March 25, 2008

10 Writing and Creative Tools I Can't Live Without


I write a lot. I create a lot. I do freelance writing and design, and I work as a communications coordinator for a church. There are lots of tools that I could not live without...now that I have them. Melissa Donovan over at Writing Forward started me thinking about these things. Here is my list.

1. Notebooks
My favorite, as of late, is the Moleskine. It has a nice size, weight, and simplicity about it. I will admit that I have a thing for journals of all shapes and sizes. I have even made my own leather cover before. But there is something about the Moleskin that makes me want to journal. I have a few other notebooks, but the Moleskin is my primary journal.

2. Pen
I use the Uni-Ball Elite with black ink or the Pilot G2. It is difficult for me to consider writing with anything else. I like the thick, dark black lines. I have to wait for the ink to dry or it smears, but it is worth it to have a dark ink stay dark after it dries.

3. Computer
I love my Sony Vaio. It has been the only technology purchase I haven't regretted a few months down the road. Usually I make a technology purchase, and, within a few weeks the price drops or something better comes along. At least with the Vaio it was almost a year before something better came along.

4. Google
Google is king. I use it for blogging, e-mail, docs, searching, homepage, and for its Notebook feature. The Notebook has been invaluable for collecting articles, pictures, etc from various places across the web and compiling them in different "notebooks." Add on the NoteThis feature in Firefox and you have an invaluable tool for researching.

5. GIMP
I came to graphic design, layout, and editing by accident. I have a master's degree in theology! not graphic design or English. Therefore I didn't learn Photoshop and I didn't have the money to buy it. I wanted it, but GIMP is an open source version that does the job that I need it to do. I like it and it is at least comparable to Photoshop as far as I am concerned.

6. The Internet
Where else can you find almost any image, any product, any time you want it. The research is limitless (though flawed sometimes), but there is an unlimited supply of reading material.

7. Pixie from Nattyware
I was introduced to Pixie a few weeks ago. It is a simple color grabber that gives the color code for anything you mouse over. I also like the palette grabber tool on Firefox.

8. Firefox
A few years ago I ditched Internet Explorer for Firefox and have never looked back. There are countless add-ons, tools, and a lot less spyware problems than with Internet Explorer.

9. A Good Atmosphere
I am an atmosphere person. I am inspired by cases of books, my antique table desk, and a good cup of coffee. But I have also done quit a lot of work at Panera. Where else can you get free internet, a good cup of coffee and a bagel. I also like old libraries with lots of wood trim and table desks, and nature often inspires me to sit and soak as I write.

10. Books and Reading
I couldn't write without a continual stream of inspiration found in reading good books and good blog posts. I use Google Reader to keep track of all the rss feeds, and Amazon to order all my books. I have been a bibliophile since I was a kid...it hasn't stopped.

Here are a few extras:
Vacation and rest! I need time away from the craft to come back at it with freshness.
I also like StumbleUpon for just random creative ideas.
I would also add Morguefile and Stock Exchange.
Here are two things I wish were an inspiration: Kindle and iPod

So what are some things that inspire you? What are some tools you can't live without.

March 24, 2008

More on N.T. Wright and Heaven

A few weeks ago I wrote about N.T. Wright's interview with ChristianityToday.com. Here is the post. ChristianityToday.com just offered an excerpt from his new book, Surprised by Hope.

While I have provided a few good quotes, please read the article. There are some passages where it would simply be an injustice to rip away from its context:

The traditional picture of people going to either heaven or hell as a one-stage, postmortem journey represents a serious distortion and diminution of the Christian hope. Bodily resurrection is not just one odd bit of that hope. It is the element that gives shape and meaning to the rest of the story of God's ultimate purposes. If we squeeze it to the margins, as many have done by implication, or indeed, if we leave it out altogether, as some have done quite explicitly, we don't just lose an extra feature, like buying a car that happens not to have electrically operated mirrors. We lose the central engine, which drives it and gives every other component its reason for working.
Resurrection itself then appears as what the word always meant in the ancient world. It wasn't a way of talking about life after death. It was a way of talking about a new bodily life after whatever state of existence one might enter immediately upon death. It was, in other words, life after life after death.
The mission of the church is nothing more or less than the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus' bodily resurrection. It is the anticipation of the time when God will fill the earth with his glory, transform the old heavens and earth into the new, and raise his children from the dead to populate and rule over the redeemed world he has made.
The split between saving souls and doing good in the world is not a product of the Bible or the gospel, but of the cultural captivity of both.
What do you think? How is your training different from this concept of heaven? How does this view help fit all the "pieces" together?

March 17, 2008

How to Read Scripture

I just finished reading N.T. Wright's book The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture. What an amazing and small book. In this work, Wright explores the issue of what is meant by the authority of Scripture, some common misuses of different understandings of authority, and how to read Scripture in a way that respects the true authority. The authority of Scripture, according to Wright, is the authority of God through the Scripture that empowers the Church to fulfill its mission.

Here are a few quotes:
"...'the authority of scripture,' when unpacked, offers a picture of God's sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community...I want to insist...that we discover what the shape and the inner life of the church ought to be only when we look first at the church's mission, and that we discover what the church's mission is only when we look first at God's purpose for the entire world..." pp. 114-115
"This means that 'the authority of scripture' is most truly put into operation as the church goes to work in the world on behalf of the gospel, the good news that in Jesus Christ the living God has defeated the powers of evil and begun the work of new creation." p. 115
The overarching story of the Bible points not toward a spiritual heaven, but toward a renewed creation. God has been moving human history toward a time when He will renew what has been damaged; a new (renewed) heaven and earth. Through Christ, God has already begun that new work, that recreation, in each person who believes and follows Jesus. We are the presence of the Kingdom of God in this world. In this capacity, we are called to "improvise" the carrying out of this mission and Kingdom in our world.

To "improvise" does not mean that we make things up as we go along. Any knowledgeable (or somewhat knowledgeable) musician will tell you that improvisation has definite rules. You can't improvise a lead guitar solo in the key of C if the rest of the band is playing in the key of G. Not only that, but there are certain notes that go with certain chords and certain scales that must be played...not to mention the timing and rhythm issues.

When we improvise, we have definite rules. We have thousands of years of God's activity recorded for us in Scripture. We see how God has worked and moved, and we are part of that continuation. We also have two thousand years of church tradition from which to draw. Tradition does not stand on the same level as Scripture, but it is wise to see how holy men and women of the Church have understood Scripture and their part in God's mission.

Wright gives five strategies for honoring the authority of Scripture. We must have a reading of Scripture that is:
  • totally contextual
  • liturgically grounded
  • privately studied
  • refreshed by appropriate scholarship
  • taught by the church's accredited leaders

So, let's look a little deeper into How To Read Scripture :

1. Read it in context.

Every word, sentence, verse, chapter, and book is set within context. In order to under stand the verse, you must understand the chapter. In order to understand the chapter you must understand the book. You cannot remove a verse from its context and expect to get the correct interpretation...unfortunately, there is a lot of this going on. It may make a great sermon, but it destroys the integrity of Scripture.

We must also remember that each biblical writer lived in a particular culture during a particular period of time. His culture and time period had an influence on him and his writing. He also wrote in a specific genre. It is important for our interpretation for us to understand this.

Another thing to remember is that we are reading the Bible in a particular culture during a particular period of time. Every person reads the Bible through their own lens of experience, language, culture, etc. In order to understand the Bible, we must be able to understand the lens through which we read the Bible...it will help us understand why read the Bible in a particular way. Have you ever noticed that when a Calvinist reads the Bible they always see Calvinistic theology? Arminians see Arminian theology? Postmoderns? Moderns? The list could go on and on. We have to be aware of our lens so we can be open to God Word to us...it may be different than our theological or experiential training.

2. Have a liturgical grounding.
Scripture was given to the community of believers. From the earliest times it was expected that people would wrestle with Scripture texts in community with others. One person's understanding is valuable in helping others to understand a passage. It also keeps people from going off the deep end with incorrect understanding of Scripture passages.

A liturgical use of Scripture means that it is meant to inspire and infiltrate every aspect of our worship...not just the sermon. Scripture needs to be read, sung, preached, and prayed. It is the founding document of our faith and practice; it informs our ethics and our spiritual development. On a practical level this means that readers and preachers must be knowledgeable of what they are reading...it helps to have proper inflection and correct pronunciation when reading.

3. Study it privately.
While we are meant to live with Scripture as a community, we are also expected to study and wrestle with it on our own. We find strength to go on, insight for holy living, and a transformation of our mind and heart as we study and learn. God speaks to us on a personal level through His Word.

There are several ways to do this.
a. Read it devotionally. Take small chunks of Scripture and just meditate on them. This can be done for a set time period or over a few days or weeks. The point is to allow the full meaning of the passage to soak in and inform your life.
b. Read it in a year (or some other time frame). The point of this is make your way through the whole of Scripture over a set period of time. Some people will read the entire Bible in a year, and many take longer. I have started doing this by listening to the Bible on CD in my car on the way to and from work.
c. Study the Bible. This means digging deeper in the meaning and significance of words, phrases, verses, the culture, etc.

There is a time and place for each method and approach, and each one should be used on a regular basis.

4. Use appropriate scholarship to inform your reading.
We are separated from the biblical writers by over 2,000 years, several major cultural shifts, and two to three foreign languages. To think we can simply read an English translation and get the full meaning of the text is ludicrous. We can get a general idea by reading several different translations, but they still fall short. Biblical scholarship is a continual process of study that helps us understand the language, the culture, and time distance.

This doesn't mean we have to be biblical scholars, but we do need to read good sources and commentaries. We need to utilize word studies, various translations, and be aware of the vast differences in meaning for words and cultural understandings. We have to be careful and pick the best of the available resources. Just because someone has some letters behind their name doesn't mean they are right.

5. Listen to the church's accredited teachers.
This is an extension of the previous "reading," but with some added insight. Good teachers take part in each of these five methods of reading...they read it in context, they participate liturgically, they read it privately, they use appropriate scholarship, and they subject themselves to the church's appointed teachers.

By "accredited" I do not necessarily mean seminary-trained. That is helpful, but not always. Accredited teachers have a significant knowledge base, but also have a deep personal, prayerful experience of the Scripture. They are also recognized as having the spiritual gift of teaching by the Church. They also recognize the deep spiritual consequences associated with being a teacher of the Word.

Each of these "reading" are necessary to hearing the Word of God from the Word of God in a contemporary setting. Scripture is the source of what we know, believe, and practice in regards to God and living in His Kingdom. If we are to truly understand it and it's application, we must read it in relationship to these five "readings."

Questions?
How do you see these "readings" being a benefit and a safeguard for biblical interpretation? How have these kept you from a wrong interpretation? Do these pose any problem for you? How would this understanding correct a lot of misunderstanding?

Here are a few other posts you might like:
Experience and Authority in the Garden of Good and Evil
Are We Asking the Wrong Questions of the Bible?
10 Thoughts on the Nature of the Bible (though in light of this post, I might rethink the explanation of number 7)

March 16, 2008

At Least They Are Honest About Stealing Your Identity


I saw this sign down the street from my house. For a limited time they will steal your identity for only $7.77

March 12, 2008

Is Skepticism Killing Your Spiritual Growth?

"We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can be almost as stupid as a cabbage, as long as you doubt. The fashion of the age has identified mental sharpness with a pose, not with genuine intellectual method and character. Only a very hardy individualist or social rebel--or one desperate for another life--therefore stands any chance of discovering the substantiality of the spiritual life today.Today it is the skeptics who are the social conformists, though because of powerful intellectual propaganda they continue to enjoy thinking of themselves as wildly individualistic and unbearably bright." Dallas Willard, Hearing God.
"So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But Thomas said to them, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.'" John 20:25

Following God is an act of faith. God reveals just enough of Himself to make it plausible to believe, but not so much that our belief can be substantiated beyond the shadow of a doubt. We have to weigh all the evidence, check all of our facts, learn all we can, but in the end it is a leap of faith. We have to take a risk, and trust.

It is imperative that we hear God's voice in today's culture...hear His voice and see Him working in our world, but skepticism can stand in our way.

Just because we have taken a step of faith to believe God exists or even trusted in Jesus for forgiveness doesn't mean we have left our skepticism behind. In fact, it is quite in vogue to remain skeptical well into the Christian life. It is seen as being thoughtful, or, as Dallas Willard puts it "unbearably bright."

It OK to question, ponder, not chase after every whim and breeze of belief, and evaluate and test things. The Bible encourages us to love God with the totality of our being; including our minds. But there is a difference between questioning and being skeptical. Skepticism is the pessimistic side of the equation. It approaches the question, problem, or idea from the side of disbelief and rejection. The idea must be proven before considered valid.

Skepticism is an easy trap to fall into. The educational system breeds skepticism. The culture encourages it. Believers are considered naive and simple. Those who accept and follow an idea are said to be uneducated or stupid. But skepticism has some dangerous side effects. It is like one of those television prescription advertisements that promotes the cure for one problem, but leaves you with a long list of side effects that are worse than the original problem. It will rob you of joy and hope, and ultimately kill your spiritual growth.

The problem arises when it comes to modern day miracles and hearing the voice of God. Skepticism automatically looks for scientific explanation. It ascribes much to the realm of coincidence. We chalk things up to coincidence or "luck," and remove God from the entire equation. The money just happened to show up on that day. That person just happened to give the much needed compliment or correction at that time. You just happened to be late enough to miss that accident. It is easier to say the body self-healed or that some prescription started working than it is to say that the Creator of the universe intervened and brought healing or provided for a need. When skepticism reaches full bloom, God is robbed of the credit and glory He deserves for what He has done.

I am not saying we need to see every little thing as the intervention of God; only that we must be more open to see things as the movement and communication of God. Is it so wrong to say that the same God who breathed life into humanity, that nurtured the message of His love for centuries, and ultimately sacrificed Himself for our sins would not want to care for us and speak to us on a regular basis? Leonard Sweet once said, "I would rather be known for being too forgiving than for being too judgmental." I think we could say a similar thing about our belief in the activity of God. We should rather be known as expecting God to be too involved than not involved enough.

It is just as easy to believe that every trial is demonic and ever coincidence is a sign or symbol and every dream has a message (and wasn't the pepperoni pizza you ate way too late the night before!) and every thought a Word from God. Sometimes those things are exactly what they appear to be, and sometimes they are meant to be a Word from God.

Skepticism comes easily for me. I test and weigh everything I see and hear, and this is not necessarily a bad thing...until it becomes a pessimistic skepticism. There is definitely a fine line to be walked.

Hearing God's voice and recognizing His movement is of vital importance for us today. We need to believe that the stories of Bible are normative for Christians; that they are our stories, and that God can and will respond to us in the same way. If we allow skepticism to rule, we will never hear God's voice or see His working in our world because we will always disregard it as something else, and over time we will blind ourselves to His movement and deafen ourselves to His voice.

Dallas Willard gives a formula for Living with God's Voice:
1. Enter into the new birth offered by Jesus Christ. Jesus told Nicodemus, "You must be born again." The symbolism of birth is meant to demonstrate the need to accept a whole new framework and worldview...a Kingdom mindset.

2. Seek the fullness of that new life and be led by the Holy Spirit. This means we are growing and gaining in our faith. We are doing the good required to bring about God's Kingdom in our world, and seeking to live in the fullness of His gifting.

3. Meditate on God's Word. The Bible reveals God, and sets forth His principles for living. We cannot expect God to lead us on a daily, conversational basis if we are not willing to listen to His word as revealed in the Scripture.

4. Remain alert and attentive to what is going on around us. God works through our thoughts and speaks to us in the situations around us. We can hear Him if we really listen.

5. Pray and speak to God. This is a two-sided conversation, and prayer is our responsibility in the relationship. God wants us to talk. He wants us to tell Him our hurts, pains, wants, desires, and problems, and not just ours, but those of the people around us whom we care about.

6. Use a regular plan. This means we take time to actively listen. We ask God questions and prayers, and then wait for His response. Lectio Divina is one method for hearing God's voice through Scripture, and there are others. Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline offers some practical steps and guidelines.

7. Expect times of quiet. In the beginning, it will take time to get used to hearing God's voice, and sometimes there will be no voice. When this happens:
  • Ask God to point out any sin or hindrance that may stand in the way. There may not be, but it is always wise to start here. Give it some time, and then move on if nothing is revealed.
  • Ask for advice. Go to one or two people who are wiser and have a deeper relationship with God (not close friends) and ask them for help. They may see something in your life that needs attention.
  • Correct any cause or sin if God points one out.
  • Act on what seems best if no answer or correction comes. Sometimes God is silent and lets us make the choice.
Skepticism can kill our spiritual growth because it gives alternative explanations to God's working and communication. It can become an idol in that rather than weighing everything against God it becomes the standard against which God is weighed. God will not stand allow Himself to be compared to anything.

Here are a couple other posts that may be of value
How Do I Hear From God?
5 Steps to Have a Consistent Time with God

The Result of Bad "Left Behind" Theology

March 11, 2008

Experience and Authority in the Garden of Good and Evil

"Experience" is what grows by itself in the garden. "Authority" is what happens when the gardeners wants to affirm the goodness of the genuine flowers and vegetables by uprooting the weeds in order to let beauty and and fruitfulness triumph over chaos, thorns and thistles. An over-authoritarian church, paying no attention to experience, solves the problem by paving the garden with concrete. An over-experiential church solves the (real or imagined) problem of concrete (rigid and "judgmental" forms of faith) by letting anything and everything grow unchecked, sometimes labeling concrete as "law" and so celebrating any and every weed as "grace."
N.T. Wright in The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture.

March 9, 2008

How to Speak Like a Pro


Preaching is one of the main duties of every lead pastor. Every Sunday, whether you are prepared or not, you are expected to step into the pulpit and present something; anything. The best preachers recognize that preaching requires two things: Good preparation and the power of the Holy Spirit.

MarketingSherpa has a great post to help you with the first: Handy Guide to Speaking Like a Pro.

Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Make Eye Contact
2. Drop non-words (the "ums" and "ahs")
3. Go light on text and heavy on images when using slides
4. Record your Presentation (I hate this one because I hate to watch myself, but I recognize the value.)

March 8, 2008

Snow Day!


What a great way to spend a blizzard!

We ran around and made snow...um...angels. Though, I am not sure who drew the horns on top!

We are pushing upward of a foot of snow, and had great fun playing in it. Now we sit back, and enjoy a nice, hot cup of coffee. Maybe finish reading that Dallas Willard book I have been working on.

March 7, 2008

Red Redux

Last night's concert was AWESOME! Red certainly has a great stage presence, and portray a different "feel" because of the positive nature of their lyrics. It is nice to know that there is deeper meaning to them.

While watching the concert, I couldn't help but look around at all the people singing the lyrics back to them, and, not to judge, sensing that many of them were not getting the Message behind the lyrics. And, they certainly were not living out of the Message; the message of redemption in Jesus Christ.

It's not most people's cup of musical tea (or, as I prefer, coffee), but if you want to see their video go here.

Here are the lyrics:

And this how it feels when I
Ignore the words you spoke to me
And this is where I lose myself
When I keep running away from you
And this who I am when I
Don't know myself anymore
And this what I choose when
It's all left up to me

Breathe your life into me
I can feel you
I'm falling, falling faster
Breathe your life into me
I still need you
I'm falling, falling
Breathe into me

And this how it looks when
I am standing on the edge
And this how I break apart
When I finally hit the ground
And this how it hurts when I
Pretend I don't feel any pain
And this how I disappear
When I throw myself away

Great song, and great concert!

March 4, 2008

Red Concert


Today I picked up my tickets to hear the band Red play! Their music is great, and they have a great message.

Here are some quotes from their website:

According to lead vocalist Mike Barnes, Red stands for: passion, pain, but ultimately, redemption.

Randy Armstrong...hopes their music communicates to listeners that they are not alone in their struggles. You never know what people are dealing with in their everyday lives, but I am willing to bet that at some point, we all have experienced the same feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion. Our music addresses a lot of those experiences; those feelings, and the situations that caused them. I hope our music inspires people and let's them know that they are not alone.

An Unexpected Challenge

Every once in a while, I read something that affects me in an unexpected way. Friday night I was reading an address by N.T. Wright, and realized how excited I get when reading good theology, and how much I like theology and biblical study. Over the last week, I have been reading Hearing God by Dallas Willard, and have been challenged in regards to hearing the voice of God in a regular, conversational manner.

Today, I was reading an article on leadership heroes at ChristianityToday.com. I was surprisingly shaken when, after being asked by the author to think of my own leadership heroes and struggling to do so, I read:

Were you able to quickly access your heroes? Maybe the first one came without much effort and the others took some pondering. Or perhaps you had to really think about it and even then had a hard time putting the hero label on someone. Or maybe, for whatever reason, you couldn't name anyone who serves as a hero in your life.

When it comes to naming one's heroes, I've noticed a distinct pattern: the progress a leader makes in moving toward his goals is directly correlated with the degree of speed and certainty with which he can name his heroes. The pattern is most obvious in the negative: I've never coached leader who is unable to name a hero and who also makes substantial progress toward real goals.

I couldn't name one. The author's statement bothers me...in a good way; I think. I guess that not having a strong family background and having a few of my heroes prove to be unworthy of admiration has hurt that in me, but I do want to have heroes. I want to have people that inspire me. I think there might be some, but I have never consciously placed the hero tag on them, and I haven't sought to emulate their best qualities.

I don't know if I completely agree with the author's conclusions, or maybe I do and that is what is so unsettling. I am going to give some serious thought to this; try to discover my heroes

In the meantime, to steal the author's questions:
  • Who are your heroes?
  • Can you name two or three persons you admire and want to emulate?
  • What heroic qualities do you admire?
  • What is it about each of these persons that makes them a hero for you?