Sunday, June 30, 2013

Attention Subscribers!

(all three of you)

Have you ever blinked and an entire month has gone by? I completely missed June. I know it happened- Father's Day, my mom came to visit, the kids got out of school; but I'm pretty sure we just celebrated Easter.

Anyway, the end of June brings the end of Google Reader. I've been meaning to post an update on this, but like I said June flew by and the end of the month caught me by surprise as well.

What this means for you

From my rough tracking, a majority of my subscribers follow me through Network Blogs and/or Google Friend Connect (used to be networked users on Blogger) so this won't affect you. The RSS feed (if you use it) should still work as it gives you multiple options besides Google Reader.

But if you use Google Reader to follow my blog then you need to find a replacement ASAP.
I just imported my subscriptions over to Feedly (there's a helpful automatic import button that will do this automatically for you) but I haven't used it enough to say one way or another whether I like it. It is the number one recommended replacement it seems, so there's that.

Because I rely on my iPhone/iPad for remote reading I was also able to import my subscriptions into Pulse and Flipboard; both are good for different reasons. (See my post on Social Media for why I use what)

I wish I could be more helpful, but I'm navigating through this as well. I'm not 100% sold on Feedly, but Flipboard and Pulse are working pretty well. (Although I haven't tried to add any subscriptions to either since importing my Google Reader subs)

More Tips

For other tips, here are a couple of links for you. I thought I had more bookmarked from when Google made this announcement, but I guess not.
Sorry for the late notice. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

God's Architect

Did you check out yesterday's Google doodle celebrating the 161st birthday of Antoni Gaudi? To be honest I had never heard the name so I clicked out of curiosity. And I was completely blown away.

Once upon a time I was into architecture and considered that as a career field prior to college, so reading about Antoni, dubbed "God's architect", had be glued to my screen. His masterpiece, if you're not familiar, is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This basilica (anointed such in 2010; not technically a cathedral since a Catholic bishop does not serve there) began construction one hundred and thirty years ago and still isn't finished. In fact, it isn't expected to be finished for several more years. Despite being commissioned in 1882, the Sagrada Familia did not celebrate its first mass until its dedication by Pope Benedict three years ago.

I encourage you to check out this profile from the Christian Science Monitor that came up when you'd click on the doodle. Included is an embedded video from 60 Minutes about Gaudi and the basilica that includes such tidbits as the fact that the highest spire is 3 feet shorter than the nearest mountain because Gaudi didn't want to upstage God.

What is fascinating about this story is how this one man was so dedicated to a single project all with the intent of glorifying God. This building became his life's work and his legacy. And since he knew it was so complicated, so grand, that it could not be completed in his lifetime, he built many scale models so that others could complete his work.

About those others: three generations of one family has carried on the legacy; a young architect never returned home after visiting it while touring Europe; a Japanese sculptor converted to Catholicism while working on this project. There is just something captivating about this place and now I feel I must someday visit.

Gaudi wrote, "A church is the only thing worthy of representing the feelings of a people,
for religion is the highest thing in people." His design is intended to tell the two-thousand year history of the church in a single building. In a culture where we spend millions on churches as monuments to ourselves, such a purpose is inspiring and refreshing.

Was Gaudi Crazy? Maybe. But I think about the Universal Church. While not a physical construction project, we have been works-in-progress since Jesus himself walked this earth. So much today is made of being like the First Century Church that we forget they too were imperfect. God has been refining us, sculpting us, for two millennia. And we're still not finished.

Paul described the church as being "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." (Ephesians 2:20) He writes elsewhere,

"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple."
(1 Corinthians 3:10-19)

Our construction is incomplete. You and I are each individual spires in God's temple, reaching up towards heaven. Reflecting on Antoni Gaudi's life work, I wonder what it is I am building?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Be Somebody

Last week I nit-picked some lyrics from Skillet's song, 'American Noise'. To stick with Christian hard rock, I'm going to pick on Thousand Foot Krutch this time. Just as I really like 'American Noise', I'm also a huge fan of 'Be Somebody'. However, this one lyric always gets under my skin whenever I hear it.

In the song, TFK describes their redemptive relationship with God through the lens of their own insecurity and immaturity. It's a great song as it speaks to a need we all have- to be somebody- and acknowledging that we can really only "be somebody" in Christ.

But there's one lyric where I think they have the relationship between them and God backwards. They sing, "I'm just the words you are the sound." Short line; like I said I'm nit-picking for the sake of discussion. But when we consider that "In the beginning was the Word..." (John 1:1) regarding Jesus and Paul writing that "All scripture is God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16) it seems to me like a glaring mistake, especially since it wouldn't change the flow of the song to simply switch roles: "You are the words, I'm just the sound." I believe this is closer to the truth and is how I try to live my life- I'm just noise, but God gives my noise purpose through the Word.

That aside, this is a powerful song. A song of hope and encouragement. Consider these lines:

I'm just a boy inside a man...
I'm just a speck inside your hand,
You came and made me who I am...
So when they say they don't believe,
I hope that they see you in me...
We all want to be somebody...

Now watch the video:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Unanswered Prayer

Jesus taught his disciples that if they believed a mountain could throw itself into the sea, if they prayed for it, it would happen. "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mark 11:22)

I wonder how many cancer patients believe that God can and will heal them only for it not to happen? Or from a more worldly perspective, who here hasn't prayed for some level of success only to have victory elude you? (I pray to win the lottery all the time, but I haven't yet. Of course, it might help if I buy a ticket)

So there must be some fine print in there somewhere.

We can imagine Jesus, agonizing at the garden, praying that "this cup [would] be taken from [him]." (Matthew 26:39) Here was the Son of God, who taught his disciples how to pray, asking God for something fully believing God could answer that prayer. But he added this caveat, "yet not as I will, but as you will."

God's will is like a "get out of jail free" card for prayer. God doesn't answer your prayer? Not God's will. Things aren't going your way? Must be God's will.

Tell that to everyone in Colorado or Oklahoma who recently lost their homes.

Needless to say, citing God's will can be unsatisfactory for some. So we need to dig a little deeper. Why isn't it God's will? What else does he have planned? We answer those questions by saying God is refining our faith, or there is something he wants us to learn, or there is something better out there than what we are praying for. The last one is clear in Jesus' case. The cross was a better outcome for humanity, if not necessarily for Jesus, than any other alternative.

Remember the country song "Unanswered Prayers" by Garth Brooks? He sings, "Some of God's greatest gifts, are unanswered prayers." In the song he reflects on a girl he like that he prayed would like him back. But then he looks at his family, and recognizes that if God had answered that prayer he wouldn't have the blessing he has now.

We can all relate.

So let's look again at Jesus. In John 17, we read about three of Jesus' prayers.
  • The first, for Christ to be glorified for finishing the work God gave him to do. (v 1-5) I think we can all agree that God answered that prayer. Two thousand years after the cross, we still praise Jesus' name.
  • The second prayer was for the disciples, that they should remain faithful to the end as they are sent out to proclaim the Gospel. (v 6-19) History shows us that each of the disciples, with the exception of John who is believed to have died under house arrest, died a martyr's death.
  • The third prayer was for you and me, Christians who would come along later after hearing the word passed down from other Christians. Jesus prayed that we would be unified in our faith. Look around. Has God answered this prayer? (v 20-26)
Again, this is the Son of God. I am sure he believed his prayer would be answered. I seems unlikely that his prayer was outside of God's will. In fact, Jesus prays that we will be unified so that the world will know that God sent him. So it is no coincidence that as we become more and more divided, fewer and fewer believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

 Jesus left this earth with one unanswered prayer. Why? Was it to increase our faith? Is there something we need to learn? Is there a better answer in God's will?

Jesus prayed for unity. I look around and I just don't see it. Maybe Christ's prayer needs to become my own.

Monday, June 17, 2013

American Noise

This song has been stuck in my head for a couple of weeks since hearing it on Air1. After looking up the lyrics, I felt I had to point out some "bad theology" for this Christian hard-rock band.

The hook in the chorus is "drink deep in the morning... see what the day will bring." It sounds like a Scripture reference, no? But the only scripture that could apply to is Proverbs 7:18 and is in reference to a prostitute. Proverbs 7 continues, "My husband is not at home... and will not be home till full moon." In contrast, in this song the verse is sung in hope, a plea to be free from the distractions of "American noise".

Or is it?

Instead could this lyric be ironic, alluring us like the prostitute of Proverbs 7 away from God? Another words, is the chorus the American noise and the verses the lament over its cacophony?

I seldom dissect a song so much, but the lyrics are so catchy and strike a chord with me. Our "American noise" keeps us from living like God intends, becoming lazy in a comfortable brand of Christianity. (If you read my blog very much, you recognize this is a consistent theme.)

Not to mention I'm not much of a Skillet fan, so this song stands out to me that much more.

What do you think of Skillet's new release? What do the lyrics say to you?

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Jesus Award

I consider end-of-year awards for elementary-aged kids to be more akin to participatory ribbons, where every child has the opportunity to feel special for something. "Way to go, Johnny, you didn't send anyone to the hospital this year. You get the most improved bully award!" But when you pray for a child's character, some awards stand out above all the rest.

When we were expecting our firstborn, we prayed for his (or her, we wanted to be surprised) character. We prayed he would be caring and thoughtful, putting others first. We prayed he would be trustworthy and honest, being a light to the world around him. And we prayed that he would be joyful and a loyal friend, the type of kid everyone would want to be around.

Back in kindergarten, my son received the "caring" award. That, in and of itself, doesn't sound that impressive, but it is what he did to earn it that I am most proud of. There was a classmate who broke his arm in the middle of the year. While his cast was on, he wasn't allowed to go out and play during recess (I don't know if that was from the doctor or the parents) so he would spend recess-time reading or coloring in the office. Not wanting his friend to feel alone, my son would give up his recess time to hang out with him. (Of course this had the added benefit of being able to bring toys in that they could play with together. But oftentimes sacrifice can lead to other blessings.)

"I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. " (Matthew 23:36)

Yesterday, my son won an "honesty" award. Again, the award itself wasn't nearly as significant as what it was for- he would frequently come to his friends' defense when another classmate would lie to get them in trouble. (And as much as he liked to argue when he was going through that 4-5 transition period, my wife and I would joke that he'll make a great lawyer some day.)

Earlier this week I went with my son on a field trip. Besides getting to spend that extra time with him, I was able to watch him interact with his friends. Driving home I asked him, "so of all your buddies, who would you say is your best friend." His answer surprised me; it was the main troublemaker in class. He continued, "I guess you could say I'm the friend to the bullies." I asked him why and he answered, "well, bullies don't have any friends and everybody needs a friend." Of course I warned him that "bad company corrupts good character" (1 Corinthians 15:33) but I did so with tears welling up in my eyes.

What proud parent doesn't want to boast about their child? But that isn't what this is about. No, my son convicted me and challenged my faith. His character is an answered prayer, I cannot forget that no matter how hard some days may be with him. But his character also challenges me. Am I willing to sacrifice my time- my playtime- for another? Do I stand up for others, valuing truth over friendships? And do I go out of my way to love my enemies the way that Jesus taught?

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said we need to be like little children?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Being Radical Right Where You Are

You can put away the suitcase. You can take your house off the market. You can take a deep breath in relief because you don't have to move to a Third World country in order to be a "radical" Christian. Critics of the best-selling book by David Platt may disagree with me, but as I've reflected on my own life I have seen radical displays of Christianity in unexpectedly normal places.

David Patt recently posted about looking back on Radical, the impact it has had, and the misconceptions it has spawned. I take from his post that in hindsight he would have rather sat down and personally taught through the material with every reader, rather than record it all in a book to be read independently for the reader to draw their own conclusions. I've written about this before in response to one criticism, that you cannot judge an author by the limits of a book's pagecount. But we critique anyway.

The recent swarm of debate was kicked off by a couple of articles. One in Christianity Today and the other in World Magazine; neither were particularly complimentary. And like with anything on the Internet (posts about Mark Driscoll or Rob Bell for example) a single shot fired results in a volley of replies. Here are just a sample from my reading list:
These posts cover the gamut of reaction- from flat rejection to thoughtful consideration of implications, to breaking down the basis for Platt's theology. What these posts show, is that being "radical", or "crazy" to refer to Francis Chan's Crazy Love, or "not a fan" (Kyle Idleman), or "all-in" (Chip Ingram) is that the Christian lifestyle presented by these authors is not as black and white as some critics would lead us to believe.

It is possible to be a radical crazy Christian who is not just a fan of Jesus and who is all-in in their commitment to follow Christ while not fitting in that particular stereotype. You don't have to sell everything you own to be a "good" Christian.

Now let me be clear, Jesus did say "those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples." (Luke 14:33) I don't want to water that down. It is important to have this conviction. But it is just as important to define what "everything" is. Everything is not necessarily material possession; it includes time, energy and emotion; it costs relationships, hopes and dreams; and it is uncomfortable and will set you apart from the rest of the world. But that does not mean moving across the globe to spread the Gospel.

Looking back in my relatively short (read: naive) Christian walk, I have had several opportunities to be "radical". I remember regularly attending Cocaine Anonymous and hosting Thanksgiving dinner for a group of addicts. During that time I held weekly Bible studies in halfway houses. My wife and I ministered to single mothers. I have walked the streets to hand out food to the homeless. I held the hands of someone with AIDS and prayed fervently with tears running down both of our faces.

I don't list these things off to boast but to highlight that you never know where the opportunity to minister to another might arise. None of these were planned. None were expected. In fact every time I've tried to plan something along these lines, I have fallen flat on my face. Ministering to crack addicts was because of a relationship with a friend who needed support during a dark time. Serving single moms came about because of existing relationships. We would have one over for dinner, or watch another's kids while she interviewed for a job, and over time it evolved into so much more. Feeding the homeless has become a family tradition, and it wasn't even my idea! The victim of AIDS saw me in a restaurant studying the Bible with someone else and sought prayer and support.

Each of these were "radical". All of them happened in the course of my everyday life.

I haven't had a radical experience like these in a while. I could be legalistic and beat myself up over that, but I won't. I will instead pray that God opens my eyes to the radical opportunities right in front of me. I know they're there. They are there for you, too. You don't have to travel the globe to find them.

(Addendum: I should add that my examples are by no means exclusive. There are many other means not only to be "radical" but also "missional" in your day-to-day. One of our ministry staff coached his son's soccer team. I know many who frequently have neighbors over for dinner. I use my vanpool as an opportunity to share ministry activities and events. I could go on and on, and still not have to move to India.)

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Irons in the Fire

Have you ever felt like nothing was going on? That you go through your normal routines and nothing seems to change? Then suddenly out of the blue everything seems to happen all at once and you have trouble keeping up. It feels like you have too many irons in the fire.

This happened to me recently. I've been blogging now for a majority of my Christian life. Although I started off with dollar signs in my eyes from the yet-to-be-written bestselling book, my focus has changed considerably. For some time now, I have been more interested in teaching than writing. Not that they are exclusive necessarily, but it's rather the focus of what and why I write.

So to grow in this area I have been debating ministry programs- either degrees or certifications. I've wondered about changing my career, possibly to go into Christian counseling (although I admit, I am incredibly blessed by my job which I enjoy very much and have found success in). After about a year of prayer and internal debate, I enrolled in the online program at the Athens Institute of Ministry. No, I won't be able to put MDiv or DMin next to my name, but I will get certification and quality instruction to grow deeper in my Bible study that hopefully I can pass on to others. I'm almost done with my first class, Old Testament Interpretation and I've been loving it so far.

Another prayer, related to my writing and this blog, is to change my book-writing focus from "Christian Living nonfiction" to specific small group study. Although I had a plan to pursue this intentionally, to actually have a completed project by the end of the year, God had other plans for me. I was recently approached (actually not that recently, but time flies) by my church to develop small group curriculum for our entire congregation. So God answered my prayer, just not in the way I thought. (And if you see the frequency of my posts drop, this will be the main reason why)

To add to all of that, in my time blogging I've picked up a thing or two about online ministry and social media. We've recently started a technology ministry at our church and I sat in on one of the meetings. Naturally, that volunteered myself to help in multiple areas, the latest of which is maintaining my church's Twitter account and test-running our new Church Management Software.

So it's funny. All this happened within a month of each other. Meanwhile at my job, other prayers have been answered. Projects I've been working on for a long time are picking up steam and I'm increasing in my responsibilities. As if I need more on my plate.

To say I have a lot going on would be an understatement. I have a lot of irons in the fire.

So all this to say, thank you for reading and following my blog. I pray that you find my content helpful in your walk with Christ. And I thank God that this platform as opened up the opportunities it has, although not in the way I ever could have envisioned.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Just Another Blog

I mentioned before that I subscribe to 88 other Christian blogs. I am ashamed to admit that since that post (only last week!) I’ve added three more. I don’t expect others to be as interested or to read that much. I barely expect myself to be able to follow everything. But with so many voices online, all with similar interests if dissimilar doctrines, I often wonder if I am adding anything to the conversation.

In other words, if I filled this space with bullets for everything I’ve read (that I think is worth passing on- only a small fraction of content from those 88 sources I share either through my Facebook page or via a RT in Twitter) would what you get out of this site be any different than what you get out of it now? (Assuming of course, that you’re at least getting something from my 600+ posts)

I recently got an e-book to read on my commute (as if I need something else to read!) and was checking out its reviews on Amazon. There were a couple of negative reviews, noting that the content was unoriginal and was derivative of another blogger’s work. Those reviews prompted the response that the works are similar because the two authors run in the same circles (or swim in the same waters if you prefer that metaphor), and it soon became an accusation of this blogger versus that blogger (the 21st Century version of he said she said).

I’ve attended a few writers' conferences and my insecurity going in is always questioning myself whether I have anything worth sharing, a story worth telling. And I always come away with the same encouragement- my story is not your story. Even if we witness the same event, my experience- how I perceived the event and what I took from it- is unique to me. You might tell the same story, but you will tell it differently. And chances are, the people I tell my story to are different than the people you will tell your story to. So there is value in both of our stories, as similar as they may be.

I wonder if the Gospel writers had this same insecurity. Imagine John Mark writing his account of the life of Jesus: “Geeze, no one has ever heard of me and I’m only riding on the coattails of Peter. Maybe someone else should write this, like that Q guy from Star Trek” (kudos if you get the joke) Or what about Matthew: “You know, Mark already got most of this down. I don’t need to add anything. But Mark was missing a lot of Jewish theology and Messianic prophesy, yet I don't want to come across as critical of his work. Not to mention I’m not a writer, I’m a former tax-collector. And it’s clear from what Mark wrote that no one liked me in the first place. Who would read what I have to write?” Or Luke: “Dammit, Theophilus, I’m a doctor not a historian! (two Star Trek references in the same post?) There are already other accounts of Jesus’ life, I don’t need to add to all of that. And who wants to read about what happens after Jesus dies? I mean, that’s pretty much the end of the story isn’t it? I don’t think anyone would really be interested in all the times I was hanging out with Paul. He killed Christians for a living, I’m not sure I want the world to know we’re friends on Facebook.” Or what if John was insecure about his book being so much more radical (pun intended) than the other best-sellers on the shelves?

Can you imagine if these writers remained silent because they felt the story was already told?

So my story may not be unique. My insights may not be that innovative or original. But this is my story, and it's worth being told.