Monday, December 31, 2012

Favorite Movies of 2012

1. The Dark Knight Rises

2. Lincoln

3. Les Miserables

4. Argo

5. 21 Jump Street

6. The Hobbit

7. The Master

8. Bernie

9. SkyFall

10. Moonrise Kingdom

To give some context to this list, these are movies I purposefully left off (that generally got good reviews): Looper, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Grey

And these are movies I didn't get a chance to see yet that might have made the list: Django Unchained, The Kid with a Bike, Silver Linings Playbook, The Imposter, Amour, Life of Pi.

Here's Paste Magazine's Top 50 of the year

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Favorite Books I read in 2012

1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (1955)
An epic novel that I finally got around to reading this year. I was afraid that it wouldn't be as good since I had already seen all the movies, but that wasn't a problem at all. There was obviously so much more depth and detail in the book that is much needed to fully appreciate the story. I loved following the characters again (but almost for the first time). Tolkien is so good at creating a world that seems familiar and developing characters that you want to know.

Good quote: “Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

2. The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman (1982)
One of my favorite books is "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Postman. He is such a prophetic voice for our generation obsessed with entertainment as he writes in the mid 80s. This book explains how childhood was basically an invention coming shortly after the printing press. Secrets were created by books and a sharp divide started to come between adults and children. Then, the telegraph started the demise of childhood as information became decontextualized and sent everywhere. Television, Postman argues, further erodes this distinction between the adult and child as information is presented without bias to anyone who can watch the screen. As a result, children are acting more like adults and adults are acting more like children.

Good quote: “Literature of all kinds…collects and keeps valuable secrets…In a literate world children must become adults. But in a non-literate world there is no need to distinguish sharply between the child and the adult, for there are few secrets, and the culture does not need to provide training in how to understand itself.”

3. The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry (1970)
This was my first book by Wendell Berry and it definitely won't be the last. Berry has been a farmer in Kentucky for the past forty years and has written over fifty works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This particular book is a nonfiction work about racism and the damage that it has brought to our country. He gives some personal experience of growing up on a farm with slaves and argues that the white community has received a hidden wound from their injustices towards the black community and that this wound needs to be looked at and talked about in order for the destruction from it to wane.

Good quote: "The white man preoccupied with the abstractions of the economic exploitation and ownership of the land, necessarily has lived on the country as a destructive force, an ecological catastrophe, because he assigned the hand labor, and in that the possibility of intimate knowledge of the land, to a people he considered racially inferior; in thus debasing labor, he destroyed the possibility of a meaningful contact with the earth."

4. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
A fascinating true story about the Louis Zamperini, a world class runner who ends up serving in World War II as a bombardier. He survives a plane crash, weeks in the ocean, and many brutal experiences in Japanese POW camps. Great story with a great ending.

Good quote: “On Kwajalein, Louie and Phil learned a dark truth known to the doomed in Hitler’s death camps, the slaves of the American South, and a hundred other generations of betrayed people. Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen.”

5. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (1940)
I read this earlier in the year and don't remember many of the details, so I'll let the Amazon description speak for me: "How does good spoil, and how can bad be redeemed? In his penetrating novel The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene explores corruption and atonement through a priest and the people he encounters. In the 1930s one Mexican state has outlawed the Church, naming it a source of greed and debauchery. The priests have been rounded up and shot by firing squad--save one, the whisky priest. On the run, and in a blur of alcohol and fear, this outlaw meets a dentist, a banana farmer, and a village woman he knew six years earlier...On the verge of reaching a safer region, the whisky priest is repeatedly held back by his vocation, even though he no longer feels fit to perform his rites. As his sins and dangers increase, the broken priest comes to confront the nature of piety and love. Still, when he is granted a reprieve, he feels himself sliding into the old arrogance, slipping it on like the black gloves he used to wear." (Amazon)

Good quote: "It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death. It was easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization -- it needed a god to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt."

6. Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World by John H. Yoder (1989)
Everyone loves Yoder at Fuller and with this book I found out why. It's really short and it looks at five New Testament practices: binding and loosing, baptism, eucharist, multiplicity of gifts, and open meeting. He explains that these were central to the life of the New Testament community and he gives some fresh perspective on what they might mean for the church today. He argues that "the full social, ethical, and communal meaning of the original practices has often been covered by centuries of ritual and interpretation" and he  "uncovers the original meaning of the five practices and shows why the recovery of these practices is so important for the social, economic, and political witness of the church today." (Amazon)

Good quote: "The people of God is called to be today what the world is called to be ultimately."

7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey (1989)
I was quite surprised by this book. I didn't think I liked books about leadership, especially with a certain number of steps to go through. But this book is about much more than leadership, which is I think why it has been just a high seller. Covey's principles are really helpful for all of life. What I really loved is that he didn't focus on actions but on motives and heart level change. I believe I'll be thinking about the concepts here for quite a long time.

Good quote: "The real beginning of influence comes as others sense you are being influenced by them--when they feel understood by you--that you have listened deeply and sincerely, and that you are open."

8. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (2002)
A true story about how Mitch finds out his favorite college professor is dying and then meets with him every Tuesday until Morrie passes away. It's a great story of friendship and reorienting one's life based on the perspective of someone who is at the end of his. I read this as a part of my "Grief, Loss, Death, and Dying" course at Fuller this past spring. Totally worth it.

Good quote: "So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong thing."

9. Letters to Children by CS Lewis (1985)
A collection of correspondance between Lewis and his younger readers. It's fascinating to see a man of such great intellect care for children and speak great truths in ways they can understand.

Good quote: "Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it's idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc) can do the journey on their own!"

10. Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff (1987)
This was another book I read for my grief & death class at Fuller. Wolterstoff, a brilliant philosopher teaching at Yale University, lost his 25 year old son to a climbing accident. In this book, he gives the reader a look into his grief and he honestly wrestles with how such a thing could happen. I highly recommend it for anyone who is dealing with any kind of significant loss.

Good quote: “God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart. Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God…"

Honorable Mentions: A Praying Life (Paul Miller), Hannah Coulter (Berry), Hunger Games series (Collins), The Ball and the Cross (Chesterton), Gilead (Robinson), Trauma and Recovery (Herman)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Keller: God got involved in our suffering

In light of the Newtown tragedy, I've seen some friends re-post a sermon that Tim Keller gave September 10, 2006 as a remembrance of 9-11 five years later. It's still incredibly relevant and helpful for a lot of the questions being asked in the last few days.
As a minister, of course, I’ve spent countless hours with people who are struggling and wrestling with the biggest question – the WHY question in the face of relentless tragedies and injustices. And like all ministers or any spiritual guides of any sort, I scramble to try to say something to respond and I always come away feeling inadequate and that’s not going to be any different today. But we can’t shrink from the task of responding to that question. Because the very best way to honor the memories of the ones we’ve lost and love is to live confident, productive lives. And the only way to do that is to actually be able to face that question. We have to have the strength to face a world filled with constant devastation and loss. So where do we get that strength? How do we deal with that question? I would like to propose that, though we won’t get all of what we need, we may get some of what we need 3 ways: by recognizing the problem for what it is, and then by grasping both an empowering hint from the past and an empowering hope from the future.

First, we have to recognize that the problem of tragedy, injustice and suffering is a problem for everyone no matter what their beliefs are. Now, if you believe in God and for the first time experience or see horrendous evil, you rightly believe that that is a problem for your belief in God, and you’re right – and you say, “How could a good and powerful God allow something like this to happen?”

But it’s a mistake (though a very understandable mistake) to think that if you abandon your belief in God it somehow is going to make the problem easier to handle. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail says that if there was no higher divine Law, there would be no way to tell if a particular human law was unjust or not. So think. If there is no God or higher divine Law and the material universe is all there is, then violence is perfectly natural—the strong eating the weak! And yet somehow, we still feel this isn’t the way things ought to be. Why not? Now I’m not going to get philosophical at a time like this. I’m just trying to make the point that the problem of injustice and suffering is a problem for belief in God but it is also a problem for disbelief in God—for any set of beliefs. So abandoning belief in God does not really help in the face of it. OK, then what will?

Second, I believe we need to grasp an empowering hint from the past. Now at this point, I’d like to freely acknowledge that every faith – and we are an interfaith gathering today – every faith has great resources for dealing with suffering and injustice in the world. But as a Christian minister I know my own faith’s resources the best, so let me simply share with you what I’ve got. When people ask the big question, “Why would God allow this or that to happen?” There are almost always two answers. The one answer is: Don’t question God! He has reasons beyond your finite little mind. And therefore, just accept everything. Don’t question. The other answer is: I don’t know what God’s up to – I have no idea at all about why these things are happening. There’s no way to make any sense of it at all. Now I’d like to respectfully suggest the first of these answers is too hard and the second is too weak. The second is too weak because, though of course we don’t have the full answer, we do have an idea, an incredibly powerful idea.

One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress to me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in – suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn.

But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack. And so you see what this means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength.

And lastly, we have to grasp an empowering hope for the future. In both the Hebrew Scriptures and even more explicitly in the Christian Scriptures we have the promise of resurrection. In Daniel 12:2-3 we read: Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake….[They]… will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and…like the stars for ever and ever. And in John 11 we hear Jesus say: I am the resurrection and the life! Now this is what the claim is: That God is not preparing for us merely some ethereal, abstract spiritual existence that is just a kind of compensation for the life we lost. Resurrection means the restoration to us of the life we lost. New heavens and new earth means this body, this world! Our bodies, our homes, our loved ones—restored, returned, perfected and beautified! Given back to us!

In the year after 9-11 I was diagnosed with cancer, and I was treated successfully. But during that whole time I read about the future resurrection and that was my real medicine. In the last book of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee wakes up, thinking everything is lost and discovering instead that all his friends were around him, he cries out: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

The answer is YES. And the answer of the Bible is YES. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going TO COME UNTRUE.

Oh, I know many of you are saying, “I wish I could believe that.” And guess what? This idea is so potent that you can go forward with that. To even want the resurrection, to love the idea of the resurrection, long for the promise of the resurrection even though you are unsure of it, is strengthening. I John 3:2-3. Beloved, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope purify themselves as he is pure.” Even to have a hope in this is purifying.

Listen to how Dostoevsky puts it in Brothers Karamazov: “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; and it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify what has happened.”

That is strong and that last sentence is particularly strong…but if the resurrection is true, it’s absolutely right. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Favorite Albums of 2012

It's the end of another year and that means I have a few "best of" lists to share. I started doing this in 2008, mainly influenced by Paste Magazine. I've enjoyed doing it and I hope you enjoy seeing them.

Here are my favorite albums of 2012 and you can check them out via this Spotify playlist:

1. Land of the Living, by Matthew Perryman Jones
Favorite Tracks: Land of the Living, O Theo, Stones from the Riverbed

2. The Lumineers, by The Lumineers
Favorite Tracks: Stuboorn Love, Ho Hey, Dead Sea

3. Babel, by Mumford & Sons
Favorite Tracks: Hopeless Wanderer, I Will Wait

4. My Head Is An Animal, by Of Monsters and Men
Favorite Tracks: Mountain Sound, Six Weeks, Little Talks

5. The Carpenter, by The Avett Brothers
Favorite Tracks: The Once and Future Carpenter, Live and Die, February Seven

6. Nexus, by Sola-Mi
Favorite Tracks: The Blessing of Being Bloodless, Crowd of Silent Strangers, Mother Mother

7. Gravity, by Lecrae
Favorite Tracks: Falling Down, Gravity

Here are Paste's Top 50 albums of the year.

Also, if I were redo my last year from last year I would include The Head and the Heart self-titled album near the top. I've been listening to it a ton this year. Check out Down in the Valley, Rivers and Roads, and Lost in my Mind on the album. Legit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

True freedom vs. the freedom of affluence

Our present idea of freedom is only the freedom to do as we please: to sell ourselves for a high salary, a home in the suburbs, and idle weekend. But that is a freedom dependent upon affluence, which is in turn dependent upon the rapid consumption of exhaustible supplies. The other kind of freedom is the freedom to take care of ourselves and of each other. The freedom of affluence opposes and contradicts the freedom of community life.”
Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound, pg. 135

Friday, November 30, 2012

How to Kill a Mustache (or Face Caterpillar)

This video is amazing on so many levels.

In case you missed it, here are the various alternate mustache names presented here: Mouth Brow, Lip Rug, Flavor Savor, Soup Strainer, Face Caterpillar, Lip Lincoln, Cookie Duster, Boogerbra (?), Dirt Squirrel, Nose Neighbor

I found this video via 22 Words (always a reliable source for internet entertainment).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Good Critique of Mumford and Sons

Nathan Chang writes a compelling piece on Mumford and Sons and their latest album Babel. Personally, I have enjoyed their past two albums, both for their passion and energy and for their spiritually thoughtful lyrics, but Chang provides some convicting food for thought.

Talking about Mumford's quotable lyrics, he says:
Reading the lyrics from a Mumford & Sons song is a daunting task, not because they’re challenging, but because they’re incoherent. Mumford seems afraid of writing thoughts that are longer than two or three short lines, not that this matters when your main audience is looking for a style, catchiness and a hook rather than challenging lyrics. Songs don’t have to be philosophical treatises, but a good song—like a good poem—marries truth and efficiency of language through subtlety and the suggestive power of the unspoken. Creative Writing 101: “Show, Don’t Tell.” Someone missed the memo or doesn’t have enough faith in writing or audience or some combination of the above. This is of course what makes Mumford & Sons so quotable (especially on Twitter and on Sundays). Attention deficit results in a failure to tackle the difficult questions; the songs feign to wrestle with anything approaching thoroughness or even a serious effort.
Later in the article he draws a comparison between Mumford's lyrics and contemporary Christian praise music:
It is the unimaginative, manufactured earnestness that ultimately makes Mumford & Sons as emotionally unfulfilling as a lot of contemporary Christian praise music. They have perfected a songwriting formula lifted straight out of the Hillsong playbook: Take any deficiencies or failings of the lyrics to elicit emotion and add accompaniment with sufficient volume, then take a few lines and repeat them again and again with feeling and honesty. Surely if the drums come in at the right time and we throw in a key change, the song will be really emotional. It’s a problem in church, and it’s a problem on the radio.
Even though I still will enjoy Mumford & Sons after this article, I appreciate the ways in which I have been challenged by Chang. The world we live in is full of 140 character bits of decontextualized truth. If that is all we are getting, I believe our hearts and minds will suffer for it.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

GIving Up 'Getting Ahead' For Simple Pleasures

When I was out west, I would often remember with longing the rain and thunderstorms that would often come through Georgia. You might think I'm crazy, since southern California has some of the best weather in the country, but there's something peaceful about rain that made me long for it more often than once every six months.

This past Monday it rained. It rained a lot. All day in fact. I loved it. After falling asleep to it in the afternoon, I went downstairs, opened the garage door, set up a camping chair near the edge of where the water was dripping of the roof and I sat, watching and listening. It was extremely peaceful.

I also had a book in hand, The Hidden Wound, by Wendell Berry. This is my first Berry book, recommended to me by one of my favorite professors at Fuller. I don't know much about Berry, except that he is a Christian who has written a lot on agrarian ideas and that he has lived on a farm in Kentucky for the past forty years.

In the book, he is talking about racism and slavery that existed in our not so distant history. He himself grew up on a farm where his grandfather owned a couple of slaves. One slave in particular, Nick, become a childhood friend of Berry.

In one chapter, he is describing how Nick's life was rich in simple pleasures, contrasted with the "anxiety and the greed and the haste and the self-doubt of the white man scrambling for the top." Speaking about these pleasures, he says:
"In these times one contemplates it with the same sense of hope with which one contemplates the sunrise or the coming of spring: the image of a man who has labored all his life and will labor to the end, who has no wealth, who owns little, who has no hope of changing, who will never 'get somewhere' or 'be somebody,' and who is yet rich in pleasure, who takes pleasure in the use of his mind! Isn't this the very antithesis of the thing that is breaking us in pieces? Isn't there a great rare human strength in this--this humble possibility that all our effort and aspirations is to deny?"
Being back in Georgia, in the northern Atlanta suburbs that are so full of the excess of wealth and busyness, it's hard not to be sucked in to believe that these things are what I should be going after. Thankfully, a restful time in the rain helped remind me that these things are not life giving and that God's definition of success for me is far different from what the world tells me it is.

Here's a closing thought from Berry again, this time drawing on Henry David Thoreau, who gives some direction as to what true wisdom is:
"A Thoreau so well knew, and so painstakingly tried to show us, what a man most needs is not a knowledge of how to get more, but a knowledge of the most he can do without, and of how to get along without it. The essential cultural discrimination is not between having and not having or haves and have-nots, but between the superfluous and the indispensable. Wisdom, it seems to me, is always poised upon the knowledge of minimums; it might be thought to be the art of minimums. Granting the frailty, and no doubt the impermanence, of modern technology as a human contrivance, the man who can keep a fire in a stove or on a hearth is not only more durable, but wiser, closer to the meaning of fire, than the man who can only work a thermostat."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Heading Home

After 2,341 miles or driving spread out over a week on the road, I finally made it back to the place I like to call home, Alpharetta, GA. Here are some of the adventures I had along the way,

My first stop was lunch at a restaurant called Olives at the Bellagio. A friend recommended it to me and since it was my first time in Vegas, I decided to make it happen. Great view, but unfortunately, I didn't get to see the fountains in all their glory.

I stayed in Richfield, Utah the first night. I think the sunset lasted about two beautiful hours.

I stayed with my parents in Denver the next two nights. Shortly after arriving I found out one of my favorite bands was playing at Red Rocks Amphitheatre those two nights, twenty minutes from my parents' house. I couldn't not go, so I talked my dad into going over there with me. It was an epic night seeing Mumford and Sons in such an incredible venue.

They filmed the show I was at and here they are playing the first single off their upcoming album.

I also got to stop by Nashville to see some friends of mine, the McHughs (thanks for hosting!) and the Ballards.

Evan and I hit the town for some good times (which means dancing was obviously involved).

I came home to these men (among others). I love them and am excited to be doing life together.
"In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” (CS Lewis, The Four Loves)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reflecting on my time at Fuller Seminary

As of a couple of hours ago, I turned in my last paper as a student of Fuller Theological Seminary. I am now a master...or at least I have a Master of Arts in Theology. I came to Fuller about a year and a half ago, after starting about 25% of my degree at RTS in Atlanta. As I reflect on my time here, there are a number of things that I really appreciated about being here.

1. The Diversity
I love that fact that my being a white American male made me a minority at Fuller. There seemed to be just as many women as men studying here and there are students here from all over the world. I had classes with students from Mexico, Greece, South Korea, El Salvador, China, Malaysia, Canada, Bolivia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Haiti, Jamaica, and Ethopia. And those are just the ones I was aware of.

There was also a great diversity among denominations and theological backgrounds. From Presbyterians to Methodists, from Pentacostals to Episcopalians, from open theists to Calvinists, from conservatives to liberals, the student body here was made up of many different beliefs about the Bible and the way to do church.

The main thing this diversity breeds is humility. I remember sitting in class my first quarter and figuring out that if you took all the Christians in the world, the ones that fit into my specific belief system on salvation, atonement, eschatology, doctrine of the church, doctrine of the Holy Spirit, etc. are probably only about 3-4%! The beauty of this is that I learned to be more compassionate and open-minded as I sought to have fruitful conversations with people who believed differently than me in many ways.

2. Professors
I have heard people say that you should choose a seminary based on its professors. I am now a firm believer in that as well. It's kind of crazy to look back and see how many of the professors I had are world-renowned in their respective fields: Marianne Thompson, John and NT theology; John Thompson, Calvin; John Goldingay, Isaiah and OT theology; Don Hagner, Matthew and NT theology; David Augsburger, Pastoral counseling and conflict management.

What most of my professors did best was teach me
how to think, not necessarily what to think. This is one of the biggest differences between Fuller and seminaries that are tied to denominations or specific theologies. During my first quarter I was frustrated by this. The class would be trying to pin the professor on what to think and he/she would keep us guessing, allowing us to wrestle with the issue. Over time I began to really appreciate this, because I have learned how vast the spectrum is as far as what Christians believe around the world. Fuller professors were trying to show that to us and then help us come to some conclusions on our own.

3. Being challenged in what I believe
I heard many times that those who are conservative in their theology will find Fuller too liberal and those who are liberal in their theology will find Fuller too conservative. Coming in as more conservative and Reformed, I knew that I would face some ideas that I did not agree with. I came in believing that complementarianism was the only true biblical position concerning men and women's roles. Now I'm not too sure of that. There were also many ways I was challenged in the ways I think about ethics. There has been a large contingent of Mennonites and pacifists that have taught here and I have been challenged in the ways in which I think about issues like war, the death penalty, and nonviolence in general. I'm also coming away with different positions concerning the Old Testament, being okay with the fact that Moses probably didn't write the Pentateuch and that the two different creation accounts aren't necessarily meant to be taken as literal historical explanations.

The net result of all this is greater humility and more understanding with people who differ from me. I have been humbled by how much I don't know and how many issues aren't as black and white as I thought they were. I've also been helped in appreciating different pastors/theologians who I didn't appreciate before. For instance, I did not think much of N.T. Wright when I came in because I disagreed with his views on justification. However, Wright is an incredibly thoughtful and helpful writer that has so many great things to say. Also, I didn't like Rob Bell very much when I came in, but God seemed to have a sense of humor in having me befriend many people who love him, including one of my current roommates who was very involved in Mars Hill in the early days. I have even learned to appreciate Bell in some different ways.

The point is, I will now be less inclined to blacklist or demonize someone because they happen to disagree with me in a particular area. The disconnectedness of the internet and conversations with like-minded people are easy avenues for this kind of thing. I hope that I can be removed from this type of behavior in the future.

4. Learning more about Pastoral counseling issues
Between David Augsburger and Dale Ryan, I took classes on grief and loss, conflict and conciliation, caring for the abused, and spirituality and recovery. These were some of my favorite classes and help confirm a calling towards pastoring and caring for people. The class on a recovery model of spirituality was probably one of the most impactful classes I took here (see an earlier blog post on that).

There certainly were some things that have been downsides to my experience at Fuller. The cost is one huge factor as it was probably about twice as expensive as RTS. Also, the student environment at Fuller was sometimes discouraging. There were a lot of students struggling with their faith here and public behavior of certain people did not always match up expectations I had of seminary life. However, the struggle wasn't just with "them." I probably had one of the driest devotional periods of my Christian life while here. I have been told the this is often the case in seminary, though I don't fully understand why.

As I leave this place and head back to Atlanta, I still don't know what the next few years will hold for me. I can say though, that Fuller has helped prepare me for whatever that is. Whether I am in full time ministry or not, I feel more equipped to bring the gracious gospel of Jesus to those I am in contact with. I have no regrets about moving out here a year and a half ago. Though there have been many ups and downs, I will always appreciate the things I've learned here and the relationships I was able to invest in. Thank you to all who supported me and were along for the ride with me, both here in Pasadena and across the country. I am deeply grateful.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

TIm Keller breifly addresses the problem of suffering

Tim Keller recently wrote a great article for CNN where he looks at four different responses to the question, "Why did God let this happen?" Here's most of it:
The first answer is, "This makes no sense—I guess this proves there is no God." But the problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, said that if there was no higher divine Law, there would be no way to tell if any particular human law was unjust or not. If there is no God, then why have a sense of outrage and horror when suffering and tragedy occur? The strong eat the weak—that’s life—so why not? When Friedrich Nietzsche heard that a natural disaster had destroyed Java in 1883, he wrote a friend: “Two hundred thousand wiped out at a stroke—how magnificent!” Nietzsche was relentless in his logic. Because if there is no God, all value judgments are arbitrary. All definitions of justice are just the results of your culture or temperament. As different as they were in other ways, King and Nietzsche agreed on this point. If there is no God or higher divine Law, then violence is perfectly natural. So abandoning belief in God doesn’t help with the problem of suffering at all, and as we will see, it removes many resources for facing it.

The second answer is, “If there is a God, senseless suffering proves that God is not completely in control of everything. He couldn’t stop this.” As many thinkers have pointed out—both devout believers as well as atheists—such a being, whatever it is, doesn’t really fit our definition of God. And this leaves you with the same problems mentioned above. If you don’t believe in a God powerful enough to create and sustain the whole world, then the world came about through natural forces, and that means, again, that violence is natural. Or if you think that God is an impersonal life force and this whole material world is just an illusion, again you remove any reason to be outraged at evil and suffering or to resist it.

The third answer to seemingly sudden, random death is, "God saves some people and lets others die because he favors and rewards good people." But the Bible forcefully rejects the idea that people who suffer more are worse people than those who are spared suffering. This was the self-righteous premise of Job’s friends in that great Old Testament book. They sat around Job, who was experiencing one sorrow in life after another, and said, "the reason this is happening to you and not us is because we are living right and you are not." At the end of the book, God expresses his fury at Job’s "miserable comforters." The world is too fallen and deeply broken to issue in neat patterns of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.

The fourth answer is, "God knows what he’s doing, so be quiet and trust him." This is partly right, but inadequate. It is inadequate because it is cold and because the Bible gives us more with which to face the terrors of life.

God did not create a world with death and evil in it. It is the result of humankind turning away from him. We were put into this world to live wholly for him, and when instead we began to live for ourselves everything in our created reality began to fall apart—physically, socially, and spiritually. Everything became subject to decay. But God did not abandon us. Of all the world's major religions, only Christianity teaches that God came to earth (in Jesus Christ) and became subject to suffering and death himself—dying on the Cross to take the punishment our sins deserved—so that some day he can return to earth to end all suffering without ending us.

Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason isn’t—what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.

He understands us, he’s been there, and he assures us that he has a plan to eventually to wipe away every tear, to make "everything sad come untrue," as J.R.R. Tolkien put it at the end of his Christian allegory The Lord of the Rings.

Someone might say, "But that’s only half an answer to the question 'Why?'" Yes, but it is the half that we need.

If God actually explained all the reasons why he allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains. Think of small children and their relationship to their parents. Three-year-olds can’t understand most of what their parents allow and disallow for them. But though they aren’t capable of comprehending their parents’ reasons, they are capable of knowing their parents’ love, and therefore capable of trusting them and living securely. That is what they really need. Now the difference between God and human beings would be infinitely greater than the difference between a thirty-year-old parent and a three-year-old child. So we should not expect to be able to grasp all God’s purposes, but through the Cross and gospel of Jesus Christ, we can know his love. And that is what we need most.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Politics, Theology, and the Importance of Dialoguing Well

You might remember that in 2003, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks said that she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." There was a huge outrage as thousands of people began protesting their music and radio stations began banning their songs. The members of the group even received death threats because of this statement. Eventually, there was a documentary made about the whole ordeal called Shut Up & Sing.

I don't remember thinking much about all of this when it happened, but now I can say I am deeply troubled by the depth of criticism they received.

I don't like much of the political conversation that goes on in our world. There is constantly an us vs. them mentality and I think most of it lacks humility and compassion on both sides. The Dixie Chicks situation is yet another example of how we can forget that others have a right to their opinion without being openly ridiculed and mocked for it. Let's give others the courtesy that we would want from them.

At the blog, Christ and Pop Culture, Nick Rynerson penned a helpful post explaining the dangers of letting politics shape and inform theology. Here's his conclusion:
Within this reaction to the Dixie Chicks and subsequent events, I see a very deep and important national flaw that should not be overlooked: the inability to dialogue well. Dialogue in the public area is so often reduced to cliché rhetoric (things like comparing political opponents to nazis). This goes back a long time in American history to the common school movement, where disagreements in theology and politics were smoothed over in an attempt to bring people together but ended up superficially burying issues that would erupt in divisiveness and anger later on.

Nashville country music over the years has picked up some political baggage in its underbelly and remains a politically shaped entity to a degree. American evangelical Christianity has picked up some similar cultural and political tendencies, making goings-on in the country music world important to understand for the American Christian. Evangelicalism in America has attached to much of it a fiscal, moral and political conservatism that often gets directly glued to orthodox theology and has a tendency to be seen as just as important (not to mention the ethnocentrism that underling much of the American church that also often gets confused with conservative theology). I have had plenty of conversations about politics with well-meaning fellow Christians where my lack of political affiliation and my skepticism towards the policies of Ronald Regan were seen as lack of spiritual maturity. It is so important for Christians to work through the relationship between politics and faith because if we do not, we run the risk of doing to the gospel what the Judiazers did 2000 years ago. It does not matter a lick what cause, party, legalism, or idea we do this with and it has disastrous consequences.

Regardless of political beliefs, we need to discuss, dialogue and ask questions instead of blacklisting. If we are to live in a politically polarized world we must 1.) remember the transcendence and importance of our Savior above all politics and 2.) have a sense of humor. If anything can be learned from the Dixie Chicks disaster it is that politics can bring war. And only Jesus brings lasting peace from the war of American politics. And through the security found in Jesus can politics be engaged in both boldness and graciousness because, eternally, there is nothing at stake. This great gospel also frees you up to convince people you are a fascist for a few laughs if you want (maybe, that last point is debateable).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

YouTube humor

My favorite source for internet fun is Abraham Piper's blog, 22 words. I recommend it if you enjoy watching funny or interesting videos online and don't want to spend the time looking for them. Here's a sampling of some of my favorite videos he's posted over the last month.

This is a funny video about two guys that have a love/hate relationship with "Somebody that I used to know" by Gotye.

Two thoughtful guys

For Friday Night fans, Coach Taylor likes to let people know that he's about to tell them something.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Recap of my trip to Isreal

It's been over a week now since I've been back in the States. Since being back, I've been trying to figure out the best way to sum up my experience in Israel. I'll start with a few favorite memories, and then I'll try to add some concluding thoughts.

Key wow moments:
The first was when we first made it to Jerusalem and we were driving up Mt. Scopus to get a view of the city. As the city was coming into view, it hit me how crazy it was that I was there.The second wow moment came when we made it to the southern wall of the Temple Mount and saw the Southern Steps. We had heard a lot about where Jesus might have done this or that, but these steps where the first time we encountered a spot where we can be fairly confident that Jesus walked, since these steps would have been the entrance and exit to the Temple Mount.The third wow moment came while being in and around the Sea of Galilee (or Lake of Gennesaret). We stayed on the lake, swam in it, took a boat out on it and had a worship service, and visited many of the towns in the area. The Gospels are full of stories about Jesus' ministry in this area, so it was cool to experience it.
One of the coolest moments
(though definitely not literally):
Swimming in the Dead Sea. Although it was 112 degrees and the water was super warm and salty, it was a lot of fun trying to do anything but float in it.

Favorite person on the trip: My roommate for the two weeks, Cody Charland. Always good for a laugh, pleasant conversation, or a travel companion while walking around Jerusalem one night because we were lost (mostly my fault).
Major take-aways:
I went over to Israel after hearing from different people that Israel had changed their life, which contributed to me having a certain expectation about how the trip might impact me. And though I was somewhat skeptical of needing to have this kind of experience, I found myself feeling disappointed when I wasn't emotionally connecting with certain sites and places. I should be affected more than this, right? Well, not necessarily.

One of our professors on the trip, the esteemed New Testament scholar Marianne Meye Thompson, helped me make sense of some of what I was feeling. At the midpoint of the trip, on a Sunday morning, she gave a sermonette while we were on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. She talked about meeting God and following Jesus in ordinary places. Although there are some fascinating things to see in Israel, all in all it's a pretty ordinary place. We don't have to go to Israel to experience Him. He's here with us now, where we are, no matter how ordinary our lives may seem.

Another big thing I will take away from this trip has to do with seeing the land and the historical sites. I don't think I'll ever read the Bible the same. I have already seen how certain stories now seem to come alive in a different way, just by being able to recall what these places were like. It's also fascinating to see how much of what we saw is connected to historical records outside the Bible. There are some really interesting things that are constantly being discovered archeologically that bring harmony to historical records and biblical texts.

The last thing I'll mention has to do with Israel and Palestine. I think I came away with a clearer understanding of some of the issues going on over there, but also now know how much more complex the situation really is. Also, we really only heard from people who were pro-Israel. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I do know that there is another perspective that I wish could have been discussed more. The problem over there is so complicated that I couldn't offer a educated opinion on what I think is best. I think I do support Israel and the desire that the Jewish people there have for a country to call theirs, though I don't think that argument should be made based on biblical promises.

I believe the greatest need for that area that goes beyond political borders is peace. Some might argue that that will only come when the correct boundaries are set in place or others may say that peace is just an impossible dream. I can't really say how it might come, but I do hope and pray for peace.

For other pictures and video, I recommend this slideshow I put together below. You can also check out my Picasa album, which includes my favorite pictures with info explaining what different places and things are.

Israel trip from David Wilhite on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why do Christians follow certain laws from the Old Testament and not others?

Tim Keller recently wrote an article responding to those who might say that Christians are inconsistant with what they follow from the Bible. For example, we do Christians eat pork and shellfish and why do we not execute people for breaking the Sabbath? His explanation is helpful and clear. Here's his conclusion:
Once you grant the main premise of the Bible---about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation---then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mishmash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity's basic thesis---you don't believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God---and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But you can't say in fairness that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to follow the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing the other ones.
Read the whole thing

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Trip to Israel

Tomorrow morning I will be heading to Israel for a couple of weeks. I"m going with a group of students and professors from Fuller. We'll be spending time in Jerusalem mainly, but will also visit the Sea of Galilee, Masada, Qumran, Bethlehem, and the Dead Sea. I'm pretty excited about it, especially after reviewing some history and learning more about current happenings earlier this week. I also got excited after seeing the video below and thought I'd share it with you.

Jerusalem | Filmed in Imax 3D from JerusalemTheMovie on Vimeo.

Also, if you're interested, I believe you can see different updates from our trip here

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Waterfalls, Rock Jumping and Hiking at Tar Creek

Last weekend, I went hiking with a couple of friends at Tar Creek. It's a couple of hours northwest of LA in the Sespe wilderness. It's a beautiful two mile hike down to the creek. Once you get to the creek, it's about a mile and a half of rock hopping and bouldering through a canyon to get to the end, which is an eighty foot drop-off with a gorgeous view.

One of the best parts about the hike are the many waterfalls and pools you encounter as you go further downstream. Of course we decided to take advantage of come of the jumps and rockslides along the way. Apparently when I jump off of higher spots, my butt takes a lot more impact than it should. According to a chiropractor I saw a couple of days ago, I apparently sprained my tailbone from hitting the water. Believe me. You don't want to do this. It's fairly painful even a week later.

One of the guys I went with is a videographer and captured a lot of video footage. He ended up compiling and editing some of it into a short little video. I thought some of you would enjoy it.

(By the way, the helicopter towards the end was for a lady who had hurt her leg and was unable to climb her way back up. It was pretty crazy)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Embracing Boredom

My good friend Roy Keely recently posted some challenging thoughts on how to embrace the boredom in our lives instead of turning to our handheld devices at every dull moment in the day. He says boredom is actually useful:

Thanks to our smart phones (along with tablets, other hand helds, etc.) the modern man no longer has to fret with nothing to do. There is always an app close by, another email to read, a bill to pay, an Angry Bird to save, and the list goes on and on with what’s at your fingertips. While there is much to be thankful for about the ‘productivity’ in our hands, there is also something to worry about – the demise of boredom.
Boredom, as I see it, is free space to think, wonder, and roam the world between your ears. I do not define boredom as having nothing to do, but rather having everything to do. I believe the individual needs this time for overall health, sanity, and clarity. Humans have always had a component of boredom in their lives, but only recently have we had an option to opt out of being bored. I would argue that our minds are not able to handle the current degree of stimulation that we face day in day out, thus depleting our overall ability to be creative, strategic, thoughtful, engaged, and so on. If our brains were likened to a city’s infrastructure, I’d say there is too much traffic – thus smog, wrecks, and the general annoyance that comes from traffic is pervasive in our brains.
He also offers suggestions for practical ways you can "dumb down your smart phone", as he says. Check it out.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Yosemite playlist

For this weekend's trip to Yosemite, I made a playlist for Brittany and I. It mostly stems from some people I've been recently digging, but also with some relevant themes. A mixture of mello and merriment:
  1. Keep Your Head Up - Ben Howard
  2. Little Talks - Of Monsters and Men
  3. Down In The Valley - The Head and the Heart
  4. Holecene - Bon Iver
  5. We Are Young - fun.
  6. Only Love - Ben Howard
  7. Ho Hey - The Lumineers
  8. Mountain Sound - Of Monsters and Men
  9. Home - Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
  10. Metal & Wood - Tyrone Wells
  11. The Fear - Ben Howard
  12. Airplanes - Local Natives
  13. Lakehouse - Of Monsters and Men
  14. Awake My Soul - Mumford & Sons
  15. River And Roads - The Head and the Heart
  16. The Wolves - Ben Howard
  17. Six Weeks - Of Monsters and Men

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The God Who Suffers

Nicholas Wolterstorff, highly respected Christian philosopher at Yale University, lost his 25 year old son to a mountain climbing accident in 1983. Four years later he wrote a book called Lament for a Son, where he lets the reader in to his thoughts as a grieving father. I highly recommend the book for any of you who have experienced the death of someone you loved or will ever experience the death of someone you love...meaning, I recommend to everyone.

One thought from the book that is especially relevant this week, as we begin thinking about Good Friday, is his thoughts on the God who suffers with us, the God of sorrows:
“God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart. Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God…

And great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness the God who suffers with us did not strike some mighty blow of power but sent his beloved son to suffer like us., through his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil.

Instead of explaining our suffering, God shares it.

But I never saw it. Though I confessed that the man of sorrows was God himself, I never saw the God of sorrows. Though I confessed that the man bleeding on the cross was the redeeming God, I never saw God himself on the cross, blood from sword and thorn and nail dripping healing into the world’s wounds.”

Monday, April 02, 2012

Abuse is worth being sad about, mad about

I've been thinking about abuse a lot lately. One reason for this is that I am in a class here at Fuller called Pastoral Care and Abuse. Through the lectures and readings just over the last week, I'm learning very quickly about the prevalence and the horrors of all kinds of trauma and abuse.

Also, last night, Brittany and I watched Martha Marcy May Marlene. It was an intense and powerful movie about a girl who gets involved in a abusive cult. She goes on to suffer from severe delusions and paranoia because of the sexual abuse that she had experienced there. It was a very sad visualization of the atrocities being committed, occurring much more than we think about, as well as the life long psychological effects that come from these traumatic events. For Brittany, the movie also brought up recent conversations with someone in therapy who has been the victim of incest at an early age. I can't imagine a more horrible form of abuse than that.

Brittany and I cried together last night. My sadness then morphed into a sort of anger. I don't understand why all this has to happen. Doesn't God care about this? Can't he do something about it? My theology tells me that he both cares and can do something about it, so why does it still exist? I think these are questions that all of us have or will one day wrestle with, and I think it's okay to do so.

The answer to these questions for me right now is "I don't know." But I do know that part of what we are celebrating this week, the death and resurrection of Christ, is about God's concern about the evil and abuse in the world. Christ's death and resurrection are a proclamation that the world is not as it should be, and a demonstration that God cares enough about us to enter the world and be subject to its abuses. The cross reveals that there is healing for the abused, and even more radically, that there is forgiveness for the perpetrator.

Being sad about abuse and mad about it is something that reflects the way God thinks about it. I wanted to close this post with some thoughts from a song I've been listening to the last couple of days by High Society Collective. It's called Mad About. It's a song that expresses anger about the many injustices going in the world right now, including abuse.

The line that gripped me this morning as I was running was about sexual abuse. I'll end on this, hoping this line illustrates yet again the horrible reality of abuse going on all around us, and that it's worth being sad about and mad about.
She was only eight when they threw her in the trade/Abused in her youth now a slave of this rape/Uncle prostitutes the niece before she got through puberty/And its hard for her to pray ’cause she’s dropping to her knees for a priest/Geez, the cross that he wears is the cross that she bears/Pedophiles is what Im mad about.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Silence in Life and Death

Yesterday, I began a class called "Grief, Loss, Death, and Dying" with David Augsburger. I can already tell it's going to be very beneficial. One of the things Dr. Augsburger did was read an excerpt from Thomas Merton's work No Man is an Island. It was one of the most profound things I've read in a while. I hope you'll take three minutes to slowly read through it and consider its implications.
Silence does not exist in our lives merely for its own sake. Silence is the mother of speech. A lifetime of silence is ordered to an ultimate declaration, which can be put into words, a declaration of all we have lived for.

Life is not to be regarded as an uninterrupted flow of words which is finally silenced by death. Its rhythm develops in silence, surfaces in moments of expression, returns to deeper silence, culminates in a final declaration, then ascends quietly into the silence of Heaven.

Those who do not know that there is another life after this one, resist the fruitful silence of their own being by continual noise. Even when their own tongues are still, their minds chatter without end and without meaning. Or they plunge themselves into the protective noise of machines, traffic or radios. When their own noise is momentarily exhausted, they rest in the noise of others.

How tragic it is that those who have nothing to express are continually expressing themselves, like nervous gunners, firing burst after burst of ammunition into the dark, where there is no enemy. The reason for their talk is: Death is the enemy who seems to confront them at every moment in the deep darkness and silence of their own being. So they keep shouting at death. They confound their lives with noise. They stun their won ears with meaningless words, never discovering that their hearts are rooted in a silence that is not death but life. They chatter themselves to death, fearing life as if it were death.

Our whole life should be a meditation of our last and most important decision: the choice between life and death.

We must all die. But the dispositions with which we face death make of our death a choice either of death or life.

If, during our life we have chosen life, then in death we will pass from death to life. Life is a spiritual thing and spiritual things are silent. If the spirit that kept the flame of physical life burning in our bodies took care to nourish itself with the oil that is found only in the silence of God's charity, then when the body dies, the spirit itself goes on burning the same oil, with its own flame. But if the spirit has burned all along with the base oils of passion or egoism or pride, then when death comes, the flame of the spirit goes out with the light of the body because there is no more oil in the lamp.

We must learn during our lifetime to trim our lamps and fill them with charity in silence, sometimes speaking and confessing the glory of God in order to increase our charity by increasing the charity of others, and teaching them also the ways of peace and of silence.

If, at the moment of our death, death comes to us as an unwelcome stranger, it will be because Christ also has been to us an unwelcome stranger. For when death comes, Christ comes also, bringing us the everlasting life which He has bought for us by His own death. Those who love true life, therefore, frequently think about their death. Their life is full of a silence that is an anticipated victory over death. Silence, indeed, makes death our servant and even our friend. Thoughts and prayers that grow up out of the silent thought of death are like trees growing where there is no water. Thy are strong thoughts, that overcome passion and desire. They turn the face of our soul, in constant desire, toward the face of Christ.

If I say that a whole lifetime of silence is ordered to a final utterance, I do not mean that we must all contrive to die with pious speeches on our lips. It is not necessary that our last words should have some special or dramatic significance worthy of being written down. Every good death, every death that hands us over from the uncertainties of this world to the unfailing peace and silence of the love of Christ is itself an utterance and a conclusion.

A silent death may speak with more eloquent peace that a death punctuated by vivid expressions. For the eloquence of death is the eloquence of human poverty coming face to face with the riches of divine mercy. The more we are aware that our poverty is supremely great, the greater will be the meaning of death."

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island (1955), pgs. 260-264

Thursday, March 08, 2012

What does being filled with the Spirit mean?

Tim Keller offers his thoughts:
The first place in the New Testament that discusses the work of the spirit at length is in the gospel of John. Jesus considered the teaching so important that he devoted much time to it on the night before he died. When we hear of ‘spiritual filledness,’ we think of inner peace and power, and that may indeed be a result. Jesus, however, spoke of the Holy Spirit primarily as the ‘Spirit of Truth’ who will ‘remind you of everything I have said to you’ (John 14:17,26). The Holy Spirit ‘will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you’ (John 16:14). What does this mean?

‘Make known’ translates a Greek word meaning a momentous announcement that rivets attention. The Holy Spirit’s task, then, is to unfold the meaning of Jesus’s person and work to believers in such a way that the glory of it – its infinite importance and beauty – is brought home to the mind and heart. This is why earlier in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul can pray that ‘the eyes of your heart be enlightened’ (1:18), that they might ‘have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…’ (3:17-18). The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to take truths about Jesus and make them clear to our minds and real to our hearts – so real that they console and empower and change us at our very center.

To be ‘filled with the Spirit,’ then, is to live a life of joy, sometimes quiet, sometimes towering. Truths about God’s glory and Jesus’s saving work are not just believed with the mind but create inner music (Ephesians 5:19) and an inner relish in the soul. ‘Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…’ (verses 19-20). And because the object of this song is not favorable life circumstances (which can change) but rather the truth and grace of Jesus (which cannot), this heart song does not weaken in times of difficulty.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Being Broken Yet Striving For Holiness

As someone who firmly believes in the depravity of all people, I am glad that there seems to be a move towards more honest sharing in the church today. Imperfection and brokenness are being embraced as people share more of their junk, in an effort to be real and to communicate that Jesus is their only hope for salvation.

While I am glad this is all happening, I believe a balance is needed. We shouldn't be overly comfortable with our brokenness. I thought Brett McCracken has some really helpful things to say about this issue. Here is his recent blog post:
There’s no getting around the fact that we’re all broken. Every last one of us. Hurting, insecure, awkward, prideful. Ruined by illness, ravaged by divorce, raging against the self and the system. It’s true: we are fallen. We are screw-ups, messy and wayward. To know thyself–or to know anyone–is to see that this is true. No one is righteous; no not one.

Christians have sometimes tried to hide from this fact–putting on fronts of perfection, perpetuating false images of churches as polished, squeaky-clean country clubs for classy, happy saints… rather than hospitals for the damaged, ailing, addicted, recovering.

Which of course, is not good. The church, and the Gospel upon which it is founded, is not about perfection, but redemption; it’s about grace for those who don’t deserve it, hope for every single screw-up among us.

And yet I’ve wondered recently if the church–in reactionary efforts to purge itself of a “perfect/polished” veneer–might be turning “brokenness” into a bit of a fetish: focusing on it ad nauseam, touting it in the name of “grit,” “reality,” and “authenticity” to the point that the state of being broken is becoming its own sort of works righteousness.

It seems to me that in many churches today and among many evangelicals (particularly edgier Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, emergents and others who’ve been around the church for along time and are kind of sick of it), “being screwed up” has become something of a badge of honor. “Authenticity” (that is: being upfront about one’s messiness) is becoming a higher value than, say, “holiness.”

And this kind of saddens me. It saddens me when those who are “messier” are de facto the more “authentic,” somehow more believable or relatable than Deacon Joe Straightshooter, who has a solid marriage, is a good family man and doesn’t curse in casual conversation (how legalistic!). Why is it that the “I’m not churchy; I’m real!” folks with tattoos and flasks get more airtime these days than the churchy, pleated-khaki wearing, rule-keeping nerds?

It’s not that Eddie Edgy and Betty Broken shouldn’t be leaders or role models in the church. By all means, they can and should be. But for young people, new Christians–all of us really–I think we also need models of virtue and examples of holiness. We need to be able to see “authenticity” in Straightlaced Stanley and Angelic Angie. We need to be able to see the nice guys and the sweet old church ladies as role models. We need to recognize that goodness is as “real” as brokenness.

We’re all broken, yes. But that doesn’t mean we should pat ourselves on the back about it and languish together in stagnant waters of self-satisfied imperfection. No, we must always be striving for better… moving toward righteousness, in a positive direction from broken to more whole, from screwed-up to less screwed-up, by the grace of God. To be a Christian is to follow Christ, to aspire to be like him (i.e. holy). For it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16).

Brokenness and sin may seem the natural or more “real” state for us, but it’s not the ideal. We were made for more, and Christ’s atoning sacrifice allows us to become more human. That is, less broken and more healed. More together; not less. In Christ, more complete.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Top 12 Movies I'm looking forward to in 2012

In the order they will come out this year...

1. The Hunger Games
Release Date: March 23
Why? The hype from the books makes me think it's gonna be a really cool story. (Hopefully I can read the books before this comes out).

2. Blue Like Jazz
Release Date: April 13
Why? Because I liked the book and this adaptation looks surprisingly good.

3. Moonrise Kingdom
Release Date: May 16
Why? Because it's directed by Wes Anderson and he makes great movies.

4. The Dark Knight Rises
Release Date: July 20
Why? If you've seen The Dark Knight, this requires no explanation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Liam Neeson are also new cast members.

5. The Bourne Legacy
Release Date: August 3
Why? Because the Bourne trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies

6. Dog Fight
Release Date: August 10
Why? Because Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are rival congressional candidates from South Carolina. This can't not be funny.

7. The Master
Release Date: Fall
Why? Because it's loosely based on the life of L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology), Paul Thomas Anderson is an incredible director, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is playing Mr. Hubbard.

8. Skyfall
Release Date: November 9
Why? It's a new Bond movie starring Daniel Craig (who has been doing well with this series)

9. Lincoln
Release Date: December
Why? Because Daniel Day-Lewis's portrayal of Lincoln will probably win him the best actor award at the Oscars next year. It's also a plus that Steven Spielberg is directing it.

10. Les Miserables
Release Date: December 7
Why? Because it's probably my favorite novel of all time.

11. The Hobbit
Release Date: December 14
Why? Because the story is awesome and apparently Peter Jackson knows a thing or two about adapting Tolkien stories.

12. The Great Gatsby
Release Date: December 25
Why? I just re-read the book several weeks ago and am interested to see DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.

(taken from Paste Magazine's 30 Most Anticipated Movies of 2012)