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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Lover or Fighter or Both?

A recent post of mine on whether we should love God or fight for him, got some push back from a friend on my facebook page.

His primary arguments are that:

1) the biblical warfare worldview is basic to all biblical revelation and prescription.

2) I created a false dichotomy between loving God and fighting for Him i.e. surely we can do both.

3) I was "fighting" against the "fighters" as I tried to promote love

Here are a few quick thoughts:

First, the Bible makes quite clear that we battle not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6), therefore any biblical battle motif cannot be construed to apply to human interactions.

This is further seen in Christ's refusal to fight, his rebuking of Peter when he cut the ear off the Roman soldier and embodied by the early church who did not fight eye for eye or tooth for tooth and instead followed Christ's example and command and turned the other cheek.

Second, agreed that two apparently contradictory things may not be in contradiction i.e. fighting and loving. For example, I love my children but I discipline them. However, that is a "paternalisitc" relationship and it not necessarily appropriate to extend that to all relationships. However, as a society we still need judges, courts, etc.. and in church we need boundary enforcers to root out evil doers (abusers of children, powermongers, gossips, etc..) and protect innocents even though our call to love the evil doers is not lessened.

Nevertheless, saying that disciplining, boundary enforcement or even fighting is consistent with love takes a lot of nuancing as they are not clearly always consistent with love. In fact, I do not think it is too audacion to say that they are rarely consistent with love and are generally consistent with humanity's desire to control one another.

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Almost Christian

“Almost Christian” is one of the best books on youth culture that has come out for some time. The author, Kenda Creasy Dean, begins the book by saying, “Let me save you some trouble. Here is the gist of what you are about to read: ‘American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith—but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school. One more thing: we’reresponsible” (p. 3).

I could not agree more.

And yet Dean does not leave us without hope. She specifically says towards the end of the book, “I find that I have arrived at only two conclusions with any confidence. Here is the first: When it comes to vapid Christianity, teenagers are not the problem—the church is the problem. And the second: the church also has the solution” (p. 189). Yes! The church does have the solution and we can move into the future with confidence and hope.

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Consuming News, Consuming God

This article originally appeared on the Mars Hill Church Creative blog.

USA Today announced recently they're significantly restructuring of their newsroom, starting with a big layoff. Underlying the physical effects are real changes in their business of journalism. As newspapers and magazines continue their sprint away from physical towards digitally distributed content, we gain some helpful visibility into how Americans consume news and, far more importantly, how and what news is reported on. Fundamental shifts in how Americans produce and consume news are happening quickly, and, rather subtly. We'll take a look at why this matters to you, but first, some brief background.

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The Songs That Define Us

Our twin girls, Rachel and Paige, just started Middle School, and in the course of this last summer, they seem to have transformed before our eyes.  As one would expect, there is a sudden hyper-heightened awareness to the things of their age, like appearance, style, clothing, friendships, pop culture.  And music.

It is one of our new family rituals now, that they would usurp control over the car radio during trips, commutes, and even errand running.  Step one: Slip into the back seat, talking non-stop.  Step 2: Flip from sports talk radio (my default setting) to the local pop station.  Step 3: Turn up nine decibels.  Rihanna, Shontelle, Pink, and Lady Gaga suddenly invade my Ford Explorer, and I find myself feeling really old, as I internally resist the urge to yell, "get off my lawn," in a graveled raspy voice, and pop in a Steely Dan CD.

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What I Didn't Learn About Manhood From Esquire

[This originally appeared on the Mars Hill Church blog]

I was originally assigned the task of looking at advice on how to be a man from a men’s magazine. Problem is, there wasn't any.

Esquire's June/July 2010 issue was called How to Be a Man. Appropriate. With a title that declarative and a tagline of “Man at His Best,” I was anxious to comb through it to see what they had to say about manhood. With a base circulation of 700,000 and competition like GQ, Maxim, and Details, Esquire is arguably one of the largest and most influential men’s magazines in the world. They've got to know what they're talking about, right? Esquire’s website describes their audience as "the affluent and successful man." Should be exactly what I'm shooting for here.

With Irony As Our Guide

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Generation Ex-Christian

Young people are leaving the church in droves. For those of us who work with students, this is hardly breaking news. All of us have stories we could share about young people who were “on fire” for God that, for whatever reason, abandoned their faith. Personally, I will never forget seeing a former classmate from Biola University walk by hand-in-hand with another man just one year after my graduation. I was shocked! He not only left Christianity (from what I could tell), he went headlong into the gay lifestyle.

Church attendance is a good indicator of this trend. The Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those raised in the church will disengage by twenty-nine years old. While it may be typical for young people to walk away from the faith during the college years and then return upon child rearing, the signs are that this generation (as a whole) is not coming back. As a Christian high school teacher, it’s disconcerting to think that four out of every five students I teach (statistically speaking) will be completely disengaged from their faith within a decade of graduation. The Facebook profiles of many former students tell it all.

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Loggerheads, Lights and Landmarks

The other day I was looking through old picture books with my kids. My son’s favorite is one a preschool teacher gave him about Loggerhead sea turtles. It’s a sweet story that follows the life of a baby sea turtle into adulthood. They wanted to hear it again, so we cuddled on the couch and read it for “old times” sake. However, this time I noticed a piece of wisdom in the story that I’d missed before.

The mother Loggerhead builds a nest in the sand, lays her eggs and heads back out to sea. Weeks later, the baby turtles crack through their eggs. However, many hungry eyes are watching and waiting. The babies’ shells are soft and make them an easy meal. Many sea gulls and crabs hide in the wings waiting for them the turtles to make their journey toward the sea. So the babies wait until nighttime in hopes of using the dark to camouflage them. 

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My Conversion Story

It dawned on me the other day that I haven’t really shared my conversion story.  In the circles I run in, it’s a pretty common question to ask - everyone has one, but everyone is different.  Mine is a pretty standard story - some seeds were planted when I was young, a variety of people and experiences broadened by awareness along the way, and eventually understanding dawned on me and I considered myself a believer.  After the conversion, I sought out others with like mind in order to bolster my own understanding, and began to equip myself with the proper conversations in order to convert others to my way of understanding.  I share the story of my own conversion here, in the hopes that others may also be inspired to see the light.

As a child, my parents made a point of broadening my horizons and encouraging me to try new things.  I was a pretty shy kid, but at some point my parents decided to take me to a weekend activity popular with many families in the area - AYSO soccer. Next thing I knew, I was signed up in the league and practicing a couple times a week for our Saturday morning games.  I was hesitant at first, but eventually came to enjoy playing soccer with my friends.  After a couple years of playing, I even gained a decent understanding of the game.  After a while though, other distractions entered my life and my love affair with soccer - tentative at best - slowly dwindled.  
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