What does it mean that when Jesus entered Jerusalem the week he was crucified, the crowd "took branches of palm trees" (John 12:13) to welcome him? What do we make of the moment when Jesus curses the fig tree? What does it mean that the Bible begins with a “Tree of Life" in Eden (Gen. 2:9) and ends with a "Tree of Life" at the end, a tree whose leaves "were for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2, 14, 19)?
Holy Spirit, Lead us into the wilderness: away from the sounds and furies, away from our fidgety fingers and swipe/tap temptations, away from the allures of power and pleasure and "likes" and winning. Help us to walk in the way of weakness, the way of the cross, the way of ashes and hunger and weeping for the world.
I woke up on the first day of 2017 in Rome, the "Eternal City," feeling the weight of a world where even the most enduring things are laughably far from "eternal." I was in Rome on a trip with Kira and six young adults from our church. It was a trip we designed around early church history. For six days we led our group to the many sacred Christian sites of Rome: the prison where Peter and Paul were held captive; the churches where Peter and Paul are buried; the early Christian catacombs; the Vatican; churches from the 4th century; churches on top of older churches on top pagan temples.
The following 21 challenges are in no particular order and are by no means exhaustive, and they are largely (but not exclusively) reflective of an American evangelical context. I also should note that each of them represents not only a challenge but also an opportunity. The church has historically thrived when she is tested rather than comfortable.
It was 15 years ago this month that I was a college freshman at Wheaton College. I still remember that August: packing up my parents’ car and driving from Kansas City to the Chicago suburbs, shopping at Target for dorm room necessities, attending orientation week activities, meeting people for the first time who would become my best friends. In many ways those days were the turning point in my life, the beginning of my intellectual and spiritual coming of age.
Most people would probably agree that this presidential election has been the worst ever, a dumpster fire Jerry Springer episode with flourishes of End Times apocalyptica. It’s an election in which 13% of Americans have said they’d rather a meteor hit Earth than live to see either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton elected president. It’s been an exhausting and depressing season, one in which fear and anger are palpable, where suggestions of assassination and actual assassination attempts have both happened this summer, and the nation seems to be teetering on the edge of riots and anarchy
The word “gospel” is a noun and an adjective and a verb and an industry that has become as amorphous as the word “evangelical.” I often hear about how this or that is a “gospel” issue, or how the litmus test of a good church is whether or not they are “gospel-centered.” Blogs and coalitions and conferences and genres of music claim the name.
A pernicious bill (SB 1146) now moving through the California legislature would force Christian colleges and universities into submission when it comes to their beliefs and policies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. What Sacramento says is true about SOGI is now what every knowledge institution in California must acknowledge in practice (if not in belief) to be true. So much for valuing diversity.
Christians: Being like Christ does not mean looking out for your self-interest and safety and comfort and rights above all else. Being like Christ means thinking of others before you think of yourself; prioritizing the safety of others above your safety; willingly ceding your power and privilege and guns and freedom out of love for the powerless, the underprivileged, the weak and the vulnerable.
The predominance of pop cultural narratives of confined spaces and solitary prisons has got me thinking: Why is our culture so anxious about being boxed in? Isn’t western culture today the freest it has ever been? Isn’t America in the 21st century the place where you can literally be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do, as long as it is an authentic expression of your true, autonomous self?
Writing to a group of early Christians in Corinth, the Apostle Paul famously said, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Christ crucified was “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (v. 23), a foolish thing and a sign of weakness. In the ancient world a cross was not something decorative to put atop buildings or wear, diamond-studded, around one’s neck. It was a barbaric method of slow death.
I graduated from Wheaton College 10 years ago this month. This Friday, I’ll be attending commencement ceremonies at Biola University, where I’ve had the pleasure of working for nearly seven years. I’ll be cheering on a dozen or so students who I’ve mentored, taught, employed or befriended; students who will be walking across the stage to receive their diplomas, much as I did when I was their age, a decade ago.
When I think about the times in my own Christian life when I felt the Spirit of God most powerfully, loved the Bride of Christ most profoundly and glimpsed the "city yet to come" most clearly, I recall most readily the moments where I worshipped and fellowshipped alongside believers who were very different from me and yet were clearly family.
If the most fundamental and original sin of mankind is pride, the most fundamental virtue is humility. It's Christ-likeness in microcosm. It's not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. It's giving ourselves away for Christ and his gospel, which is also to say giving ourselves away for others.
A few years ago I thought it would an interesting challenge to think of films that reflected the heart of the season of Advent. You can see that list of “10 Films for Advent” here. But what about Lent? What makes a film “Lenten”? As I thought about it, I first thought of images: films of desert, spartan landscapes; faces of lament and suffering; gray and drab color palettes. Then I thought of tone: somber, contemplative, quiet, yet with a glimmer of hope or a moment of catharsis. Finally I thought of themes: suffering, isolation, hunger, penance, hope. I came up with the list below (in alphabetical order).
I've been very honored to be a part of the initiatives coming out of the new Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts, which launched at Biola back in September.