When Good News and Bad News Lingers

On Christmas Eve, I received a note from a friend in Nigeria. The subject line of his email was this: bombs for Christmas. In this note, he describes in detail how he and his family are dealing with the violence all around them. Today, I received another note from a colleague in Asia who is living on a very low salary and cannot see how he will make ends meet. And yet another note from a couple in the Southern United States outlined how the sale of their house fell through and they weren't sure what to do next.

My inbox took the wind out of me.
I recall a section of 'The Stranger' by Albert Camus where we read these words:
The Stranger by CamusThe chaplain knew the game well too, I could tell right away: his gaze never faltered. And his voice didn't falter, either, when he said, 'Have you no hope at all? And do you really live with the thought that when you die, you die, and nothing remains?'

'Yes,' I said.
(Part 2, Chapter 5, pg. 117)
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Renewing the Christmas Mind

It' s worth some time, during this annual season of stress, tradition, gifts, and holiday songs to think and renew not only one's sense of charity toward others, but of one's focus on higher things. Take the following as exercises for your mind and heart in a season where both charitable giving, clinical depression, and consumer spending are all running at their annual peak:

JIPackerKnowingGodWe talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas." “The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others – and not just to their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.

- J.I. Packer, Knowing God
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Forget the Enlightenment, Be Enlightened

The plight of public education has been a topic of debate worldwide for quite some time. Who has access? Who has the capacity? Are the teachers teaching properly? Are students growing?
Maybe we need a paradigm shift and that's what this video shows.
it's worth a look:
After you watch the video, I would be curious if you think this works in the West or if it's wishful thinking. Are there any paradigms like it that you know of being practised aroudn the world?
Like it or not, public education and the future of the next generation is linked and whether you home school, private school, Christian school, charter school, magnet school, public school, or skip school, this will effect all of us.
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Talking about Girls with my Son

Recently, my son and I were driving home from my office (actually I was driving and he doesn't work with me; I forgot my phone charger) and we began a conversation about girls. No, not that kind of conversation, hopefully we're several years from THAT conversation, but on this day, my son actually started asking me about the girl he was listening to.

"Daddy, I really like this song, who is it?" 

The song was by Regina Spektor and so he asked if I knew her, to which I replied, no--she's a Russian born singer, who came to the U.S. when she was a little bit older than you. This fascinated him, so I continued. She took piano lessons for a long time and God gave her this amazing voice and now lots of people listen to her. Do you want to take piano lessons?

"No, but can I listen to another song like this one?"

Immediately, I am both excited that my son digs my cd collection, but a bit frazzled as I am playing a compilation and it's the only Regina Spektor song I have on this cd. I don't even pause to be dismayed at his absolute disinterest in music lessons, which upon further reflection stings a bit. So, I click the track over to Ingrid Michaelson. What do you think of this?

"Daddy, this lady can really sing too. I didn't know you liked all these girls.Does mommy know you like these girls?"

Yes, mommy knows, but mommy doesn't care. Mommy only listens to modern worship music and is a walking version of the Hallmark Channel. I have played mommy all these girls and they never seem to register. Finally, someone in our family gets it. Ingrid Michaelson and Regina Spektor have these haunting voices and outside of trying to make a construction site in Manhattan sound more peaceful, they can do little wrong in terms of getting a lyric stuck in your head. Does mommy know about these girls? Ha! You are talking about these girls, right buddy? You are referring to the women in the cd player, right? I am now insecure, so I ask what he means.

"Yes. They sound pretty and mommy might like them," he says in a way that comforts me and excites me again. But, mommy doesn't like them. And I tell my son, that mommy doesn't like them. He is silent. So, I click over to the Smiths on the cd. He says nothing during the whole song. This happens a lot when our whole family is in the car and I play the Smiths. I am still not sure why this happens.

But when Sarah McLachlan comes on, he once again reiterates his support.

"Mommy should listen to this woman too; I like this song."

But, mommy doesn't like this one either. She likes Darlene what's her face and Hillsong and K-Love radio and a host of others I don't really listen to. And in my mind, I am wondering why there is such a thing as listener supported K-Love when I can hardly find the Smiths or R.E.M. or the Editors or Franz Ferdinand on the radio anywhere on planet earth. Satellite radio can't even pick up what I listen to. So, I think Sarah McLachlan and Ingrid Michaelson is pretty mainstream and again, those haunting voices. Even my son hears the beauty in those haunting voices, how can my own wife miss it! And it's at this point in my mind that I will refrain from going any further, because to explain fully why mommy listens to K-Love and why daddy is belting out "all these buildings and mountains...." by the Republic Tigers, will be approaching the fringe of THAT conversation and he's too young for that now. Besides, this is our bonding moment and for this one ride home, we're both smiling while Beth Orton finishes her chorus. Maybe there is such a thing as world peace.

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From Vincent Van Gogh to You

Before Vincent Van Gogh was a master painter, he was a missionary to the poor in Belgium. Strangely, part of my own journey that involved working for an organization named 'Food for the Hungry' involved my own reading of Van Gogh's letters and his story. He makes sense to me. Maybe he will to you and in him, you may find new color that you didn't notice before.

Prior to succumbing to melancholy, Van Gogh was able to preach and in 1876, he preached a sermon based on Psalm 119:19. Below are his closing remarks from that message:

"Has He not brought us thus far, have we lacked anything, Lord we believe help Thou our unbelief. I still feel the rapture, the thrill of joy I felt when for the first time I cast a deep look in the lives of my Parents, when I felt by instinct how much they were Christians. And I still feel that feeling of eternal youth and enthusiasm wherewith I went to God, saying: "I will be a Christian too." Are we what we dreamt we should be? No, but still the sorrows of life, the multitude of things of daily life and of daily duties, so much more numerous than we expected, the tossing to and fro in the world, they have covered it over, but it is not dead, it sleepeth. The old eternal faith and love of Christ, it may sleep in us but it is not dead and God can revive it in us. But though to be born again to eternal life, to the life of Faith, Hope and Charity, – and to an evergreen life – to the life of a Christian and a Christian workman, be a gift of God, a work of God – and of God alone, yet let us put the hand to the plough on the field of our heart, let us cast out our net once more – let us try once more. God knows the intention of the spirit. God knows us better than we know ourselves, for He made us and not we ourselves. He knows of what things we have need. He knows what is good for us. May He give us His blessing on the seed of His word, that He has sown in our hearts. God helping us, we shall get through life. With every temptation he will give a way to escape.
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For the World to See

We're told in Scripture that we see dimly, but one day we will see clearly. This is true. Think of the clarity we lack as we look at the world in which we live.

Every so often, I pause and reflect on what films stay in my mind and linger in my imagination. As the cost of attending the cinema increases, I want to experience something and not simply view something. I want to participate, engage, be impacted, and have my imagination and memory impacted. These two things: my imagination and my memory are two of my most (and if you're honest, your memory and imagination are just as valuable) prized possessions. I remember people when songs come on the radio and I remember places when I smell and when I see. Faith should impact these two things and it's my belief that love, whatever it is, captures both the imagination and the memory or it isn't going to last. These two precious jewels, these rare elements that have no rival on the periodic table are like prime numbers that cannot be divided in any way. 

In recent months and years, films that have made me see the world a bit differently are few, but let me mention a couple of them both as recommendations and as recreation. The Soloist with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx is worth experiencing as Downey walks in and out of various comfort zones that remind us of our own fear of the homeless, fear of the unknown, and fear of our own shallowness and shame. It's worth your time because the characters are not unlike the people you will meet on your drive home or in your local grocer. People you must deal with in a tangible and loving way. A second film of note is Milk with Sean Penn as a human rights activist is San Francisco. Penn disappears and deserves whatever awards he received, but for me, I felt many other things that would normally be seen also disappeared and there was presented to me again, many human beings who had names, God given purpose, and God given dignity. Quite unexpectedly, I cried during the vigil scene where some actual footage interacted with the cinematic portrayal and my heart ached for what the Fall has done in this world. 

Yet, the film that most haunts me as of today is a French film entitled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.While I hope you watch the other two films I have mentioned, I implore you to please give this film a shot. The dual themes of imagination and memory are obvious and play a central role in the film and if you walk away unmoved by the story, I am sad for you. I won't digress into being a film critic here that's not my point, rather I want to remind you that the world is a dangerous and delightful place. The thing this film will do will remind you of both the danger and the delight, but it will also encourage you (I hope) as it continues to do to me that part of growing in faith is growing fuller into a renewed humanity that is being restored daily by grace. You can't love me well if you don't know what hurts me, but I have not loved you well if you are not in my memory or imagination. For the world to see a vibrant Christ or for the world to see an authentic love or for the world to see more clearly grace rather than a dim version dripping with legalism and pride, the world will need to see something that captures the imagination and lingers in our memory. Without this dual engagement, we may be doomed to a lesser humanity.

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Why Do Students Come To Faith At All?

I heard Kenda Creasy Dean speak several years ago in Indianapolis and I was impressed by her ability to articulate some uncomfortable truths. I have taught a course in student ministry and I used one of Dean's books as a required text. Her new book, 'Almost Christian' has received press on CNN and elsewhere. As usual, she backs up her observations with solid research and questions status quo with intelligence and grace--the status quo inside and outside the church. You can find some of her reactions to the recent press on her blog. Now, stay with me a moment because I am going to switch gears a bit. After all, this is a blog that speaks often of globalization and of the interconnected world in which we live in as people of faith. 

What happens if you take the research of Kenda Creasy Dean and now read it with a global eye, particularly in light of the now famous statements made by Philip Jenkins, such as, “Global denominations are going to have to figure what to do when the bulk of the power and money is in the North and the bulk of the people is in the South.” The moral decline of the West has been well documented and the rise of China and India as ecnomic powers has also been well documented. Dean speaks to the weak faith or no faith being inherited by our children. An ever growing Biblical illiteracy that is teamed with an expanding social network that allows us to make 'friends' with people from around the world. A rather large percentage of new marriages are now happening between people who meet online and this will likely increase as current students age. And in a world of increasingly virtual relationships, we are now concerned with the virtual disapperance of intimacy within the church between parents and children, between children and God, and between parents and God. Let me just ask this: why do students come to faith at all?

Recent books like UnChristian and Almost Christian sound some alarms, loud enough for CNN to notice, but these books are also aimed at people inside the church and to many churches, this is hardly news. No doubt there are concerns abounding all over about the shallow faith of so many families in the West. Most of us fight against pain, sacrifice, and patience with great vigor and civil rights. Yet, remember Jenkins and remember that most of the global, worldwide, body of Christ doesn't live in the U.S. Now, what are your thoughts? Do you see a church in decline or a church on the move? Do you see young people falling away or standing strong in the face of epic poverty and disease?

There is now an estimated 150 million University students in our world today and over 120 million of them live outside of the U.S. Perhaps, Dean and others are correct in that many young people are leaving the church in record numbers due to their apathetic parents and pathetic preachers they are sitting under week after week. I won't disagree. Yet, this isn't the whole picture anymore. The whole picture must include the whole world because the whole Bible speaks to the whole world. After all, the authors of Scripture probably looked more like the immigrants fueling contemporary debate than the middle class, white children leaving church. It is true, many young people need to be taught a more robust, more Biblical, and more grounded faith in the West. And part of that teaching should include the sacrificial example of young people in the global south and east. We may now be living in a time when the U.S. will continue to ask 'why do students come to faith at all?' while young people from the other side of the world set their sites on North America as the next great mission field. I am guessing we're in a transitional phase where we are sometimes almost chrisitan, post christian, or pre christian, but at the end of the day, we will have to have a more global view of what it means to be Christian if we're going to follow Christ.

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Exporting Credible Hope

Paul Collier, author of the Bottom Billion and of the more recent, The Plundered Planet, uses a phrase entitled 'credible hope' that seems to me to speak directly to the task before many Christian people both inside and outside of the U.S. Now, this is not a critical comment, rather it's simply to retierate that our hope must be indeed credible. And there are two parts then to explore: first, the credibility of our hope and secondly, the certainty of our hope.

Let's initially reflect on the credibility of our hope. In the Bible, Job investigated the credibility of his own hope with these words: 

Job mourning
12 They make night into day: ‘The light,’ they say, ‘is near to the darkness.’
13 If I hope for Sheol as my house, if I make my bed in darkness, 
14 if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’ and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’ 
15 where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? 
Job 17:12-15
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Thinking About Global Poverty While In Church

Any effort to end poverty will take significant human resources and an adequate strategy to engage people to not only seek change, but become change agents. As a faith based non-profit with Christian convictions, the Bible guides our strategy to mobilize people and the Bible is a book primarily about relationships. The Bible itself says much on stewardship, but clearly it is not an economics text. The Bible has much to say about mobilizing people, but clearly it’s not an HR manual.

So, at the core of mobilizing people is the gospel itself as the key motivator. People mobilized by guilt or gratitude will not last as we are flawed human beings and our guilt often paralyzes us and our gratitude ebbs and flows. This document is meant to spur on a discussion about how we mobilize people that is gospel centered and that effectively erects a small army to end poverty worldwide.

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A Room With A Worldview

When we say the term a Biblical worldview, do we truly mean a view of the entire world? In other words, does our ‘worldview’ stand up to the test of being more universal than cultural; more global than local?

While in Nicaragua a few years ago, I recall giving a presentation to some Christian leaders and the word ‘worldview’ didn’t translate directly. Instead, my Latin American brothers rendered it, ‘cosmo view’ and in a very real way, that made more sense than what I was trying to convey. Our worldview and in particular a Biblical one, should consist not simply of truths from our own local contexts, but truths that make sense universally. Michael Horton, in his book the Gospel-Driven Life, makes the following comment that is relevant to this discussion:

Michael HortonThe gospel is unintelligible to most people today, especially in the West, because their own particular stories are remote from the story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation that is narrated in the Bible. Our focus is introspective and narrow, confided to our own immediate knowledge, experience, and intuition…
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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.