Sunday, May 31, 2009

even there...

So, let me paint a picture. I have just walked across the street from my hotel to a 24hr diner, because I hadn't really eaten a solid meal. Although there was plenty of great food at the wedding reception, i just couldn't eat for some reason. April and I had just gotten off the phone, and more than anything, I'm ready to be home. Soon enough.

It's 12:30 a.m. Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" is seriously cranked up, after following a charming song by Metallica. Perfect music for a random meal alone in a room full of Chattanooga's finest late night crowd. I get a text from a friend, who is considering a change in scenery, thinking about serving in a different way. I quickly texted him back a reminder from Psalm 139. We can't run away from God.

Then, it happened. I looked up Psalm 139 on my phone. I wanted to be sure I had sent the right idea to him. I am reading it through, and these words land in my heart:

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn...

if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

Even there...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

an empty seat.

rehearsal dinners are great.
they are much better though, when she is beside me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

hope rise.

On that day when I see
All that You have for me
When I see You face to face
There surrounded by Your grace

All my fears swept away
In the light of your embrace
When Your love is all I need
And forever I am free

Where the streets are made of gold
In Your presence healed and whole
Let these songs of heaven rise to you alone

No weeping, no hurt or pain
No suff'ring You hold me now
You hold me now
No darkness no sickening
No hiding You hold me now,
You hold me now

In this life I will stand
Through my joy and my pain
Knowing there's a greater day
There's a hope that never fails

When You're name is lifted high
And forever praises rise
For the glory of Your Name
I'm believing for the day

When the wars and violence cease
All creation lives in peace
Let these songs of heaven rise to you alone

No weeping, no hurt or pain
No suff'ring You hold me now
You hold me now
No darkness, no sickening
No hiding You hold me now,
You hold me now

For eternity
All my heart will give
All the glory to Your name

[ April and I were in Atlanta last night visiting friends, and for the Hillsong United concert. We were greatly encouraged by what we heard, saw, sang, and thought about.
If you are not familiar with Hillsong, try this ]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

new life in the same country...

Has Christian America Come to an End?
By Mark Driscoll
Pastor, Mars Hill Church

Has Christian America come to an end? That question has been hotly debated since Newsweek published their recent feature story reporting that the number of Americans claiming no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990. Additionally, the percentage of self-identified Christians has dropped ten points in the past two decades. As an evangelical pastor with one of America’s fastest-growing churches in one of its least churched cities, I do not find the report surprising or discouraging. Newsweek missed the subtle — but vital — difference between Christian America and Christendom America.

Christian America is comprised of those people who have had a truly transforming experience with Jesus Christ and are living new lives as practicing Christians. Experts such as sociologist Bradford Wilcox at the University of Virginia have well documented the fact that those who practice Christian faith by reading their Bibles regularly, attending church, praying, and so forth are far less likely to engage in acts such as adultery, divorce, substance abuse, and the like.

Christendom America is comprised of those people who have not had a truly transforming experience with Jesus Christ and are living lives virtually indistinguishable from those who are non-Christians. The confusion is that it was common in Christendom for people who did not practice Christianity to profess Christianity. This was often done for social reasons, such as living in a culture that expected church affiliation, being born into a religious tradition and assuming it was simply part of one’s identity (like a cultural or racial connection), or personally, socially, and vocationally benefitting from being connected, even loosely, to a church or denomination. Researchers such as George Barna have documented the fact that, as Jesus himself said, not everyone who says he or she is a Christian is in fact one.

Subsequently, the Newsweek report simply confirms the fact that, just as Christendom has died in Europe and the major American cities, it is now dying in the suburban and rural areas of America as well. With the social benefits of professing to be a Christian no longer in place and the social stigma of not professing to be a Christian now lifted, those who were part of Christendom America are simply no longer pretending to be part of Christian America.Since those who professed faith but did not practice faith were confusing to account for, this is actually a good thing. Now, it is more likely that if someone is a Christian or non-Christian, he or she will state so plainly.

Therefore, the number of Christians has likely not diminished as much as has been reported, but rather we are seeing an increasingly accurate accounting of actual Christian America. The ARIS study confirmed this by saying that the number of people who claimed to be Christians decreased, while the number of people who claimed to be evangelical increased. This fact is not discouraging, but rather clarifying.

Additionally, Christianity has always reformed itself around major technological innovations. Just as the printing press enabled the Protestant Reformation, so too the Internet and video technology are changing how ministry is done. Networks are currently overtaking denominations as the gathering place for innovative young leaders, megachurches are using video to become multi-site, and young pastors are increasingly moving into cities to plant churches. Our own church planting network Acts 29, for example, now has 250 church plants and is on pace to be at one thousand churches in roughly seven years. We are not alone. As the churches and ministry forms of Christendom are dying, new churches, networks, and ministry forms are replacing them with great passion, as the ARIS study confirms. Therefore, while it is too early to tell, we may in fact simply be living in the time between the times of Christendom and post-Christendom America, with Christian America getting more innovative and devoted than ever and poised to see many more lives changed by Jesus Christ.

There is one thing that is concerning, namely the loss of the residue of some aspects of Protestant morality. For example, as authority is less and less respected, and social order becomes more difficult to maintain, and sexual sin increases the number of addicts and abuse victims (as we are dealing with by the thousands in our church), the result will be a culture that is less beneficial for Christians and non-Christians alike. This is because, although being good does not save you, insofar as the culture is concerned, it is still good. Proceeding forward, the distinctions in lifestyle between Christian America and non-Christian America will become increasingly stark and will require great service by the church in the areas of mercy and justice to help people damaged by a Christless culture.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

todays top ten.

why I love raising three sons:
1. they are fun people to be around.
2. coming home from work to be greeted in the driveway by the voices of little crazy warriors.
3. wrestling. mud. knives. adventures. bruises.
4. the "dad, what about....?" questions I get every day.
5. durability.
6. seeing them get crazy giddy when april shows me affection or wears lipstick.
7. incessant laughter. recurring stories about bodily functions. some things never change.
8. all the hard moments where I know I fall short of perfect love, and they still love me.
9. watching them find a boundary, and then push it to the limit or break something in the process.
10. they will be men one day, and by grace, lead their own families in what matters most.

Monday, May 18, 2009

one angle on the slowdown

Why Americans Are Adopting Fewer Kids from China
By KAYLA WEBLEY / HONG KONG Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2009

Becky Freer says adopting a 10-month-old girl from China was the best thing she ever did. So when Freer, 44, recently decided to further expand her Austin, Texas – based family by adopting another daughter, she thought China was the obvious choice. She soon discovered however, that as a single woman, she is no longer eligible. "Three years ago I was an acceptable parent, and now I'm not," she says. "It seems unfair." While Freer has since been approved to adopt a daughter from Ethiopia, she is one of a growing number of prospective parents who are unable to adopt from China under new laws Beijing put in place in May 2007.

International adoptions in the U.S. gained momentum during the 1990s as families reached out to orphans in poorer corners of the world. China's international adoption program, which opened in 1992, has become particularly popular due to its transparency and efficiency. But the stricter guidelines, intended to limit an overwhelming number of applicants, are proving effective. Adoptions of Chinese children by U.S. citizens have dropped 50% in three years, from 7,906 children in 2005 to 3,909 in 2008, according to the U.S. State Department. Among the new regulations, adoptive parents are required to meet certain educational and financial requirements, and must be married, be under 50, not be clinically obese, not have taken antidepressant medication in the past two years and not have any facial deformities. (See pictures of American children up for adoption.)

Even before the new regulations, adopting a child from China was never simple. The state-run China Center for Adoption Affairs requires U.S. applicants to submit a long list of documents, including home studies completed by social workers and federal background checks. Fees and expenses can amount to upward of $20,000, and the wait can be long. China has a backlog of approved international applicants and is only now placing children into the homes of families who were approved for adoption more than three years ago. Some families that don't want to wait that long look to China's "waiting child" list of children with special needs — a national database where prospective parents can read about orphans with disabilities. (Read "Cleaning Up International Adoptions.")

The new laws are only part of the reason why fewer Chinese children are being adopted by American families. While the Chinese government does not release domestic-adoption figures, U.S.-based adoption agencies say more Chinese children are being adopted in the mainland. (Adopting a second child is one of the few exceptions to China's one-child policy.) "More and more people can not only afford to adopt a child, but culturally it's also more accepted," says Cory Barron, director of the St. Louis, Missouri – based adoption agency Children's Hope International.

A change in gender perception may also be a factor. While girls still make up 95% of children at orphanages, Josh Zhong, director of Chinese Children Adoption International in Centennial, Colorado, says that, too, has shifted. "People's attitude toward having girls is changing dramatically," Zhong says. "I have friends [in China] who have girls, and they are just so excited." It's part of a shift that, for the visible future, is keeping more of China's children closer to home.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

we [all] do.

We are great at celebrating whatever is important to us. We champion whatever we are most passionate about. Some call it worship. Others do not. Either way, it is undeniable. People are worshipers. Just try a random search of "fans" on youtube. Most people, if not all, have something or someone to be all about.

We like.
We love.
We write.
We speak.
We go.
We give.
We save.
We plan.
We prepare.
We sing.
We influence.
We shout.
We cry.
We clap.
We wait.
We focus.
We invest.
We enjoy.
We compliment.
We smile.
We feel.
We think.
We miss.
We remember.
We rediscover.
We learn.
We study.
We live.
We gather.
We spread out.
We stay.
We leave.
We mourn.
We rejoice.
We know.
We celebrate.
We amplify.
We advertise.
We whisper.
We listen.
We glorify.

This has been on my radar all week, having heard a great message on how we were made to worship at Passion City Church, and being asked to speak on the very same idea at our church tomorrow. So, much of my thoughts and interaction with the Lord and with people has been on this simple idea: responding more to who God is and what He has done.

We are free to do all of the above -- So, love _______ , enjoy ______ , talk about _______ , but consider that our freedom means that we love God the most, and that we love everything and everyone less; for our own joy and His ever-deserving glory.

Truth be told, this makes sense. He is the best; the good things in our lives never truly satisfy. He is most loving to design our deepest joy be found in Him; releasing the expectation that other things or people can satisfy like He can. Human interests and passions may be good, but only God is God.

When our freedom and interests are more important [to us] than Jesus, then our worship [enjoyment] has been hijacked. That is called idolatry.

Friday, May 15, 2009

tell me this -

If someone were to ask, "What will Grace Campus specifically do in Hong Kong?"

Here is my brief answer: We will build genuine, gospel-centered relationships with the next generation of leadership for the Church, shaping them to love and serve Christ with their lives. Through relationships, fellowship, biblical studies, leadership development, and partnering with the local Church, we hope to see an awakening of young adults who will live to glorify Jesus throughout the world.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Culture Making

"It is not enough to condemn culture. Nor is it sufficient merely to critique culture or to copy culture. Most of the time, we just consume culture. But the only way to change culture is to create culture.

Andy Crouch unleashes a stirring manifesto calling Christians to be culture makers. For too long, Christians have had an insufficient view of culture and have waged misguided “culture wars.” But we must reclaim the cultural mandate to be the creative cultivators that God designed us to be. Culture is what we make of the world, both in creating cultural artifacts as well as in making sense of the world around us. By making chairs and omelets, languages and laws, we participate in the good work of culture making.

Crouch unpacks the complexities of how culture works and gives us tools for cultivating and creating culture. He navigates the dynamics of cultural change and probes the role and efficacy of our various cultural gestures and postures. Keen biblical exposition demonstrates that creating culture is central to the whole scriptural narrative, the ministry of Jesus and the call to the church. He guards against naive assumptions about “changing the world,” but points us to hopeful examples from church history and contemporary society of how culture is made and shaped. Ultimately, our culture making is done in partnership with God’s own making and transforming of culture. Read more here"

I'm reading this book over the next two weeks. So far, it has been very interesting. One of the most practical things I have been thinking about so far, is a statement in the book discussing the role of culture making within the family. In so many words, Crouch conveys that for better and worse, the family is a culture making epicenter. In thinking about our lives, and the fact we will be raising "3rd" culture children in a multi-cultural urban setting -- I am challenged to evaluate what are the non-negotiable cultural artifacts for our family. I'm sure I'll have more thoughts later.

Monday, May 11, 2009

ever played washers?

Think horseshoes, only no horseshoes. Sounds ridiculous, yet who knew such creative revelry could unite friends and family? At first, I thought I had been duped into a made-up-game, and then I read this.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

passion city church

After spending time with our moms in this weekend, we went to Atlanta for a change of scenery. We were so encouraged by our time at Passion City Church, conversation and prayer with friends, and another reminder of how God is at work around us.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

proud to be an uncle again

Katherine Ruth Dean

Congratulations Daniel and Lindsey -- we are so happy for you!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

vintage jesus

I just finished reading this book by Mark Driscoll. He is one the clear voices of authentic faith in Jesus for my generation. You can learn more about this book and Mars Hill Church here.

Monday, May 04, 2009


My friend, Brett Younker, recently released his new live ep -- if you haven't heard, it's free and will greatly encourage you. Far more than a talented musician, Brett is also a gifted leader in many contexts, on-stage and off.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

yet another step

Sold. It's official. It's been a big week in terms of saying good bye to things. We sold more of our furniture, closed the grace campus office, and sold our van. A year ago, we lived in a fairly large house, filled with furniture we had purchased during the course of our marriage, and had two cars in the driveway. Now, we are driving a borrowed vehicle and in the process of asking of the things we have left, what stays, sells, or goes?

For those of you who have been following our journey, this might encourage you. April and I were not really sure how we would feel at this leg of the journey -- 90 days out, reality setting in, possessions no longer possessing us, --- and we can say, God's grace is abundant.

That's not preacher-talk. That's a normal man and normal woman, saying to those who read: "This is do-able". It may be counter-cultural to move overseas for the sake of the gospel, but it is IN our DNA because we have been made new in Christ to do these things (Ephesians 2:10) --- and in Him -- we LIVE, and MOVE, and HAVE our being (Acts 17:28).

What about you? Have you said "yes" to God with something in your life, and seen Him do far more than you could ever ask or imagine?

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