The Gospel & 13 Reasons Why

The cultural conversation surrounding 13 Reasons Why, (a story about a teen committing suicide and telling her peers 'why' from beyond the grave) has some people grateful someone is speaking up, and others outraged at content they fear might encourage other teens to take the same path. 

This leaves the Church (especially teens and parents of teens) with the decision to engage, or be silent.

To fully understand the conversation, you need some background on the current state of adolescent mental health. Today in America, almost 10 million teens (about 25%) have reported a significant episode with depression or anxiety in the last year. 

Don’t believe me? Read this article from Time Magazine: The Kids Are Not Okay

This is only those who have gone to see someone about it… Most don’t. This means that most likely a strong majority feel alone in a way that we are clearly not hearing or understanding. 

The hard thing about the article cited above is that it’s full of uncomfortable facts… 40% of those who self harm are males (in case you thought your home had dodged a bullet.) It also points out that some leading causes are academic pressure, social media, and growing up in a world of economic and political uncertainty - Not sexual abuse or single parent homes (in case you thought you had dodged other bullets.)

A quick disclaimer to those who parent middle and high schoolers. 13 Reasons Why is not something I would recommend students watch (though most already have). I can't honestly even recommend parents watch it with older teens. However, I do believe it's something that parents probably need to watch - just keep the fast forward button handy. It not only depicts things that are immoral (like language, bullying, and pre-marital sexual activity), but also traumatic like sexual assault and self-harm. The reality of high school environments and youth culture may be hard to stomach, but staying engaged with your kid is worth it. Just because I don’t think it’s something students themselves should watch, it’s definitely something that deserves dialogue around your dinner table. This is how we, as believing parents, leverage culture (versus chase it) when it comes to teaching our children.

When I look at the life of Christ and how he addressed cultural issues, I don’t think His answer would be either a) Engage the conversation or b) Disengage, and hide in the bunker of Christian sub-culture. Instead, I think His answer might be c) Change the conversation altogether.

Changing The Conversation

During the ministry of Jesus, the cultural conversation in Jerusalem was surrounding the oppression of the Jews by the Roman Kingdom. Jesus used the language of this conversation when he came preaching “the gospel of the kingdom”. In his inaugural address (Matthew 5-7), he explains how this new kingdom was to work and its people were to live and think.

In the current conversation surrounding Rome, they were asking, “How do we make our world or this kingdom (Rome) a better place?" Instead Jesus changed the conversation and said, "wrong question, here’s a different/better kingdom altogether.” 

Understanding Metanoia

Jesus then said you have to “Repent, for the kingdom is near”. This word for Repent may be the most misunderstood word in the Church. We’ve often been told that it means to “turn around” or “change course” - making it about turning away from sin. This is actually the meaning of the Old Testament word for repentance, “shûb”.

This Greek word for Repentance, is completely different: Metanoia

  • Meta - change or transform (think metamorphosis)
  • Noia - knowledge or thought
  • Metanoia = Transform the way you think.

So when Jesus said metanoia, because a new kingdom is coming, He was saying, I want to totally change the way you think. In order to understand his Kingdom, you need a paradigm shift to understand this kingdom; a whole new worldview. 

A part of being functional members of said kingdom is looking at the world through a whole new lens. Our task then as a witness and representation of Christ on the earth, is to see how this new way of thinking and living comes to bear on the current conversation surrounding youth culture and mental health. 

The first problem with the conversation surrounding teen suicide, mental health, and adolescent social environments, is that it’s focus is on symptom not sickness. 

Encouraging teens to “talk about it” with someone, may bring some relief, but not true or lasting change. Peer group management also serves a valuable purpose. These things can be cathartic, but that doesn’t necessarily make them solvent. It’s like giving someone with a life threatening disease 'something for the pain’, but not being able to offer a cure.

Jesus approached life change in an entirely different way...

A New Creation

The Gospel isn’t our own religious brand of self-help, but rather a transformation from the inside out. Jesus came into the environment where the symptoms of brokenness and sin were managed by The Law. The Law was an external set of standards that attempted to make people behave better from the outside in. 

Instead this new kingdom offered to make you a new person. Jesus came and said, "I will give them a new heart and a new mind”. Paul says we're "a new creation, the old things have passed away and the new things have come.” While self-help methods set out to improve the person and modify behavior, Jesus said, “No, I’m starting over with a new person altogether". While the law worked from the outside in, the Gospel worked from the inside out.

How? 

By sending God's Spirit to come and live on the inside of those in this new Kingdom. 

An important caveat to symptom management is that much of mental health is a physical problem, not just a spiritual one. I’m not recommending the faulty idea that all psychological problems and pressures are spiritual and a result of your sin. While they are a result of sin in the larger sense (all sickness and brokenness are because of the fall), they aren’t the result of YOUR sin (John 9:3). It’s important to celebrate the work of mental health professionals and modern medicine’s role in aiding the physiological and emotional health of young people, while still not expecting them to redeem the heart of man.

The second problem with the conversation lies in attempting to find a solution by changing environments. Just like the Law was an external environment creator that failed to keep our nature in check, our attempts to change youth culture and high school milieu will also do nothing to change the inside of people. Behavior modification and environmental factors will never be the complete answer.

What Do I Do If My Teen Is struggling?

First of all, what are the signs?

  • Increasingly consumed by social media and their technology
  • Drastic Mood swings and emotional shifts (e.g. extroverted to introverted)
  • Change in friends and peer group
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Wanting to change classes or schools

These are all helpful indicators, but it won't replace open and honest dialogue with your teen. Once they've expressed that there's an issue, then we can move towards solutions:

  • With your teens knowledge and preferably permission, have as many people join their "team" as possible... Teachers, youth pastor, small group leaders, school counselors, professional counselors, mentors, etc. There's no limit to the amount of resources your child is worth!
  • Pray with your children every day. Sounds simple... It is... Just not easy.
  • After your students have found the right peer groups (including some in the local Church), have them open up about their struggles with peers that are stronger than them in their emotional health, and stronger than them in their faith! 
  • Look for resources - Written from a Christian perspective, one of my favorites is, A Relentless Hope: Surviving The Storm Of Teen Depression by Gary Nelson.

All these are helpful and practical tools to use, while still encouraging your student to continually take one step closer to Christ - because environment, symptom, and peer management will never replace soul-transformation.

How do I know?

For 9 months in my early teenage years I found myself buried in the deep fog of depression, feeling like the only way out was to take my own life. I was wrong… My only way out was actually the transformative power of Jesus. Immersion in the scripture, authentic community, spiritual counsel, and prayer would win out on my path to healing and wholeness. 

The question and the answer have always been the same for the Church. How can we let the healing remedy of the Gospel, and the crimson salve of the Cross, come paint our dark world in a new and brighter light? 

7 Henri Nouwen Quotes To Live By

Sometimes I like to quote obscure works of great men, so that everyone knows that I am well read. My favorite work of C.S. Lewis is A Grief Observed, his story of losing his wife, that few seem to know about. The raw and honest portrait of a brilliant mind, traveling the same path of grief as the rest of us, is a breathtaking literary experience. 

But with Henri, my heart was won with perhaps the most famous quote of his most famous work, Clowning In Rome...

"Clowns are not in the center of the events. They appear between the great acts, fumble and fall, and make us smile again after the tensions created by the heroes we came to admire. The clowns don't have it together, they do not succeed in what they try to do, they are awkward, out of balance, and left-handed, but . . . they are on our side. We respond to them not with admiration but with sympathy, not with amazement but with understanding, not with tension but with a smile. Of the virtuosi we say, 'How can they do it?' Of the clowns we say, 'They are like us.' The clowns remind us with a tear and a smile that we share the same weaknesses." 
— Henri Nouwen in Clowning In Rome

Rethinking Imitation - What do our stories tell the world?

“When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways and forms in which a man can be a Christian.”
-Henri in The Wounded Healer

There is no understanding God...

“Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God's incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” 

Giving our lives...

“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one's own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

Keeping an eternal perspective… Hebrews 11:13-16

“The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation…” 

Purpose...

“Our lives are unique stones in the mosaic of human existence -- priceless and irreplaceable.” 
-Henri in The Life Of The Beloved

On living as the Beloved...

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” 
-Henri

More than Henri’s words inspired us, remember that Henri inspired us the most with his life. Much like Christ who emptied himself of his divinity, Henri gave up the trappings of fame, to give himself to the most vulnerable and weak among us at the L'Arche communities.

There are not many people that I will seek out in heaven after seeing Jesus, but Henri, I think, will make the list. After greeting loved ones, and maybe a few biblical celebrities,  I will say, "…But, where is Henri?” And I like to imagine that they will point me to the most baseless job in heaven (if such a thing exists)… You know, whatever their equivalent to cleaning toilets is, and I will thank him. I will thank him for his sacred message to the church and to me. I will thank him for his words on Community, Celibacy, and Solitude. I will thank him not for writing it, but for living it...

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3 Things That Dr. King Taught Me

Recently, I attended a coaching event in Atlanta where we visited Ebenezer baptist Church. It was at Ebenezer that Dr. King’s father pastored, and where Martin delivered his first sermons, and later co-pastored. 

As I sat in the pews listening to "I have a dream" over the PA system, it was impossible to escape the feeling that I was standing on hallowed ground. In these sacred moments - Moments when we place ourselves in the shadow of great men and women - we become acutely aware that we are standing on their shoulders. We realize in these moments that the building of our world today, was built with the brick of their determination, and the mortar of their sacrifice. 

Only as we study history and history’s greatest characters, do we feel the weight of the task. What task? The one they began, and that we have a responsibility to our children to finish. At the end of Hebrews 11, the author says that none of these heroes received what they were promised in their lifetime, so that "Only together with Us would they be made perfect.” In the first verse of Chapter 12, we are reminded that they now stand on the balcony of history cheering us on to complete the task, and to finish the race. It is in that spirit that I am reminded today of what the life and teachings of Dr. King have taught me...

Dr. King taught me to own my story…

On April 9, 1967, Dr. King preached a sermon at New Covenant Baptist Church. The excerpt below was taken from this speech entitled "The Three Dimensional Life”. 


"...before you can love other selves adequately, you’ve got to love your own self properly. You know, a lot of people don’t love themselves. And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself. 

And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself. So many people are busy trying to be somebody else. God gave all of us something significant. And we must pray every day, asking God to help us to accept ourselves. That means everything. Too many Negroes are ashamed of themselves, ashamed of being black. A Negro got to rise up and say from the bottom of his soul, "I am somebody. I have a rich, noble, and proud heritage. However exploited and however painful my history has been, I’m black, but I’m black and beautiful." This is what we’ve got to say. We’ve got to accept ourselves.  And we must pray, "Lord, Help me to accept myself every day; help me to accept my tools." 

Racial or otherwise, each of us possess a history and a heritage that is both proud and painful. Each of our stories contain chapters of triumph and verses of defeat. Without each part, our world would find itself absent of a precious gift we know as redemption.

While ethnically, I am hispanic, I was raised in white culture. I find it difficult and perplexing to understand the rhetoric of some of my peers. Those who would be so bold and arrogant as to tell a black man or woman that their story is not their story. That their sense of being oppressed, their sense that the system has worked against them, is just a social construct, a product of propaganda. 

I find the rhetoric of those of us who find ourselves closer to the other end of the ideological spectrum, equally divisive. It is just as divisive to project the darkest parts of our own story onto every person who does not think or look like us. Proverbs reminds us that "Each heart knows it's own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy."  None of us have the right to re-write someone else’s story.

Whatever our narrative entails, we owe it to ourselves, and I think to those that share in our affliction, to tell our story, to love and accept ourselves and “our tools” to help a hurting world.

As Dr. King once wrote,

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation -- either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” 

Dr. King taught me that cheap love is no love at all...

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from "Loving Your Enemies")” 

-Dr. King, from "Loving Your Enemies"

One of my first roles in ministry right after Bible College was at Victory World Church in Atlanta. Over 100 nations worship at victory. This, as you can imagine, did not happen by accident in the deep south. It is the legacy of founding Pastor Dennis Rouse. It was there that I met my bride who is black and caucasian ethnically, and a Colombian immigrant.

These years were deeply formative for me, because it is only in environments of deep diversity that we are confronted by our lack of love for people who are not like us.

Jesus taught in Matthew 5 that, 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 

It is only when we love people that don’t look, think, or act like us that we are truly showing the love of Christ. Cheap love, that is only for those that we ideologically align with, takes no special grace from God, and is no love at all, only croneyism.

Dr. King taught me that my friends will remember my silence…

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Dr. King

These words have haunted me in the recent months of national division. While I live in a largely caucasion world, both in ideology and color, I keep thinking that my son, had his grandfather’s genes won out, may have lived a life very different from my own. The temptation to speak out on behalf of those who are most precious to me, is tempered by my desire to remain neutral and continue to be a voice or reconciliation not division. But even as I write this, I am trying to find my voice for the voiceless.

On the subject of the voice of oppressed people groups, it’s important to note that Dr. King said that, "a riot is the language of the unheard.” (But Dr King didn’t condone this voice, knowing that violence was a tool of division not reconciliation.) Being heard without demonstration or civil disobedience is the luxury of only those who's thoughts are echoed by those in power. It is interesting to me to hear people that I care about, criticize peaceful protests that shut down roads. Have we forgotten that Dr. King led marches that shut down roads? And before he did this, the south was a place where none of us would want to raise our children, black, white or purple. I know this because at the center of who we are, I know that we all share the belief that hate is a cancer, and love its healing ointment.  I believe that the actions of Colin Kaepernick would have been whole heartedly condoned by Dr. King. Why? Because Dr. King’s cause of love and equality, preceded and superseded any national value system by millennia. These values arrived when men and women were created in the image of God in the Garden.

In the end, I want to teach my son that standing on the right side of history is the most important thing. I want to teach my son that being misunderstood, or creating temporary division, for true unity are a meager price to pay for justice. 

I want to teach my son that, because I think that if he were here, that is what Dr. King would teach him...

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How To Change Your Life By Changing Your Habits - Part 2

 

“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” – John Maxwell

Think about that for a second... How much of your time today will be spent on things that will have absolutely no impact on your future or on eternity? Paying bills. Cleaning up a spill. Watching Hulu. The list goes on. 

The sobering reality is that time is a currency we only get to spend once. We can never get it back, or earn more. It's just gone.

In light of an eternal perspective and the brevity of life, Paul reminds us to "Make the most of your time, because the days are evil". He precedes the thought by telling us to "give careful thought" to our lives, and follows the thought by admonishing us to "know what the Lord's will is".

Brent Crowe, in Sacred Intent after exegeting the above passage, starts with this thought: what if we only had one week to live? Where and how we would spend our time? 

Pause, and think about that - more importantly, think about what you would NOT do. The house can go to ______ (you can fill in the blank) , I'm spending time with my kids, right?!

Since our lives are the sum total of our habits, shaping them is the easiest way for us to ensure we are spending our lives meaningfully and on purpose.

Here's the reality though,

We don't break bad habits, we replace them.

In other words it's easier to take back your time by starting new habits than trying to "break" old ones.

I shared a couple of these habits I've started in my last Habit post here.

Here's a few more:

Exercising @ Home

I really enjoy running, I always have. It has been challenging for me over the last year to make this a consistent habit, and see the results I wanted. The problem was two-fold:

  1. I was significantly overweight so until I started shedding pounds, I could only work my way up to about 3 miles give our take. The problem is I couldn't start shedding pounds quickly until I started doing longer runs. So I found myself in a catch-22.
  2. With our season in life, it's just not easy to leave the house, and it took so long to put running clothes on (5 minutes) + stretch (5 minutes) + answer Abi's 7 questions about what I'm doing (2 minutes) + run (35 minutes) + stretch (5 minutes) + shower (15 minutes) = 72 minutes!!!

I switched to doing free Fitness Blender workouts on youtube and it's changed everything. Did I have to turn in my man-card when I started doing aerobics? Sure, but it was worth it...

On my best weeks running I'd work out 2 times. My first week working out at home, I worked out 6 times. Plus, the huge win is, since it's not pounding the same muscle groups over and over like running does, I'm able to do cardio for over an hour!

The other win is it affords no disruption to our family so I can spend more time holding this one:

 

Audible subscription

One of the toughest transitions from single and married life to life with kids for me has been the reduced time/energy to read and study. I talked in my last post in this series about how I've switched to an audio bible on my rides to and from work.

We've also purchased an Audible subscription where we get 2 free titles a month. Shout out to Bae for making us splurge on this.

"It's fine," she said, "we'll just take it out of the kids college fund."

Do I retain as much as if I was reading vs. listening? Absolutely not! But I'm retaining a whole lot more than if I wasn't reading at all. My favorite part of this habit has been this: I can redeem lost time since I can listen and learn while doing something else. For instance, mowing the lawn is something I have to spend an hour of my life on that will mean nothing for people, nothing for eternity, and nothing for my family. But now I can take back that time with learning.

Pursuing my passions

There's never a great time to pursue your dreams, but at some point you just have to start.

For me that's writing. I wrote a book several years ago that I want to edit and publish, and I've wanted to begin blogging on a larger scale for some time now.

Here's how I've made this a daily habit:

One of the most effective ways to start great habits is tie them to an existing one. Whenever you bite your nails, meditate on a scripture! For me there's nothing in my life more sacred or consistent than my morning routine. Coffee. Jesus. Study. Dreaming. Anyway I worked in a 15 minute slot to work on my writing. I do anything from submitting articles, working on my website, content-editing my book, writing for my block, research etc. Its different every time and I put a hard stop at only 15 minutes - but its consistent.

How about you? What habits can you start today that will allow you to take back your time?

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How To Hate Prayer - Part 4 - Dealing With Shame

 

I recently ran a poll on Disqus asking "why Do Christians hate prayer?" I know, I know, we don’t hate prayer, per se, we just never do it.

I get it.

Of course, people immediately engaged the clickbait with PIRANHA-like instincts, to tell me how much they didn't hate prayer! Eventually the outrage subsided and some real answers began to emerge.

The number one response was exactly what I expected it to be:

Shame.

People don’t approach God because they’re not perfect.

The instinct here is right on – you should be perfect to enter the presence of a holy God - Just look at Uzzah - but the conclusion is a little off.

This is the typical recipe for a lie from Satan – part truth + part lie = whole lie – See Jesus in the wilderness.

Agree With Your Adversary

I once heard a teacher reference Matthew 5:25 in regards to shame,

“Agree with your adversary quickly while you are on the way”

The word Greek word for Adversary is used for Satan elsewhere.

When you experience shame and condemnation, the thought was agree with the accuser right away, but don’t buy into the other half of the lie.

“You’re right, Satan, I did have a ton of sin in my life, but thank God Jesus made me a new creation and paid for my sins once and for all!”

I’m not sure how I feel about the hermeneutic on this one, but I love the thought!

Super Attractive Lies…

The shame and condemnation truth/lie equation is one of the easiest to believe because it feels so right! Never has sin felt so much like righteousness as it has with shame. God hates sin; I should feel bad about it! Right? Isn’t that called conviction? 15 years into my journey with Christ, there’s not a lot of lies I don’t immediately recognize as such. But with condemnation, the counterfeit feels so similar to the authentic that it's incredibly hard to discern between the two.

Projecting ourselves onto God

When we think of God as merciful, we view him as such, through the lens of our own mercy and forgiveness towards others – which happens to be both finite and fallen.

Here’s what I mean.

If Suzy messes up and lies to you, you'll forgive her once - IF , and only if, she apologizes. We may do it two or even three more times if we’re really great Christians, but eventually enough is enough! Essentially we have a mercy tank, that has so much mercy and patience, and when we’re out, we’re out. If you have kids you know the first 3 times your kid spills milk on his outfit, you may handle it like a champ, but the fourth and fifth time in as many days, and your tone begins to change.

Why?

Because your tank is running low…

This is where we get it all wrong about God.

God’s goodness, his mercy, and his hesed, is not finite like ours, but infinite. God has no tank, and nothing in his nature has a beginning or end.

We also show mercy because we have to, and assume the same about God. I’ll forgive because I have to, even though I’m hurt, and it's hard. Where we show mercy because we have to, God shows mercy because he loves to! That’s right, it’s something he loves doing! Time and again the scriptures remind us that he delights in showing mercy!  It’s like a favorite hobby to him.

The key to enjoyable prayer lies in knowing how much he enjoys giving us the grace we need to boldly approach his throne, and confidently engage his heart. 

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Church Dogma And My First And Last Facebook Debate

Not too long ago, an article made its rounds on the internet about how the niv was engaged in a conspiracy to remove verses and even entire passages from the bible. 45 VERSES AND MANY MORE WORDS ARE MISSING FROM THE NIV THAT WERE IN THE FIRST ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE: THE KJV.

[gasp... insert shock and awe here]

THE REASON FOR THIS IS actually SIMPLE (AND RATHER UN-CONSPIRATORIAL).

I'll give you the cliff notes but you'll have to excuse me while I nerd out for a paragraph.

The KJV was translated off of what most refer to as the Byzantine manuscripts that were copied down between 500AD-1000AD. Meaning they hadn’t been copied until at least 500 years after Jesus death or more, giving the texts a lot of time to evolve and change. Anyway, we now have older copies of the Bible, called the Alexandrian manuscripts (200AD-400AD). With textual criticism, (and I'm no expert) the general rule is: Older is better because older is closer to the original. So in short these verses weren’t in the original texts of the bible.

Josh Buice has a more detailed, but not written to academics, explanation HERE, or there's a headier version HERE.

That's when I broke my rule of never engaging in controversial discussions on social media. I figured, "oh misinformation, this can easily be cured with education."

I assumed people possessed a relatively universal desire to learn, grow, and be educated. But Christians are different - we've trained that out of them.

More on that in a minute...

I typed the comment, hit the word post, and then began the tirades! My favorite comment (and by favorite, I mean my least favorite) was from a leader in the Church:

Wait... The Manuscripts are the bible...

Other than the emotive and not quite thought-through response, there's something very telling about the post.

Did you see it? 

"All scripture is God breathed" was not quoted as a text in God's word to back up a meaningful premise, but rather a one liner designed to stop a conversation the individual wasn't prepared to engage in.

We've replaced critical thinkinG with one-liners that basically boil down to, "I don't care what they say about [creation/bathrooms/ HOMOSEXUALITY] we just believe in the Bible!" This inability to DIALOGUE AND "give an answer to everyone who asks" has rendered the Church completely non-competitive in the marketplace of ideas.

That's where dogma comes in...

Dogma is defined by Merriam-Webster as,

“A belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted”

or my favorite,

A principle or set of principles laid down by authority as incontrovertibly true.

Dogma is “the earth is flat”, or “the Bible is the inerrant word of God”.

I’m positive you didn’t like that I used those in the same sentence.  

But dogma can be true or false. Dogma is more about the tone not the content. Dogma says this is true, and it’s not up for discussion. That would be fine if the gospel was for us four and no more. But the reality is, that the gospel is for the world, and to win their hearts, we’ll have to engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 11.15.33 AM.png

Here's a couple examples of how this plays out in the Church.

Tough questions

What about when someone that we lead asks us a tough question about something we believe, and we make the mistake of telling them that sometimes we just to "have faith" when there's something about God we don't understand. When what we should have done is admit we don't have the answer, and offer to find it out together.

why do bad things happen to Good people?

If you've been in Church any number of years, you know the company line is:

God doesn't cause evil, he just allows it. He's given us a free will so we can choose to love him, unfortunately some people choose evil.

Let me tell you why this doesn't fly with people who have experienced true suffering. It's like saying God didn't pull the trigger, he just handed mankind a loaded gun. If you're on the other end of people's horrific choices, dogma won't cut it. People who have spoken into the mess of someone who's experienced sexual abuse, or gone through the death of a child do not regurgitate one liners, in fact they say very little at all.

GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, Augustine, they all grappled with the problem of evil. Were you to tell the greatest thinkers in the history of Christianity, that "God doesn't do evil, he just allows it", I assure you they wouldn't pause and say... "Hmm, why didn't I think of that?" Because the statement is the elementary assertion of someone who has either not thought through the issue, or never experienced pain.

Love the sinner...

"Love the sinner, hate the sin" Can I just tell you that NO ONE who's ever walked with someone through same-gender attraction EVER uses that phrase... Like ever... It's a HUGE over-simplification of an incredibly complex journey, and an insult to all who have walked it. 

Winning hearts and minds

Solomon reminds us that "he who wins souls is wise"a favorite for those talking about personal evangelism; but the text is of course pre-gospel, and really not about that. It's more about winning friends and influencing people. So sure we're great at regurgitating facts about what we believe, but are we winsome? Do our lives and our ideas engage our neighbors? Do our co-workers look to us for insight on life's greatest challenges and societies greatest ills? 

Without an ability to know WHY we believe WHAT we believe, we’ll lose our voice in the world. This is not a call to buy apologetics books; it’s more fundamental than that. It’s a call to dive deep in the word, to own our theology, and to engage the world with our minds as well as our hearts.

 

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How To Change Your Life By Changing Your Habits

You will never change your life, until you change something you do daily. The secret to success lies in your daily routine. ~John Maxwell

the last couple of months, I've spent some time filtering my life through this quote (from Maxwell's 15 invaluable laws of growth). For better or worse, your life is the sum total of your habits. this has actually been liberating in a lot of ways. Where I used to feel pressure to make seismic changes in my life, I now know that life-change lies in the smallest, and simplest daily habits.

Here's a couple of changes I've made to my daily that have made me feel like a much healthier person:

Incorporating An Audio Bible

I'm more of a reading/writing learner than an auditory one. You can find your learning style here. If I listen to a chapter in the bible, I'll comprehend/retain about half as much as if I read it. However, it's been somewhat difficult to carve out the time to sit down and read 5 chapters in the bible, and even more difficult for me to get through that time undistracted by people, whether co-workers in my office or my kids at home... I have 3 of them now.

Which is terrifying...

Exhibit A:

I figured out that I can listen to about 7-9 chapters in my drive to and from work. The math was hard to argue with: Retaining 50% of 8 Chapters was > 100% of 0 chapters. Plus, previously this was lost time in my day, and now it's productive! (I just use the free YouVersion app for this.)

Here's a common thread to a lot of the changes I've made: Shifting from something that's ideal to something that works.

In my devotional fantasies (I'm pretty sure I'm the only person that has these) I get up while still dark, light a scented candle, put a pot of coffee on, and mark up 10 chapters of my interlinear bible, after quietly reciting the Shema for 2 hours.

In the real world, I'm pumped that I'm getting multiple chapters in, at least 5 days a week! 

Drinking a gallon of water

Again: Small daily change done consistently yields a disproportionately greater impact on your life. Think of your habits like a handful of seeds that seem small in the moment, but over time yield an exponentially greater harvest.

Remember, I'm basically an expert on all this, since I've been doing it for 3 weeks.  

Anyways I've been working towards health and I'm always looking for small ways to make an impact. When we were in the hospital for Ryan's debut, they gave Lizeth this quart jug with a straw for water (the straw makes it WAY easier to down large amounts of H2O). I found an extra one in our hospital bathroom which I quickly stole.

And by stole, I mean I paid $7,000 for it. 

It's changed my life! Because it's a quart, I only have to refill it 3 times to reach a gallon. I've realized if I drink one before I leave for work, it's easy to drink a gallon (two more during my work day, and one when I get home). If I don't do that, I usually don't quite hit the one gallon mark. Days that I work out, I definitely hit my goal - drinking about a quart during my workouts alone. I can't stress enough how much the straw helps. Anyway, it's a small change, that has made my work outs more productive, yielded some water-weight loss, improved my metabolism, curbed my appetite, and given me more energy.

What something you could do daily that would change your life? Put it in the comments below!

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How To Hate Prayer - Part 3 - Structuring Your Prayer Times

I'm gonna be completely honest here.

I've pretty much had my life planned out since middle school. 

My to do list is color coded.

Each day of the week i intentionally focus on a different section of my job description... Who does that?

I have a disease. I realize that. Please pray for the people I love the most.

The other day I mapped out my week on my dry erase board in Stephen Covey's 4 productivity quadrants - if you don't know what that is, that's okay, it only means you're not sick like I am.

My ability to operate without plans and structure is not entirely unlike Jack Garratt's ability to write terrible music.

...These things are just not in the cards for Jack and I.

This was all in the interest of full disclosure so you can take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt.

We've been talking about Jesus' promise to give us joy in the place of prayer (Isaiah 56:7), and wrestling with some of the reasons we don't experience that.

So with that said, this is one of the easiest ways out there to NOT enjoy prayer:

Definitely go in without a plan

Early on in my process with Jesus, I was at some sort of meetings when I was first introduced to the idea of planning/structuring my prayer times. We were in a pre-service prayer setting, when one of the speakers walked us through the ACTS model. 

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanksgiving
  • Supplication (fancy KJV word for asking God for stuff)

I should have known. The answers to life's greatest mysteries have always been hidden within the same medium:

Acrostics!

But seriously, 15 years later and I'll still bust out the ACTS model from time to time.

Everything God builds...

Everything God creates is first given structure, and then given life. With the creation of Adam he first creates the bones, then breathes his Spirit into him. With Ezekiel he does the same thing - skeletons and tendons, then ruach. With Moses, first he gives intricate construction details for the tabernacle and liturgical process, then he fills it with glory.

Sometimes in prayer and in our other endeavors, we give God something to use, something to work with, something to move through. I think it's his way of involving us in the process.

But here's an important caveat: You WANT structure. What you DON'T want is your prayer life to become wrote religious exercise, instead of life giving relationship. Tyler Speegle has a great piece on that here.

Other than the ACTS model here are a couple other ways I've structured my prayer times:

1. Praying Through A Psalm

People talk about the power of praying the scriptures all the time. The Psalms are a great place to start praying the word, since most of them are prayers already... So it doesn't take a lot of imagination. Psalms are an easy way to give your prayer time a path to travel. Read a verse then apply that verse to a situation in your life e.g. marriage, finances, relationship with God, then use the textual language to pray it back to God. Then on to the next verse.

2. 20-20 Challenge

From time to time I'll issue the 20-20 challenge to my students. It's connecting with God for 20 minutes a day for 20 days. Why 20 days? So glad you asked. Because it takes 21 days to build a habit (the 20-21 Challenge wasn't nearly as catchy).

I'd also chart their 20 minutes for them:

  • 5 Minutes: Turn on your favorite worship leader and worship for 1 song
  • 5 Minutes: Read a Psalm - why a psalm? Because they're short - baby steps people, baby steps.
  • 5 Minutes: Pray about your prayer life like the disciples did when they said "Jesus, teach us to pray". This is huge in the beginning - Your getting distracted, great, talk to him about it. "God I'm bored." "God give me a hunger for you." "God I'm trying here, but I need your grace." "God I want to want you" "Jesus teach me to pray."
  • 5 Minutes: Requests/Needs

These are just ideas. Ask people you respect in this area, create your own, see what works for you. 

One final thought. If you're in one of those seasons where you are falling deeply in love with Jesus, hearing from him all the time, and thinking about him in every waking moment, you probably don't need a lot of structure. Mountaintops should be enjoyed, but structure will help us to be faithful in prayer  in the valleys and arid places that lie in between.

How To Hate Prayer - Part 2

So you heard a great sermon on prayer and committed to praying for 30 minutes a day. We've all been there. As your alarm sounded the next morning, you leapt from your bed to your Keurig like a gazelle on the Serengeti. You set your iPhone timer to 30 minutes and thus began the greatest moment of personal revival since the Journey Reborn tour...

God please help me to be a good [mom/dad/husband/wife/child] today. Help me to be a good witness at work. We're struggling with [insert financial situation here]..... Um.... Help all the starving children in Africa... And also help the thunder in the 4th quarter.

Pretending not to look, you glance at your phone... 29 minutes 14 seconds to go. Crap.

This is one of the easiest ways to hate prayer that I know of:

Center Your Prayer Life Around Petitions

The problem with the above approach is it's centered on prayer as a medium for supplication (asking God for stuff.) This is not bad, in fact, it's biblical. However, making this the primary task of prayer doesn't end well. Focusing solely on petition is the fastest way I know of, for you to view prayer, and ultimately God, as boring. 

Why? because requests are inherently "me" centered. And no one approaches the God of the universe to spend the whole time talking about themselves (we've all been on a date with THAT person.) In any moment, prayer or otherwise, that we have the opportunity to focus on Jesus or ourselves we should always, always, choose the former.

In contrast, the giants of prayer in the scriptures and in history, seem to be fascinated with the beauty and nature of Jesus, not their finite problems.

Let's look at David...

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple ~Psalms 27:4

Dude had one request - to pray every day his whole life, and stare at the beauty of Jesus. 

Let's look at 2 more:

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand. ~Psalms 16:11
They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. ~Psalms 36:8

Listen to the pathos in these texts. Pleasure, river of delights, beauty, happiness. Is this the kind of language that we use to describe our own times in the presence of God? 

So how do we do this?  The two easiest ways to center your prayer life around God are worship and listening, and then you can land on your requests. If you turn on your favorite worship song and sing the words TO him, its communicating with God... So it counts towards your 30 minutes! Listening is another topic we could spend a great deal of time on, but I'll defer at the moment.

I'm a big fan of praying about your prayer life like the disciples did - Jesus, teach us to pray - so the first thing I would do with these truths, is go to the One who promised "I will give them Joy in my house of prayer", and cling to that. Go over some of these texts with him, ask him for insight... When we look at the God that we see in the scriptures, and then look at our own experience of him, it's healthy to wrestle with the tension that lies in between. If you don't know how to do that, that's fine... Just pray about it.

 

 

 

The Death Of My Lover

A crucifixion story from the perspective of John the Beloved

 

An ancient tree I now behold

Blood of God runs now cold

Crimson red the branches stain

Ageless deity is now slain

 

What victory is won by this?

Death has stolen God’s great gift

A violent end to peace’s prince

No justice here before or since

 

Then he wakes and I am new

To empty graves as one we flew

Then he walks and I find peace

My heart with God, a debt appeased 

Help! I'm 30 And I'm Still Figuring Out Who I Am

A couple times a month we have some of our student leaders and interns over to our home. I was feeling brave the other night, so we tackled the always messy, always liberating subject of identity... 

I stole an exercise from Steven Furtick's new book, UNQUALIFIED which can be purchased here. The exercise was simple, transformative, and to the point: On one side of the paper you write your "I Am" statements: I am insecure. I am good at sports. I am a leader. I am a failure.

We shared our lists each other - which were pretty raw - and then on the other side of our paper we transformed our list to a different kind of I am statement. The "With Christ I am" list. With Christ I am confident. With Christ I more than a conqueror. With Christ I am made in the image and beauty of God.

The most fascinating thing was this: As vulnerable as it fell to share the first list, it was significantly harder for most of us to share the second. These positive statements felt awkward, untrue, and disingenuous. I realized I've gotten so cozy with the lies about myself, that they feel more authentic than the truth. So yeah I guess I've got a ways to go...

We discussed Moses who encounters I AM at Mt. Horeb. When God tells him what to do, Moses answers with these words: "Who Am I?" It's a rhetorical question meant to communicate that he's the wrong guy for the job, but God answers it anyway:

We pick up right after Moses asks God 'Who am I?',

“I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have BROUGHT THE PEOPLE OUT OF EGYPT, you will worship God on this mountain." Exodus 3:12

At first glance it sounds like God dodges the question... Unless you know what Moses' name means. Moshe meant "Brought out", because pharaoh's daughter "brought him out" or "delivered him out" of the waters. In other words, it was a play on words:  As God restated the directive he was simultaneously telling him his name - Moshe, that's who you are, that's who you've been from the beginning, the one who would bring my people out.

This seems to be a pattern in the scriptures. Whenever someone figures out who God is - that's when they figure out who they are. Look at Saul on the road to damascus, another conversation in the desert by the way. It begins with Saul saying "Who are you Lord?" and ends with God telling Paul who he is - an Apostle to kings and gentiles. With that in mind, I left our students with this thought: If I want to know who I am, I have to know who I AM is.

The point is, we find Moshe wandering around in the wilderness at 80 years old not really having a clue who he is. It's a tension we've all felt at some point or another - the place in between not knowing who we are, and feeling like we should have had that figured that out by now. We think we're waiting on God in this endeavor, when in actuality, he is waiting on us. He awaits our presence in a desert and wilderness all our own with Him. He waits for you to, through prayer and devotion, engage his heart and ask him to tell you your name. To hear his Words echoing in our hearts, saying what we certainly must have known deep down... That we were sons and daughters all along.

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How To Hate Prayer - Part 1

First off let me say what you want me to hear... You don't hate prayer per se, but you're reading this for a friend. I get it... I only wish I had more friends like you.

Chances are your friend spends his/her time in prayer nodding off while praying for his/her favorite sports team. Maybe they have interactions like "God, while I can appreciate the dramatic literary value of Ehud stabbing that one guy, and the whole knife disappearing into his bowels, I'm having a hard time applying it to my life..."

Here's some reverse psychology to help your friend:

1. Have Incorrect Thoughts About God

Every dialogue we have with someone is colored by our perception of them. Case in point: you're mother-in-law is always harping on your career choices, so everytime you have some sort of life announcement in this department, you brace yourself for the conversation. Why? Because it's difficult to have healthy dialogue with someone, when we've made negative assumptions about their character.

Bad theology will always taint our interactions with God, and always leave us cringing when we think of prayer.

Primarily this happens through 3 lies:

  • Mad God - You view God as sitting up there in his Golden Lawn Chair with a hammer waiting to "wack us" whenever we do wrong. This not so thinly veiled lie comes mainly from partial narratives in the scripture, and maybe a bitter Sunday School teacher in Kindergarten - speaking for a friend here.

 This view of God will prevent you from "Boldly approaching the throne of grace" ten times out     of ten.

Here's the truth of Scripture:

"As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." -Isaiah 62:5

  • Sad God - God is up there so "grieved" by us, our condition and our sin. Weeping over the brokenness of humanity like some sort of celestial Eeyore. Maybe you don't think of this one often - but it's there - I don't even know how it got there, but it's there.

Here's the truth of scripture:

"The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing." -Zephaniah 3:17

  • Distant God - So you beleive that God exists and maybe even "loves" you. At least in the "he has to love everybody, he's God" sort of way. But fundamentally you view him as distant from your world, your day to day. He's up there, I'm down here. It's just as hard to talk to distant God, as it is to talk to a distant second cousin - so... how's the weather up there in Maine... ~long pause ~ Good, good... so what do you do again? I'm a nurse.......... Big gulps huh? Welp see ya later..."

Here's the truth of God's word:

1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. -Psalms 139:1-6

What if we let our thoughts, theology, and worldview be obliterated by the wrecking ball of scripture? The Word of God is creative, but Paul says it's destructive! A weapon that sets out to destroy every thought that sets itself up against the truth (2 Cor. 10:5).  If allowed to renew your mind, you'll be left with a blank canvas for Christ to color in places of devotion. There's a certain kind of wonder as you present to God your new-found emptiness for him. Remember, he never leaves us as he finds us - through meditation, prayer, and long treks through the narrative of his word, you'll discover a new portrait of Christ, a divine vignette brushed with grace, truth, and beauty.

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Anchored... In His Nearness

The following is a devotional I wrote for our anchored prayer and fasting experience in January...

“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, and if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalms 139:9-10

As a child I thought that God’s omnipresence (his ability to be everywhere) mainly had to do with geography. God can be with me, and in China at the same time. This, I thought, was a very nice feature to have, especially if you were craving Chinese food.

I’ve learned to accept a much broader view of the doctrine. God’s omnipresence isn’t limited to physics. David, as he penned Psalms 139, said that if he went to "the highest heaven or to the deepest depth" God was present - The word here for depths was Sheol, the hebrew word for hell. You could almost read it as, “God, when I’m going through hell… You’re there.” You see, he is close by us not just in every place, but in every season and in every emotion. In our most devastating tragedies he is present, and in our greatest triumphs he is near. 

If you were to ask Moses, he would tell you that God is in the wilderness. Elijah, I think, would tell you that God is in the silence. My friend who just lost a child, would tell you that God is in the grieving. I could tell you, as I’ve toiled to redeem my past, that God is in the healing. But wherever that is for you, let your heart be rooted in the knowledge that God is deeply present, keenly aware, and tirelessly active in the minutia of your life.

Call To Action

  1. Read the following text. Jeremiah 23:23-24 “Am I only a God nearby declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him, declares the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?
  2. Picture Jesus sitting right there with you (because he is). Where do you need him to be present?  Maybe it’s your finances, your marriage, your relationship with a child. Ask him to reveal his presence in this area or relationship. What is he doing? What is he saying? 

En Inspiro

The first work of the writer, as I understand it, is not his first draft or his outline; his true beginning is inspiration.

This moment is the inventor’s fuel, it is the theologian’s revelation, and the philosopher calls it his epiphany.

Without this inspiration, our works lack the brilliance, creativity, and pathos that characterize all meaningful endeavors. 

We are “created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us.” 

I fear that we spend our lives completing tasks, instead of a mission, and the “good works”, which could have been ours, are left undone. Our schedules are full, but our lives are not.

Our world is full of works that are mundane and colorless and uninspired, and it is not begging us to produce one more that is devoid of any true virtue or significance.

If we filter our creations through what is born of inspiration I think we will discover a need to retool some our lives, and abandon some projects all together.

I would run my own life through these painful criteria, but I fear that I lack the moral courage to act upon what I find.

In Search Of The True Wilderness

I often find in myself an ache to go to the wilderness. And I'm not talking about some cool meta-physical wilderness that is somehow an analogy of the "season" i'm in either.

I'm talking about trees and mountains and creatures with four legs; it all feels like home to me.

Intuitively I am given the impression that this longing is greater than myself. I am speaking of that particular brand of desire which transcends an individual, or even a time. The belief of an afterlife, or the desire to find a soul mate I would categorize as such.

In short, these cravings do not belong to you or to me, but to all of humanity. 

Man was born into the unfinished wilderness; he awoke to a world where he was alone with God.

It is this genesis with God that I long for; the desire to be alone with God is inherently etched on the tablet of my heart.

We are unsure how long man was in this state with God, scholars presume it could have taken him years just to name the animals.

Woman was born into community; Adam, and a more finished creation awaited her crowning arrival. As such she craves this covering, this protection, this love and togetherness. 

Perhaps this is why she doesn't even like to go to the bathroom alone...or perhaps for us men, such mysteries are better off unexplored. 

I am not saying that she doesn't long for intimacy with God, any more than I am saying that a man doesn't desire to be with others. As a quick aside, many of you know that I have always maintained that the qualities belonging to the masculine or feminine are extremely subjective and change drastically with cultures and time; I believe the intrinsic, God given, attributions to be a much shorter list. So I will not make any conclusive statements here; but I welcome the conversation.

Jesus told his disciples: "You will leave me all alone; yet I am not alone, for my father is with me."  These moments in the proverbial wilderness when we are "lonely, but not alone", are calling to me even as I write this. 

For me the mountains provide me with this singular pursuit, but life affords us many such opportunities. Singleness is such a wilderness; an uncommon situation or struggle is such a desert.

In these moments I am hedged in; like the harlot wife of Hosea, my solitude separates me from all other interior interests and pursuits. 

My ear is tuned only to his voice; my heart has feelings only for him...And in these moments I am reborn and I open my eyes, awaking to a wilderness all my own with God.

A Great Salvation

Today I am reminded of the words of the Reformation's great theologian,

"All that is necessary for salvation is the knowledge that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior"  ~John Calvin

It is alarming to know that that great human quandary which has eclipsed the ages, lurks quietly within our own members. Like some kind of unknown cancer, we begin to see it's symptoms without fully knowing it's severity.

Our problem is no small thing, but as Calvin says, we are better to know it, Blaise Pascal once said, "It is good to be tired and wearied by the futile search after the true good, that we may stretch out our arms to the Redeemer."

The problem of the human race is serious...and it is eternal; But sin's greatness is rivaled only by it's remedy.

Christ, the paschal lamb, was, and the Jews knew nothing of this, not a great man as they had always supposed, He was God's only Son. 

The existence of the Messiah was known, but his nature was veiled; concealed within the words of the  ancient prophecies. Perhaps it was known only in the heart of God, perhaps this was part of the Ephesians 3 "mystery which was not made known to men in other generations which has now been revealed by the Spirit."

Yet this was his glorious plan all along, the "Lamb slain before the creation of the world". Or even that he would "dwell among us", should be enough to elude our greatest cerebral capacities. As Lewis writes in the Last battle, 'Yes,' said Queen Lucy. 'In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.'

Such a divine plot could only be the contrivance of beings no less magnificent than the Godhead themselves. We are partakers of no small emancipation; but the heirs of what Hebrews calls "such a great salvation", and this wrought by no less of a propitiate, Christus Victor, Christ the Victor!

On The Power Of Children

I have always maintained that it is hard to be a spiritual writer because we are, in a sense, reducing things magnificent and eternal to something as paltry as human language.

It is hard indeed, to not be the butcher of all things divine, when we are working with such incredible limitations and today's topic is no exception.

I have not written in some time partially because I am falling in love right now, and as you well know, this commands almost all of a man's resources and time, and also because I have wished to do such a great idea, some measure of justice.

About seven months ago, I had an encounter with the Lord, where I saw a vision of my daughter, almost exactly as she looks today. When I saw her, I was filled with so much joy it was overwhelming. I felt like God told me that the depression that I have struggled with on and off over the years, would be taken from me through the birth of my daughter.

The next day Lizeth came to me not knowing about what I had seen and told me that we should name the baby Abigail if it was a girl...and that it meant, "father's joy".

Dostoevsky once said that "the soul is healed by being with children." The other night while I was holding her, I could feel it, I could really feel the healing happening. I could actually sense her little frame healing my wounded heart. It was as if the love and the warmth God was filling my heart with was searching out the recesses of my heart and taking from it all those remaining pains and disappointments which have held so tightly on over the years.

It is humbling, I think, for a grown man to be so weakened by a creature so small and unassuming; but it is healing me. It is taking from me the ego that demands to be validated, and the pain that demands to be masked. In their stead it is giving me one of those few substances that will remain for all of eternity: love (I Cor 13:13).

I am looking forward to thanking my daughter in the years to come for the ministry she has done to me. Jesus said, that we could not enter the kingdom except a man become like her, so I am learning from her. I am learning those rudimentary qualities necessary to "enter the Kingdom." I am learning from her how to be gentle and open; she is teaching me to trust without reservation, and perhaps most importantly, she is teaching me about my utter dependency on God for my most basic of needs.

I am experiencing what theologians have called a "great exchange", that is, that Isaiah 61 experience, exchanging our ashes for a crown of beauty, our mourning for his joy, a spirit of despair for a garment of praise. This exchange is most certainly from God, but it has come to me through this tiny vessel, truly, "God has chosen the weak things of this world"

It is almost as if he gave these things to her while she was being "woven together in the depths of the earth," and said, "here...give these to your dad."

Psalms 23 & A Theology of Rest

I write this on my sabbath, my favorite of all days during the week. As I rest I am reminded of a small unassuming sentence penned by David many years ago; in psalms 103 of God he says that,

"He knows how we are formed; he remembers that we are but dust."

My own human weakness and frailty has been my constant instructor in my need for rest. It seems that we run only short races, before we tire physically and emotionally. We grow weary, so quickly as finite beings, and discover within ourselves a swelling need for restoration.

It is not until that we acknowledge the reality of the human condition and it's many limitations; that we can truly discover rest in God.

I have oft, with many others throughout history, found comfort in the psalmist's ancient words: 

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He leadeth beside still waters; he maketh me to lie down in green pastures"

By it, we are reminded that God is the author and the source of all rest. While I have found truths that equal it's relevance in the scriptures; perhaps there is no truth more relevant to the human condition than the doctrine of rest; or at least no truth more often necessitated.

The Sabbath, we are told by Jesus, was made for man. It was God's gift to man; in preparing the earth for humanity, God quipped it with rest. It was one of His many kindnesses to us, knowing that such a small creature would have great need for it.

It is worth noting that while the Sabbath was the Last day of God's week, it was the first day of man's. God wanted us to be born into this sort of rest and euphoria with God. It was from that place in God, that man went forth to create and to toil; to put his hand to the plow of all that God had assigned to him. How much better would our creations be, friends, if we spent the first day of our week with the creator of the cosmos?

I was reminded some time ago, by my friend Taina Brown (who is a fascinating conversationalist) of our need to approach the concept of rest wholistically. Thessalonians 5 reminds us that we are tri-partate beings; body, soul, and spirit. To limit rest to the physical, falls desperately short of the biblical reality. Often our physical frame is what needs rest the least; it is our inner man that longs for restoration perhaps the most.

Our mental, emotional, and spiritual faculties, grow weary under the weight of unkind words, anxieties and traffic :) These all cry out for the Matthew 11 invitation to come to Him, all of us who are "weary and heavy laden", to find "rest for our souls". Oh that like David we would proclaim "My soul finds rest in God alone!"

That we, with the author of Hebrews, would "labor to enter into that rest". Oh that we would yield to the gentle leadings of the Good Shepherd as he leads us to a place beside the still waters...away from the chaos...away from the noise...

Life, Death, & The Renewal Of All Things

I find that words are often woefully inadequate to capture our deepest emotions; In these moments I've found music or art to be much better mediums of the mystery that is within us.

Above my dining room table hangs a painting. It's cheap art, and it looks tired, but as I sat at my table yesterday I felt like it expressed my musings as of late, far better than language could.

It's a picture of a home, surrounded by a garden. It looks far too idyllic to be real; the landscape is flawless, the home, a stucco-tuscan design seems untouched yet...welcoming; and the lot of it is more like a house you would see at the end of a movie than one you would pass on the way to work.

It's like the house I've always wanted to come home to, not at the end of a long day; but rather at the end of a long life.

It's perfection spoke to me about a better age, an age to come; it reminded me of the "better country" that the Patriarchs who were "not at home in this life" were longing for (Heb.11).

So many things that I have been going through as of late, like that painting, have been reminding me of that age. The death of my grandmother, and the death of my friend Michelle, the impending birth of my daughter, the aching exhaustion from working long hours; these have all served to remind me of a better world.

A world where death itself is defeated and no more, a time when the One "through whom all things were made", will "make all things new". A time when the eternal longings which He has "set in the hearts of men" will be fulfilled.

Oh how my deepest longings will come to fruition in that age! What a joy it will be to see my little sister, and my father, and my grandmothers; and what an honor it will be to say like John the Beloved, that we have "seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son"! 

And finally, after my long day of toil in this life...whether by eastern sky, or by grave should He tarry...I will go home.