Repost: Social Media Resolutions for the New Year

(I posted these last year at my old blog. Here they are again with some minor adjustments.)

I resolve to use Twitter and facebook to make fun of people and ridicule more, especially famous people who cannot even know I exist. It makes me feel special when people laugh at my 140-character wit at other people’s expense.

I resolve to practice my righteousness before men as much as possible on Twitter and facebook.

I resolve to retweet famous rock-star type pastors and look for good quotes that will be retweeted by people. It makes me feel good inside.

I resolve to use Twitter and facebook to make people feel guilty about their failures and sins and help them question their salvation.

I resolve to look down on those who do not use these social mediums and question the relevance of pastors who don’t especially.

I resolve to post all the awesome moments of familial bliss and not confess any frustrations so that you think I am an amazing parent and you have a lot to live up to.

Random Musical Thoughts

1. “The Bends”

2. I lost a lot of music when my hard drive crashed. Really upset about the Pavarotti I lost.

3. I can listen to Doris Day and Guns and Roses.

4. My wife gave me a Beatles shirt for Xmas. I like it so much, I’ve worn it for two days…

5. For over 20 years I’ve had the guitar riff of “Wildflower” by The Cult in my head.

6. Do you have any songs that “should not” emotionally move you but always do? Mine is “Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys. Pet Sounds man. Pet Sounds.

7. How long will it take for Derek Webb to drop the f-bomb in a song?

8. My favorite instrument is Van Morrison’s voice.

9. Jeff Buckley’s “Grace

10.  Glad we have a while till I have to hear “Santa, Baby” or “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

The Wilderness of Not Knowing

Not knowing is a scary place. If it could be mapped, it would be plotted right in the middle nowhere. It would include wilderness and a ghost town…complete with ghosts. I am telling you it is scary place so that when you arrive, you will not be as scared as you would be if you had not known. And you will most likely get there if you have not already driven through its environs.

When I was younger, I knew a lot more than I do now that I am older. I spoke with a certainty and a confidence that betrayed arrogance more than wisdom and conceit more than belief. But now? My hair is leaving it’s natural habitat, what remains is going the way of gray and I can feel the weight of being in my fortieth year. There are those who are older (and cynical?) who will decry my melodrama and say, “Wait till you’re…” But I am getting old. I can feel it. I can feel this more in my soul than in my bones, but my bones would agree. And as I have grown older, I have realized how little I know. And what is strange is how at ease I am with that fact.

I am OK with not knowing.

“How do you feel Matt?” “I don’t know.”

“What do you think about _________?” “I’m not sure.”

Previously, I would have been scared to say as much. But I am not so scared anymore. I am OK with not knowing. My faith is intact. I have not rejected the gospel. But there are some things I am just not sure about anymore. This is not the time for me to detail them all. And they are not the issue anyway. What is the issue is that “not knowing” is a scary place to be…until you feel free to admit it.

Some people never have had to struggle with this. I don’t even understand those people. They are so free of people’s opinion they have always felt free to be ignorant on a particular thorny question. They say, “Well, I don’t know.” Then they move on and do their thing. Not me. I have always felt the pressure to answer. Not knowing was never an option.

But now it is. And the reasons are simple. Once you realize you can question the conventional wisdom and this does not mean you are tempting the fate of heresy you feel a little more free. But what got me out of the car while in the wilderness of not knowing was realizing I am not God. You already knew this about me. But it took me a little bit longer. But God is the only one who never says, “I dunno.” This is freedom itself. We – even apart from our sin problem – are those who will find ourselves in the land of not knowing. This is really good. Knowing we were created to not know everything is reason enough to step out of the car, draw in a deep breath and look for a place to take a load off.

Maybe even the load of knowing all the answers.

C.S. Lewis Reading List for 2011…So Far

I let y’all know about my plan to read and blog through works by and about C.S. Lewis in 2011 and be mentored by him via his life and writings. The following is the list of what I have on my shelf so far. Much I have read before but most will be entirely new to me. My goal is to read 50 books on or about C.S. Lewis. Ambitious? Yes. Thoroughly exciting? Definitely.

1. Planet Narnia by Michael Ward

2. The Chronicles of Narnia

3. Till We Have Faces

4. The Screwtape Letters

5. A Grief Observed

6. The Narnian by Alan Jacobs

7. Mere Christianity

8. Surprised By Joy

9. Letters To An American Lady

10. The Great Divorce

11. The Abolition Of Man

12. Jack by George Sayer

13. The Four Loves

14. C.S. Lewis: Images Of His World by Gilbert and Kilby

15. Latin Letters Of C.S. Lewis

16. The Problem of Pain

I plan on picking up the Space Trilogy, The World’s Last Night, God In the Dock, Pilgrim’s Regress and some others. But what am I missing out on?

Thoughts After Christmas

1. Hey, remember that year we got a White Christmas in Birmingham?

2. If you punish your kids for fighting over the Wii, you get to play more.

3. Speaking of the Wii, my body is sore all over.

4. A sure way to curb the day after Christmas blues is to get more snow.

5. Another way of curbing the Christmas blues is to have the Christmas get-together that was cancelled –  due to snow on Christmas Day – a few days later.

6. I recommend reading Phantastes at Christmastime.

7. At one point on Christmas day I sat down on the couch with a cup of coffee, beside the tree, in front of the fireplace and I watched the snow fall outside. My kids were playing at my feet and I thought, “Norman Rockwell.”

8. So will Christmas day be kind of a let down if there is no snow next year?

9. I think this is the first time I have not seen my parents on Christmas day. And that was painful to just type.

10. My hard drive crashed on Christmas Eve Eve. Thankful for all things being made new.

Merry Christmas

Our house is chaos. Family is on their way. The turkey is on the smoker. A fire burns in the fireplace. My 4 year old is enraptured by the Wii. ‘Christmas Lights’ by Coldplay is playing in the background. Snow and ice are falling outside.

And our Rescuer has been born.

May you all have a Merry Christmas wherever you are and however you are.

Francis Chan, The Seriousness With Which We Take God and The Scandal of Grace

I’m going to get in trouble for this one. I know it. And I’m OK with it. You don’t question someone like Francis Chan and not get some fallout from it.

Yesterday, I saw someone…everyone on facebook post a CNN article about Chan. In the article he explains why he quit his job as a seemingly “successful’ and famous pastor in California to move his family to Asia. This is not what I want to take issue with. But he made a statement in this article that bothered me as a pastor and as a believer.

Now, let me say that it is possible he was taken out of context. It was CNN, who is not known for being the height of integrity in reporting. But since there are a number of people who will be tweeting this quote and using it as their spiritual facebook status du jour, I think it is worth engaging.

The article says:

If we were to meet God in person, Chan said, “I think the first thing He would say is you don’t take me seriously. You have no idea how to fear me.”

Immediately, I recoiled when I heard this. And the more I’ve thought it over, the more wrong I think it is. In fact I would call it damaging.

Now, here is not what I am saying. I am not saying we should not be concerned about taking God seriously or that we should not fear God in a biblically appropriate way. What I am questioning is this – Do we really believe this is what he would and will first say to the redeemed? Will his first words be scolding ones?

Think about the implications of this. We, who have placed all our hope in the work of Jesus because we have not and indeed cannot fear God and take him as serious as we ought so that we will be loved by God, will not – according to Chan – hear words of loving acceptance but words detailing our faults in these areas. Our hope is not in Christ’s work on the cross but in our abilities to take him serious enough. And what is serious enough? Is perfection of seriousness what is desired so as to not hear these words.

The fact is we could substitute our lack of seriousness with any number of sins: lack of generosity, lack of chastity, lack of kindness, lack of love, lack of honesty, lack of parental love and care, etc. All of these are true of all of us everywhere. We could expect any of these evaluations because we are guilty of them all.

Now, I did start to think. And I thought, “Maybe we would not hear such condemning – though truthful – words when we enter heaven. But What about now? You know, now – while we are still dealing with sin and all the lack of seriousness with which we take God? Would God’s words for us be scolding words?

But then I thought some more. Does this mean that he stands over us scolding and condemning now? Would this mean we cannot with Paul tell other Christians, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”? Can we preach this to ourselves?

Can we be assured of his love at all times – even in the midst of our sins? Even in the midst of not taking him seriously? Even in the midst of not fearing him as we should? Even in the midst of all the sin that courses through us day after day? Or when we lay our head on our pillow at night is our only hope for this life and the next our ability to say, “I took God seriously today!”?

Or can we agree with Chan and say, “You are right. I have not taken God as serious as I ought. In fact, I am worse off than even I know. Thankfully, I cannot even see the depth of my sin. But also thankfully, I am not accepted by God based on my ability to be serious about him perfectly or at all. I accepted based on nothing I have done but by what God has done on my behalf. I am defined now by my trust in what Christ has done for me. Not by what I have or have not done.”

This is why it is called “good news.” And that is why the gospel is scandalous. The scandal is not that Christians don’t take God seriously. The scandal is that God loves us despite it, going so far as to die for those who do not take him seriously and loving them forevermore even though they still often show a lack of seriousness about him. That is the scandal.

Chan and I both have the same desire – that God be taken seriously. But I am convinced that the only way we take him seriously is by relentlessly laying before our people (and CNN reporters) the wonder of the cross and the grace we find there. For that is where we find our hope. Our hope is not in our seriousness or our fear of God. We will always fall short in that area. Actually, you know what the picture of seriousness is? It is childlike faith in the unthinkable gracious and merciful love of a Father who runs out to meet his child and showers him with acceptance. Not scolding but joyful, celebrating acceptance.

Some Thoughts On Blogging

With all the new traffic I’m getting here, I thought it might be a good idea to post some thoughts on blogging so any new readers (we might have doubled to 10, hi mom!) will understand what is happening here.

1. While I appreciate sites and blogs with a lot of links to news stories and use them daily, I’m not interested in drawing in readers/followers/subscribers only to send them elsewhere. Therefore…
2. I want this blog to be one of my thoughts and writings. And I’m unapologetic about this. This is reasonable in so much as when I put anything down I want I do so for others to read. It’s a false humility that pretends it does not care if anyone is reading.
3. Blogging is cheaper than therapy.
4. There was a time when I wanted every post to be reworked and edited and just like I wanted it. Then I realized some of my more popular posts were ‘off the cuff.’ So you get a lot of both here.
5. The possibilities for hearing from people, getting feedback and speaking into other people’s live is extraordinary. Imagine you have a blog that gets 100 hits a day. That means dozens and dozens of people are reading what you’ve written. That’s incredible.
6. One of my goals is to have a place that is not saying what every other pastor/blogger is saying. I am a big fan of the evangelical blogosphere but let’s face it the overlap of subject matter is staggering. Sure we will all talk about a lot of the same subjects. But there is a need to talk about all these subjects without saying it the same way. And we need to talk about different things.
7. Christians should be glad to talk about controversial things. We should not be afraid of doubts and difficult subjects. Blogs are great places to do it. It’s in print so people can sit and think about the subject and the words written. And then they can respond with questions. Sure there are mean commenters but this has always been the case, even before blogs.
8. One of the more surprising encouragements in blogging has come from when I posted that I was reading Eugene Peterson this year. I knew it was outside the norm for a guy in my world to be helped by a pastor/writer like him but I was surprised by the reactions. I received two different reactions. First, there were those who thought I should be reading other men (Piper, Edwards, Calvin, Owen, – the Johns). They could imagine learning from Peterson. They cannot imagine anything, I suppose. But I heard from many pastors about how much Peterson has meant to them as a pastor but they were afraid to say so for fear of the first kind of person. Or they just thought they were crazy and alone. All it takes is one email or comment of thanks to help me realize it is worth it all. (Update: while writing this I got one of those emails.)
9. Even though it is hard to hear criticism, it is often helpful. It’s pretty easy to tell who has thought deeply about what has been written and who has just gotten mad and responded in anger. The former are usually asking questions while the latter are only pajama police.
10. Blogging is really a lot of fun. Writing and being read is a heckuva lot of fun. Whether it’s my neighbor next door reading or someone in Europe, it’s exciting. I’ll leave you with an example: I wrote a fairly controversial post called “Paul’s Silence On Evangelism” earlier this year. A few days later I got an email from a guy in Australia telling me to telling Satan ‘hello’ for him because of that post. My first thought was, “Someone in Australia is reading me!!!” Then I wondered why he would want to say ‘hello’ to Satan.

Random Thoughts

1. I apologize to everyone who, when I found out they had a sinus infection, I wondered what they were whining about.

2. I miss iMonk.

3. Is it reasonable to be concerned that the evangelical “missional” movement is more about what we have done, are doing or wanting to do than about what God has done, is doing and will do?

4. There’s magic, magic I tell you, between the covers of a book by Annie Dillard.

5. What did I do when I was sick before I had a laptop?

6.  Festive celebrations with pork products.

7. Has anyone else noticed how football commentators now are always saying things like, “He’s not a spectacular player but…”? It’s like the trash-talking has spilled over into the booth.

8. Five more days of Christmas music.

9. I can’t believe I didn’t know the new Duffy album was out till I saw it in Wal-Mart.

10. I’m not sure any Christmas present could top all the kind emails, comments, notes, tweets and blog posts – literally hundreds from all over the globe – in response to this.

Thoughts At Christmas For the Rest of the Year: Part 5, "The Ridiculous"

Enough time has passed for me to go ahead and admit to being an advisor to my parents as a young person. Looking back, it happened far more often than I care to remember. My parents in the their collective wisdom of 80 to 100 years would assert some proposition on appropriate behavior, fashion, music or morality. Inevitably, I would reply in a way exhibiting how ridiculous I thought such counsel was. I should have just said, “OK, well I trust you.” But I am not sure in all my years I did that. Ever. And now there hangs somewhere in my parent’s home a picture of me in parachute pants. And a matching shirt.

For the sake of transparency I am willing to also admit how often I find myself counseling God. You know, because I have these ideas about things…and o.k. it just sounds foolish typing it up. But we all do it. We think God is doing something ridiculous and then deign to give God advice on how he should have acted.

The familiarity of the Christmas story makes it impossible to see how ridiculous it is. And I am convinced that I would have counseled God to do things differently.

I would been more ambiguous about the virgin birth plan so there would be a loophole when people talked. And we know they talked. And I would not have wanted to be so cruel to such a virtuous woman. Having a been a youth minister, I know what kind of teenage girl should have been chosen.

I would have chosen a more affluent family…you know, to make the transition from celestial to terrestrial a little smoother.  I wouldn’t have wanted him to be acquainted with any unnecessary sorrows like cultural whiplash.

While I appreciate the Victorian drama of sending the mother away to have the baby, I am not sure I would have chosen to do it so late in the pregnancy with such risk to the health of the child.

Even if I went along with all of the above plans, the one I would have certainly thought ridiculous was the decision to have the King of Kings born in a manger. It sounds disgraceful. For what father would do such a thing? We chose to have our firstborn in a top notch hospital.

I would have first announced to someone besides the shepherds. Can you imagine a Kennedy having a child and then announcing it via the Birmingham News?

And one of the things I would call the most scandalous was giving a baby such pricey gifts. Obviously the “wise men” -so-called – are mired in a consumeristic and materialistic culture. Why not sell those gifts and give them to the poor? Why not build an inn for Jesus to be born in? Why not give it to Lottie Moon?

And on and on ad infinitum. I suppose we need to all reckon with the fact we would have at least looked at God sideways as this plan was unfolding. We sing about it now but we would have shaken our heads in complete disbelief at the time. And I know this because we do it now.

“What were You doing? I would have…”

My parents are great. The mercy they show me still after so many times of verbally putting a fist in their face…the grace they have bestowed on me in innumerable hugs, kisses and gifts after I refused to trust them is staggering. I thought they were foolish, old-fashioned and “not with it.” And I told them as much. But they knew this was coming (I have three older brothers). My guess is – and it has taken me being a parent to see this – that my parents loved showing me grace and mercy.

I’m convinced God did things the way he did to show us his gracious power to rescue was not in the created things but in the Creator.  But I’m also certain he did it knowing we would always be failures – failures at trusting in his raw power to rescue. And we would need the very grace he sent his Son to usher into history. So all of our would-be protestations about the way God did things stretching from manger to cross are the reason for both. And it is impossible to read this seemingly ridiculous Christmas story and not see how much he enjoys showering us with loving grace and mercy.