Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Violence in Kenya

I have a pastor friend teaching at leadership conferences and training seminars in Uganda. He sent an update regarding the violence breaking out in Kenya. I've always considered Kenya a stable country, but obviously the last few months have shown a lot of tribal hatred and strife boiling to the surface.

Christians have a unique opportunity to pray into these situations in a concerted manner. I encourage everyone out there to keep this tragedy in mind.

As you may know I am presently in Uganda, East Africa teaching at Next Generation Ministry's Leadership Training Institute. Attending this training are two pastors from Kenya; Kennedy from the Kitale area and Wycliffe from the Eldoret area. We received a call from Wycliffe's wife saying that the violence is increasing and that the killers are now attacking churches and in particular Pastors and their families. Both of these men have 14 to 20 families who are in their personal homes seeking safety. My guess is that the American press is paying very little attention to this violence which is increasing across Kenya. I am urgently asking you to get on your knees and intercede for, not just the Christians in Kenya, for the nation as a whole. Kenya is the pivotal nation for the peace and security for all of East Africa. As I write this, innocent men,women, and children are being killed, raped, and mutilated.

Both of these men are men of great faith, but this situation is beyond their faith alone. All Christians in every nation must join our faith for them ad with them and ask our God to intervene in a powerful way and end this violence.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Snow Day Special

Wow! How often do we get snow days anymore? Growing up, it was always the best day when we had a snow out, keeping us from class. I grew up in a rural community, so there were always kids who would get snowed into a farm or ranch even if we had school. I, on the other hand, had no excuse.

I lived a block from school.

I thought about trying to call in saying I was stuck, but they'd probably say something like, "I'm looking out the window and I can see your driveway. Nice try."

Today had a bit of a black cloud in the otherwise bonus day off: I have to travel an hour into the high mountain desert on a bus, catching it at 5:30 am. So first, they didn't cancel right away, so I had to get up early and trudge (more like skate) to the bus stop. Then, they sent us home at 10 am, but we sat at the bus depot for an hour before heading out so they could be sure they got everyone. Ah well. I still got six hours at home I wouldn't have had otherwise. Well spent paying bills and playing G.I. Joes with my 3 boys. Yo Joe!

This gave me plenty of time to dive into the latest book I chose for the CFBA blog tour: My Name is Russell Fink by Michael Snyder. So far it is an interesting read, and I'll have more in a couple of weeks. However, I just had to share this quote from it today. The main character is a hypochondriac, and is getting a mole biopsied by his doctor. Of course, he is sure it is cancer, so he is a bit nervous doing the procedure:

I begin to speak but have to stop and clear my throat. "Please tell me you've done this before, Doc. That you're not reading the instructions as you go."

"Actually, I'm using this paint-by-numbers kit that came with my mail-order medical license."

The wit of Mike Snyder, ladies and gentlemen.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Getting Christians to a consensus on a lot of things can be interesting. However, T.M. Moore from Breakpoint and Chuck Colson's Centurions project thinks he may have some suggestions on how to do this regarding Christians engaging the culture. This is along the lines of my Seven Spheres series from a week or two ago.

Breakpoint talked about it this week and had this great quote:
How do we do this? Our task is two-fold. First, we must participate in culture at the same time that we are engaged in a biblically based critique of culture. For too long, Christians have ignored the arts and have, thus, failed to realize that culture and the arts can be conduits of God’s truth, grace, and beauty.

Second, as the body of Christ, we need to support those among us who exercise their God-given artistic gifts. When we join together “for creative engagement in culture matters,” T. M. argues, we can “create a greater sense of unity in the body of Christ,” as well as increase our impact on culture.

Read the whole article here. I haven't read the book yet, but I'll be interested to check out Culture Matters down the road.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Final Thoughts on Auralia's Colors

I just had a couple of final thoughts on Auralia's Colors.

1. Robert Treskillard described the book as being "poetic". Dang! That was the word I was searching for all night writing my post, and I couldn't come up with it. It is definitely a poetic book.

2. Marcus Goodyear commented "Funny that you describe the book as "truly an amazing accomplishment" but then say it isn't one of your favorites. Did you find yourself appreciating the artistry without being engaged in the story?"

Appreciating the artistry is pretty close. Let me say it this way: I really enjoyed the book overall. When I compare it to books I considered my favorites of 2007, it didn't quite make the list. However, in my opinion it is a very key book for Christian fiction. Overstreet gives us a book that challenges the boundaries of what Christian sci-fi and fantasy can be. It tells a story artfully and boldly, without having to explain to the reader every detail of what is meant from the story.

I was engaged with the story to a great degree, but there was a little that held back. There was a little distance to it. As I said yesterday, it seemed to be part of a grander vision, but lacked a little of what it needed to stand on its own.

Overall, the use of language and the challenge Overstreet set for himself in telling his story is what made me describe it as an amazing accomplishment. I think I can appreciate that without it being one of my top favorites (not to say that I didn't really enjoy it). Is it analogous to saying I know that Beethoven is a master, but I prefer Bach? Perhaps.

So, if you haven't read Auralia's Color, then I do encourage you to take a look at it and give it a chance. I think you'll be rewarded if you do.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Review of Auralia's Colors

An Impressive Palette

At first glance, Auralia's Colors may have a beautiful cover with an intriguing back copy. I was interested when hearing about the book a few months ago on Becky Miller's blog. What you get when you open the pages is the literary equivalent of a master tapestry.

Trying to write a book that prominently features colors is an inspiration that I don't envy. However, Jeffrey Overstreet's first novel is truly an amazing accomplishment.

It doesn't really have a comparison in Christian fiction. That is definitely a good thing (as it shows that this "genre" is growing), but it can be a little harder to characterize it then.

I haven't been to a lot of blogs on this tour yet, but one word that keeps coming up is literary. I think what is meant by that is that the book treats language as a beautiful thing in and of itself, rather than being secondary to the plot or action. The book seems to be carefully crafted, and the choice of words is very picturesque. Even though a major theme is color and beauty, the descriptions of birds taking flight, people's reactions, and other things that could be mundane paint just as compelling of imagery in the reader's mind.

The book takes chances aplenty, and it wins on a lot of them. One of the main characters is only called "ale boy" throughout the book. The plot zigs instead of zagging. There are surprises toward the end that I really didn't see coming. The themes are deeply spiritual, but not clearly allegorical: you can not pin "this is Jesus" on one character and "this is Satan" on another. The mysterious Keeper stays mysterious throughout, and it is not fully revealed. It allows the reader to mine their own conclusions from the book.

Even though this book was very enjoyable, it didn't quite make my list of top books for 2007. I'm sure part of this is just my taste in books - I am usually drawn to a little more fast and furious. Still, some of the plot took a long time to describe without discernible payoff later on in the book, and overall the book seems a little too much like a set-up for the whole series. I am sure it is a very hard thing to make one book self-sufficient and inclusive when imagining a whole series, but as I think about it, this is the reason that the book didn't fully resonate with me.

Overall, this book is a very welcome entry into Christian fiction, and is a well-crafted, entertaining work that should be read by any fan of fantasy. This colorful literature is one of the most important books in Christian speculative fiction in a long time, due to its creativity and daring.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

CSFF Tour - Auralia's Colors

Good things this month for the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour - if you like colorful things. That is because we are highlighting the book Auralia's Colors, by Jeffrey Overstreet. If you are tired of reading the typical fantasy fare, or if you think that Christian fiction can't produce unique, striking fiction, then you need to take a look at this book.

The kingdom of Abascar has been in drab doldrums since their missing queen decreed that all colorful items be stored at the palace to build the realm's prestige. This was supposed to be a temporary edict until the time of "Abascar's Spring," but since the queen disappeared, the ailing king has continued the cold-hearted rule and drained the people's spirits as well.

Outside of the walls of the great city is where the Gatherers struggle to survive. Banished to the forest for various crimes, they toil to make amends and perhaps win a pardon from the king. However, one day a mysterious girl is found in the footprint of a monster, and she is raised by the motley ragamuffins who discovered her.

Auralia proceeds to live without abandon, from a young age having a talent for finding or creating colors and decorating beautiful gifts for the Gatherers. As she grows older, her forbidden talent draws unwanted attention, and may be the turning point for the whole kingdom. But will the turning be a blessing - or a curse?

I will offer my review tomorrow. In the meantime, check out the web site for the book, and Jeffrey Overstreet's insightful blog. Also see my tourmates below for varied opinions and content for the tour. I'm interested to see what people have to say with this one!

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Heather R. Hunt
Becca Johnson
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Pamela Morrisson
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Deena Peterson
Steve Rice
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Art and Fear

Brandilyn Collins did a series of posts this week on a book entitled Art and Fear. It was a great series of posts. If you're not already keeping up with Brandilyn's blog, shame on you. It was a real challenge for any practitioner of the arts, in a good way.

I've ordered the book, so I may share my own thoughts once I get it. Looks like a resource that can help us keep going.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Seven Spheres - Government

Alright, time to wrap this one up. And yes, this is posted on Friday with a Wednesday date.

Did anyone guess what major area of society was left? Has anyone heard a little something about an election this year?

The final sphere of influence listed is Government. This is a no-brainer that it is an area that seriously needs positive influence. Since it leads and guides society in so many ways, it is imperative that Christians are willing to get the training to serve in such an important area.

I personally would want to see believers going into these areas to serve to truly act according to the mind of Christ as listed in Philippians 2. I get very tired of politicians who loudly shout of the evils of unrighteousness and tear down opponents in the process, even for a "good" cause. I am not the authority here, but I would rather see a politician or public servant who is humble, who works with people rather than against people, and find ways to make the best impact on culture without polarizing everything. Maybe the best example of this type of influencer would be William Wilberforce (though he could be polarizing when needed).

So that is it for discussing the Seven Spheres of Influence. I hope that we will see more Christians moving out into areas of culture intentionally, to make a difference through Spirit-led, Biblical principles. From Act One to International Justice Mission to Business Men's Fellowship and many more examples, there are people working to make a change in our nation and in the world. Everyone is called to do something. We can even have Christians making godly highways. Or...something like that (just checking to see if Mark is paying attention).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Seven Spheres - Media

(So no one noticed that this post is listed as Tuesday, yet it is coming out late Wednesday, right? Good.)

The series of Seven Spheres of Influence has the Media for a prayer emphasis on Tuesdays. I'm sure that many people would say that Christians should have a presence in the media. Then I'm sure that an equal number of people would say that we don't need another Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. I'd say that both are true.

I don't have anything against Fox News. Rush? Another story. But Christians in journalism and the media shouldn't be shrill junkets that can't speak credibly. Being called into the media as a mission field means that it will take great wisdom to speak truth. I would love to see reporters who can speak critically of things that deserve it, even within the church. Of course it will be nice to have people who come from a Biblical worldview when speaking of issues that deal with faith, but they really need integrity to speak accurately even when "our" position may be in the wrong.

One more day. Any guesses what we've missed?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Seven Spheres - Family and Home

For those who may remember, there was a great book by Bob Briner that discussed the same topic I've been addressing lately: Roaring Lambs. I can't believe it is from 1993! (How long ago was that again?) It may be hard to find now, but it should be well worth it. His idea was basically that Christians needed to be salt and light in the world. Definitely not a new concept, but it seems that God's people constantly need reminding about getting out and reaching people. Just like the disciples who wouldn't leave Jerusalem in Acts until there was persecution to force them out to Judea and Samaria.

Today's sphere is the Family and the Home. This may not seem like a field that Christians would go out into as a professional, but there is no denying the influence that family and home has on culture in general and people specifically. We know that people can turn out well from broken households, and a good family is no guarantee of kids growing up well. Yet the vast majority will stay true to what they are raised with at home.

I think fields like counseling move into this arena. There's a lot of secular ideology in the counseling and social work fields - all the more reason to have Christians who are strong in their faith and a Biblical worldview to enter this area to touch families where it is needed.

Everyday Christians can do a lot to minister to individual families of kids that come into their lives. Of course, prayer is a vital area, and this is one that we should not neglect. God longs to put the lonely into families - it is His heart, so it should be ours as well.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Seven Spheres - The Church/Religion

I have to say that I'm feeling pretty rushed through this little series, and I don't feel like I'm always able to get my thoughts out the way I want. Before the end of the year, I'd post at lunch at work, and I had time to get my points together. Now I'm squeezing blogging into home and family time, and I fear I'm not coming across the way I want. But there's nothing else to do but press ahead, for now.

One more thing to say in general regarding the Seven Spheres of Influence. Like I said originally, I learned this at YWAM. This teaching was meant to emphasize that we can be missionaries wherever we are called to. Not every one is meant to stay in YWAM - most aren't in fact. The leaders there realized this, and began to work on training people to be missionaries in every field, not just under the specific term "missionary".

Saying that, Sunday's sphere of influence is actually the Church. Yes, the church needs people to come to it with the idea that they will do everything for God's glory and to reach people with the gospel. It may be a sad thing to say, but sometimes this doesn't happen. But it is also more benign than that. There is no denying that religion is a major sphere of influence in culture, and we need to recognize that.

I don't pretend to have the goods to change the church in general. However, I hope my blogging can bring up issues that enlighten people to things they haven't thought of. Also at church, I try to be a catalyst for things that God may be trying to show us there. Since I have had some varied experiences, I try to bring that to the table and offer it up for consideration.

We need to be as mission-minded in church as we are in any other endeavor we take on. It shouldn't be overlooked just because it is our own backyard.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Seven Spheres - Art/Entertainment

Today's focus on Seven Spheres of Influence on culture is the reason I wanted to talk about this on my blog. Saturday is a great day to consider the impact Christians can have on the Arts and Entertainment.

I am very thankful for the worlds of Christian publishing and music. However, there is no reason why we shouldn't have more Christians involved in creating the highest quality entertainment and art in all fields: theatre, movies, literature, music, painting, and more. I've talked plenty about this subject before. I won't necessarily rehash all of those points again (unless anyone out there has questions).

It is very sad that Christians had abandoned the arts as far as producing it to appeal to the masses over the last 50 years or so. As a group we have had so many striking individuals, from Bach to Lewis and Tolkien, contribute great examples of their craft that was appreciated by the world. I don't know why there was a large move away from this in America over the last several decades.

Thankfully, some of this may be changing. The need to engage in creativity and excellence is being noted by Christians across many artistic fields. I think of Barbara Nicolsi as a Hollywood script writer and activist for encouraging faith in her field. David Cunningham is the son of YWAM founder Loren Cunningham, but his mission field is being a major film director. Fiction from a Christian perspective won a major victory with Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, as it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. These are just a few examples of what is happening in this arena.

I really hope that we can see more Christians enter the artistic fields, offering up challenging, beautiful art, that is a credit to our faith and our Creator. We know how much influence entertainment can have on a culture. Let us rise up as people who love Jesus to be excellent in our respective craft and make a difference.

Edit from 1/13: Got this link for the article "Christians, Get Creative" from The Point.

6 Year Old Movie Reviews

From my 6 year old, regarding the new movie The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything:

"It's fun, it's funny, and it's cool!"

Friday, January 11, 2008

Seven Spheres - Business/Commerce

I'm continuing on with looking at seven areas that pretty much encompass all of society, dubbed "Seven Spheres of Influence." I know this is a very late Friday post (read: Saturday), but in the YWAM prayer diary it suggests praying for Business and Commerce on Fridays.

This is a pretty broad category that can include areas such as science and health care as well. When this is taken into account, there are so many areas that Christians can impact acting as professionals in these fields.

One of the basic areas in this area is the impact of general integrity a Christian can provide. I know there are many non-Christians with integrity in these areas, but there's a lot of potential for abuse as well. I know of Christian businessmen who have gone overseas and have really made a difference with all of the graft and corruption that goes on in other countries. Integrity plays a role in all of the various business areas, but a special emphasis on science is crucial. Proper interpretation and ethical consideration is an addition from believers in this field. I think of being in the medical field myself, and the rapidly changing landscape due to scientific advances such as gene therapy. I need to stay educated on the issues to be able to discuss them and the ethical ramifications.

Another area is the plain fact of making money. The love of money is a root of evil, but money itself is neutral. Having Christian professionals who are able to raise capital and support other missionary endeavors. We need knowledgeable people who are gifted at what they do to go into the areas they are called to, and there they can make a great impact.

Hopefully this idea is starting to seep in. I remember a story from early in YWAM's development. Two men came to Loren Cunningham (the founder), feeling a call to missions while he spoke at their church. Their question was how God could use heavy equipment operators. They ended up serving to build a road to a village in Africa. Wherever you are in your life, you can be used by God!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Seven Spheres - Education

In my earlier post I introduced the idea of Seven Spheres of Influence. I basically talked about the concept that Christians can influence culture from several different areas, apart from ministry. There is nothing magical about have "Seven Spheres" - it is a handy way to think and organize it for memory purposes. In fact, YWAM has a great tool they release every year, a Personal Prayer Diary and Daily Planner (in a wonderful array of colors!), that encourages people to pray for these major areas of influence over the days of the week. Isn't that so easy?

In fact, I'm going to go through the different areas in the order that the Prayer Diary lists them, just for ease of keeping track. On Thursday, the prayer focus is on the area of Education. This is obviously an important area to have people who love truth serving kids, teens, and college-aged students.

At no time am I ever going to endorse the idea of theocracy (government run by religion) or that professionals in these fields we'll discuss should use their authority in such a way as to bully people or influence them in an inappropriate way. If a Christian is a teacher, then our laws do not allow her to stand in front of the classroom and lead of all the kids in a devotion. A businessman shouldn't use Christian cronyism to guide all of their contacts or sources.

However, there are a lot of ways where being a Christian can impact these areas. Back to education - a teacher who diligently prays over his classroom before the students come in creates a healthy spiritual atmosphere for learning and protection. Being an example of integrity is important as a lot of children may not see that in other areas of their lives. A good teacher should be able to teach how to think critically and define truth - even if it is not a specific "Biblical" teaching. The Bible doesn't comment on gravity or the Civil War, but a strong teacher can illuminate these arenas without using religious terms or making it sectarian.

Schools are a very hard place to serve. I don't think that teachers get a lot of support anymore. My wife taught 5th grade for a couple of years, and she was amazed how often true "teaching" time was cut into by assemblies, teaching toward a test, or doing lifestyle education like self-esteem or drug-free programs. Many of these things can be good, but in an ever complex world it seems that many subjects are only being skimmed due to the constraints on educators.

It also seems that being an active Christian can be hard, especially in the university setting. College is an area where so much formation is expected, yet if Christians are abandoning this difficult mission field, the positions will be filled by others, and they may not have a favorable view at all of faith and religion.

There is a lot that can be said in this sphere of influence. Hopefully I am starting to show how Christians can be an important influence in these areas. If I'm cutting examples too short or not being clear, please leave me a comment so I can clarify what I'm trying to say.

I'm done with work for the week, the forecast is for steady posts throughout the next few days.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Seven Spheres of Influence

I wanted to introduce a topic that I learned in my time in Youth With A Mission. After the shootings at YWAM Arvada, I was keeping an eye out on the net to see what was being discussed about the mission organization in the wake of the event. Most of the coverage was positive, although I did come across negative publicity, which was bound to happen. No organization is perfect, and YWAM has its warts. However, one of the criticisms was that YWAM tended to produce people that were insular and didn't want to go out of what YWAM was doing.

YWAM is a pretty dynamic, if loose, organization, and it can be very attractive to stay with a group that seems more intense and going than the local church. I've seen folks that have done this very thing. Yet this is antithetical to YWAM's purpose, as evidenced by their teaching on the "Seven Spheres of Influence."

I wanted to introduce this topic because it plays into themes that this blog has touched on. Basically, all of life is under the watchful gaze of God (in Latin it is called "Coram Deo"). I've talked about this regarding creativity and art, but really no part of life is separate from God, especially for us as Christians. If we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, whatever we do can be used to advance the Kingdom of God. (Of course there are limits. I won't be promoting Christian erotica anytime soon.)

After a time YWAM decided that there was a greater role for Christians than just being in specific, called, identifiable ministry. You know, being called "Rev/Pastor/Father/Bishop/Deacon/etc." A Christian businessman could use his influence in his field, mentoring people in Kingdom principles to train a moral workforce in finance or whatever the field may be. There was a great untapped potential for discipleship and transforming not just lives, but entire cultures. If enough Christians entered these "spheres of influence," then a whole nation could be discipled.

I know this idea is not unique to YWAM, but the idea was one of the reasons they founded their University of the Nations to train people in a Biblical worldview of all fields of industry and work. I applaud all others who forge ahead in this way - I think it has the potential to radically change the world.

I'll break down this idea more, and spell out the Seven Spheres, in further posts this week.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A New Routine


That's the first word I uttered this morning. You see, I had a whole eleven days off of work, because it shuts down for non-essential personnel over the holidays. I know that people out there (Mark...) are saying that there's no WAY I should be complaining. However, I have to wake up at 5:00 am to catch a bus at 5:30 am to ride an hour to work. When you've been used to getting up at 8:30 am and going to bed at 11:00 pm over the holidays, "Blargh" is exactly the response that is appropriate.

Plus, it is my blog, so I can whine if I want. Anyone have some nice cheese?

I had a point here somewhere...

ANYWAY, I just wanted to discuss a little bit of change around here. Since my work has me prisoner away for almost 12 hours Monday through Thursday, I would try to do all my blogging during lunch or before the work day officially started. It served me well all year.

Except for the fact that I got in trouble.

It seems that the government frowns on using the internet on their time, and my computer got picked up on a random scan. I will confess to being a net addict, and I know I abused the "check your email at lunch" provision. So I am duly chastised. Unfortunately this changes how I'll do my blog.

This is actually a good thing, because I really do use the net too much. (This may come as a shock to many of you out there that this can happen) The nice thing about using it at work is that I tended to stay away from the computer on work nights and focus on my family. I don't intend to change this for the most part. This means that my blogging will shift from Mon - Thurs on average to Thurs - Sun. Or somesuch.

I still plan on being part of blog tours, but I hope my blogging friends will forgive me if I'm not "around" as much. I do count so many of y'all as true friends, and I will miss hanging out on the web as much. I think this may be a God thing though. If that works out, I'll report on it more later.

See you around!