Why You Should Let Your Audience Ask About Your Sermon (or Church)

If you think about it, this is really a no-brainer. You’ve just spoken to a group for about 30 minutes — you’d naturally expect there to be at least some questions about what you just delivered. In fact, this seems to happen pretty much everywhere but at church.

Tim Keller writes that one of the key functions that his post-sermon Q&As serve is to invite skeptics and former Christians to ask questions that may help them examine the case for Christianity systematically. Keller writes:

[T]he Q&A was to some degree the beginning of a process of assimilation into the church. The non-Christians needed to get into a venue where they could more systematically explore the case for Christianity. The Christians needed to get to a place where they could be more systematically instructed and readied for church membership and other ways of participation in the body.

In other words, the Q&A serves not only as a forum for the Christians to ask questions that directly relate to the sermon just preached but as a open floor for evangelism for the pastor and the non-Christians to engage in. I think this is great. Now, let us (and our pastor friends) get busy with finding a good 40-minute-long block of time to follow their sermons.

Read in full here.

Why We Keep Failing to Rest

Lately in my world (well, more like the past 5 years), busyness has been the new gold standard. I go from one thing to another, thinking that the more I can do in any given day, the more productive I am. As difficult as it is to admit, I have been wanting to become a super human who can do everything, faster and better than anyone else.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t seem to understand what productivity really means:

I don’t have time to answer my friend’s phone call, because I’m too busy writing my next blog post. I don’t have time to go see that movie, because I need to finish preparing for my Bible study. I don’t have time to hang out with my best friends, because I need to get coffee with the student I’m discipling.

I worry if I don’t do these things, I’m being selfish and sinful. And so my productivity becomes legalistic busyness. I am aiming at perfection and condemning myself when I don’t reach it. It’s exhausting.

It’s time to find rest. Nothing wrong with taking breaks. Better yet, it’s okay not to do anything for a while.

Read in full here.

Celebrating Five Years (and Counting)

About five years ago this day I graduated from my alma mater. In hindsight, the graduation really felt more like a new beginning (as the term “commencement” aptly suggests) because I was, well, pretty much confused as to what was up next. I was so scared by it that I even wrote a commencement speech on it (read: “I am graduating but I am afraid that I failed so much already and that I might fail again”). In another hindsight, though, I really didn’t need to stress over it that much because it turns out that that’s a question I am pretty much going to have to live with for the rest of my life. Fast forward five years – and I find myself back in Northfield, MN where it all happened. The only difference is that this time I am wearing a name tag that says “5th Year Reunion!”

When I first signed up to go to my first reunion ever, I had mixed feelings about it. Do I have to go? Is it worth my time and money? Who else is coming? Am I going to be pressured to give money to the college? But then again, I think my greatest fear came from my inability to formulate a quick and satisfactory answer to the question: “So, Wookie, what have you done accomplished in the past five years of your life?” As much as I liked about myself, I knew I would want others to walk away from our conversation, inspired by and impressed with what I seem to have done to positively impact the lives of many since my departure from college. Having fought against the fear long and hard, I never actually came to formulate a good answer but decided that I had no time and, more importantly, remembered that I had already paid my fees to go to the reunion. So I went.

The reunion was fun. More than I had expected. And far less scary (thank God). Here’s what I learned from attending my 5th year reunion:

Friends are still friends after college (for the most part).
Duh – say you? Hang in there, though, because I am careful  to use the term “friends” for a reason. There is something about friends that we don’t seem to find among, say, our colleagues or partners. I want to say that it’s because friends accept you for who you are without trying to change or control you in any way (again, for the most part). It’s just that good to be around friends.

Tears and laughter can co-exist indeed.
During the reunion was a memorial service for a classmate who passed away recently. As her friends stepped forward to share about the memories they shared with her, there were tears in the eyes and voices of those who spoke and also those who listened. The tears were then followed by smiles and laughter as the same friends turned to one another to share about how blessed they were to have gotten to spend time with her. At the intersection of such tears and laughter, I realized that this may actually be a pretty accurate depiction of life as a whole. That those sad and happy moments may always co-exist and that one would do well to learn to live in moments of such seemingly chronic state of emotional chaos.

We continue to grow, learn, and change.
Those who came out to the reunion came in all shapes and sizes. And I don’t mean this just in the most plain physical sense. Among the 200 or so of us from the Class of 2011 were Ph.D. holders, graduate students, CEOs, government employees, academics, and investment bankers, just to name a few. While the sizes of our paychecks and the stress levels of our work schedules probably varied by much, the one common ground we all shared was that growth, learning, and changes had been all part of our lives in the past five years and are now so as we look to the beginning of another year ahead. The four years we spent together in college did not conclude our learning but instead those years put us on a path towards appreciation and enjoyment of life-long learning.

So, there came and went my 5th year union. So much to do, so many people to catch up with, so many stories to hear and share, and yet not enough time for any. But then again, life barely leaves enough time for anything anyway (or at least we seem to think). Oh well, time to journey on.

This Is Why We Fail to Be Content

I first came across this message by Beau Hughes in 2011. I remember sitting in my room then, struck so hard by how closely it seemed to describe the source of the discontentment in my own heart. I look back on it today, and it still rings just as true as it did before.

Our struggle with finding contentment is really our failure to place trust in the goodness of the Giver of all things. We struggle to trust because we think we know better and that we think we deserve more and thus should be given more. We take note of the few things we think are missing in our lives but consistently fail to note the thousand things we have been freely given:

You and I are struggling with being content primarily because of our trust in God. You and I are not struggling with being content primarily because we’re single, because of our job, because of our spouse, because of our bank account or because of our living arrangements. You and I struggle with contentment primarily because we struggle and we fail to trust God. That’s why discontentment surfaces in our lives in all the ways that it does. Deep down, we struggle badly with trusting God and believing that God is what is best for us and always does what is best for us. We struggle to trust Him in that and to hope in Him in that. And because we do, we are discontent in a myriad of ways.

Read/watch in full here.

Life is Short

Another excellent reason to seize each day:

It is possible to slow time somewhat. I’ve gotten better at it. Kids help. When you have small children, there are a lot of moments so perfect that you can’t help noticing.

It does help too to feel that you’ve squeezed everything out of some experience. The reason I’m sad about my mother is not just that I miss her but that I think of all the things we could have done that we didn’t. My oldest son will be 7 soon. And while I miss the 3 year old version of him, I at least don’t have any regrets over what might have been. We had the best time a daddy and a 3 year old ever had.

Via Paul Graham’s blog.

A Plan or An Alibi

Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal, delivered a commencement day speech at Hamilton College this past week. I don’t know too much about Thiel’s personal and/or career history, but I did find the following quite interesting. How many of us are living a plan for something that we are genuinely convinced is a cause(s) or value(s) worth pouring our lives, energy, time, and passion into?

Looking back at my ambition to become a lawyer, it looks less like a plan for the future and more like an alibi for the present. It was a way to explain to anyone who would ask — to my parents, to my peers, and most of all to myself — that there was no need to worry. I was perfectly on track. But it turned out in retrospect that my biggest problem was taking the track without thinking really hard about where it was going.

See full posting here.

A Year of Theology

So, it’s been a year since I began my formal theological studies as a part-time student at TEDS (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). More specifically, it’s been a year of consistent studying of systematic theology (both fall and spring semesters). What did I take away from this past year of studying systematic theology? Was it a good year spent well worth the time, effort, and money that went into it? I’d say in a heartbeat, yes.

As a student of systematic theology, I got to read interesting books and hear engaging lectures (which, absent the formality factor of being enrolled in a program, I certainly could have but probably wouldn’t have). I got to share with many others about my own views of God, sin, man, salvation, church, and even the end times stuff. Hearing from others who came from a very diverse range of backgrounds is always a challenge and a deep joy. And being able to write my first papers on systematic theology has been a blessing and a tough challenge as well.

When all is said and done, though, more than anything else, I think I’ve learned to appreciate the much contemplated, polished, and debated thoughts and arguments that have been compiled over the past two millenniums around God. I am starting to see that thousands of others have probably already wrestled with the thoughts I have as a follower of Christ, to arrive to an answer as to how we, as followers of Christ, might live this life to its fullest, loving God and our neighbors, both where we are and where we are being sent. I appreciate that, as a student of theology, I also had the opportunity to appreciate all of the work that has been already done up to this point in time.

I have read in an Atlantic article that studying theology requires not faith but empathy. I disagree in that I do think it requires faith to believe that God exists, but I agree with the author in that it also requires a great deal of empathy to humble ourselves before one sits down to read and write about theology. Empathy prompts humility, and that humility enables thoughtful review, discovery, and discussion of what those who have gone before us may have once wrestled with.

Am I quite humble enough to continue studying theology (yet)? I would certainly hope so. And I pray that God might bring about more ways to humble my own heart from this day and on.

Why We Fail to See the Beautiful

Watching this video clip broke my heart.

It was like seeing the bare surface of my own heart. It tells the story of how many of us judge, spit out harsh comments at someone we just barely met, and turn our backs on them as soon as we realize there isn’t anything we might benefit from. More than anything else, though, it tells a sad story of how many of us are simply no longer able to see the beauty beyond our skin.

God, have mercy on us and heal our broken hearts.