Happy Good Friday

"Happy Good Friday" is not really something we say to each other.
Good Friday is appropriately celebrated with solemnity and reverence,
with churches draped in black cloths and filled with the hushed tones
of contemplation.

While listening to sermon yesterday a passage hit me with a whole new
appreciation of not only Good Friday but the cross itself.

"1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of
witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that
so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked
out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of
our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning
its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you
will not grow weary and lose heart."
--Hebrews 12

The author of Hebrews spent chapter 11 laying out case after case of
Old Testament examples of God's faithfulness.  Men acted in faith and
God proved Himself faithful time after time.  And so here in chapter
12 the author asks us, "Why, in full view of God's providence and
faithfulness throughout the Bible, throughout Church history, and
throughout our own lives do we allow not only sin to entangle us, but
why do we allow anything to hinder us from fully trusting Him and
running towards (and with) Him?"  I don't know about you but that's a
very convicting question for me.

What is the writer's answer?  To fix our eyes on Jesus, who in full
view of all of those same things, who being the author and fulfillment
of all of those promises, and for the JOY set before Him endured the

It's hard to imagine Jesus' steps towards calvary being steeped in joy.
"This step is for joy."
"This step is for joy."
"This nail is for joy."

We've been studying the fruits of the Spirit out here in Mongolia and
something I learned while studying them is that we need to see all of
those things when we look at the cross.  When we look at the cross we
have to see God's love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  It is the culmination of
all of the promises He made to man from the beginning of time and it
is a promise and assurance to all of us.

So on Good Friday we have to ask ourselves, what was that joy that
drove Jesus to the cross?

As some would say, was it to give us health, wealth, prosperity, and
comfort?  Was it so we could deem it not entirely sufficient and add
to it works or not accept all of it and cling to shame?

Joy is never a solitary affair.  You have joy IN something.  You have
joy WITH someone.

I believe Jesus' joy in heading to and enduring the cross was knowing
that He was reconciling sinners who could not save themselves to a
holy God who loves them.  His joy was knowing that His death would
allow us, through His righteousness to know and enjoy God forever.
His joy was being the end and means of God's plan and purpose for
mankind; proving God faithful, loving, and sovereign so that in our
own lives we could fix our eyes on Jesus and not grow weary and lose

Happy Good Friday from Mongolia.

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Good Friday Poetry: John Donne

Donne's poetry is well-known, especially his poem that begins "Batter my heart, three-personed God".  He was born in 1572 and died in 1631, and his work deals with everything from love to royalty to faith and mystery.

Here's an excerpt from La Corona (sections V-VII):

By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate :
In both affections many to Him ran.
But O ! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas ! and do, unto th' Immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,
Measuring self-life's infinity to span,
Nay to an inch.   Lo ! where condemned He

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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Relativism and the Emerging Church

Tony Jones and I write a regular column together for The Journal of Student Ministries. In this column, we discuss whether relativism is really an issue the church should be concerned about today.  I hope you enjoy this article on relativism and the emerging church.  


Tony says:

As you know, Sean, a “straw man argument” is one that’s constructed by people simply so that they can tear it down. For instance, an atheist might mischaracterize the Bible’s external documentation and then say that proves how unreliable the Bible is.


Well, I think that a lot of Christians do that with the concept of relativism. They moan and wail that relativism is a dark danger, the worst thing that’s happened to culture and the church since Satan tempted Jesus. They say once you become a relativist, you’re on the slippery slope to hell. And, I don’t mind pointing out that some leaders raise lots of money and pack arenas with students with this fear-based rhetoric.

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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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