Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I read The Prayer of Jabez

So on a friend’s blog there has been some conversation about how we can best be critical of the Christian subculture (calling out bad teaching/practices, etc) without condemning those who are learning from and seeking the Lord through those. One of the comment-ers has a great word – snarky – for comments that are kind of cutting or humorous, and I have found that over the years I have certainly made my share of snarky comments. One of the Christian subculture items that has received more than its fair share of snarks from me is the book The Prayer of Jabez. Not surprisingly, I had never read this book that I was criticizing, but mainly I was just railing on the idea that people were believing that a magic prayer from the Bible could unlock heaven’s blessing. I had heard how people were using the book to try and get blessings from God that didn’t seem to flow to others, and so I dismissed it (and I also had great fun mocking all of the Prayer of Jabez merchandise that was available, from neckties to a version for teens to a cross plaque with the prayer on it to a DVD to a prayer guide to a journal to a Bible cover… but I digress).

So something to effect of, “let he who is without snark snub the first book” came to mind, and so I decided I would read the copy of The Prayer of Jabez sitting on my shelf (sent to me by a church that supports me in ministry). It didn’t take an hour to speed read it, and as I did, I was really encouraged by what it was teaching me. I didn’t find a call to grab blessings for selfish gain. I found a call to pray big prayers, to ask our Father for good things so that we might bless others. I found a call to surrender our hopes and ideas of blessing to what He would choose to give us. I found a call to desire greater things of God through my life and ministry and the call to surrender my time and my talents for the kingdom. I was called to trust God and to find joy in being in over my head, as that would lead me to a place of needing Him. I was called to trust God to keep me from evil and to ask Him to protect me and my character and walk with Him.

Sure, there were a coupe places where I was tempted to get snarky, but mostly those were from thoughts that said, “Someone could read this and think that the author means ______.” But I am convinced that the author’s heart is for God to be glorified and magnified in his life. In short, I am glad that I read it. I know that all the things I have mocked in the past will not be that good, but I also now know not to reject every “it” thing in the Christian subculture before giving it a look.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Corner Living 2

As I have thought about living on the corner here in Glenwood, I wondered how this might translate to other ministries as well. For example, are there “high traffic” areas in dorms or on campus that might enable us to have more frequent contact with students who might not ordinarily come to our events?

When I was a campus staff worker, I always advocated for student small groups to meet in the dorms versus the student center or an off-campus apartment. There is usually constant activity in the dorms and there is a greater chance of someone stumbling upon your SG community that's meeting a in dorm parlor than if it is behind an apartment door. Meeting in a dorm also gives a ready-made strategic mission field for your group. As for where to live in that dorm, if you are on a hall, then maybe by the stairs or nearest the bathroom, provided you leave your door open and are active in engaging the flow of traffic that will come past. In my old dorm, Ehringhaus, I would have chosen a suite that is nearest the stairs/elevators and a room that has a window looking out onto the balcony.

As for meeting spaces, some of where we meet is dicatated by the whims and space limitations of our universities, but at UNCG there was great benefit in moving our LG meetings into the student center and out of a distant auditorium-style classroom on campus. Again, putting ourselves in higher-traffic areas to increase our opportunities of interacting with others and being seen by them.

I think about the trend with many churches today as they grow - the plan is usually to buy a big plot of land way out and have people drive to you. This does not seem much like a corner strategy to me, and I am being more and more drawn to planting smaller churches in close proximity to people (especially in the city).

Some of the costs of these kinds of moves are that we are likely to get interrupted, whether that's in the dorm SG when things on the hall get loud; or in the LG meetings where be occassionally get double-booked and lose our room for the evening in the students center; or in church, where different types of people that we are not necessarily eager to deal with can stumble into service on a Sunday. But interruptions are not always bad things, and they can provide us with some great moments of being out of control but being in step with the Holy Spirit (see the feeding of the 5,000 in Mark).

SO the Bible tells me so

Every night I sing “Jesus Loves Me” to Psalter and Eliza before bed, and as I sang last night, I remembered a comment from one of my Systematic Theology classes. The gist of it is that the truth (or real-ness) of God’s character pre-exist our understanding of it or hearing about it. Jesus’ love for me was active and in existence before the foundations of the world. It is not something I jumpstart when I believe in Him. Thus when we sing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” it is implied that Jesus’ love for me was not real before it was written about in the Bible and actualized by my reading of it. But Jesus’ love for me is an unchanging fact, and the Bible merely clues me in on this reality. Gary Deddo suggested a more faithful way to sing this would be, “Jesus loves me, this I know, so the Bible tells me so.” The Bible is a means by which Jesus communicates His eternal love for us, and even if the Bible did not tell me so, that would not change or nullify His love.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Nuisance and waste become blessing

Yesterday evening one of the guys in our neighborhood trimmed our huge row of bushes in the front yard. Near the end, a branch got caught in the trimmers and threw them off track, rendering them useless. Normally, I would have most likely said, “It’s a $30 set of trimmers – I’ll just get a new one.” But God gave me a gift in that Bo wanted to try and get to the bottom of the problem. And so we began removing screws, testing one part at a time, getting deeper and deeper into the workings of the trimmer until it was completely disassembled. Completely (except for the motor). Lo and behold, we were able to figure out what the problem was, actually got the blades back on track, and then began to reassemble the trimmer in the gathering dusk. Most who know me understand that I am not a very handy person, and I must admit I contributed very little to the repair job. But when we finished, as I thanked Bo and said, “You did it,” he insisted that, no, we did it.

He had commented as we were putting it back together that he didn’t mind taking extra time to do this – the way he saw it, God had a plan for the two of us to spend some extra time together. And so what could have been a nuisance, thrown away as waste, became a gift of fellowship and learning. It’s not often that I put myself in a position to learn from and receive from my neighbors, and I could stand to do that more often. Bo had such a knack for figuring things out, and in a very kind way, he brought me into that work with him and made me feel like I was helping.

It reminded me of a story that my teacher, Gary Deddo, told about his dad who was a carpenter. Little Gary had nailed together a couple pieces of wood as his dad was building cabinets, and he brought it to dad saying, “Look, I’m helping.” And that wonderful father said, “That’s great. I know just where I will put that.” And he built it into the back of the cabinets, using what his son had offered. Gary went on to say that our efforts for God are much like that story – we offer our best, which compared to the master are but crude and elementary, and He takes that and works it into His awesome creative work that He is completing with skill and beauty.

God used a homeless man, almost twice my age, who really doesn’t follow Him very closely, to reveal His heart and give me a gift of patience, persistence, and fellowship. Nuisance and waste became blessing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Corner Living

It’s taken me a while to put it into words, but I am realizing that being on the corner is a strategic place to live. Now, that’s not why we bought the house (it had more to do with our vision for the basement becoming an apartment), but I can see God’s providence in placing us here. The corner is always jumping in my neighborhood – there is foot traffic most of the time with people on their way to the store or the park. This foot traffic is on the sidewalk in front of our house, the street beside, and even through our backyard, which helped make our picnic table a popular resting spot last summer. This can lead to plenty of conversations with old friends and the chance to get to know new folks as we hang out in the yard or on the porch, and we can talk with people even as we are in the backyard.

Of course there’s regular traffic as well (most of the time people stop at our stop sign), which keeps us up to date on the latest in hip hop and Spanish language radio, and it also provides the occasional free massage as our furniture and floors vibrate to the beat.

Being on the corner gives us more ownership and vision for our street(s) (and that vision is both literal and figurative). We can keep an eye on things in several directions, and have a great feel for what is happening on several blocks at once.

And for our own peace (and peace of mind), being on the corner ensures that we would only have up close neighbors on one side (and having a vacant lot next door gives even more space). We have friends who live in the middle of a block and have recently had some dealers move in next door, leaving very little room to feel comfortable and leading them to consider moving.

We had thought about moving up the street to a house in the middle of our block, but I can’t even see its front door from here, and if we played in the backyard, we wouldn’t be able to see folks as walked by. No, corner living suits us just fine.

Do yourself a favor

Now I now that everyone likes "24" and Jack Bauer (although I think that Jack Bristow would take him out in a heartbeat), and I know that every week all my friends go and get "Lost." But I am here to give you a summer viewing option that you need to check out.

Prison Break is an amazing show (I can't compare it to "24" and "Lost" since I don't watch them), and I can't believe people don't watch it. It's like an amazing movie that you don't want to end, and, at least for one season, it hasn't. The premise is that Michael Scofield gets himself put into prison to bust out his brother who is on death row for a murder he didn't commit. Michael doesn't come in without a plan - in fact he has the blueprints for the prison tattooed on his body. Every week you never know what will happen and his ingenuity rivals MacGyver, and you are almost always on the edge of your seat for the whole hour.

I am not sure if this season is out on DVD, but I know you can buy it on iTunes. If not to be entertained, someone please do this for me and Diane so that we can have people to talk about the show with!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Now you can keep the "Joy" fresh!

Hey friends - if you notice on my sidebar there is a new feature called blogarithm.com which will send you an email whenever a new post is made on the ol' Joy in the Margins blog. I know, you've been wondering how on earth you get my insights any faster than you already were. Wonder no more.

On an unrelated note, my sweet wife sent me a bag of candy to camp last week and in that bag was a box of Sno-caps, which quickly became one of my favorites. It was a bit of a let-down, though, when I realized that Sno-caps were actually just chocolate chips with little white sprinkles on them. Next thing you know, they'll be telling me that Slurpees are just ice with Kool-aid in them.

Monday, May 15, 2006

We are all witnesses

I saw this ad on TV before camp, and I knew that I had found my video clip/multi-media component to my talk on being a witnessing community (because we are hip like that in InterVarsity, where we use video clips to make our talks more cool and relevant to the college kids - word). Check it out - Nike has taken our job description and is using it to sell shoes!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

So was he or wasn't he... and does it matter?

So about the guy in our track who came to know Jesus this week after growing up in a Christian home and even being a leader in his IV chapter. I have been tempted to gloss over his conversion and say, "Well, maybe he was already a Christian, so it's not THAT amazing." Now, I say tempted to do that because I cannot help but notice the change that came over him. He went from being distant, pensive, and somewhat closed to being joyful, loving, and open, eager to learn. I could see the difference and it was amazing!

So did he move from death to life? From darkness to light? From spiritual oprhan to adopted son of the King? Or did he just wake up and realize what had happened some time earlier in his life? And is there a big difference between the two?

Certainly on the eternal scale there is a big difference - if we are in Christ or not has tremendous bearing on where we will spend the rest of all time. But even if this young man was in Christ due to intellectual assent, he was not experiencing the life that Jesus offered, and that is one of the main reasons Jesus came. Not just to save us from sin but to save us to Life and Adoption.

I wonder how many people in the Church are like my friend, knowing in their head but paralyzed and numb in their heart. And even if eternity is not at stake for them, LIFE is at stake. We have too many numb Christians trying to get by on obedience and dilligence and not drawing from the life of Christ. Obviously I am not discounting the importance of discipline and obedience, but those can flow from a well-spring of life so that Christ lives through me, or they can be manufactured through my flesh, which leads to burnout and a lack of joy.

To motivate Christians to witness, serve, give, obey when their heart is not free and not experiencing the life that God offers is to encourage them to trust in themselves and live by the flesh. This is why we begin the Good News track preaching the Gospel to the students who are wanting to share the Gospel with others. This is why we teach them more about prayer than about apologetics. We must live by the Spirit.

Praise God for setting our Brother free to know life, and not just life but Life Abundant. The Good News is necessary for us all - like I have told students for years, "We never graduate from the Gospel."

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Good News is Always Good

Week one of camp is over, and I think that we had an excellent track. I asked my supporters to pray for three goals - that students would experience the Good News and love of Jesus, that we would grow in dependence on the Holy Spirit and prayer, and that the students would be given conviction and boldness to actually invite their friends to know Jesus. I believe that God has done that, and I pray that He would continue the work begun. Also, a student in our track who had grown up in a Christian home, had even led a small group from IV, but had never really had the knowledge of Christ move from his head to his heart. It was amazing to see the change that came over him as he actually believed what he had always known, and it was simply the work of God breaking through in a quiet moment. Amazing grace, always pursuing and at work.

Attached is a pictures of the dining hall here at camp; what a beautiful setting!

Cute Pics From Rockbridge

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Wish You Were Here, the People are Beautiful

Hello everyone! Rockbridge has kindly put high-spped internet access into the staff quarters, and so I can update briefly on the ol’ blog. I wish that you all could be here to see how God uses our ministry in the lives of students – it is such an exciting time! On the first night of worship, for instance, we sang a song in Mohawk (Native American), Spanish, and in a South African language, in addition to English songs. Where else would students be exposed to praising God in so many ways? There are students learning how to study the Word and in the process, hearing God’s heart for reconciliation. There are students learning how to share the Gospel, and in the process hearing the Good News for themselves. Students are learning to lead their peers in studying the Bible and leading their peers to love God and serve Him more. It is an amazing time. There are students from Bulgaria, Lebanon, and Mexico here. There are white, black, Asian and Hispanic students (though we are still predominantly white). And the Lord is being glorified. I love being a part of this ministry and this staff team! Plus, my precious wife and daughters are here, which is so fun! Not a very pithy post, but one from the heart.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Barney... duck!

It’s disconcerting, to say the least, that as I cooked supper and my girls watched Barney this evening, a man was shot almost within sight of our house (good thing the grandparents don’t check the ol’ blog much). Gregory Street has long been the main problem spot for our community (the last shooting that I have heard about happened there a couple years ago). What makes me shake my head in sadness and fear and relief is that Diane and I had been trying to take the girls down to the park on Gregory lately. Mostly when we want to go to the park, we drive out to a “quiet-er” neighborhood in the city with nicer playground equipment and where we feel at ease with our girls playing there. But we want to use the park near us, to have a chance to meet kids and families who might be down there. Now it seems much less attractive. Yet most families who play there don’t have other options.

The whole scene just felt sort of surreal. I’m in the kitchen, cooking supper, watching 6 or 8 police cars zoom past our house, and soon an ambulance returns up the street. A man walking by tells some other guys that someone has been shot. All the while my girls are in the land of purple dinosaurs, safe and innocent and oblivious.

I thank God for His hand with us in the times we have gone down there recently – there wasn’t even a whiff of anything wrong there. Now with some time away due to Rockbridge, it will be decision time when we get back as to when to head to the park again to play.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Wonderful Celebration

On Tuesday night we had a pizza party celebrating the year in tutoring. This was the first time that we had done this, and we had over 100 people come between kids, parents, siblings, cousins, and tutors! A Grace high school small group served the pizza for us and cleaned up, we had videos from Sunday school and tutoring to show, and gave the kids the chance to talk on the mic about what they enjoyed in tutoring.

It was one of the happiest moments of ministry in Glenwood that I have ever had. There was just something wonderful about the families of the kids all being there, about the tutors getting to meet moms and dads and grandmas. There was something special about a small group of high schoolers from our church serving behind the scenes, the high school pastor and his wife and family serving as well. Diane and the girls got to come and eat dinner with a family from next door. Some of our neighbors from church came to help meet and greet.

And the event was smooth. It was happy, celebratory, fun, and it went off without a hitch. This is what ministry as a team, a church, and a family is about, and I just loved it. Praise God for a wonderful year.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Compelled By Love

In preparing to lead the Good News evangelism track for Rockbridge, I have had the chance to think a lot about the Gospel. Below is what came out as I worked on the opening night talk, Compelled By Love.

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Is there a more ludicrous, radical deal in the whole world? I mean, sometimes car dealerships will give you $5000 for whatever piece of junk car you can push, pull or tow there and apply it towards a new car. That is a good deal. Buy one get one free bags of boneless, skinless chicken breasts at Harris Teeter is a really good deal.

But this? This is crazy. First you have Jesus, the only perfect person to ever live, the only one to be untarnished by sin. This perfect one gets made to BE sin, so fully does He take on our identity and our sin on the cross (it so pulverizes and covers Him) that He is actually transformed into it.

Then you have us, who are by nature God’s enemies and deserving of wrath, and we receive the righteousness of God in exchange for our sin and wickedness. We are remade from darkness to light, from objects of wrath to accepted in the beloved, from enemies of God to His friends, from children of the devil to children of the King, from unacceptable to acceptable. Our pain and sickness and mess for His peace and righteousness. Our wages, which earned death, for His inheritance, which is an eternal Kingdom.

Is that Good News? Is that life to the dead? Is that comfort to the afflicted? Riches to the poor? Freedom for the captive?

Yes! This is a compelling love.