Skillen Family News

Here is a quick news update from the Skillen family.

On November 10th, I shared with Advent Presbyterian Church that our family would be leaving the Memphis area at the end of the year and will be relocating to our hometown Wichita, KS. In Wichita, I’ll be joining the Eastminster Presbyterian Church staff as an Assistant Pastor. Pastor Stan shared the news with Eastminster this past week.

This decision came with a heavy heart. It’s been a thrill to serve on the Advent Presbyterian staff. We have done great ministry together over the past 2.5 years and we have made friends that we will have for a lifetime. My favorite thing about Advent is how they follow Jesus with great intention and a light-hearted attitude. Advent has taught me so much about how to love God and to serve others. I will be forever grateful for the ways that I have been shaped as a Christian and as a pastor.

The decision came down to desiring to be near family, many of whom are situated in the South Central Kansas area. The chance to live near family is one that is near impossible to pass up. We are grateful for this wonderful opportunity to do so.

I’ll remain on Advent’s staff until the end of the year, which I am grateful for. Our family gets to enjoy one more Christmas season with that wonderful family of believers.

That’s all the news from Lake Wobegon. Happy Thanksgiving!


Wright or Willard Wednesdays: Power

NT Wright published a neat little book on faith and public life, basically a view of what a Christian politic might look like with the NT book of Acts as a starting point.

Near the end of the book, Wright suggests how God might be at work in the world:

As for power, when people say (as they often do), “Why doesn’t God do something?”, they always seem to assume that if God was really in control he’d send in the tanks and stop the bullies and the unscrupulous getting away with it. But according to the Sermon on the Mount…. when God wants to change the world he doesn’t send in the tanks… he sends the meek, the mourners, the merciful, the hungry-for-justice people, the peacemakers, the incorruptibly pure in heart. That was never a list of qualities you needed to try to work at in order to get into heaven. It was always a list of human characteristics through which God would bring his kingdom on earth as in heaven. That’s how God works. And by the time the bullies and the arrogant have woken up to what’s happening, the meek and the mourners and the merciful have built hospitals and schools; they are looking after the sick and the wounded; they are feeding the hungry and rescuing the helpless; and they are telling the powerful and the vested-interest people that this is what a genuinely human society looks like, thank you very much.

Text Tuesday: Justice

Justice is an explosive word in our culture. Some people on left claim that justice evades certain people groups in our society while some on the right claim that the word is being used to liberally. I once heard a political commentator suggest that if a church goers preacher uses the term “social justice,” you should go to worship elsewhere.

Well… justice is a big, biblical idea.

Probably because it is a craving within the human soul, from the religious to the irreligious. It’s a “felt need.” The Bible has a way of addressing felt needs and it usually addresses them in such a way that emboldens the weak and shames the strong.

OT Israel craved justice. They often asked for it. The Psalms are filled with pleas to a Just God to “make it right.” The Hebrew words mispat and sedeq are used repeatedly in the OT, particularly in places where God is active in the world. Sedeq is used in relationship to “righteousness,” i.e. “God is righteous because God is just.”

That same sentiment is carried into the NT Greek text. The cherished, Protestant doctrine of Justification is linked to the idea of God’s “righteousness” and “justice.” The NT term for justice dikaiosune is the same for “justification,” a term used by brother Paul over 58 times in his letters.

These words get to the heart of the great question of biblical redemption: “How is the one God going to clean up the one world that God loves? In particular, How can God do this since God has decided to lump in fallen humans as part of his re-creation work?”

Those twin issues meet in the God-man, Jesus Christ. God’s righteous judgment against sin and his desire to relaunch human vocation (once bestowed to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Israel, which is now fully met in Christ). Jesus is the only way God’s justice and God’s mercy can be sustain. God announces to the redeemed human, “You are in the right since you are found in Christ.” (“in Christ”… a term brother Paul leverages over and over in the NT)

My favorite hymn (“Here is Love”) has one of the most powerful lines in all of hymnody:

On the mount of crucifixion, fountains open deep and wide,

Through the floodgates of God’s mercy, flow a vast and gracious tide.

Grace and love like mighty rivers flow incessant from above,

Heaven’s peace and perfect justice, kissed a guilty world with love.

What a thought. And what a Savior.

Technique Thursday: Deep Work

Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. Which sounds pretty daunting for anyone, right? Where can I squeeze 10,000 hours for that all-important thing that I’d like to enjoy or master or be known for before I die?

Well, if we can break it down to a weekly goal, it might be more feasible than we can imagine.

The trick, it seems, is to try to carve out what is known as “deep work” or a segment of time where the demands of others. Brian Johnson suggests that if we can get one hour of deep work per work day, the total begins to add up.

One hour a day adds up to five hours per week, which leads to 260 hours a year, adding up to 2,600 hours in 10 years. That’s not bad.

If one were to go from 1 to 4 hours of deep work per day, the numbers multiply. Plugging in that increase leads to over 10,000 hours of deep work in 10 years.

So, the potential is out there if we can put in the work. Channeling 1 to 4 hours of deep work can add up to quite a productive future.

Wright or Willard Wednesday: Apologetics

Dallas Willard passed away on May 8th, 2013. Truly a sad day for many in the Christian world. Dallas was in the midst of writing a book on apolgetics (defense of the faith) as he was passing. The book was completed posthumously and reveals many of his intellectual claims for the Christian faith. You can buy this book on Amazon. I highly recommend.

Here is a section of the where Dallas shares about the manner in which apologetics should be conducted:

Since apologetics is involved with ideas, intellectual claims, and reasoning, it is fitting for apologists to engage in intellectual debates and arguments. However, as we will see in this book, given we are seeking to do apologetics in the manner of Jesus, what is not fitting is for apologists to engage in debates and arguments with an antagonizing, arrogant spirit. Indeed, the best way to make the intellectual aspects of apologetics more effective is to combine them with a gentle spirit and kind presentation.

Text Tuesday: Hypocrite

Matthew’s gospel mentions the term hypocrite (hypokrites) 13 times. Wow! That’s an alarming amount of times for one, particular term. Let’s take a deeper dive.

A “hypocrite” was an actor who would wear a mask in Greek plays to portray two characters, or one character that acted in two different ways, who pretends to be one way and is really the opposite. The term was then used in ethics discourses about how we can say we “believe” in something but actually act the opposite.

All references to “hypocrite” in Matthew are said by Jesus, usually pointed in defense against his most popular opponents: the Pharisees, Scribes, Teachers of the Law. Perhaps the greatest critique that Jesus gives the hypocrite is how (s)he would prosecute another without seeing the fault within herself/himself.


Technique Thursday: Memory Palace

About four years ago, colleague of mine suggested that I preach without notes. “You barely look at the ones you have with you,” she said.

So I took the leap. It was terrifying and exhilarating, at the same time. I haven’t looked back sense then.

I have a bare bones outline with me in case our technology goes down mid-sermon because I still rely on our projection screen for long quotations.

This change in sermon delivery changed my sermon prep time, too. I came across a book that helped me with memorization: Moonwalking with Einstein. The book talks about the wonder of the human mind and an ancient memorization technique called loci, or “memory palace.”

How it works

The author, Joshua Foer, suggests that one envision their childhood home as an outline guide for the talk/presentation that they want to memorize. Then, simply structure the talk with memorable details in each of the rooms of the household. Foer believes that, with some dedication, one can remember a talk years later if deep memory work is conducted. If we can remember the house, we can remember the things we “put” in each room.

The above picture is the basic floor plan of my childhood home in Dublin, OH. Each week, I put the critical points of my sermon in each of the rooms, in order, creating a memory place for each talk, each week. I start with the mailbox (far left) and work into the house and into each room. Delivering the sermon, then, is simply strolling through my childhood home and narrating what’s in the room.


Have a talk coming up soon? Give it a shot. Tell me what you think.

Wright or Willard Wednesday: Paul, Exile, and Jesus of Nazareth

Today’s Wright or Willard Wednesday is from NT Wright’s big book on Paul: Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

In this passage, Wright is beginning to sketch how Paul as a 2nd Temple Jew, shaped his early letters. Here, Wright shares how Jesus fulfills Israel’s longing for a God who returns to them; he is not a god that ascends into a pantheon of gods like the wider Greco-Roman audience might expect:

At the center of his [Paul] Jewish-style monotheism is a human being who lived, died and rose in very recent memory. Jesus is not a new God added to a pantheon. He is the human being in whom YHWH, Israel’s one and only God, has acted within cosmic history, human history and Israel’s history to do for Israel, humanity and the world what they could not do for themselves. Jesus is to be seen as part of the identity of Israel’s God, and vice versa. Israel had longed for its God to return after his extended absence. Paul, like the writers of the gospels, saw that longing fulfilled in Jesus.

Text Tuesday: Owe

One of the interesting categories in Scripture is the array of metaphors used to describe sin. Both sin against God and sin against one another. The dominant metaphor in the New Testament material is debt. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see NT authors use debt, obligation, payment in their material.

The verb “to owe” in the New Testament Greek (opheilo) “conveys an idea of being in debt or under obligation and best be translated as… ‘ought.'” (Mounce)

Obligation is used both as a positive arrangement (e.g. Paul’s obligation to the Greeks and non-Greeks [Rom. 1:14]) and as a negative arrangement (e.g. Paul suggests that circumcision makes one obligated to keep the whole law that doesn’t provide freedom [Gal. 5:3]).

Debt and obligation meet together in a wonderful admonition to the church in Rome:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)