Saturday, September 30, 2006

Desiring God '06

John Piper's Desiring God conference this year is going on right now. If you want to follow it, go to Challies Dot Com and follow along as Tim Challies live-blogs the conference. Well worth it, as they're discussing the supremacy of Christ in a postmodern age. I'll let you all know when the audio files go up on the Desiring God website, as well, sometime early or mid-way through next week.

- Chris


Reading another blog, which I'll probably recommend shortly (I make a point to pray about and carefully consider all such recommendations before making them), I found a post on the concept of beauty - a young woman noting that we ought to value physical beauty; not above inner beauty, but value it nevertheless. God created beauty, including the beauty of a woman, and being plain is not somehow more holy than being attractive - especially when it is by choice; we ought to honor God with our bodies as well as with our minds.

All of this spurred me to thinking a bit on the concept of beauty, and so I want to talk about that for a moment, starting by quoting part of my response to her blog:

"So often our church culture rejects certain kinds of beauty (it can be argued that much of the history of the twentieth century church was a rejection of high forms of art, for example... which might explain the current downward spiral of much of it) instead of realizing that all beauty is from God and ought to be valued."

This is unfortunately the truth in our church culture right now - though it's neither unavoidable nor irreversible. I don't believe it's coincidence that the twentieth century that saw the most degradation of art - that saw art lose all sense of intrinsic value, that saw us descend from greatness to mediocrity, that saw urinals replace grand sculptures as our definition of good art, that above all saw the idolization of the absurd and the revolting and the rejection of even the conept of beauty. In the twentieth century were born the fruits both of the increasing self-isolation of the Church and the increasing dominance of a secularism so profound it eventually rejected any absolutes in its quest to rid itself of the legacy of Christianity. Modernism's brief flourish in the late 19th and early 20th centuries last only so long as people forgot that reason operated only so long as the world had some intrinsic reality to it. The moment people realized that without God, there are no absolutes, reason died in our culture and was replaced by a kind of mad egocentrism that elevates the self to the highest position as arbiter of beauty. Without a source of absolute understand, everything is beautiful, they thought. What they found is that nothing is.

In reaction, the Church grew more cloistered in upon itself, as if to say, "We left, and you walked further away, so we'll retreat even farther." And down the slippery slope the artistic world went, faster and faster - music sliding into atonality for the sake of atonality; visual art into abstraction for the sake of abstraction; and so forth. Meaninglessness and nihilism became the order of the day. The concept of beauty has been so distorted that it means nothing. And this dreadful process has seeped into every part of culture. The Church, when it finally awoke to the reality that God has called us to be active in culture, seemed (and sometimes still does) at an utter loss at how to engage the people around it, from whom it had grown so distant as to be unrecognizable to most of the public. And so, it is only of late that we finally begin to see a true Christian understanding of beauty, of artistry, of the pursuit of excellence once more awakening. For it was only slumbering - men like Bach and Dostoevsky and Tolkien knew it well. Once again Christians are beginnging to take to the forefront in the arts (or at least striding in that direction).

Is it coincidence that we are beginning to see a reformation in the musical world, a return to tonal systems and an emphasis placed once more on the edification of the listener rather than on the whim of the composer? That in the visual arts, those who seek to portray the world as it is, or to say something meaningful even in their slight abstractions, are once more gaining credence? I do not believe it is. The Church, following the vision cast by men like Chuck Colson in How Now Shall We Live, is at long last equipping the saints to go forth and move the mountains of culture. Movies like The Passion of the Christ and now Facing the Giants show that excellence in Christian film is not only possible but probable, if we pursue it. The same is true in every one of the arts.

Perhaps, and just perhaps, if we continue to stride forward, a revolution may once again take hold of the world's understanding of beauty, and we may once more find ourselves understanding the glory of God's creation, signing every creation of our own soli Deo gloria. And perhaps if we understand this in the arts, we can carry it forward into the rest of our worldview, from the humanities to the sciences.

- Chris

Friday, September 29, 2006

Review: Facing the Giants

Here we go on the first movie review on this blog!

Tonight (opening night, no less), a group of friends and I went to see a feature film called Facing the Giants. Produced, directed, funded, and acted by the members of Sherwood Baptist Church (the only "professionals" on the entire team were the camera crew), the film was distributed by a Christian music company and is now playing in over 400 theaters this weekend alone. That's a nearly unprecedented feat for an independent Christian film (the only comparable showing was that of End of the Spear last year). And to be quite honest, I think that Facing the Giants is probably the better movie of the two.

The movie is in some sense a typical football movie: football team has a bad record, coach is struggling personally both on the field and off, opposition arises both internally and externally; and in the end the team rises above the challenges to succeed against all odds, ultimately winning a state championship, even as the coach overcomes his own personal challenges. What sets this film apart is that the team really doesn't overcome the challenges for itself; nor does the coach deal with his personal difficulties on His own. Throughout, there is a very genuine look at faith and at choosing to praise God no matter what the circumstance. Moreover, the situation seems much more real than in almost any football movie I've seen - despite the fact that the others tend to be based on historical events, and this one is purely speculatory. More on that in the conclusion. The movie opens with the following situation: the team hasn't had a winning season in six years; the coach and his wife are unable to have children; their house smells (it turns out rather humorously to be the fault of a rotting rat); their car is so broken down it hardly runs; and they haven't the money to deal with any one of these problems. By the end of the movie, every one of these problems is resolved, as one would expect from any Hollywood production.

What wouldn't expect from a Hollywood production, though obviously would from a Biblical church, is that each of these victories is achieved only after the people surrender to God, and choose to prepare the fields they're responsible for rain, whenever God chooses to bring it, whatever it looks like - when they say that ultimately they will praise Him no matter what. He then moves mightily in their lives, because it is for His glory. Sound preachy? I was expecting it to be (this is a church presentation, after all!). I was pleasantly surprised to find that it never really came across that way, but rather as very genuine faith by very genuine people dealing with genuine struggles. It was a pleasant change from the outright irreverence with which Hollywood treats active, heartfelt, lived out, Biblical Christianity. I won't spoil the ending any more than I already have, but suffice it to say that there was a satisfactory ending to every line - and on more than just a visceral level; it honestly communicated well to my heart and spirit, not just my emotions.

There was no objectionable content in the least - no swearing, and no sexuality. The only moment I can think of in the film that anyone might find objectionable in the least was a shot of a flying cheerleader, and that was so modest compared to Hollywood that I probably only noticed it because everything else was so chaste. There was also one other extremely veiled reference to pornography - but in the context of noting that as people living for God, the team ought to be living for Him everywhere, including on what they did on the Internet while at home alone. In short, this film was thoroughly wholesome.

I feel here at the end I owe some explanation of how the film came to be. Sherwood Baptist Church's elders had been praying for some time about how to really reach out and touch culture, and had a certain vision for doing things in an unorthodox way with the church - their church is very solid Biblically; don't mistake me: they simply wanted to do outreach in a new way. Alex and Stephen Kendrick, associate pastors, had grown up doing film projects, and had a vision for making movies that would reach culture, after seeing a Barna study noting that, more than any other single medium or method, movies reach out and touch culture. With their senior pastor's accompanying vision for reaching - and changing - the world from Albany, Georgia, the church set out to make movies. Facing the Giants was made on what amounts to a shoestring budget of $90,000. The money was entirely raised by church members and private contributions. For filming, the church had a single camera; for acting they had the members of the church and a few outsiders; for feeding the cast and crew they had only the members of the church. The only professionals working on the film, the camera crew, were top-of-the-line, coming from having shot last year's successful and moving Friday Night Lights, and that quality makes a big difference in the production.

For distribution - often one of the most difficult (sometimes insurmountable) tasks for independent films) - the church was at a loss, until God stepped in. As in the movie itself, real life demonstrated the sovereignty of God in bringing together impossibilities to glorify His name. The church contacted Beach Street Records, the label responsible for Casting Crowns, Third Day, and several other well-known Christian bands, looking for permission to use music by the aforementioned bands in the course of the movie. BSR responded by asking to see the film in order to see if it fit with their vision - that is, their vision not only of publishing good Christian musicians, but also of distributing quality Christian films to general theaters across the county. That's not trivial, and hardly something attributable to circumstance. No, that is a direct consequence of the heart of prayer in the entire church during the production of the film.

What comes through strongest in the film is that the people who made it had a commitment both to honoring God completely - to be utterly true to His word and to good Biblical theology - and to excellence of artistry. Does the movie have its off moments? Yes. The acting is occasionally over the top. But then, to balance it out, the characters often have a genuineness about them that is alien from most Hollywood productions these days. I can't recall the last time a movie had me on the verge of tears so many times. Perhaps some of that is because I can so readily identify with the struggles of a football team, having been there and done that, but I was far from the only person so moved in the theater. There is a sense of truth to the struggles of these characters, a sense that, yes, people really do talk like this - no eloquent speeches when things fall apart, just that lost, angry questioning of God. Their faith is real; their struggles are real; their personalities ring true - and yes, their silly humor is exactly the way people really act. And that's not something I can say of many movies recently. I suspect that's the case for several reasons, not least that these are real people, not actors; and that they have such a passion and heart to please God in what they are doing. The issues they face are the issues faced by common people in America; the language is normal and natural because this is the language spoken by these people. Above all, the movie rang true because, in some sense, it is. The characters may be imagined, but as Tolkien noted, fiction can ultimately be True even in ways that reality may not, if it is in fact reflecting the ultimate truth of God's lordship and love for His children.

In the final analysis, Sherwood Baptist Church lived by what it was teaching: trust God with the results, and no matter what they end up looking like, praise Him. Like the team at the heart of its story, Facing the Giants seems with this to have found the ultimate winning strategy. But more importantly by far, they're doing it with the right heart. My recommendation: go see it, and more than once.

- Chris

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Clarification needed?

I think perhaps I overstated my case in last night's post. I've had noted to me several times now that most people have heard only the view I presented as correct. I'm - obviously! - very glad to hear that. I'm not sure what it is that has made me be in the position to hear that verse misinterpreted so many times, but clearly that's not the norm. Indeed, it was a fallacious assumption on my part to think that the Scripture would be so widely misunderstood - and presumptious to think that I'd be the only to notice. For that, I apologize - Scripture is generally well-taught, and God is more than capable of protecting His word. To borrow a colloquialism: "my bad." It's not that what I said was invalid in any sense, but rather that my attitude was not what it ought to be.

In retrospect, that's hardly a surprise. Last night was not a good night, and I don't even really know why, other than simply a combination of fatigue - I have a lot of that at the moment - and a good deal of spiritual attack against my emotions and control over my reactions. Recognizing it as such helps a good deal. And as always, I'm remembering to keep my attention on Him, because even in the midst of all of this, knowing Him is the definition of peace.

God bless, and peace be with all of you.

- Chris

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Greater love has no man..."

This point has been bothering me for a while... most people probably haven't even put a lot of thought into this, but for months it's been nagging at me. I finally decided to post on it tonight after hearing someone actually use the quote right (at long last!).

John 15:13 is probably one of the most misunderstood (or at least, misunderstood when quoted) passages I can think of in the entire New Testament, if not the entire Bible. Jesus was speaking to His disciples and said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." We often say this - in a very well-meaning way, of course - as referring to how Christ laid down His life for us, seeing us as friends, and thus being the greatest of all men. Certainly, He was the greatest of all men. But this verse is saying something more, something that's honestly a lot deeper and richer than the meaning we usually assign it.

There's a reason that exegetical reading of the text is considered so important a part of Christian doctrine (exegesis being the process of basically reading the text and letting it interpret itself, rather than reading a specific, desired interpretation into the text). There's also a reason that the best teachers of Scripture always rely on the context - and the reason is simple: the context in which something is said makes all the difference. For a concrete example, before I return to my primary discussion: the Bible very clearly and openly states, "There is no God." Rather stunning moment, eh? Well, only if you take it out of context - it actually reads, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 14:1). Context is essential. Likewise, in this passage in the New Testament, the context of what Jesus was teaching is critical to our understanding the passage as He actually taught it.

Jesus was speaking here of how the disciples ought to behave toward each other and toward Him. Starting in verse 12 of John chapter 15, Jesus begins a short sermon (in the context of His final, lengthy sermon to His disciples before His crucifixion) on their relationships with each other. He begins by saying in verse 14, "This is My commandment, that you lov eone another, just as I have loved you." Moving from there into 13, He continues that thought by saying that the greatest love they can demonstrate toward each other is by laying down their lives as servants for each other (and physically, if necessary). Furthermore, they are His friends when they do the things He commands (15:14) - that is, when they lay down their lives for Him. He then immediately notes that they are no longer slaves but friends. The passage, contrary to how it is often quoted, is a discussion of how we ought to behave toward each other. It is not a description of what Christ did for us.

In fact, the description of what Christ did for us would sound quite different from this - if we were to accurately use this passage in a discussion of what Jesus accomplished, it would be in contrast to His atoning death on the cross. No man loves - in his own strength - anyone other than his friends, and it takes an exceptional man to just put aside his own wants for his friends on a regular basis, much less to physically die for them. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, didn't come for those who were already righteous, but died quite intentionally for his enemies. The concept of someone who dies only for his friends at best stands in stark contrast with the God-man who surrendered His life for those who persecuted and hated Him - for those of (namely you and me) who by our willful rejection of God required an atoning sacrifice.

That's love. And it's not how that passage gets used.

Grace and peace be with all of you!

- Chris

An update!

At long long last I've managed to actually update my philosophy and theology blog, eternity calling! It's another 1800+ word essay, this time on utilitarianism. Look for more regular updates henceforth.

- Chris

Tests, Excellence, and Worship

So I've had two tests already this week and I've another headed my way on Friday. The first one I was woefully unprepared for, thanks to a combination of my injured arm causing me to fall behind in other classes and thus devote more time to them; and the second I was largely prepared for but was unable to remember a few equations. I'm not much looking forward to the next one, which is in my currently least liked class... Physical Math II. There's been a great deal of frustration in the midst of it, but such is life.

And it's dramatically reminded me of the need to commit ourselves to excellence in everything, including our studies. It's so easy, as I noted a few days ago, for our priorities to get off, and to lose sight of what we ought to be doing and when. Sometimes, much as we might rather be doing some "ministry," we're far better off disciplining ourselves to do the things we need to do. Responsibility is an essential part of life, and when we abdicate our responsibilities we are actually being in active disobedience to our Lord. It's all too easy a thing to find ourselves so caught up on our ministries that we forget that we establish a testimony in the quality of our work just as much (if not sometimes more) than we do by being around people. Having a reputation for reliability and integrity is an essential part of who we are as believers, and something that truly sets us apart in a world where the highest priority is often the advancement of one's own pleasure - at the cost of all else.

At the most basic level, I find myself reminded that the pursuit of excellence ought to be ever our goal. If we are really doing all things as unto the Lord, before whom we're ultimately accountable, then our standard ought to be the most excellent presentation we can achieve. The requirement for our life in the here and now is not perfection - that is unattainable, though we certainly are being perfected - but rather that we give our all, submitted to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and dedicated to the vision of seeing God glorified. I think we talk about this concept the most in the concept of music or art, and how that relates to worship, but we too-often fail to carry that mentality over into the rest of our lives. We forget that worship is an entire paradigm - not something we do in church on Sundays or at our campus ministry. It is something to which we commit ourselves wholly and completely, with both mind and heart, seeking to really bring glory to God in everything we say, ine verything we do, even in the things we think.

Including tests. Including classes we can't stand. Including contemplating our future and our past. Including every part of our lives. Excellence for the sake of worship.

- Chris

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


As promised, I'm recommending certain good sites as I stumble upon them:

R. Albert Mohler's blog - he's one of the best and most consistently Biblical writers and thinkers I've found, and has some profound (and often convicting) things to say about Christians in culture. He's also an excellent source of information on things like religious freedom (which is dying faster than people realize, especially in Europe).

A sample of his writing: “Our lack of concern for the integrity of marriage, and our own accommodation to the new ideals of personal autonomy and self-fulfillment is observed by the world beyond the church. The recovery of a marriage culture in secular America is a long shot. Given the long-term trends and the lack of a public consensus, nothing dramatic is likely to happen... The real question is whether the church will recover a marriage culture in our own sphere. This will require a recovery of resolve and conviction, and the re-assertion of a biblical concept of the church as the body of Christ, with individual members living in fellowship, discipline, and mutual accountability under the authority of God’s Word. This means that, for Christian couples, our marriages are not our own private affairs, but crucial arenas for living out faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Just imagine how Christian credibility would be demonstrated when, against the trend of marriage decline in the secular culture, researchers would report that one group stands as an obvious exception—the followers of Jesus Christ.”

Well said.

- Chris


Side note: I certainly don't plan on every post on here being the nearly 2000-word behemoth that the last one was.

How do we engage the people around us who are thoroughly against Christ? How do we deal with the committed atheist? How do we have the boldness to risk confrontation, and then once we are confronting those around us with the Gospel, how do we make sure we're communicating in love?

It's the same answer as always: Be filled with the Spirit. As well, we're commanded to "Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly, with all wisdom... and whatever [we] do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:16-17). So (1) hide the Scripture in our hearts (Ps. 119:11), and (2) keep our hearts and minds focused on Christ, so that we're acting in His will.

Why this particular topic? There's a group of guys I'm interacting more and more with, several of whom are pretty committed atheists. One of them has specifically voiced that he doesn't mind Christianity - the typical, "Hey, if it works for you, that's cool, man," line - but that he certainly doesn't think it's for everyone... and the punch line was his friend saying, "Oh, I'd love to see you two argue that one." Well, honestly, I'm not interested in arguing, at this point. Should he want to discuss the intellectual merits for Christianity, I'm definitely on board with that - even a good heated discussion; those can be very fruitful. But Christianity is about more than its intellectual merits. In witnessing to these guys, my primary witness needs to be to their hearts. I have a responsibility to witness to their minds, but to paraphrase Pascal, the mind can be as sure as it wants but faith is still an act of the heart.

I'm grateful to God for giving me conviction that I need to be intentional with these guys, and for supplying the wisdom I need to go about it. Question for you all: who are you being intentional about? That is, who are you specifically praying for on a regular basis, who are you building relationship with, who are you sharing your love of God with? If the answer is, "No one," then you - like me up until the last year or so, and to a certain extent even up until this school year - are completely missing the point of our Christian walk. It's not about us, it's about Christ glorified and as many people brought to saving faith in Him as possible with the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Anything else is selfish.

Grace and peace to you, and may the Spirit guide you as you go throughout your day!

- Chris

Monday, September 25, 2006

Some random musings

Well, I'm going to try to get back to posting at least once a day - though you'll have to forgive me if my posts are still a bit shorter than you're used to here at first, as my arm still hurts and my wrist is still in a brace... so typing is a bit harder.

There are a few things that have stood out to me in the last week or so, and I think I'll just try to touch on a few of them in brief rather than elaborating at length on any of them.

The first thing is actually something I only resolved today. I've had a growing sense of unsettledness over the last several days, and simultaneously been experiencing a certain degree of conviction about a particular behavior of mine. It wasn't a bad thing, but rather something somewhat unwise, and the more I prayed about it the more the Spirit just convicted me that I wasn't really honoring Him by continuing to act in that way. It wasn't sinful in and of itself, but it would become so if I ignored His counsel and continued on as I was - because inevitably it would cause difficulties down the line; He wanted to prevent that, and my ignoring Him would have amounted to outright disobedience. The moment I followed through on what I knew I needed to do, it was as though a load had been lifted from me. It's so refreshing to be increasingly attentive to His voice, and sensitive to the little (but oh so important!) leadings that He gives us. The more we're in His presence, the more we're aware of His word, the easier it is for us to sense His will for us. It's a huge blessing.

On to the next point: There was a moment midway through last week when, at one particular place on the North Oval of campus here, another spiritual point simply leapt out at me. It was so striking that it literally pulled me to a stop, and I had to pause and process for a moment what it was that so jarred me as to stop my train of thought and thoroughly hijack it. Right as I crossed the street again, walking toward the Union, I heard a snatch of a conversation someone was having on her cell phone - I have no idea who she was, or what the conversation was about; all I recall was that there was such intensity over a subject so banal and momentary that it literally stopped me where I was. It took me a few seconds to realize what bothered me so much about it. Finally, it clicked as I glanced around at everyone around me, let my attention simultaneously catch for a moment on the vine-draped walls and the straps of my backpack digging into my shoulder.

This existence is so temporal, so momentary, such a passing thing. Almost everything we do is of little value to eternity; it has almost no bearing on the parts of our existence that really matter. And yet we pour so much effort into it. Don't get me wrong - it's important that we do our earthly tasks with our whole hearts, "as unto the Lord," and "without grumbling or disputing," but we all too often get so caught up in the momentary distractions of this life that we lose sight of our ultimate purpose. Yes, our daily affairs are important - certainly, we ought to consider them so: Almighty God does, and who are we to disagree with Him? - but when we lose our vision of the eternal, when we let slip from our grasp our understanding not only of where we are but where we are going, we risk losing also our ability to prioritize properly, to realize where our attention ought to lie, to seize opportunities that arise and let pass by those we ought not to take. If studying for an exam or helping a friend with a problem or singing a song in church is the best way you can serve God at this moment, then go do it. If it's not, then stop doing it and do what will glorify Him and make His purpose and glory known. It's a brutal challenge, but then again we have abiding in us the very same Spirit - and the same power - that raised Christ Jesus from the dead. So we're able.

On that note, I had a similar moment when going to Catlett Music Center earlier in the same week. Striding purposefully on the sidewalk, caught up in conversation with the Lord, pouring out my heart to Him and seeking His vision and wisdom for the day ahead, I had one of those stunning moments where the curtain falls away just a little and you glimpse His heart better than you ever have. The Spirit reminded me of something John Kelsey has shared with those of us at the BSU repeatedly. If - and this is a generous estimate by any consideration - there are a total of 5000 students at OU involved in Christian organizations of any sort, from a Bible study to a campus ministry to a church, that's still only 1/6 of the student population at the school. In reality, the number is probably closer to 3000 at best. And of those, how many are simply "cheerleaders" so to speak - people getting fed, but not actively participating; people enjoying fellowship but not choosing to be challenged to grow; people seeing the fruits of others' labors but refusing to go and actively evangelize the people around them? The answer is a lot. I know I've been guilty of every one of those sins, especially the last, since I've been here, and I'm grateful to God for how He's worked changes in each of those areas in me in the last year. But that last in particular, He has increased my heart for, as He did that day. Because if 1/6 of the people on this campus are saved... then there are 25000 people right here around me every day that are currently on the road that leads directly to hell.

Thinking about that breaks my heart now just as it did then. And you know what breaks my heart even more? OU is probably one of the most churched and Christian (and I use those distinctly for a reason) public universities in the entire United States. And most of the people here have never heard the gosple preached. Most of them won't, either, unless we get up and go tell them. "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of thsoe who bring good news of good things!'" We been sent, and we have good news. That's Romans 10, by the way, one of the most challenging chapters you can read when it comes to developing a heart from those around you. Are we willing to take up the challenge and go, to take up our cross daily - that means real persecution, not a week full of tests, by the way - for the sake of seeing people come to Jesus Christ? The way is hard, the road laden with difficulty. But Jesus promised us we'd have trials... the servant, after all, is not greater than the master. I'm following Him.

The final thing I've noted is just how essential it is to be in God's presence continually. It's been a recurring theme in my own times of quiet contemplation, in Ronnie's sermons, even in my times of discipleship - both in being discipled myself and in discipling others. I've been blessed to be catching a sense of what that really means. I think Ronnie probably put it best on Sunday, though, describing exactly what I've been learning to be doing: "It means thinking in a God-centered way. If it's an 'attitude of prayer,' then it's one that includes a lot of praying. That means going through your day and thinking, Oh, this happened, thank you, God! and God, this is hard, I need your wisdom, and God what are you saying about this situation in this person's life, and when a person asks for prayer for something, to pray right then. If you wait you'll forget." (I paraphrased slightly, but not much.) That's exactly what the Spirit has been teaching me in the last week. J. Oswald Sanders, in Spiritual Leadership, notes that one of the traits that sets apart the spiritual leader from someone who remains ineffective for the kingdom is this: that the spiritual leader, instead of daydreaming, prays.

What does that mean? I've seen it come out in a couple ways. First, exactly what it says: pray for the people around you, for wisdom in your own circumstances, for God's will to be done in situations you see arise, for the guy who cuts you off while driving down the road, for the girl you see walking down campus. Just pray - it's really not that complicated. Talk to God. The other point which is extremely important is this: memorize Scripture, and keep it with you so you can review it and turn it over in your mind as you go throughout your day. It becomes your sword for spiritual warfare (see Ephesians 6:17), and it teaches you how to meditate on who God is, as well as becoming a tool for the Spirit - for conviction, for wisdom, for encouragement (all of those both for you and for those around you), for the power of salvation in the lives of the unsaved.

How radically different do our lives begin to look when we take every waking moment and submit it to the leading of the Spirit, when we really do "take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ Jesus" (2 Cor. 10:5)? Honestly, I can't say, because I'm not there yet - but I can say that what I've seen as I've practiced it just in the last few weeks has changed my life, changed my perspective on almost every situation I've encountered. It's hard to be truly frustrated or angered when you are consciously choosing to bring your mind back to what God is saying in each circumstance. As I noted a few days ago, peace really just means that your attention is off of the circumstance and on God instead. And one hears the Spirit so much more clearly, has insights that were never available before, is so much more aware of the underlying spiritual realities of each situation, sees opportunities for ministry, receives both conviction and encouragement unlike before - it's a thoroughly exhilirating experience, and not in an emotional sense (quite the opposite - it's draining to adjust to). To be centered on God, to live a Christ-centered life, is a reward beyond words, though, beyond my ability to convey with the best symphony I could write. Dare to pursue Him completely and see what happens.

So much for a shorter post. God's blessings on all of you - "Peace be to the bretheren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all thsoe who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love." (Eph. 6:23-24)

- Chris

Saturday, September 23, 2006

I'm back again

Well, it's that time again, everyone - time for an update from Chris!

First, some news on my wrist. Thank you for all of your prayers. I saw an orthopedic specialist yesterday, and found out that, contrary to what my primary care doctor here had surmised, my arm is not broken. Could have fooled me - the orthopedist noted that I easily had enough pain for a fracture, but the x-ray indicated no such thing. Apparently I once again managed to almost break the bone but instead only bruised it and damaged all the tissues and ligaments around it. It still hurts, especially when I'm typing - and that with it in a wrist brace - so your continued prayers for my strength and endurance would be greatly appreciated. Regardless, praise God that it's not broken.

Otherwise, things have been all right around here. I've struggled somewhat with a couple of my classes because of the arm - having to dictate Fourier Transform problems (nasty math) to try to solve them through a friend writing them down just doesn't come out well - but I'm already back on track, and being able to write should help immensely. Things have mellowed in the social sense a bit, but I'm going every night, since I have an evening church service on Sundays - which I go to mainly because that is my family around here, as well as the consistently excellent teaching and worship - my BSU ministry team meeting on Monday nights, a Bible study on Tuesdays, am co-leading a Bible study myself on Wednesday nights, and then BSU itself on Thursdays! God contines to lead me with all of those things and give me the strength and wisdom that I need to carry on.

He's been working a lot in me regarding continued greater humility. As He continues to show me why He's given me the amazing giftedness He has, He also continues to show me how frail I am, how prone to sin and error, and how great He is, how great the purpose He desires to work is. We are so small in comparison to Him, so tiny and helpless. That He chooses to work through us - through me! - is still a source of amazement to me. He's also brought conviction about not having a grumbling heart or a spirit that is ready to complain - ironically (but perhaps unsurprisingly) through the Bible study I prepared and led on Wednesday night. I love how faithful He is to do that. In other areas, He's continued to set me free from my emotions, allowing me to react in Him and in the fullness of confidence in the Spirit rather than the weakness of my own flesh. I can see both how far I've come in the last many months - even since getting here - and how very far I still have to go. He's also been reminding me that we ought to be in fellowship with Him always, not just when it's convenient, not just in our quiet times, but all the time. I'm just starting to have the faintest idea of what it really means to "pray without ceasing," and to keep my focus on Him all the time every day. And it's suddenly glaring at me how much I don't. But it's wonderful to see Him working, and oh the joy of drawing closer to Him, of being continually in the presence of our Friend! It's a joy beyond comparison.

I continue to seek the Spirit's wisdom regarding what to do and when with my very busy schedule, with the many things I long to do, from writing to composing to physics. He will guide me, and is. More and more I want to exercise all the gifts He's given me... and there are opportunities. They are small things. But isn't that how He always works? He trusts us with these little things so that we can learn how to be responsible enough for Him to let us do the big things. And I just learned something as I wrote that... I love the Spirit so much! :D I am continuing as well to learn patience, in those areas and in every other.

All in all, despite the great difficulties and trials through which I have been going and which I continue to go through, I can't help but say that God is good, and that life is a joy. More and more I find that the harder things get, the more I find strength in Him, the more I find myself delighting in Him. I almost look forward to another cranking up of the difficulty level, because it's just a greater opportunity for Him to be glorified in my weakness. The more things go downhill, the more I'm sure of who He is, and though my emotions flare, I continue to have His peace. Do you know what His peace is? Really, it's pretty simple. It's just knowing Him. The more we know Him, the greater our peace, because He is a solid rock - the solid rock - and He never changes, never moves, never shifts in the least. He is God! He is almighty, and He loves us! I find myself unable to express what is in my heart, but simply to say that He is great. Greater than all. Greatest, in every way. Unmoveable, mighty to save, and true. I wish I could communicate it, but I can't. He is God.

I pray His peace and His grace be with you, that you might have strength to carry on.

In Him,

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Two Rules of Life

There are two very important rules to remember in life, as I've been strikingly reminded in the last 6 hours, and they're essential to remember 100% of the time.

  1. Never assume. Ever.
  2. God always fulfills His promises. Always. Maybe not in the time we think He ought to, or even the way we think He ought to. But He does fulfill them
Grace and peace to you all!

- Chris

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Temporary - and unavoidable - hiatus

I managed to fracture my wrist in that bike accident on Saturday, and thus am now immobilized from the elbow down. Given that, updating this is going to be out of the question for some (thus far unknown) amount of time. My apologies. I will update as soon as I can. God bless, and peace to all of you.

- Chris

Change and Fear

Oddly enough, this particular blog has been inspired by seeing the reactions of people to the updates that have just occurred on Facebook. Changes to the interface, changes to the modes of interaction - changes. The changes have some good in them, and some bad. The formatting has its ups and its downs, and the inability to simply deactivate the new features can be annoying. And the reaction has not been terribly positive overall. It's been extremely negative, thoroughly contrarian, and utterly reactionary in nature. I don't necessarily disagree with some of the complaints, but the overall reaction has been interesting to watch. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, there are some significant points to note by observing a mass reaction of literally hundreds of thousands of people. (The number of people in the primary group opposing the new changes has climbed by 5000 - yes, you read that right - in the time I've been writing this blog so far).

What is there to learn from this? People fear change. I've observed the same reaction to every single change that the facebook team has made, though never quite on this scale. Every time a new component to the sstem ha been implemented, people have reacted in much the same way: the new thing sucks, make it go back to how it was, or at least let us opt out of it. I can understand where people who react this way are coming from. But at a fundamental level, the question is not about facebook anymore. The question is about the reality of human nature. We hate being forced to adapt, to change, to deal with a new way of doing things. And facebook just happens to be showcasing that.

As people made in the image of God, we have an idea that there ought to be some kind of consistency and order about the world - that it ought not be so mutable and so quickly (and easily) altered before our eyes. We have a sense that there ought to be something stable and secure. But in a fallen world, there is no such thing. Heaven will be stable and secure. But this earth has not been and will not be. This is a good thing for us, because it makes very clear to us that the only truly solid thing in our existences is God Himself - that no other foundation will ever rest truly secure, because in the end, every other thing shifts, changes, crumbles away into dust.


I'll edit this when I can type. My wrist is getting worse, to the point where I can't type at all without significant pain. I love you all, and God bless!

- Chris

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Review: The Insider

Today's post will simply be a review of The Insider. In general in the future, I think I'll try to do both a regular post, but this time it's not going to happen.

I've just (finally!) finished reading through The Insider, by Jim Petersen and Mike Shamy. The subtitle is "Bringing the Kingdom of God into your everday world." The title is, as you will see, fitting. The book is entirely focused on the role of Christianity in our lives, working outwards through very intentional relational evangelism. (For contrast, most books available talk about relational evangelism as a much less "aggressive" and active form of evangelism than Petersen and Shamy do.) The book is published by Navpress, and the influence of the Navigators' particular brand of evangelistic theology is clear - and welcome. The authors begin by laying out a general background for why they felt the book necessary, then move into 4 sections on what being an "insider" means. The first section casts a vision for the theology and theory behind the idea of an "insider;" the second on obstacles to being fruitful in our ministry; the third on the life patterns that define a fruitful insider, and the fourth on the actual life of an insider. These sections move from the theoretical to the very practical in a logical and methodical progression that never flags or loses the reader's interest. It may in fact be difficult to use the book as a study tool, as it can simply be an addicting read, bringing up an overwhelming urge to just keep reading. The sections themselves are divided into chapters, though the number of chapters per section varies from 7 at the high end to 2 at the low end.

The style is conversational and informal, in essence as if the authors were presenting the ideas to a small audience in something like a relaxed classroom presentation breaking off from a larger conference setting. Their tone is always clear and concise, and there were no difficulties in understanding what they were saying, even in the more theoretical sections early on in the text (which, it should be noted, the authors make a point to indicate can be skipped if one wishes to sipmly get at the practical end of things; I recommend anyone reading the book reads those sections, because they're excellent). Anecdotal evidence is provided liberally throughout, with harder statistical data appearing rarely but to good effect. The authors rely heavily on their own experiences working as "insiders" and use both their successes and mistakes to illustrate the points they are making throughout the course of the text. Their passion for the subject comes through clearly in an excellent - and never didactic - authorial voice.

I'll begin by noting that in terms of demerits, I can find none for the book, either textually or spiritually, in terms of their presentation. After careful consideration of the points of the text on a spiritual level, I can find no conflict with Scripture - quite the opposite, in fact. The text is also always clear: when it changes from author to author, this is identified easily in text; when a new topic is being addressed, it is always explained very clearly.

The basic premise of The Insider is that for the majority of people everywhere in the world, evangelism and discipleship occur at a personal level with the people in our lives - the people in whose lives we can be insiders, by being already a part of them. They make a point to note that they are not in any way dismissing the work of itinerant evangelists, but rather noting that most people do not have the call of the itinerant, but do have the call of God to evangelize (it is, after all, a universal command to all Christians). This leaves us asking, "How?" The book attempts to answer that question by pointing out that by simply being intentional in the lives of the people we already know, the people we see everyday but rarely speak to - from our coworkers to our neighbors - we can just be someone on the inside of their life. The itinerant evangelist comes from outside, bringing a message - a wonderful message, to be sure - but a message that is inherently going to be mistrusted because it comes at the hands of a stranger. When the same message comes in the form of actively lived Christianity and relationships built on no-strings-attached friendships where trust has been established, it has a far better chance of not only being received but also taking root and growing deeply - so much so that it will be multiplying, rather than stagnating (as so many Christians are at this point). With this argument comes a great deal of extremely well-thought-out argument for the idea at an abstract level, proof of the idea in the real world, objective realization of the difficulties of it - and how we overcome those, and life patterns that define a successful insider. The lattermost section is brilliantly profound while remaining remarkably simple and in many ways easy, at least at a conceptual level. The concluding section has stuck with me as one of the most powerfully challenging visions I have ever seen cast for the Christian life and the body of Christ as a whole in the coming century.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book, and without reservation: if you have any interest in seeing the kingdom of God furthered in those around you, pray about reading this book. It's hardly Scripture, but these men are dead on in the approach we ought to be using to get to the people around us and impact their lives, bring them to Christ so they might be saved, and then watching them carry on the work as well.

- Chris

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Childlike Faith

Sundays are my day off, at this point. And this was Monday's post, but I didn't get it posted till early today, and forgot to repost here. On to the real post:

I had a conversation with my roommate last night which really opened my eyes to some points in my own life spiritually where I've lost the kind of awe and wonder that someone exploring the faith anew has. It's so easy as long-standing Christian believers to take so many things for granted. We all-too-often let the flame of our first love fade... and sometimes we have to be reminded to rekindle the fire.

He and I have been working through the issue of prayer, and how it's effective and really does "avail much." Several different points have come up about it - from the simple act of saying grace to my praying for peace and the removal of all fear as we were trying to go to sleep after having a conversation about demonic activity in places he's been. And in every case, he's been seeing the immediate reality of it - seeing his prayers answered in the moment. It's really amazing to watch and see God honoring his growing faith, and to see just how real all of this is in his heart and his life. We pray for freedom from fear, and fear is gone. We pray for overcoming temptation, and the temptation is overcome. It's huge.

There's also some conviction in there to my heart, though. It's so easy to become used to prayer in our daily lives. It's so easy to just take God's reality for granted. It's easy to forget that "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." The latter count God has already done for us through His substitutionary atonement, and the former is dependent on our faith and on the power of the Holy Spirit. When we ask, and ask in true faith (not doubting or asking double-mindedly), God moves mountains for us. Do we dare to have that kind of faith? Do we dare to be childlike, and simply believe that when we ask, God will do it?

Do I?

- Chris

Saturday, September 2, 2006

The Crucible of Suffering

I was struck again today by how apt a metaphor for our lives riding a bicycle is and remains. I've had long discussions with my close friend Emily about this in the last several weeks, and as I went on a ride this morning, was struck again by just how powerful an analogy it is, and in an altogether new way. I had seen the powerful parallels in the area of trust - the more you trust the machine, the less likely you are to fall; and the more trust you put in it, the more difficult the falls. What the Spirit showed me today was no less valuable, though a bit different.

I met Steph and Amber at 7:30 am, and we took off riding. We were taking our time, enjoying the feel of Norman - a little foggy, pretty cool (especially for early September), thoroughly gray everywhere. It was, in short beautiful. I have a new bicycle this year, and I was enjoying using it immensely: the gearing is far better, the brakes actually work the way they're supposed to; in short, it was fantastic to be on the new bike, because it's sleeker, lighter, has more power, and is just generally better-made. There are, however, risks that accompany these benefits. These didn't become clear until well along into our ride.

We had covered a few miles of road and were swinging around a corner onto a new street. Because of the fog, and last night's rain, the ground was wet everywhere, and not drying. Puddles of standing water remained near the curb on every street. None of this was proving too much of an issue, as the tires on my bike grip the ground fairly well even when wet, and as long as I avoided the puddles, there was little to no difficulty. Or at least, so it seemed. As I came around the corner, maintaining a fairly steady pace, I leaned into the turn. On this particular corner, there was a little gravel, but I thought nothing of it at first. I was used to riding a mountain bike, with thick, knobby tires of the sort that basically ignore gravel unless it's a pretty solid coating across the ground. However, I was not riding that old bike - and all the advantages of the new bike had the unforeseen consequence of increasing the risk in this situation. With thinner tires, generally better handling, and a lighter frame, the bike works much better - but it also made it far easier for it to slide on the gravel. My back tire slipped, and down I went. Hard. Very hard, actually; I took off a solid nickel-sized chunk of skin from my right palm, two or perhaps three layers of skin down. I probaby bruised the muscle in my right wrist as well. After I picked myself back up, we walked to a nearby gas station where I cleaned myself up. And then we rode back to the dorms. The pain wasn't decreasing in the least - quite the opposite, in fact.

What, you're probably asking, does this have to do with a spiritual analogy regarding our lives? It's a pretty simple relationship, actually. Just as increasing the power and quality of the bike made my overall riding much better, so ramping up the quality of our walk with God - pursuing Him more deeply and letting Him work more deeply in our hearts to renew us and make better tools out of us - causes our daily existence to simply function better. As we draw nearer to Him and are more actively in His will, we find that we have a greater measure of peace, are less insecure (for even when the situation is confusing, we are assured that He really is in control), and are able to function as servants to those around us. At the same time, by pursuing Him more actively and in having a machine, so to speak, that can move more agilely and quickly, we also increase our risk threshold significantly. Not only does God allow greater tests to continue to prove our faith (testing our responsibility - to whom much has been given, much will be required; and testing our courage - when troubles come, do we shirk back to our old ways or continue to walk in the strength He's given us in the renewing of our minds?), but also the demonic realm intensifies its attack against us. The greater a threat we are - the better our spiritual bicycle works, if you will - the more dangerous the situations our enemy throws at us. There's a reason we're encouraged by Paul to "take up the full armor of God" - because it's absolutely a necessity. In short, we take on a great deal of risk, as well as the blessings of the greater giftings, as our walk with Christ grows deeper. The stronger our walk, the harder the falls - but the more rewarding the recovery from them, and the journey itself.

There's also a lesson to be learned from the wounding itself. I fell, and fell hard. That did not, however, stop me from getting up and walking on - and, once I had cleaned out the wounds, riding again to get back to the dorms. In the same way, we do fall and fail at times in our walk with God: we hit wet patches of gravel and go sliding out of control, stumbling into sin and crashing into doubt or disbelief. That does not condemn us, however, in His loving eyes. He picks us up again, sets us on our feet, helps clean out the wounds, and rights our spiritual walks - so long as we let Him. And as we begin riding again, He reminds us that, though we have fallen, we are no longer intrinsically fallen. Though we stumble, we no longer walk in darkness, but are lifted by His infinite grace into light, and though we fall into sin, we are raised into His righteousness. He's the one who makes the machine run, and when we take wounds as we pursue Him, He fixes us, as well.

So next time you fall, get up and keep riding, and remember that the risks of a better bike are born out by the greater fulfillment. And the next time you stumble spiritually, get up and keep walking, and realize again that the cost of following Christ is more than cancelled out by the excellence of the way He has prepared for us.

- Chris

Friday, September 1, 2006

Tested and Tried

I'm sitting here, emotions running high - perhaps low is the better word - because yet again, my situation has taken a turn for the seeming worse. It should hardly be a surprise. In the last six to eight weeks, God has accomplished more in my life than in any comparable time I can recall in all my life. That (1) He should allow tests to challenge and reinforce that growth and (2) the enemy would want to bring destruction in contrast are neither of them surprising.

The situation is different than it was before in many ways - here it's a question of provision, not of dealing with hurt from friends. How will this need be met? Certainly it's not a need I'm anywhere near capable of meeting in and of myself; my own ability to provide for myself at this point is limited by the business of my schedule and the constraints imposed by the rigor of my degree program. In the previous circumstance, the difficulty arose in that I could do nothing to affect the course my friends had set, no matter how high the cost for our friendship or for their futures.

But the situations aren't that different, either, when it comes right down to it. Now, as then, the question is simply trust - will I fix my eyes on the situation, or will I choose to surrender, to simply let go and take the leap into the dark, knowing that God is big enough, sovereign enough to be Lord in this situation?

Do I truly believe that He is indeed Lord?

Yes. I do. I say that with more hesitation than I like, but I am choosing, in spite of all my emotions, to fix my eyes on the author and perfecter of my faith, to run this race with endurance. If we have temporary victory and then fall again into the same pattern of relying on ourselves, of trusting in our own strength and our own understanding, what does it avail for the kingdom? What testimony does that establish? Rather, we ought to be constant, presing on despite the dfificulty of it. My emotions, as I was telling a friend only a few weeks ago, don't have any control over me. In fact, I was thinking through that - with regard to a wholly different situation - just moments before this came up.

Coincidence? There is no such thing. The Spirit was preparing me - and I, unfortunately, wasn't listening as closely as I ought to have been. But again I must marvel at His sovereignty, at His preparation of my heart. If He has provided such an excellent way for me, why should walk in the folly of my own wisdom? No, instead I will remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and recall that His word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

One of our Father's names means "God Provides" - or perhaps "God Provider." Provision is who He is.

My name means Christ-follower. Following involves trust. The question for me - for all of us - is whether we'll believe who He is. Will I choose in this moment to be my name, to be who He made me to be, so that I can see the fullness of His as never before - so that He can be glorified in my life?

I have, and I am, and I will. Will you?

- Chris