Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

 

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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/

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.

 

The Wedding Veil

Posted: October 18, 2012 by Jim Killam in Uncategorized
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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about thin places – places or moments when the veil between heaven and earth is especially transparent. That was a few days before my daughter Lindsey’s wedding, when my kids and I got to experience another one.

First, of course, it was the joy of seeing my beautiful daughter in her wedding dress for the first time, and getting to walk her down the aisle and give her to her new husband, Cory. But during those scripted moments came one that was special and very unscripted.

The wedding was held in a very small, old church. With the audience seated, all the attendants walked in and took their places. Then my two married sons, Ben and Zack, who were the ushers, closed the sanctuary’s two heavy wooden doors. Lindsey and I came up the stairs from the dressing area. Suddenly it was just the four of us, alone there in the vestibule – Lindsey holding my left arm, Ben and Zack looking at us and smiling warmly. No one needed to say a word.

At that moment, all the years of parenting, of being responsible for the care, safety and well-being of my kids, were ending. Another era was beginning. Our family has been through some heartache these past few years. But in that private moment with my kids, it all melted away as we exchanged those knowing smiles. It only lasted 30 seconds at most, but 25 years of memories flashed through my mind.

And then Ben and Zack slowly opened the doors, revealing a beautiful bride for her groom. Lindsey and I slowly walked down the aisle. I took my place beside my own beautiful wife, held her hand, and together we watched the season of our lives change before our eyes.

From a beautiful wedding and a great day, that quiet moment in the vestibule will stick with me the most, I think. We don’t always recognize or appreciate life’s biggest moments until much later. But in this one, I could feel God whispering, “Everything is all right.”

And momentarily, that veil between heaven and earth seemed about as thick as my daughter’s wedding veil.

Mr. Pliska

Posted: July 21, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in Uncategorized

We have a neighbor, Mr. Pliska, who lives kitty-corner behind us. From our backyard, I can look into Mr. Pliska’s backyard and see the butterfly bushes and his garden. I never see him working back there, but whenever I’m tinkering around our yard, he usually finds me and says hi.

This morning I was scraping Chicklets of old paint off the back of the garage when he ambled over, just to talk.

I apologized for the noise. He just shrugged and told me I was doing a good job. He has an easy-going way about him, and even though he’s more than twice my age, we usually find small stuff to talk about. Today was different though.

I told him I had found out from a guy who grew up there, a guy we’ll call Bill who now lives in Denver, that the garage was built in 1964.

“Oh, no, no,” Mr. Pliska said. “Way before that. I got pictures … I’ll bet it was years before that. When I moved in, it was already standing here.”

“What year did you move into your house?”

“1955.”

That’s when it hit me. This man, now 85 and a widower, moved into the same house he was living in this morning during a completely different era in history.

Eisenhower was president. The first transistor radios — transistor radios! — hit the market. Invention of the integrated circuit, a device that now basically runs our lives, was three years away. It was a bit surreal to stand there talking to a man across the fence who hadn’t just lived through all that, but was old enough at that point to have gotten married, had one or two kids and bought a home.

So anyway, I told him that Bill had stopped by one day not too long ago when he was in town, and he told me the garage was built in 1964. As I said, Mr. Pliska begged to differ with Bill’s version, and quickly moved to telling me tales about Bill as a kid — a bit of an eccentric kid, as it turned out.

One story got us both laughing. In the summertime, the Pliskas (eight of them in all) would eat dinner by an open window. More than once, Bill came over unannounced and stood by the window, playing a harmonica for everyone to hear.

“Go home, Bill!” the kids would yell. Who knows how many times that actually happened, but it was funny to imagine this quirky kid wandering over and playing a harmonica while the family was eating and the kids shouting good-naturedly to shut up and go home.

Remembering the old times with his kids — now in their 50s and 60s — got us talking about his late wife, who died eight years ago. He said he misses having someone to do the housework, because while it’s not bad, it takes so much time to do it. He spent 50-plus years doing his stuff out in the yard, and now he has to do all of that himself.

Talking about his kids got us on the subject of ours, and he said he likes to hear the girls running around and playing and making noise, because he misses that. He didn’t exactly choke up when he said it, but his face fell a little and his voice got quieter, and I knew he meant it. Spending all those years listening to the voices and laughter of six kids becomes part of a person. Maybe that’s one of the many reasons grandkids are such a treasure to people — they remind them of those irreplaceable times with their own kids.

So after a while, we ran out of stuff to talk about, but I went back to my scraping wondering if Mr. Pliska was lonely often in his house and what I’ll be thinking in 45 years, looking back on my life and wondering how it all went by so fast.

I’m reading a profound little book right now, called “Chaos and Grace” by Mark Galli, the editor of Christianity Today magazine.  Galli proposes that the American evangelical church is addicted to safety and control, and thus has a terrible time getting about the business of following Jesus.

Which reminds me of a scene in the 1997 sci-fi film, “Contact.” Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, is chosen as the lone passenger for a sphere-shaped spacecraft that humanity had been instructed by extraterrestrials to build. The plans did not include a seat or a harness, so human engineers added those to keep the occupant from flying around inside the capsule. In flight through interstellar wormholes, Ellie is strapped into the seat, but the turbulence is so great it nearly knocks her unconscious. Finally, she does something counterintuitive. She releases the harness and floats gently into the air, while the seat finally breaks free and slams into a wall.

By releasing control and trusting in the greater intelligence that devised the ship and its method of travel, Ellie floated freely and safely as the capsule arrived at its destination. Had she trusted in her own concept of safety, she’d have been crushed.

Sometimes, it’s only in giving up the safety devices we know and cling to that we find true safety in the care of God who knows what’s best for us.

Galli writes (p. 154):

It’s not hard to see how quickly stewardship of our time becomes a means to control and order our lives, rather than an opportunity to begin each day asking, “Spirit of God, to where will you carry me today?” Most likely it will be to the usual places, where we’ll meet the usual assortment of people. Once in a while, he’ll call us to forsake the golden opportunity in order to send us to the desert. Other times he’ll magically transport us to a place or calling we never would have imagined possible. But even when he again carries us back to the same office and classroom, to the same people we meet every day, we will know this: that our lives are not our own, and that the Spirit has given us these people and this place to do God’s work.

“If that is not liberating, I don’t know what is. Scary, to be sure. Requiring more faith than we seem to have on most days. But imagine how freeing it would be to release the death grip we have on our lives and just let the gracious and loving Spirit of Jesus carries us where he would each day.”

Legalism. We hate the word and all it conjures. Jesus hated it, saving some of his harshest criticism for the Pharisees and their fanatical attention to the law while ignoring the heart.

I grew up knowing Christians who would burn records, condemn certain books and never be seen at R-rated movies, yet who were horribly racist, or gluttonous, or indifferent to the poor. The church is experiencing a backlash against this sort of selective legalism, and that’s been a good and God-honoring thing.

I wonder sometimes, though, if disillusioned Christians (me included) have become so resistant to legalism that we also shun the ideas of personal holiness and intentional living.

If, for instance, I park myself in front of the TV some evening, scroll through a hundred channels and eventually land on some mindless reality show and veg for an hour, I’m probably not honoring God with my use of that time.

On the other hand, if I intentionally engage the same show, with an eye toward the spiritual state of our culture, and pop culture, then I probably am honoring God with that time. I’m engaging my brain and I’m letting the Holy Spirit, in effect, sit there next to me and have a conversation that I later can share with someone else.

In Philippians 4:8-9, Paul writes:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

T.J. Addington, in his book and blog, “Leading From the Sandbox,” writes about intentional living — which he boils down to mean, “Does my schedule reflect my personal priorities?”

Take that thought further: Do my entertainment choices – even when no one else is looking — reflect my personal priorities? Or, more precisely, do they reflect what I would like for my priorities to be?

Maybe the more-common question is: Is it worthwhile for Christians just to spend time being entertained, with no higher purpose? Just a little time to rest and recharge?

I think it depends on whether that entertainment moves me closer to God, or further away from God. As Paul would ask: Where am I fixing my thoughts?

If I watch a movie or TV show with a lot of extra-marital sex, or drunken debauchery, I notice something about my spiritual condition. It has sunk. Not because I want to emulate the people on the screen, but because I’m letting myself be entertained by watching depictions of sin. And then if I’m going to keep watching, I have to shut the door on God’s voice – like the end of the “Godfather” movies where Michael Corleone shuts the door in his wife’s face so the men can discuss the evil business they do.

And even in that little example I open the door to a “What’s appropriate for Christians?” conversation that makes people uncomfortable. I can watch the Godfather movies as a profound commentary on America, family and hypocrisy … or I can watch them as brutally violent gangster movies. I can watch “American Beauty” and be struck by its message about the spiritual emptiness of affluent suburbia, or I can watch it because it has a lot of sex and nudity. Where am I fixing my thoughts?

Can entertainment be spiritually neutral? Sure. If I watch a few innings of a Cubs game, my relationship with God doesn’t change much. Then again, I may get either angry or depressed about the sorry state of my team. Being a Cub fan does make one very cynical.

If I watch “30 Rock,” or reruns of “Seinfeld,” can I appreciate those shows’ great writing and wit, and get past their very unbiblical worldview and content? Again, I think it depends on my spiritual state of engagement and where my thoughts are fixed.

And can I watch “Caddyshack” and appreciate the … oh never mind.

The bottom line is, this conversation leaves more than one spiritually solid place to land. That makes legalists uncomfortable.  At the other end of the spectrum, it touches nerves. But our entertainment choices do affect our spiritual condition. Let’s not avoid the conversation because we’re afraid of lapsing into legalism.