Archive for the ‘ faith ’ Category

so one day we went to greece

So we went to Greece! Steph and I decided in January that we were going to go on an international mission trip this year, and it happened! You’re thinking, “Right, Greece… some mission trip.” To which we say, Paul’s mission trips were to Greece, so if it was good for Paul it’s good for us.

Every year the international missionaries of the Southern Baptist church attend an annual conference in their region called an Annual General Meeting. This is a chance for them to get away from their local ministry with their families and take part in training, interact with other missionaries, and relax. The week is full with worship services, classes, VBS for the kids, and all sort of other activities. Steph and I were part of a team from our church in Nashville that led the worship music at the conference for the week. It was an incredible experience, and we met so many great people who have dedicated their lives to serving overseas.

Leading worship for the missionaries was an incredibly unique experience. In America we take for granted our opportunity to go to church without fear, and worship in peace and freedom. We’ve all been told that we take this for granted countless times. But this freedom was cast in a different light when we witnessed 900 missionaries worshiping who DO NOT have this freedom in the countries they serve in. We met a number of individuals who serve in high security countries where the political or military environment prevents them from being open about their faith, and demands that their work as missionaries be kept a secret (some of them couldn’t even tell us exactly what city they served in and what their job function is). As you might imagine, song lyrics that talk about “trials” and “burdens” that may seem intangible to us take on an entirely personal meeting for these folks. We have never seen a group of people worship and sing with such passion, and the wall of sound of singing voices that greeted us every morning when we began to play was inspiring.

We were grateful to have the opportunity to spend a day in Athens on our return trip. Among the highlights from touring the ancient city was the ability to visit the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, walk on top of Mars Hill (where Paul gave his famous speech to the Athenians), and eat some really fantastic Greek food.

For us, a band of 8 traveling from Tennessee, playing music at a conference center was not what we would consider a great personal sacrifice. After all this is something we love to do, and whether we do it at home in Nashville or halfway around the world, we try to bring the same spirit and energy to prompt people to worship God wherever we are.

But to 900 missionaries who live in a culture that is not their own, who struggle daily with a language that is not their own, and are presented with daily challenges that would make many of us throw up our hands in defeat… being able to worship in English was a rare treasure. I think we all left Greece, not with a feeling of personal pride at having “performed” well, but with the confidence that God had used us to meet a specific and important need. It was a fantastic trip, and we feel blessed to have had the opportunity to go.

To see some photos from our trip, check out this album on Facebook.

i want to be like that

I just received the kindest, most genuine, most encouraging and uplifting email from one of the men I most admire and respect in this world.

I used to work with this particular guy. He is an executive within the company, well respected across the industry, and certainly at the top of his class in his particular field. He is brilliant, passionate and intimidating. You don’t want to sit across the table from him. Not necessarily the type of person you’d generally expect a kind, genuine, encouraging email from.

And yet in the last few years I’ve gotten to know this man, I’ve come to realize that at his core he is a person who cares deeply for other people. He is compassionate and wise. He speaks with truth into your life, directly and honestly. That’s not to say he is putting on an outward front in his professional life – he really is brilliant and intimidating, and that is the result of how much he loves his job.

But it’s been incredible to get to see this personal side of him the last few years. Humbling that I get to experience this side of him. And I think to myself, ‘I want to be like that’ – to exude such grace and encouragement and kindness to other people, and to do it without hesitation. Who am I but just a little guy in his eyes – he’s an important executive – but he doesn’t care… really don’t think he even sees that. I’m just a friend, a brother to him. Just amazing to me.

I’m uplifted by the fact that I am encouraged by other people like this. I observe these traits and I want to see them in my own life.

I think that takes practice.

culture shock

I had a disturbing conversation with Steph this morning that I felt the need to share. It started as an offhand discussion we had this weekend regarding race and marriage and whether or not it was acceptable for people of different races to marry each other.

Both Steph and I are from Minnesota, so I think our views of this are in general a little more accepting than maybe other parts of the country. Neither of us think that interracial marriage is inherently wrong. If two people love one another and they want to get married, then they should, regardless of what color their skin is.

Steph works outside of the city (Nashville) – that is to say, she works with a handful of true red-blooded Southerners. She decided to do a little investigation Monday and get their take on the whole interracial marriage bit. What she discovered really shocked me. I was naively living under the assumption that we’ve made great strides in overcoming racism over the past few decades in America. I was wrong. Here’s a smattering of responses:

  • “My dad would kill me if I brought a black man home for dinner.”
  • “My pastor taught us growing up that it was wrong to marry black people.”
  • “If you spend too much time with black people you start to act and talk like them.”
  • “The Bible says not to associate with people from different cultures.”
  • “I don’t want to hang around black people because I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.
  • “There’s a difference between black people and niggers. There are some good black people, but then niggers are like the black version of white-trash, and it’s just not right to associate with those people.”
  • “It’s a sin for people of different races to marry.”

Allow me to be very clear here: If you agree with any of these statements you are wrong and you disgust me.

I cannot believe that in 2008 we are still using the Bible to justify our cowardly selfish racist mindsets. That is absolutely utterly shocking to me. I’m sorry I was so naive to think that we had progressed beyond this sick and disgusting state. I also can’t believe that I have to spend a blog post outlining why the above statements are the most ridiculous and stupid things I have ever heard.

Specifically my comments are aimed at white Christian Americans who find themselves agreeing with some semblance of the above statements:

God Does Not Operate On A Class System:
At the core of all these statements is this sentiment that one race is better than another – that somehow God has selected white American’s as the preferred culture of people, and all other races are lesser and degraded forms of the above. Sounds like a Nazi propaganda if you ask me… while we’re at it, should we weed out the blond haired, blue eyed folks and just do off with the rest of us?

When it comes to a “chosen” race in the eyes of God, I assure you it’s not white Protestant Americans… it’s the Jewish people of ancient Israel. This is a culture through which God first spoke and demonstrated his love – and wrath. What color do you think their skin was? The great thing for all races though is that he made His love accessible to all of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus… this is the reason we all get to share in the blessings of God. The Apostle Paul effectively tore down the barriers of race throughout his life and persistent ministry to those outside the Jewish culture. All are welcome at God’s table.

It Is Not A Sin To Associate With Other Races:
I’m having trouble figuring this one out – where did this idea come from that white people aren’t to associate with black people, or anyone else of another race? Since when are Christians isolationists? Weren’t Christ’s last words on earth “Go into all the world and preach the good news”? This doesn’t sound like separation to me… rather, this sounds like a command to start making some diverse groups of friends. And no, I don’t simply mean a four day mission trip to Columbia – the gospel of Christ is a genuine message of relationship that speaks to true lasting friendships and acceptance of people from all walks of life.

It Is Not A Sin To Marry Outside Your Race:
I understand that precedent and tradition have led to a general societal taboo of interracial marriages, and that is what it is. But it doesn’t make these marriages wrong. For Christian’s to take a verse like Genesis 28:1, “So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him and commanded him: ‘Do not marry a Canaanite woman,'” and then improperly conclude that God has commanded Christians not to marry individuals of other races are incorrect in their interpretation.

This command, and ones like it, speak to spiritual matters – not racial matters. The Canaanite culture of the time was known for their blatant disregard of God, and as such, it would not be right for a Jewish person to be married to someone who did not share their worldview and belief set. Likewise, it would be unwise for a Christian to pledge their life to an individual who does not share their beliefs, but again I emphasize, this has nothing to do with race.

It really saddens and frustrates me that thoughts like the ones I listed above are prevalent in our culture – it really irritates me that I’m hearing these thoughts from a group of self-professed Christians. I’m certainly not trying to say that Christians are “morally better” than the rest of society, however, Christians have been given an example in the Bible as to how we should treat and interact with the people around us. We need to strive towards this and as a faith-group set a positive example of how to treat those around us with respect and without prejudice.

You tell me if you think I’m out of line here, but I think you’ll be hard pressed to find an argument that holds water.

azariah southworth comes out

The always punctual cultural trail-mix that is Perez Hilton reported today that “Azariah Southworth, host of the popular Christian youth show The Remix has come out of the closet and announced he is gay.”

First let me say I have never watched the show before, so I know nothing about the program or Azariah. That aside, the show has a significant impact with weekly viewership of 200,000 and a reach of 128 million homes. Here’s what he had to say in a statement to the press:

“This has been a long time coming. I’m in a place where I’m at peace with my faith, friends, family and more importantly myself. I know this will end my career in Christian television, but I must now live my life openly and honestly with everyone… I know I will be cut off from many within the Christian community, and if so, then they didn’t get the point of the life of Christ. I believe by me living my life honestly and authentically now, I am able to be a better person and a better Christian.”

The response on Perez Hilton has been interesting. The comments fall into basically one of three categories:

  1. Overwhelming support and votes of great courage for coming out
  2. Statements that Christians are all homophobic hypocritical bigots
  3. That the photo on the website makes Azariah look like he has a huge head

All of this leaves me really frustrated and quite conflicted. As a Christian I find it incredibly unfortunate that the general perception of Christianity in America is that we are hypocrites and homophobes and unloving of people… basically everything that our faith claims we are not. I hate that Azariah’s initial assumption has to be that he will be cut off from the Christian community. And undoubtedly he will.

I’m not going to disagree with the perception. It’s an unfortunate reality, not unfounded and largely the fault of a segmented and disoriented Christian church.

Christians have a huge problem with hypocrisy. We are viewed as a body of people who teach one thing, yet say and do another. We talk about sin, we condemn sin… and then we go out and do sinful things. Our credibility is minuscule and waning, and it leaves the world at large utterly confusd.

So now what?

There is a profound sense of hate towards Christianity, and it’s evidenced by people who commented on the post at Perez Hilton. People that have been segmented, written off, ostracized, and condemned by the Church and as a result have given up on it. I’m not sure how to respond to this hate. Also I think there are people out there who genuinely want to extend this discussion – about life and faith and belief – who have questions and are seeking answers, but their curiosity is overpowered by the voices of anger that seem to take control on topics like this.

So I’ll end this with a vague and open-ended question, and see where we go from there… What do you think?

the bible: now in color

So what are you looking at?

I will tell you. And once I do, you will be absolutely fascinated by what you see.

What we’ve got above is a graphical representation of the Bible that was constructed by a Lutheran pastor and Chris Harrison, a doctoral student studying Human Computer Interactions. Together they took a list of over 63,000 cross-references in the Bible and displayed them graphically.

Across the bottom of the chart you see a bunch of vertical gray lines – each of these individual lines represents a chapter of the Bible from Genesis 1 on the left to Revelation 22 on the right. Each arc in the graph represents a unique cross reference. For instance, a passage about ‘God’ in Genesis 1:1 is linked with an orange arc to a passage about ‘God’ in Revelation 22:21. Likewise, a passage about a ‘Dove’ in Mark 1:10 is linked with a blue arc to a passage about a ‘Dove’ in John 2:16. The color of the arc is directly dependent on the “distance” of the cross reference, with short references being blue or violet, and longer references being green or orange – this creates the rainbow effect you see.

To truly appreciate this you need to take a look at this high resolution version.

Now What?
The first time I saw this it just really struck me. There’s something incredibly complex, yet strangely simple about this graph.

Look at the symmetry. I think it’s amazing how a document that spans some 2000 years maintains the same ideas and themes throughout. There’s consistency and everything is interrelated.

But also look at how you can pick out sections of the Bible you’re familiar with just by glancing at the graph. I can see three sections pop out based on the groupings of arcs – the Gospels & Letters on the right third of the graph, the History books on the left third, and the wisdom literature throughout the middle.

The books of the Prophets are going to fall slightly right of center – the purple arcs that you see branching off to the right from these books are literally the prophecies about the Messiah being fulfilled in the Gospels.

The letter to the Hebrews is traditionally thought to be written towards a Jewish Christian audience because of it’s strong emphasis on ancient traditions and themes. Now you’ll have to look at the hi-res version for this… notice how slightly in from the far right side of the graph an array of green and yellow arcs drop down, seemingly out of nowhere. This is the author of Hebrews explaining the gospel story in a language a Jew would understand – by referencing the ancient texts and speaking directly to those who believe in the God of Moses, Isaac, and Jacob.

And So…
There you go… I don’t know what you’ll pull from this, but this chart continues to amaze me each time I look at it. At the very least hopefully it will be a greater appreciation for the most influential and powerful text of all time.

My thanks to Jon for first sharing this chart with me a few months back. And if this sort of thing piques your curiosity you need to go check out some of the other visualizations Chris Harrison has posted on his website. Fascinating stuff.

why i believe (part 1)

I’ve been pondering the core of where my belief in Christianity comes from recently – not so much what do I believe, but why do i believe it? Below is an excerpt of free writing from my journal on Easter Sunday as I thought about this, with a couple minor edits for clarity sake.

I am a Christian.

And I am a Christian because I believe.

The Bible tells me that whoever believes in Christ as Savior will have eternal life. I believe this.

But why?

The short answer is that I don’t know why I believe. The Bible is full of things that I say I ascribe to and accept… much of which I don’t understand or am even aware of. But yet I do believe.

It’s not a matter of questioning what I believe. I guess in my heart I sense I know truth. That somehow I have found the right way, but I’m not sure how I came to this comprehension. Certainly my parents, grandparents, friends, teacher, and pastors over 26 years have had a lot to do with it.

Which begs the question, did I make a decision to believe as the result of a logical decision after considering all the options?

I know that I didn’t. I cannot comprehend even a fraction of all the options. Furthermore, the belief I ascribe to says that God called me – I didn’t seek him. Interesting.

But does that make it any less important that I understand why I believe? In order that I might explain my belief to others in a way that makes some semblance of sense, I don’t think so. It’s a fascinating point though… my belief is only possible and only validated because God allowed me to believe. Some are called to believe, but before they know that they have been called to believe I feel I must be able to talk to them about Christianity in a manner that can be comprehended outside of the certainty of faith.

So then, is belief the sum of knowledge of certain things known to be true and the balance of things that must be accepted simply through faith?

Faith is described as the “assurance of things hoped for” and the “conviction of things not seen”… things that we cannot approach physically. Is it possible that the entire crux of all religions – even atheism – require a certain degree of faith in things we cannot prove in a tangible world?

So belief systems boil down to two questions:

  • What are the things we can know which we can prove beyond a doubt, that can be verified and upheld in the physical world?
  • Second, what are the things that must be answered through faith – things out of reach of our finite minds and bodies which must simply be accepted with imperfect understanding?

I feel like if I can get my head around what these elements of Knowledge and elements of Faith are, I will have a better understanding of why I believe… and as a result, a fuller understanding of what I believe.

Someday (hopefully soon) there will be a Part 2 to this post, and where I’ll tackle this question. Until then, do you agree with my conclusion that a belief is founded on two primary elements of Knowledge and Faith? Is it necessary for us to understand why we believe what we believe? Do you understand why you believe what you believe?

we are the beggars (part 2)

I spent my last post outlining the various methods by which the homeless beg for money – intentionally a little tongue-in-cheek, though I acknowledge that the root problem is truly not at all funny. As I was writing, an interesting parallel popped into my mind that has proven extremely difficult to get out in words:

The homeless, in the way they approach us for money, are not all that different from us in the way we approach God for salvation.

I think a lot of times we feel spiritually homeless in this world – like we’re in a place we don’t quite belong but we have to do what we can to get by. We call it home, but it’s not quite home.

Those of us who are Christians are quick to point out that our promise of salvation is “by grace, through faith” – that God is the one who reached down to us and offered a way out. And we’re quite satisfied with that, for a time…

But before too long we get wrapped up in Bible studies, and serving at church, and going on mission trips, and working with the youth group, and making sure we’re listening to the right music, and making sure we’re reading the right books. We pick up a new vocabulary, a new group of friends, a new schedule for our week.

And then we start to judge ourselves based on the actions of our week… Did I pray enough? Did I read enough? Did I say the right things?

The answer is always ‘no’.

Of course you didn’t. You did not pray enough. You did not read enough. You did not say the right things… you certainly didn’t think the right things.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us in this awkward, guilt-ridden state where we spend our days conning ourselves into thinking that we can beg our way back into God’s good graces. And so we musicians strap on a guitar and sing another worship song. We wanderer’s sign up for another mission trip and go halfway around the world for a week. We spiritually-insane run from one ministry to the next, spinning our wheels trying to give a piece of ourselves in a youth-group here, a small group there, a devotional study here.

Most of us simply stand by pitifully, motionless as the days and weeks pass by, unable to move out of the guilt engulfed grip sin has on our lives. As Brennan Manning has said,

“We are the beggars at the foot of God’s door.”

As much as we want to believe we are “saved by grace through faith”, we live as though we can work our way in. But we simply can’t. Grace is grace, and as for all our charades and all our antics, He looks past it all and grasps for the tiniest bit of faith that we still show in our hearts, and then pulls us in.

The last post posed the question, “What do we do when we’re confronted with the homeless?” I’m not at all certain of the answer, still. Yet here I am, as homeless and miserable as anyone, and God’s answer to me has been and always will be complete and absolute grace. And I fail to comprehend that. Most of the time I even fail to accept it. But I’m convinced that where He is ultimately leading me is a place of such desolation and helplessness that eventually I will finally realize that the only remaining constant there has been through my 26 years of missteps, mistrust, and mis-faith has been grace. And when I do finally get it, it is going to radically shift my life.

We are the beggars at the foot of God’s door, and he has welcomed us in.

we are the beggars (part 1)

It was pointed out to me that San Francisco has a lot of homeless people… more than many cities, I presume largely because of the temperate climate year round. As I was wandering around downtown the other night, I couldn’t help but notice the different methods by which the homeless would beg for money. There are five main ones that I’ve noticed over time, as follows…

The Musician: Probably the most common, or well known, way to solicit money is by demonstrating talent as a street musician. It’s unobtrusive in that they don’t need to hassle anyone for cash. It’s just a matter of setting up shop on some well trafficked corner, putting out a guitar case (or saxophone case, or accordion case) and making music for hours on end. Sometimes these guys are quite good – there was this one street musician in San Fran who was working a corner by my hotel playing all sorts of buckets as drums… very tribal, I actually kind of liked it.

The Tour Guide: Steph and I ran across one of these in Atlanta one time. We were there celebrating Valentine’s Day, looking for a place to eat downtown, and this nice friendly guy walks up to us and welcomes us to the fine city of Atlanta. He asks a little bit about us, and then inquires if we are looking for a nice place to eat – we say we are – and he proceeds to give us about 8 different, and well qualified, suggestions. Then about five minutes later he moves in for the hard-sell… “Hey, I helped you find a place to eat… can I get a little cash?” These guys target the tourists and travelers who aren’t well acquainted with the city, and generally have a business sense about them that is less abrasive than other methods.

The Wanderer: The Wanderer’s are the few who live with hope. Their lot in life will be changed as soon as they get enough money to board a bus, or hitch a ride, to insert random city name here . For them they believe it’s a location problem… their troubles will be solved in Chicago, or Memphis, or Phoenix, and naturally they have some long-lost relative who is going to help them get their start in random city , and I’m certain that relative is truly looking forward to seeing them.

The Insane: These guys are crazy, literally. They’re on the move and cover more square blocks in one night than most taxi drivers. These are the guys who have a coffee can permanently affixed to their left hand, and with their right arm they are running up and down the sidewalk at lighting speed shouting, waving, and in general, acting extremely animated in attempts to get your attention. You cannot understand a single word they say. I imagine these guys are generally the drug-seekers… you know, the one’s who promise you that all they need to move on in life is to go down to the McDonald’s and get a hamburger… until you offer to buy them a hamburger and suddenly getting food is the worst idea they have ever heard.

The Pitiful: These ones make your heart break. They’re retired Musicians and Tour Guides. They’re Wanderer’s who got to their destination and realized it wasn’t any different than the city they came from. They’re Insanes who have grown weary. If they’re lucky they have a jacket. Their shoulders are slumped, and they don’t move very fast anymore. The coffee can is long gone – they only stick out a hand in silence, their only indication that they need money from you because they do not, or can not, speak.

San Francisco was interesting in this regard. I definitely saw all types, and you always wonder… ‘Do I give him money, or am I just adding fuel to the problem?’ I don’t know what the answer is, even after living in big cities for 10 years now. I will say one thing though… I never saw so many people actually lying down on the sidewalk to sleep on a bed of newspapers. You had to wonder if some of them are even alive.

So now I ask you, fine readers, what do you do? Do you give them the cash? Do you ignore them and walk on by?

Christians are called to help the poor, which sounds good on paper, but when the situation arises, we’re hurrying on our way to some important place, and we don’t have the time to take them down to the local shelter, or buy them a burger at McDonalds… or even just take a moment to treat them like a real human being and listen to their story.