Category Archives: Blog

When Nothing Is Everything

I am often left speechless by nature!  Whether it is the breath-taking beauty of the Northern Nights on a clear Fall evening, the stunning constellations of stars in our immense universe, or the cascade of colors that fill our Summer gardens, our God is an amazing God and His diverse and immense creation speaks to His creativity and power.  There is no question of God’s creative genius.  All the evidence displayed freely in nature perpetually affirms this reality.

This diversity and beauty also speaks of God’s greatness and ability to create everything we know out of nothing.  Scripture teaches this in the first words of scripture (the Bible): “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis1:1).  There are diverse theories of how God created but scripture is definitively clear that God created and His creation was created out of nothing.  The academic word for this phenomenon is “exnihilo” (Latin for: “out of nothing”).
Ex nihilo” is not just a theological or academic phrase about creation that has academic implications; it also has radical and profound implications for our day-to-day lives in our complicated world.  Let me explain…
Have you every felt like you have nothing to offer?  Have you ever wondered how God could use you with all your weaknesses?  You are not alone.  These are common experiences.  Think of the many metaphors we have in the English language that speak about this:  Our tanks are empty, our wells are dry, we are tapped out, we are completely spent, etc.  Sometimes, as these phrases indicate, we can feel like we have no energy, no ability to forgive, no ability to love, and no energy to serve.  It is, paradoxically, in these times that we are the most fertile soil.  Fertile soil where God can produce fruit that only He can take credit for.
Whatever you are going through and whatever you may be feeling, I want to remind you of God’s ability to create out of nothing.  You may feel like you have no capacity to forgive those who have hurt you.  You may feel like you can’t love your enemy.  You may feel like you can’t love your spouse any more.   Again, I want to remind you of God’s ability to create out of nothing.
If God could create everything we know and experience, in all its diversity and beauty, out of nothing (ex nihilo), perhaps your nothing is the everything He desires.  
When we trust in God, we can love when we feel we have no capacity to love, we can forgive when it seems that forgiveness is impossible, we can serve others when we are hurting, and we can give when we feel like we have nothing to offer.  The Bible affirms, in fact all nature affirms, that God can do a lot with nothing!
If God created the world out of nothing, perhaps your nothing is the everything He desires.

***This article was recently published in the Vermilion Standard.

Preaching in the “Age of Anxiety”

Introduction & Preamble
Through a series of blog posts over the next several years, my hope is to explore part of the research I am doing for my Doctorate of Ministry degree (DMin) through George Fox Seminary (I’m in the Semiotics and Future Studies Track).  I am, specifically, studying the effects of social media on preaching with the hope of creating a methodological response to this cultural shift that is historically aware, theological grounded, biblically rooted and culturally contextual.

Before you read my first post: Preaching in the Age of Anxiety,” I confess upfront that I am a “media ecologist.”  In other words, I believe media is not neutral but effectual.  I also confess that I am a “hopeful new media ecologist” because I am not anti-media.  Therefore, my desire is the critical adoption and appropriate use of technology, while being aware of its effect and inevitable impact on the message.

Preaching in the “Age of Anxiety”

Original drawing of Icarus by
Nathanial Ashlin-Mayo

Greek mythology tells of the myth of Icarus, the son of Daedalus, the great Athenian craftsman (the attached artwork is from my artistic son Nathanial).  While King Minos held them captive in Crete, Daedalus fashioned wings made from wax and feathers to escape their imprisonment and fly to freedom.  In this mythical tale, Daedalus warns Icarus not to fly too close to the sun or the wax will melt (an ancient warning regarding the limitations of technology).  In the Greek narrative, Icarus ignores his father’s warning and pays the consequence by being lost at sea.

We exist in a great time of technological transition where media is having tremendous effects on how we communicate, relate and interact with the world around us.  To that end, if we continue to use our old methodologies, assumptions and presumptions, we will, proverbially, fly too close to the sun with our man-made constructions resulting in devastating consequences.

Our world has radically shifted: transitioning from the Guttenberg world to a Google world.  These two worlds are very different and this shift is having drastic and revolutionary effects on culture at multiple levels.  Continuing to fly with old world methodologies in a new ecology will, progressively, lead to devastating effects; just as it did for Icarus.

Marshal McLuhan warned:

“Innumerable confusions and a profound feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transitions. Our “Age of Anxiety” is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools–with yesterday’s concepts.”  (Medium is the Massage, 8-9)

Our world has, is and will continue to change in a substantial way and I sense this phenomenon occurring specifically in the field of homiletics (preaching).  I believe we need to learn the lesson from the Greek myth of Icarus. If, as communicators of God’s Word, we decide to try to communicate to today’s world using yesterdays methodologies, it will not only lead to anxiety, the proverbial warming wax, but that wax will inevitably melt and our effectiveness will be lost in the ocean of irrelevancy.

I believe that understanding media and its effects are profoundly important for the future of preaching.  As Marshal McLuhan also stated:

“It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the workings of media.” (Medium is the Massage, 8)  

Most pastors, including myself, have a tendency to enter the homiletic act with presuppositions based on former questions, presuppositions and assumptions. These questions, presumptions and assumptions were designed and based on a culture and society that once was, rather than now is.  I think this tendency is largely due to an ignorance regarding the seismic change that is occurring culturally around us.  This change is ubiquitous and will effect everything – including preaching.

It is my thesis that social media (informational technology’s teenage child) is rapidly and exponentially changing culture on a global scale.  In the dominion of homiletics, people do not enter the preaching relationship (as the congregation) with the same presumptions, assumptions, questions, etc., than they once did. This has changed and is perpetually changing as we move through this major tectonic shift in culture.

If we desire to be effective biblical communicators in our new world, we must be aware of the changing landscape (understanding our changing culture) and be willing to take different means of transportation towards our desired destination (methodologies).

Through future posts I will explore these related questions…

  • What we can learn through the history of technology/cultural change and how it affected preaching as a result?
  • What it means to preach to a generation of content producers rather than media consumers?
  • What does it mean to preach in a participatory culture?
  • How is information technology changing the way we think?
  • How the message (presentation) of the Gospel is re-shaping and why this isn’t bad (the message we share now was largely shaped during the last technological/cultural shift (Guttenberg).
  • What it means to communicate in a non-hierarchal culture – your degree and ordination does not mean what it used to.  What now grants you authority and why? 
  • Preaching in an image-based culture.
  • And many more….

Don’t Settle For A Good Marriage

*The following was originally published in the Vermilion Standard.

Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great” about corporate success, makes the statement that the greatest enemy to great is settling for good.  I want to take Collins’ comment into the context of marriage because I think it is very relevant for anyone who has been married for any length of time.

As a pastor, I am often involved in marriage counseling with people who are on the brink.  Their marriages have been struggling for a while and once they get bad enough, they come, out of desperation, seeking counsel and help.  I am not negating this practice. In fact, if you are in marriage turmoil, stop reading now and seek help.  Counseling is confidential and it is not worth waiting one more minute hoping the pain, anger and the lack of communication will go away and mysteriously fix itself.

This article is intended for couples that have been doing “okay;” their marriages are good.  If this is you, I would ask:  Why settle for good when great is possible?  Why spend multiple years with poor communication, awkward tension, and so on?  Why, when great is possible?

I do premarital counseling for couples preparing for marriage and a huge part of what I do is demonstrate what counseling is and I tell all of them that if, in the future, their marriages become a six or seven out of ten (ten being “great”), to get some help making it an eight or a nine.  People are often surprised that marriage counseling, especially when things are not at the brink, can be filled with laughter and understanding, teaching communication skills and simply making time for conversations that maybe are difficult in the midst of a busy life.

For the men:  I want to give a special challenge to men who seem to avoid marriage counseling, books or videos like the plague.  I want to encourage you with a male friendly illustration.  If your truck had a deflated tire, what would you do?  Would you drive it for weeks, months and years?  What would happen if you did?  It would get worse, eventually wearing down to the place where it would pop at the most unexpected time, all the while lowering your fuel economy and causing difficult driving.  Your marriage is similar.  Every once and a while you need to check your tires, and if they are deflated, get some help.  Recognize that the price it will cost and the time it will take is more than worth it in the long run.  There are lots of books, video and resources that are enjoyable and helpful.  If you desire to go the counseling route, it is important to remember that counseling can be fun, relaxed and open, especially when you are just in for a tune up.

For the women:  I want to help you understand your husband a little and his reluctance, at times, to seek help.  A man’s pride is really important to him and to ask for help in a relationship is difficult.  It means he has to admit he might need help (just as you need to admit it) but it is a little hard on the male ego.  Also, in the context of counseling, guys have a tendency to think, wrongly, that counseling is just hours filled with sharing feelings and ending up with the counselor ganging up on him.

Is your marriage at the brink?  If so, seek help immediately.

Is your marriage good but could be better, work on it!  Read a book, watch a video or get some help via a counselor to make it great.

Is your marriage great?  Consider sharing your wisdom with others and maybe even mentoring a younger couple with the important lessons you have learned along the way.

Whatever you do, don’t settle for a good marriage when a great marriage is possible.

Technology in Ministry #3: DropBox

One product that I have found to be indispensable in ministry is called DropBox.  DropBox in an invaluable tool that allows you to keep files on your computer’s harddrive for offline access but also online for back-up and syncing between devices and computers.  Therefore, I can work on a file on my MacBook Air, close my computer and it will download automatically (with changes) to my MacBook Pro (or my wife’s PC – we share a folder on DropBox), all the while allowing to be accessible on my iPad or iPod for viewing or editing.  Then, when I open it again in my MacBook Air, it will automatically download the updated synced version.  It is ingenious and indispensable.  I use the free version that gives you about 2gigs of free space to share between all your devices.  Although you can get larger storage if you need, I don’t use it to store music or video so the 2gigs works great for me.

The other feature about DropBox that I have eluted to already is the fact that you can share folders in DropBox with others.  In my case, I have my private folders, a public folder (share files with anyone – linked via a website, blog or email for example), a folder I share with my wife, a folder I share with extended family and a folder I share with our office staff.  I have full control over who accesses what.

DropBox has apps for PC, MAC and portable devices as well as through their website, which is accessible on any browser.  The following is a video that explains DropBox.

If you decide to use dropbox, follow this link which will give me a little extra free storage: DROPBOX🙂

Technology in Ministry #2 – Evernote

What is Evernote?
I discovered Evernote about 6-8 months ago and it is outstanding!!!  Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about it.  The ability to electronically file everything in one place on all my devices – brillant!  Evernote is a online tool that allows you to post notes (with lots of application possibilities) in a variety of different forms.  Evernote syncs my notes, automatically, between my computers, iPhone, iPad and does it easiely and seemlessly (creating a back-up for all my Evernote files and notes).

Ways I use Evernote?

  • I use it to hold all my business cards.  In fact, when I get a card, I just take a picture with my phone and create a note for it and put it in my notebook called “Business Cards.”  It is now instantly searchable and accessible on all my devices at any time.  A great feature is that it also scans texts from pdfs and photos so they are searchable later.
  • I use it to draft my articles and sermons.  Evernote is where I put my outlines together, thoughts, sermon illustrations and when I am ready to write a sermon or article in Word, I have everything ready to be organized, copied and pasted.
  • I use it for my expenses, taking pictures of my reciepts and keeping track of mileage.  It is easy and once again available on all my devices (constantly syncing between them).
  • I use it for my todo list.  I have tried lots of todo list apps but I keep coming back to Evernote because it is simple and convenient.
  • I use it for storing webpages I need to reference later (book I want to buy, articles I need to read, etc).  I use the Chrome plugin for Evernote that allows me to clip any webpage into Evernote (including text and photos), making it tag-able, searchable and ready when I need it.
  • I use it for keeping, storing and searching pdfs.  I also use the “Good Reader” app for my iPad that allows me to annotate pdfs (underline, make notes, etc.) which is great for meetings or articles I am reading.
  • I use it for scanning paper hand-outs.  Have you ever been at a meeting and gotten a hand-out in paper formate but wanted it digitally?  Just get an app for your smart phone that allows you to take a picture of the file and convert it to pdf.  Many of these app will then allow you to email it to your free Evernote email address, automatically creating a new note and storing it forever in Evernote.  Once again it is then tagable, file-able and searchable.
  • I use it to keep audio notes of things.  I can record these (you can do it with video too but I have yet to use this feature) on any device and come back to it on any of your devices.
  • I use it for research when writing articles or papers.  It is easy to do, allowing you to search and organize later.
  • One of the best features is using it with Kindle Web which stores my highlights and notes from Kindle books I have read.  Once I am finished a book, I simply clip the Kinde Web page (using the Chrome Evernote Clip Add-on) with my highlights and notes into Evernote and they are then searchable, reference-able and copy and paste-able when I need them.
How Much Is Evernote?
You might be asking, how much does Evernote cost…well this is the best part.  It is free for basic use and the premium version is only necessary if you do a lot of things that take large chunks of data to sync (photos for example).  But even if you do, the premium version is still well worth the price.  The premium version is $5.00 per month or $45.00 per year.