During my daughter’s first year at The Master’s University (an institution with a decidedly dispensational rapture theology), the school spent a week of chapel services devoted to the topic of the rapture of the church. Confused by the topic, she texted me, “What is the rapture? I’ve never heard of that before!” For her, the rapture was a totally foreign concept. As a pastor’s daughter, that may seem like a travesty! But it doesn’t surprise me as I don’t remember ever preaching a sermon on the rapture. Some reading this might be thinking, “You’re right! You haven’t taught on the subject—not directly anyway!” There are reasons for that. [click for full article]
The past three months of post-election drama have left many of us somewhat dazed and confused about the future—especially after the events of this past week (January 6th). Depending on which side of the political divide you find yourself (and I know Christians on both sides…some more extreme than others), you will feel either a sense of hopeful optimism or a sense of pessimistic gloom about our future in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The danger for us, of course, is that if we overly identify with either side, we will not only run the risk of thinking our party can “save the world,” but lose the distinctive sense of who we really are as Christians along with our God-given calling.
So, who are we in this world? How are we to see ourselves? I have found 1 Peter 2:11 to be a very helpful guide. In this verse, Peter reminds us that we are “sojourners and exiles” in this world. This is the self-conscious way that Peter sees the Christian journey. It is a sojourn. A sojourner, by very definition, is a temporary resident and a temporary stay. Peter also refers to us as exiles, which literally means foreigner or refugee. We are refugees in a lost world waiting for a “city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God,” a “homeland” and “a better country” (Hebrews 11:10, 14, 16).
Yet, we must also acknowledge that now matters…here matters. Yes! This flesh-infected, transient world of division and darkness, is still important. It’s the place we are to testify to the saving power of Jesus. It is a sinking ship that needs to hear the message that in Christ alone, rescue has come. It’s a world that needs to see sacrificial love and humility at work in the lives of ordinary believers making their way home.
In terms of political parties, we may align with one over the other for biblical and moral reasons. But we must resist the temptation to assimilate ourselves to the party. Jesus, strangely enough, had more biblical alignment with the conservative Pharisees than with the biblically liberal Sadducees (see Matthew 22:29-34; as did Paul in Acts 23:6-7). While there was alignment with the Pharisaical party on the point of resurrection, Jesus refused to assimilate himself to a self-righteous, unloving conservatism embodied by this faithless party. Paul did the same. Alignment on certain issues is one thing. Assimilation and identification are another. They will only lead to an angry idolatry if your party loses or a smug idolatry if your party wins. My encouragement to all of us is to remember that this is a very temporary stay. We are sojourners in a foreign land called to live as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
I don’t think I’ve ever paused to think about the power of a theatrical spotlight. I’m not talking about the potency of the lumens produced by the equipment itself, but the power it has to focus our attention. In a play, our eyes are drawn to the object of the beam – the center of the action, the mask of the phantom or a heart-wrenching plea to “Bring Him Home.” It’s only natural as our eyes are drawn to what shines brightest. Given this, think about how much power the person directing the spot has on our perception of reality. They get to choose what we focus on and what we do not focus on. It is a significant yet potentially subversive power to shape our understanding.
I say this because we live in a time of many spotlights—drawing our attention toward a myriad of “important” things. For the better part of 2020, the brightest beams focused our attention on the “apocalyptic” significance of the election, its hero/demon candidates, voter fraud, the coronavirus, violation of personal rights, social justice and the like—all in opposite and contradictory directions. The world directed our focus through its digital spotlights…and we looked on.
Things were no different in the days of Jesus’ birth. The world was just as divided and chaotic back then as it is now. In the greater 1st century world, the spotlight was on the workings of imperial Rome (Luke 2:1). In the narrower scope of Jerusalem, it was on the machinery of Jewish politics and religion with its many factions and sub-factions contending for power through use of their own respective spotlights. As such, we find Jerusalem caught up in the drama of its own political, existential world. Could we say that this, in part, was why they missed the day of their visitation and the birth of their Messiah? I think so.
Minus all of the sentimental overlays that we bring to Luke 2:7 and its account of the birth of Jesus, the scene is less than ordinary. In fact, it’s downright pitiful—“She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” A contemporary version of this verse would find a young woman giving birth to her baby boy in a dirty back alley with no other bed than a homeless shopping cart. It’s a pathetic image to say the least. The irony, of course, is that this is precisely where the Savior entered the world—a moment of unspeakable divine glory. And while earth focused its attention on workings of human power and conflict, God pointed his great spotlight into a “dark alley.” And the only ones to witness it were a group of nameless shepherds.
This teaches us an important truth about how God works in our world. God doesn’t move with the spotlight of the human world but in defiance against and outside the spotlight of the world. If the human spotlights are shining—what the world deems newsworthy—you can bank on a recession of God’s saving power and focus. Rather, we look into the back alleys of human weakness, where simple people serve God’s simple purposes with simple faith (no cameras or microphones), and there you will witness the glory of God at work in the lives of ordinary people (like Mary & Joseph).
May I encourage all of us this season to rebel against the spotlights of the world! Don’t let them enslave your thoughts! Don’t let the “director of the theatre” set the agenda of your focus. If you do, it will siphon your joy, weaken your faith, and fill you with fear. Rather, focus on the fact that God pointed his bright light in an obscure location in Bethlehem and changed the world forever. In the same manner, He continues to shine His great spot on what the world deems simple and weak (un-newsworthy). After all, we’re told explicitly that God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the strong (1 Cor 1:27). Yes…I say…let your thoughts rebel this Advent as we consider the pitiful beginnings of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Sadly enough, I don’t remember many sermons from my childhood—a humbling realization for a pastor who preaches sermons! But I do remember a few evening services in the 70’s in which our congregation gathered to watch a series of movies about the end times—the first of which was A Thief in the Night. I will never forget some of the images burned into my mind from that movie. By today’s standards, the cinematography was crude and primitive. At the time, however, it was riveting. I found the film frightening and exciting at the same time—exciting in the sense that it intensified my belief that the end was near. Decades later, the same “end times” theology would be repackaged in literary form in the popular series, Left Behind—fictional, yet built on a particular interpretive approach to the book of Revelation (and prophecy in general). I was taught the view, believed the view and shared the view with others. While there is neither time or space in this brief article to parse out the particulars of the view, it assumes that the events described in the book of Revelation—particularly, the events following chapter 4— are to be interpreted somewhat literally and in a linear fashion—a chronological road map of judgments poured out on the earth at the end of the age (a final 7 years to be exact).
What I enjoyed about this approach to the Bible was the sense of anticipation and expectancy that it nurtured. I actually felt like the return of Jesus was near. As Christians, we should be filled with longing and anticipation for this grand reunion! What I disliked about the end-times fascination, was that it tended to incite more hype than holiness in the lives of those around me (including myself). Too, it tended to focus on the sequence of events prior to the end rather than the return of the Savior himself—who is the crowning joy of all Christian hope. And finally, it assumes that we can accurately identify how prophecy is being fulfilled in real-time as we move into the future. Back in the day, I distinctly remember Christians identifying Henry Kissinger (then, the Secretary of State), as a possible candidate for the position of false prophet…or possibly the anti-Christ! Of course, it never came to be. In retrospect, it strikes me as somewhat unkind toward the late Mr. Kissinger to label him as such.
Why do I bring this up? Well…because 2020 has snowballed into an apocalyptic-type year—plagues, lawlessness, riots, violence, fires…all in a highly combustible election season. As such, the end-times voices are speaking again—calling out specific current events (e.g. the COVID pandemic) as fulfillments of specific, biblical prophecies of the end. I will admit that such interpretations generate “end times” excitement and perhaps fear (depending on where you come down on the rapture issue and its timing). But I have to ask if this fascination with identifying particular current events with particular prophecies is edifying to the church? Or, does it create false-excitement, unnecessary fear or even spiritual distraction? I believe so.
While we should remain fixed in hope on the horizon of the future for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, our primary focus should not be combing through contemporary events trying to decipher a prophetic map. And here’s why.
First, Jesus explicitly taught us that no one knows when the end will come (Matthew 24:36). It will be a surprise. While we may have reasons to anticipate that the end is drawing near (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 2:3), God has a way of fulfilling his prophetic word that is often unexpected and surprising. Too, some prophecies indicate multiple fulfillments making any final identification somewhat problematic (Matthew 24:24, 1 John 2:18).
Consider for a moment how unexpected and surprising the first coming of Jesus was. As Christians, we believe that Jesus was the central message of the Hebrew prophets (Luke 24:27). Yet, no one expected a couple from Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem, to give birth to the messiah in a cave. Moreover, his entire ministry (again, the central subject of the Old Testament) was baffling to Jesus’ contemporaries. Jesus, quite literally, didn’t fit into their messianic box! Even John the Baptist, with his prophetic call, questioned whether Jesus was the one (Matt 11:3)—again, signifying the surprising way in which God fulfilled his prophetic word. Paul argues that even the rulers of this age couldn’t figure out how the Scripture would be fulfilled (1 Cor 2:8), otherwise they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of glory.
This teaches us something about prophecy and its fulfillment; namely, that fulfillment is largely discerned retrospectively (looking backward) as opposed to prospectively (looking forward). There is sufficient ambiguity in the prophetic word to require humble faith in God’s surprising and often unpredictable fulfillment; yet, sufficient clarity that when the fulfillment actually takes place, we look back and say, “Wow! How did I miss that? It’s so clear!” Paul speaks of the gospel of Christ as “the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed…” (Romans 16:25-26). The very centerpiece of Scripture—Jesus and his work—was “the mystery” proclaimed by the Hebrew prophets of old. Yet, it wasn’t until later that it was “disclosed” through the apostles. Jesus was there all along in the Old Testament prophets, yet sufficiently hidden. This tells me that combing through current events in hopes of ferreting out prospective fulfillments is at best, speculative and at worst…a waste of time.
The best we can say, as we experience apocalyptic-type events happening now, is a cautious, “Maybe.” What we can be sure of is that Jesus will, in fact, return. Of that, we may be confident. How we get there or by what sequence of events is far less important. Rather, Jesus’ parables about the end stress the importance of watchfulness, faithfulness, fruitfulness and love (see Matthew 25 in its entirety). Let’s major on these things. As we do, let us spur one another on to love and good works as we anticipate our great hope.
First of all, let me say that in the paragraphs that follow, my main concern really isn’t about the masks per se. It’s more about the critical process of thinking through things biblically and discerning what Christian love looks like in times of discord. Personally, I don’t know of anyone who actually enjoys wearing a mask. I miss seeing smiles, hearing people speak with unmuffled voices and enjoying the richness of full facial expressions. Preaching to people wearing masks is like speaking to a group of faceless eyes made worse with sunglasses. (No offence intended, of course, you’re simply doing what you’ve been told.) Like many of you, I’ve seen and read the varied opinions on both sides of the great divide as to the effectiveness of masks to mitigate the disease. The internet is loaded with contrary medical opinions. Masks will often determine whether a person does or doesn’t attend worship—on both sides. Then, there are those who leave one church for another church with the preferred mask policy…suggesting that the commitment to the local church is only mask-deep. It all comes down to the mask—to wear, or not to wear.
So, here’s how I’ve processed this with the Scripture. First, I have to go back to what the Bible does and doesn’t say. There is nowhere in Scripture that prescribes or prohibits the wearing of masks. Compare that to…say…singing in worship. Singing is commanded repeatedly in the worship gathering of God’s people. So…we sing. When the Persian government prohibited prayer in the days of the prophet Daniel, Daniel still got down on his knees and prayed (Dan 6:10) in violation of state orders. Why? Because the Bible commands prayers be offered to God. This is the first step—to differentiate between biblical and non-biblical directives. Where there is no explicit prescription or prohibition, then Romans 13:1-2 comes into play—we submit as best as possible to the authorities over us regardless of our personal beliefs on the matter. So…I wear the mask that I don’t really want to wear.
Second, I have to consider the principle of love. Paul was no stranger to differences of opinion in the church—eating meat offered to idols, kosher versus non-kosher and keeping/not keeping the Jewish ritual calendar (Rom 14). For some people in Paul’s day, the issue was black and white. For others (like Paul), there was freedom in Christ (Rom 14:14). At the end of the day, Paul taught the principle of deferring to one another in love (Rom 14:15). For example, if I believe that I’m free to eat any kind of meat—like pork—and I invite a Jewish family over for dinner, I will intentionally choose a menu that is sensitive to the Jewish conscience. Translating this to our day, if I believe that masks are ineffective, yet I’m invited to a house where the family is extremely sensitive to the spread of COVID, then I will wear a mask or whatever I need to honor their conscientious beliefs on the matter. It’s an expression of humble love that considers the interests of others above my own (Phil 2:2).
Mind you, on the flip side, I don’t believe one person’s convictions on these debatable matters should be leveraged to coerce conformity to his/her view. That too, would be a violation of the others-focus that defines Christian love. Regardless of where one finds themselves on the great mask-divide, consideration for the interest of the other person is paramount.
Third, the New Testament passionately contends for the unity of the church family (e.g. the first thing that Paul addresses in the troubled church in Corinth was not their faulty view of the resurrection, but their divisions—see 1 Corinthians 1:10-11). In the words of Paul, we must be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). This commitment to practice Christian unity is actualized in the local church family (as it was for the church in Corinth). A failure to commit to the local church family because of a mask, is a failure to commit to the unity of the church family…straight and simple.
Above all, we must remember that we are to love one another as Christ loved us. We, the church, are a diverse group—some would even say a motley crew—lovingly embraced by a gracious and patient God. If this is how God loves us, then let us strive to love one another in the same manner…regardless of our personal convictions about the wearing of masks. May God strengthen our resolve to love in these conflicted times.
One of the foundational beliefs of Christianity is the supreme authority of Scripture. There is no way of overstating just how important this singular doctrine is to the life and health of the believing church. Without the written Word, we have nothing. I think most people who take the time to read this will agree with me on this point. That said, if our doctrine of Scripture teaches that the Bible serves as our highest authority over all other authorities, then the practical function of this doctrine means the Bible, properly interpreted, serves as 1.) the ground of all true knowledge and 2.) the ultimate standard by which all assertions of reality are tested.
I say this, because the question of defunding and (therefore) dismantling law enforcement is not outside the purview of Scripture. Instead of forging our views of the matter on the ever-changing winds of culture and its deeply imbedded (and hard to prove) social narratives, we need to return once again to our foundational truth—the Scripture. What does the Bible have to say about the validity of law enforcement?
To answer that question, we need to begin with a deeper question…the anthropological question, what is humanity? Who are we as humans? What is our fundamental nature? If we answer that question correctly (from Scripture), then the rest of the question begins to fall into place. Indeed, the Scripture does teach us that we were created in the noble image of the invisible God—endowed with God-like virtues and capacities for good. But the Scripture is also clear that due to the intrusion of sin, the entirety of our human constitution has been corrupted—mind, body and desires (Eph 2:3). We are told by Moses that, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Again, Moses asserts, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). The prophet Jeremiah reminds us forcefully that the human heart is “deceitful” and “desperately sick” (Jer 17:9). Jesus himself assumes that people are basically evil in his teaching ministry (Matt 7:11). Indeed, Paul speaks of a time when evil and lawlessness will culminate as we near the end (2 Thess 1:9-12). In short, the Scripture teaches that humanity is fundamentally corrupt. This doctrine does not mean that each person is as evil as he or she can be, only that the heart unchanged by grace is fundamentally controlled by human pride.
This doctrine of human depravity applies in at least two ways to the question of law enforcement. First, it establishes the need for law enforcement (however it might be structured or funded in a society). In the days of Noah, human civilization devolved to a point where, “the earth was filled with violence” (Gen 6:11). The solution was a divinely executed “do-over” through a catastrophic deluge. Genesis 6 serves as a graphic reminder of the potential depths of social depravity. This explains why in the post-flood instructions, the first command of justice was given, “Whoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his image” (Gen 9:6). The means of civil justice (in this case, murder), is human agency, “by man shall his blood be shed….” This is human enforcement of justice. Without it, society devolves into inconceivable expressions of brutality and corruption. The last century witnessed the breakdown of law and order in a number of horrific genocides. The point? Without some means of enforcing justice, society becomes a monstrous and murderous place to live. Paul elaborates on this principle of enforcement further when he declares that, “there is no authority except from God, and…have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). And this institution of divine authority, “does not bear the sword in vain” (Rom 13:4). Perhaps it goes without saying, but the sword is the instrument of just enforcement.
The point in all of this is to say that law enforcement is absolutely necessary per our doctrine of depravity and our doctrine of authority. Those who think we can function without it operate from a faulty premise; namely, that people are essentially good and simply need more education and better opportunities.
Yet, there is a second application of this doctrine of depravity that we must not miss either. The simple fact that humans are fundamentally corrupt means that each and every one of our organizations and institutions is also subject to corruption. Sinfulness infects ecclesiastical organizations (aka churches), the Oval Office and…yes…law enforcement. Our doctrine of depravity applies to men and women wearing a uniform and a badge. Does our modern concept of racism infect the hearts of officers? From what I know about human depravity, sadly…yes. I’m sure that it does in some officers—as do the sinful impulses of lust, greed and favoritism. The answer, however, is not defunding or dismantling the very thing that restrains evil! That ends in anarchy. The answer is to discipline the guilty, not demolish the whole—to fix what’s broken, not throw it away. To do so is a classic example of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
As a Christian, I embrace the absolute need for law enforcement AND the absolute necessity of careful, constant and vigilant accountability for those who serve in this office. Too, I should say that I’m encouraged by the biblical truth that there will come a day when law enforcement will be no more—when God makes “all things new.” Then, people will, “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks…” (Isa 2:4). Lord come quickly!
March 30, 2018
On this Good Friday, when Christians all over the world pause to reflect on the greatest, most gruesome yet wonderful sacrifice in history, the crucifixion of Jesus, I’ve been pondering his statement in the gospel of John chapter 10:18 where he insists, “18 No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18, ESV, italics added). With images of beatings, whippings, mocking, a thorny crown and nails driven into his hands and feet, it’s easy to think of Jesus as a powerless victim—like a mouse caught helpless in a trap. Nothing could be further from the truth. There aren’t enough soldiers, swords or satanic devils in any realm capable of taking Jesus’ life from him. “NO ONE,” he says, “takes my life from me.” Rather, Jesus willingly, confidently and sovereignly lays it down of his OWN accord out of love. This is not a picture of a mouse but a Lion, who boldly submits to suffering by his own authority. Even at his arrest, when Jesus identifies himself as “I am he,” the soldiers fall to the ground by divine force (John 19:6). And in this final moments on the cross, the text is careful to record, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). “I commit,” he says. This is not weakness but strength. This is not victimization but victory. With such an understanding of what my King did willingly, boldly and valiantly, my heart is moved to worship my Champion and my Savior. To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen.
August 30, 2016
Living on the cusp of my 49th year of life, which may still seem young to some “moldy oldies” (said with deepest respect, of course), I sense with ever-increasing speed…the truth of my own mortality. My number of days dwindles. In addition to my own looming mortality, I’ve lived long enough to witness a litany of friends and family from my own childhood and church whose faces are no longer seen and laughter no longer heard. Death…such a dark reality! In one sense, of course, the realization of our own death is a good thing. Moses prayed to God to “teach us to number our days that we might get a heart of wisdom,”—this, after a rather sobering reflection on the brevity of life in a sinful world (Psalm 90).
But learning to “number our days” can, if we’re not careful, lead us into a nostalgic sentiment that forms an inner darkness. It’s a type of depression that lurks in our hearts stealing our Christian joy, hope and peace. I know, because I’ve been there.
But through a recent conversation with my friend Wade Wroten, the Lord refreshed a gospel truth in my soul that I desperately needed. It was like the truth came to life in a new way. He (and he’s witnessed many deaths as a hospital chaplain) told me about what he called the “gift of death” for the Christian. Then he went on to say that for us, we have already died in Christ (“I have been crucified with Christ,” (Galatians 2:20). The “light bulb” moment was the realization that Christians are not supposed to live in the loom of death. We are not supposed to feel the dark angst of our own mortality—especially this side of the cross! We are to live in the virulent truth that death no longer has any hold on us! Our death has already taken place in Christ and the life we now live is Christ’s resurrection life within. And no one, not even our last breath, can take that away from us. When our bodies cease to breathe, we do not die…we experience a whole new breath of life in the presence of Christ. That means our physical death is a gift.
If my life is anything like yours, then perhaps you too have been living in the loom of death—lamenting the passing of time and grieving the memories of yesteryear. 1 Peter spoke of a joy that comes from being born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 1:1:3, 6). It’s not a dead hope or even a sleepy hope. It’s a hope that is alive because God has brought us to life. And our best life is not behind us or presently with us. Our best life is when this living hope finds its final reward. My simple encouragement to you as a fellow pilgrim is to live in the light of resurrection and not in the loom of death. The former gives strength. The latter suffocates. Our victory has already been won. Live in the hope of its light.
April 3, 2015
Pause. Let your mind settle for a moment to get a sense of your heart before you read on. Ask yourself, “What occupies the focus of my mind and the concern of my heart right now…a problem, a pain, a loss, a grief, a sin?” Before reading on, name whatever that “thing” is.
I ask these questions because I was reminded this morning in my own contemplations of the cross how utterly consumed we are with the self-life—impacted and influenced by our problems, difficulties, failures, worries or strategies to fix our inner life. These things consume us daily because they are fundamentally about us. I raise my hand as I write these words and confess, “This is me!”
But today, this dark but Good Friday, crucifixion day, I paused to look beyond the contours of my own self-life to see a Man so unlike myself—so unlike the sinful impulse to place self and self-problems at the center. The final words of the Man on the cross display an altogether different kind of humanity. Instead of anger and vengeance we hear him say, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” His concern at that moment wasn’t for personal justice—as we often demand in the face of personal injury. He doesn’t stew on the lies or the slander with fuming anger. His heart spills out forgiveness. Too, in the face of our own pains and troubles, you and I often fail to see or hear the pains of others. But the Man on the cross did not. Bearing the emotional injuries of betrayal and abandonment; elevated to a position of social and public shame; feeling the conscious weight of real guilt (our guilt) along with the screaming nerves of skin and muscles, Jesus heard the prayer of a sinner—“remember me.” The fact that he heard such a plea astonishes me—especially in a world torn apart by love’s extinction. The fact that he responded, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” is itself a testament to the heart of the Man. Even as I think of Him now, my heart is humbled by his selfless love. My heart is also grateful and feels the rise of praise for the Man who would give himself up for a soul like mine--“love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul my life my all.” Such a contemplation of the Man on the cross draws me out of the self-life and toward the beauty of God himself. May God grant us a spirit of worshipful joy on this Good Friday as we reflect on the most amazing display of love ever witnessed.
November 12, 2014
I entered my day off last week starving for rest—uninterrupted time to simply be. Remarkably, my day was wide open, which hasn’t been the case for a long time. I had no lawns to mow, cars to fix or people to meet. Then, to my dismay, my college-aged son Daniel asked me to help him with his geology project. He needed to visit the Marin Headlands on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge to do some research. I could see my precious “day of rest” melt like snow in a furnace. I thought about the traffic! The arduous commute there and the woefully lethargic return back during rush hour! My heart sank.
To say, “No”, however, would have been selfish. So I said, “Yes,” with a feeling of reluctance. Off we went, just the two of us down into the traffic-infested freeways of south Marin County. It was a fogless November day filled with blue skies and California sun. Through a one-lane tunnel we entered the Headlands. I’ve lived in California nearly half a century and I’ve never been there—at least that I remember. It was like entering a strange mixture of natural beauty, ruins and history rolled into one.
Our first stop was Rodeo Beach. My son and I walked along the beach drinking in the ocean, the breeze, the pebbled sand and colored cliffs. Before long we were picking up multicolored stones and climbing rocks. We poked sea anemones and checked out the carpet of mussels on the low tide rocks. We were smiling, laughing and chatting about life—something I hadn’t done with my son for many weeks. We hiked to the Point Bonita Lighthouse, explored pre-World War I ruins, walked through bunkers embedded into the hills and stood on top of Hawk Hill. The view from there was an exercise in speechless wonder.
But here’s the thing. I was so lost in the joy of exploring with my son that I didn’t even realize that I was at rest. My heart was happy and full! I was experiencing the beauties of earth with someone I genuinely enjoy.
After a brief stop for some delicious clam chowder in Sausalito, I took my son to the train station, hugged him goodbye and watched him leave. A surprisingly perfect day had come to a close. It was a gift! More than that, it was a reminder that the key to being filled is often found in the act of giving yourself away to the divinely appointed interruptions of life. Too, it was a reminder that sometimes the rest we need is not found in the inertia of nothingness but in the exploration of new wonders with the people we love. This will be a savored memory that I will carry with me for many years. For that I am thankful.
September 23, 2014
I remember sitting around the dinner table as a young boy listening to my father's shenanigans as a teenager-everything from pretend fights to stir up attention to unmentionable things regarding dummies and moving cars. The stories would be told time and time again. And never did we tire of hearing about or laughing at them.
As it turned out, the apple didn't fall too far from the tree. The pranks I loved to listen to as a boy were picked up, amplified and implemented in a whole new way as I hit my teen years. And on the few occasions where I got in trouble, my father could scarcely keep a straight face as my mother scolded me. During one particular scolding, I remember him covering his face to hide his laughter.
Now I'm a father. And my family loves reveling in the stories of my former shenanigans. I didn't think too much of it until one of my children - formed by the tradition of prank-reveling - placed a bloody lamb heart, absconded from biology, into a girl's lunch bag. Let's just say ... the administration didn't take too kindly to the "fun." As it turns out, my apples aren't falling too far from my tree.
I suppose some might say that the urge to prank is a genetic trait - some would call it a defect. Upon reflection, I think it has more to do with what formed me as a person than genetics. What we revel in, or what the Bible calls "glorying in," is contagious. What we glory in we find attractive, desirable and enjoyable. It draws us in to the experience of others and forms us to become and do the same. Glorying in pranks begets prank-lovers.
My point is not to analyze the merits or demerits of pranking (I'm still one at heart). It's simply to point out that what we revel in as parents, or people, will have an unconscious effect on those who look up to us. It will form them to love what we love.
What this means for us as Christians is simple. One of the most powerful things we can do as for ourselves and others is to "Glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:3). Instead of telling people to love Jesus, we would do far better to simply revel in him. Let him become the enjoyed center of conversation around the dinner table. Speak of him. Enjoy the stories of his power and love. And in so doing, we will beget Christ-revelers. Why? Because we are formed by as we "glory in." And others are formed as we "glory in."
March 19, 2014
I’ve been reflecting on the importance and power of simple rhythms in life. Rhythm, by definition, is a repeated pattern of regular activity. Because rhythms are regular and repeated, they rarely generate excitement or draw attention. In fact, most of the time rhythms go unnoticed until…they stop. Right now your whole life is sustained by the unconscious rhythm of your beating heart. But we scarcely think about it until the rhythm is broken. Every day creation pulses with rhythms of tides, currents, new moons, sun rises, seasons, and years. And while they are unremarkably regular, they are enormously powerful in the flourishing of life. Simply observe how the mighty cliff crumbles before the incessant rhythm of the ocean waves.
I’ve come to embrace the fact that the same is true in the Christian life. I confess that I do love to hear remarkable stories of astonishing breakthroughs, miracles and revivals. The Lord knows I’ve prayed for such things—and to some degree experienced them. When they come, we shouldn’t hesitate to marvel at God’s wonders and give thanks. But let’s also face the fact that a miracle by definition is neither regular nor rhythmic. They are single events of power. That’s why we call them “miracles.”
That’s why, I believe, we need to rediscover the remarkable power of grace at work in simple, daily rhythms. A woman who wakes up each morning, pours herself a cup of tea, opens the Scripture and communes with God through prayer, is living a simple rhythm of grace. The 45 minutes of private worship may not seem like much. Like the ocean wave striking the cliff, there may be no immediate evidence of change. But that’s where the power of simple rhythm comes in to play. A life-long devotion to daily rhythms of worship, meditation, prayer and communion will have an inestimable impact on eternity. Indeed, such rhythms exercised in faith will cause strongholds to crumble.
In the same way, simple rhythms of waving at neighbors, holding open doors, giving up seats for others are repeated activities that have a way of wearing down the hardest and most unloving of hearts. Most of life consists of such things Therefore, rather than dismiss them as insignificant, we would do well to embrace and cultivate the power of grace working through simple rhythms.
September 5, 2012
I came across a concept recently that has helped me in the ongoing journey of change between the “Dan” I used to be and the “Dan” I am now in Christ. It’s a truth that, in some way, I’ve known for some time. But what I needed was someone to crystalize the thought. In effect, the concept is how beauty changes us.
I stumbled across the concept in Timothy Keller’s amazing little book titled, “Generous Justice.” In it he was quoting another author (a Harvard English professor), named Elaine Scarry (not exactly a stellar name for an English professor). These were Scarry’s thoughts about beauty (paraphrased by Keller).
Statement 1: “the observer of beauty always receives a passion to share the beauty with others.”
Statement 2: “beauty radically ‘decenters’ the self and moves you to distribute attention away from yourself.”
Human experience will almost unanimously affirm these two statements as true. When we find something strikingly beautiful we almost instantly draw others to experience the beauty – the beauty of a great recipe, the beauty of a great restaurant, the beauty of a crimson sunset sky or a newborn baby (statement two). In addition, beauty calls one out of the self-centered, self-absorbed state in which most humans live, and toward itself. To this day, I can still remember what my wife wore when I first saw her – the blue dress. She drew me out of myself to behold beauty. And did it change me? Yes. My will was almost irresistibly drawn toward the beauty.
The next step was to think about these statements in light of Scripture. Why were men like king David and the apostle Paul so passionate in their pursuit of God (and Christ)? The simple answer was, beauty. “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…” (Psalm 27:4). It was the beauty of all that God was to David (steadfast in love, grace, power, goodness, purity etc) that drew David’s heart out of brokenness and up toward God. Paul writes that, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree o glory to another…” (1 Cor. 3:18). Beauty and glory are different words for the same thing. What is glorious is by definition beautiful. Paul’s own approach of change was to behold beauty. And as we do, we are transformed from one degree to the next.
Why is the transforming power of God’s beauty important? Because most of us seek change by first looking inward – disgusted by our failures, strangled by our doubts, tired of trying to muster up the energy to be “better.” That is, our gaze is often upon what is broken rather than on what is beautiful. The way forward in our amazing journey is not to gaze inward, but to gaze upward “at the beauty of the Lord” – in creation, in the Scripture, and ultimately the unsearchable riches of Christ. May God grant us grace to fix our eyes on Jesus, not on fixing ourselves. Only then will we find the will to run hard after him and draw others to do the same.
September 5, 2012
I’m certainly no expert when it comes to critiquing a movie, play or musical. But I do know how my soul responds to different presentations and how they leave me when the curtains close. Case in point, the difference between what I experienced in The Phantom of the Opera versus what I experienced Les Misérables. The Phantom of the Opera was a truly entertaining story with some amazing vocal performances and melodies. Who can forget “Think of Me?” I certainly got caught up into the love story. I suppose I would say that the experience was fun. But I’ve never had the urge to see it again in large measure because it didn’t do anything for me (my sincerest apologies to the Phantom fans out there).
My first experience of Les Misérables was very different. The unfolding effect of one man’s mercy on another (the priest to Jean Valjean) was nothing less than worshipful – the way the convict was turned to a man of selfless compassion through a simple act of grace. Then to see the domino effect of his life touching others like a prostitute (Fontaine) who is remarkably transformed into a self-sacrificing mother stirred my hope in the power of redeeming love. The whole musical pulsed with redemptive depth that prompted me to contemplate the eternal, the divine, the gospel and the goodness of God. I left the experience amazed, filled, and to some degree…changed. It was a vivid display of how merciful love changes people from the inside out.
This illustrates the difference between two types of experiences – fun versus filling. If you think about it, it’s not hard to experience fun – a slapstick movie, a stupid joke or an out-of-tune karaoke singer on a cruise ship. (It’s funny! I know!) But it has little nutritional value for the soul. Like cotton candy, it tastes sweet for the moment with no enduring value. But when something or someone draws the mind and heart to contemplate true greatness – something that usually takes greater focus, attention and thought – then there is a deep and enduring sense of satisfaction. You feel full.
The challenge for us each day is to be able to discern and pursue that which fills over that which is fun. That’s not to say, of course, that there’s no place for mindless fun (Napoleon Dynamite has its place...maybe). But let’s face it, most people spend more time in the pursuit of fun than the pursuit of what fills. The short of it is that if we are to experience change from one degree of glory to another, then our attention must be riveted on that which fills without settling for the junk food of that which merely entertains.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ~Philippians 4:8