Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On Fasting

Fasting. You might as well suggest to people that they jab a sharp stick in their eye. "Here everyone, here's a stick -- now, ready, jab!" This is so unfortunate. In my case, I was pretty green in my Christianity when I first heard of fasting. I had no negative preconceptions, so I dove right in. This has proven to be a rewarding and life-altering practice for me, though I'm embarassed to say I've fallen out of habit.

My introduction to fasting came by way of Richard Foster and his seminal book Celebration of Discipline (an absolute must for every Christian leader's library). I found the chapter on fasting to be an indispensible guide. He gives simple instructions and advice for beginners about short and long fasts. Foster says that while the primary purpose of fasting is always intimacy and worship of God, there are secondary purposes as well, and these are the formative ones. Fasting has a way of revealing what is truly in our hearts. Pride, idolatry, jealousy, sensuality or whatever you have been covering up with food and other good things will come to the surface. Fasting can also bring "breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way." (p. 60) I can attest to this first hand! (For a great video-nugget on corporate fasting by Foster, go here.)

Other books and writings that have guided my idea and practice of fasting are Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines, Bill Bright's The Transforming Power of Fasting and Prayer, and John Piper's A Hunger for God. A friend once gave me a reading from Augustine on fasting, but I can't remember its source. Augustine spoke of fasting as a way to subdue the body and direct it to do God's will, as one might withhold food from an unruly horse.

I have personally found that fasting is a way of removing the haze that obscures my spiritual eyes and ears. During my (extended) fasts, I have sensed God's voice and direction in unmistakably powerful ways. These transformative fasts have generally been between 3 and 7 days. There is an important distinction between the short fast (one meal to 24 hours) and the long. Short fasts can never produce certain kinds of experiences. Here is a journal entry from an extended fast several years ago:

"The feeling I had on Sunday evening [the day after a 6 day fast] was so amazing -- I felt I would explode because God's power seemed to be coursing through my veins & body!! My eyes of faith were so strong -- I could believe Him for anything!"
You may ask, as I have, whether I am violating a Scriptural injunction by talking about my fasts. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men . . . [let your fasting] not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret." (Matt. 6:1, 18) I don't think I've transgressed here -- as far as I can tell, I am writing in the Spirit of Jesus' words. I didn't fast to get praise from men and I don't expect any for my having written about it.

It is curious that Jesus assumed we would fast (cf. Mt. 6:16). The practice has fallen out of favor in the prostestant church only in the last century. Perhaps it is time we recovered it.

This brief ramble on fasting is just pieced-together and leaves so many roads unexplored. If it generates some good discussion, I'll do a follow-up. If not, then I guess you got enough.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Renaming the Blog

Okay gang, I need your help on this one.

I'm planning to rename and remodel my blog. I want the blog title to be more in tune with my calling and the way I imagine the blog's purpose.

I've come to see my calling in life as a bridge-builder, translator and middleman. I often find myself between two groups who don't understand each other, with one foot in either camp, trying to translate and make peace. I believe the Lord has prepared and groomed me for this role. My life has taken a somewhat circuitous path, with stops in an unusual assortment of places, ideas and sub-cultures, enabling me to step into the shoes of many different people.

Naturally, this has manifested itself in a love and knack for teaching, but it is so much more.

I want to bring ideas from the ivory tower down to real people. I want to help church folks understand and respect academic types, and vice versa. I want to help those who do not know Christ to see his beauty. I want to be the one who understands both sides of a debate, and can bring both sides together.

In light of these considerations, "Nihil Fit" ("nothing comes") just doesn't make sense. (It was originally meant to protray a certain humility about the origin of the blog's content.) I figure if I want to make my blog accessible, then the name should at least be in English.

So here are three candidates for the new name:

1. Middleman -- no explanation needed

2. Aqueduct -- bringing refreshing ideas from the mountain spring into the public square

3. Idle Babbler -- this is what they called Paul at Mars Hill before he spoke

I'm open to other suggestions of course. I thought of "The Bridge" but it seemed too cliche. I sincerely appreciate your help, gentle reader, in hashing this out.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Muppets - Mahna Mahna

Boy, this brings back memories.

Simone Weil

I have no category for Simone Weil. I just don't know what to think of her. But at the same time, her words make my heart swell. We are kindred spirits, even though I wouldn't claim to be in her league.

You can read about her life and writings here and here.

I became indebted to her in 2002, when I read her essay on the Lord's Prayer. Her insights enabled me to work through what seemed an insurmountable obstacle in my relationship with my father, who was dying and eventually passed away that same year.

Now, I am finally reading more of her work. I am alternately confounded and moved by her. One sentence leaves me wondering if she is a mad heretic, and the next draws me closer to her heart and the heart of God.

Here are a few choice lines I have read recently:

On truth-seeking:

"Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms."

On intellectual honesty:

"Till then I had only thought of [intellectual honesty] as opposed to faith; your* words made me think that perhaps, without my knowing it, there were in me obstacles to the faith, impure obstacles, such as prejudices, habits. I felt that after having said to myself for so many years simply: 'Perhaps all that is not true,' I ought, without ceasing to say it -- I still take care to say it very often now -- to join it to the opposite formula, namely: 'Perhaps all that is true,' and to make them alternate."

On friendship:

"For nothing among human things has such power to keep our gaze fixed ever more intensely upon God, than friendship for the friends of God."

On missions/evangelism:

"[We have an] obligation so strict that we can scarcely fail in it without treason . . . to show the public the possibility of a truly incarnated Christianity. In all the history now known there has never been a period in which souls have been in such peril as they are today in every part of the globe. The bronze serpent must be lifted up again so that whoever raises his eyes to it may be saved."

* This refers to her mentor, Father Perrin.

(All quotations are from Waiting for God, letter IV, translated by Emma Craufurd, pulished by Putnam's Sons: 1951.)


Tuesday, January 22, 2008


1. I've been reading Waiting For God by Simone Weil. Quite an interesting character. Christian spiritual writer, philosopher, and activist.

2. In case you missed MLK, Jr. day, you can watch the full version of the "I Have A Dream" speech here. If you don't know what comes after "I Have A Dream," then you should watch it.

3. For you football fans, here's an interesting commentary on the recent NFC championship game.

4. For a slightly different perspective on discipleship and ministry, check out the Cross Chronicles. Joe is a good friend and one of my catechumens from my years at K-State with Campus Crusade. See this post first.

5. Ever found yourself disturbed by the violent deeds of Israel in the OT? Read William Lane Craig's response to this problem.
Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tight-laced Evangelicals, Miracles, and the Lord's Supper

My short experience as a Christian (compared to some) has mostly been with the tight-laced sort. We don't get too excited (like the Charismatics do), and we aren't superstitious (like the Roman Catholics tend to be). Worship is engaging, but you won't see any dancing, tambourine-waving ladies down front. We accept the miraculous, but we don't look for the Blessed Virgin in our spaghetti dinner. I don't mean to be uncharitable to these other traditions -- I'm just enjoying a bit of fun at their expense.

In the last two years, however, my family has been worshipping at a more liturgical church. You would think that Presbyterians are as tight-laced as they come, but surprisingly, I've found the stereo-type to be off the mark. Our church has actually helped us become more open to the idea of the miraculous. I.e., our laces are loosening, but not in the charismatic sense. I've become more receptive to the idea of supernatural activity during worship, but primarily within the event of the eucharist, and perhaps in the liturgy itself.

Now, as a card-carrying, tight-laced evangelical (TLE), I have always held the respectable view of the Lord's Supper -- the Memorial View. Nothing magical, nothing mystical, just a symbol. Grace comes to us through the word and prayer, not bread and grape juice. But this is being challenged. In our new church, we celebrate the Lord's Table every week (with fresh bread and really cheap wine). Could it be that something more is passing into my soul than physical nutrients? (I'll explore this scripturally in a future post.) I'm open to this idea.

Now, in the midst of all this, I've observed something interesting about myself, and perhaps other tight-laced evangelicals as well. Have you ever noticed who it is that fights tooth and nail to defend the historical (and future) miracles of the Bible (even those that are not widely accepted)? That's right, TLEs. Ironic, isn't it? Or is it? My hypothesis is this: TLEs will battle to the death to defend the miracles of the past (and future), because we have no miracles of the present. Other traditions don't have as much to lose if it turns out that the universe is billions of years old, or if the sun didn't actually "stand still" for Joshua. They witness the miraculous every Sunday.

Any thoughts from fellow TLEs?

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Deceit of Excellence

John Coe, one of my profs from Talbot, once lectured on this subject in class. I grasped it in a small way then, but it is becoming more real to me now. The pull, the siren call of academics is incredibly powerful. But Coe's words have been for me like the cords that kept Odysseus bound to the mast of his ship.

Coe explained that the temptation to find our identity in what we do is a form of idolatry. Rather than glory in our ability to achieve, we must despair of our attempts to fill our empty selves with affirmation and recognition from others. Despair is part of repentance.

Our vocation, whether in the university or elsewhere, wants to exalt itself as master and lord over us. We must despair of our training, our philosophy, our theology, etc. These things must be servants and the center must be Jesus Christ.

There is a deceit of excellence – calling us to give ourselves to our discipline or our work. "Don't give yourself to your discipline. Give yourself to becoming more alive to God. Don’t be charmed by excellence," says Coe.

Our professors and those over us tend to foster this idolatry -- they violate as they were violated. Professors tend to overwhelm us with an intellectual/academic focus because that’s how they were trained.

Coe gave us a prayer project designed to help us examine our hearts in this area:
1 hour – (don’t try to fix yourself in the first 40 min.)
· First 20 min., “Lord, what has been my attitude in the past about my education?” Did it seem like a waste of time? Were you driven? Clown?
· Next 20 min., Explore your attitude right now toward your educational experience. What is your attitude toward your profession? What draws you to it? What motivates you in your degree? How do you feel about grades? What grades should I get? What is my relationship with my professors? Do I need their approval? What about those professors who don’t like me? Should I be here, taking this many units?
· Last 20 min. – Ask God to help you in word only to despair over some things you need to despair over. (NB-- This may not be deep change, but at least a confession of intent to despair.) Do I need to despair over my grades, my profession, my professors approval?


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What Does It Mean to "Know" God?

"'Let not a wise man boast in his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,' declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
In the work of ministry, if we trust in our numbers, our strategies and our gifts rather than in our knowledge of/relationship with God, we are headed in the wrong direction. This was essentially the point (I think) of a message I recently heard during an all-day seminar on campus ministry. At this point in the day, I had both feet on board the train, ready to roll. But I soon began to wonder if we were on the right track.
What followed the inspired exposition of Jer. 9 was a lengthy discussion about strategy, numerical growth, and methodology. In fact, at one point, the speaker offered five key terms that should permeate any discussion of ministry:
WIN (evangelism)
But how can "knowing the LORD" be our highest value, when "BUILD" is only 1/5 of what defines us? (I take "build" to refer to the spiritual development of disciples.) Let me clarify the problem.
There are at least two senses of what it means to "know" God. The first sense is simply the idea of being in a saving relationship with God -- justification by faith. Those who "know" God in this sense are just those who are "saved." The second sense is a deeper, more relationally robust sense. Those who "know" God in this sense are a subset of the "saved" -- those who have entered deeply into their relationship with God and grown into spiritual adulthood. I'll call the first sense know1 and the second sense know2.
The problem is that the speaker seemed to understand Jeremiah 9 as referring to "know1," rather than "know2." But I don't think Jeremiah was encouraging us to boast in mere justification, or mere membership in the covenant community. He was talking about a deepening, maturing kind of knowledge -- know2.
The context of Jer. 9:23-24 gives some support to my view. In the following verse (25), the Lord says he will punish those who are "circumcised, and yet uncircumcised." Similarly, in v.26, he says that "all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart." Is this saying that certain individuals are not "saved?" Or is it saying that certain individuals (or perhaps the entire nation) may be "saved" (they "know1" the Lord) and yet do not "know2" the Lord? In my view, the New Testament analog would be immature Christians, such as those Paul refers to in 1Cor. 2-3.
So here's my point: if we really want to make knowing the Lord our highest value, then "building" people, or helping them to develop spiritual depth in their relationship with God, should be a HUGE part of what we do. But it isn't! This is a problem. Does this mean we stop doing evangelism or movement planting/building? No. But it does mean that the distinguishing mark of any minister of the gospel should be her intimacy with God, not the size of her ministry. Similarly, our goal with those we minister to should be first and foremost to lead them into deeper love with God, not to get them to grow our ministries.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Is One-to-one Discipleship Wrong?

"I'll give you $100 if you can find a single example in the New Testament of Jesus meeting one-on-one with a disciple." A crisp $100 bill, folded slightly, stood defiantly on the speaker's podium.

Needless to say, ol' Ben Franklin had no takers. I guess that settles it, right? The implication is clear: One-to-one discipleship is unbiblical. Wow. That's a big pill for your average Campus Crusader to choke down. And yet the proof, or lack thereof, was staring up at us directly from the pages of the Gospels.

Fortunately for lovers of one-to-one discipleship, there are some serious errors in our speaker's logic. I will highlight two of them.

First, there is a big difference between something's being unbiblical and something's not being in the Bible. To see this, we need to get clear on the term 'unbiblical.' When we say that some practice or claim is "unbiblical," what we generally mean is that it is contrary to the teaching of Scripture. (This is the sense in which the speaker used the term.) For instance, we would say that the proposition, "God is a giant turtle" is unbiblical.

Now when we understand "unbiblical" this way, it is true that if a claim is unbiblical, it will not be found in the Bible (setting aside interpretive issues). This holds for our assertion about divine turtleness.

But is the following also true: If a claim is not in the Bible, then it is unbiblical? Absolutely not. The examples abound. Consider any true proposition about mathematics, physics, logic, or Hebrew grammar, for that matter. There are infinitely many true claims that are not found in the Bible, in either implicit or explicit form, and yet are not contrary to the teaching of the Bible. Thus, we can conclude that "not in the Bible" is not equivalent to "unbiblical." (For more on this idea, see this recent post.)

But wait! Even if one-to-one discipleship isn't strictly unbiblical, we are still faced with the uncomfortable fact that Jesus never did it. Or did he? Here lies the second error in our speaker's logic. If the New Testament doesn't record that Jesus did X, it doesn't follow that Jesus never did X. For instance, I'm not aware of any reference to Jesus' having a bowel movement. Now our speaker might reply that if the Gospel writers didn't mention Jesus' doing X (like having a bowel movement), it probably wasn't something important enough for us to know about. Thus, if one-to-one discipleship wasn't mentioned, either Jesus didn't do it, or it's significance must be on par with that of bowel movements. Fair enough. But all I wanted to show is that the argument from silence ("not in the Bible") won't work in the case of discipleship methodologies.

One additional point should be mentioned here. If someone makes a claim like, "If Jesus didn't do (insert ministry practice), then neither should we," then in order to be consistent, he'll have to abandon every practice that fails his test. This would seem to rule out a host of activities that we take for granted: instrumental worship, printed materials, the officiating of weddings and funerals, (speaking in tongues?), the public solicitation of offerings, etc. It could also be argued, on this basis, that ministers shouldn't marry, have children, or buy homes.

So, if our speaker really wants to discourage his hearers from continuing this dubious practice, it isn't enough to show that Jesus didn't do it; neither is it enough to show that it isn't found in the Bible. What he needs to show is that it is somehow contrary to the teaching of Scipture, and I doubt this can be done. I'm not necessarily advocating one-to-one discipleship, but I certainly don't think it is unbiblical.

Uncanny Likeness

Phoebe Jane (age 8) drew this sketch, simply entitled "Dad," this afternoon while I sat reading. The resemblance is, quite frankly, remarkable. She signed it, "By Phoebe Jane, your eldest or oldest child and daughter."
Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Is It Wrong To Believe That Your Beliefs Are True?

If you ever find yourself frustrated when Christians are criticized simply for believing that Christianity is true* (and by implication, that other religions are ultimately false in some important sense), then you will enjoy this post by J. P. Moreland.

* Of course, in many cases, Christians aren't being criticized simply for this belief, but also because they communicate this belief while acting like complete asses.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

For Uber Nerds Only

Star Trek meets Monty Python. Where no nerd has gone before.

Star Trek meets Star Wars. You've always wanted to know what would happen, haven't you?
Tuesday, January 01, 2008


My first week at Talbot School of Theology (fall 2000), I attended the pre-semester student retreat. All the new students in the philosophy program sat in a circle, introducing themselves one by one. We came around to Sean. "I'm Sean McDowell. Yeah, my dad is Josh McDowell." Next, "I'm Kyle Strobel, and yes, my dad is Lee Strobel." Then there was Matt from Ohio. "I'm Matt Jordan. My dad is Michael Jordan." Laughter erupted. (Matt bore no resemblance to His Airness.)
As I grew to know Sean and Kyle, I saw that they both had inherited their fathers' gifts, and more. Both had razor-sharp minds, good looks and winsome dispositions. I hated them immediately. But seriously, I loved getting to know and study alongside them. I would even venture to say that they possessed a certain spiritual groundedness that stretched beyond that of their fathers. Predictably, they've gone on to bigger and better things since then.
But I must admit I felt a tinge of envy in my soul when I recently browsed through Kyle Strobel's website ( and glimpsed his burgeoning young ministry. I'm also reading his book of the same name. Why the envy? Is it because he seems to be growing in recognition and influence? No. It's because he's doing something that I secretly wish I were doing -- bringing more and more Christians in contact with the life-giving concepts and practices of the spiritual formation tradition.

I think Kyle's site is worth a click. For those of you who are already in the spiritual formation trade (pastors, teachers, disciplers, etc.), it might be a helpful resource. Here's a good place to start -- three tasty video nuggets from three of my heroes (where 'heroes' is used in a non-idolatrous sense): Dallas Willard, John Coe, and Richard Foster. Kyle and I were both profoundly impacted by Prof. Coe and the Institute for Spiritual Formation.

As for the book, I'm still reading it, so I'll let you know what I think when I'm done.