September 17, 2010

You Can Do It

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the actuality of becoming like Jesus because it's not as easy as I once thought.

A number of years ago, there was this discipleship campaign called, "What Would Jesus Do?" with the braclets and the whole bit. I remember getting one of the wrist bands, thinking it was the best thing that ever happened to my wrist. I was enamored with the idea of doing what Jesus did, what he actually said. I was ready for change.

The braclet didn't make me more like Jesus, though. The implication behind the question on the braclet was this--If someone wearing the braclet looked at their wrist randomly, they would be reminded to be like Jesus, ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?", know the answer, and be able to carry it out. The problem with me and the braclet had little to do with the marketing scheme or even the nature of the campaign. The problem was simply this:

I can't do what Jesus would do. It's too far beyond me.

Even if I happened to look at the braclet randomly and ask myself the question, I cannot even answer the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" without a lot of speculation. He lived in a specific context totally removed from my 21st-century, American self. For example, "What would Jesus do for a job today?" The economy is down, he might not be able to get a carpentry job. Would he take that decently paying sales job if that's all he could get after college graduation? Would Jesus even go to college? Would Jesus would live in a big city so he could be influential? Didn't he live in the country? None of those things are bad, I just don't know if that's what Jesus would do.

The problem with "What Would Jesus Do?" is not simply that it's hard to answer; it's also that I am incapable of living up to what he can do. He's too far beyond me, he's life-style out of my reach, higher than mine. So my condolences to the nice braclet people and all the good-hearted supporters, but I have a confession to make:

I don't know what Jesus would do; even if I did, I can't do it.

He already knows that though: "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15). I'm glad he can, and I'd like to let him do that in my life.

Thanks for the lesson, Bob VanFleteren, Alan Hirsch, and Andy Stanley.

March 14, 2010

Top 10 Best Audio of 2009

I listened to over 100 hours of audio last year (podcasts, comedy, sermons, news, podcasts). Between 18 hrs of work driving a truck and 8 hours commuting every week, I had a little time to listen. I decided that I'd share the "best of" from all those hours of listening. These were rated based on most enjoyable, helpful and interesting. Here they are:

Top 10 Best Talks/Interviews/Lectures/Sermons/Narrations of 2009:

1. Geoffery Canada and Harlem Children's Zone Interview, "Inner-city Education" on educational reform in America:

Summ: Geoffery Canada has nullified the educational gap between white and black students for those at his school in New York. Obama plans on implementing Geoffery's model in 20 cities in America. Revolutionary schooling for the poor and underprivelaged. This interview was on 12/6/09.

Link: Click Here

2. Jean Vanier Interview, "The Wisdom of Tenderness" with Krista Tippett:

Summ: Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche communities, received a doctorate in philosophy and used it to spend time with the mentally and physically handicaped. His story of founding L'Arche is amazing and everyone needs to know about L'Arche. This interview was on Dec 20, 2007 (I listened to it last year, so it's still a best of 2009 in my books).

Link: Click Here

3. Timothy Tennent - "The Translatability of the Gospel" by Pres. Timothy Tennent (Asbury Theological Seminary):

Summ: This sermon started my semester off last year and I was truly inspired. If you're a Christian, whether an academic or an anti-intellectual, you will be encouraged by this sermon on how the gospel was intended to be translated from it's inception by Jesus.

Fav Quote: "Christianity is the only one of the major world religions to have it's primary documents written in a language other than what it's founder spoke in."

Link: Click Here. Go to page 5, then "Translateability of the Gospel" on September 10, 2009.

4. N.T. Wright's "The Language of Life" lectures (part 1 and 2):

Summ: **This has been one of the most formative lectures I've ever listened to. Wright says we need to learn the language of life, and in learning we will be able to speak truth and stability and live out "miracles" in the world. If life has lost its shine for you, you will be encouraged by this message.

Link: Click Here

5. Francis Chan's Message for Ministers - Exponential 2009 Conference Closing Sermon:

Summ: This is one of the most encouraging sermons I've listened to in the last few years. Chan speaks at the National New Church Conference to church planters to tell them that no matter how much knowledge they have, they need to also have courage to follow the Spirit.

Video is all I could find - Click Here.

6. Andy Stanley's Four Part Sermon Series on God's Will (1/9/08 - 2/19/08):

Summ: Andy Stanley's at his best here. He's a great preacher and good exegete. He brings the difficult subject of God's will into four amazingly profound, insightful yet practical principles. Besides Randy Gariss's theology on God's will, this is the best I've heard.

Links: (unfortunately these are only available for purchase through DVD and book)
-DVD: Click Here
-Book: Click Here

7. Mark Driscoll on the topics of Heart and Planning from Proverbs

Summ: As much as I hate to say it, Driscoll had two sermons that have been really helpful for me in the last year. 1) Heart - this is a theology of heart from Proverbs on pursuing God's deepest longings in your life and 2) Planning - this is a theology of thinking before you act and really helpful

Link: Click Here
-Proverbs: Planning - 8/16/09
-Proverbs: Heart - 5/10/09

8. This American Life Podcast:

Summ: Of all the podcasts I listened to last year, I always looked forward to this one. I was never disappointed. Here are the top three. Listen to them all:
-Episode #286, "Mind Games" on play pranks on people... that turn on their heads.
-Episodes #391, #392 (two-part series) "More is Less" and "Someone Else's Money" on American healthcare
-Episode #396, #1 Party School" on Penn State, the number one party school in America

Link: Click on the links above. This one costs a worthy $.99/archived episode.

9. Tony Campolo - On the Environment

Summ: This was a really helpful and balanced discussion of environmental issues going on right now. This is a two part series.

Link: Click Here

10. Garrison Keillor - Prarie Home Companion:

Summ: Every episode is good! Listen to this week's and you won't be diappointed to hear stories from a place where "all the men are good looking, all the women are strong and all the children are above average." No, really listen to it; you won't be able to stop.

Link: Click Here

What do you think?
After you listen to any or all of them, let me know what you think.

February 10, 2010

The Funk

I finally heard someone say it. I've been waiting for these words to come out of someone's mouth because I know we're all thinking it. I heard it at the Mercy Lounge, a venue in Nashville a few weeks ago. The Space Capone was playing "fun funk" music. At least that's how Ben Gortmaker, their fill-in bass player, described it to me in a text when I was deciding whether to go or not. The lead singer and nine others took stage and rocked one of the most enjoyable funk songs I've ever experienced. These were the words of the chorus: "If it feels good..." and then in musical matter-of-faction, they ended the line, "It's alright." I was planning on sitting down for the show--that didn't happen. It felt too good to stand up for that.

I loved the show, so thanks Ben Gortmaker for putting me on the list. The chorus of their song is the modus operandi of our culture--whatever you feel is right and conversely, whatever you don't feel, isn't right. This leaves us really confused the next day from whatever we did the night before.

Here's to a smooth and diplomatic transition: You and I tend to put experience above all else and I think we're missing out on the depths and riches of true life because of it. It wasn't until this last January in class that I realized how much we as modern Christians base our relationship with God solely on experience and not on unwavering devotion of Christ.

I think experience is invaluable and essential to our faith. The Holy Spirit himself is an experiential person, giving us feelings, intuitions, inclinations and desires. These are all very good and I treasure those experiences in my life when the Holy Spirit has cried out, "Abba, Father," on my behalf with a groaning words can't express. Even in Paul's defense of the gospel in his letter to Galatia, he uses experience as the first argument of his probatio (3.1-5). Here's what I'm saying: I've seen many Christians get "experiences" with God early on in their walk but when they stop having them, they give up on faithfulness. As Americans, we love Romance but we hate commitment to long-lasting relationships and we're not alright.

N.T. Wright put it this way in answering a question posed to him in a lecture called "The Language of Life" (part 2 of 2): "Romance is wonderful; a steady worked out relationship is better. Striking a match is very exciting, but it's not going to last long. Use the match to light a candle and it will give a steady beautiful light to the room. Yeah fine, let's have some more matches, that's fine... sparkles, but you can't live off of that stuff. I mean I really do worry about that."

The question given him was: "Do you think that the church is preoccupied with sort of like maintaining the honeymoon period or a crush with God and we're not getting engaged in the marriage? I think that God calls us to more than that."

I'm running a half-Marathon in April. It's in Music City. If I approach this training like a romantic, I'll probably be out of shape, run slowly and injure myself somehow. But if I take it one week at a time, working steadily, I think I'll cross the finish line in shape, with a good time and without injury. I think it's also going to feel amazing to complete this one big step for Chad-kind.

Again, experience is essential (Isa 6; Matt 17). However, if we stay there, we won't mature. And that is God's will for our lives, that we be sanctified (Jam 1; 1 Th 4). Our Christian existentialism, coming from at least 20th century theology and philosophy, focuses on our emotions which is good in part (especially after Plato). The problem is that when we live a merely emotionalized spirituality, we miss out on the joy of a holistic salvation. This kind of salvation takes us beyond ourselves and what we feel to push us into the kingdom of God. I think the question posed to Wright was brilliant--we are obsessed with the honeymoon period even in our relationship with God. What would a Christian look like who started out with all the feelings and kept running and maturing even when feelings subsided? That sounds like true Spirituality to me.

January 26, 2010

The Face of Humility

Yesterday, I drove a 27-foot truck to Bowling Green, KY for work and found out what humility looks like. I started working for a document destruction company this summer called Knight Horst Shredding. I drive a truck and shred paper. We're based out of Nashville but sometimes we do runs to cities within a few hours of us. So I was given the KY route yesterday and I met a guy who showed me humility.

I was standing outside of the GM plant in Bowling Green loading and unloading some trash cans of full and empty paper into the truck with one of the maintenence workers for the plant. I forgot his name. His job was to take care of trash and to help maintain the physical structure of the building. I could tell that he was in his late thirties and he didn't have a hint of presumption in him. He was a really happy, too--he told me that GM was the best company he had ever worked for. They bought him $180 boots every year, and when some of the "higher-ups" came to town, his boss invited him to get beers, too, not just his supervisors.

"When you have something to say, they do it," he said. "If you've got a good idea or need tools, they'll support you... they listen," he summarized. As we were talking and un/loading, he asked me if I liked my job.

I told him, "No, it's just a job for me right now." It has been just a job for me over the last six months. Then, I told him something good about the job: "But it's taught me humility."

And his response caught me off guard completely: "How's that?"

My job is basically a glorified trashman, I was thinking. I remember reading that MLKJ said even if you're a street-sweeper, be the best street-sweeper you can be. Paper-shredding became my street-sweeping this summer, and I told the GM worker that it had taught me humility.

By the way he asked the question, I realized in that moment that I had just said something about his job too--that it was subpar and benneth me. My words hit me in the face through his piercing question. I could tell that he understood what I had said, but he didn't even know what I meant when I said that this job had taught me humility.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I read part of C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. I say "part" because I had to stop at his chapter called "The Great Sin" in reference to pride. I had to read it a few times. It haunted me that I could have every virtue and still have the greatest sin, pride. So I resolved to define and understand pride so I could avoid it like the plague. I was never satisfied with any effable definition; instead, I decided that I could only recognize it in myself and others, not define it.

That day I saw the opposite of pride in the GM worker who was helping me unload trash cans from the truck. I have been humbled but I'm not humble yet. He was humble.

January 20, 2010

Sticks and Stones, Love (Positive Theology: v)

There’s great irony in my writing this blog entry.
I want to talk about the power of the spoken word and I’m typing. Hear me out though, metaphorically speaking. My whole life I’ve heard, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Recently, I’ve given it a second thought.

Commuting from Nashville to Lexington every week last semester game me a lot of time to think about the words I’ve heard and spoken.
Then, this week, I lost my voice and I couldn’t speak for about three days, so I had time to think about life without words. I went through an entire day of work without my full voice. It was amazing how differently life happened without the ability to speak. My job requires that I go in and out of offices picking up paper for shredding. Then, I’m required to put the paper in a truck and shred it, ‘Mobile Shredding,’ it says on the side of my truck. There’s a small constituent of receptionists in Nashville that know me only as “The Shredder.” I’ve never met the ninja turtles, but maybe if I keep this identity, they’ll find me. Going in and out of these offices without the ability to speak made me realize that they probably think I’m mute! I had the thought—how much different would I be if I could never speak? I don’t really know, but I’d probably be a better person... maybe worse.

I am making a verse in Hebrews 3 one of my life verses: “Encourage one another daily as long as it is called today.”
I don’t know how to encourage someone without using words. Okay, I guess I could write letters and give pats on the back, but I’m not sure if there’s a more powerful way to encourage someone than to speak. I guess that’s why preaching is powerful. I say preaching not in a negative way but in the true meaning of the word. Preaching, when done well, is encouraging. Everyone thinks about God, but it’s completely different to talk about him. I used to think that preaching meant coming up cool, new ideas about the nature of God every week. But I think preaching is different. Preaching doesn’t require innovation but simply using the spoken word to remind the people of God the content and meaning God’s story.

It’s kind of like when you know someone is holding something against you and they just need to say it.
You wanna scream: “Say what you need to say?” But John Mayer’s words would only make the elephant in the room more awkward. I think God wants me to confess more... out loud. Not just to Him but to people I’ve hurt. James told the early Christians, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Something happens when we speak the truth even if it’s about sin.

There’s something about talking to people that we tend to avoid: confrontation.
It’s so easy to talk about people, but it’s hard to talk to people. I have this theory that I’ll never be able to prove. It’s that every war, divorce and broken relationship comes from bad communication—words spoken rashly, words spoken in hate or words never spoken at all.

January 5, 2010

Positive Theology: The words of Jesus (iv)

I stopped blogging a few months ago in the middle of a series about words because I got swamped with responsibilities. During last semester I was overwhelmed with life but God’s word sustained me. Literally. I started to have physical manifestations of stress and it was only God’s truth and his Spirit that kept me going both physically and spiritually. I learned the importance of receiving his words, ancient and new. So, if you would, allow me to pick up where I left off—with the words of Jesus.

In the letter to the Hebrews chapter one, the audience was told that Jesus upholds the universe by the power of his word. When Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God, he did it with his words: 1) He healed a paralytic by a word (Matt. 8.8). Did you catch it? His word changed the physical world. 2) And he cast out demons with a word (Matt. 8.16). Jesus came preaching the kingdom (reign) of God and this reign came through his words. Words have the power to change both the physical and spiritual natures of the cosmos (borrowing Platonic language, sorry).

Words do something in physicality whether in the creation event (i.e. God spoke creation into existence) or in the recreation events, ancient and new. Simply put: Jesus’ words bring life. The same power that was in God’s words of creation was in Jesus’ words too as he re-inaugurated the kingdom brining new creation to earth.

If any words have sustained me over the past few weeks, they are the words of Jesus Simon Peter talked about in John chapter six. Jesus had preached the crowd down from 5,000 to twelve. Then he turned to the twelve and asked, “You don’t want to go too, do you?” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have known that you are the Holy One of God.”

That’s a real question that we all get asked in one way or another: “Are you going to leave Jesus when his call it gets confusing?” I’ve thought about alternative options at various times in my life, but the truth is that I have nowhere else to go besides Jesus. He has the words that give real life. It’s true life in the sense that it’s full and never stops—it's both immense and continuous. I don’t know anyone else who gives that kind of thing away. I’m here to stay.

More to come on the power of the spoken word. Next is a discussion on the typology with which the (the body of Christ) should model Jesus’ use of the spoken word.