in my logic but I think there might be something to it.

Many of us think God doesn't speak to us. We want someone to speak like a pastor does. We want him to lay out 3 key steps to improving our lives (preferably they all start with the same letter and end in "-tion"). But I think most people who "hear" from God experience something much more subtle and cryptic. Something more mysterious. Sometimes it is a picture or a word. Sometimes a passage of scripture just punched you in the face like it never did before. Sometimes a friend calls you out on something and you are able to see the world through new eyes.

Nor do my relationships resemble this. When was the last time you sat down with a friend and then launched into a sermon?

Which brings me to my next point. Sermons are not conversational. I don't know about your church, but at mine and MANY others I have been to, the whole set up on Sunday morning is about listening to one person. I do not interact with this person. I am not allowed to ask questions during the sermon.

Though maybe I should try sometime. Boy that would throw everyone off wouldn't it?

Do some of us struggle with seeing God as someone we can interact with? As someone we can't question or argue with? I believe we can, though we need to be prepared to get Job-like answers.

And in my relationships, I interact. I ask questions. I get asked questions. We deepen our relationship with each other. We get to know each other more. I don't know that I have ever felt like I knew my pastor better and had a deeper relationship with him after a sermon. He certainly doesn't know me any better. I probably know a little more ABOUT him and have heard some funny story about his kids or his family's frequent stops at In-n-Out burger on their vacations. But there is no deepening of relationship.

And because of that, neither of us are transformed.

When I get to interact with someone, the chances of me having a life-changing experience go up dramatically.

Now don't get me wrong. I love a good sermon. I love giving good ones. I want to be a better preacher. But I can't rely on that. I have to realize the limits of what it can do. I have to understand what I communicate that has nothing to do with the words I say.

The sermon must be accompanied by relationship. The sermon must be able to be challenged and questioned and wrestled with in the context of community and friendship.

So thanks pastor man this morning for giving me some space to think about this.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sunday Morning

Nothing better than laughing at yourself right?

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Control Freak

I have been listening to and reading a lot of Tim Keller's stuff recently. I like that guy and I like that he used to be on InterVarsity Staff. Boo-yah!

When you read enough of someone or listen to them enough, you start to get a fuller picture of what is going on in their heads and hearts. You start to notice repeated themes and phrases. I have found this to be true with a lot of people like N.T. Wright, Rob Bell, and Pastor Keller.

One of the main things that Keller talks about is idols: Good things that become false gods in our lives. Money is not a bad thing. But when it becomes the most important thing in your life, we have a problem. The same can be said for things like relationships and success and patriotism. None of those are bad things but they can easily take the place of God in our lives.

But even these things are just a symptom of a greater idol.

And I think that for many of us, myself included, that idol is control.

(I will at this point stop talking about "we" and start referring to myself.)

I want to be in control of my life. I literally had that revelation tonight. I have never thought of myself as a person who wants to have control of my life but tonight that became uncomfortably clear to me.

You see, some people like to make schedules. Some people are very disciplined. That is their way of controlling their life. I don't like schedules. I don't like making "to do" lists. I don't like being disciplined. If you are familiar with Myers-Briggs personality stuff, I am the poster-boy for "P."

P's like flexibility and adapting to situations as they come. I don't like to schedule stuff because something more important or enjoyable might come up instead.

To cut to the point, when I DON'T schedule something or commit to something, I maintain control.

When I make a commitment to something, I chose to relinquish control to the commitment. If I decided to run a marathon, I would relinquish control to the training program.

And if I became more disciplined in my prayer life and time meditating on Scripture, I would be relinquishing control to God.

That might be the scariest one of all.

if I choose to obey God, I lose control. I no longer live life on my terms. And dammit, I want to live life on my terms! My terms say that in each moment, I should be able to do what I want. Sometimes what I want and what I am committed to line up and that is great. But what about when they don't? What about when God is leading me into something that is potentially unpleasant or uncomfortable?

I think I am a control freak! But a reverse control freak. I refuse to let anything else get in the way of what I want to do. I just never quite know what I want to do far enough in advance to schedule it.

So for me, the way to fight it is discipline. It is schedule. It is a list. It is reminding myself that my life is not about me. It is about God and where He is going and what He is doing.

My life is not my own. I was bought with a price.

So I just want to give a little apology to all my organized and scheduled friends who I thought had issues with control. Who knew I had such a big plank in my eye?

Can those things become idols for me? Sure. But I am going to go ahead and say that we are a long way from that being a problem.

Oh Lord have mercy! But this feels like a good discovery. Let's see where it takes me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Disclaimer: This post is heavily influenced by the fact that I just started dating a lovely, awesome girl who lives in St. Louis.

This time, the word in question is "love." It gets thrown around a lot and I am not sure that we have a good definition anymore. For many people, it doesn't really mean anything at all. That is a shame. It's a good word.

No, none of this is new. A lot of people have said the same thing so I am just repeating what they said. That doesn't mean it isn't worth revisiting from time to time.

So as I was flying back from the midwest, I decided I would settle on a definition of love that I could use. Once I did that, I redefined some other terms that use the word. Feel free to use them if you want.


Love- Extending one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth. (I borrowed this from M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled.)

This makes love an action, not a feeling. I think that is really important. You shouldn't have to depend on someone's word alone. I can tell you I love you all day but this definition means that it is backed up with some action.

I Love You- A descriptive statement about one's previous and current behavior regarding the extension of their self for the nurturing of their own or another's spiritual growth.

Q: What do you do?
A: I love you.

You can change it to go with different tenses. So versatile!

Q: What are you doing?
A: I am loving you.

Q: What will you do tomorrow?
A: I will love you.

Q: What have you been doing?
A: I have been loving you.

You should be able to point to specific instances to back these up. I made you dinner. Tell me what is on your mind and I will listen. I will call you tonight. I took care of the kids this morning so you could sleep in.

Yes, saying it is important. But the words should just describe things that already happen.

In Love- The process of tangibly doing some act that nurtures someone's spiritual growth.

Sample conversation:
"Hey, we are going to go catch a movie tonight. Want to come?"

"Sorry my friend, my wife and I are having an important conversation because I am in love with her."

The bottom line for me in all of this is that I am not going to use that word until I can back it up with stuff I have already done and stuff I am doing and stuff I am committing to do.

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." -John 15:13

I used to throw that word around. I said it because I was "supposed" to say it. But not anymore. This lovely, awesome girl, won't hear me say "I love you" until, beyond the shadow of a doubt I have proved it with my actions.

She will experience it long before she hears it.

I will have laid my life down for her. I will have made a sacrifice. I will have hurt for her, bled (hopefully metaphorically) for her, dropped my own wants in favor of hers. That is how she will know. That is how I will know.

Then I will say it.

That is the way the universe works. That is what Jesus did. That is why we can say "Jesus loves you."

He proved it long before he said it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And Now For Something . . . Completely Different.

I particularly like the use of the word "Burnination."

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Lost (Older) Son: Part 2

I just thought I would share this other thing that came to light as we studied this story last night at Bible Study. And before I start, way to go McNary folks for not reading ahead and spoiling the surprise! Such discipline!

Anyway, here is the thing that jumped out at me last night. It was verse 28.

28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.

Someone asked why the father leaves the party. Well, the obvious answer is that he is trying to get his son to join the party. But this time, all the pieces fell into place. Let's take a look back at Luke 15.

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'

Notice a similarity? The shepherd leaves the 99 other sheep to find the one who was lost. The father leaves a raging party to go look for his son. His lost son. And it isn't the son you would think.

The older son wanted a party. In my last post I said that he should have gone and looked for his lost brother. I still think that is true. But I see another way he could have had a party. He could have let his father find him and bring him home. Had he accepted the invitation to come in, he would have had everything he ever wanted.

Because remember what the father does when he finds things? He celebrates! He was already celebrating his younger son coming home. Now he wanted to celebrate his older son doing the same. He was trying to throw his older son a party.

Imagine that party! Imagine the rejoicing of God when the whole family gets together.

So what do I take from this? The joy of God is found when we go find lost people and bring them home. The joy of God is found when we accept his invitations for us to quit slaving in the fields and join the party. The joy of God is found when we begin to experience his heart for the lost. The joy of God is found when we rejoice in someone else being found.

I love this stuff. I really do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Lost (Older) Son and the Heart of His Father

I am writing this at the risk of giving away the "answers" at my Bible Study on Thursday but I just couldn't wait.

One thing I absolutely love to do is study the Bible with other people. I regularly learn all kinds of things from the people I am studying with, even if they have never looked at Scripture before. It is one of the beauties of Bible study.

On Monday night, my staff partner Mike, and I were looking at the second part of the parable of the lost son in Luke 15. Here is the text we were studying:

25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'

28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "

Now, I have studied this passage many many times. But I have learned that even if that is so, God can still reveal something new to me. This was one of those times. There is much to talk about in this passage. I just want to focus on the new thing I saw.

It has long been clear to me that the older son had a screwy relationship with his father. Somehow he got the idea that in order for his father to love him and celebrate him, he needed to work and slave away in the field. He also had to do everything right. So rather than actually be a son and have a relationship with his dad, he was out in the field.

It occurred to me that the son didn't really know his father. Because if he did, he would have known that his father was an incredibly generous, forgiving, and loving man.

He would have also known what kind of things caused his father to celebrate and throw parties.

Earlier in the chapter, Jesus tells a story of a shepherd that loses a sheep. He searches for it and finds it and throws a party with all of his friends. Then Jesus tells a story of a woman who loses a coin. She searches all over her house for it and when she finds it, she throws a party for all her friends. Then in the first part of the lost son story, the father throws a massive party because his son has been found.

The common theme? God celebrates when he finds things that are lost. The spiritual interpretation Jesus gives is that there is a massive party in heaven when sinners repent and turn to God.

So if the son had really known his father, wouldn't he have known that his father absolutely couldn't get enough of finding things?

Instead, he spends all his time working and slaving away and doing all the right things trying to get his dad to notice and celebrate. But it would appear that his dad doesn't care about all that. He cares about having his lost son come home.

So maybe the older son should have gone looking for his brother. Maybe then he really would have understood his father and entered into the joy of the party. I think Tim Keller talks about this in one of his books but it just clicked for me as I was looking at this.

So maybe when we want to deepen our relationship with God, the answer isn't found in doing more of the right things. It isn't found in slaving away. It isn't found in going to church more or reading the bible more, though those are really good things to do.

If we want to know our Heavenly Father in a deep way, to be close to his heart, to experience him in a new and fresh way, then maybe we should go looking for lost people and help them come home.

I feel like something very significant happened to me while I was studying that passage. God, help me put flesh and bones on it and experience the joy that you feel when someone comes home. Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Urbana 09

So I was going to write a whole post on my experience at Urbana 09 but instead, I would like to share with you two highlights from the plenary sessions.

The first is from day 3. Oscar Muriu, a pastor from Kenya spoke. This is maybe the best beginning to a talk I have ever heard. It seriously kicked my butt and I hope it kicks yours. What do you think?

Money and Power: Oscar Muriu from Urbana 09 on Vimeo.

The next one is from the next night. Sunder Krishnan is a pastor in Toronto. This was probably the best teaching on prayer I have ever heard. Yes, I am using a lot of superlatives but it really was that good. Enjoy.

Pray Big and Pray Bold: Sunder Krishnan from Urbana 09 on Vimeo.

If these make you interested, you can watch the rest of the stuff from Urbana here

Ok. That is all. Carry on.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I Have a Hilarious Life: Part 3!

Well, it is about time for another installment of my never-ending series chronicling the misadventures of an InterVarsity staff-worker.

Part one involved a canceled ferry to Catalina Island, an overnight stay on the floor of a church with 40 other staff, and a 4am wake up call. And no one complained or even questioned it.

Part Duex involved a last minute attempt to cross the midwest where the next step never seemed to be known until, well, the last minute. To be fair, it wasn't an official "I have a hilarious life" but it will be an honorary member of the club.

And now, part 3.

Every three years, InterVarsity puts on a giant student missions conference in St. Louis called Urbana. (It used to be held in Urbana, Illinois. Hence the name.)As a staff for IVCF, I get to help put it on and work at it. This year I was going to help with the morning Bible Studies. Staff need to show up a day early for a banquet and training.

A few days before I needed to leave, I started to hear reports of bad storms hitting the midwest. That would worry some people, but not me. Can anyone name anything I can do to change the weather? Nope. Didn't think so.

I left my house for the airport on the day after Christmas dark and early at 4am. Usually, when there is a big IVCF conference, you can count on running into other staff. This time was no different. I actually ran into someone who was with me during the part 1 debacle.

That should have been my first warning.

There were no problems for the next 6 hours. I watched some of Lost season 5 on the plane and tried to sleep a bit. As soon as the plane landed in Chicago I checked my messages and got one telling me the flight to St. Louis had been canceled. Now, this has never happened to me before and honestly, I don't really know what to do about it.

The other staff and I tried to get on standby for the next flight but as the afternoon continued, two things happened. Each upcoming flight got canceled and more and more staff joined our posse. By about 6pm, we had over 20 people with us and no hope of flying for at least another day.

Some in our group were frantically trying to figure something out. I was not one of them. Welcome to my problem solving strategy. I was sitting reading a book most of the time waiting for someone to come up with an idea. I am not saying this is the best way to handle things. It isn't. But it was what I did and would you know it, someone came up with something.

An overnight bus ride leaving from Grand Central Station at 11:55pm. 20 bucks. Let's do it.

We hopped on the train to Chicago where we hung out for the next several hours. I ate really bad pizza, tried to sleep on a bench, listened to music from Glee, and played freecell on the dirty floor.

The bus was a double decker and we heard people comment that they had never seen so many people on it. I think there were upwards of 36 of us at that point. After a scuffle involving a drunk passenger that ate up a half hour, we were on our way. Miraculously, I was able to sleep for some of it.

I made it into my hotel room in St. Louis exactly 24 hours after I left.

Oh yeah, did I mention that I didn't receive my checked luggage for two days? That will put a damper on any trip. I spent a good deal of energy trying not to physically exert myself or lift my arms up.

While I was in it, this whole thing seemed hilarious, ridiculous, and frustrating. But when I stepped back and had a little perspective, this didn't seem that rough. There are TONS of people who have been in way worse situations than that and I do not envy them at all. Take, for example, my new staff friend from the Bay Area who got his luggage on the last day of the conference. That was a full five days after he left for it. Now that sucks!

So now my misadventures have taken the form of boats, trains, and planes! Bring it on automobiles! BRING IT!!!!

Stay tuned for my decompression from Urbana.

Happy New Year!