Great Debates

10 03 2011

Last month, we staged two debates during our youth group’s Bible study.  These two evenings ended up being some of the two best Bible studies we’ve ever had…and I’m still in the process of figuring out why that is.  Each week, we introduced the topic and had students vote anonymously on which position they believed was “right.”  Then, we divided them into two teams, assigned them a position, and gave them a handout that included questions to think about and possible Scripture references to guide them.  They spent about 20 minutes preparing their arguments, and then we held a 15-minute debate.  We tried to make it as “official” as possible, although there were lots of giggles along the way!! (One girl finished her argument early and spent the rest of her time smiling sweetly at the judges; another boy busted out his iPhone for some musical support).

Then, after all was said and done, we gathered in a circle and debriefed the experience.  We talked a lot about how people use the Bible to support their arguments, especially about pulling verses out of context.  We also talked about how the students had formulated their arguments and how that can be similar to how we form theology.  We talked about how sometimes, there is no “right” answer…or at least, not a black-and-white one.  And we talked about how the Wesleyan quadrilateral of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience can guide us.

They had a lot to say: both during the debate and afterward. Every single person in the room was involved in the process from beginning to end.  Over the course of the evening (and without any adult prompting), each of them found a Bible, opened it, looked up various Scripture passages, read them out loud, and discussed what they meant.  That may not be a big deal for you more successful youth ministers, but that’s a rare occasion for us!

Click here to download the handouts we used: The Great Debates


1 02 2010

Over the past week I’ve thought more about grace than i ever have in my life. I’ve been reading and pondering and absorbing so many different perspectives: John Wesley. Anne Lamott. The Apostle Paul. John Newton. Phliip Yancey. Brennan Manning. Martin Luther. Victor Hugo. All of them have something important to say about grace. And now…well, I don’t really have anything important to say, but this is what jumps out at me:

Grace is a story. It’s always a story. And sometimes it’s a Story. You can talk about faith and justification and righteousness and sanctification as much as you want, but those words don’t mean anything until they can find their place within the story. And that story is called, Grace.

Grace is even greater than mercy. It’s greater than simply righting a wrong. It doesn’t ask for recognition, or a reward. Grace is welcoming strangers. Seeing them for who they were originally created to be. Looking through the eyes of God.

Grace can be doing the dishes. Dancing. Taking the fall for someone else. Checking your prejudices at the door. Giving away candlesticks.

Amazing grace. Life-giving grace. Soul-healing grace. It’s always unexpected, and it’s never easy. But it’s simple enough. It is counter-cultural. It can be confusing.

Grace does more than say, “It’s going to be okay.” It supplies the tools and time to really make it okay, and it loves all the way through. Grace fixes our brokenness, not just with Band-Aids, but from the inside out, in love. Grace makes us whole again, and welcomes us into a Wholeness greater than we have ever known before.

Grace happens in the moments that nearly pass us by, and we are left, not knowing fully what has happened, but understanding that we have somehow received a gift. And we keep giving…

Happy New Year!

1 12 2009

It’s officially Advent–truly, the most wonderful time of the year!  And even though my Advent got off to a less-than-holy start (we skipped church and drove all day long back to Atlanta), I’m excited about what the season has to hold (you know, in addition to moving and finding jobs and starting over again).

Over at Emerging Women, Kim Wilkens quotes from her father’s Advent Devotional: “I once met a don (professor) at Oxford University who scheduled his life according to the church’s calendar: its seasons, its saints’ days, and its liturgical hours. He refused to use or even to acknowledge the more arithmetic 12-month, numbered-day, 24-hour-subdivided Julian calendar that most of us follow. Making an appointment with him was difficult, to say the least…perhaps we might pay a bit more attention to our distinctive, somewhat countercultural church calendar. There could be some pleasantly surprising gifts awaiting us…”

Growing up, we had an Advent calendar that we hung on our refrigerator every year. Each night in December, my sister and I would take turns uncovering the day’s image. And by Christmas Eve, all the images came together to make one big Christmas picture. Even though the calendar has fallen apart (I think we finally got rid of it last year or so), the idea of the Advent calendar is one of my favorite ways to think about this season: a countdown coming a little closer to the big picture every day.   And if we will let it, each day will reveal a little bit more of that picture to us.

So one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more intentional about following the Christian calendar in my own devotions and become more in tune with liturgical traditions.  I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

And by the way–Julie Clawson wrote a beautiful post on the meaning of Advent: “Waiting for something beautiful to be born – for joy to fully enter your life – is hard.  The child is already there, the joy is present, but you still long for its arrival.”

Philip Yancey on the Problem of Pain

12 09 2009

In his book Finding God in Unexpected Places (which comes highly recommended, by the way), Philip Yancey talks about the aftermath of September 11.  People were asking a lot of hard questions, like “Where is God when it hurts?”  (which, incidentally, was the title of one of his earliest books, published in 1977).

The week of September 11, 2001, Yancey consulted with his publisher, Zondervan, and decided to release a special edition of Where is God When It Hurts?, with all proceeds going to a victims’ fund.  By the end of the week, they had started printing 500,000 copies.

Yancey wrote of the experience:

“As I talked to media people about the special edition of Where Is God When It Hurts?, inevitably the interviewer would turn the question back on me.  “Well, where is God at a time like this?”  Sometimes I countered some of the harmful things other Christian spokesmen had said about the attacks being God’s judgment on America, bringing guilt and confusion to a time that begged for comfort and grace.  I talked of Jesus’ response to tragedies, especially in Luke 13.  And then I would usually tell of a man who came up to me once and said, ‘Sorry, I don’t have time to read your book.  Can you just answer that question for me in a sentence or two?’

Taken aback, I thought a moment and said, “I guess the answer to that question is another question.  Where is the church is doing its job — binding wounds, comforting the grieving, offering food to the hungry — I don’t think people will wonder so much where God is when it hurts.  They’ll know where God is: in the presence of God’s people on earth.”

(Finding God In Unexpected Places, pg. 72-73)

Wonder & Amazement

28 08 2009

prophetic-imaginationIn the sixth chapter of The Prophetic Imagination, Brueggemann juxtaposes several verses from the Gospels (a sample shown below, with a few more added in, for lagniappe):

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching.” (Mt. 7:28)
“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mk. 1:22)
“The disciples were amazed at his words” (Mk. 10:24a)
“When [the Pharisees] heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” (Mt. 22:22)
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” (Lk. 4:22a)
“But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” (Mk. 15:5)
“The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!'” (Mt. 8:27)
“Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.” (Lk. 9:42b-43a)
“People were overwhelmed with amazement. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.'” (Mk. 7:37)
“So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”
“Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.'” (Lk. 5:26)

Here’s something cool: The word “amazed” appears 46 times in the Bible (NIV version). 36 of those times occur in the Gospels, with an additional 7 occurring in the Book of Acts.

And here are the patterns that I’m noticing, from Brueggemann’s list and my own concordance search:
1. Jesus amazed everyone: disciples, crowds, family, friends, Pharisees, and Romans. People responded in different ways to their amazement (some praised God; others plotted to kill him), but everyone was amazed.

2. Jesus amazed people with his teachings. Brueggemann wrote, “His teachings evoked radical energy, for they announced as sure and certain what had been denied by careful conspiracy.”

3. Jesus amazed people with his actions: healing, calming storms, raising the dead to life, ignoring traditional customs, eating with the unclean. His ministry was extraordinarily surprising; he did not pander to the ruling elite, nor did he hobnob with the religious leaders. Instead, he reached out to the poor, the broken-hearted, the sick, the mourning, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers. To the people who had never had reason to hope, he gave them a new future.

Here’s what Brueggemann has to say:

“His ministry evoked a passion and an energy that had disappeared in the old helplessness. Both his adherents and his enemies sensed the same thing: An unmanaged newness was coming, and it created a future quite different from the one that royal domination intended to permit.”

In true prophetic form, Jesus’ ministry on earth paved the way for the coming newness (brought about by his death and resurrection) by preparing people for that newness. Before opening the way for new life, he first had to equip his people with the imagination to believe in that possibility. He had to create room for wonder and amazement.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
– Isaiah 43:19

Prophetic Imagination and the Music-Makers

22 08 2009

I have long loved William Edgar O’Shaughnessy’s  poem “We are the Music Makers,” but reading The Prophetic Imagination has brought its words to life in a wonderfully new way.   Here is the poem:

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

prophetic-imaginationIn particular, sitting outside in the middle of downtown Atlanta on my lunch break, I found myself quoting the line “With wonderful deathless ditties/We built up the world’s great cities.”  Truly, with the skyscrapers of the city line, the overwhelming busy-ness and traffic, the people walking by with their laptops and cell phones, it seems that this culture and civilization as we know it will be here forever.  And maybe that means that I have bought into the lies of the empire.  All of it — the skyscrapers, the traffic, the schedules, the technology — is manmade, temporal, and subject to God’s much longer continuum of time.

By ourselves, we have built up these cities.  And in their glory days, in our golden eras, we trust in ourselves and in what we have created.  So when all of these systems and civilizations fall (as they eventually must), we are out of the habit of trusting God, and we cannot even trust God to give us a new beginning.  And despair sets in, a deep despair that is far away from the comfort of God.

There is a sterotype that people turn to God only in times of trouble, when they need something from him.  But Brueggemann goes even further, and makes the claim that those who have not trusted God before cannot all of the sudden change that orientation.

Yes, maybe we do start praying more when someone is in the hospital, when we’re contemplating a big decision, or when we hit rock bottom.  But, in those prayers, are we really and truly trusting that something will happen?  Do we believe that God is working among us, changing us, offering us a new beginning?  In short, do we allow ourselves the freedom to hope?

If we have spent our whole lives blocking out God, trusting in ourselves, and denying his presence, we may not even have the potential to imagine anything truly different.  We don’t know where to start.

And that is where prophetic ministry comes in: the prophetic ministry of energizing, of amazement, and of hope.

This is not just about the Jeremiahs and Isaiahs who speak to entire civilizations at one time (although those are necessary, too).  This can also be a prophetic imagination that can penetrate every crevice in every heart.  It may well be the call of “everyday Christians” to speak words of hope into places of despair.   To our family, friends, and neighbors who are grieving or suffering, we can use our words and actions to proclaim hope and the possibility of new life.

And Brueggemann offers this caution to those engaged in the prophetic ministry:

“Hope requires a very careful symbolization.  It must not be expressed too fully in the present tense because hope one can touch and handle is not likely to retain its promissory call to a new future.  Hope expressed only in the present tense will no doubt be co-opted by the managers of this age.”

Or, as Emily Dickinson wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathersSingingBird
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

(singing bird image taken from

On Faith…

15 08 2009

Have you seen this beautifully written piece at

I posted recently about how I think some people believe simply because they don’t know how to not believe.  Others want desperately to believe but cannot find the power to do so within themselves.

As Christians, we believe that faith is a gift from God.  I continually have to wonder — why is He seemingly choosing not to bestow that gift upon certain people who, seemingly, would accept it with open arms?