I remember Wednesday, February 12, 2007 like it was yesterday. It was the first time in my life I was confronted with death in such a helpless and tangible way. I had been a pastor for ten years and I felt like I understood sickness, sorrow, and grief. That day thirteen years ago I realized how little of life I understood. I realized that my faith was more firmly grounded in my faith than in my Savior. I believed that if you have big faith you get good results. That day was the beginning of the end of my trust in faith and the beginning of a long journey to truly trust Jesus alone.
I started down a path that led me through the fear of death thinking I would die early. It led to two years of me becoming undone in such a way that I began to realize as a pastor I need Jesus as much as the people who come through our doors every Sunday. It led me to a hope a true hope that made me realize no other hope will ever do. Matt McCullough in his Book Remember Death says this about sorrow and loss.
Honesty about death leads to grief, and grief over what’s true about this world leads to hopeful longing for the world to come. But there is another way in which our heightened feeling for death’s sting clarifies our hope for redemption and resurrection. It helps us see that any hope we have rests completely on a Savior who died and rose again. No other hope will do. The Heidelberg Catechism opens with a clear and profound question: What is your only comfort in life and in death? I love this question for the assumption underneath it. Any comfort in life must also provide comfort in death. If the object of our hope can’t stand up to death’s onslaught, it can’t offer true hope in life either.
Any comfort in life must provide comfort in death. Thirteen years ago I didn’t have that. Today I do. I have been a Christian my whole life and yet for thirty-two years of my life, I secretly feared death. I publicly proclaimed Christ and privately I clung to this life.
I don’t know why Robert died. I don’t. But every time I think of him and his death I smile as tears come down my face because I don’t think I would have been able to cling to a hope that can stand up to death’s onslaught if it wasn’t for his life. Weibel family I love you forever but Jesus loves you more. He is enough in our deepest pain. He is our hope. He gives us hope in this life because only he has withstood the onslaught of death.
Robert, we miss you and we can’t wait to see you again.
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson Eugene does what few modern theologians can do he weaves theology and poetry and finishes each thought with pastoral application. I found Ten Thousand Places challenges to live what you believe. The challenge in the evangelical church is there is much theological understanding without application and on the other side pragmatic seeker strategies striped of theological distinction. Peterson pushes us towards a more gracious orthodoxy as well as a more theological deep approach to reaching those far from God. “Spiritual theology is the attention we give to lived theology — prayed and lived, for if it is not prayed sooner or later it will not be lived from the inside out and in continuity with the Lord of life. Spiritual theology is the attention that we give to living what we know and believe about God. It is the thoughtful and obedient cultivation of life as worship on our knees before God the Father, of life as sacrifice on our feet following God the Son, and of life as love embracing and being embraced by the community of God the Spirit.” – Eugene Peterson
Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport Digital Minimalism was a reminder of how much of a chokehold our cell phones in general and social media, in particular, has on us. “Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools.” Many of Newport’s suggestions I will be implementing in the new year. His approach was powerful as he built the case against digital extremism and then offered solutions that were not based on fear but in proper proportion. Does this technology help my higher values of family, faith, and friends? If so then how specifically if no then let it go.
The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky The Brothers K is the story of three brothers who each represent a part of the tripartite Plutonic soul. Dostoevsky uses the story of their suffering to show the nature of happiness and the road of redemption no matter how God has uniquely wired you. Very few authors have the combination of poetic imagination, philosophic tradition, and theological persuasion. I found the story compelling and his understanding of grace convicting. It is a book I want to read again and now having read it once I am ready to read it again for the first time.
The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Cron The enneagram is controversial in the fact that so many of it’s founders are mystics. I don’t feel that it is witchcraft or a culturally acceptable way to blame shift my sinful tendencies on a system. I found the Road Back to You at a crucial time in my life this year. This year has been one of the more personally challenging years I have faced in over a decade. The Road Back to You helped me see something that I have always known to be true, we think everyone is like us so we talk to them that way. The Road Back to You helped to remind me God made each of us uniquely and if I am to honor that design and work better with those around me I need to learn how to talk to them in a way they understand rather than only communication in a style I prefer
On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts – James K. A. Smith This book was not what I expected but was exactly what I needed. I am a huge fan of both Augustine and James Smith. When this project was announced I couldn’t wait to read it. I was not disappointed. Smith distills the essence of Augustine’s work in the Confessions and applies it to Post-everything America with such skill that the 1600 year gap is nearly seamless. Smith cuts to the heart of the perennial issues Augustine address that allows us in our modern setting to reorient our faith and to see our need for rightly ordered love. Such a powerful book. His chapter on fatherlessness was profound, personal and prophetic I have been reflecting on it often since reading it earlier this month.
The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges This book was easy to read and yet theologically profound. Bridges has a gift of making theologically deep truths accessible and challenging to any level reader. This is not to say that his content is simplistic but rather that he is a thoughtful and talented writer. The topic of holiness is so misunderstood in the evangelical church and because it is too often a topic that is neglected. This is the first book I read by Bridges but it won’t be my last.
The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis This is my second time reading Screwtape. I read it this year for a Seminary class I took on Lewis. This book is genius. It is a book that could have only been written by Lewis. His command of the English language, his understanding of both mid-evil literature and theology make this book the classic it deserves to be.
A Gospel Primer – Milton Vincent There are few things more important to do for a Christian than to “Preach the Gospel” to yourself daily. Vincent’s short work helps you do just that in such profound ways. The first part of this book is a 30 devotional that walks you through a daily application of the gospel. The next section is “prose” a telling of the gospel is story form. The final section is a poetic proclamation of the gospel. This book is simple, short, beautiful and convicting. We leak and need to be reminded of the truth the gospel proclaims this small book is a beautiful way to do just that.
A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems – Jim Scott Orrick I don’t read enough fiction or poetry. This is something I used to view as a waste I now see as a weakness in me. I need to develop my poetic imagination, I am not just a thinking thing I am the refection of the loves of my life. In my renewed pursuit of poetry, a few standouts have immerged because they have a poetic imagination and a passion for the gospel. Out of the group, Herbert is my favorite. He was a pastor whose poems were published posthumously. His pastoral heart and passion for the gospel seep from every line he writes. This book is a great introduction to his larger body of work.
A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems – Jim Scott Orrick
On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts – James K. A. Smith
The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell
Enemy of the State – Vince Flynn
The Survivor – Vince Flynn
The Wisdom of Eachother – Eugene Peterson
An Introduction to the Old Testament – Tremper Longman
Irresitible – Andy Stanley
Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
The Common Rule – Justin Earley
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes – E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
The Path Between Us – Suzanne Stabile
The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb – Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity – Eugene Peterson
Chasing Francis – Ian Morgan Cron
The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Cron
Tell it Slant – Eugene Peterson
The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
Letters to the Church – Francis Chan
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson
The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture – Brevard Childs
The Prophecy of Isaiah – Alec Motyer
Openness Unhindered – Rosaria Butterfield
ReSet – David Murray
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Andy Catlett – Wendell Berry
Be a Writing Machine – M.L. Ronn
Letters to Children – C. S. Lewis
Sex, Dating, And Relationships – Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas
Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis
One to One Bible Reading – David Helm
The Problem of Pain – C. S. Lewis
Romans 8-16 For You – Timothy Keller
A Gospel Primer – Milton Vincent
On the Incarnation – St. Athanasius
Befriend – Scott Sauls
On the Apostolic Preaching – Irenaeus of Lyons
The Great Divorce – C. S. Lewis
The Duties of Parents: Parenting Your Children God’s Way – J. C. Ryle
God thank you for who you are Remind me today of my limits in Prayer, in love, and in Christian service Remind me today of your limitlessness in love, in goodness and in forgiveness
Thank you for Jesus. Remind me of the power of the cross Of my need for the cross Of the reach of the cross Of the totality of the cross Oh the wonders of God in the cross of Christ.
Help me today never forget Your benefits and my sins Your beauty and the ways I betray such beauty for selfish gain Your bounty and my need Your blessing and my want
Thank you for salvation Thank you for Jesus Thank you for the million ways you protect you provide you preserve of which I am only aware of two or three.
Preserve me that my life may be a praise of your mercy. Protect me that my ways may be a testimony of your power Provide for me that I may confess my lack and your unending sufficiency all the day of my life.
Thank you for the Holy Spirit my helper, my guide and revealer of Christ Thank you for Jesus crucified, risen, ascended and coming again. Thank you, Father, you are and always will be. That you are all in all for the glory of your name.
Growing up in the 80’s MTV used to be music videos all day long. I have always had a fascination with music videos. I could watch them for hours the combination of music and story is utterly compelling to me. I haven’t watched that many recently but yesterday I stumbled upon Coldplay’s newest music video. I was sitting in the Airport in Dallas I nearly missed my flight home because the video was so emotionally compelling. It’s a single called Daddy from their forthcoming album and is probably the most moving music video I have ever seen.
The music video is shot in a stop-motion cartoon style and tells the story of a small girl whose dad has left her. It is utterly heartbreaking. I scrolled through the comments and wept because the song hits a nerve we don’t address often enough. Fatherlessness.
Fatherlessness is an epidemic in our country we often don’t have the courage to discuss. Gun control is more politically satisfying yet every mass shooter with only one or two exceptions grew up without a dad. The chances of kids dealing with depression, anxiety, and mental illness skyrockets when dad isn’t there. We ignore it because it is too pervasive too painful, and we feel powerless to change it.
In two decades of pastoral ministry to kids and families, there are few things more painful I have had to do than to sit in a living room with a mom and her kids and tell them their dad is never coming home. The pain in their eyes is beyond description. The wake that event created in the lives of those kids is so pervasive that everything is marked by it.
Divorce is a painful reality that is often thrust upon women by men who leave. Dads who think they deserve something better than what life has given them. Divorce in scripture is not an unpardonable sin. It is, however, something that should be entered into rarely and after every path to reconciliation has been exhausted.
One of the biggest lies people believe is that kids are better off with parents divorcing rather than fighting. This is a lie adults tell themselves to make themselves feel better. Every kid I have ever talked to from divorced families cry themselves to sleep at night praying their dad will come home. No dad is always worse than an angry distant dad. If you are a dad who is divorced fight to be there for your kids. I know you want to move on but don’t leave your kids.
Dads hold your kids close. Put down your phone. Show up when they don’t ask you to be there. If they ask you to be there make sure you do your best to be present. Love your kids enough to show them a love that isn’t perfect but a love that perseveres a love that is faithful because God in Christ loved you when you were unfaithful. Model to your kids the love God has for them by imperfectly loving them the best you can and at the same time point them to a perfect father who is never far away. The gospel doesn’t demand perfection it models it and provides forgiveness. Something every dad needs to hear.
Dads the cards are stacked against you in many ways. I beg of you please stay. Please stay. Pray that God will help you to be faithful when you feel like running. When everything in your head is screaming run. Stay.
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.
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?
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.