“Now may the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13, NASB).
Monday, December 28, 2015
Monday, December 21, 2015
Monday, December 14, 2015
God knit a baby named John in the womb of old and barren Elizabeth.
God conceived Jesus in the womb of a virgin named Mary.
God spread the “good news of great joy” through a game of Telephone between glorious angels and gritty shepherds.
Dying Simeon danced for joy at the sight of the Christ Child.
Widowed Ana wept for joy at His appearing.
“It may be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life… Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony… It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite for infancy. But we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (Orthodoxy, 52)
Monday, December 7, 2015
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19, ESV)
Monday, November 30, 2015
For eight years I've vacillated between considering my work in pastoral ministry as a special calling and a specialized career. Public speaking and wedding ceremonies are not for everyone. Marriage counseling and event planning take a unusual skill set. And yet, prayer, Bible study, and conversations about God are not the pastor's exclusive right.
Indeed, every Christ-follower can do the work of the evangelist (2 Tim 4:5) with the aid of the same Holy Spirit dwelling in the pastor and informed by the same Holy Bible read by the pastor. Moreover, many a Christ-follower in a given congregation may do the evangelist's work more naturally and with greater results than the pastor himself.
So what's so special about pastoral ministry?
(Before describing three essential tasks of pastoral ministry, I should note that leadership in the church is not restricted to pastors. Ephesians 4:11-16 describes a variety of gifts (five or four depending on how one parses "pastors and teachers") given by Jesus to the church for the "equipping of the saints for the work of service for the building up of the body of Christ" (4:12). My magnum opus does not hold a candle to the apostle Paul's, which he outlined in this critical text.)
The pastor does three essential tasks to help conform others to the image of Jesus. These are not simply public or pulpit ministrations; his work is part of an ongoing and informal conversation "that leads to godliness" (Titus 1:1).
First, the pastor does theological reflection. In the sermon he speaks of the wonders of God. In the hallway he affirms God's beauty and sovereignty. At mealtime he returns thanks, noting God provides daily bread. When a conversation arises about a challenge or worry, the pastor fights the cultural pressure to say, "You'll make it through. You'll be fine. You got this." Rather, he reinforces a theological worldview and, without sounding campy, says: "God will provide. He will take care of you. He will get you through." Surely, every believer has the responsibility of theological reflection, but good pastoral ministry sets the tone (e.g., Phil. 4:8-9; 1 Tim. 4:15-16; 2 Tim. 3:10-17).
Second, the pastor provides empathetic connection. He should model the care and patience of Jesus (1 Pet. 5: 1-4). He should take time to listen to people without a cell phone in hand or glances at the watch. Pastors show empathy when they remember previous conversations, family names, and personal struggles. Writing notes of encouragement or sending texts that force a laugh or show concern can communicate empathy. While the incarnation of Jesus was a one-time event (John 1:14), the Lord's nearness is reinforced through the empathy of church leaders (1 John 1:1-4). Again, every believer is called to empathetic connection, emulating the selfless Savior (Phil. 2:5-11), but the pastor is often invited into the most grave and joyous moments (e.g., funerals and weddings) of a believer's life, as well as the daily grind.
Third, the pastor inspires missional exhortation. He helps everyone see the value of his or her life. He ascribes meaning to work in the factory or volunteer service in the public school. He helps people recognize opportunities for ministry within the church and outside of it. He celebrates the way people show Jesus' love in their various spheres of influence. And he identifies ways the church can corporately impact their neighbors, both locally and globally. All believers are co-laborers with Christ and may give missional exhortation to one another, but the pastor gives public attention to God's great commission (Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 15:58).
As I pondered these tasks in the backseat of the Honda Accord, I took comfort in how well they aligned with the mission of my church: Every Christ-follower becoming full in Christ, united in love, and strong in service. When I shared my reflections with the other two pastors in the car, they seemed less than impressed. I can't blame them: Bohemian Rhapsody was playing at the time. Again, my magnum opus was no rival.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Rooming with a runner has few benefits. The other guys may feel good when I launch out and they lounge around. Or they may feel guilt when I get up early to exercise and they sleep in. They may feel gluttonous when I counter my calories and they keep consuming. Most likely, they may feel gross when they find my wet boxers briefs dangling from the shower head.
Fortunately, my roommates extended grace when I stunk up the place. That is the benefit of rooming with Christian brothers.
Monday, November 9, 2015
Any amount of time I give to growing a beard results in no more than a dirty dusting of facial hair. I get scruffy, not hairy. I look gross, not handsome. I fight the feelings of inadequacy because my genetic inheritance boasts more baldness than burliness.
My emascurities (a word I coined for insecurities that make me feel emasculated) extend well beyond facial hair.
When I was in youth choir, the director had me sing with altos. When I answered the phone as a child, callers confused me for my mother. When I reached middle school, I was the last of my friends to grow armpit hair and experience a drop in my voice.
Making matters worse, to date I cannot fix cars, remodel homes, or lift weights. I have never shot a gun, caught a fish, or won a wrestling match (my daughters excluded). I've experienced a growing disinterest in professional football, violent movies, and winning in games.
In place of these stereotypical, testosterone-driven activities, my recent cache of pleasures includes long jogs, a good cry, curling up with a book, and meaningful conversations.
If it weren't for my lovely wife, I might question my manliness all together. She fortunately does not judge masculinity by facial hair and handyman skills. "What a man," she said a week ago when I scrapped iron deposits out of our toilet. "What a man," she exclaimed when I made dinner for the family and cleaned the dishes afterwards. "What a man," she chimed when I called a guy who was angry at me and sought to repair the relationship.
My wife knows I was not born for a beard. Not all men are. The measure of a man must go beyond our grooming to our goodness. Every man was born to honor God, love his wife (if married), shepherd his children (if a parent), work with integrity, and outgrow his insecurities.
A beard is a bonus feature I will never achieve.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Tolerance does not accept all ways of thinking. Religious convictions and practices often get pegged as oppressive and legislated to the margins. Christians should not fear the margins, it is a position where faith has historically thrived. The prophetic voice of critique and hope resounds from the margins. When Christian voices mingle with the mainstream, they're often diluted or drowned out.
Daniel chapter six provides an interesting case study in prophetic action in a godless world. While the Medes and Persians were known for their policy of tolerance (Ezra 1:1-4), Daniel quickly finds out that tolerance has limits. His jealous opponents trick King Darius into making a law that restricts prayer to the king for a thirty day period. They know Daniel will chose the law of God over the law of the land.
And he does. Daniel continues praying - bowed to the ground, facing Jerusalem (1 Ki. 8), three times a day. His religious acts are not a political statement. He is not posturing. Daniel simply maintains piety in the face of scrutiny because he values God's unchanging law over the ever-shifting law of the land. His prayerful resistance results both in persecution (e.g. a night in the lions' den) and God's protection.
While America is not Israel, Christians can certainly relate to the political environment of Daniel's day. Laws morph. Tolerance reigns. That is, except for tolerance of firm morals and upstanding faith. American Christians empathize with Daniel's sense of exile no more than Christians of any time and place understand exile. Christians are not citizens of this world (Phil. 3:20). And as strangers and exiles, Christians are not called to greater politicking, but greater piety (1 Pet. 2:11ff).
Perhaps the best starting point for piety is on one's knees. Praying. Confessing. Resisting the gravitational pull of a godless world to drift into the mainstream. This sermon calls us to such a faith as this.
Monday, November 2, 2015
The word has not always received such negative reactions. Its word origin shares roots with "faithful, believing, devout." In the former days of John, Paul and James, belief and action were not divorced. "Faith without works is dead," James wrote (2:14-26). "Love in deed and truth, not simply tongue and intention," John exhorted (1 John 3:18).
In more recent history, preachers of the Great Awakening sought to practice holiness in daily life. Rather than accept the divide between orthodoxy and orthopraxis, men like John Wesley and Alexander Mack gave themselves to daily confession, Bible study, worship, witness, and humble service. It was Wesley who considered many of his countrymen "Almost Christians," because he noted their profession of faith did not align with their practice.
In a world trending toward godlessness -- not always in deed (for environmentalists and educational reforms have done some good), but certainly in outlook and egoism -- a return to piety is crucial. Revival will not grow from more evangelical politicking or mere "relevant" posturing, but from a return to piety.
In its purest form, piety holds the truth of the gospel (Christ buried, raised, ascended, and alive in His church - 1 Cor. 15) in one hand, and the other hand invests itself in work and worship. The apostle Peter, who understood his audience as a paradoxical blend of exiles and priests, summarized the call to piety well:
I pray the church return to piety. I pray she humble herself, pray, seek the face of God, and turn from her wicked ways, positioning herself not only to receive the blessings of God's forgiveness (2 Chron. 7:14), but also to direct the world back to God in the process.
It's not too late for a global revival. A return to piety may be its spark.
Monday, October 26, 2015
David Allen tells me how to Get Things Done. James Clear shows me how to Transform My Habits. John Acuff inspires me to Start being awesome. Kary Oberbrunner emails me to get clarity on who I am and where I'm going to Ignite my Soul. And Oprah is ubiquitous.
I'm no enemy to growth and maturity, but all these resources resound with the message: me, Me, ME!
Maximize MY Potential. Discover MY Purpose. Do It MYself.
Our culture is not unique in its enthronement of the Self. This drive for transcendence is traceable back to the book of Genesis. The original lie from the Garden of Eden still echoes. "We can be like God."
Sadly, when we believe this lie, we not only set ourselves up for failure, disappointment, and judgment (e.g., Adam, Gideon, Saul, David, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod), but we neglect our primary calling: to give praise to God (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). Our rightful place is not the throne -- that is God's -- but the altar (Romans 12:1-2).
Champions for humility, contentment, sacrifice, and denial will not get much air time in a Self-Help World. G.K. Chesterton noted this form of thinking even back in his day.
Social Darwinism, Scientific Naturalism, and Self-Helpism are Sirens. They lure the Self only to shipwreck it. But in the call of the Sovereign God there is fullness, joy, purpose, and hope. God's sovereignty is rich, spanning the course of time, assuring His promises, withstanding our pain, including our prayers/deeds, and working for His glorious good (cf., Gen. 50:20; Ps. 115:3; Is. 46:9-10; Acts 2:23-24; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11; Rev. 4:11).
These truths may not be sexy, but they are orthodox. And, according to Chesterton, orthodoxy is more appealing. "There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy."
Now if I could only lose those last three pounds...
Monday, October 19, 2015
Life has a way of grounding us. Delusions of grandeur come crashing down. King Nebuchadnezzar faces this reality after another nightmare. When he relays the imagery of a glorious tree chopped to pieces, only upstanding Daniel can interpret. He tells the king who the True Sovereign is - God Most High, Ruler of Heaven. And if Nebuchadnezzar does not humble himself, the dream will become reality. It does: God grounds him. The Most High God has a way of humbling people so they respect His sovereignty.
Monday, October 12, 2015
One of my elders said it was difficult to follow but he likes being stretched.
A lady from my congregation said it mostly went over her head.
I loved it, but I am biased and biblically trained.
So when Sunday morning rolled around, my level of pastoral concern went to threat level orange. Our worship service comprised Dr. Bock's third audience in three days and the only non-academic setting. I could imagine he was tired, and the given topic ("What's in a Name: Jesus' Use of 'Son of Man'") was not suitable for minors.
One of last things I want people to experience following a Sunday morning sermon is confusion. I hope to push people to seek God through His Word. If the sermon comes riding on the clouds, God's people will dismiss it. Believers do not object to critical thinking, but they come to Sunday morning worship to be inspired, not just intellectually stretched.
We explained to Darrell our church's demographics, culture, and the flow of service. We always start late, slog through announcements, sing four or five songs, and open up the microphone for sharing and testimonies before the sermon. "You'll start preaching about eleven," Herb said.
"They have forty-five minutes of introductory stuff?" Darrell asked. It was clear by his question he viewed preaching as the highlight of the morning. Everything else was prescript.
Preachers are mistaken if they assume people primarily come to listen to them. They act as if the sermon is the apotheosis of Sunday morning. All other elements of the service either revolve around or reinforce the sermon. I can understand this thinking based upon my diligence in sermon-crafting every given week.
But evangelical worship transcends the sermon. It's somewhat errant (and arrogant?) to construct all of Sunday morning around the message. For if the sermon does not serve the purposes of connecting God's people to their Heavenly Father, it may be nothing more than a resounding gong or bloated idea. The same goes for worship music, corporate prayer, tithing, greeting, and, yes, even announcements.
All elements of the worship service must aim at building communion between God and His people.
Darrell's sermon grew my appreciation for Jesus' use of Son of Man. It reminded me that God -- not death, sin, or Satan -- speaks the final word about Jesus: He is vindicated.
And He will return, riding on the clouds, which is exactly where the evangelical mind wanders when preaching is over our heads.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Daniel took a stand. When taken as a captive to Babylon, he received a new name, language, and education in Babylonian ways. But when the king offered meats and wines from his table, Daniel refused. His reasoning is not stated, but his conviction is clear: Daniel will not let culture shape him. Everyone who follows God must draw lines between cultural values and personal convictions. Daniel shows how personal convictions make public statements, earn favor, get tested, and have profound impact. God's people must not swallow everything the culture offers up, but let their understanding of God's word to form them.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Bock first encountered Jesus as a skeptic, but after years of inquiry, debate, and nurture from believing friends, he became a Christ-follower. "Since I spent so much time considering Jesus before becoming a follower, once I made a decision, I felt well informed," Bock explained to me on the ride to the airport. I cherished the opportunity to pick what was left of his brain after five sessions in three days.
We talked sports and theology, but avoided the theology of sports. "Someone suggested we discuss that on the [Table] podcast, but I refuse to. I'm afraid sports will be treated as an idol," Bock confessed. Then he returned his focus to the Houston Texans game, streamed live from his iPhone.
Bock's influence as a popular evangelical voice erupted after publishing his response to Dan Brown's novel, The DaVinci Code. "I wrote [Cracking the DaVinci Code] in three days," he recalled. He hashed it out over Thanksgiving weekend, likely between football games and second helpings. When one reporter questioned his frustration over Brown's fictional portrait of Jesus, Bock did not stand down. It was one of five bad interviews he can remember. He shared the other four with me, as well.
Bock has well represented the Evangelical community in country, overseas, in print, and online. His winsome smile, Texas drawl, and quick wit temper his intellectual brilliance. But it is Bock's commitment to the real Jesus that propels him. "I want people to consider Jesus first. I want them to wrestle with his actions and claims. And when they see how Jesus handles the Scriptures, it will help them trust the Bible," he said in response to a question about inspiration.
I found Bock's apologetic refreshing. Session after session, he pointed people to the historically-rooted, culturally-cued activity of Jesus. He referenced Old Testament texts and Second Temple Literature to create a backdrop of Jesus' life. He established the certain events of his ministry -- baptism, temple clearing, forgiveness of sin, synagogue teaching, Sabbath practice, purity practices, crucifixion, and resurrection -- to validate the more phenomenal episodes -- exorcisms, healings, nature miracles, and long discourses.
Most importantly, Bock stressed Jesus' exaltation at the right hand of God. "The resurrection is not about us getting new bodies. It was God's vindication of Jesus. God got the last word: Jesus is who he said he was."
Too often Christians seek to prove the Bible reliable before pointing people to Jesus. We place our theology of the Scriptures above our understanding of Messiah. We assume more authority comes from evidential argument rather than personal encounter. We treat the biblical text more like an ethics manual or doctrinal statement than God's living word.
It's worth noting Jesus did not make this error. When helping his disciples with belief, he asked a personal question. "Who do you say that I am?"
Evangelical belief is fundamentally personal: it is centered on the person of Jesus.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Daniel stands out as one of the greatest heros of Hebrew faith. His courage, wisdom, and resolve mark his legacy. Daniel's people needed such a hero, too, considering their faithlessness and idolatry finally led to Judah's demise (2 Kings 25; Jeremiah 25). In 605, the first year of King Nebuchadnezzar's reign, the king takes Daniel and companions to Babylon to begin an 18-year period of deportation. He also orders new names and a heavy dose of Babylonian doctrine for his captives. Loss of land and identity is a grave hardship. But Daniel can see God's hand in the hardship, and teaches us to do likewise.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
In the post-Christian era, Christ-followers must learn how to become critical thinkers without becoming critical. They must model simple faith without seeming simple-minded. One of the ways to the church can develop these virtues is to address difficult questions of the faith.
Following Paul's dialogical model of preaching in Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17), I invited questions from the congregation and gave five minutes to answering each two Sundays ago. People asked about the distinctiveness of Christianity, developing joy in singleness, what happens to aborted babies, what ministry roles women can assume in Ephesians 4:11, and other challenging topics.
Five minutes only scratches the surface. The intent of this time was not to settle every question, but to encourage thoughtful reflection. May it so encourage you.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
But I refuse to rush. I plod along, catching my breath and reviewing my notes.
Themes emerge from the various workshops and sessions I attended. For example, the importance and difficulty of partnerships in ministry. Scott Feather, pastor of Gateway Grace Community Church (PA), led an hour-long workshop on the topic. He stressed the need for clear communication among partners (including a written agreement) and win-win situations.
Adam Copenhaver, pastor of Mabton Grace Brethren Church (WA), dedicated two days to building a biblical theology for marriage. On the first day he worked through each book of the Bible and its contribution to a definition (and deviations) of marriage. The second day he entertained various case studies relating to sexual ethics within a church context. On the heels of the Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage, Copenhaver's workshop proved invaluable.
Greg Serafino, pastor of Oceola Grace (IN), and I shared the story of our leadership cohort in the Heartland District. In recent years a small group of pastors has met at various churches to provide insight and encouragement to our fellow pastors. Our friendship and commitment to and Equipping Model of ministry (see Ephesians 4:11-16) set the foundation for our cohort.
As I scanned through my notes, I realized most of them came from the workshops, not the main sessions. My personality lends itself to focused discussion better than the shotgun model of the main celebration, where we jump from song to video to game to announcement to speaker to video to speaker to speaker to song to announcement to dismissal. If my church services followed the same relentless pace, few people would depart feeling refreshed.
Fortunately for me, I had eight hours in the airport to regain my energy, review my notes, and consider the takeaways God had for me: the importance of risk (more on that next), the value of new (and old) connections, and the need for focused discussion on theology and praxis.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Monday, August 10, 2015
The religious faction gaining ground the fastest in American is the "Nones" - those who do not affiliate with any brand of belief. Many of THEM are not adverse to faith in God or antagonistic toward Christians. They simply do not see the relevance of institutionalized religion (See Pew Survey from May, 2015). Regardless of THEIR affections, the church does exist for THEM. For Jesus does not build His church simply to sustain privatized belief. He empowers His church to make God's glory public good.
Monday, August 3, 2015
Love is no simple task. We cannot manufacture or mechanize love. True love finds its source in Jesus Christ. So the Apostle Paul prays for the Thessalonian church that Jesus would extend and multiply the church's love for one another and all people, just as they learned love from him, Timothy, and Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13). This serves as a model prayer for the church of WE, set on seeing its love expand, include, and reciprocate. Love, Jesus taught, must be the uncontested ethic of the church (John 13:35). Fortunately, at Leesburg Grace there is evidence that We love a lot... and a little bit more.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
This was the third day of the Flinch Conference for the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. Our leaders had heavily promoted the Saturday excursions (called Riskursions) to New York City. Initially, I had balked at the idea of going to the metropolis. A nap in my air conditioned hotel room sounded rejuvenating. However, because the theme of conference was risk, I boarded the Staten Island Ferry and immigrated from Newark.
The plan was travel with twenty-five other people to Bowery Mission. We agreed to lead chapel and serve food. I was slated to speak at the Mission, discussing the fear of loss and the relentless love of Jesus. But our plans fell through. The Mission double-booked, so our team dispersed. Most of our members divided into family groups or couples. I had come by myself. And after playing the third (and fifth) wheel enough in recent days (and nothing makes me feel lonelier), I ventured out alone.
Lower Manhattan became my refuge. I watched old men playing chess, protesters protesting, homeless people sleeping, cultists chanting, and tourist taking selfies. I posed for my own shot at the Empire State Building, shopped for souvenirs, and ate a Shakburger in Bryant Park.
During my hike many thoughts circled through my mind. I considered the scale of the city and its diversity of smells, socio-economic levels, and cultural offerings. I noticed the incessant blare of horns and sirens. I pondered the graffiti and garbage in the streets. I looked for landmarks and celebrities. I lamented the blisters on my feet.
And, of course, I thought of risk and the relentless love of Jesus. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. (John 3:16). I can think of no greater risk than the story of Jesus, who came and bled and died.
My blisters are but a flesh wound. By His wounds we are healed.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
If we're honest, the "what's in it for ME?" mindset pervades the church. Does the music fit MY style? Does the preaching satisfy MY needs? Are the people like ME and will they take care of My kids?
Our culture doesn't help the Me-mentality: we sell selfie sticks and customized ads on Googles. It's all about me. Me. ME.
So if you're going to be a bit self-interested anyway, what's the best thing you can look for in a church? Truth-telling (program-selling).
Fortunately, we tell the truth at Leesburg Grace. And you'll find the best church for ME (or You or Grandma Shirley) is the kind that tells the truth and holds you to it. That's hard work. Hear about it.
Monday, July 13, 2015
It was neither exile nor the threat of loss that caused the elderly John to fall on his face as if dead (Revelation 1:17). Rather, a face-to-face encounter with the risen Jesus siezed John with terror. All other fears melt at the fear of God, whose holy justice and holy love are enough to stop our hearts or keep them beating at His word. Fortunately, God does not wield His power flippantly, but He exercises awesome, loving, and gracious authority over His church. This sermon calls us to bow before the risen Jesus, elevating our awe of Him to eradicate all lesser fears.
Monday, July 6, 2015
Loss meets us at every tage of loss. We lose teeth and hair, time and money, games and battles, energy and sleep, loved ones and, finally, life. As losses compile, they do not become easier to accept. King David began his life on a violent winning streak. Sadly, the final years of reign were marked with grave losses. His story teaches us about counting armies, confession, and God's character. Most importantly, he teaches us to hold our assets loosely to soften the fear of loss.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
I have a son whom I've never met. He lives on the other side of the globe. My wife and I have pieces of his life, patched together through doctor's reports, photos, and video snippets.
He weighs forty-six pounds, stands forty-five inches tall, and goes to the bathroom on his own. He follows rules, plays with others, kicks a ball, and completes puzzles. He waits in line, feeds himself, and takes his medication.
Our son does not speak English. Nor does he speak his native tongue. Our son does not speak much at all. His lost voice grieves me. I didn't know the extent of my sorrow until a recent breakdown in front of my biological daughters. It was bedtime, and I was reading them a story.
E.B. White's classic, The Trumpet of the Swan, tells the tale of a Trumpeter Swan named Louis who was born without a voice. His loquacious father, the cob, tries to assure his "dumb" son:
"Remember that the world is full of youngsters who have some sort of handicap that they must overcome. You apparently have a speech defect. I am sure you will overcome it in time. There may even be some slight advantage, at your age, in not being able to say anything. It compels you to be a good listener... The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens...
Some people go through life chattering and making a lot of noise with their mouth; they never really listen to anything--they are too busy expressing their opinions, which are often unsound or based on bad information. Therefore, my son, be of good cheer! Enjoy life; learn to fly! Eat well; drink well! Use your ears; use your eyes! And I promise that someday I will make it possible for you to use your voice. There are mechanical devices that convert air into beautiful sounds. One such device is called a trumpet. I saw a trumpet once, in my travels. I think you may need a trumpet in order to live a full life. I've never known a Trumpeter Swan to need a trumpet, but your case is different. I intend to get you what you need. I don't know how I will manage this, but in the fullness of time it shall be accomplished."
My reading had stuttered and stalled, coming out in chokes and tears. Claire and Margot laughed at me; they live with a fullness that makes laughter come naturally.
My son whom I've never met, who lives on the other side of the globe, has not experienced such fullness--the kind that comes from having a family and a voice. He may be "frightened" and "scared" like Louis, the "dumb" swan, wondering "why he had come into the world without a voice." Perhaps, like Louis, he thinks "Fate is cruel to me."
Mostly, I hope my son finds the comfort Louis found when "he remembered that his father had promised to help..."
I want to help my son whom I've never met, who lives on the other side of the globe. I want to give him a voice.
See Sprankle Adoption information and financial need at Village to Village International.
Monday, June 8, 2015
The fear of failure likely affects more people than the fear of success. But the dark side of success has touched many. Those who have tasted success, or watch others experience it, have noted themes that emerge from Gideon's life. After gaining confidence from God of certain victory over the Midianites (Judges 6:11-7:23), Gideon gives chase to his enemies. In the following narrative (Judges 7:24-8:35), we find three reasons to fear success: it breeds critics, feeds conceit, and leads to change/corruption. While we cannot control our critics (and we better not be one), we can fight conceit and resist corruption, so that our work retains its virtue. For true success is leveraging our work for God's glory, not ours (Psalm 115:1).
Monday, June 1, 2015
No one was perfect, not even one.
Their reactions underscored their imperfection. Many of the students complained and wanted justification for a missed point. Some lamented and asked for extra credit. Most labeled me strict.
I was strict: I never backed down.
These students demonstrated a dangerous thought pattern: they equated a minor flaw with failure. Imperfection and failure may be distant cousins, but that doesn't mean they should be married (not even in West Virginia). We do ourselves an injustice when we chaff at failure and imperfections.
Imperfection implies room for improvement. Imperfection gives opportunity for growth. Imperfection suggests a standard to mark future progress by. Imperfection may be the result of cut corners, hasty editing (e.g., this blog), and half-hearted efforts, but it does not spell failure...unless.
If in the face of imperfection one makes excuses, shifts the blame, or quits the task at hand, then failure it births.
Fortunately, many professionals excel at imperfection without resigning as failures. A great baseball player fails to hit the pitch three out of five times. A great preacher may fail to reach two thirds of his audience on any given Sunday. A great salesman fails to close a deal four out of five times. A great inventor will fail on a new product ninety-nine out of one hundred tries.
What makes these individuals great is not their perfect records, but their persistence in the face of failure. The batter adjusts his stance. The preacher modifies his content. The salesman finds new clients. The inventor constantly tweaks her design. Imperfection is a spur inspiring forward motion.
Perhaps more of us would overcome the fear of failure if we embraced our imperfection. God knows: He accepts all this way. He grades on a curve.
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Philippians 3:12, NIV)
The fear of failure haunts us all. We may fear failing as parents, spouses, workers, or Christ-followers. We may fear failing in a project, task, or commitment. Fortunately, we can overcome the fear of failure.
Gideon serves as our model. He was a Hebrew leader during a dark time in Israel's past. Foreigners routinely attacked them and devoured their harvest (Judges 6:1-10). God uses reluctant Gideon to fight of the Midianites and model courage (6:11-7:23). Like us, Gideon is not a fast learner, but requires a series of tests (smashing altars, shrinking armies) and proofs from God (laying fleece, spying) to march forward. Ultimately, Gideon illustrates a big God, clear goals, and strong group can diffuse the fear of failure.
Monday, May 25, 2015
The resurrection of Jesus is the Christian reason for faith, joy, wonder, and hope. The gospel of John reports the resurrection through the eyes of John, Mary, Thomas, and Peter, who embody these responses. The risen Jesus, who walks through walls, fries up fish, and speaks sweetly to His followers, gives His followers a glimpse into their new, glorified bodies. This sermon is the last in the Our Spiritual World Series. It takes great pains (and fifty minutes) to detail the deeper magic of Jesus' triumph over death and ours.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Followers of Jesus do not need to divorce reason and faith. A good deal of knowledge supports Christian convictions, including evidential, experimental, and experiential forms of knowing. The Bible itself asserts God has revealed Himself (in various forms and times), and we can know Him relationally. Sadly, many have rejected this knowledge of God, exchanging the Creator for the material world and a false sense of autonomy. This sermon encourages Christ-followers to own what they know and know the One who owns them.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
"My prayer life," he replied, adding, "I'm not sure I've ever understood prayer."
"Join the club," I said.
As we continued to discuss prayer, it became clear what was lacking in our prayer lives was actual time praying. We could define prayer, explain prayer, model prayer, and validate the centrality of prayer from the pages of Scripture. Unfortunately, our knowledge of prayer did not translate to the practice of prayer.
Praying is a challenge. It is the hard work of turning our anxieties into pleas for dependence and deliverance. It is the difficult task of making others' worries into our concerns, which we present with empathy and zeal before God. And it is the discipline of quieting our fears so we can hear from our heavenly Father.
This last aspect of prayer is critical, because I want more than the assurance of God's ear. I want the encouragement of His voice.
The simple (but not easy) solution to hearing God better results by creating space for conversational prayer. And creating space is not the same as finding space. We can all discover an extra twenty minutes in traffic, on the toilet, or in between meetings. Rather than sinking our faces into mobile devices in these margins, we can turn our eyes to the heavens. Without a doubt, discovering prayerful moments is a great habit. Better, however, is disciplining a prayerful life.
The organized prayer life sets aside times and seasons for deliberate prayer. It creates patterns and liturgies to guard against distractions. Over time the structured prayer life results in spontaneous moments of prayer.
For a more thorough discussion the matter, I suggest purchasing and reading Timothy Keller's recent book entitled Prayer. The final chapter offers detailed steps to crafting healthy prayer patterns. To remain blog-friendly (i.e. concise), I'll suggest a few organizing principles.
- Daily Prayer: Pray through the Lord's Prayer daily (Matthew 6:9-13). Take time thinking through the various aspects, so its not the mindless repetition Jesus warns against (6:5), but worshipful reflection on God's character, kingdom, our needs, our sins, and our threats. Let the Lord's Prayer start or close your day.
- Weekly Prayer with Others: Whether your prayer partner is a spouse, mentor, or friend, establishing a time to intercede together weekly is a bonding experience. My wife and I have a Saturday night prayer date.
- (Bi-)Monthly Prayer Retreat: In my monthly schedule, I devote the first Thursday afternoon to prayer. My routine includes journaling, singing, reading psalms, petition for my family (biological and church), and listening.
- Dedication Prayers: Mix short prayers of dedication into everyday situations, asking God to bless Bible reading, meals, work day meetings, school day interactions, personal projects, and extracurricular events. These prayers make every moment sacred, and provide a natural window to pray with others.
- Use Prayer Guides: While my love for novelty has make me skeptical of liturgy, I have come to appreciate prayer guides, such as Kenneth Boa's Drawing Near or the Book of Common Prayer. These works organize Scriptures to serve as prayer prompts for each day of the month.