Archive for the 'In Tone and Character' Category

People everywhere are up in arms… over something somebody said… that one time. People everywhere are in agreement… with something somebody said… at that one event. Despite the cultural milieu of post-modernity and post post-modernity, we have this tremendous knack for seeing (at least some) things in black and white. Lines are drawn. Sides are taken. You’re either for or against something, there is no middle ground. And you must make up your mind, especially about the things I find important.

You Are Wrong Some of the Time
Obviously you wouldn’t state your case, or even hold the position you do about a given subject if you did not believe that you were right. But you can’t be right all of the time. If you were, you’d be omniscient. You are probably right about quite a bit that you speak on, but if you haven’t spent a lot of time with your subject material, don’t be surprised when others tell you that you are off base. I witnessed a group of individuals talking about how stupid an all electric car would be. Why? Because the raw material consumption and pollution output to manufacture and deliver batteries for an electric car is greater than the consumption and pollution from a gas powered car? Because the cost of electricity plus the initial cost of the vehicle provides no financial savings over keeping your gas powered car? Because the network grid is unstable and worn out in many places and won’t be able to viably sustain an extended fleet of electric vehicles? No. Their complaint? Because after driving to the restaurant, who would want to run an extension chord up to the building so that you’d have enough power to get home.

Not only can you be wrong in the views you hold to, you can also be wrong about the other person’s views. Often when we receive a message (audibly or visually), what we take away from that message, and what the person sitting next to us takes away can be very different. It’s one of the funniest and scariest things for preachers when talking with their listeners after a sermon to hear the words, “I like it when you said… .” The reason this can be funny and/or scary is because half of the time, what proceeds from their mouths after that phrase was never said by the preacher. In fact, it may not have even had anything to do with the subject of the sermon.

The Person With Whom You Disagree May Be Right Some of the Time
We’ve talked here in the past about charitable reading. Lately, this has been getting confused with being a “fanboy” for some individual. I remember the first book by John Piper that I read, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.” It was for a preaching class in an institution that had some major theological disagreements (as do I) with John Piper. The teacher of the course did not have us read the book because he agreed with everything Piper said. I know for a fact that he did not agree. He had us read the book because Piper had some good things to say, and because it brought up some important issues for preachers to think about.

If you only surround yourself with messages (and the people that communicate them) that you completely agree with, then you are in fact doing what Paul condemns in 2 Timothy 4:3, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” So that I’m clear, I am not saying that we should only read people we disagree with and surround ourselves with people with think are wrong about the essentials. However, if you regularly read/listen to somebody’s teaching and you find yourself shouting in agreement, but not cut to the heart, there’s a good chance that verse applies to you.

Being Wrong Doesn’t Make A Person Evil
Being evil makes a person evil (and wrong). I wonder if at any time in our lives as we grew old enough to debate with somebody that we made the connections: I like puppies – I disagree with that person – that person must be wrong – that person must hate puppies – that person is evil. We seem to be especially adept at drawing such conclusions when it comes to politics and religion. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart gets much of its material from people arguing (often incessantly and stupidly) their political or religious position by attacking their opponents (instead of the views that their opponents hold).

It isn’t just in politics and religion that we almost instantaneously vilify the people we disagree with. I recently read a post about IE 9 (Internet Explorer version 9) that gave 5 reasons why the blog author still didn’t think it was a good web browser to use. There were some illogical arguments, some irrational points of view, and some inflammatory language. It also brought up some interesting and valid points. I’m not unbiased, but I could still see that there were parts of the article to consider and parts to throw away. And yet the comments in response to the article were just as, if not more emphatic on the other side of the authors point of view, to the point of demonizing the author. The comments seemed angry and spiteful, as if the blogger had attacked them personally.

Should we even talk about these things? Absolutely. When we do, Christ must be the foundation for our relationships with others and our communication with them. Where you live, where you use to live, the jobs you’ve held, your education, tragedies you’ve experienced, life events, family members (your life history) all plays a role in how you perceive and understand what is communicated. I think it’s time we let Christ play the greatest role in how we communicate. May you read and listen with patience, understanding, and charity and may your words, written and spoken, be full of gentleness, self-control, and grace.

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“Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still, welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely. What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool!”–Spurgeon, as quoted by Marshall Shelley in Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church, 107

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Just a bit of reflection… of something that I am just as guilty of as those that I see doing it.

A thought that often pops up in my mind as I read “Christian” blogs and comments when people call each other names (liar, heretic, emergent, whatever) and the response that follows – why do we care so much about our “good names”.

When I look at the Lord’s Prayer this part stands in contrast to how we react to people calling our name or character into question:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,

If we live for the honor of God’s name we cannot simultaneously live for the honor of our own name. It’s like trying to serve two gods – it’s a conflict of interests.

I cannot find one scripture where Jesus reacted to anyone who attacked his character. Whenever someone said something bad about Him, He always pointed them to the character of his Father. One example that stands out for me is the one in Luke 15 where Jesus is accused of associating Himself with sinners. He could have reacted in anger, telling them about how they where hypocrites being sinners themselves while He is holy and never sins. But instead He tells three stories demonstrating his Father’s heart for sinners.

If we confess that we have died with Christ and are raised in a new life with Him, living for His cause and not our own, our name and reputation shouldn’t be of concern. This protecting of our reputation on blogs and in comments shouldn’t be.

Now, I know this is process we grow in – laying down our lives. That is why we should also have grace for one another in this respect.

May we live for the honor of His Name alone!

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I laugh every time I watch that commercial.  In the words of Homer J. Simpson, “It’s funny, because it’s true.”  This situation speaks to our culture’s obsession with outward appearance.  A few weeks ago I had my wife shave off all my hair.  I like a short haircut anyway, my hair is thinning, it’s really hot out, and I’m sure I could find more reasons.  But mostly I just wanted to do it for the fun of it.  It’s hair.  It will grow back.  I knew people would comment, but I ended up discovering something disturbing the following few Sundays.

People care more about outward appearances than they do about other people.

People were free with jokes, criticisms, funny looks, etc., about my hair.  ”Did your head get caught in a lawnmower? Har, har.”  We do that with all sorts of outward appearances.  We’ll speak out about the most unimportant things:  Pants a little too short?  Where’s the flood?  Favorite sports team in last place?  I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that hat.  A little under the weather?  You look terrible.  Zit, bruise, or busted lip?  What happened to your face?  All said with a look of disgust and/or ridicule.

My thoughts on this subject were brought back to mind recently when one of our Jr. High students came to church with her new glasses.  As she was leaving the auditorium after the service, I complimented her on the new frames.  Her mother followed up behind her and said to me, “You actually like her glasses?  Why?  I think their ugly.”

I wish I had answered that I liked them because her daughter liked them.  That answer might have challenged her in how she looked at such things.  But instead I made a joke that she didn’t like them because she was old.  Tit-for-tat I suppose.  I was really kind of shocked that her mom had such a negative attitude toward something so innocuous.

We feel the need to speak out against hairstyles, clothing choices, etc. but when it comes to those things that really matter: spiritual health, attitudes of the heart, actions and words toward others, we keep our mouths shut.  The church is called to be a community that encourages, builds up, trains, teaches, feeds, shares with, corrects, prays for, confesses to, forgives and loves each other.  We seem to be content with complaining, gossiping, cajoling, ridiculing, laughing at, questioning, deriding, and otherwise beating each other up relationally.

I don’t care what anybody thinks about my hair, my identity is not found in my outward appearance.  And I of all people can joke around with somebody.  But I’ve also learned the inherent problems with doing that.  Such interaction, especially in a void of positive Christian fellowship and discipleship, leads to shallow people living superficial lives making inconsequential judgments.  Our Christian community is what we make of it.  Think deeper.  Speak less.  Challenge each other.  Follow Jesus.

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Stuart Scott - ESPNTo be honest, I’m getting a bit extremely tired of Christians who are striving to be conformed to the image of Stuart Scott.

I read a blog post today. Granted, it’s a bit old. I scanned it when it was fairly new, but some personal issues in recent days brought it back to mind, and I was wondering, “Was it really that vomit-inducing or is my memory given to exaggeration?” (Answer: no exaggeration on this one.)

Now let me be clear. A lot of what was in this post — when it was sticking to facts — was very accurate and true. But the way in which it was presented — and garnished with a healthy dose of the author’s opinion — was enough to cause anyone with any intellectual honesty to throw up in their mouth at least a little.

The post discussed the reasons given for leaving the faith and/or never believing in the first place. These reasons were broken down into three categories, the first of which was claimed (by the post author) to be mostly populated by obviously fake stories. In case we missed that, it is re-iterated a bit later that the author doesn’t believe the person telling the story most of the time. This is followed by highly dismissive language that covers the writer in the event that one of the stories turns out to be true.

This is then followed by a deadly logical refutation of 10 possible reasons (how we got from 3 to 10 is anyone’s guess), complete with Scripture references backing up much of the refutation.

(The sensitive of ear should be warned that I am about to use language that — in a different context — would probably be deemed offensive. But I am using it in a Biblically accurate sense.)

So, if we boil the post down (along with some of the comments that followed), what the author has said is this: “Take that, you damned atheist. And if you don’t buy into the logic I’ve presented, then to hell with you.”

Literally.

But that’s not quite the message that I hear from Jesus. In Mark 9, we see the story of a possessed boy and his father seeking healing for him. Jesus told the father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” The father admitted to an incomplete belief (”Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”). And you know what Jesus did? He healed the boy.

In John 20, the disciple Thomas stated unequivocally that he would not believe that Jesus was risen unless he had visual and tactile evidence. And so, the next time they were together, Jesus accommodated him. And He did not rebuke Thomas for his lack of faith.

I’ve yet to meet a hurting person for whom logic was the answer. Yes, it can certainly be a tool to help that person see the truth. But it’s certainly not the answer. Jesus is the answer.

I am genuinely happy for the author that he has not faced adversity that was significant enough to shake his faith to the core. And I genuinely hope that God doesn’t deem such adversity necessary in the future to build the author’s sanctification.

But, for the rest of us, there’s grace.

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i hate it when that happens
(or I hate it when that happens)

Luke 18:10-14 (NKJV):

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the publican (aka tax collector) is something that many of us cling to. This world is lousy with Pharisees (particularly as described in this parable) and the advent of the blogosphere just gave them a bigger bully pulpit and a louder megaphone. Trying to disabuse readers of some of their silliness — more specifically, trying to help others avoid the pain brought to me by the Pharisees in my own life — is one of the primary reasons that I write.

Well, apparently, God deemed that I needed to be smacked right between the eyes last night. It occurred to me — rather jarringly — that I have been guilty of living as though the publican prayed:

‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Pharisee.’

In short, I have been proud of my lack of pride. I’m not sure which this is more — stupid or shameful.

It’s all about humility.

I have a feeling that I’m not alone. I hope I am, but I kinda doubt it. If the shoe fits, your mileage may vary, etc, etc ….

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(or Ricky Bobby becomes a theologian )

In case you were not aware, pastor/author Francis Chan is stepping down later this year after a decade and a half as teaching pastor of Cornerstone Church. This video gives a short description of the decision. It’s also a bit amusing, as the guy who was interviewing Chan had no idea what was coming. Watch his face in the first few minutes.

There’s a longer video here — as Chan addresses his congregation regarding the decision.

Now, of those who know who Chan is, there are probably very few who didn’t already know about this transition. So why bring it up, anyway? Well, a sure sign that you’re getting older is that you have déjà vu more often (after all, if there’s “nothing new under the sun”, you’re bound to get more re-runs the longer that you’re on the planet). And I had a massive, two-fold case of it recently.

Piper-esque déjà vu

While some of the reaction to Chan’s decision has been positive — “Wow, rock on, bro; sounds like God is doing some serious stuff in your heart and life” — there has been other reaction that has been quite negative. And the negative reaction isn’t just coming from the far-right fringe bloggers who only care about attaching labels and don’t give a rat’s glutes as to the actual veracity of what Chan writes and teaches. Rather, it’s coming from writers who, while further to the right than I am, I would consider to be rational and capable of conversation with those with whom they disagree. While it’s not clear in some cases, many of these bloggers certainly seem to be people who like/admire Chan. As I said recently about the crucifixion of John Piper, with friends like these …

Actually, a lot of the hub-bub surrounding Chan is quite reminiscent of the firestorm around Piper. And much of the same reasoning that I discussed in my last post about Piper applies here as well. For instance, while Chan’s track record is not as extensive as Piper’s — and it looks like it may never be, at least publicly, as God takes Chan off the radar — it’s still pretty clear that the guy has lapped me (and probably you) a few times spiritually. And while (again) no one gets carte blanche, I’m thinking that a Christian brother needs to be given at least a tiny bit of the benefit of the doubt.

Since the Chan issue has no whipping-boy (a la Warren in the Piper issue), there are some points of divergence in the criticism. One of them seems to be an appeal to cessationism. Now while I think it’s a wrong viewpoint, I don’t have a major beef with cessationism. Unfortunately, in most cases surrounding the criticism of Chan, it’s tied to something with which I do have a major beef.

Many of the writers criticizing Chan would claim to believe in sola Scriptura, and if that’s what they truly believed, I would agree with them. But what they are actually espousing is not sola Scriptura (the belief that Scripture is the highest and ultimate guide for the Christian’s life), but solo Scriptura (the belief that Scripture is the only guide for the Christian’s life). Sola places things like counsel from other Christians, teachings, and guidance by the Spirit on a lower level than Scripture. Solo dismisses them entirely.

Now I would imagine that the writers who espouse solo would argue that that’s not what they’re saying. But when Chan specifically states that he’s been diligently searching the Scripture to be sure that this decision aligns with God’s Word, there are only two conclusions at which we can arrive: (1) the aforementioned critics are ignorant of Chan’s statement* or (2) the aforementioned critics are genuinely espousing solo Scriptura. If the latter is true, then — to be intellectually honest and consistent with their beliefs — they need to stop attending church immediately (and throw out chunks of the Bible, to boot).

(And yes, I recognize the conflict of a believer in solo Scriptura throwing out chunks of Scripture. This is simply illustrative of the lunacy of such a belief.)

One other thought on this. I defy anyone to watch this two-minute video of Chan and tell me that this is not a man who takes the Bible very seriously.

Bobby-esque déjà vu

In Talladega Nights**, there is a conversation between Ricky Bobby and his team’s owner, Larry Dennit Jr., after Bobby has won a race. Dennit chides him on the “obscene gesture” that Bobby made, specifically as it relates to the NASCAR points and sponsorship dollars that it will cost them. The following exchange ensues:

Bobby: With all due respect, Mr Dennit, I had no idea you’d gotten experimental surgery to have your [censored] removed.

Dennit (indignantly): What did you say?

Bobby: Whoa, whoa! I said it “with all due respect”!

Dennit: That doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want to say to me.

Bobby: It sure as heck does! It’s in the Geneva Convention. Look it up!

(The censored word refers to a portion of the anatomy often attributed to manliness.)

While the criticism of Chan and its theological ramifications are quite disturbing, I find it down-right terrifying that some of Chan’s critics are employing the same logic as Ricky Bobby. They might not use the phrase “with all due respect”, but they often employ some radical, wild-eyed (and usually generic) example, quickly followed by “I’m not saying this about Chan, but …”

Puhleeeeeze, Sparky. If you’re not saying it about Chan, then why even bring it up in a blog post that’s all about criticizing his decision? I’ve looked it up. The Geneva Convention does not allow you to make crazy accusations about mythical third parties in the midst of a criticism of a real person, but preempt any cry of “foul” by simply saying that your crazy accusation was not in any way related to the real person.

With all due respect, we’re not as stupid as you show yourself to be.

* I know for a fact that this is the case for one critic. He’s actually proud of his willful ignorance. Don’t confuse him with the facts; his mind’s made up.

** (not a movie I’d recommend, FWIW)

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But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Cor. 15:20

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul addresses the church on an issue where there seems to have been some doubt – resurrection of the dead. I noticed, especially in this passage, Paul’s reference to Christians who have died as having fallen asleep (he does this in other passages in Corinthians as well as the letters to the Thessalonians). He does not shy away from the word death or from talking about death, in fact, part of what stuck out to me is that this passage contains so much repetition and focus of both terms. In John 11 we read how Jesus told his disciples that their friend Lazarus had fallen asleep and that He was going to wake him up. When they misunderstand him, he tells them that Lazarus has died.

When great men die, the world mourns… briefly. When great men sleep, the world mourns… but has been transformed. I will probably not forget how publicly the world mourned for Princess Diana, nor how Mother Theresa’s passing was overshadowed by it. And yet Mother Theresa is still quoted, referenced, and held up as a symbol of loving, humble, sacrificial service in written and oral communication. Our lives have been impacted by these men and women of the Christian faith because they have taught, mentored, shaped, challenged, and provoked us to live more fully in and for Christ. Often we have personal relationships and friendships with these people, but sometimes God uses a humble servant to touch many lives from a distance.

And so it is the case now that a dear brother in Christ, Micheal Spencer (a.k.a. iMonk) is tired and close to sleep. Through his writings and his own walk he has impacted the lives of many toward maturity in Christ. Below some of our writers (past and present) share in memory, reflection, recognition, and in celebration of how this great man connected with them. Due to the cancer and the loss of work, the Spencer family could use financial assistance if you would like to help. Go here and you will see a note from Michael and Denise with a PayPal link for donating. They do ask that you e-mail Denise if you would like to give.

Brendt

About 12.5 years ago, God called home singer/songwriter Rich Mullins. Burned into my mind for eternity are the first four words of Danl Blackwood’s email notifying us of Rich’s passing : The unthinkable has happened. I still get a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear a hammer dulcimer (an instrument indelibly associated with Rich in many folks’ minds — I personally know of three people who took up the instrument because of him).

Six months after his passing, I sat in a church for a Caedmon’s Call concert, ready to endure two opening acts that I had never heard of, so that we could hurry up and get to the band that we had all come to hear.

The first act was some guy named Andrew Peterson. I liked his music OK at the time. (In retrospect, I probably would have liked it a lot, had I not been predisposed to being a bit ticked that he was delaying Caedmon’s Call from hitting the stage.)

The third song in his set was called “Three Days Before Autumn”. He had written it as a tribute to Rich and as a memory of the whirlwind of emotions that he went through when he found out about Rich’s passing. You can read the lyrics here. It’s a painfully raw song, and I lost it about three lines in. Not a bit misty-eyed, not a few quiet tears, but convulsions of weeping.

I thought I was over Rich’s death. As a friend of mine says, “You know what ‘thought’ done.”

I don’t remember anything else about Andrew’s set, nor anything of the set done by Bebo Norman (the second opening act). When I got home, I looked Andrew up on the web. In those days, he was wholly independent, having never been signed, so some of his music was freely available on his site. I probably listened to “Three Days” about 50 times over the next few days. You may think that maudlin (and maybe you’re right); I found it very cathartic.

I came to realize that, much like Rich had been able to put words to what I was unable to express about God, Andrew had been able to put words to what I was unable to express about Rich.

So why bring this all up now? It’s nowhere near the anniversary of Rich’s passing. Heck, it’s not even too close to Andrew’s birthday. But I’m getting a profound sense of déjà vu.

The opening lines of Andrew’s song say:

Three days before autumn
A cold winter came
Blew in a telephone call when my friend went away
And I swear I heard thunder at the sound of his name
He never even knew me at all, but I loved him the same

It struck me as startling, yet accurate, that Andrew referred to Rich as his “friend” despite the fact that Rich “never even knew [Andrew] at all” and that Andrew “loved him the same”. This is certainly how I felt about Rich, and I’m sure that Andrew and I aren’t the only two people who feel this way.

Now that same feeling (as well as many others expressed in the song) is back with a vengeance, but for someone else. Michael Spencer, dubbed “The Internet Monk” (or “iMonk”, for short) was blogging long before all the cool kids started doing it. And not piddly little “Look at this cute video I found on YouTube” junk — but deep, heavy stuff that often reflected Michael’s own struggles and shortcomings as he tried to live out his faith in Christ as best as he could. If Michael was any more transparent, he’d be invisible.

I’ll be honest — I don’t always read his site as faithfully as perhaps I ought. Sometimes it’s sheer laziness, but sometimes it’s the fear that if I read something that Michael is struggling with, then I’m responsible to deal with it, too. And to be honest, if I had to face down one tenth of what Michael has had to wrestle with, I think I would have bagged this whole Christianity thing a long time ago. But Michael isn’t like that. Even as he recognized severe problems in much of modern-day evangelicalism, he hung on to his faith. Francis Schaeffer may have written a book entitled “How Should We Then Live?”, but Michael is the personification of that question.

Sometimes I have to wonder if what he’s dealing with now “ain’t nothing but a ham sandwich” (as Pancho Juarez is fond of saying) compared to the many issues that he’s written about in the past.

Several months ago, Michael was diagnosed with cancer. He has more recently stopped writing at his site, though a friend has taken over, contributing his own material and recycling some of Michael’s many “greatest hits”. Michael’s wife, Denise, has kept us apprised of his status. Two weeks ago, she told us that the doctor had said that the cancer was too advanced and aggressive to expect a remission from ever occurring, and that he expected the current course of treatment to only give Michael another 6-12 months to live. (I strongly encourage you to read that whole post, as Denise writes about Michael’s faith through this ordeal. It’s encouraging and challenging.)

On Tuesday, Denise told us that that treatment was not helping at all, but actually hurting. So it was discontinued, and Michael is now under hospice care. Denise’s prayer requests have shifted to prayers “for minimal pain and for a peaceful passing”.

As Andrew wrote about Rich, so I feel about Michael. I count him as a friend, even though he “[barely] knows me at all” (I’ve commented several times on his blog, we’ve exchanged a few emails, and I even once was given a derisive nickname by another blogger while in Michael’s defense — a nickname that I wear proudly). And “I love him the same”.

While I’ve learned many things from this guy from a little town in eastern Kentucky, the over-arching theme of what I take from his life and his writings is tenacity. Even in the midst of a lot of insanity swirling around him, Michael holds on to Jesus.

He’ll see Him face to face soon; our loss will be his great gain. Vaya con Dios, my friend.

Tim Reed

I have to admit that I’m a little bit in shock right now. I just got done reading this announcement by Denise Spencer. It is an update on the health of Michael Spencer, who is known as Imonk.

I never met Michael. In fact I only talked to him personally once in an interview I did with him. I remember a few different things about that interview, but what really sticks out was that he warned me that he couldn’t be as witty and entertaining as Brant Hansen, who I had interviewed the week before. Of course, few if any of us can be. That struck me as odd because Michael is undeniably gifted. The idea that he would be intimidated by the performance of someone else on a stage as small as the one I offered was an absurd one, it was a bit like Alex Rodriguez being worried he wasn’t a very good pitcher (somehow the baseball metaphor seems an apt one). The other thing I remember about that interview was realizing how greatly Michael had been gifted by God. I preach once a week. I pour my heart into it, and I am very competent, maybe even approaching excellent at times. However, in order to do that I have to devote 15 hours to crafting a sermon. Michael told me in that interview he sometimes preached as many as 4 in a week. I’d have to work 60 hours to do that, and he maintained a full work load at a ministry in addition to that.

We didn’t talk writing at all in that interview. But I was always amazed at the sheer volume of his writing. He would update Internet Monk several times a week, sometimes with very in-depth writing. I update maybe twice a month. And these days its not terribly in-depth. I’ve started four different novels. I love the concepts behind each of the four of them. None have more than a chapter or two finished. Michael has only officially written a single book that has yet to be released, but I recall how quickly he was knocking out chapters as he kept us updated on the progress of his highly anticipated book.

The man was flat out gifted. Yet, still concerned that he couldn’t entertain as well as others. And its exactly that sort of honest self-reflection that I came to admire and love about him. Because he wasn’t as entertaining as Brant. He wasn’t as good an interview as Brant. And that sort of honest self-assessment was reflected in the body of his work in which he was willing to expose his short comings to the entire world if it meant communicating the gospel in an effective way.

As I read back over what I’ve written I realize that I’ve written about myself a lot. Odd, considering this is supposed to be about Michael. But that’s the kind of person that Michael is. I can’t write about him without writing about myself because the authentically confessional style of writing that Michael was known for draws out the personal journey of each reader into the experience of Micheal’s communication.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I first began reading the Imonk, I didn’t like a lot of what I read. If you dig through my blog’s archives I guarantee you that you’ll find uncharitable, angry, and just plain mean posts about Michael. I don’t have the heart to deliberately delete what I was writing at the time, but I don’t like them now. Its probably why he never (rightly) acknowledged my emails asking entrance to the Boars Head Tavern. As time went on I found myself not so much agreeing with the specific point of his writing, but agreeing with the way he was writing. I won’t pretend that Michael’s writing was the driving force behind the growth I’ve experienced, but his writing significantly affected me. In a lot of ways it was a bellwether to where my journey was taking me. The rejection of consumerism and the culture war especially strongly affected the way I would come to think of my faith. He, in conjunction with other mature and intelligent Christians helped to steer me away from these particularly destructive mentalities to the gospel. And for that I’m forever grateful.

The one thing however, that Michael did without question that impacted his readers more than any other was transparently living and teaching the gospel. The emotions he wrote about were real. The issues he was struggling with were real. The apologies he issued were real. And the gospel he articulated so well is real. In a lot of ways you can’t separate the real struggles, and real emotions from the real gospel. Few people are willing to open themselves up to the kind of scrutiny that Michael was. And as a result few were as effective at communicating the gospel as he was.

You’ve probably realized by now that this might be a eulogy. A few weeks ago his wife, Denise, let the world at large know that Michael was struggling with cancer. It looked bad, the doctors gave him 6-12 months. Today she let us know that the treatments had been ineffective and that they had discontinued medical treatment and had contacted hospice. I had always assumed that some day some lucky publisher would give Michael an opportunity, and that opportunity would grow into a second career as he became well known. Now, it looks like that won’t happen as Denise Spencer has asked for prayers for healing to shift to prayers for a quick passing.

I know this is probably a eulogy, but I hope its a prayer answered, as when Michael Spencer passes, the church and myself will have lost something valuable.

Jerry

I have been a reader of the Internet Monk since I first discovered the wide world of blogging. I am a fan. It’s that simple. I have never met him. I have never spoken to him face to face. And the highlight of my friendship with him was when he once left a comment on a rather curious Facebook status update I had posted. That’s it. Even the few times I posted at his blog as a commenter, I was easily ignored because I was small fish in a big pond, a lightweight fighting heavyweights, and, mostly, because I never said anything that would contradict the Monk. That is, I typically agreed with everything he wrote. I wasn’t controversial. (Well, maybe a couple of times.)

What I love the most about the internet is that is makes the world small(er). I have the blessing of knowing people I would never have known if the internet didn’t exist. What I love about blogging is Michael Spencer. He is honest. He gave honor where honor was due. ( ;) ) And he wasn’t afraid of two of my favorite authors and Christians, Eugene Peterson and Thomas Merton.

And you know what? He dealt with the journey. It was a journey for him, I suspect, where each day brought something new to his mind and comforted his heart in some new way or challenged his assumptions in another way or tweaked his understanding of Jesus and made him start all over again. He explored some of this at one of his lesser known sites, Jesus Shaped Spirituality. He’s kept learning, and we are still growing because of it. It is no small thing to suffer as he did. It is no small thing to do so publicly as he did. It’s no small thing to trust Jesus with all of it and to embrace what he so long taught us to embrace. I will miss Michael Spencer, but I’m not sorry. He is blessed, even as he has been a blessing.

“It takes heroic charity and humility to let others sustain us when we are absolutely incapable of sustaining ourselves. We cannot suffer well unless we see Christ everywhere–both in suffering and in the charity of those who come to the aid of our affliction.”–Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, 93-94

Chris L

The continual process of change – “growing” – has always been a painful one for me, since I find so many of my moorings in the past, and when some of those ties are cut, the uncertainty of change creates an uncomfortable feeling of drift without direction.

One of the few items I remember from my high school English Lit class was a poem by Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.  A brief snippet:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And so has it been for me throughout my life, when faced with friends and acquaintances who have left, or are leaving – ever since a classmate of mine, Matt, was killed by a drunk driver back in high school … while I was taking English Lit.  I skip right over Kubler-Ross’ stage one (denial) and jump right to anger.  Whether it was Matt, or my grandparents, or Rich Mullins or my favorite high school teacher, gunned down in the act of playing “Good Samaritan”, my anger at Adam and the mortality he cursed us all with is deep and wide.

And so it was when I learned that our brother in Christ, fellow blogger iMonk, Michael Spencer, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and more recently, that the treatments were not working, and that he would be moving to hospice care.

When I first started reading blogs, particularly Christian blogs, iMonk was one of the first I’d ever read.  At first take, his name seemed awfully “Catholic” (particularly to one who would have agreed with the Ken Silvas of the world just a short time previous to this), but his wit and insight into the conundrums of living out belief kept me coming back.  It wasn’t that I always agreed with him – I didn’t.  And sometimes, he talked about subjects and held opinions that baffled me – on subjects of theology that I didn’t even know were ever debated.

After John at VerumSerum talked me through how to start a blog, iMonk was one of the first links I listed in my blogroll – and he has been on the blogroll on this site (and its various earlier forms) since the very beginning.  On my own site, I had/have two blogroll lists – one for folks that I generally agree with, and another for ones that I really like, but still “proceed with caution”…  iMonk landed on the second list (along with others I’d probably now move to the first one, but haven’t, just to remind myself that I have changed and survived the change) – he still sounded suspiciously Catholic to me (which is really ironic, since he’s from the Southern Baptist tradition).

As time has passed, I have grown to appreciate Michael’s insight more than I did originally, and our podcast interview with him was one of my favorites – the story of the school and community he worked at and how it operated.   His radically different lifestyle and outlook on life was (and is) very challenging to me.  His view of the kingdom, how it is lived out, and about American materialism has always given me pause – and still makes me uncomfortable when I look at how I live.

His voice will be sorely missed, and I would ask that we all say a prayer for Michael and his family, and that you consider a donation to them if you can afford it, and are led to do so.

And as for anger?  I still rage at the changes that we are forced to live with – particularly those like Michael’s.  I don’t think I will ever fully be over with that in this life, but even so, I want to remember how this iMonk lived and what he passionately believed.  I want to remember this far more than the sorrow and anger at his leaving us.

We will miss him here and now, but we have the hope of meeting him, through the Lord and Savior we share, again in the world to come.

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Two young children are sitting in the back of the car shoving, whining, and complaining about each other.

“What’s going on back there?” demands the mother.

“She keeps pushing me!” the younger whines.

The mother asks the older sibling if this is true.

“Yes, but that’s because she keeps putting her arm in front of my face,” explains the elder.

The mother replies to the younger, “If you want to stick your arm up in the air, fine, just don’t stick it in your sister’s face.”

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise. – Proverbs 10:19 NASB

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Based on the common P2P as shorthand, I offer up F2F as shorthand for “Face to Face.” This is how we should envision ourselves as we post and particularly comment – be it on this blog or any other.

This was driven home to me, recently, in a quite experiential manner. I had a discussion, in real life, with a person face to face, on a topic… a topic I had also recently engaged in on this site. “Recent” is relative, so there is no point conjecturing to which thread I refer.

What struck me in hindsight was my demeanor when arguing a theological point F2F compared to the same argument on the web. The obvious advantages aside (e.g. – body language, facial expressions, history), our F2F discussion was equally impassioned yet it lacked the common escalation I so often engage in on the web. I am not sure why this is. I suppose it is hard to become frustrated and blunt when sitting across the table from someone. I suppose it is harder to be come angry and escalate the rancor when the person’s response (which include their own anger and hurt) are readily visible. There is still something removed and anonymous when arguments are held on the web – even when they are between people who have a history F2F.

We see this all too often in our favorite ODM sites. I am convinced they label people way too eagerly, of course, but I bet (I certainly hope) that they would not be so quick and eager if they knew the person, if they bothered to conceive their point of view, if they engaged them F2F.

We are guilty of this as well. For all the ways in which we struggle to be different… for all the ways that we actually are different… for all the way I believe our approach is superior and more in the spirit of our Lord… I am guilty of saying things in such a manner as I would never dream of doing to a brother/sister in Christ F2F… We are guilty of saying things in such a manner as I would never dream of doing to a brother/sister in Christ F2F.

Maybe P2P is a good reminder: peer to peer. “Peer” – a person of the same legal status. If I do not know this is even more true of those of us in Christ, I don’t know noth’n,

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