30 December 2007

If you have ABSOLUTELY nothing else to do...

So, since getting my MacBook, I've had some fun messing around with GarageBand. Over the summer, I bought a M-Audio 73-key USB keyboard to go along with GarageBand. For Christmas, I had my parents buy an expansion pack of sounds for the program, including some vintage keybaord sounds (Rhodes, Wurlitzers, Hammand Organs, etc.). I've posted some of my boredom adventures on myspace. If you have nothing else to do, you can check them out here.

On there, I have three recordings I did on GarageBand. Each one has at least two tracks that I laid down. The drums on "Random Night on GarageBand" is a loop. "First Attempt at GarageBand" is a mix of three recordings using the built-in microphone (two guitar tracks and one djembe track) with two software tracks played on the keyboard (piano and synth pad). "Jazz Improv" was a two-track recording that I did in May 2005 (long before my MacBook) for a class project. The live recording is a SWU chapel worship set that I led in April 2007.

If you have any comments on the raw recordings, let me know. Thanks for taking the time.

29 December 2007

The "Cotton Candy Gospel" of Joel Osteen

Recently, I saw a re-airing of an episode of 60 Minutes in which they did a segment on Joel Osteen. Joel Osteen is the lead pastor of the largest church in America, Lakewood Church, located in Houston. They meet each Sunday in a 15,000 seat sports arena (which took $100 million to renovate when it was given to the church).

You can watch the segment and read the whole interview here on CBS's website.

What made me enjoy this segment most was the words of Rev. Michael Horton, a professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California. He has this to say about Joel Osteen's message:
I think it’s a cotton candy gospel. His core message is: God is nice, you’re nice, be nice. If it were a form of music, I think it would be easy listening. He uses the Bible like a fortune cookie. 'This is what’s gonna happen for you.' 'There’s gonna be a windfall in your life tomorrow.' The Bible's not meant to be read that way... It is certainly heresy, I believe, to say that God is our resource for getting our best life now. Well, it makes religion about us instead of about God.
Thank you, Rev. Horton!

Even the interviewer, Bryan Pitts, says this of Osteen:
Osteen preaches his own version of what is known as the "prosperity gospel" -- that God is a loving, forgiving God who will reward believers with health, wealth and happiness. It's the centerpiece of every sermon.
Read this excerpt from the interview:
But the real money for Osteen comes from his book sales, which are re-packaged versions of his sermons. His latest book, "Become A Better You," for which he reportedly got a $13 million advance, debuted in October at number one on the New York Times bestseller list and has stayed on the list ever since. The book lays out seven principles he believes will improve our lives.

"To become a better you, you must be positive towards yourself, develop better relationships, embrace the place where you are. Not one mention of God in that. Not one mention of Jesus Christ in that," Pitts remarks.

"That's just my message. There is scripture in there that backs it all up. But I feel like, Byron, I'm called to help people…how do we walk out the Christian life? How do we live it? And these are principles that can help you. I mean, there’s a lot better people qualified to say, 'Here’s a book that going to explain the scriptures to you.' I don’t think that’s my gifting," Osteen says.
What I really want to understand is if Osteen believes he is NOT gifted to explain the scriptures to people, then why the heck is he pastoring thousands of people and taking on the responsibility of teaching all of them each week from the living Word?!?! The pastor who preaches regularly is responsible to be the one person in that community of people who is most trained in understanding the Scriptures as deeply as possible, so as to be able to correctly explain them for the chance that those listening would take those Scriptures to heart and live them out. The pastor is to be the local theologian for those people. The pastor is to give his life and time to doing his best to understand the Scriptures and correctly lead people to those truths in order to see life transformation. If he KNOWS he is not gifted and trained in doing that, then stop! By saying he knows he's not gifted in that, Osteen has completely negated his own authority to use Scripture for teaching. So he might as well just become some life coach or Dr. Phil. The only thing that would change about his message is he would stop twisting the few verses of Scripture that he's ever read and used.

I'm not claiming that anyone else has the understanding of Scripture down. If that was so, how do we explain the two thousand years of conflicting ideas about interpretational issues? I certainly don't believe that I have it down. Far from it, in fact. I am a student of the Scriptures and I will die a student as well. However, I also know that I am a servant of the Scriptures. Osteen treats the Scripture as if it is there to serve him in supporting his self-help campaign. He treats it as if it, along with God himself, are here to serve us. He would be better suited to be a writer for a fortune cookie company than take on teaching the Scriptures.

I know that all my understandings of God and the Scriptures are not completely right. There are other traditions of theology and beliefs within Christianity that have valid beliefs and understandable interpretations of Scripture to lead them there. I can accept that, loving them as brothers and sisters under the same Jesus. However, there come some who do completely pervert the Gospel message of servanthood and humility and make it about gaining wealth and prosperity. That sort of obvious twisting of the Gospel can not be validated as just another sect of Christian interpretation. That is a complete disregard for who Jesus was, what Jesus did in GIVING all of himself for humanity, and what Jesus taught us to do (follow him and his example of servanthood). Listen to Jesus' teaching to his disciples in Mark 8:34-36, right after Jesus taught that he must suffer and die soon.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (ESV)
This doesn't sound like the Jesus of Osteen's gospel. This is the Jesus who said, "I must give everything I have for those who don't deserve it because I love them. Now, if you want to follow me, you must live like me." We have to understand that when Jesus asked them to "follow me," that was a loaded statement! That wasn't simply, "Walk behind me." It wasn't even just, "Walk with me and worship me." It was, "I'm going to give all of me for you. Go and do likewise." Paul understood this as well. Listen to these words from Philippians 2:3-8.
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.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (NIV)
That is the Gospel message. God who came down from all glory and honor to give it all away in a horrible, human death for the sake of all humanity. God who asks those who follow Him to follow His example of sacrifice and servanthood. That is the beautiful yet arduous Gospel.

28 December 2007

What's New About Your New Year?

So what's the use of celebrating the coming of a new year unless it is a milestone for reflecting on the past year and the starting line for new beginnings in your life? If the only part of life that changes with the new year is throwing away your wall calendar to replace it with a new one, then why celebrate the new year? There is no reason to set aside time to recognize the beginning of a new year if all that changes is the genre of pictures on your wall calendar!

John Wesley recognized this, seeing the importance of utilizing this celebration for reflection and re-commitment. Starting this tradition in 1755, Wesley called the service a "Covenant Service." It was typically held on either New Year's Eve or the first Sunday of the new year. It was a service specifically meant to aid in reflecting on the past year, seeing what needs to change, and rededicating the whole of one's life to God.

I'm not the biggest believer that just because someone else did it in church history, we should. I'm the last person to ever say, "That's how we've always done it," as reasoning for doing something. Tradition is good to look at and glean from, but not in the least amount imperative to use. However, in my opinion, there is much to glean from Wesley's tradition of the "Covenant Service."

This comes down to more than New Year's Resolutions and just trying to better oneself. This goes beyond mere self-improvement tapes and "7 Habits to a Sucessful Life" junk. This goes farther than Joel Osteen's "fortune cookie" way of using the Bible as a self-help manual. This goes to the depth of our souls as we understand that we are not our own, but are God's. We are His servants and owe Him every part of our lives for His use. This is why we need to take time like this to reflect, re-evaluate, and re-focus with new goals, dreams, and passions for the coming year. It is taught throughout scripture that each arena of life (physical, mental, emotional, social, etc.) is a part of one's spirituality and one's striving towards holiness. All those parts matter to God. Since we are creatures of forgetfulness and distraction, we have to take time out of our busy lives to evaluate where we've been, where we are, and where we want to be. Even more than where, we need to evaluate who we've been, who we are, and who we want to be.

Take time over these next few days to pray and think through this. Take extra time to evaluate this past year. Think about what you've done. Celebrate your successes and relationships with others. Mourn your mistakes and shortcomings. Think on who you've been. Take joy in your growth as a person and your discipline to become more like Jesus. However, recall your selfishness and tendencies to fall back into self-centered desires. Learn from all of this and look forward to this coming year. How do you want to be different? How do you want to walk closer with the Spirit every day? How do you want to serve instead of take? How do you want to love instead of hate? Think about each area of your life (physical, mental, emotional, social). These parts are a part of your spirit as well. When these areas of your life are marked by balance and discipline, your spiritual life begins to take on better balance and discipline as well. Measure yourself up in each of these areas.

Let these not be merely new year's resolutions, but commitments made in a covenant with God.

27 December 2007

Settling in the New Residence

I'm finally settling in down here in Liberty, SC. It was crazy trying to move my life down here and having to gear up for Christmas festivities at the same time. I made it though! I'm now settled in my house, living with Brady. It's quite fun so far. It will be even more fun when SWU starts back up. Then, we'll have more friends close by, and especially because Kindel will be less than 10 minutes away instead of 45 minutes away in Westminster. Here's a couple pictures of the house:

This is the living room. Yes, I know what you're thinking. You are in love with the fake wood wall paneling. I know. You're jealous. Ha... Brady and I are going to hook up extra car subwoofers (two 10" subs) into our sound system. I think the wood paneling will blow off the walls when we do that!

This is my growing DVD collection. For Christmas, I received:
- House - Season 3 (completing my House collection!!!)
- Scrooged
- Gladiator (3-Disc Extended Edition)
- Hamlet (2-Disc Edition)...This is NOT Mel Gibson's version. This is the good version done by Kenneth Branagh (4-hours long and GOOD)

This is the office room. Brady's section is on the left and mine on the right. Here's a closer look at my side:
I finally have two bookshelves to store my books on. And I still have a space for some music stuff. Thanks to Benji for the free desk! Much appreciated!

This is a picture of my floor lamp in my bedroom. I was planning to take more pictures of my room after this one. However, my camera broke. After a dreadful fall to the ground while the lens was out and unprotected, the camera cannot move the lens in and out very easily to focus. The sound of broken things inside makes me assume that the teeth of gears that move the lens back and forth are broken. This was quite a sad day. Now, I have yet another expense to take on whenever I get a job.

Other news in my life:
  • I'm reading Authentic Spirituality by Barry L. Callen. I read portions of it for a class in my undergrad, but I wanted to read the whole thing this time. It's not an enjoyable read so far, but it is informative.
  • I joined the Central-Clemson Rec Center a couple days ago. I'm starting a new routine of lifting and running again. I'll need encouragement to get back into it. The first month is the hardest!
  • Health insurance is expensive. Period.
  • I saw I Am Legend twice. It was remarkably good! If you have read the book, you might hate the movie. To pull a random number out of the air, it is only about 5-10% like the book. That's it. However, Will Smith is one of my favorite actors ever and he has again proven himself in this film! If only they could burn Wild Wild West and act like he never did that one...
  • I really want a hybrid Civic! I rode in Phil Pranger's hybrid Civic a few days ago and loved it! I hope I can get one in a couple years!
  • I'm looking forward to 2008! More on that in a post coming soon!
  • I miss the Wilmore guys! I'm looking forward to seeing you guys in a few weeks at Jack's wedding!
That's all for now. I'm tired of the coffee shop and am going home to find food. Until next time!

24 December 2007

Apologies to my readers....or reader...

To the few of you who frequent my blog, my apologies for not posting for quite some time. I moved from Kentucky to South Carolina a couple days after my last post. In Kentucky, I had internet access at the house, but Brady and I have not ordered cable and internet services yet. Without that access, my internet usage is limited to coffee shops and Panera Bread, which is where I am right now. It's hard to sit down in a coffee shop and collect all my thoughts for a blog, especially since I am usually not alone when I go there. After Christmas has come and gone, we will pick up our search for getting internet service at the house. Then, I will be able to pick up the pace and start blogging regularly. I hope to make blogging a daily practice, hoping that I can post about something interesting and at least not mundane each day. We shall see.

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you have time to spend with family and all whom you love over this season! I pray that you experience the work of God's Spirit in your life in a refreshing way!

10 December 2007

Housemates' Christmas Portraits

SWU boys. Free time. Trip to Goodwill. Tacky Christmas sweaters. Mmm...

So, yet again, a trip to Goodwill has paid off in quite some laughs. You can view the full photo album here on Facebook, but here is a glimpse at a few of them for your laughing pleasure. I hope it brightens your day...

09 December 2007

Bear Grylls - A Man Among Mere Boys

Bear Grylls is the man. Over the past couple years, I have become a regular watcher of "Man vs. Wild" on Discovery Channel. On this show, Bear is dropped off into remote regions of the world and shows how to survive the hardest predicaments in each area. He's been through rain forests, jungles, arctic tundras, the glaciers of Alaska, deserts (including the Sahara), the Outback of Australia, Patagonia, deserted islands, the Alps, the Rockies, Mount Everest, and more.

"Bear" Grylls (real name: Edward Michael Grylls) did not start out in the media, however. Bear served in the British Special Forces, where he was trained in unarmed combat, desert and winter warfare, combat survival, medics, parachuting, signals, evasive driving, climbing and explosives. However, after three years, his service in the Special Forces ended abruptly with a parachuting accident while serving in North Africa. When his parachute ripped, Bear dropped to the ground from 16,000 feet at twice the normal speed. He broke three vertebrae in his back. (This paragraph's information can be found here.)

Two years after this incident and severe physical rehabilitation, Bear completed his childhood dream at the age of 23 by becoming the youngest British climber to make it to the summit of Mount Everest and come back alive. In the coming years, Bear, along with his team from the Everest climb, circumnavigated the British Isles in a jet ski and led the first unassisted crossing of the frozen North Atlantic Ocean in an inflatable boat! Bear went on to set more world records by eating a three-course meal at a table suspended a hot air balloon at 24,500 feet in the air and then flying over Mount Everest in a powered paraglider. (This paragraph's information can be found here.)

Just as a sidenote to those who think Bear Grylls is inferior to Les Stroud, better known as "Survivorman" from the show by the same name. Look at it this way.
Bear Grylls, by trade: Special Forces soldier, all-terrain and all-climate combat survivor, mountaineer, adventurer.
Les Stroud, by trade: Canadian musician and film maker.
I will admit that Les Stroud has done some amazing survival feats, but his credentials are nothing compared to Bear Grylls.

Beyond the fact that Bear is the epitome of manliness, I am also a fan of Bear for his openness about his Christian faith. This is rare to find when people are public figures. Recently, I was watching Bear's recent episode of Man vs. Wild when he was in Patagonia, the most southern area of South America. After building a fire, he was sitting down at the end of the day and said this (I left out the conversational "you know's" and "and's"):
I think the magic of places like this is that everything slows down and life becomes much more rural. Those things that keep you going in life suddenly become much more prominent. For me, certainly that's my Christian faith. [It] is a big part of that and it's helped me through so many difficult and often quite lonely times. For me, that's my backbone, I think.
This was great to hear. Again, while discussing how he prepares for doing each episode, this quote comes from a post on Bear's blog:
The final part of the equation is my Christian faith…I look at this as the thread that binds all these other elements together. I pray daily for my family and we also have little quiet times together, and I pray hard when out filming for safety, good judgement and for protection in all the dangers.
He discusses again the importance of his Christian faith here on his website. Also, Bear lists some Christian books in his Top 10 books list, as well as mentions Mother Teresa and John Wesley in his Top 10 people with whom he wants to have dinner.

I already had tons of respect for Bear as a "manly man," but now, I respect him even more for having such influence as a public figure and still being open about his Christian faith. What a true picture of what the Christian man should be: not necessarily the eating raw animals and drinking water from camel dung, but the mixture of adventure and strength with humility and dependence on God.
It [Christian faith] feels like the rock in my life and it has taken me a long time to no longer be afraid to say that. But I have learnt that it takes a proud man to say he needs nothing.
:: Bear Grylls
Photo of Bear Grylls from here

08 December 2007

The City: Weeping Over the City

It's been awhile since writing a post in my "The City" series, but I guess I'll write a new installment.

In Luke’s gospel we find a glimpse of Jesus’ heart for the city, specifically Jerusalem.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it [Luke 19:41]
I could imagine Jesus coming towards Jerusalem, and while at a distance, he sees the cityscape of Jerusalem and weeps for it. He goes on in the next few verses to explain that he wishes the people of Jerusalem knew “the things that make for peace,” but now it was hidden from them and soon destruction would come for Jerusalem.

Jesus wasn’t weeping for the city itself. He wasn’t weeping for the buildings, or the city walls, or even the temple itself. He was weeping for the people! He was weeping for these people who needed redemption. He was weeping for these people who couldn’t save themselves from coming destruction. He was weeping for the masses.

When have we taken on this part of Jesus’ character? When have we taken on a compassion for people that runs so deep that we cannot help but weep for them? The very word compassion comes from Latin words meaning, “to suffer together.” Jesus was so broken inside for these people and their situation that He wept openly. Not only that, but He also did something about it. He didn’t come to solve their problems of coming physical destruction, but He did come to solve their problems of spiritual destruction. Are we moved in our spirits so deeply that we are moved to action for the masses? Are we moved beyond mere sadness for others to compassion for others? Sadness and pity doesn’t move people and doesn’t solve problems; compassion moves people and loves people.

When was the last time you looked over your community, or walked down its main streets, seeing those less fortunate than yourself and those who do not have the love of Jesus in their lives? When was the last time you thought about those in your community or city and wept over their problems, whatever they might be? Even more, when was the last time you were moved to action through compassion for those people? When have you helped to bring the love of Jesus to them, even in the most tangible ways?

This is what it means to have a heart for the city, to weep over the city, to love the city for Jesus, wherever you might live. Last year on Christmas day, I worked at a homeless shelter for the evening. It was a great time for me. It wasn’t nearly what I should be doing to give to others, but it was a start. As we approach the Christmas season, let’s celebrate Jesus coming to us in flesh by being “Jesus in flesh” to someone else. Give more than you get. Go “suffer together” with those who suffer.

05 December 2007

God's Will for Your Life

If you scan through any Christian book store, which I personally vow to rarely set foot in, you will probably find a collection of books claiming to help you "find God's will for your life." They say that the Bible has the answers to finding God's will for your life and they have figured out the formula to finding it. One book a few years ago claimed that if you prayed an obscure prayer from an obscure reference in the Old Testament, and prayed this prayer every day, God would guide you the way you should go.

They set up formulas as if God's will is an algebra equation that can be solved for "x." If you do A, B, and C, God will reveal His plan for your life. If you believe A and B, practice C and D daily, and practice E weekly, God will guide your steps to your destined job or mate. God is being understood as this entity that can be charted on a chalkboard and understood using formulas and graphs. I say this because I, too, was one of these ignorant followers.

As life has continually moved forward (as it typically does...), I have begun to understand that God cannot be put on chalkboards and figured out in equations. Within that truth is truth about God's will for each of us. God's will for our lives cannot be solved as you would undertake solving for "x" in algebra class. You can't manipulate the numbers to show you the answer you want to see.

For starters, our idea of "God's will for my life" is out of order. As I read through the Scriptures, I do not see this individualized view of God's will. God's will is for humanity before it is ever about you or me personally. American culture has individualized everything. We cannot see past our own hand in front of our face in broad daylight! God is interested in communities, cultures, and humanity as a whole. We have made God into "MY personal savior" instead of the Savior and King of Creation, and we have begun to believe we are the center of His life. We see God as our personal healer, personal guide, personal mentor, personal sacrifice for our personal sins, personal match-maker, personal job-hunter, etc. When did God become our personal assistant?

So...God's will for my life? What does that question conjure up in your mind? What job should I have? Who should I marry? Where should I live? Should I talk to "so-and-so" about Jesus? Should I play soccer next year? Should I do this major in school? These are the questions that we wrestle with in our late teen and twentysomething years. These are the questions to which we want answers! These are the questions that matter and we want to know what God thinks. I think most of us genuinely want to know God's will in these matters so we can serve Him best. I think most of us have valid reason to want to know because we see these as life-altering decisions (well, most of them can be).

I want to suggest to you, however, that these questions are not necessarily the forefront questions of God's will for your life. These are not the questions we should be concerning ourselves with when it comes to asking God what to do. I believe we are missing something. If these issues were the biggest issues dealing with God's will in our lives, wouldn't God have orchestrated the Scriptures to help guide us in making these decisions? Wouldn't God have shown us how to ask for God's will in these situations? Wouldn't stories from the Gospels, Acts, and Paul's exhortations been more closely focused around these issues if they were the center of God's will for our lives?

However, this is not the case. God does not teach us how to ask about God's will in our career moves, sport selection, course selection, city of residence, etc. We do not see stories of people asking God to show them if they should be a plumber instead of a carpenter. Sorry, it doesn't happen. Just to add to all of this, most of the second person pronouns (you, your, etc.) that you find in Jesus' teaching and the letters of the New Testaments are plural, NOT to individuals.

So you want to know what the New Testament teaches about God's will for your life? Let's go to 1 Thessalonians 4:3:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification...
There it is. Paul goes on for the next few verses giving a list of some of the attributes of what that sanctification looks like. This is it. Want to know God's will for your life? Strive to be like Jesus. It answers all of your questions!

Who should I marry? Strive to love like Jesus
What occupation should I do? Strive to serve like Jesus
Where should I live? Strive to live wherever you are like Jesus

If you take the time to dig into this truth, you will begin to see that this IS the core of God's will for your life. You see, if your life is being spent to become a true follower of Jesus (learning and obeying his teachings as well as living dependent on the Spirit), you will find the other questions either "fall in line" or "fall away." It is through this striving for a holy life that we are able to make these other decisions. Could this be why Paul says in Romans 12:2:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.
It is THROUGH our transformation from wretched to holy that we are able to answer the other questions of life. However, it must be understood that those questions are not the forefront of the issue. Who you marry, where you work, where you live, and what you eat for breakfast tomorrow are not the biggest issues. Striving for holiness through obedient love to God is the biggest issue. After that, everything else will be better understood.

So don't waste your money buying the books and don't waste your time trying the formulas of pray, fast, and repeat. That's not the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is you putting your questions aside to wholeheartedly seek after Jesus and strive to become like Him.

03 December 2007

Favorite Christmas/Winter Songs

Over the last couple weeks, I've been putting lots of hours on the roads between Kentucky, South Carolina, and North Carolina. I've also been driving my dad's truck because I borrowed it to tow a U-Haul trailer in a couple weeks. Unfortunately, I've had to listen to the radio because I can't plug in my iPod to it and I don't own any CDs anymore (it's all digital now). Since it's December, all the radio stations have been playing hours of Christmas music. Although much of it is quite obnoxious, I do enjoy some of it. So I decided to make a Top 10 list of my personal favorite Christmas/Winter songs (since some don't technically fit in the Christmas category).
  1. Do You Hear What I Hear? - words and music written by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne
  2. O Come All Ye Faithful - written by John Francis Wade in Latin (Adeste Fideles)
  3. Carol of the Bells - music by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych and English lyrics by Peter Wilhousky
  4. Baby, It's Cold Outside - words and music by Frank Loesser
  5. Let It Snow - words by Sammy Cahn and music by Jule Styne
  6. O Come, O Come Emmanuel - origins unclear; English translation from Latin by John Mason Neale
  7. My December - written by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park (not a traditional Christmas/Winter song, but it's good!)
  8. O Holy Night - original French poem by Placide Cappeau; carol composed by Adolphe Adam
  9. Little Drummer Boy - words and music by Katherine K. Davis
  10. Silent Night - original German lyrics by Josef Mohr and music by Franz X. Gruber
What's your favorite?

12 November 2007

NT Scholar's Take on Rob Bell

When I first read Rob Bell's book, Velvet Elvis, I read through it thinking, "This is great stuff. This really connects and has powerful connections between Jesus and placing Him back in the Jewish culture in which He spoke." However, I also thought, "I wonder how accurate this guy is on all this Jewish culture stuff. I wonder what a scholar would say about this book."

Just a couple months ago, I ran across just that. If you have read Velvet Elvis (or are interested in Rob Bell at all for that matter), please read through this blog post from Ben Witherington's blog. Dr. Witherington is a NT scholar and professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and is currently my professor for NT722 Exegesis of Romans. He has some interesting takes on Bell's book Velvet Elvis and the accuracy of Bell's reading of the first century Jewish culture. Witherington's basic conclusion on Bell is overall very positive, but still questions the accuracy of Bell's knowledge of ancient cultures.

11 November 2007

Love...without the mention of war

This morning, I went to worship at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY. This church is phenomenal! They have a size that rivals NewSpring (to give a comparison for those of my South Carolina friends) and at least as big of a heart if not bigger! The church is full of loving and compassionate people who are striving to live out a life of love for Jesus and humanity. I love the messages given by the senior pastor, Jon Weece. He truly has a passion and heart for serving Jesus and loving the people of this city and also around the world.

This Sunday particularly blew me away as he admitted to the struggle that he had in preparing this message. He said he struggled around three words in the book of Matthew and couldn't get away from them enough to write the message. He talked of the words that Matthew uses to say how the two sets of brothers by the sea (Peter/Andrew and James/John) reacted when Jesus asked them to follow him: "at once" and "immediately." At once they left their nets and boats and family to follow Jesus. Jon broke down on stage as he told of a dream he had last week and how it left him with a burning passion to go love the people that Jesus would love. So, at 4am, he left his house and went to a Hospice center at the hospital to visit with a young woman from the church who is dying. He then visited others in the hospital. Then he went downtown Lexington and stood on the street corner with a sign that said "FREE HUGS." He talked of a homeless woman who after he hugged her, said that he had done something for her in that hug that no one else has done for her in years. Jon began to weep on stage about how loving people is exactly it, about how that is exactly why Southland works and that is exactly why following Jesus matters. It all circles around to love.

Anyone in the auditorium who had kept at least some of their attention on Jon's message could see by now the combining of Jon's brokenness and joy as he told of these things and told of how he GETS to pastor the people of Southland. He GETS to hear stories from the fast food drive-thru workers about how everyday at least one person from Southland rolls through there and pays for the people behind them in line. He GETS to see the on-site warehouse that Southland has for their food drives among other ministries to the poor. This was a service with a powerful yet simple message of love spoken from a pastor who lived it out himself and truly had sold himself out to that message.

To make it even better, I realized this afternoon that today was Veteran's Day. This was one of the first times in my life that I was not reminded of this holiday in church,...and I was thankful for that. I was glad that there was no mention of it. I'm glad there was no memorial given for veterans in the congregation. I'm glad there were no patriotic songs that bordered on worshiping our nation rather than our King. I'm glad there were no national flags because our brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God stretch far beyond our nation's boundaries.

I know that this is unsettling for some who don't like my view. I also understand that I am probably reacting somewhat to the other side because of the nation-worship that I've experienced in churches while growing up. Please don't misunderstand me: I do feel like we who follow Jesus in America need to have a grateful heart for the freedom of worship that we have and the financial means that we have to live and live well compared to the rest of the world. However, the tendency of most American evangelical churches is to take it too far by almost worshiping our nation with patriotic songs and focusing on those who protect our nation. Again, I must clarify myself: I am NOT saying that I am against the military or war. Well...I am a pacifist. I can't get around it. I just can't see how, through the covenant in Jesus that I am under, I can willingly use violence. However, I also understand that I am an idealist. Living this way doesn't work in a fallen and decrepit world of greed and hate. I see war and the need for military as an unfortunate need at best. War is an unfortunately necessary means when trying to mold a world of hate into a world of peace (which won't be completed until Jesus' reign).

Seeing war as not something to glorify, but, instead, as a necessity to mourn, is why I don't like honoring it in worship services. We should be people who glorify God and pray for His peace, including praying for those who are seeking to bring peace to a broken world. Violence should never be honored, even if it is the means to bring peace. We can mourn the means to something even if good arises from it.

I'm glad that, instead of all those things, I was able to witness what I did this Sunday morning and to be moved in my own spirit to love at all costs.

Love God, Love People
because nothing else matters.

07 November 2007

Change of life...again...

I would have never thought that my plans would continually be thrown in the garbage after I left college. I thought I had everything all planned out. Everything was in its place. Everything was organized. Everything made sense. Everything was leading toward goals that I had. Now I have the faintest of ideas about where my life is going. I'll begin with graduating college and how nothing has gone as planned since. Here's the story:

I moved to my house in Wilmore, Kentucky at the end of May to begin my graduate degree at Asbury Theological Seminary in the fall. I started turning in applications EVERYWHERE and building my resume, but I didn't receive a single call back from ANYWHERE.

Then, I took a week to go back to SWU in early June to see Kindel before she traveled with 'The Difference' this summer. I also led a session with the ministry teams, teaching them some practical tips about life on the road from someone who has just done it for the last couple years. However, Palmer had gotten mono somehow, and it was decided on Wednesday night of that week that he wouldn't travel. Without a drummer, the band was in a bind. They were to leave for their first camp on Sunday. I met with them that night for a tearful night of prayer over the situation (not knowing what I was praying for...). That night, I went to bed not knowing what they would do and not allowing the consideration of joining with them for the summer to even simmer in my head for a second.
However, Thursday morning I woke up and joined the teams for the morning devotions. I can't tell you what Ken spoke about that morning. I was too much in unrest. As I sat down for devotions, the Spirit came and spoke to my heart, saying that I had to offer my summer to them. I don't know if there were many other moments in my life that I could say with such confidence that it was truly God asking me to do something, but this time I knew it was. As I physically squirmed in my seat in Bryant Lodge that morning, I mentally wrestled with God through the whole devotion. I kept saying, "God, I have my plans. I've moved my life. I'm done with this. I need to go to Kentucky. I want to get a job. I want to have my summer to start my life up there. I came down here for a week! They are leaving in THREE DAYS for a TEN WEEK SUMMER!!! I've never heard of a relationship that lasted through a summer of ministry team travel together! I don't want to risk that! THIS IS NOT WHAT I PLANNED!!!" [On a sidenote, if any of you know me well enough, you know that I am a total planner. I hate not knowing what's happening and I hate jumping into anything until it has been fully analyzed.] What was going on in my conscience was totally against any natural order to my personality and I was fighting it to the death. However, by the end of the devotion time, I accepted the death of my own desires and pulled Ken outside to give up my summer to help them. After some discussion with the team, I joined on the team and ended up receiving a decent pay for the summer (sometimes I wonder if I was never meant to find a job in Kentucky...?). I had a great summer with the team. I experienced some great times as well as some bad times (sinus infection and bronchitis for two weeks...). I grew a lot as a person, as a leader, and best of all, with Kindel.

So...then, after planning on only being away for a week, I finally made my way back to Kentucky in late August to start classes in September. As I got into classes, I had mixed feelings about it all. I was learning and classes were mostly interesting, but I was again at unrest with myself and my situation. I was becoming increasingly more miserable in full-time graduate school. Through some prayer, thought, conversations with trusted friends, and self-realizations, I came to realize something. I need people and I need something to do. What do I mean? Basically, I realized that while I was at SWU, it was all the people-oriented activities, ministry-oriented things, the serving, the loving on people, the conversations, the pouring into people and the musical endeavors that fed my soul and allowed me to tolerate the schoolwork when I didn't want to do it. While I was there, I think I took those things for granted and never realized their importance to my own joy and peace in life. Unfortunately, it had to take me submerging myself into a life consumed in books, lectures, and papers (with no time left for anything else) to realize that.

So...that leads me to now. What am I going to do about it?

At the end of this semester, I am moving away from Wilmore, KY. In mid-December, I will be moving into a house with Brady and Jarred Mann in Liberty, SC. Brady is now the youth pastor at Smith Chapel Wesleyan and they are giving him the parsonage to live in. I WILL be continuing my degree at Asbury, but it will be through Asbury's online campus and will only be on a part-time basis (5-6 hours a semester and summer). As of right now, I am not quite sure what work I will do. Truly, I feel that I need a lighter semester to do some self-awareness thinking and such. I am working on finding work that will be minimal, such as working at a coffee shop or something and maybe leading worship somewhere as well. I'm in conversation with Buddy Rampey (District Superintendent of the SC district of the Wesleyan Church) about possibly doing some church planting work in the future (personally, I've had some ideas about going into Greenville...focusing into the greater downtown area, but who knows...).

Somehow, despite my psycho-planner personality and usually defining my worth by my work (typical male style), I have peace about this move. In all good conscience, I have no clear direction to go anywhere else or do anything else and I feel like I am making the best decision I can with the information and possibilities set before me. I think that God is a God who knows my heart's desire to do my best for Him and will honor that if I am truly making the best decision, out of good intentions, with what I know and have in front of me.

If you know of anything down that way that could help me out in getting work, please let me know. Otherwise, please lift up a prayer for me at some point. I need it as I'm attempting to stay dependent upon God through this.

25 August 2007

The City: A King Who Stoops Down to be a Servant

Imagine a king who rules over the most powerful kingdom in the world. He has anything he wants. He has the biggest palace of all time. He has all the riches of the world. He reigns high and mighty above his people. He has all the power in the world.

Imagine this king, who has all and reigns over all, deciding to step down from his throne and live among the lowest people in his kingdom. Imagine a king who gives up all his riches to live among the poorest of the poor. Imagine a sovereign king who surrenders all his power to become vulnerable to the powers and authority of everyone else.

This is the story of our King.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. [Colossians 1:15-18]
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:5-11]
Jesus created all and rules over all, yet He still decided that the best way to reach His people and show them His love for them was to give up all his power and riches to live among us. He left His throne in heaven to take on flesh and blood and live in this fallen world. This is the model of true love, of the servant king who gave up all He had to be with His people.

This is also the model for urban ministry, if not all ministries. It is commonly called “incarnational ministry.” Incarnation is the term for Jesus coming to earth in a physical body. The word literally translates as “in flesh” from Latin. Incarnational ministry is the philosophy that to reach people, we have to live among them. Dr. John Perkins wrote about this in his book With Justice for All:
How then shall we proclaim Good News to the poor? Once again Jesus is our model. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus relocated. He didn’t commute to earth one day a week and shoot back up to heaven. He left His throne and became one of us so that we might see the life of God revealed in Him.
When ministering to the city, it is quite impossible to serve and change the city from outside of it. Tim Keller says in his article A Biblical Theology of the City, “You can’t reach the city from the suburbs, but can reach all the metro area from the city.” If we plan to reach the people of the inner city, including the impoverished, we have to live life with them. We have to live in community with them. Incarnational living combines the mission with the wholeness of your life.

This means we give up the luxuries of the suburbs and the country to take on the life of the urbanite. This means that life is not about us. How can we learn to connect with urbanites if we live in our $200,000 homes on 3 acres while driving our SUVs to the local Wal-Mart in the suburbs? Our choice of where to live has little to nothing to do with our preference—it has to do with the need of the mission and where the masses are. When living to serve Jesus, comfort is not a factor. The mission is the deciding factor. The mission is why we live. The mission is where we live. Where we live is for the mission.

17 July 2007

The City: Jonah’s Racism & God’s Heart for the City

What is the heartbeat of God? By heartbeat, I mean, what is at the core of God that drives Him. What is God’s overwhelming desire for people? If we desire to serve God and do ministry effectively, we must know the heartbeat of God. We have to know what moves Him and what breaks His heart so that we can take on that same heart and minister to the world.

God reveals His heartbeat in His word over and over again. In one instance, He reveals it to someone who did not have the same heartbeat. I want to look at someone who did not have the heartbeat of God. I want to look at the life and ministry of Jonah.

In children’s versions of Jonah’s story, we always get a G-rated version that misses a lot of the details. Let me catch us up on some more details. I’m not going to recap everything. So if you want more details, it would be great to read through the book of Jonah. Jonah is an Israelite and a prophet of God. Nineveh is the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians were considered the worst people in the world at that time. They were hated and feared by mostly everyone. The Assyrians were known for their atrocities and inhumane war tactics. Let’s give Jonah some credit—these were not easy people to preach destruction to. Imagine going to the Nazi leaders in the early 1940’s and telling them they will be defeated, and not just defeated, but killed and destroyed. You probably wouldn’t live to see it happen.

So Jonah runs. But Jonah doesn’t run because he’s afraid of the Ninevites. That wasn’t his main fear. We’ll see why he ran later. Jonah jumps on a boat and tries to go to Tarshish, which is the farthest port that they knew of in that day. Tarshish was in current day Spain. God sends the storm. Jonah walks the plank and becomes dinner. Jonah should have been thankful that the fish’s mother didn’t nag about chewing your food.

While in the fish, Jonah prays to God for help. It doesn’t necessarily seem to be that Jonah is truly repentant, however. Ever said to God, “God, if you just get me out of this situation, I’ll do whatever you want.” You bargain with God for instant help. How many times have you tried to bargain with God? I think Jonah is doing the same thing b/c he just wants to live.

God saves him, commands Jonah a second time to go, and Jonah goes. He preaches to Nineveh that they will be destroyed in 40 days. All the people declare a fast and repent, hoping for God’s mercy. This leads us up to the last verse of chapter three, which says, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”
So Jonah preaches one sentence to these people and he witnesses a revival sweep across the capital city of the greatest empire in the world. He sees thousands of people find God’s grace and mercy. What does Jonah do? Let’s read chapter four.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"

Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."

But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." [Jonah 4:1-9]
Let’s pause there. Are you catching this? Jonah just witnessed thousands of people come to God and receive His mercy. What does Jonah do? He becomes “greatly displeased and angry”. In verse 2 we find out why he didn’t want to come to Nineveh in the first place. He hated the Ninevites so much that he didn’t want them to find the mercy of God. He knew that God was compassionate and would have mercy on them, so he didn’t want to bring them the message.

He lacks any compassion for these people. He is consumed in himself and thought nothing of the Ninevites. He had no pity for them. Some say that Jonah, like many Israelites of the time, was very exclusive because they were the chosen nation of God. Jonah believed that God reigned and judged the whole world, but he wanted God to show his mercy and grace only to Israel. He didn’t want others to have God’s mercy, just His wrath. Some scholars have said that Jonah “wrapped the gospel in his flag”. He wanted to keep the gospel of grace exclusive only to his own people and not let anyone else share in it.

So what was the heartbeat of Jonah? Jonah’s heartbeat was selfish grace. He wanted God’s grace for himself but didn’t truly want others to have it.

Don’t we do the same thing? Maybe we say that the gospel is for everyone, but does the life that we lead truly show that? Maybe it’s not our flag that we wrap the gospel in. Maybe it’s social class that we wrap the gospel in. Maybe we say that the gospel is for all but our life shows that we really believe that the gospel is only for the middle class, not the poor. Maybe it’s not social class. Maybe it’s race. “Oh, but the gospel is for everyone” we say. But we live lives that show that the gospel is only for the white suburbanites. We can not just say that the grace of God is for all people; we have to live out the call of God by bringing it to them if we truly believe it.

I hear people all the time saying that they want something, but then they don’t do anything to get it. If you honestly wanted to accomplish something, you would go do it with no excuses. If we truly believed that others deserve the gospel of grace as much as we do, we would go find them and bring them the gospel of grace.

So Jonah’s heartbeat is selfish grace. What about God’s heartbeat? What do we know about God’s heartbeat? Jonah is the first to tell us about God’s heartbeat in verse 2 when he admits why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He says, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

God is above all else compassionate, merciful and loving. This description of God, “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love,” shows up across the Old Testament. God desires to see people come to Him and find His grace. God wants to show compassion to people. God is above all else love. God desires to love everyone and anyone, no matter how far away or how nasty their life looks.

God ends up spending most of this chapter rebuking Jonah and trying to teach Him what His heartbeat looks like. Jonah just doesn’t get it though. In verse 4, God asks Jonah, “Have you any right to be angry?” Apparently, Jonah might have thought that this question could have meant that he judged too quickly and that God still might destroy Nineveh. So he goes out of the city and builds a shelter to sit under while he waits to see what happens. Then, God sends a vine to protect Jonah from the scorching sun. But then God sends a worm that eats it away. When Jonah gets up the next morning, a scorching wind and the blazing sun are physically destroying Jonah. He is now even more angry. His own hatred and desire to see the people destroyed put himself into that situation. And Jonah wants to die. Literally, this phrase meant that “he wished for his soul to die” or that he “despaired of his life”. It brings the idea that he asked God to grant him his life so that he can do with it what he wants. He wished for death, not because of the wind or sun, but because he did not want to live to witness God’s mercy being extended to the Ninevites.

God again asks him, “Do you have any right to be angry about the vine?” He basically asks Jonah the same question that he already asked him in verse 4. “Do you have any right to be angry?” This question goes much deeper than the vine or the scorching wind. This goes to the very heartbeat of Jonah. God was, in effect, saying to him, “You’re heart is not with mine. You are consumed in yourself and you are selfish with sharing my grace.”

Sometimes we get caught up in our own selfishness and we don’t see or care about how God is working. Last semester, I had a similar experience. I left my apartment on a Friday morning to go to a class. When I came back to my apartment, I was going to use my iPod to listen to some music. Long story short, someone stole my iPod. Two weeks later, a laptop was stolen from one of the other guys I live with. I was angry to say the least. I was not in a good attitude the rest of the weekend, until Sunday night. On Sunday night, I attended a church service with a bunch of friends from school. We knew that the message was going to be targeted more towards the friends of mine who don’t know Jesus yet. That night, I witnessed four of my friends give their lives over to Jesus. As I watched them and saw the smile they had on their faces, God sent me a reality check. I was still angry about my iPod. As I looked at them, God said to me, “Do you have any right to be angry about the iPod? Look what is happening in these people’s lives?” God is saying to Jonah, “You are crying about a stupid plant while there are thousands of people who two days ago did not know my grace, but now have been redeemed. You have no concern for them, only for yourself and your own comfort. That is not My heart, Jonah.”

Jonah doesn’t redeem himself after the second question either. “I do. I am angry enough to die.”

God rebukes him again and in doing so, God shows us His own heart. This whole book and the whole story of Jonah ends with God showing His true heartbeat. This book isn’t so much about Jonah as it is about showing God’s desire for mankind and for the city of Nineveh. Read verses 10 and 11:
But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" [Jonah 4:10-11]
And what is God’s heart? What is God’s heartbeat? The heartbeat of God is compassion for the spiritual needs of the soul and concern for the physical needs of the person. God has compassion and wants to see people come to His grace. God says, “But Nineveh has more than a hundred thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” God says, “I love people. I am concerned for them. I want to give them my grace.”

He also mentions “many cattle” in this statement though. That’s sort of weird. Why is he concerned about cows? The cattle were synonymous with the economy and well-being of the people. God is concerned with their economic well-being. God’s heart is broken for the poor and needy. He is saying, “Shouldn’t I care about the economy of these people?” God’s heartbeat is compassion for the soul and concern for the needs of people.

So if that is God’s heartbeat, what is the heartbeat of His church? What should be the heartbeat of His Church? The Church is the bride of Christ and His representative to the world. The Church is where God’s heart should be fully expressed in this world. The Church should have the same heartbeat as the head of the Church, which is Jesus. We, as the Church, should have broken hearts for those who don’t know God’s grace. We should weep for those who are poor and needy. We should have compassion for the soul and concern for people’s needs. This is what the Church should look like. The Church should give out mercy and love to all people, no matter their sin or how dirty they may be. Jesus did not hang on the cross only for a bunch of suburbanites. Jesus spent His earthly life hanging out with prostitutes, the people whose sin could be seen by all, and with the poor who had nothing else. The Gospel is not just for the White middle class. The whole Bible is scattered with command after command by God for His people to take care of the poor and to show God’s grace to everyone. Is that what we look like?

I think we need a wake up call. I think we need to re-analyze our mission and our heart. We must take on the heartbeat of God if we are going to serve Him and love people like He wants us to.

We have analyzed this story of Jonah. We have taken an in-depth look into Jonah’s heart and God’s heart. Now I have a couple questions that each of us need to answer about our own hearts.

There was a point in our lives when we were Nineveh. We, too, were living our lives for ourselves and not caring for others. We were under God’s wrath and if God would have allowed it, we would have met God’s wrath. But God gave us the opportunity to hear of His grace and gave us the choice of repenting and begging for His mercy. We needed His mercy desperately. We needed His love and compassion. We would have been destroyed otherwise. We deserved none of it. We deserved no mercy, no grace, no love. We, too, were once Nineveh. Now, have we forgotten how dirty and in need of His grace we once were? Have we held God’s grace with a tight fist and tried to keep it for ourselves? We were once Nineveh. Have we now turned into Jonah?

Jonah built a shelter on the east side of the city so that he would have somewhere to watch from as he waited for God to destroy Nineveh. Are we truly the Church that God has asked us to be or have we just built a shelter for us to gather in, protected, while we sit back and watch the rest of the world get destroyed? If so, are we willing to tear down the shelter in our lives to build a place and a life that goes to the people where they are and shows them compassion?

12 June 2007

Change of plans...

Okay, so I'm at Table Rock Wesleyan Camp right now. As of last week, I was not planning on being here. Here's what happened.

Last week, I drove down to SWU to see Kindel and to help train the ministry teams. Unfortunately, Palmer (who plays drums for "The Difference") caught mono the week before. The mono just wiped him out of energy and it would be sort of dangerous for him to travel to camps all summer. So, he had to drop out for the summer. The band was in a huge bind without him. So, Thursday morning I woke up planning on heading back to Kentucky in a week or so. However, I felt like I couldn't go home without at least offering my help. So, as of Thursday night, I was contracted to travel with the team and head to the first camp in three days. Somehow, in God's providence, Lyle (who sings and plays guitar for the band) took drum lessons last fall and has been playing this past year. So he jumped on drums and I jumped in on guitar and singing. It's been crazy trying to prepare a whole new band setup in three days, but it's coming together well! It took me 24 hours to actually realize that I had just made the decision to travel, but after I got past the shock, I was excited about traveling again. I'm still overwhelmed with the responsibility of leading worship at camps all summer, but God works best when I feel inadequate and over my head. If I only did what I thought I could do out of my own humanity, I would never live up to my potential in Christ.

Here's the rundown of the summer. Each camp is a week:

SC Middle School Wesleyan Camp - Table Rock, SC
Camp Wesley - Kannapolis, NC
SC High School Wesleyan Camp - Table Rock, SC
Camp Rockfish - Parkton, NC
NC East Middle School Camp - Sophia, NC
South Coastal Family Camp - Tuscaloosa, AL
NC East High School Camp - Sophia, NC
Camp Rockfish - Parkton, NC

Pray for me and the team!

31 May 2007

The City: The Urbanization of the World

In 1950, there were seven cities in the world that had reached a population of five million people: New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo-Yokohama, Buenos Aires, and Shanghai. Now, there are over 50 cities over five million. The world is exponentially becoming urban. The future of the world is one of cities. We can not discuss the future without discussing the cities.

When Jesus called us to serve Him, He wanted our entire lives. Servants go where the master asks them to go. When we consider where we are going to live, we must understand that we are going to be missionaries there. Where we live does not depend so much on our own ideas of comfort and serenity, but more on where we can serve in Jesus’ movement. If we are going to live lives that focus on serving Jesus, we will have to understand the social trends going on across the globe. The global population shift is a migration to the cities. As global population continues to increase so will the number of mega-cities. This is a planet of great cities.

This is a huge problem for the primarily rural and suburbanized Christianity of America. If the American church would only see the potential held in this global shift to the cities, we could take hold of this shift and use it for the furthering of the movement of Jesus. In the cities, there are millions of people within walking distance. Churches in the cities can reach millions of people just within a few square miles. Talk about a mission for the Gospel! You can’t get that anywhere other than the cities!

Ralph Winter once said that the last great frontier for the Gospel is the cities. With a view of the global shift back to the cities, I think he’s certainly right.

29 May 2007

The City: Introduction

For those who know me well, you know that God has placed in my heart the passion to minister in an urban environment. I’m not sure which city, but I know that God is asking me to serve in that sort of environment. As long as I actually keep up with this blog, I am planning on starting a series of posts entitled “The City.” These posts will wrestle with concepts about urban ministry, what the urban church should look like, why we should go to the cities, why we should feel responsible for the cities, God’s view of the city, the church’s relationship with the city, cities in Scripture.

I want to put in a disclaimer for these posts as well. Most of these ideas are not original to me. This series of posts are only a collection of thoughts on urban ministry and theology from various pastors, thinkers, visionaries, etc. A few of these people are Erwin McManus, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, and Ray Bakke. I'll start them soon! Check back!

The House!

Here's the pictures of our house in Kentucky! We're still moving in and Brandon is bringing most of the living room furniture when he moves in next week. Go to this link to check out our awesome house!


24 May 2007

Life Update

So it has definitely been over two months since I last posted. To all the hundreds of disappointed and anxious readers who have been faithfully waiting for a new post (haha), I am sorry. College took all my time. I should re-word that: Living at college took all my time. My classes really didn't. So here's my unordered rambling to update my life situation. I apologize if it's all over the place.

Since last posting, I spent most of that time finishing my undergrad at Southern Wesleyan University. I graduated on Saturday, May 12. Life at SWU was great! This last semester was academically light, only taking 12 hours. I learned some about playing piano in my piano class. That was cool, although I didn't practice near what I should have. I also took guitar class with Tim Lee. I decided I wanted to do something musical with my last two elective hours.

As a senior with horrible "senioritis," I skipped two half-weeks of classes in April. Paul, Micah and I left on a Wednesday to spend the remainder of the week at a beach house owned by Paul's grandfather. We came back on Sunday. Good times! For some pictures, go to my facebook photo album labeled, "The Adventures of the 'Shut Up and Fish' Hat."

Then, a week after getting back, Paul, Micah, Steve, and I led worship for the Gaston Area Youth Revival. It started Sunday night and went through Wednesday night. However, we had problems getting a drummer each night. Steve could only be there on Sunday and Wednesday night and the replacement drummer had to bail on playing the other nights. So I became the "utility musician" for the week. On Sunday and Wednesday night, I played electric guitar for most of the songs, but I also played a synth keyboard run through a MacBook on a couple songs. On Monday and Tuesday night, we went down to an acoustic set. Paul and Micah played acoustic guitars and I played a djembe (a West African, skin-covered hand drum that's shaped like a really big goblet). So, not only did I play electric guitar, but I also publicly debuted on the keys and djembe. It was crazy. I loved playing the djembe though. I discovered that deep down inside, I really desire to be a drummer. I love it. Maybe one day I'll learn to handle a full drum kit.

I've had another new development in my life since last posting. It all started almost two months ago when this girl at SWU would not stop stalking me! I mean, she was crazy! She was following me to class, standing outside my apartment waiting for me, following me when I drove to Wal-Mart, and showing up every time when I went to a restaurant! She would stare in that little window on the doors in Brower. She even started wooing me with Cheerwine! Now that's underhanded, a stalker using Cheerwine like that! Well, I guess it worked...

Okay, so I'm totally joking. There is no stalker. No one is following me to class, standing outside my apartment, or following me around. However, there is a wonderful and beautiful girl who has done her share of wooing me with Cheerwine! Kindel is great! She made my last month of college even better than it was already! Although starting a relationship a month before moving to Kentucky is not the most logical thing to do, I'm slowly learning that life isn't always about being logical and practical. Sometimes there are portions of life that logic and practicality know nothing about. Kindel, thank you for opening your heart to me! I deeply appreciate all the time we have spent together and I hope there is much more time to be spent!

Now about the "moving to Kentucky" thing. I graduated from Southern Wesleyan on May 12. Well, I decided that I didn't have enough student loans, so I thought I'd go to graduate school. Seriously, I left SWU with a degree in Religion with concentrations in Christian Ministries and Bible. The CM major was strong in practical ministry courses and even some foundational courses (theology, Greek, etc.). However, even with adding the Bible concentration, I feel rather inept at understanding, interpreting, and teaching the Scriptures. If I am to be living by these Scriptures and also teaching others by these Scriptures for the rest of my life, I better have a good handle on how to fully understand them with historical, cultural, literary, and theological context. So, I decided to pursue a graduate degree at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. I will be working towards a M.A. in Biblical Studies. It's a 60 hour program that I hope to complete sometime in 2009.

This week I have been moving into my house!!! Yes, a house! Not an apartment, not a loft, not a dorm room! A house! Benji, Brandon, Russell and I are renting a house in Wilmore. It's a four bedroom and two bathroom house. It's fully furnished with appliances, such as fridge, oven, microwave, washer, dryer, and even a dishwasher! I drove up here through the night Monday night in a U-Haul truck towing my Civic behind it. Benji and I met our landlord Tuesday morning. She walked us through the house, told us some stuff we needed to know for upkeep of the house and handed us our keys. She seems to be really awesome. I think she'll be a great landlord. Benji and I have been moving in all of our stuff since Tuesday morning. It is chaos, but we're getting settled in slowly. Brandon will be moving in sometime next week and Russell will join us sometime in early July. We've already met one of our neighbors. Ironically, it is the ex-wife of Benji's roommate at the duplex he lived in until moving to this house. That was somewhat of an awkward greeting to the neighborhood.

I think that wraps up my life up to this point. I'm typing this in my house with boxes all around (most are thankfully now empty). I will be doing lots of job-hunting today so I can pay my new bills. Oh yeah...I also bought a MacBook last week. It rocks! Oh... I also was in Maine for a few days last week for Todd and Corrie's wedding. The wedding was great! When Corrie turned the corner to come down the aisle, Todd lost it! There is only a handful of times that I can remember seeing a man cry like that. It was awesome! I also boiled and ate a lobster. It was really messy, but it was good. I also ate a dozen Tim Hortons doughnuts. There was a 24 hour Tim Hortons a mile from the house that all the guys were staying at. So, all 8 of us guys definitely frequented it about twice a day each day! That wasn't the healthiest choice, but it's not everyday that I get Tim Hortons doughnuts!

Okay, now I think that is it. I'll be back soon now that I have free time!

03 March 2007

Twentysomething and Idealism

Thursday night I went to see the movie "Amazing Grace" with a few friends. The movie is based on the true story of William Wilberforce, a member of the English Parliament. In September 1780, Wilberforce was elected to Parliament at the age of 21. In 1785, Wilberforce had a spiritual experience in which he resolved to commit his life to the service of God. He felt like he had to become a minister or monk to commit himself to God, but all the advice that he received from others was that he should stay in politics, including from John Newton, a leading evangelical minister. Wilberforce said in the movie that he was torn because he wanted to commit himself to God but he also felt like he had to serve humanity by abolishing the slave trade. Through some great advice, he realized he could do both by doing the latter. Through Wilberforce's persistence, he finally saw the slave trade abolished in 1807.

Wilberforce was an idealist. He saw a reason to fight for the rights of humanity. He had ideals for a more perfect soceity and he fought through the pain and opposition to see it happen. Over the past couple weeks, I have been realizing in myself that I, too, am an idealist. I dream big and I dream optimistically. I have these grand ideas for helping the world. Most of the time, people might say I'm in over my head, and I probably am. How can I think that I could tackle the AIDS epidemic spreading across Africa, India, and the rest of the world? How could I assume that I could take on world poverty and world hunger? How could I believe that I could see a whole major city come back to God and find His grace? "Nice dreams...but be realistic." I don't know what it is, but I can't think smaller. I can't dream on a smaller scale. I have something inside me that must live for something much larger than myself. Some say it's because I'm in my twenties and haven't lived long enough to become a realist. My response: I hope to God that when I am forty, I haven't allowed life to callous me over so badly that I have such a smaller hope and passion for humanity. When I look at the Scriptures and when I read Jesus' words, I see a kingdom of grace. I see a kingdom built on lofty ideals. Faith, hope, love, grace, mercy....these are lofty, optimistic and outright crazy ideals for humanity. Yet God has asked me to live by them. So when does it say to not be an idealist and give yourself away for crazy dreams for a better world? It doesn't.

There's only one catch. When I went backpacking this week, there were portions of the trail that were painful and physically challenging. After going for 8 or 9 miles in a day with a 40 pound backpack, a one mile steep uphill hike pushed my body to its limit. I was mentally forcing myself to put one foot in front of the other because my body would not do it naturally. It was done. Unfortunately, I had another 5 miles to go that day. I ended up doing it too. I realized something that day. I had lofty ideas about backpacking and how amazing it would be to push my body to its limits. I thought that it wouldn't get that bad and I could push myself through anything. But those ideas are easier said beforehand. When I arrived in the moment of pain and suffering, and my body was hitting the wall, it was not so easy to have the ideals of backpacking that I had before I started. In those moments, I wanted it to be over. I just wanted to sit down in our car and go home. I wanted to finish the uphill climb on an escalator and then never return.

Ideals are easy to have and rant about. It's easy to sit in a classroom or over coffee and speak passionately for a cause. However, it is another thing to fight passionately for the cause when you are in the midst of the pain, suffering, opposition, and you feel alone in the fight. There are thousands, maybe millions, who live and die with lofty ideals. But when they begin to fight for their ideals, and the pain sets in, most of them fall away and just want to quit. They become realists because the pain of the fight overcame their own perseverance. Many live and die with lofty ideals. Only a few fight to the end for their ideals and those are the few that we read about and admire today. Those are the Wilberforces and Ghandis of history. Will my idealism fade when the weight of the fight is pushing down on my back, the uphill battle looks like it will never end, and I can't convince my feet to continue to move forward? I pray to God that it won't.

26 February 2007

Backpacking and DTR

This has to be a short post because I'm busy packing, talking, and need to get to bed at a decent hour. Why am I packing and need to get to bed? Because I am going backpacking across a portion of the Foothills Trail in upstate SC. I'm going along with Brady and Donnahoo. We'll be leaving 7:30 am Tuesday morning and plan to finish Thursday night. These three days are going to be awesome, painful, challenging, stretching, and moving all at once. I can't wait to sit around a campfire at night with the guys and talk about life, love, ministry, God, and whatever else. It will be an experience. Phil, one of the RDs at SWU, told us today, "It's about the journey, not the destination." Phil always has wise words.

So what's with the "DTR" in the title, you might ask. Well, it's connected with the backpacking. I was in my car driving back to school earlier today and I had some time to think and pray. As I was doing so, I came to a conclusion. In human romantic relationships, there come points in the relationship when a decision of further commitment have to be made. For instance, somewhere along the path, there comes a point when you have to decide if the relationship is heading towards marriage. If it isn't, then there is no point in being there. There are points along the relationship where more commitment, even if it's only small commitments, need to take place. I feel like I have hit one of those moments... with God. I have come to another point in my relationship with Him where I have to make more commitment to Him and hand over more control in my life. I almost understand it as this is a turning point or crisis point in my relationship with Him. I'm tired of playing games and living for myself. At this turning point, it's either stop playing the games, hand over more of my heart, or stop wasting my time saying I will "try harder". It's harsh, but God's call on our lives is not sugar-coated and pretty. Yet what comes out of His call on our lives is much more beautiful than anything else imaginable.

So I'm off... backpacking and having a DTR talk...be back Thursday night!

19 January 2007

Authentic Spirituality and American Christianity

Just a short thought:

I've heard a lot of people say that America is turning away from God. I've heard many older people say that "back in my day" more people followed God and now we are turning away from Him. I've heard many blame our country for the moral decline of our society because they took prayer out of schools and questioned "under God" in the pledge. I've heard it said that this country used to be Christian and now it is falling away from that.

I have a theory, however, that says that America hasn't changed in its allegiance to Christianity over the past few generations. I say that because I believe that the majority has never been committed to Jesus, even if they thought they were. Here's what I'm getting at: It is not that less people are following Christianity now than decades before; instead, it is that less people are faking their spirituality than decades ago. I would dare say that the high percentages of Christianity in America decades ago were merely high percentages of people who followed religion, not true Christian spirituality. Many were faking it because it was somewhat socially expected to be a Christian. They went because it was expected and they thought that their rituals and religion was how to truly follow Jesus (but it wasn't). I would dare say that the change is not the numbers necessarily (at least not to the large margin that we think), but the change is actually that not as many people are faking it anymore. This "decline" in numbers is a good thing because it is not a decline in true followers of Jesus; it's a decline in those who claimed the religion without the spirituality. Less people in the newer generations are now going to church because they aren't interested in ritual and religion, which is a good thing. So, it has the appearance that Christianity is on the decline. However, I say that America's social atmosphere is finally being honest with itself and the merely religious are falling away in mass numbers. People are tired of the fake religiousity, so more Americans are not playing the game.

I'd rather the numbers be declining. It has been far too long that Christianity has been a socially accepted religion and not a selfless and costly authentic spirituality. Let the masses of merely religious go. Jesus did not ask for those who would follow Him out of social requirement or follow Him with a little bit of themselves. Jesus called for the committed. Barry Callen, in "Authentic Spirituality," states:
To be authentically Christian is to be fully human and to join God in the costly ministry of redemption and justice. Nothing else is worthy of being called 'Christian spirituality.' " (14)
If a person's life is striving for anything less than this mindset, then he/she is not seeking the true spirituality that Jesus asked for.

To some degree, I thank God for the move away from the church. I'm tired of the bride of Christ being full of those who are merely religious and not willing to actually follow Jesus. Finally, the church can become the servant to Jesus and mankind instead of a social club.

13 January 2007

Asbury Acceptance!

This past Thursday, January 11, I received an email from my admissions rep and he said:
Congratulations, you've been admitted for Fall 2007! You'll be receiving
an official letter in the mail from my director soon, but I wanted to go
ahead and give you the good news.
Awesome news! I submitted my application for the Presidential Scholarship on Friday. This scholarship is a full tuition scholarship for two years. Financial Aid told me that a decision on that scholarship will probably be made by early February. That would be a wonderful birthday present if I receieved it, but who knows. I'm sure there are tons of worthy and scholarly applicants.

As of right now, I am feeling that Asbury is certainly my next step. I felt amazing peace and comfort each time that I have visited Asbury, including my week up there over break. When I visited Gordon-Conwell in Massachusetts, I felt uneasy the entire time I was on campus. It was strange. I had that upset stomach feeling, except it wasn't a physical feeling. Maybe I'm just strange. I have nothing telling me not to go to Asbury next. The doors are opening and I have great peace about it. They have great programs to offer for me to grow as a leader, minister, follower of Jesus, Biblical scholar, and more. No signs to hold me back. Thanks to God for all that He has given to me. So many don't receive this sort of opportunity, yet I do. It doesn't seem fair. I hope that my life can be spent giving people who were given the "short end of the stick" opportunities that no one else would chance on them.

02 January 2007

70 mph looks crazy through tear-filled eyes

When deciding on how to get to Asbury, I consulted Google maps and Mapquest. Google maps told me to go I-40 to I-75. Mapquest told me to go I-77 to I-64. Either way was roughly 7 hours--one was due west and then north...the other vice versa. So, I decided to go the 40 and 75 route. I packed my car and drove off towards the sunset.

For my trip, I decided to listen to sermon podcasts the whole way up (I know, I'm a dork). So, I decided to listen to a playlist of some of the ones I have missed recently. The playlist consisted of my favorites, such as Erwin McManus, Mark Driscoll, and Rob Bell. Somewhere along I-40, I was listening to Mars Hill's podcast (Rob Bell's church), and the guest speaker (not Rob Bell obviously) was speaking about serving. He then invited a few members of the church to speak about serving experiences they had. Somewhere in the midst of the stories from these members, God hit me like a ton of bricks. For some reason, I began to weep (Believe me when I say that I'm hesitating to mention this story because I'm just like any guy...I don't cry very often and it's not easy to admit it either. However, when God moves, I can't help it.) I didn't just cry, I wept, and it wasn't a slow process of feeling an emotion, letting it swell, getting teary-eyed, crying, and then weeping. My spirit skipped all the steps and went straight to the weeping. It happened so fast I didn't even feel an emotion connected to it. It was crazy. This has never happened to me. Other times that I have cried (which has, of course, only been a couple times because I'm a man, right?...) there was always a physical or emotional pain behind it. This time, the emotion didn't show up until a short time later. It's as if my spirit was grieved before the emotion had time to show up. I don't even know how to explain it.

Anyways, so I started weeping in my car going 70 mph down I-40. I'm listening to these stories and my spirit is grieving bitterly inside of me. My heart finally catches up, and my mind right with it, to bring to the surface my thoughts and grievance. So I started praying to God, telling him about all the hurting people in the world (as if He didn't know). I started telling God about the people of Africa, the epidemic of AIDS killing them all, the enslavement of many ethnic groups there, the ethnic cleansing being done by the Muslims in some African countries, the poverty and starvation of so many of them, and the lack of much chance to hear about the love of God. At this point, I believe I was probably screaming at God with tears coming down my face. If only I could know what other people were thinking that passed me. I then proceeded to tell God about the European people and the ever-increasing trend toward atheism, humanism, and existentialism in many of their countries. I began to tell God about how it must be so hard for them to understand God and His love when so much of their culture was caught up in the other "isms" and very few were there to show them God's love. I then began to tell God about the people of Asia. I began to tell Him how many Muslim countries were creating theocracies that were oppressing their people and not allowing them the chance to think for themselves, have a personal will or thought. I began to tell Him of the Hindu people and the people who follow the other mystic Eastern religions. I began to tell Him that their man-made philosophies would only make them into better people with better ideas about life, but nothing more than that.
I began to yell at God, as if He didn't know this about all these people.
I then yelled at God for the American people. I yelled at Him, to let him know of the materialism and self-centered "American dream" that are blinding the eyes of Americans to deeper matters, matters of the spirit and soul. I began to yell at Him about the growing disgust with the church because many Christians have made Jesus a sidenote in their life and have misrepresented Him. I began to yell at God to let Him know this was happening so something could be done. My heart burned for all these people all at once, and all I could do was weep. I was in a car on I-40. In that very moment, I couldn't speak to the existentialist in Europe, or feed a dying child in Africa, or liberate a people from genocide in Sudan, or bring freedom of thought to Iran, or speak of one God to the people of Calcutta. All I could do was tell God how these people are hurting and weep for them.

As I ask God, He continually has been breaking my heart and my own selfishness for the needs of the world. He has been opening my eyes slowly to understand the hurts and needs of these different people, the ones who live in other continents and the ones who live in the same town as me. However, in that moment, God brought me to a point where I could truly be sorrowful for the world and the problems in it. I began to hurt (not just think about, but physically and emotionally hurt) for all these people. Selfishness is a battle that is not easily won, and I don't know what it feels like to win that battle yet. However, God did give me a bigger glimpse of what it is like to take on the selflessness and the heart of Christ for the sake of the world.

I don't know how this will play it in the rest of my life. I might never make an impact on any those continents. I might make it to one, but not the others. I don't know. I do know that God knew I needed to be broken a little more, and He decided to do it while taking a random trip on I-40 to Kentucky.

Back from my Asbury visit

I just finished a week of hanging out in Wilmore, KY. Well, I really didn't stay in Wilmore much at all. I went up on Dec. 27 and stayed until today. I went to visit Benji and to check out the area, since there's a good chance I'll be living there for the next three years after graduation. We spent a lot of time in Lexington doing stuff and we also took a day trip to Cincinnati (which turned out to be an interesting trip that I'll blog about later). I met up with Jake a couple times as well. We had some good times. We even ate at the Huddle House in Lexington (we had to!)

I can't unpack my whole trip and all my thoughts into one blog, and I'd rather stretch it out into multiple posts to give me something more to do while I'm home. So, I'll continue to blog about different events or thought-provoking moments as I spent my time up there. I'm spending the rest of this week in Salisbury and then should be heading back to SWU on the 7th (even though classes don't start again until the 16th). Well, be back soon!