Category Archives: discipleship

The Widest Why

Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp systems and a doctor of psychology, found his statement to be decidedly true, even among some of the worst circumstances known in modern human history.

While I had set aside Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, deciding the honest content too intense for me when I began reading it months ago, the recent COVID-19 situation bid me pick it back up. While being confined to our homes is by no means the same as the atrocities of the concentration camps, we can learn from those who have experienced far more isolation and pain than many of us will ever experience, even in the time of COVOD-19.

Humans need a why, especially in the psychological and emotional strain of not knowing how long a certain experience will last. Again, being safe at home to shelter-in-place is lightyears away from the concentration camp experience; however, both fit into the concept of a “provisional existence of unknown limit.”

Frankl and another doctor from the camps both noted that the death rate between Christmas 1944 and New Year’s 1945 was the highest from any of the other previous years, citing the following as an explanation:

“The explanation for this increase did not lie in the harder worker conditions or the deterioration of our food supplies or a change of weather or the new epidemics. It was simply that the majority of prisoners had lived in the naive hope that  they would  be home again by Christmas. As the time drew near and there was no encouraging news,  the prisoners lost courage and disappointment overcame them.”

antwon-i-L0Ua1RM41DE-unsplash

Frankl noted that those prisoners who were able to connect their life to a future meaning, varied as that might be for each person, were the most able to survive the camps. For some it was a wife waiting to be reunited with him, for others, it was the finishing of scientific studies or a child whom he had promised to see on the other side.

However, he also reported a deep disappointment, even after liberation, when those future hopes were either thwarted or found and found wanting. Often times, the why that had carried them through near starvation, psychological stripping, and inhuman conditions were not enough to hold up life and hope on the other side of the camps.

All that to say, we need a why. But we need a why that can hold the weight of the varied experiences of our human existence.

While I have many minor and a few major why’s for my existence, my hope can only be wrapped up in the widest why: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

On the other side of this pandemic, if our why is anything less than being made into the image of Christ, we may be disappointed.

In the midst of the unimaginable nightmare that had become his existence, Job, who lived before the Cross of Christ invaded human history with lasting hope, had a fuzzy sense of hope.

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand, when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I  do not see him. But he knows the way I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:8-10). 

While we can be certain that Job hoped to see a rebuilt home, a healed body,  and a new family on the other side of his tremendous trials, his deeper hope was that he would be changed.

Believers who live on the other side of the Cross have a much clearer hope. While we do not know how long we will be in this strange COVID reality or how our families and friends will be effected, we do know that, if we cooperate with His Spirit, we can look more like Christ on the other side of this “provisional existence of unknown limit.”

We are invited by Paul to make our widest why to gain Christ and be found more deeply in Him.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of  all things that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings,  becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8 & 10).

 

The Difference Between Submission & Resignation

“There is a significant difference between submission and resignation.”

I don’t remember the full details of the context, but I will never forget the phrase uttered our dear friend and mentor, Judge Bill McCurine. I believe we were having a college gathering in their home, a chance for brand new believers in the beginning of their spiritual journeys to learn from two seasoned veterans of the faith. I believe someone asked about trusting God with singleness. To be honest, I am thankful I don’t remember the immediate context, because the phrase has led to rich application in nearly every arena of my life.

The Difference Defined
According to the Oxford Dictionary,  resignation means, “the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable.”  In fact, the usage example says “i.e. a shrug of resignation.”

I, along with the rest of the Chick-fil-A loving hordes, sigh in resignation every Sunday when we, like clockwork, have a craving for a sandwich and waffle fries, only  to remember it is closed on Sunday.

On the surface, resignation bends the will, changes the schedule, and faces the reality of something unwanted; however, under the surface, at the soul and heart level, it can leave an insidious residue of bitterness, distrust, and frustration. Much like the teenage, “Fine” that is accompanied by huffing, puffing, and foot-stomping, resignation bows but does not fully trust.

Submission, on the other hand, is something altogether different. While they may appear almost identical initially, the degrees of separation between resignation and submission become more evident over time.

Biblical submission is much different than the world’s version which seems often to include force and demonstrations of raw authority and power. The Greek word, hupotasso, translated submit, is a compounding of two words, one meaning “under” and the other meaning “arrangement.” Thus, a biblical definition of submission is to place yourself under God’s arrangement of things, to submit under the Lord’s plan in trusting obedience.

While its outward bowing and releasing of control mirror resignation,  its internal source is quite different. Rather than sighing out of inability to change something, it sighs and submits in a trusting way,  believing that the heart of God knows and does better than we could ever know or do.

The Difference Experienced
If  I am being honest, I my soul has been swinging back and forth between resignation and submission these past few weeks since COVID-19 settled in to stay. If you know me, you know that my Sabbath time on Sundays is my lifeline.  Since my oldest was a  few weeks old,  I have been escaping away to a coffee shop for vital connection with God through His word and prayer and wrestling. As silly as it may seem, the getting away feels like going to a secret place to be alone with the Lord, not as a mother or a women’s ministry director or a wife, just as his desperate daughter.

Another example of my routine being off. I resigned to Sabbath by walking our neighborhood, but I was not happy about it, as evidenced by my pace and posture. A fuming little teapot speed-walking through the neighborhood was I. It was not just the monkey wrench in my treasured Sabbath rhythm, it was all of  it.  Disinfecting groceries, Zoom phone calls instead of face-to-face gatherings, tight spaces and tighter wallets.

miki-fath-1v1zjqxldmc-unsplash

But in that walk, the Lord reminded me that this is not what trusting submission looks like. He began to undo my  grumpy heart and remind me of the absolutely proven nature of his love.

Stay

The too-much-ness out there,
Draws out ineptness in here.
What busyness used to filter,
Now gathers in latent fear.

Your love blocked all my exits,
Enticing my going soul to stay.
Fleeting flings aren’t enough:
You would have me all the day.

It’s scary to sit so still, so long,
Without demand or distraction.
You want uninsulated intimacy,
The whole of me, not a fraction.

Your blocking love can be trusted,
When the checking seems unchecked,
For You died to unblock life eternal,
Giving abundance for my neglect.

Though chosen,  I feel choice-less,
Yet an important choice remains;
Resign in apathy or submit in love.
Your submission my choice trains.

So, stay I must but also shall,
Living within lines You’ve drawn.
Come again You can and will.
Your word is sure as the dawn.

May we learn to submit this season to a trustworthy Father rather than resign in avowed apathy.  This too shall pass.

Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. Psalm 31: 21.

 

Common Ground & Uncommon Hope

In a matter of weeks, the world, once divided on a thousand fronts (party lines, economic lines, national borders, and imaginary borders), has found a great amount of common ground. I revel in the fact that we recognize that we are all in this together. I teared up reading stories of Chinese doctors flying to Italy with supplies and experience after having pushed backed this disease in their nation. I love that our neighborhood email thread has stopped being about which way to vote on propositions and become a bartering station instead. I wonder at the fact that people seem to be seeing each other as fellow people rather than economic units or potential sales.

Yet I fear that we will forget that in the midst of common ground, we also have an uncommon hope.

I keep forgetting that while we are in this together, my neighbors most likely do not have a lasting and living hope that can weather this storm and bring them to safe harbor eternally. While we can and should laugh together about silly songs and toilet paper memes, we cannot stay there. We must point them from our common ground to our uncommon hope.

diego-ph-254975-unsplash

Remember Your Uncommon Hope

In Romans 8, in the context of the children of God groaning inwardly as they wait eagerly full adoption, Paul reminds the believers in Rome that hope, by nature, is unseen.

For in his hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25). 

Now, more than ever before, as our culture bends to an unseen virus, we have grounds  to talk about unseen, but powerfully shaping realities. But before we can offer our unseen hope, we must be shaped by it ourselves. We must remember our living hope.

The apostle Peter who had known Christ as a living man was devastated to watch him die (even if it was likely from afar). He was astonished to see him alive once again, never more to die again. It seems he had this Resurrected Jesus in mind when he wrote to a flagging church that was weighed down by suffering and trials. After his brief introduction to the elect exiles of the dispersion, he immediately reminds them of their living hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living  hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead  (1Peter 1:3). 

Hope in a vaccine, while a good hope, is a not a living hope. Hope in global humanitarian efforts, while appropriate in their right place, is not a living hope. While these will do good work to rescue bodies, they have no power to save souls. None of these hopes can deliver us from the penalty of death, none of them can walk us through the passageway of death to an eternal hope.

The living hope of the Resurrected Christ should be the anthem of the church. As Pope John Paul II so powerfully said,  “We are an Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

Recommend Your Uncommon Hope

I have been convicted about the short sentences that I have been exchanging with our walking neighbors (at an appropriate social distance, of course). I have done an excellent job recognizing common ground by saying things like “This is crazy, isn’t it? Let me know if you guys need anything!” or asking “Are y’all staying sane over there?” However, I want to think proactively about questions or prompts that could lead to deeper conversations or further follow up.

While this may sound formulaic and unnatural to some, intentionality and preparation are tools we use in nearly every other area of life. After all, we are not opposed to thinking intentionally about Instagram posts or tweets. A similar preparation for business meetings or sales pitches is celebrated, not ridiculed. How much more thoughtful should we be when dealing with far more lasting matters: human souls that will live eternally.

If we are dealing with living hope rather than social influencing or sales numbers,  it seems we would do well to be prepared. These are my best attempts at hinge sentences that might lead to a dialogue about hope.

  • “My family and I are using some of this extra time to pray more often. How can we pray for you?”
  • “How are you processing all of this right now? What is helping you cope with all this upheaval?”
  • “I did not grow up in a religious household, but God intervened in my life in college and brought me into a relationship with him. That relationship shapes all of my life and gives me a lasting hope. I would love to share more of my story with you if you ever want to hear it. I would also love to hear more of your spiritual journey.”

Whatever your style, it is the privilege and calling of all believers to move into common ground offering an uncommon hope.

The Squeeze and the Savior

While I have never been diagnosed with textbook claustrophobia, I hate tight places. Elevators, tunnels and all other small spaces make my heart race and my palms sweat. I can rescue a child from the Chick-fil-A playplace blackhole like the best of them, but other than that, I try my hardest to avoid squishy, smushy places in the external world.

Similarly, my soul hates tight, restricting places and situations. With the exception of contortionists, I believe that most humans share my sentiments to varying degrees of intensity. Humans try to avoid being squeezed. Continue reading

The Magnifying Glass of Motherhood

Aleksandr Solzhneitsyn said of his prison cell in the Russian gulag that it taught him how to run a magnifying glass over life.

Not the perspective one would expect from a man falsely-imprisoned in one of the most cruel prison systems in history.

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made
to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.” Continue reading

How the Local Church Can Shine in a Global Pandemic

As I sat down this morning with extra time on my hands from cancelled meetings and appointments, I found my soul stalled out. It seems the incredible amount of statistical information and news stories have left me (and most people, I would presume) paralyzed.

Graphs of flattening curves and comparisons between countries who have responded well or poorly to COVID-19 kept flashing to the forefront of my mind. As such, I was having a hard time knowing how to pray. Continue reading

Fully Opened

As the Spring breaths its new life over a weary, wintered earth, things begin to open. Buds bravely begin the process of opening themselves from being tightly bound, exposing themselves to the outside air.

But buds are not the only tightly bound things. Hearts, hands, and souls are also bound and closed. Exposure to the brokenness of the world constricts the soul. Fears tend to tighten hearts in reflexive self-protection; however, exposure to Christ opens the soul in hope, eager expectation, and even a vulnerable love. Continue reading

The Broadest Base for Boasting

Our culture loves platforms. Any business person, any blogger, or any entrepreneur has heard the pitch on the necessity of building and maintaining a platform. The church is not immune to this strategy. In fact, platforms, audiences, and subscribers can easily become a base for boasting both outside and inside the church. If your platform and base for boasting is built on your self or your gifts, you will find yourself on a shaky base and stuck in a mindset of scarcity; however, if your platform and base for boasting is your Savior, you have the steadiest and broadest base for boasting. Even beyond that, you will find that your platform is a place of abundance that invites collaboration rather than competition. 

Two different kings of Israel illustrate these two different approaches to boasting and platform-building.

Saul & the Shrinking Base 

Saul began on the grounds of humility, as seen when he was initially approached by Samuel as the Lord’s selection of the king His people had demanded. Saul, who was on a mission to find  the missing donkeys of his father, was taken aback by the prophet’s interest in him.

“Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel? And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans of the  tribe of Benjamin? Why then have you spoken to me in this way?”1 Samuel 9:21.   

After his first God-empowered timely military victory over Nahash the Ammonite, Saul was quick to give all honor and glory to God, even when some of his awe-stricken soldiers wanted  to put death all who had publicly doubted the newly anointed king. 

But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel”…There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly. 1 Samuel 11:14-15. 

However,  it did not take long for Saul’s platform to begin to shift from the Lord to himself. Despite the fact that God had proven Himself so obviously faithful and able against the Ammonites,  Saul took action without waiting on word from the Lord against the Philistines only three years later. When confronted by Samuel on his selfish haste, Saul’s answer betrayed this shifting, shrinking platform that would lead to full-blown competitive paranoia as he aged.

Samuel said, “What have you done? And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed,  and that the Philistines had mustered as Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering. 1 Samuel 13:11-12. 

The shift may seem subtle to us, but both Samuel and the Lord knew that Saul’s heart gaze had turned from God to self and audience. Things disintegrate fairly quickly from here, as recorded in the chapters which follow. The remainder of book depicts Saul as a paranoid, jealous former king fighting to hold on to the scraps of his platform. 

oscar-keys-ojVMh1QTVGY-unsplash

David & the Broad Base

David and Saul had similar enough beginnings. Both were Benjaminites who were chosen and anointed as kings in the midst of their obedience to their earthly fathers, one searching for donkeys, the other tending the flocks in the fields. Both received their selection in humility and shocked submission. However, when David who had already been secretly anointed as the future king, came face to face with the Philistines, most notably their giant Goliath, David stayed on the broader boasting ground of God. 

Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine.” 1 Samuel  17:36-37

Throughout the many attempts on his life by the paranoid Saul, David continually fought to wait  on and rely upon the Lord. During one of his flights for his life, David fled to Gath where he found himself in the clutches of another jealous king, Abimilech. David later penned Psalm 34 around this episode as an invitation to God’s people to boast in the Lord.

I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us  exalt his name forever. Psalm 34:1-3. 

Despite the fact that David was abundantly gifted as a warrior, as a poet, and as a leader of God’s people, he fought to make the abundant God His base for boasting. As such, he did not become a jealous platform protector, competing with others for a scarcity of praise. 

Rather, he was able to invite others onto the platform that he knew was ultimately God’s platform. Rather than viewing others as competitors, he invited them in as contributors. 

The character and goodness of our God is the platform God invites each of us people to stand upon and boast in. There is ample room on this base for more. When we choose this platform rather than the shrinking platform of self with its fickle audience of man, we can echo David’s invitation: Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name forever. 

Even more than King David, we can look to the eternal Son of David, Christ, who made the Cross his platform that we might receive His crown. 

Spring-loaded Discipleship

Time binding. I have been reading about time-binding. Lest you write me off as a sci-fi person (which I most certainly am not, though I seem to be raising children who are… never say never), allow me to explain myself.

Time binding is not time bending or some other time-space continuum talk which is well above my pay grade. Rather, it is a concept studied by Alfred Korzbyski which I came across in Present Shock, the most fascinating book I have read in a while.

Korzybski noticed that in addition to storing energy (like plants storing energy photosynthesized during sunlight for darkness and winter) and storing space (like a squirrel gathering nuts from all over and placing them into its niche),  humans also store or bind time.

While time-binding might sound like something only an Avenger could do, it is something we all do regularly.  Douglas Rushkoff wrote the following explaining Korzybski’s concept.

We can take the experiences of one generation and pass it on to the next generation through language and symbols. We can still teach our children things  like hunting or fishing in real time, but our lessons can also be compressed into stories, instructions, and diagrams. The information  acquired by one generation can be passed on more efficiently than if each subsequent generation needed to learn everything through experience. 

Rushkoff describes this action as spring-loading time: if time were a spring, we compress ages of learning and information, passing it on in shorter period of time. This concept of spring-loaded time helped me understand the significant activity that happens within Christian discipleship in a new light.

debbie-harris-R2Xm27QHdMs-unsplash

Discipleship as Time-binding

Passing on information is nothing new. In fact, the passing on both the theological tenants of the gospel along with its practical implications on life within the context of an intentional relationship is as old as the Christian church.

In his last letter to his young protege Timothy, the Apostle Paul perfectly captures the heart of discipleship with its time binding properties.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you  have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will  be able to teach other’s also. 2 Timothy 2: 1-2

Paul had spent countless years of his life doing life with the young Timothy. In addition to knowing the gospel, they knew each other’s strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and stories of upbringing. Timothy knew Paul’s preaching style, the lines he used to transition surface-level conversations with those around them into significant conversations that might move toward spiritual things. Timothy learned from Paul’s experience how to suffer well, how to fight against living for the approval of man, and how to persevere even in the presence of mounting pressure and hostilities.

Knowing he was nearing the end of his life on this earth (which he welcomed… for to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21), he urged Timothy to pass this eternally critical information on to the next generation.

Timothy was to live his life faithfully, binding the lessons he learned as he walked with  God through the Spirit and the Word and compressing them to pass them along to the next spiritual iteration.

This exponentially multiplicative process has been ongoing since Christ ascended back to His father, leaving the Spirit to guide his rag-tag crew of disciples in the continued advance of God’s kingdom.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. We have so much to learn from the spiritual successes and failures of the generations of saints who have gone before us, binding the lessons they learned and spring-loading us for the future. And the coming iterations of the kingdom of God will use the information bound by us and spring-loaded into their lives through our discipleship of them.

Spring-loaded lives

As I was reading about and mulling over these concepts, the Lord was gracious to bring two real life examples into my life, one to our kitchen table and the other to my office.

A friend came over to catch up and enjoy a meal with our family. He shared about his parent’s marriage and how God had enabled him to speak into their relationship at a very critical juncture. With tears of relief in his eyes, he shared about how all the years of training and discipleship he received during his college days had spring-loaded him for that very moment in their marriage. The countless workout sessions with a mentor, the weekly Bible studies, the seasonal retreats, the silly outings… all had been compressed into the wisdom he would need to help his parents reconcile.

Then, just yesterday, I sat down with a retired woman from my church. She was begging for ways invest all the time-binding she had been doing for a lifetime in the lives of the next generation. She said, “I am not getting any younger. I want to get to work passing along these things to new believers.”

Oh, that we might not only carefully number and invest the time we have been given but also bind it to pass it along to the coming generations. May we spring load the spiritual springs of the future that the gospel and its implications might continue its work until Christ returns.