Eyewitness News

Posted: March 24, 2014 by Lincoln Brunner in Uncategorized

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Walking through the ancient remains of Memphis, Egypt, last week provided a solid reminder of just how important on-site documentation is for the preservation of history.

The sphinx shown at left is a well-preserved artifact of ancient Egypt — one of the best outside of King Tut’s tomb, in fact. There’s one small problem: Nobody knows who this depicts. Could be any one of the ancient kings of that era. We do know that the statue was carved after this pharaoh died, because his beard is curled at the end (unlike some of the straight-bearded statues of Ramses II at the same museum site). It would have taken very little time for an eyewitness to engrave the name somewhere on the statue. Alas, the historical record remains incomplete.

I’m really glad the Bible isn’t like that. I was reading Acts today, and was hit afresh with just how beautifully articulate and accurate Luke’s reportage is.

In Chapter 27, Paul and Luke and perhaps some others are in a ship headed for Rome when they get swept into a bad storm called a northeaster. In Verse 18, it says, “Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they three the ship’s taking overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”

What detail! What splendid writing! And why should we care? Because it reveals that Acts, as with almost all of the Bible’s historical documentation, is the work of first-hand reporting done by people watching the action unfold themselves. Luke’s depiction of life at sea in the first century gibes with other sources from that era. And by making it clear that he was there, recording the dialogue and the details and the people involved, he lends enormous credibility to his story.

That’s what great reporting does. It carefully details what happens, where, when and to whom, and then lays the details out in a narrative that seizes the imagination of its readers. That’s great documentation. That’s great storytelling. Though we know our work falls short of canon scripture, we love it that our job is to report God’s work as it unfolds today, aspiring to that same level of craftsmanship. Striving for anything less would be an injustice to God and to history.

 

We’ve moved

Posted: February 17, 2014 by Jim Killam in Uncategorized

We’ve moved our blog, and changed the name to “Go Tell It,” to reflect a new focus in our work. Find news posts there every week. Find us at http://gotellitblog.wordpress.com/

Diving Deep

Posted: June 3, 2013 by Jim Killam in books, nature, safety

shadow-diversJust finished “Shadow Divers,” by Robert Kurson, about the discovery and eventual identification of a World War II German U-boat wreck off the coast of New Jersey. The true story centers on two divers who take insane risks, and sacrifice much, to solve a mystery and conquer a challenge.

It’s a fantastic book, lent to me by a friend who understands why people, especially men, gravitate to these kinds of stories.

Near the end, diver John Chatterton reflects on what drives him to repeatedly risk diving deep shipwrecks. It’s not about recovering souvenirs, or identifying a long-lost sub.

“When things are easy a person doesn’t really learn about himself,” he says. “It’s what a person does at the moment of his greatest struggle that shows him who he really is. Some people never get that moment.”

Chatteron’s moment just happened to involve scuba tanks, a drysuit and a fantastic discovery. For others, it’s running marathons. Climbing Everest. Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Or even, quitting your job because you know you were made for more than this.

In a culture that places supreme value on safety and comfort, men find a need to test themselves. I’m convinced that God wired us for adventure and that most of the time we settle for far less. If we can’t find adventure in our careers, we look for it in our leisure time. What we find can be temporarily thrilling … but it’s usually not about the hike, or the climb, or the run. There’s something much deeper going on, and it’s worth taking a risk to find it.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” That’s often attributed to Henry David Thoreau. It’s actually a mashup of a Thoreau passage and a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes … but it doesn’t make the thought any less powerful.

May we break free of that quiet desperation, dive deep and discover a story worth telling.

“We do not have time to waste our lives coasting out casual, comfortable Christianity.”

— David Platt, author of “Radical,” addresses the Urbana 2012 conference.

“What plan or dream will you give your life to that is more significant than this?”

Friends of ours were talking about their daughter. During lunch periods at her public high school, she’s befriended a girl who’s pregnant. Eventually, she invited the girl to youth group at church.

“Will I be judged?” the girl asked.

“Yes, by some,” our friends’ daughter responded. “But there will be a lot of others who won’t. They’ll be glad you’re there.”

That’s the most real, honest answer I’ve ever heard to that kind of a question. No one finds universal acceptance in any social situation – even at church, where we should. Kids who are told to expect total grace from a church youth group will be disappointed, and maybe disillusioned.  I’ve seen it happen too many times.

At the same time, the answer promises this girl that she will indeed find a measure of love, acceptance and yes, grace.

The girl is thinking about it. A lot of us who don’t even know her are praying for her. We’re praying that she’ll see Jesus.

I think maybe she already has.

(Warner Brothers)

(Warner Brothers)

We got a GPS this past Christmas. We call it Mildred. If we’re going somewhere and we need directions, we just type our destination and hit “Go.” And Mildred sets to work, bouncing signals off a satellite and back, calculating the perfect route (usually) and then – the best part – speaking that route to us, turn by turn.

My friend Lincoln and I took Mildred to Southern California a few weeks ago, where she performed like a champ, guiding us through the freeway system. A few times when we couldn’t get to the exit ramp because of heavy traffic, we’d miss a turn. And Mildred would simply gather herself, recalibrate and tell us the new directions. Once in a while, she would get confused momentarily – especially on cloverleafs, where one road was directly above another – but we could always count on her to figure things out.

Sometimes I wish my life had a GPS, where I could plug in a destination and receive turn-by-turn instructions from Mildred’s firm, confident computer voice. Instead, life usually seems like I’m stuck in a tunnel and Mildred can’t find the satellite. I’m left to take my best guess about the next turn. Sometimes that proves to be the right path. Sometimes I have to recalibrate.

That can be frustrating when all I want is clarity. But then I remember: No great adventure was ever a sure thing. What makes it an adventure is risk – risk of getting lost, risk of failure, risk of letting a lot of people down, even risk of death. The bad thing about a GPS is, it can turn a journey into a boring list of instructions. Sure, you don’t get lost. But in the process, the adventure gets lost with it.

I tend to wander, and I tend not to follow instructions (just ask my wife). I’ve been lost many times, without a map or GPS: In a forest preserve two miles from our house. On a remote national park trail as the sun was setting. In a ridiculously bad neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, where I could only think of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold character. Even in Beirut, Lebanon, where we’d wandered much too close to a Hezbollah rally.

Each of those situations became a good story we still talk about – usually in the context of how dumb I was for not carrying a map or GPS. Point taken, if we’re talking about a hike or a drive.

But when we’re talking about life decisions, then I’m back to that adventure thing – how it requires an ever-growing trust in someone I can’t see. Brennan Manning writes in “Ruthless Trust” that he believes that trusting God is, in fact, what it means to love him.

“Why does our trust offer such immense pleasure to God?” Manning writes. “Because trust is the pre-eminent expression of love. Thus, it may mean more to Jesus when we say, ‘I trust you,’ than when we say, ‘I love you.’”

Those words help. I wrestle with doubts about my faith all the time. The bottom line, though, is that my wife and I have loved God enough to trust him, and to take a big risk, not knowing where the road leads. We’ve sold our nice home and I’ve left a comfortable career – certainties in life – in order to pursue something crazy, something great. We have no idea how this story will turn out.

I watched “Argo” last night, the Oscar-winning film about the rescue of six American diplomats from Iran in 1979. Ben Affleck’s character, CIA agent Tony Mendez, is laying out his crazy-sounding plan to the diplomats: They’ll pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi movie. The six are less than convinced. Mendez tells them it’s their best hope.

That’s why I’m here,” he says. “I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna be with you the whole way. This is what I do. I get people out and I’ve never left anyone behind. I’m asking you to trust me.”

Sometimes, a film that has nothing to do with God can bowl me over with a God moment. Right now, if our lives were a movie, we’d be at that critical point where the audience isn’t sure whether the heroes are going to make it.

And I can sense God saying to me the exact words Mendez used.

I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna be with you the whole way. This is what I do. … I’m asking you to trust me.

We want an airtight plan with guarantees. Or at least we think we do. God says, “Trust me.”

Do I love him enough to do that? I want to.

Manning writes:

The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”

And So This is Christmas?

Posted: December 18, 2012 by Jim Killam in books, disillusionment, doubt
"The Slaughter of the Innocents," Tintoretto, 1587

“The Slaughter of the Innocents,” Tintoretto, 1587

“When the heart-strings are suddenly cut, it is, I believe, a physical impossibility to feel faith or resignation. There is a revolt of the instinctive and animal system, and though we may submit to God, it is rather by constant painful effort than sweet attraction.”

– Harriet Beecher Stowe, writing to a friend who had experienced tragedy.

I haven’t watched one minute of TV news since last Friday. That’s certainly not because I don’t care about the people of Newtown, Connecticut. I’ve been reading newspaper accounts and praying for those families. But TV images are more than I want to deal with.

Almost five years ago, on Valentine’s Day 2008, a disturbed young man walked onto an auditorium stage at Northern Illinois University and started shooting. Before he took his own life, he’d shot 23 people, killing five. One of those killed was Dan Parmenter, a student of ours at the Northern Star, the daily student newspaper where I was the adviser.  Several other students who I knew well, either through the paper or the classroom, made it out of Cole Hall physically uninjured.

I accompanied a group of student journalists to the immediate aftermath, and took photos that would appear the next morning on front pages of newspapers all over the world. We all wish we could “un-see” what we saw that afternoon.

Where was God in all of that? Where was God last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Honestly, I have no idea. And I think anyone who thinks they have a lock on it has probably never experienced something like this up-close. Sure, I can find theological answers about how we live in a corrupt and evil world and how God has indeed made the ultimate costly provision to save us. I get that.

But what about those kids?

I’m still not sure where God was 20 years ago when my wife’s sister and her husband were killed by a drunk driver. I vividly remember a woman at the funeral telling our family, “God needed them in heaven more than we needed them here.” That’s idiotic theology and if anyone really believed that, they’d absolutely hate God.

Not that I’ve felt any great love for God in the immediate aftermath of tragedies. Just helplessness. We want to understand, to make sense of it all. This week, we want to blame guns, or mental illness, or video games, or our violent culture in general. And all of those things may play some part. We might make some strides with legislation and increased knowledge about what makes people do things like this. But there will be no satisfaction in trying to make sense of evil when awful things keep happening to innocent people.

So where does all of this leave us with God, a week before Christmas?

We don’t like to focus on this, naturally. But Christmas, from the beginning, has been tragically connected with the murder of innocent kids. King Herod, feeling threatened by the presence of the baby Jesus, ordered the slaughter of all boys age 2 and under in and around Bethlehem. (Matthew 2) Imagine what that must have been like for those families.

Faith doesn’t always come easily for me. I want it all to make sense, to be able to reason it through logically and come to an inarguable conclusion. Tragedies like last Friday’s throw all of that into a tailspin, and our response is to quickly look away rather than confront an ugly reality. Horrible, evil things happen. God for some reason allows them to happen, and the scales of justice never really seem back in balance.

I do know that God is present in pain – much more visibly than during the good times. I read the Psalms and see David crying out to God about the unfairness of it all. And I now that God knows, and cares, and loves, even when I can’t understand.

Brennan Manning wrote in “Ruthless Trust”: “Anyone God uses significantly is always deeply wounded. … We are, each and every one of us, insignificant people whom God has called and graced to use in a significant way. In his eyes, the high-profile ministries are no more significant than those that draw little or no attention and publicity. On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars.”

Incomplete as that answer seems to me, it’s all I’ve got. Rather than avert my eyes to pain in this world, I can lean into it … and at the same time, lean into the God who can be trusted, and ask him to use me in some small way. It’s a change in focus, and changes my question from a futile “Why?” to a hopeful “What?”

The Night Holiness Rolled In

Posted: December 11, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in Uncategorized
Photo: Andreas Praefcke

Photo: Andreas Praefcke

My wife and I have a favorite Christmas carol. It’s “O Holy Night.” It’s a lilting, earnest song, all at once elegant and majestic. It wouldn’t seem like Christmas without that song.

The song’s story is beautiful, too: A King enters a desperate world to free the people there from their bondage and pain — not as a conquering soldier, but a tender baby born in the middle of nowhere, to nobodies. He acquainted himself with weakness and poverty inside time and space so that he could relate intimately with us and our situation here.

“The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!”

But the song and the story don’t stop there. Jesus came to start something you might call a holiness movement. He came to roll out a campaign of peace and love that would overpower the death and sadness that the devil used, and still uses, to keep people wrapped up in their anger and hopelessness and fear.

“Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.”

That one holy night that Christ came was just the beginning. He came to usher in a new way of life, one in which people could know God and become more like Him — the perfect human. Alan and Debra Hirsch describe this way of life, this holiness movement, nicely in their book, Untamed:

“A Hebraic understanding of holiness suggests that all of life is actually in the process of being redeemed and brought into the sphere of the sacred: Holiness begins with God, flows into our own hearts and our lives, moves from there into the community, and eventually reaches every aspect of life in the world.”

Wonderful, isn’t it? And if not a wonderful reality in the world yet, at the very least a wonderful hope for everyone. And that hope, as Pastor Brian Berg of Woodlands Church explained this past Sunday, is defined not as the desire for a future uncertainty, but rather an “anticipation of a future reality.” Christ came here and lived here and died here and rose from the dead here. Then he went home to prepare a place for us to live with him forever — if we’ll have him. He made our reality his reality for a short time so that he could make his reality our reality forever.

And it all began one holy night a long time ago. I’m very glad it did.

 

No, It Doesn’t Make Sense — And That’s OK

Posted: November 26, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in doubt, fear, missional living
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Acts 10 tells an earth-shaking story — angels, terror, visions of animals moving up and down on a big sheet like a linen dumbwaiter from heaven. Maybe you’ve read it.

It’s trippy stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s just about two guys obeying God when it makes no sense to do so. And it ends up changing the world.

On the one end, you have Peter, the head of the first Christian church, being told to kill animals clearly labeled unclean in the Law of Moses — and then to stop labeling things “unclean” that God has made. It’s clear later on that Peter understands this to mean people; but for the moment, that’s all he’s got.

On the other end, you have a Roman centurion in Caesarea named Cornelius being commanded by an angel to send for a Jewish guy named Simon Peter who was staying at some leather worker’s house in the city of Joppa. OK … Peter. Simon the Tanner. Joppa. Got it.

So the Roman official sends for the Jew to come before him. Peter’s seen this game before.

But this time, Peter’s gotten a sneak preview. God’s calling an audible, and Peter understands the new route. This isn’t Jesus before Pilate. And it won’t be a Roman handing down death this time — it’ll be a Roman accepting new life.

This is the first short-term cross-cultural missions trip. Paul gets all the props with the whole Antioch-to-Cyprus adventure — he did have to take a boat, after all. However, Peter was the true pioneer with his Joppa-to-Caesarea trip — a distance of only about 30 miles by land, but the distance traveled was far more than Peter had to walk. There was no precedent for this, no doctrinal basis by which to measure actions. There was just God telling Peter and Cornelius to trust Him.

On parchment, it made no sense — a Jew visiting a Gentile, and a Roman at that. But God had chosen his players carefully, two men willing to obey at the drop of a hat, sensible edict or not. And even then, he had to shock them into it. To one he sent an angel which frankly scared the pants off him. To the other he sent an acid-trip vision of animals he was supposed to kill and eat on the spot. “Paging Hunter S. Thompson … report to the killing floor immediately.”

No, God wasn’t messing around on this one, because too much was at stake. The gospel was sequestered within the Jewish community. It had to get out. Jesus had tipped his hand right before the ascension, and now he was putting legs under His game plan — Peter’s legs, to be specific. “Go, Peter, and don’t call them unclean. I made them. Got it?”

So Peter goes, tells them the story, preaches the gospel, and Cornelius and all his household get saved. Just like that. Even the die-hard skeptics back in Jerusalem, when they got Peter’s report, couldn’t do anything but praise God for the beauty of what happened that night at Cornelius’ place. What started out sounding crazy ended up looking amazing and wonderful — kind of like the gospel itself.

So if you find yourself being led to do something for God that sounds nuts to the people around you, even to yourself, don’t listen to conventional wisdom — listen to the voice telling you to do it. If it sounds like the same voice that’s comforted you in pain, answered you when you’ve called out to Him in the past, and led you to where you are now, ask yourself:

Is it crazier to do this, or to not do it?

 

Something special happened last week at the National College Media Convention in Chicago.

As some 2,000 students and advisers came to the Sheraton Hotel to sharpen their journalism skills, network with each other and accept awards, one track of faith-related sessions took things deeper. A lot deeper. In fact, I believe we are seeing the beginning of a movement of God.

In one session, photographer Darrell Goemaat from the Regular Baptist Press showed how God has placed him and his incredible skills into a full-time ministry position. Other sessions featured two fairly recent journalism grads who now work for a Christian relief agency; the Chicago Tribune’s religion reporter; and two veteran advisers helping students through the challenges of covering news on a Christian campus.

The deputy managing editor of Christianity Today, Tim Morgan, took a full hour to walk through several gospel passages and show students and advisers that Jesus can indeed be their role model as a journalist. I’m willing to bet that it was the first time anyone ever exposited scripture at a journalism convention.

Lincoln Brunner and I talked about our career paths, how God has called us to missionary journalism … and what it might look like for students seeking to follow God in that direction. While we expected that the students would be interested in what we had to say, their level of buy-in absolutely floored us.

At one point as various students – from both public and private colleges and universities – were talking about their desire to serve God with their vocations, a question popped into my mind. Again, it was one that may never have been asked at a journalism convention. But, what the heck.

“How many of you are sensing God tapping you on the shoulder and prompting you to do something specific?” I asked. Most of the hands in the room went up. Probably the closest I’ll ever come to an altar call.

So we talked through some of those promptings. Many felt called to some form of missionary journalism. Others mentioned humanitarian work … sharing their faith with someone … doing video documentaries … “speaking for the unspoken.”

In response to our potential missionary journalism internship in Costa Rica, one graduate student emailed us later: “I cannot describe the tug in my heart, nor the beckoning I feel toward this opportunity. I only know that it is of Him and that I’m ready to take a risk for Christ.” She also blogged about the convention’s Faith track and how it impacted her.

All this at a college journalism convention. We certainly claim no credit. It was sure fun to have a front-row seat, though. God is beginning to open doors, and minds, to amazing possibilities: Telling stories of what he is up to around the world, and how people can get involved.

Seems to me that is a recipe to help start a revival. Or at least to cover one.