Of Rob Bell, Tapestries, and the Offense of the Gospel

I recently found myself in a discussion with a friend about the theology of popular writer, Rob Bell. I was enthusing over the creativity of his Nooma videos and how effectively they present aspects of the Christian faith to the cynical and skeptical among us. My friend’s tightening smile let me know that he did not share my excitement about Bell or his message. When I asked why, he said he was frustrated with Bell’s unwillingness to share “the whole gospel.” He was concerned that sin and wrath and judgment were being short-changed in Bell’s attempt to emphasize God’s love and acceptance.

His concern got me to thinking about the ways we present the gospel. Some of us emphasize the love of God as the starting point, and others focus on sin and repentance. My limited personal (and granted, anecdotal) experience has led me to see that the vast majority of non-believers in our culture don’t really resonate or identify with a presentation that begins with the realization our sinful state and are much more likely to pay attention and be moved by a message that emphasizes grace. Maybe that is just a quirk of our time and culture, but it seems to be a reality, especially among the young.

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After attempting to remain on the high road, Senator Barack Obama was finally forced by his frontrunner status to address America’s race problem. Whether traced to Hillary Clinton’s camp or John McCain’s supporters, race was injected into the campaign by the profusion of video clips highlighting Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s most incendiary sermons. Perhaps Obama was too naive to think that he would be allowed not to speak on the inescapable issue of race.

But when baited by mudslinging old-style party politics, Obama managed to deliver the most inspiring and important speech on race in America since the Civil Rights era. At a time when he was expected to disown his loquacious pastor, Obama managed to distance himself from divisive talk and yet embrace the person who inspired his vibrant Christian faith. It was a remarkable balancing act, addressing the complex legacy of race, slavery and civil rights. He recounted the tangled history and yet called upon us all to move on up, to build a more perfect union.

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The Politics of Holy Week: Embracing the LI-AMB

Holy Week. If you're a pastor, your congregants will want to make certain that they're given the chance to sing the right songs on Good Friday and Easter. We'll go to great trouble to make certain that the cross is properly draped in some colored cloth. We'll buy lilies and hams. There'll be eggs and talk of eternal life in Christ, a bizarre mixture of truth and fertility rites. But here's the deal: all of this is meaningless if it displaces the mysterious power and calling of the LI-AMB!

This week, if it is to meaningful at all, is when we recall the betrayal, arrest, trial, conviction, torture, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The thing about this that's so weird is the juxtaposition of Jesus as both a lion and a lamb.
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McCain: Go All New Media, All the Time!

If John McCain is the luckiest man since Ringo Starr, then his lack of money may prevent him from making a big mistake that both the Obama and Clinton campaigns are making.

McCain should ignore, or nearly ignore, old media. He should make ads (as he is doing at the moment) that tell stories. Basically, political campaigns must make edutainment and not adverts.

When Romney lost, I argued that one reason was his reliance on expensive old media ad buys. I have surveyed audience after audience (of all age ranges) and almost none of them watch commercials of any kind, but especially campaign commercials. The DVR is here now and the very Americans most likely to vote are embracing this technology in record numbers.

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A Sandstorm, Hailstorm, Snowstorm, and a New Bed.

Where to begin…

I woke up two days ago to a sand storm - a legitimate the-sky-is-blacked-out sand storm – which, as a California boy I don’t think I’d ever seen. As I walked the mile home from work I got pelted by tiny pieces of hail. Finally, as we went to bed that night a snowstorm blanketed the city in fresh snow. So lets see, in a period of twelve hours we had a sand storm, hail storm, and snowstorm. That was interesting.

I hear that Bear Grylls is doing a Man vs. Wild in Mongolia. Man, I hope he comes to our town. I have a knife he can use…

Right now I am lying on our new/used bed and Kim is curled up next to me asleep. The reason this is big news is because there is actually now space between us, whereas in our old child-sized twin bed we were basically forced to spoon all night and turn over in sync throughout the night to get any kind of sleep. We look forward to finally getting to sleep through the night. We’re going to use our old bed as a couch, or rather, a loveseat.

As we drove the bed home, I had to hold the bottom of the frame on top of the Mikr (Russian van) we were riding in by sticking my arm out the window and holding it the best I could while a Mongolian man stuck his arm out the other window and held the other side of it. I sat there in the pitch black of night, next to a Mongolian guy in a Russian-made van blaring Russian techno, holding our bed to the roof of the van, while Kim sat in the front seat and we swerved and bumped our way home. I thought, “Really, could I have ever imagined this?” Nope, not at all.

Teaching at the YWAM base has been going really well. It’s a really interesting environment because if parents become Christians and want to be trained to go into the mission field, they have to bring their families as well so in one dorm-room-sized dwelling you have a family living with two bunk beds, a sink, and a dresser. The base is ten minutes outside Erdenet so when we pull up in the van every Monday and Wednesday night there are at least two or three kids in each little window looking out at us.

I’ve also started to teach at the hospital and I’ve really been enjoying that. Everyone has been so nice to me and they’ve given me my own office with its own bathroom. The doctors and nurses are all eager to learn and, even though they have all started with next to no English, we got to the point today where we could actually converse as a class a little. I only teach two hours a day but I spend the rest of the hours preparing lessons and quizzes. I’m going to start having office hours with them as well so I can practice one-on-one with them at least an hour a month.

I’ve obviously had a trim back on ‘taking’ the Reformed Seminary classes but I’m still going through the Genesis through Poets classes, the History of Christianity class, and the Theological Foundations class. I have loved everything I’ve been learning and it’s added a dimension and a depth to my faith that I was foolish to think I might ever reach on my own. It’s made me anxious to pursue seminary but still patient and hopeful for what God has for us here and for whatever is next.

Since the church out here has very few resources outside of the Bible, in particular for training the pastors, I had an idea to teach a class from JI Packer’s Concise Theology book to the Mongolians from the church who could speak English. The twist though would be to have them translate it as we went so that when we were done they would have the book in Mongolian to distribute through the Christians here. The people who’ve been here for years politely discouraged the idea by explaining the difficulty and tediousness of the translating process. Oh well, maybe we can come back to that idea later. I just really would like to get a solid resource into the hands of the lay people out here.

I was, however, encouraged to start an English Bible study for the church with my friend Johnny. I guess people have been specifically asking for one for awhile so that could be really cool. We’re hoping to start that in May. If you could keep that in your prayers that’d be great.

My parents are wonderful and sent me my football and my copy of Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will. I look forward to reading about the depravity of human nature and throwing post routes to my wife. That’s ok, right?

Thank you so much to those of you who have sent packages. You have no idea how excited we get. We practically bounce the half-mile home from the post office and open them like a gift on Christmas morning. It’s a moving and humbling thing to feel the love of your family and friends from a world a way and we’re constantly thankful. Remember, if you are able to send a package, use the Flat Rate boxes the post office supplies. They are significantly cheaper than a box you provide or the priority mail ones they have. (Believe me, I was an expert at this during the six months Kim was gone.)
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

As far as what I’ve been reading and listening to, I really, really, really want to encourage you guys to check these resources out.

John Piper’s sermon podcast on iTunes and his archive and Desiring God. His most recent conference message on distinguishing the real Gospel from the false Gospel (Desiring God) and sermon on Regeneration, Faith, and Love (iTunes) are not to be missed.

For those of you interested in a concise breakdown and sincere diagnosis of a hot topic in the church right now, the Emerging/Emergent Church, I would urge you to listen to two of Mark Driscoll’s recent sermons on iTunes: “Mars Hill and the Emerging Church” and “Religion Saves and 9 Other Misconceptions – The Emerging Church”.

CJ Mahaney’s blog at http://sovereigngraceministries.org. I’ve been challenged, humbled, and inspired by everything I’ve read by him. He’s somewhat of a pastor-to-pastors and, though that’s the case, his simplicity and passion makes him accessible to anyone. He also has a podcast available on iTunes.

I listen to those as I walk to and from work, but in my free time I’ve been reading Knowing Jesus in the Old Testament by Christopher JH Wright (not to be confused with NT Wright) and God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. Both books address the scope and incredible story that the Bible is. Too often we separate New Testament from Old Testament, Gospels from Epistles, Law from Gospel, when we need to see it as one story of God’s redemptive plan for humanity, stretching thousands of years. I’ve also just finished Judges in the Bible and am currently tackling the ever so tedious Leviticus.

Ah yes, I also need to mention that I am getting quite good at charades. Partly because I’m not afraid to look like an idiot and mostly because I only know a few words in Mongolian I’m forced to act out almost any communication I have. For example, when Kim and I were in UB last week we were in a taxi and she forgot how to say “train station” in Mongolian. I looked at the driver, grabbed my invisible horn string, pulled it, and made a horn/trumpet/toot toot noise with my mouth. He immediately knew what I was talking about and took us to the train station, though I don’t think he respected me after that. What I’m trying to say is, Mr and Mrs Kensrue, your years of Cranium domination may soon come to an end.

These pictures are especially for Kenny, Riley, and Tim.

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Poetry Friday: Kevin Gosa

Kevin is a friend of mine; he's also a classical saxophonist and the conference director for the International Arts Movement, at which several ConversantLife.com bloggers were recently in attendance, including Mako and Judy Fujimura, Craig Detweiler, and me.  He publishes his delightfully playful and thoughtful poetry at versery.kevingosa.com

Here are two of my favorites. 

would it be better

if i took a rational

if there had been real witnesses of the

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The most generous, depressing, and ambitious television series has concluded. Yet, it is foolish to suggest that any character on The Wire will rest in peace. Show creator David Simon remains restless, angry, and ready to rumble.

Last week, I had the privilege of hearing Simon speak at the University of Southern California. The event was hosted by Diane Winston, the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication. Diane is committed to deepening the media’s understanding of religion and their subsequent coverage of spiritual issues. Diane and David worked together as reporters for The Baltimore Sun. Simon has ample reasons to worry about the future of journalism. But alas, current USC journalism majors may have been too busy chasing down the ever-shrinking job market to pay attention.

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The Critic

As film critics go, I’m pretty low on the totem pole – I’m still new (coming up on two years), I don’t have a background in film or even the liberal arts (but I’m working very hard to catch up), and, well, I’m a girl, which seems to be uncommon in today's film reviewing world, Manohla Dargis notwithstanding. But I work a lot, which is a boon, and I’ve been blessed with some great outlets, so I’m not complaining.

However, in class, we’ve been talking lately about the role of different cultural institutions in taste-making, from the museum to the University to the market – and the critic. Much of our discussion has been around what a critic is supposed to do. Should the critic focus on evaluation of aesthetics? Evaluation of content? Evaluation of experience? Education of the reader?
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Tags | Film

To Die in Jerusalem

Ayat Al-Akhras was a 17-year-old living in a Palestinian refugee camp. She was beautiful, an A student, and already engaged to be married.

Rachel Levy was a 17-year-old Israeli living in Jerusalem. She was striking, free spirited, and a loving daughter and sister.

On March 29, 2002, Rachel’s mother asked her to go to a local supermarket to pick up ingredients for Sabbath dinner. While Rachel was in the store, Ayat entered the building and detonated a purse full of explosives, killing herself, a security guard and Rachel. The two girls looked so remarkably alike that pathologists had difficulty correctly reassembling their remains. When Newsweek magazine placed their pictures side by side on its cover, many readers suddenly perceived the conflict in the Middle East less as an abstract issue of politics and more as a human tragedy of needlessly wasted lives.

Hilla Medalia is a talented young Israeli filmmaker who was completing her master’s degree in the United States at the time of the bombing. Almost immediately after the incident, she began work on a documentary about Rachel and Ayat and their families. A short student film (Daughters of Abraham) eventually blossomed into To Die in Jerusalem, a heart-rending and thought-provoking feature currently airing on HBO, screening at film festivals and available online. The film focuses on the mothers of the two girls and climaxes with an emotionally charged meeting between them—via satellite, even though they only live a few miles apart.

To Die in Jerusalem is a film about an ancient and enduring conflict embodied by two heart-broken mothers and two lives cut tragically short. It leaves viewers moved and frustrated and anxious for change. Christianity Today Movies recently give me an opportunity to speak with Medalia about her five-year quest to tell a devastating and important story. You can read the full interview here.

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Tags | Film

Podcast: Interview with missionaries from the Congo

Hi everyone! Recently I had the privilege to sit down with two very special friends of mine from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Camille and Esther Ntoto. I met Camille and Esther in 2003 when they helped lead a short-term missions trip to Kinshasa, Congo that I was apart of.

Camille and Esther are magnetic people who illuminate God's goodness with their lives. Camille is a radio broadcaster, ministering to thousands through the air waves of Goma, Congo. Esther has kind eyes and a fierce love for seeing transformation take place in women and children in Congo.

I am deeply blessed by my friendship with Esther and Camille and think you'll feel the same after hearing from them a bit on this podcast. So listen to it and be blessed. :)

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