Category Archives: discipleship

Feasting in the Midst of the Mess

Picnics are my love language. Something magical happens when I load up my motley crew, fill the saddle bags with snacks and head to an outdoor space. I love the act of spreading out our massive, well-worn blanket. I love creating a little haven, even if it is only 36 square feet. I love how my children return intermittently to the blanket after roaming, scavenging, sliding or swinging. I love how picnics provide little patches of peace in the midst of the mess that is real life.

Lately, the Lord has been inviting me, in the most tender yet tenacious way, to picnic with Him. Not next week, not when the house is cleaned or the kids are well, not when my marriage is stronger or when my friendships are less messy, but right now, in the midst of the mess.

The Lord told us Himself “sufficient is the day for its trouble,” meaning each day will have messes all its own. We tend to be a people who insistently trust that “in the next season,” things will be neater, easier, less busy. We power our way through to-do lists, seasons of sickness and endless doctors appointments, unwanted singleness or hard marriages, thinking that once we get to “the other side,” we will enjoy God’s peace and person to a greater degree; however, “the other side” continues to be pushed into the future, swallowing up all our todays.

I am guilty of listening to the voice that says, quite loudly, “After this load of laundry,” or “Once I have the children down,” or “When the Church gets through this crazy season.” But lately, the Lord has been doing the sweetest thing. In those moments of mess, He has been unfolding a blanket and spreading it out right there, on top of a layer of a real life. I can almost literally hear the crisp snap of a blanket, His way of inviting me to come and feast with Him right now, right here.

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It is so tempting to want to clean up the mess, the spilled milk of a marriage that has been worn thin, the piles of friendships that could use a little TLC, the stubborn stains of personal failures that need addressing. It is in our fallen nature to want to clean up before we commune. If this is true of our friends and family, how much more so when the communion is with the Lord Himself.

If our fellowship with Him and our ability to enjoy His peace and presence depend on the mess being cleaned up,ordered and organized, we will never experience the gifts He purchased for us at so great a price.

You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.  Psalm 23:5.

I have always wondered about this line in the 23rd Psalm. In the midst of a such a melodic psalm of peace and promise, the idea of supping in the midst of angry enemies sticks out like a sore thumb to me. Who would want to do that? I’d much rather the meal be a celebration of enemies taken care of, conquered and subdued than a meal eaten in the presence of danger, dis-ease, or disappointment.

The snapping of the Lord’s picnic blanket in the midst of messy life with messy family, friends and circumstances has changed the way I read that troublesome line. What used to sound uncomfortable and unappealing to me, a meal in the presence of problems, is beginning to sound like the tender whisper of a lover to come join Him. “Don’t clean up, don’t wait, just come join me. Now, yes, now, even in the midst of the messes within and around you.”

In one such moment this week, when the Lord had invited me to His picnic blanket in the midst cankerous and uncertain circumstances, He took our picnic peace to the next level through His Word.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. Isaiah 25:6-8. 

Jesus is the feast that He invites me to daily. He is the richest of foods and His spilled blood is the finest wine.  And even though we live in and among persons with internal messes and places with external messes, He cleaned up the biggest mess. Death has been neutered, declawed and destroyed by Him.

I can come join Him on the picnic blanket in the midst of these little messes because He was faithful and fierce with the biggest mess. If He accomplished the greater, He can most assuredly accomplish the lesser. My fellowship with Him, my enjoyment of the peace He need not wait until the minute messes are tidied. He spreads out His picnic blanket for me right here, right now, in the midst of them.

Come, all you are who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me, listen to me, that your soul may life. Isaiah 55: 1-3.

 

 

 

A Powerful Pair

When I think of significant pairings, the North Pole and the South Pole, salt and pepper, and ketchup and mustard come immediately to mind.

Of late, Eugene Peterson has added another significant though strange pairing to my list of power couples: geography and eschatology.  As odd as it sounds, this pair has been shaping and sustaining my soul as I fight to press on in the exhausting and exhilarating work of vocational ministry.

In Peterson’s book Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, he shares with his readers the tensions that he felt in his soul as a professional Christian by tracing his own pastoral experience through  the contours of the story of Jonah. One of the tensions that he said kept his soul intact in the work of ministry was the polarity of geography and eschatology.

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The Terms
By geography, Peterson means both more and less than the study of the physical features of the earth. He uses the term to describe the physical place and people to whom God has called you as a minister of the gospel and a shepherd of souls. He uses the term geography to call to mind and memory your particular point on the map and period in history. He means your pews and those who people them, the unique beauty and brokenness of your zip code, and the unique idols and ideals of your congregation in your historical moment (see 1 Peter 5:2).

By eschatology,  Peterson means both more and less than the theological study of the death, judgement and the destiny of the soul. He uses the term to describe the lasting things, the ultimate end-game of ministry and humanity. Using this term, he reminds pastors and spiritual leaders to remember that our faith is a future-oriented one fighting to have eternal aims in a “now-oriented religion” (see Colossians 3:1-3).

The two must always be yoked together in our hearts and minds if we are going to faithfully serve in pastoral or vocational ministry roles.

“Either without its biblical partner falsifies the pastoral vocation. Both are necessary –  equally yoked….Geography without eschatology becomes mere religious landscaping, growing a few flowers, mowing the lawn, pulling out the crabgrass, making life as comfortable as possible under the circumstances…Eschatology  without geography degenerates into religious science fiction. It imagines lurid scenarios of heaven and hell,  quite ignoring the gospel essentials of love and hope and faith…”

The Tension
As in most polarities and tensions, it is all-too-easy to swing the pendulum one way or the other.  When we are only thinking about geography, we can get so sucked into our particular moment in time and the demands and needs of our congregation and culture  that we lose sight of our purpose. While we are called to serve our particular people and place, we not called to coddle our congregations or pander to the pews. We are called to point them to the lasting hope of gospel with its tangible teleos of the second coming of Christ who will forever wed the new heavens and the new earth. While we are called to engage in current events, we are not to get so stuck in them that we forget our long-term goal and hope. We must remind them and ourselves that God’s people have been called to be a waiting and long-sighted people. We are not to live in short-sighted hope that a political party, a movement, or even a cultural moment will give us the progress and peace we are seeking. Only Christ can do that.

On the other hand, it is also far-too-easy to be so theologically set on the eternal ends that we forget that our geography matters. Sometimes Reformed circles are accused of being  the frozen chosen, those who are so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good. I know that I have been stuck in that ditch many times until someone or something yanks me back to the reality of the here and now that matter to God. Yes, our eschatological hope is the ultimate end, but God means to continue the spread and advance of His kingdom in our particular place and time through the conforming of our particular people to the image of Christ. We cannot gloss over current events and the felt and festering needs of the people around us, glibly pointing to future glory. We must get our  hands dirty in the geography to which we have been called.

In the midst of our chaotic cultural moment where a pandemic intersects with a polarized and politically-charged election season which intersects with a nation shaken by systemic racism, we desperately need to live in the tension of this powerful pair.

 

 

 

The Need for Nathans

If you have ever found great solace in praying the Psalms of David, you have Nathan to thank. Had he not been brave enough to confront his friend, who knows where David may have ended up.

Though we neither talk about him often nor know much about him, we are indebted to Nathan’s faithfulness and responsiveness to the Lord in the highly undesirable task of confronting David  (2 Samuel 12) after his flop into adultery and subsequent cover-up attempt.

In a culture that touts tolerance and choice as the highest values, there is a desperate need in the Church for Nathans, those friends who are willing to lovingly point out blindspots or sinspots in our lives.

My husband is a Nathan to me when he points out the puddle of self-pity I sink into cyclically. Likewise, my mom friends act as necessary Nathans to me when they pull me back from my exaggerated pendulum swings between training and treasuring my children.

I am a Nathan to the young ladies I mentor when I tremblingly poke around and point toward destructive patterns in their lives. With my own children, I play the role of Nathan by relationally but firmly addressing their germinal sinful tendencies that, left unquestioned or ignored, would destroy them later in life.

In the course of the faithful Christian life, we will need both to be and to receive Nathans until that glorious day when sin and brokenness will be no more.

Being a Nathan

God neither commnds nor desires His children to be whistle-carrying Junior Holy Spirit types. The Spirit of God is powerful enough, and He will blow where He pleases (John 3:8). He, not we, will convict in regards to sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). That being said, often the Lord speaks through His children, asking them to step in as trembling yet willing vessels.

Matthew 18 clearly lays out the protocol for conflict and confrontation within the body of Christ, straight from the mouth of Jesus. Straight forward, yes. Easy, no.

The Apostle Paul, who had more than his fair share of experience in the confrontation department, offered advice to the young Churches he coached on confronting one another in love and humility.  Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1). Paul realized how quickly the sin of the brother could be overshadowed by the confronter’s sin of pride or superiority.

I do not picture Nathan chomping at the bit to confront David, the powerful ruler who has just had Uriah killed in an attempt to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba.  Rather, I imagine Nathan wrestling with the Lord over this assignment, spending many sleeples nights praying and pondering if there might be another prophet or friend willing to take this terrifying task.

Yet, in trembling faithfulness to God who prompted him and in a love for David strong enough to wound him, he boldly approached him. Nathan was willing to uncover his friend’s sin that he might be covered in forgiveness and restored.

Thankfully, David received the wounds of a friend in a Spirit-filled way, responding with the flood of earnest repentance that we know as Psalm 51. Perhaps Solomon was taught Proverbs 27: 5-6 firsthand by his father David who had learned it firsthand in his experience with Nathan.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of an enemy. 

God uses Nathans for course correction and restoration in our lives, just as He did so powerfully and poignantly in the life of David. We all need a trusted few in our lives who love us enough to offer us the corrective wounds of a friend over the little or the large sin patterns in our lies.

Receiving a Nathan

While none of us want to find ourselves on the receiving end of loving gospel-saturated confrontation, life in sinful bodies on a fallen globe assures us we will, indeed, sit in that scary seat from time to time.

I love David’s succint response to Nathan. No lengthy justifications, no excuses, just, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). David received what his friend came to say, then took it to the Lord (see Psalms 32 and 51).

Not everyone who confronts us will be a Nathan sent directly by the Lord; sometimes people will approach with false or misinformed accusations. It is our job to listen humbly to what is said and lay it before the Lord and the Word. Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; see if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139). 

If, however, there are even seeds of truth in what has been said, we have been given an incredible, though often unwanted gift: an opportunity to repent and run to the Lord. As David wrote so beautifully and experienced so personally, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered….I acknowledged my sin to you and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin'” (Psalm 32:1 & 5). 

In the moments of confrontation, we may be pulsing more with defensiveness than gratitude; however, we would do well to take a moment to remember that Nathans are gifts from God.

It is a rare treasure to have friends who who love us enough to hold us to being and becoming the glory selves that God has intended for us since before the foundation of the world.

In a culture that tends to know only two ways, false flattery or brutal honesty, believers have an opporunity to display the gospel by way of loving, gospel-saturated confrontation.

 

 

Spiritual Angioplasty

I came into this week thinking it would be a normal one (as normal as a week during Covid in California can be). But as I sit here on my couch this morning, I feel like the Lord has begun to perform the equivalent of an angioplasty in my soul.

When arteries are clogged due to the slow build up of cholesterol (whether inherited, induced by habit, or the common combination of both), doctors often perform an angioplasty.  A small catheter is placed into the artery and then a ballooning technique is used to stretch and reopen the artery so that more blood can flow through it.

If you asked me even on Monday if I was aware of racism in the world and its roots in my own heart, I would have said yes and been honest in saying so; however, after a week of hard conversations and convicting moments with the Lord, I feel like I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with multiple clogged arteries of the soul.

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I didn’t realize how little I have listened to my friends who are people of color or even asked about their experiences with racism. I have been open to conversations, but I have not initiated them; rather, I have expected them to come to me and open up about hard things. Even that exposes a position of power in my heart that I did not realize I have had.  This spiritual artery needs some unclogging.

I have failed to address the significant shaping power of culture in spiritual development and discipleship. As one who loves to address family of origin with those I disciple, I have largely missed the culture of origin level in discipleship. As such, I have unintentionally shown my disciples that I am interested in most of their lives, but not all of it. This spiritual artery needs some ballooning.

I have been tempted to be defensive, to point out all the ways that I have loved and engaged in the lives of my friends of color.  I felt misread and wrongly judged and overly generalized into a lump stereotype. Until I realized that those exact feelings are only a tiny sliver of what my friends of color have been experiencing daily for most of their lives. Another clogged artery.

If am honest, I sat down to meet with the Lord this morning defeated and exhausted, exposed and sore. Until I remembered that it His great love for and commitment to me and His bride that He would appoint for me a spiritual angioplasty (or a series of them).

He won’t leave well enough alone (Philippians 1:6). He will not settle for anything less than Christ-likeness in His children (Galatians 4:19). He will not leave our soul’s arteries clogged with even unintentional narrow-mindedness and partially working flow of the Spirit. He will look right through us with His gently exposing gaze and will flag every place where the flow of His Spirit through us is clogged or limited.

He will painfully insert His Word into us and will stretch us in ways that feel uncomfortable (Hebrews 4:12-13). He will make space in us to contain love for His entire body. And all of this is for our good, the good of the body, and the good of the world and His glory.

I want a heart that fully functions. I want a heart that is unclogged and wide open, not constricted and strained. I want to look like my Father whose heart is expansive; I want to be shaped to be like the Son whose blood was literally poured out for the world. This will only happen by the surgical expertise of the Holy Spirit within me. While He is always ready to do His healing work, He does not force or coerce. He allows circumstances that reveal just how clogged our hearts have become. He waits for consent and readiness in His patients.

Please be tender with the hearts of those around you. Surgeries, both minor and major, are happening all around you.

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire”

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

 

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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