Category Archives: Latest

latest post entries

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

How Our Holidays Reveal Our Hearts

What began as a silly way to make a long drive feel shorter quickly became a source of exposure and sadness.

My youngest son happens to have been born on St. Patrick’s Day which is a source of great pride for him. As a joke, my other sons began looking up what holidays might fall on the rest of the birthdays of our family members. Somewhere, in the laughter and silliness of hearing about Taco Day, Cat Lover Day, and Donut Day, my heart became heavy. Continue reading

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.

 

The Coronavirus & the Collapse of a Cohesive Narrative

Medical masks are a hot commodity right now, and understandably so. The world is watching live news feeds watching the death toll rise on a virus that jumped from animals to humans before our eyes. I have found myself having to put a limit on how often I can read about the latest news, as keeping my pulse on the changing stories causes my pulse rate to rise to unhealthy levels.

At a women’s bible study this week about fasting, the coronavirus came up in discussion. Women have an incredible ability to web in conversation. Just ask a linear-thinking male who is trying to follow the intricate web of conversations at a table full of women.

We were speaking of fasting as a means to connect to the deeper hunger we have for our true home with God. We were speaking of the deep homesickness we should feel for our Heavenly Husband’s presence and how that is intended to inform our lives in this earthly pilgrimage.  We were confessing how often even believers are hesitant about Heaven,  wanting to linger here on earth a little longer. Thus, conversation naturally turned to the coronavirus and the utter panic that grips us when we think about death. Totally logical connection, right?

cdc-c4IBsSCuwIU-unsplash

In his book Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff speaks extensively about the societal effects of the collapse of a cohesive narrative. He builds a case for the power of story in providing purpose and security which beautifully  lines up with the Christian truth that we were made in the image of the Storyteller and desperately need the meta-narrative of the gospel story. Then he mentions that at the turn of the century, narratives began to collapse, leaving us in a narrative crisis. With no story line to integrate our disparate lives, people are left having to create their own individual narratives (which often compete with each other, as seen on the social media political and ideological battlefields). Rushkoff continues, explaining the following:

 “Likewise, without long-term goals expressed for us as readily accessible stories, people  lose the ability  to respond  to anything but terror. If we have no destination toward which  we are progressing,  then the only things that motivates our movement is  to get away  from something threatening.  We move from problem to problem,  avoiding  calamity  as best  we  can,  our worldview increasingly characterized by a sense of panic. Our news networks and Internet feeds compound the sense of crisis by amplifying only the most sensational  and negative events…” 

The story of whistle-blowing doctor Dr. Li Wenliang provides a powerful juxtaposition to this story-less panic. Dr. Wenliang, a believer in Christ, had an eternal storyline on which  to hang the parts and pieces of his life, even the painful, scary ones.  The Apostle John wrote a telling phrase about Jesus’ motivation to wash His disciples’ feet on the eve of the horrifying death: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands,  and  that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3). In much the same way, Dr. Wenliang knew the bigger storyline: he knew from whence he came from and to where he was bound. Thus, he was freed to treat those who were infected with the disease and risk the censure of his government to warn the world.

I am not saying we should want to be infected with the coronavirus; however, our panic to avoid catching it betrays a deeper societal sickness: we have no long hope, no compelling passion and purpose that infuses our lives with meaning and the courage to risk in light of something better.

As believers in Christ, we are invited to live into the gospel story of a long hope and a deep and eternal purpose. We don’t have to give way to the panic that drives our society; rather, we are invited to speak truth into the panic by inviting others into the glorious news of the gospel storyline. In the face of diseases and political power struggles, we need not give in to the crippling fear that paralyzes the story-less. Rather, we ought to live with such a resilient hope that people even ask us about the reason for such a strange response.

Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared  to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet, do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15.

May we step into a panicked world with the peace that comes from knowing THE story that makes sense of life on this broken globe. May we live with a long hope that happily invites others in. May we move with purpose to the day when the coronavirus will be banished by the presence of the Wounded Healer.

Pain as Pointer

Disappearing toes. Shrinking fingers. These were the mysteries that Dr. Paul Brand set to demystify when he began working exclusively with leprosy in Vellore, India. At that time, while the stigma around leprosy was large, the actual medical understanding of the disease was quite small.

Most doctors mistakenly assumed that the disease actually caused degenerative tissues; however, Dr. Brand and his colleagues would eventually prove that assumption false. Rather, they would learn that the problem of the disappearing toes and shrinking fingers had to do with the nerve damage caused by leprosy. When nerve cells become dysfunctional, there is no longer a sensation of pain. While initially this sounds like a good problem to have (after all, we take drugs and other substances to help minimize our pain), it was the culprit behind the seemingly disappearing digits. A patient would not feel a nail that was stepped on or a blister that was building on his or her feet or hands; the wound, unnoticed and uncared for, would get infected.

Thus, began Dr. Brand’s unique schooling into the paradox of pain which would enable him to say things like the following:

“I thank God for pain. I cannot think of a greater gift I could give my leprosy patients…Most people view pain as an enemy. Yet, as my leprosy patients prove, it  forces us to pay attention to threats against our bodies…Who would ever visit a doctor apart from pain’s warnings?”

franck-v-lqT2RukGGJ0-unsplash

Pain as Pointer
Christianity provides a unique perspective on the problem of pain. While not glorying in pain or seeking it out as a glutton for punishment or an ascetic, a Christian understands  that pain is the result of living in a world gone awry from God’s original intent for it. As such, pain can serve as a pointer to the life for which we were created and to the life-maker by whom we were made. 

Isaiah 53, the song of the suffering servant, poetically depicts (thousands of years before His stepping into our mess) the Messiah as “a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief” (verse 3). The Spirit, through His prophetic mouthpiece, predicts a Sent One who would bear our griefs, carry  our sorrows, and be stricken by God on our behalf (verse 4). Christ, uttering parts of Psalm 22 on the Cross, fulfilled Isaiah’s prediction, taking upon Himself our pain and punishment.

After His resurrection, in His glorified body, Christ still bore scars as reminders of His redemptive pain. Rather than promise them a ticket out of pain, Christ promised His followers pain and trouble; however, He also promised and provided a live-in Comforter in the Third Person of the Trinity. He promised that, for those who believed on Him, pain would be punctuated and purposeful.

Pain can serve as an often-unwelcome homing device which intrusively reminds us that we were made for a better city whose builder and architect is God (Hebrews 11:16). Pain can point to hidden pattens in our lives that are dangerous to our bodies, our souls, or our relationships. Chronic back pain can point out improper posture or prolonged stress. The pain of being isolated from God can be the catalyst we need to repent and return to Him for whom our souls were made. Relational tension can sometimes help us to see that the way we are relating to others is unintentionally harmful.

Punctuated Pain

No matter its source, for the believer, pain is punctuated, meaning it will no not go on forever, but will have a decisive end. Isaiah 35 and Revelation 21 are short glimpses into the eternal painless days ahead of those who hide in Christ.

The Apostle Paul, like the Master he served, was well-acquainted with pain in all its various forms. Yet, when he placed the heavy weights of suffering which he bore on the scales of eternity, he knew they would be shown to be light and momentary even when they felt crushing and unending in the moment (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

When in the throes of physical, mental, spiritual or  relational pain, the believer can find some relief in knowing that one day it will end, never to be seen or felt again.

Purposeful Pain

For the believer, pain is not a wasted, nihilistic experience. Rather, it is a necessary dark thread woven into the beautiful tapestry of redemption by the skilled artisan who is Adonai, Lord.

Corrie ten Boom, another saint who was far more acquainted with pain than most through her experiences in a concentration camp, loved to keep a tapestry with her when she spoke. She would show the messy, knotted underside of the tapestry as our present, limited perspective on the pain in our lives; then she would flip the tapestry to the front, showing the beauty on the other side.

Coming from someone like Corrie who experienced inhumane hatred and brutality, this lesson powerfully depicted that all things would, indeed, work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).

As unwelcome a visitor as pain is, the believer in Christ can slowly begin to befriend pain as a pointer until that day when it will be eradicated as we stand in the presence of the One who conquered it through His life, death and resurrection.

Deep as the Curse Has Dug

He comes to make His blessings flow/
Far as the curse is found/
Far as the curse is found/
Far as, far as the curse is found. 

Few Christmas carols have had the staying power of Isaac Watt’s Joy to the World. Even those who don’t practice the Christian faith loudly belt out its chorus at candle-lighting ceremonies and holiday gatherings. We hum to it while shopping for stocking stuffers. Its tune floods our kitchens as we make cookies enough for a small nation.

The catchy, well-known tune is undergirded by a bedrock of rich theological realities meant to inform our living well beyond the holiday season. The Coming of Christ as an infant into time and space left eternal ripples that changed the very fabric of human  existence. The song reminds us that the ripples of His coming are to reach to the farthermost places where the curse has been wreaking its havoc.

When Adam and Eve first distrusted and then quickly disobeyed the Lord’s protective commands, shalom was shattered. Devastating fissures were fixed between God and man, within mankind  both inter-personally and intra-personally, and between mankind and nature.The Son born in Bethlehem of Judea was the beginning of shalom being restored.

I know this theologically; however, I deeply struggle to believe this personally and experientially.  Sometimes I am overcome and overwhelmed with the darkness out there in the world. Other times, I am completely paralyzed and appalled at the darkness in here, within me. This past few weeks have been the latter.

joshua-sortino-rAqzj79GUmA-unsplash.jpg

Despite the innumerable blessings around me, I find complaining and discontentment squatting in my heart. Even though I am attempting to fight the consumerism that marks Christmas, my heart gets distracted by the siren songs of the Dollar Zone. Even though I want to live intentionally, I still find myself frittering time away on screens or through an  instinctive desire to keep busy. In these patterns, I realize just how deeply the curse has dug into the caverns of my soul.

I need to know that Christ came not only to make his blessings known far as the curse is found, but to let them drip as deep as the curse has dug.

Deep as the Curse Has Dug

You came to make mercy known
As far as the curse is found;
But can it be possibly drip
Into dungeons underground?

The curse has crept into crevices,
Pooling in pockets of my soul.
I’ve so grown used to its effects,
It’s hard to imagine being whole.

Deep as the curse has dug
Can Your love descend?
It seems unthinkable that you
My damaged heart could mend.

May Your Triune Presence
Pervade both far and deep.
Let Your Agape love into
My deep darknesses creep.

Son of God Most High
Who descended into Hell,
With Your power permeate
This my soul’s murky well. 

Change me into Your image,
As Your love casts out fear.
It is cold, damp and dark,
But there’s room for you here.

Contrary to the popular notion of a barn, our Christ was most likely born in a cave. The custom of the time was to keep one’s animals sheltered in caves underground, as barns as we think of them were not common. As such, it seems fitting that Spirit would descend to make His home among the caverns of the human heart. There, He does His work of applying the gospel deep as the curse has dug.