Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Folly of Indifference: Making Sense of It All (2)

It makes a difference where you are. Really. That sounds simple enough, so simple that it hardly needs said. But given our tendency (as people busy with life) to avoid thinking about ultimate issues, it must be said. It makes a difference where you are.

I am spending a delightful five day visit with my daughter and her husband. I am a guest in their home and that makes a difference. Now my daughter loves me and is a most gracious host, looking after my needs and pleasures. But it makes a difference that I am here and not in my home. Despite her warm hospitality, making her home and possessions available to me, I observe that I restrict myself from making use of things as if I owned them. I am quite comfortable and happy, but I certainly limit my behavior in ways to be an appropriate guest. If I were in my home, I would exercise much greater freedom. In a context where I own it all, I can (and would) do what I want with whatever I want. You make think me foolish in what I do with my stuff, but you wouldn’t fault me for behaving differently in my home than while a guest at my daughter’s.

What does this have to do with ultimate matters, you ask? Everything, because it makes a difference where you are.

If we find ourselves in a universe that is merely physical, shaped only by forces of cause and effect, it will make a difference how we live. If this world happens to be a home that is deeply spiritually, but in an impersonal sort of way, governed by laws of karma (i.e., beware, its all coming back to you, at least eventually), well that too should make a difference on how you live. But if this cosmos is the possession and dwelling of a supreme being, who has not only created us but invited us to stay within this one’s abode, well, you better believe that would (or should) make a difference in how we live. Especially if this One cares deeply about how we treat other guests and make use of It’s generous provisions.

Context matters.

We live all of life adapting to our context. How I behave at the office is different than how I behave at home. How I behaved at school, is different than how I now behave at work. (Though my former teachers may have wished for a little better adaptation on my part.) It is only reasonable that we adapt. Likewise, it is only reasonable that we adapt life to the ultimate context we find ourselves within. And if we don’t know what context we are in, then it is only reasonable to seek to find out. We certainly wouldn’t want to be a slovenly guest, would we?

Indifference (on ultimate matters) is not only folly, it is highly inappropriate.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Making Sense of It All (1)

I just finished reading Thomas V. Morris’ Making Sense of It All. I read it on the recommendation of a friend, Dave. Now I must admit Dave made this recommendation fifteen years ago when we were spending a summer together doing ministry in Keszthely, Hungary. But I never forgot the recommendation and finally this winter, I bought and read the book. I’m glad I did.

First, I must say I became a bit intrigued by the life journey (or what I have been able to discern of it) of the author, Tom Morris: a philosopher, former Notre Dame professor (and apparently a very popular one at that), now a “public philosopher” (or at least he has his own institute) working with corporations. Hmm… curious, indeed. I think I would like to meet the man, if Providence should ever orchestrate it.

But I have also become more intrigued by Pascal and his insights into life, captured for posterity in the classic collection known as Pensées. My real introduction (at least the one that caught my attention) came from seminary professor and mentor, Dr. Robert Coleman. I now wonder how Dr. Coleman, a man whose life has been defined and shaped by his Lord’s Great Commission, became interested in Pascal. Maybe I shall ask next time I have an opportunity.

But the question, you make ask, is what does all this have with my life and thoughts as a CoJourner? Well, I am growing convinced that Pascal offers us insight for the 21st Century post-postmodern (or whatever it is you’d like to call our world of thought and culture today.) He is a Guide par excellence. So I intend (and you know what often happens with good intentions) to reread this book (something I very rarely do. In fact, truth be told, though I love books and “read” many, I find very few books valuable enough to me to complete the reading the first time. ) I want to “harvest” valuable insights from this work to see if it can help me (a common Guide, in the CoJourner sense) “make sense of it all” for others on the journey of life.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Backstory: This Is Why I Sat Here

I sat next to a 33-year-old, Chicago businessman on a flight Thursday. An alumnus of a school with a strong basketball program, he asked who I rooted for. Being an graduate of Nebraska, I said, “We don’t have much to root for in basketball. But football is another story.” I then raised the “spiritual flag” by mentioning that I was in Christian ministry and had led the ministry for 7 seasons with the NE Cornhuskers back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

“Are you a minister?” he asked. That started one of the most amazing spiritual conversations I have had in a while. I EXPLORED asking questions and listening: his church connections (limited, but he does like Willowcreek), answers to prayer that he and his mother have seen (amazing), his relationships (feels some guilt over them), his own spiritual journey. He said he didn’t understand Jesus, the Trinity, or why he had to die on the cross. He preferred to go “straight to the source” in prayer.

I asked if I could take a shot at explaining why Jesus had to die. “Sure,” he replied.

So I pulled out my Bible and napkin. I showed him Romans 6:23 and drew the “one-verse” diagram. We talked through it very slowly and clearly, making sure he understood each word and all three phrases. “Does this make sense?”

“Yes, but it brings up a hundred more questions,” he said. “Like what?” I asked.

That launched us into another hour of questions and answers: regarding eternal life and living life to the full in the present; re: self-centered marriages vs. Christ-centered marriage; regarding the sin of those who lived before Jesus died; regarding reading the Bible and the difference between the four gospels.

I gave him a copy of Backstory and explained the story behind it, walking him through the 7 themes. As I focused on the response pages, I asked, “Is this true?” “Wow, I don’t know. Maybe I am just afraid of commitment,” he answered.

As we were landing, I gave him my e-mail and said we would be praying for him. I asked if he did make the decision to trust Christ as his Savior and Lord, would he write me and let me know? “Oh, I am sure you will be hearing from me. You will be the second to know” (i.e. after his mother).

“I think this is why I chose to sit here,” he said as he was getting up. Indeed, I am sure it was!

Backstory: The Story that Makes Sense of Our Stories

Very excited to announce the publication (and availability) of Backstory! Even more excited about the very conversation I had in which I used Backstory, two days ago on a flight between Chicago and KC . Amazing! The story will have to wait until a future (next?) post. For now, let me introduce Backstory to you.

Ten years ago we made our first attempt at telling the storyline of the gospel (creation to return) using seven themes. It was published as Life@Large. (This is an early flash version of it. Click on the yellow arrows for navigation. Notice there is both a conversational view - upper - and storyline - lower). It was featured in a chapter I wrote entitled "The Gospel for a New Generation" in D.A. Carson's book, Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns. It was fashioned using the best thinking we could assemble at the time, though much of that thinking was "theory", not "proven wisdom". Through the intervening decade, we saw it used in a variety of settings (including over a million copies distributed as part of the Fallen, Not Forgotten remembrance booklet in NYC following 9-11.) It was also translated in a handful of languages (including Italian) and used in a variety of global contexts.

But in the ten years since we have learned a lot about communicating the gospel storyline. Those lessons have helped shape Backstory. You can download a pdf to view it. But let me give you a quick idea of how to use it.

The backbone of the presentation is found the black, photo pages (left-side). These walk you through the seven themes, with brief explanation and a Bible verse.
  1. Intimacy (Creation)
  2. Betrayal (Fall)
  3. Anticipation (OT promise of a Savior)
  4. Pursuit (life of Christ)
  5. Sacrifice (death and resurrection)
  6. Invitation (the present age of salvation)
  7. Reunion (the age to come)
These are the pages you would normally use as the focus of a conversation.

The corresponding white pages (right side) provide conversational questions for exploring the thoughts and experience of each other, or questions to help bring greater understanding. There are also points explanation (such as, "Crosswords" based on Romans 3:23-25) and apologetic touch points (such as, prophecies of a Messiah in Micah 5:2 and Isaiah 7:14). You use these as needed or appropriate.

If you read aloud the intro, the black theme (photo) pages, "Your Thoughts" and "Turning Point" page, there is seven and a half minutes of content. By adding the questions and explanations on the white (additional info) pages, the conversation can become as long and deep as you both desire. (My amazing plane conversation with "J." was a couple of hours.)

Hope you enjoy exploring Backstory. Hope even more that you have the privilege of helping others discover the story that makes sense their stories.