The manuscript for Episode 4 of Small Group Life Barbarians: A Call into Unchartered Faith is making its way into production. (Boy do we work ahead. Would you believe that this doesn’t release until next fall!) Because there’s the sense that maybe we as a culture have become somewhat soft—or perhaps better put, tame—in our faith of late, and because there’s a least a chord of applicable truth in Mick’s words to Rocky in Rocky III, the Small Group Life staff has undertaken production of Barbarians as a means for challenging believers to be more willing to confront life’s messes, challenges, and even opportunities in the spirit of Deborah, David, John the Baptist, Moses, and, yes, Jesus. And so we can address potential blind spots of a barbaric spirituality, we’ll also take up the story of Jephthah and his rash vow. I love this topic.

“But then the worst thing happened that could happen to any fighter, you got civilized.” Mickey to Rocky in Rocky III

One of the challenges of creating a small-group experience of this sort was just how to break this notion of a Christian barbarian into individual study topics—all able to stand-alone in an open group environment yet maintaining some sense of progression. I was planning to include a list with short descriptions, but decided that it might be best to leave that open for the time being. Regardless of where we land, you can expect Episode 4 to be streamlined, missional, and spiritually provocative in that the experience we create is expected to take you and your groups on a journey.

“A barbarian invasion is taking place even right now. They are coming from the four corners of the earth and they are numbered among the unlikely. From the moment Jesus walked among us the invasion began. And just as with those who crossed paths with Him here on earth, those who are most religious will be most offended and indignant.” Erwin McManus, The Barbarian Way

Episode 3: FREEDOM is in production, Episode 2: MISSION is being printed, and Episode 1: FORMATION is now available. This is a brand new series created to be affordable, flexible, and easy-to-use yet uncompromising in the biblical content and small-group experience you would expect. Got any ideas about Christian barbarianism or any of the topics, you can comment here, DM IAmAgonistes through Twitter (brand new), or go to our Facebook fan page.

Two weeks ago, we went to see Wicked at TPAC in Nashville.

I almost have no words for what I felt. Is that too melodramatic?

Working with Serendipity, one of our sort of catch phrases is to take notice of the things that make you come alive. That is where you need to be meeting God in His work.

The only way I can describe how this musical affected me is to say that: it made my heart come alive.

Maybe it is just the hope deferred, finally come true. I have wanted to see the musical for a really, really long time. I first read the book in high school. As soon as I knew there was a musical based on it, I was longing to see it. I am a tiny bit obsessed with musicals, you see.

Maybe it’s the little bit of my heart that still thinks I could be in musicals, if I lost some weight and had a little more talent for acting. I have rarely felt as exhilarated as I did after performing in our Broadway Revue show at church.

Or maybe it’s just the amazing story, come to life. The absolutely phenomenal voice of Marcie Dodd, who played Elphaba and was just, well, enchanting. The unexpected (for me) perkiness of Glinda, which must have required the actress to have endless wells of energy.

It was beautiful. I absolutely did not want it to end. And I’ve come away wondering, what does this mean? Why does it stir my heart so? Is something there unfulfilled, something I should be pursuing?

Have you seen Wicked? I’d love to know your thoughts.

justice2It often surprises me when I Twitter (@chinavols), or post on Facebook, which posts get the most attention.  I can always count on a lot of “thumbs ups” if I mention my children or if I brag on my wife.  If I post on my favorite college football team (Go Vols!), I can get a lot of cheers as well as jeers for sure. But the topic most likely to bring lengthy columns of conversation is politics. Since that’s such a small part of my life (especially considering the fact that I lived in a communist country and couldn’t have an opinion for eight years ;-)) it seems really strange when I look back and see it monopolizing my space. And then I’m even more surprised to see me filling other friends’ spaces in the same way! So why is politics one of the “big three”? What is at the heart of politics that brings out our passion?

While trying to think through this as objectively as I am able, it seems that at the heart of politics is really the idea of justice. Regardless of which side of the aisle we are on or which side of the issues, at the heart of most political debate lies the concept of justice. Those on the Right want justice for unborn babies. People on the Left want justice for unwed mothers. Those on the Left want minorities to be given an extra boost to be fair. And those on the Right think it is unfair to give one group a leg up. Conservatives see war as a way to bring justice to bear. And Liberals see war bringing much injustice to innocent people. While I have strong opinions about all of these political issues, for once I want to stand on the fence and try to understand what really makes us tick…all of us.

It seems that it really boils down to a sense of justice that dwells deep within our souls. Perhaps it is a key attribute of the image of God that remains with us, quietly working while waiting to fully come alive. Whether it is rightly or wrongly applied by one side or another, I will leave for another day or just leave for you to decide. One thing is certain: we are powerfully moved by our strong desire for justice.

The Bible has much to say about justice in the Old Testament and the New.  Deuteronomy 16:20 reminds us to “Pursue justice and justice alone, so that you will live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.” One of the key things that help me to step back and stop vilifying those who disagree with me on political issues is to remember that there is something deep inside them that echoes the heart of God. When awakened by the Spirit of God, redemption will make all things new and hopefully we will all make decisions, political and otherwise, that fully reflect His righteousness.

So, what are some things that you recognize in those with whom you disagree that are really a glimmer of the heart of God?

Any other thoughts on justice?

Deep.” “Depth.” These are words I have used a lot —A LOT—to describe ideas at varying levels over the course of my life. They are terms that, for the most part, require no additional explanation … right? We all know what we’re talking about and we agreed about what we mean when we use words like “deep” a long time ago.

But I wonder.

I wonder if what people really mean by “depth” is information; facts. Maybe even words on a page or even the size of the words. Maybe we refer to knowledge that can be wielded like a sharp instrument in times of need. I wonder if knowledge—even good knowledge—is not so much about growth as it is about one’s default–my defaults, your defaults. That is, to prove I am a person of substance, of some relevance to the world around me, I have been conditioned to believe that I need to be armed with certain facts and special knowledge. I find comfort in fact; find comfort in things that are absolute and can be quantified with certainty. With facts I am not open to examination and, a nice by-product, I can keep people at a safe distance. Fact is commensurate with formula.

But what is knowledge without the intrinsic mediation of the heart?

I almost always try to talk movies during a haircut. Call it my “safe place.” I can’t explain it, but something about the scissors whirring around my ears drives me to a place of would-be and hopeful safety. (Or maybe I want to avoid a meaningful conversation while captive in the stylist’s chair.) Magnolia. No. There Will Be Blood. No. Hotel Rwanda. No. The stylist and I recently found common ground in that we had both seen The Dark Knight. Upon mention of the recent Batman movie, she issued a cease-cutting order that went out to her extremities. Pausing momentarily, she looked at me now instead of my reflection in order to capture the gravity of the moment, and said in a way any Southerner would recognize, “Now that’ll make you think.”

During group time we need more “That’ll make you think” moments and less “Wow I didn’t know that” moments. Facts are comfortable and safe. They are predictable. Not wrong or unimportant, mind you, but not the pinnacle of group time either. Proposition is neither transformational nor redemptive. Allowing group time to become a dazzling array of facts robs us of story, heart, and meaning. As group leaders and small-group pastors, encourage members to go beyond rote and pat answers and look for the story behind the text. Challenge them to know their own stories and the ways God wants to redeem them. We need to look deep inside who we are and who we are becoming. To find true redemptive community a group should relegate facts and special knowledge to a percentage—a small percentage—of the group experience.