Grace Active

The Valley of Vision is a collected work of Puritan prayers. I read it daily as part of my personal devotional time. I have found it to be challenging, life-giving and encouraging. It has changed the content and goal of my prayers. Puritans prayed different prayers than I pray.

Today I felt overwhelmed by the cares of life the pain of so many in our church we have been praying for. It has been a particularly challenging season for our church. Today I was reminded about God’s superabundant grace. I pray that you too will be encouraged and strengthened in a season that is filled with stress and sorrows.

Grace Active

Lord Jesus, Great High Priest
Thou has opened a new and living way
by which a fallen creature can approach thee
with acceptance

Help me contemplate
The dignity of thy Person,
the perfectness of thy sacrifice,
the effectiveness of thy intercession.

O what blessedness accompanies devotion,
when under all the trials that weary me,
the cares that corrode me,
the fears that disturb me,
the infirmities that oppress me,

I can come to thee in my need
and feel peace beyond understanding!
The grace that restores is necessary to preserve,
lead, guard, supply, help me.

And here thy saints encourage my hope;
they were once poor and are now rich,
bound and are now free,
tried and now are victorious.

Every new duty calls for more grace than
I now possess,
but not more than is found in thee,
tried and now are victorious.

Every new duty calls for more grace than
I now possess,
but not more than is found in thee,
the divine Treasury in whom all fullness dwells.
To thee, I repair for grace upon grace,
until every void made by sin be replenished
and I am filled with all thy fullness.

May my desires be enlarged and my hopes
emboldened,
that I may honor thee by my entire
dependency
and the greatness of my expectation.

Do thou be with me, and prepare me for all
the smiles of prosperity, the frowns of adversity,
the losses of substance, the death of friends,
the days of darkness, the changes of life,
and the last great change of all.

May I find thy grace sufficient
for all my needs.

Are Our Kids Going to be Ok?

I came across a video the other day that as a parent of four digital natives shook me. It was an ad where three generations of a family were asked: “When you were a kid what did you do for fun?” The resulting answers are sobering, to say the least. Watch the video below and we will talk after.

Smartphones are a gift in that they allow us to present with those we love. They are no longer a gift when they isolate and separate us from those who God has entrusted into our care. They make life easier but rather than provide more time to love those God has placed us with the very device that frees us and our time turns on us and devours the very time it freed for us.

Andy Crouch says it this way in his book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place “Technology, with all its gifts, poses one of the greatest threats ever conceived by human society to the formation of wise, courageous persons that real family and real community are all about.”

Technology is not evil when it serves us. It becomes devastating when we serve it. The single most devastating element of Technology is it isolates us and creates for us a virtual community of people who we can only know casually and never know intimately. We call people who share the same political ideals on twitter friends and go months without driving across town for a barbeque with the best man from your wedding.

We were made for presence, but so often our phones are the cause of our absence. To be two places at a time is to be no place at all. Turning off our phone for an hour a day is a way to turn our gaze up to each other, whether that be children, coworkers, friends, or neighbors. Our habits of attention are habits of love. To resist absence is to love neighbor

– Justin Early The Common Rule

Parents this is something we have to get right. Yet it is something that is so difficult because the very devices choking our children have a stranglehold on us as well. We have become so pleasure focused and pain averse we don’t even see the fact that we are numbing ourselves and making ourselves unable to feel unable to love the very people God has placed us in community with. We are unable to be present because we have forgotten who we are.

When we can’t answer the question of who we are in silence, we can’t answer it in public either, and our insecurities spill out into the world in the form of manipulations. We hide our confusion behind a posture of perpetual offense. If we are opposed to someone or something, that’s enough to create our identity for the day, which is to say we use others so that we can get the temporary identity we need. We don’t know who we are, so we make others feel the pain of our insecurity.

– Justin Early The Common Rule

Parents if we want our kids to answer the question of what did you do for fun as a kid differently we have to give them a different example. We have to give them a better story. Rather than teaching our kids to numb their pain electronically teach them, they were made for the love of God and love of neighbor. Kids remember what they see far more than what you tell them.

“Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told”.

– J.C. Ryle

If we want our kids to live a different story we have to practice the gospel and preach the gospel. To apply the gospel to the lives or your kids you need to know what they are facing so you can point your kids to Jesus. The problem in so many families is parents are too distracted scrolling Instagram to listen to their kids and kids are to distracted by games to talk. We need to give our kids the gift of boredom. When you are bored you eventually create a creative way of escape. This is how kids develop critical life skills. When you as a family put down your devices your kids will get bored they will eventually start talking to you and you will actually listen because you are bored too.

Our electronic addiction is not the worst problem our world has faced because there have been many others that are far worse. It is, however, one of the more sinister problems because so many of us don’t see it as a problem. We were meant to be more than the amount of like we can manufacture with just the right angle of our selfie. We were meant for real lasting eternal connections with the family God has placed us in.

At the end of his book challenging families to rethink how they use technology, Andy Crouch ends with this sober challenge to be present.

We are meant to build this kind of life together: the kind of life that, at the end, is completely dependent upon one another; the kind of life that ultimately transcends, and does not need, the easy solutions of technology because it is caught up in something more true and more lasting than any alchemy our technological world can invent. We are meant to be family—not just marriages bound by vows and the children that come from them, but a wider family that invites others into our lives and even to the threshold of our very last breath, to experience vulnerability and grace, sorrow and hope, singing our way homeward. We are meant not just for thin, virtual connections but for visceral, real connections to one another in this fleeting, temporary, and infinitely beautiful and worthwhile life. We are meant to die in one another’s arms, surrounded by prayer and song, knowing beyond knowing that we are loved.

We are meant for so much more than technology can ever give us—above all, for the wisdom and courage that it will never give us. We are meant to spur one another along on the way to a better life, the life that really is life. Why not begin living that life, together, now?

Andy Crouch

So how do we change our kid’s story? Here are a few practical suggestions.

1. Filter your internet – Our family uses Circle by Disney it is a game-changer.
2. Limit your time – decide how much time is appropriate for adults and kids and keep each other accountable. – We don’t use screens at all on the Lord’s Day and when we come home from school and work we put our phones in a box still on so we can have undistracted availability.
3. Turn off all notifications – I did this a while back and it has been a game-changer for me. I only get notifications of text messages that’s it.
4. Delete apps that take up lots of your time. – I enjoy social media but when I look at my screen time report on my phone and see that I am spending more time than is wise for me to spend or am in a season I need to focus, rather than deleting the social media accounts I just delete the apps on my phone that make them so easy to access.
5. Remind yourself that restraint and control create freedom, not oppression. – You are free to use your phone for its many good purposes when your phone isn’t using you. The control allows you to love God and love neighbor. It allows you to treat your phone as a good gift rather than as a poor functional savior.

Here are a few resources I have found helpful.
The Tech-Wise Family
The Common Rule
Parent Chat
Liturgy of the Ordinary
You Are What You Love

Death by One Thousand Cuts

This July marked 22 years of pastoral ministry for me in the same church. Growing up, I moved often and rarely lived more than three to five years in an any given location. Two decades in the same place has been surreal and filled with its joys and pains.

Pastoral ministry is not easy and not for the faint of heart. In pastoral ministry you get to see the good the bad and the ugly of society in general and of your congregation in particular. There is more difficult jobs than being a pastor but few require the combination of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual engagement around the clock.

The pain that a pastor feels is unique because you can not prevent your heart from exposure to pain that you can in other lines of work the exposure of your heart is the very thing your people need to see as it points them to God’s heart. Pastors don’t burn up and burn out overnight they die a death from one thousand cuts over time.

Few people in our society ever face death or deal with it regularly, as a pastor, you walk multiple families a year through the darkest valley of their lives. Some people have been ghosted by a friend or loved one for pastors; this is not just a once in a lifetime event but a constant reality. Few people know the emotional and relational pain of baptizing families, rejoicing with them in their successes, the birth of their babies and walk with them in the darkest valleys only to have those people one Sunday not show up. One person did this to me I called to see if they were ok they answered the phone and when I said hello and they heard my voice they hung up. I still to this day have no idea why they left and how I must have hurt them without even knowing I did. One thousand cuts.

To have people that have come to your church since they were kids who you have spent hours praying with, crying with, and laughing with turn and blast you personally on social media or through text message is incredibly personal. One thousand cuts.

To watch families you have served, families you love, families who you thought would be together forever instead suffer losses that you can’t stop. It feels like a personal failure from which you can’t separate yourself, thinking you could have done something more to help them or point them more clearly to Christ.

I have found that the way I can keep showing up and what keeps me from giving up is the reapplication of what I offer to others. The tender mercy of God. I have to find a confessor on earth that I can share my sin and sorrows. I have to reapply the gospel to a heart bent on excusing sin and earning favor. I have to learn to hate my pride and clothe myself in Christ’s humility every day.

One of the ways I remind myself as a follower of Christ I need Gods help is through a Puritan prayer book called the Valley of Vision I often pray I hope it works as an ointment on the one thousand cuts on your soul and brings you back to your real home in Christ.

A MINISTERS STRENGTH

UNCHANGEABLE JEHOVAH
When I am discouraged in my ministry
        and full of doubts of my self,
  fasten me upon the rock of thy eternal election,
    then my hands will not hang down,
    and I shall have hope for myself and others.
Thou dost know thy people by name,
  and wilt at the appointed season
    lead them out of a natural to a gracious state
      by thy effectual calling.
This is the ground of my salvation,
  the object of my desire,
  the motive of my ministry.
Keep me from high thoughts of myself
    or my work,
  for I am nothing but sin and weakness;
    in me no good dwells,
    and my best works are but sin.
Humble me to the dust before thee.
Root and tear out the poisonous weed
    of self-righteousness,
  and show me my utter nothingness;
Keep me sensible of my sinnership;
Sink me deeper into penitence and self-abhorrence;
Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
    before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
    and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls
    of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.
I am a poor, feeble creature when faith
    is not in exercise,
  like an eagle with pinioned wings;
Grant me to rest on thy power and faithfulness,
  and to know that there are two things
    worth living for:
  to further thy cause in the world,
  and to do good to the souls and bodies of men;
This is my ministry, my life, my prayer, my end.
Grant me grace that I shall not fail.

So profound:

Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.

For us, as ministers, our strength does not come from being what our people need at the moment they need it. It comes from our own experience with the grace and mercy of God and the overflow of that mercy. Our work is heart work. It is to apply the reality of the gospel to the hearts of our people in every season in every situation of life. Never forgetting that the person who needs the message we spread most is us.

Father remind us of your saving grace, your empowering grace and grant me grace that I may not fail at last.

Why I Teach My Kids Not to Believe in Luck.

In the month of March this while our youngest child was in Kindergarten my wife knew that her class would be making crafts and setting leprerhacon traps. And in anticipation for St. Patricks day my wife talked to my youngest daughter about what she was going to write down on her paper when they asked why she is lucky. My wife asked my youngest why are you lucky? She said “Mom, we don’t believe in luck” My wife smiled and thought to ask “Baby, what do we believe?” Our youngest looked at my wife and said: “Providence..we believe in Providence.” My wife beamed and said “You just melted your father’s heart” and she did. (Disclaimer: We are not super parents. We taught her this but we also taught all the other kids this and they never said this at five it’s just who our youngest is.)

In Greek mythology the Greek goddess of luck is Tyche. She gave people who served her good fortune and when things didn’t go your way she is to blame. The Romans referred to her as Fortuna “fortune”. The difference between these understandings of their gods and the one true God is the Greek and Roman gods handed out good and not so good fortune but they did so indiscriminately or in response to human action. The God of the Bible the one true God isn’t caprcious or trite he doesn’t just hand out blessings or punishment based on a whim rather he does what he does according to the preordained plan of God.

Luck is a resignation to fate. Fate is very different than providence. I love the way Spurgeon explains the difference between the two.

“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”

When Spurgeon was challenged that this is nothing but fatalism and stoicism, he replied,

“What is fate? Fate is this – Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that. . . . There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man.”

Charles Spurgeon

Luck says whatever is…is. Providence says whatever God ordains must be. When kids understand the providence of God when bad things happen they know it wasn’t by chance and it wasn’t random like with the Greeks and Romans it is a personal God working everything out for our good and His Glory. When things go well we don’t say we are lucky but God did what we can not explain or understand he fought for us and because this is true we are filled with huimily rather than pride. Luck says things happen randomly providence says that every particle that floats in space is where it is because we have a caring loving thoughtful creator who knows that for our world to work best that particle must be exactly where it is.

Providence gives us confidence in difficulties and humility in our triumphs. Because the outcome of our lives is not ultimate because of our effort or cosmic randomness it is the result our plans but ultimately God’s direction. Kids need the assurance providence gives. In a world that is increasingly chaotic kids need to know that whatever God ordains is right.

A song I listen to often that talks abut God’s providental care is called “Whateer My God Ordains is right” I hope it ministers to you as you read it as it does to me when I sing it.

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Holy His will abideth.
I will be still whate’er He does,
And follow where He guideth.
He is my God,
Though dark my road.
He holds me that I shall not fall
Wherefore to Him I leave it all

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
He never will deceive me
He leads me by the proper path,
I know He will not leave me
I take, content,
What He hath sent
His hand can turn my griefs away
And patiently I wait His day

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it all unshrinking
My God is true,
Each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’’s care
Is round me there
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all

Fellow Christian you are what you are where you by the grace and mercy of a providential God who is working everything in your life for your good and His Glory. We have no need for Luck we have the unceasing providential care of a loving God.

Sampson, Harris, and Trampling the Fumie

A couple of years ago I read the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo, I think of it often. There was something about it that was historical as it was based on historical events but yet profoundly modern.

The story is of two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to find a Priest who had gone to Japan as a missionary and was feared that he had apostatized. Father Garrpe and Rodrigues arrive in Japan and start to preach and administer the sacraments in secret. Father Rodrigues believes that he and Father Garrpe are planting seeds of the gospel in the soil of Japan. They are grateful.

Not long after their arrival the town and the priests are betrayed and two of the men of the town are tortured. Father Rodrigues tries to reconcile what he has read about martyrs and his first experience with martyrdom. “They were martyred. But what a martyrdom! I had long read about martyrdom in the lives of the saints – how the souls of the martyrs had gone home to Heaven, how they had been filled with glory in Paradise, how the angels had blown trumpets. This was the splendid martyrdom I had often seen in my dreams.” Yet what he experienced was far different instead of trumpets there was Silence. Father Rodrigues never fully recovers from this perceived silence of God in the face of human suffering.

But God isn’t silent. He never was. Fear and sin had closed Father Rodrigues’ eyes and stopped his ears. Ultimately for Rodrigues is the sound of suffering and the voice of his captures telling him his faith was worthless was louder to him than the voice of God. Father Rodrigues finally trampled the Fumie (The face of Christ pictured and placed on a wooden plaque) because he failed to see the transcendent in the imminent. He chose to step on the face of Jesus that was in front of him to stop the suffering of those next to him because he could not hear or see the God that was all around him.

In their tale of de-conversion, both Josh Harris and Marty Sampson talk about the injustice, both questioned the foundation of truth. In their own way in light of relentless waves of cultural pressures have trampled the Fumie.

In recent weeks a former celebrity pastor Josh Harris openly announced his apostasy on Instagram and current celebrity worship artist Marty Sampson announced his faith was failing and he’s ok with that. How did Sampson and Harris get to this place?

They believed the post-modern lie that there is a fundamental problem with Christianity.

Father Rodrigues first believed that the soil of Japan accepting of the gospel and saw early fruit. He said “Yes, the seed had been sown; it sprouted forth with vigor; and now it was the great mission of Garrpe and myself to tend it lest it wither and die” In captivity, he saw that same soil stained with the blood of Christians at the hands of their captors. The officer who was breaking Father Rodrigues down told him the soil of Japan rejects the Europen faith of Christianity.  This is the same problem we see in our culture both Harris and Sampson each identify the problem as being a soil problem. That Christianity is not true because the soil of our culture rejects what the scripture says about your sin and my sin.

The problem is not a seed issue the problem is a root issue.
The church influenced by culture has believed the lie that we need fame for Jesus to be famous. So we turned Harris and Sampson into Christian Celebrities before their root system had developed before the depth of the scriptures had revealed their sin and tethered them to Christ. The problem here isn’t the soil it is the reveling in premature fruit of a rootless tree.

They want the benefits of grace and yet trample the face of Grace

The pathway of modern apostasy in unfortunately well worn path. One of the things that they usually mention is that they believe in love and grace, but what they don’t realize is that the idea of love and grace is on their own terms. Once Father Rodrigues trampled the Fumie he was released from prison was given a new life, a new wife a new name. He had not only trampled the face of grace but was absorbed into a new identity that was unrecognizable. Many say they love Jesus but not his people and that they have found another path that leads to joy and happiness. Harris, unfortunately, is walking this familiar path.

We turned Harris and Sampson into Christian Celebrities before their root system had developed before the depth of the scriptures had revealed their sin and tethered them to Christ. The problem here isn’t the soil it is the revealing of the premature fruit of a rootless tree.

We turned Harris and Sampson into Christian Celebrities before their root system had developed before the depth of the scriptures had revealed their sin and tethered them to Christ.

Harris asked for forgiveness from the LGBTQ community and to the Christian community he said “I can’t join you in your morning, I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful.” He has trampled the Fumie and has taken a new identity. For this we should morn without him and pray that God will have mercy on him.

In their desire for a God who is close the were offended by a God who is powerful and in the end, lost both.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem As Kingfishers Catch Fire paints a picture of God that is both vivid and penetrating. He says:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

He is saying God reveals himself to us in ten thousand places. The beauty that captures our hearts is because of what it points to. We all want transcendence we want to experience something beyond this life but so often we forfeit transcendence for what is in front of us. Because our minds can not hold immanence and transcendence in the same space. How can God be real if there is suffering? How can a transcendent God look down and judge a kind person who is living in what the Bible defines as sin? How can people suffer and God is silent.

“Hopkins’s diction conveys the vigor and spark and spontaneity that is inherent in all of life. The focused conviction expressed here is that it is Christ, the God-revealing Christ, who is behind and in all of this living.”
Eugene Peterson

They trade transcendence for imminence – failing to realize that Christianity is the only religion that offers both. A transcendent God who came close. Into the silence of this world, the transcendent God came close he made himself small. We will inevitably deconvert when we fail to Christ as both transcendent and immanent at the same time. Harris saw Christ as Big but not close this will always lead to spiritual pride and looking down on others as he has admitted. Likewise Sampson saw Christ as close but not big this leads to overwhelming dispair and as a result, he was able to see God as a close friend who is powerless to save.

The weak, sometimes failed characters of Silence “expose our true selves.” Endo had harsh words for readers quick to judge the failure of Rodrigues: “How can anyone who has never experianced the horrific tortues of the Christian persecution era have any right to say anything about the depth or shallowness of the believers then? …First that personhas no imagination. It shows not the shallow faith of thosw who end up apostatizing, but it reveals the lack of compassion in the ones making such a judgment.” Too often, in our tendency to ake heroes out of faith leaders, “we fall into a false dichotomy of seeing faith only in terms of victory or failure, which leads us to dismiss and discard the weak,”

Karen Swallow Prior

De-conversion stories should cause us to morn and make us look at our own hearts exposed and see our own frailties and our need for a God. What is our only comfort in life and death? That we are not our own but belong body, soul, and spirit to our faithful savior Jesus Christ.

How do we avoid de-conversion?

  1. We must trust Jesus alone for salvation
  2. We must allow our roots to go deep and we must be strengthened not by the praise and expectations of others but by the winds of joy and pain.
  3. We must know about God we must think right thoughts about God. We must be grounded in historic doctrines of the church. – (transcendence)
  4. We must have an authentic experience with God. (immanence)
  5. We must remember that if not for the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit of God we could profess true things about God and not believe them. We could profess them and be unchanged by them. We need new mercies every morning.
  6. Pray for grace in the face of Christ.