19 April 2015

a childlike faith

Across the room, Alex saw him. Her daddy was up on the stage, holding his bass guitar, getting ready to lead us in worship. Her always bright eyes brightening a little more, she ran across the room and up onto the stage, winding her way between monitors and music stands. Finally, she made it to her daddy. He bent down, scooping her into his arms, hugging her tightly.

What an amazing picture of the gospel! Unburdened by shame, she simply ran to her daddy. She had no sense of decorum, questioning whether her behavior was appropriate. She was not afraid of being on the stage in front of everyone with all eyes on her, she was just excited to be with her dad.

And like our heavenly Father, he did not send her away. He was not looking around the room to see if her behavior was socially appropriate. His eyes were for his little girl, gladness spreading across his face as he bent down to embrace her.

Jesus had a special affection for children. He told his disciples to let them come. I wonder if I got a glimpse of why he felt that way today. Jesus longs for us to run to him, to seek his presence, while he trains his eyes on us and scoops us up into his arms.

Pursuing goofiness

If you've spent much time at our house, you may have found your funny bone tickled. You may have even been shocked at the goofiness that happens in our home. Although it has now been a while, there have been periods of time where people launching milk out of their noses has been a fairly routine occurrence at our dinner table. Several times a week, Ian falls on the floor in fits of laughter. Just this morning, I came into the living room dancing a jig, sending Brittney into laughter. I just felt like dancing, and that's okay.

Christians have developed the unfortunate reputation for being a rather mirthless, somber bunch. Too many of us get uncomfortable if we laugh too hard. We think it implies that we are not serious believers. When we laugh at something, we worry about what other believers will think about us and our commitment.

Sadly, our humorlessness can be inauthentic and unattractive. When I went through counseling a couple of years ago, one of the things that I discovered about myself was that I tried to present myself as having it all together, which to me, equated to typically being serious. There were certain places where my humor would come out regularly, but I typically tried to keep it at bay. Unfortunately, it would usually come out sideways.

Part of my growing in authenticity is to be serious when I am feeling serious, to be sad when I am feeling sad, and to be goofy when I am feeling goofy. We need to create space for one another to be real with the full range of emotions. So, if you come to my house and I am dancing to "Shake It Off" or one of my children accidentally spews milk across the table from something I have said, laugh with us. I bet Jesus does.

15 April 2015

Kingdom Living is Not Safe

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.-Matthew 6:34

We Christians can be such a fearful bunch. We fear the future. We fear what could happen so we do nothing. We avoid new people because they may not like us. We avoid speaking from our heart for fear of offending. We live in holy huddles because, if we are honest, we are afraid of the outside world. We're afraid of terrorists, diseases, democrats, foreign countries, gang members, homeless people--really anything different. We are afraid of anything that might threaten our sense of the managed life. We think, "if I can control enough variables in my life, I will be reasonably happy. If I keep my head down and avoid threat, maybe I'll be safe."

Too often, though, what we think of as wise living is really nothing more than a managed life driven by sin. We do not trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God to take care of us as we head out on the mission to which He has called us. We live as though we know better so rather than obeying the call to love, or following the great commission, we shrink back afraid and call it wise living.

Did Jesus call us to safety? Did Christ tell his disciples if you follow me, I will keep you safe from conflict, disease, and death?  No. He was pretty clear that following him would be risky, but so worth it! A life lived in love and service to others is never something to shrink back from.  Never.

The apostle Paul said, "to live is Christ, to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).  We live lives of love toward others regardless of risk and if death comes, rejoice!

14 April 2015

Sticks and Stones


Words kill, words give life; 
     they're either poison or fruit--you choose.-Proverbs 18:21 (MSG) 

As kids, we used to say, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." It was a lie we told to mask what was going on inside. But Proverbs tells the truth. Contrary to our childhood rhyme, words have the power to kill. We do not need guns or knives or sticks or stones to harm a person, our words will do just fine. Talk to any adolescent girl trying to navigate her way through the painful waters of junior high school as she experiences a slow death by ten thousand words from her peers. 

"Fatso." 

"Slut." 

"Cow." 

"Why do even come here? No one likes you. Why don't you just kill yourself." 

Each word a paper cut upon her soul. Each word draining her life, bit by bit. Many survive, though a close look will reveal battle scars, long calloused over to prevent any future pains. Some don't make it. 

I wish I could say these death words were isolated, but they are not. Every day in every town in America in many homes, schools, jobs, and churches, people criticize, shame, and isolate others with their words. Some scream. Some use sarcasm. Some damn with faint praise. Some scoff. Some gossip. Some slander. The weapons are different, but the effects are similar. Words have the power to kill the spirit.

But words also have the power to give life. Words have the power to heal, to restore, to build up. For every cut inflicted upon the soul, we have in our power the opportunity to bind up those wounds, to speak life to another person. 

Words are rarely neutral. They are poison, or they are fruit. They are death, or they are life. So the next time your son forgets to feed the dogs and you are about to respond, ask yourself, "am I speaking life to him?" The next time you want to add a snarky comment on something you see on Facebook, ask yourself "is my desire to build up and encourage or to make myself feel better by knocking that person down a peg?" The next time your spouse says something to you that makes your blood boil, ask yourself "in the midst of my hurt, how can my words bless the one whom I love?" 

A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
     but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.-Proverbs 15:4 (ESV)

13 April 2015

Crabb Conversation-April 2015

Every month, Mark Halvorsen and I talk about the work of Dr. Larry Crabb, a man who has profoundly affected each of our lives on our show Crabb Conversations. This month, we had the pleasure of having Larry join us.

Here are just a few tidbits from the conversation.
  • Where there is pretense, there is no spiritual growth.
  • The center of the gospel is to look bad in the presence of love. 
  • We long for someone to see us at our worst and still be wanted.
  • What does it mean to learn to dance with the Trinity?
  • My greatest calling is not for someone else to see me at my worst and love me, but for me to see them at their worst and love them.
  • Final reality is passionate, not propositional.
  • When you deny the Trinity, all God is reduced to is power, not love. 
  • I continue to be someone who is in desperate need of grace.
  • The happiness of Jesus is putting divine love on display in any circumstance.
  • I'm on a mission from God to put the character of Jesus on display in all circumstances.
You can listen to the podcast HERE

If you are interested in watching Larry's Soul Care course, you can find it HERE for free.

08 April 2015

Book Review: The Relational Soul

The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection (2014, IVP) by Richard Plass and James Cofield is gold. Previously, I have been honored to include each of their submissions in the newsletter I edit for the Society for Christian Psychology, but even knowing a modest amount about their work, this book far exceeded my expectations.

The Relational Soul, as I had hoped, deals with the importance of relationships in human well-being. Drawing upon work in the fields of attachment and interpersonal neurobiology, Plass and Cofield show their readers why relationships are essential to functioning.  In fact, on page 15 they wrote, "All reality is relational." I tend to agree with them, knowing that we are created in the image of the triune Godhead.

I appreciated a great deal about this book. Chapter 3, which deals with the importance of implicit memory with regard to early attachment and relational formation. Too often, it seems to me that much of American Christianity deals with the logical aspects of faith and life and downplays the emotional/relational aspects. The authors encourage their readers to think about both.

As they move on, they spend a lot of time exploring the notion of our false self versus our true self, which reminds me of Larry Crabb's discussions of mask wearing. Relational formation can only occur when we learn to recognize our false selves and grow into our true selves.

The final section I would mention is chapter 8, which deals with community. I do not think it is much of an exaggeration to claim that I underlined half of the chapter. Each paragraph in the chapter on community could stand alone as worth pondering deeply.

If you seek to understand yourself and your relationships on a deeper level, this is the book for you. Fans of authors like Larry Crabb, Curt Thompson, or Dan Siegel are sure to benefit from this book. But if you want to borrow my copy, you may have to wait awhile, there are things I want to read again.

02 April 2015

Book Review: Long Journey Home

Long Journey Home: A Guide to Your Search for the Meaning of Life (2001) by Os Guinness is a commendable book on understanding worldview. In this book, Guinness patiently crafts an argument for understanding worldview and following them to their logical conclusions in the tradition of his mentor, Francis Schaeffer.

Guinness is encouraged by seekers after truth. Too many in modern society have set aside the pursuit of truth in "an unexamined age," distracted by things of little consequence. But throughout the ages, there are seekers after truth.  He provides examples of how people have sought after meaning throughout the ages, but particularly during modernity and post-modernity. For example, he touches upon the stories of those like Foucault, Huxley, and Bertrand Russell. He carefully works to demonstrate how their worldviews essentially come to places of now satisfactory answers. He continues by showing that seekers cannot be satisfied just with seeking, but with eventually coming to the knowledge of the truth, based in evidence, which leads to commitment.

I would gladly put this book into the hands of any believer or nonbeliever. It is well-written, well-conceptualized, and non-coercively leads the reader to examine their own pursuit of meaning to its logical end (what Schaeffer called taking the roof off). If you suspect that ideas have consequences, this is the book for you.

28 March 2015

Without Objection

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.  So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.-Acts 10:28-29

Peter, an apostle of Jesus and a Jew by birth, had a hard time shedding his Old Covenant clothes. He had spent 3 years in the physical presence of Jesus, watching him love in a way that was unexpected. After Jesus' ascension, Peter was foundational to the growth of the early church, just as Jesus had said he would be, yet it was difficult for him to set aside his old ways. 

Acts 10 tells the story of a Roman Centurion, Cornelius, who gave alms and prayed to God daily. An angel appeared to him and told him that his prayers had been answered and that he should seek out Peter, so he sent men to seek him. 

At the time, Peter was living in Joppa, presenting the gospel of grace to the Jewish people, and otherwise seeking to uphold the law. Before the arrival of Cornelius's men, Peter was given a vision, repeated 3 times. He was hungry and God told him to kill and eat a host of unclean animals. Peter resisted, but God insisted that Peter should not call common or unclean what God has called clean. 

After seeing this vision, men arrive and Peter accompanies them to the home of Cornelius, where he had gathered many of his friends. And Peter said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit with anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean" (Acts 10:28). 

Pay attention to the time course. Peter had already spent years with Jesus. He had heard the gospel of grace. Yet, he clung to his old ways. God continued to challenge him to grow and develop gospel lenses. In this case, he was challenged to set aside the law that said he should not associate with those outside of his club and to love without objection. 

Do you ever find yourself acting like Peter? Do you ever find yourself reluctant to approach certain people because they are "common or unclean"? Do you tend to focus on the people who are like you but avoid showing love to those who are not? Like Peter, Christ's love challenges us to move toward others with his love, even if we don't think they fit the mold.

22 March 2015

Book Review: 7 Men

7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness (2013) by Eric Metaxas continues his tradition of great biographical works. Perhaps best known for his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he also wrote an extended biography of abolitionist William Wilberforce, both of whom were included in this book. Additionally, the stories of George Washington, Eric Liddell, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Charles Colson were included. These men differed by centuries, continents, denominations, and race. What united them was a common faith in the Lord Jesus and "surrendering themselves to a higher purpose, of giving something away that they might have kept" (from the intro).

In varying ways, I have benefited from the ministries of each of these men. Many of us have. On page 64, Metaxas quoted Eric Liddell: "At this time I finally decided to put it all on Christ--after all if he called me to do it, then He would have to supply the necessary power. In going forward the power was given to me." Each would agree that the power was given to each of these men.

At just over 200 pages, these are not extended biographies. They are just snapshots, really. If one is expecting the depth of his previous biographies, you will be disappointed. Having said that, the few dozen pages devoted to each of these men will be encouraging and provocative. These sketches give a glimpse about what it means to be a man of conviction under the power of the Spirit.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me free of charge by Thomas Nelson and the Book Look Bloggers program in exchange for this review. I was not required to submit a positive review. The viewpoints above are my own.

17 March 2015

Book Review: Ruthless Trust

I love Brennan Manning. The more of his writings that I am graced to read, the more I like him. Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path to God (2000) was the latest treasure. In this book, Manning called his readers to live in a life of trust in the God of love.  On the first page, he says that we need to learn to trust what we have received. When Jesus said, "it is finished", he meant it.

Every page, every line of this book is a treasure. Here are a few precious jewels that I hope will encourage you to dig for Manning's treasures yourself.

  • We can no more catch a hurricane in a shrimp net or Niagra Falls in a coffee cup than we can grasp the infinity of God's reality. 
  • Such a friend allows me to be myself, thoughtful one moment and silly the next. Between us, trust grows. If a word of fraternal correction is needed, the friend offers it directly, but the pained expression on his face tells me how difficult the reproof is for him. And yet he has the courage to tell me something unpleasant but necessary--something that others should tell me but do not. (They renege for fear that I will not like them anymore. Their emotional equilibrium is more important to them than my spiritual growth). With each interaction, trust of my friend grows deeper.
  • I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone.
  • The great weakness in the North American church at large, and certainly in my life, is our refusal to accept our brokenness. We hide it, evade it, gloss over it. We grab for the cosmetic kit and put on our virtuous face to make ourselves admirable to the public. Thus, we present to others a self that is spiritually together, superficially happy, and lacquered with a sense of self-deprecating humor that passes for humility. The irony is that while I do not want anyone to know that I am judgmental, lazy, vulnerable, screwed up, and afraid, for fear of losing face, the face that I fear losing is the mask of the impostor, not my own!