Random Thoughts for the Weekend

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1. There is a King and a Kingdom. There is a King and a Kingdom. There is a King and a Kingdom. There is a King and a Kingdom. There is a King and a Kingdom. There is a King and a Kingdom. There is a King and a Kingdom.

2. Beware of Christians who do not seem worried about speaking too strongly about how we should live, but they are worried about speaking too strongly about how much we are loved.

3. Those who follow the crucified King should be the last to be concerned about what is cool.

4. We now live in a world in which the only real rebellion is believing the Bible stories are true.

5. Seeing that picture of Justin Bieber holding Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage has thrown for me a loop. But a good loop. It is quite possible that now that book and Keller are being listened to the world over by those who would have never encountered him otherwise. And they are now encountering Jesus in all his glory and grace.

6. I need songs that help me wait for the coming King.

7. The hardest part of the coming school year will be resting on Saturday.

8. I was able to spend a lot of time with my daughter and sons this summer. Some of it was hard. Most was wonderful. What I learned though was, my interests and hobbies and how I spend my time and money and what I talk about are, whether intentionally or unintentionally, part of the discipleship of my kids. I have grieved over my lack of awareness of this at 4 am on many mornings.

9. If forced to choose a once-in-a-lifetime dinner with any famous person or my wife, dinner with her without even a wisp of regret.

10. After having two plus months off work, I am back to teaching teenagers about the deep things of God and the glory of the coming King. Below is a list of things I miss about working at the bank.

Random Thoughts for the Week Ahead

1. If Jesus were easy to understand, he would not be worthy of our worship.

2. I want inexplicable peace and I want understanding of all suffering. This is at total odds with how it all works according Paul.

3. Television is a killer. Not just because of the immorality but because of its insipid messages that steal wonder, ignore beauty, and trade in envy.

4. If you read the stories of Jesus, you will see the answers he gave were never what was expected by the questioner/requester. They were always unexpected and often challenging. But in our day and age, we have so “formulized” discipleship, if we don’t get the answer/response we want, then we assume it cannot be right. The formulas have trained us in predictable expectations.

5. I have had more meaningful conversations with my kids this summer about Jesus and his work, than maybe in all the years previous. Sometimes it felt urgent. Sometimes I felt desperate. But mostly I didn’t feel alone. They were worked out by Someone else while almost always spontaneous for our part.

6. I don’t want to be more uptight than Jesus.

7. Discipleship in the American church looks little like the discipleship in the NT. American discipleship is marked by American business principles: efficiency, ease of use, PR, marketing, celebrity, supply/demand, and utility over beauty. Whereas the NT looks nothing like American business.

8. I am 46 years old and still only now feel as if I am grabbing hold of some understanding that was out of reach for a long time.

9. Rest for the weary.

10. The good news and the bad news, both make me wanna go home.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

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1. It is hard for me to get over the King saying the poor in spirit have a reason to be happy, because the kingdom – His kingdom – is theirs. Blessed are those who struggle with depression. Blessed are those who have been unimaginably hurt in this world. Blessed are the lonely. Blessed are the failures. Blessed are the exhausted. Why? There is a King and a Kingdom and they are more glorious than our dreams.

2. I woke up very early yesterday morning thinking about the movie, First Reformed. It’s a movie I did not like and would never recommend. However, the picture did do one thing well. The juxtaposition of the corporate megachurch and the small historic traditional church was something worth thinking about. The seeming power of the large and seeming impotence of the meager.

3. I’ve been going back and listening to some of the Christian music I listened to when I was younger. Some is still great (Chagall Guevara!). Some of it is terrible. Some dated. But thankfully I never listened to Truth.

4. We’ve been watching Lord of the Rings as a family and my boys are fighting over who is going to be Legolas for Halloween which is the only thing we’ll let them fight about.

5. I have found if I wait five minutes after I read something on social media, by then I have no desire to comment or respond.

6. Watching my kids grow up is all at once painful and beautiful. It really is a complex mix of emotion, realization, and desire. This should be a lesson. It makes sense that God, Who is even more complex, can love and be disappointed with His creation and have multiple desires on various levels. And all for our good.

7. It is a struggle to enjoy the sausage after so many years of watching it get made.

8. I finished the final book of The Wingfeather Saga and now I’m miserable.

9. It’s not so much that I dread going back to school. I dread my kids going back to school. And the homework.

10. We’ve never had much money. But we have been gifted something unique. Ninety percent of what we enjoy, we can enjoy together. Baseball. Food. Not having cable. The woods. Documentaries. Jazz. Our house. Being home. And the hope of home.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

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1. Isn’t it something when Jesus says, “I am making all things new?” He could have said any number of meaningful statements. But this one statement really does open up the world. For if this is a vision of the Kingdom, we know from the beginning that the Kingdom is now among us. And if that is true, then in a real way, he is already making all things new through his redemptive work in the hearts of his people. But also through their work in their various vocations. All things new. Not just the spiritual stuff.

2. In fifth grade I discovered the power of the poets. But it was a lonely discovery. And has been for the most part a lonely treasure. I haven’t minded too much. Earlier this week I heard “To All the Poets” by Andrew Peterson for the first time. That loneliness and the treasure of poetry I could never put into words. Glad he did.

3. Every loss is a sermon.

4. A good book ends only in the most shallow sense. The good ones continue to stretch out beyond the back cover to the end of our days.

5. I have a heart that looks for loopholes.

6. It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking a news story is the story. When we stop to think about it, we know that’s not true. For Christians, this should always be at the front of our minds. Not because of “fake news” but because we know God is always doing more than we can see in our kids, in ourselves and everywhere else.

7. Not sleeping well reminds me of my bone to soul-deep desire for the rest that is coming.

8. Again, we all need space where we are not marketed anything. No one is trying to sell us anything. Nothing. The church needs to be that space.

9. This is going to seem like I’m contradicting my statement above but I’m not trying to sell anything. At least for my own benefit. Bill Mallonee is simply the best songwriter out there these days. He has over 80 albums. Some are fully-produced full band albums and some are just him playing all the instruments with his wife Muriah helping out. Some are just him and a guitar and they sound so rough and so beautiful, like the New Mexico land he lives on. But they are all worth your time. I’ve been listening to him since ’93 and there may be no one who has influenced me more (maybe I should write about this). I just bought two more albums yesterday because he’s selling all the download versions for 50% off. Go here to listen and purchase. I’m telling you this because he lives off this. He’s not rich. He needs the money. And aren’t we all a little tired of singers who don’t?

Feel free to leave recommendations of his albums to others in the comments and ask for recommendations if needed.

10. Listen.

Subjects of the King

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I sometimes work on my Sunday school lesson in my dreams.

No, really.

That was the case this morning as I awoke from a deep sleep. We have been in the Psalms this summer. Each week we have looked at one Psalm in which we do a quick overview of the Psalm, looking at the type of Psalm it is and if known, the history and how the Psalm might have been used in Israel. We then answer three questions: What do we need to understand within the Psalm?, Where do we see Jesus?, and When will it be helpful to sing/read/pray this Psalm?

Last week we looked at Psalm 2, which Jack Collins, my professor at Covenant Seminary (’03) labels a “Messianic Psalm.” I awoke still thinking about the implications of my study of that Psalm in anticipation of possibly talking about those implications this coming Sunday.  The goal of the class was to do a different Psalm each week. But that my not happen this week.

Because I am dreaming.

When I awoke from this dream at a few minutes before 6 am, I immediately got up, snuck out of the bedroom to the living room. While the coffee maker hummed with the promise of waking up this frame, I wrote down the following:

– The king was to be the Ideal Israelite representing Israel in righteousness.

– As goes the king, goes Israel.

– His rule and reign was to be the earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven.

– Since Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah-King, he reigns as that ideal Israelite.

– Whenever the church gathers in the name of Jesus, the gap between heaven and earth is “bridged.”

– The church as the body of Christ is the physical representation of the King on earth.

– Churches and Christian homes are outposts (embassies) of the Kingdom of heaven.

– Christians in America far too often see America the same way they see Israel, when actually the Church is the heir of those promises as they are fulfilled in the Messiah-King.

– The hope that American Christians (conservative and progressive) place in politics and the kingdoms of this world mirror Israel’s rejection of God as their king and the desire for a king like the nations in Samuel 8.

– A Pakistani Christian is more my countryman than any fellow American, no matter how geographically far I am from the former and far from the latter.

The thought version of rough drafts blurred by sleep. More to come, maybe.

 

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

 

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1.  Fear and love are at odds with one another.

2. I don’t think you could write a novel about a well-off pastor and that pastor be the hero of the story. It would at least be hard. And we need to think long and hard why that is the case.

3. My brother has been posting pictures of my parents from when they were young. One was from their wedding day. In another, my dad is wearing his army uniform and my mom is sitting in his lap. Their aliveness in those photos stands in direct opposition to their deaths. And what is more – that alivenes in those photos is nothing compared to their present aliveness.

4. I’ve been reading Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga books this past week. I am on book two and the next two should come in the mail today. I don’t know if it’s the post–Dostoyevsky need for something fun or what, but they are hard to put down. They are serious too. And full of beautiful writing.

5. Poverty of spirit doesn’t get you the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven is comfort when you have poverty of spirit.

6. Just when I should be giving my children more freedom, I instinctively want to tighten control.

7. I have a confession to make. This Summer I am teaching through the Psalms and my study and the very act of teaching the Psalms are doing an unexpected thing to me. I am simultaneously wanting to listen to music by Christians and feeling like something very substantive is missing from music by unbelievers. Let me be clear, this is not born out of a principal of what I should listen or can listen to. This is more of what I find helpful these days as I minister to my family, the church, and my students. But it isn’t only that. I find it easy to forget what I am waiting for. What is real. What the reality is behind the things I can see and touch. I feel as if I need songs that help me wait for the returning King, Who will make all things new.

Feel free to make suggestions outside of Peterson and Mullins.

8. Last night Bethany and I were talking with some friends about the travails of the life of ministry. There have been some awful moments and I’ve seen the worst of people on full display. Though I have been tempted to ditch the church, I have not for one simple reason. The King will one day return. And those churches are gatherings of those who also believe this. They are workers who gather at His embassy to remind themselves of who they are in the world and what they await.

9. All the regrets we have as parents will be also healed at the resurrection.

10. One of the reasons I am enjoying the Wingfeather series is they provide what we all tend to lose as we get older. Wonder. This world and even the Biblical world is so familiar we miss the mystery and magic of it all. Kids don’t. My kids still own the wonder of it all. They have yet to trade it away for rationalistic adulthood. And I’m a little jealous of them for that reason.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

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1. I think much of the genius of Paul and the NT writers is found in their realization that they were their own biggest problem. Not Rome. Not the Empire. Not the over-sexualized culture. Not the secular institutions with which the early church had to surely compete for attention. It was themselves. That’s something.

2. I had an epiphany this past week. Really, over the past couple of days. I’ve been squeamish about writing for a few years. My experience with book-writing and Christian publishing made me squeamish about the whole business. This is no one person’s fault so do not try to read anything into this about my own publisher or anyone else. Experience made me squeamish. But here is thing. I love books. I love books written by Christians. Is it okay to admit I even love my own book still? On the same day I write this, while at a conference, I bought a book I fully expect to enjoy and learn from even though I’ve never thought much of the author. (His presence on social media is not always becoming.) And I bought this book assuming the best intentions of the writer, the publisher (who I bought the book from directly at their book table), and I fully expect God will use this book for my good and His glory. So, what am I so squeamish about again?

3. Everyone needs a place safe from marketing. The church should be this place.

4. I almost quit Facebook last week. The question in my mind was, “Can I just limit my intake to a very limited amount or do I need to quit it altogether?” Alyosha was the filter through which I was asking myself this. For writers there is more at stake. But then at a conference this week, hosted by the school where I teach, I was able to sit down with Stephen Williams for almost two hours. We have been friends on Facebook for about 6 years or more but had never met in person. We have had two very important things in common outside of our fellowship with the King. We both pull for the St Louis Cardinals. And we both love The Gaslight Anthem. That two hours was so enjoyable, I am rethinking the question.

5. Outside of the book of Revelation, there is nowhere in the New Testament where the flexing of muscle by believers is commended. Weakness is always the order of the day.

6. Yes, the blog has a new look. It has been about four years since I made any changes. And at that point I only added the Townes Van Zandt lyric. The ads should be gone for good. My goal is a Random Thoughts post once a week and then a short piece of writing once a week just like the good old days. Maybe more. If you have anything you would like to read about, feel free to leave those ideas in the comments.

7. Isn’t is strange how Christian institutions can describe themselves with confidence in laudatory pronouncements it would be seen as presumptuous for individuals to use?

8. I bought Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever on vinyl this week. That is all.

9. Another reason I’ve been thinking about writing more is a conversation I had with a missionary this week. He had just finished my book and wanted to talk with me about the book and what he is doing. I’m not sure how helpful I was in that first of hopefully many video chats but he got me thinking about writing more. He was in a country my wife and I once discussed as a possibility for missions. He told me he is now recommending my book to pastors over there. So in a way, I am getting to realize a small dream or desire I had about ministering in that country through my book. Second, he said the book was right on time. That struck me. There was a small window when my book was being read by a number of people and I was hearing about it from all over the world. On Thanksgiving day in 2013, The God of the Mundane went all the way to #467 of all print books. That was a crazy day. That was a great day. But I have to reckon with the Providence of God as a writer who claims to read and write in the knowledge that the King is all wise and that when someone reads the book, that is the right time for them to read the book.  Which is more significant the providential reading years later when the book has been shelved into obscurity or the #467?

10. Though we, Americans, do not have a category for this line of thinking. It is not unwise to be thankful for the country we live in while at the same time harboring the concern it is those very things we are thankful for that obscures our vision of the King.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

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1. One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about being off this summer is the conversations I get to have with my kids. Such as the following after talking about a song that was playing while the kids were in the car. We were in the Target parking lot.

Dylan: Is this another Bible lesson?

Me: Actually, everything is a Bible lesson when you get down to it.

Dylan: Huh?

Me: Every word in the Bible is pointing to the King, Jesus. And every thing in this world is about Jesus. So everything is a Bible lesson if you think about it.

Dylan: Okaaaayyyyy

2.  I have found the following to be true. For every thing I wish was different about one of my kids, there is someone I admire who has that trait or disposition in common with them.

3. I have been listening to a lot of Andrew Peterson. It started when we went to his concert, the last of his most recent tour. My wife and I had no desire to go. The day of the concert had not been a good day. Disappointing news had come and I was frustrated – alternating between sadness and anger. But we already had tickets and we were going with friends and the concert was literally just down the street. Going was one of the best decisions we’ve made in a long time. It didn’t feel like church…how do I say this?…it felt better. Like those gathered.. huddled in hope mixed with despair and fear, waiting for the return of the King, who will wipe away every tear. My friend, David, said that Peterson is truly unique in what he does. The more I listen, the more I agree.

4. We seem to equate caring about what is going on in politics with caring.

5. It is very interesting to watch an Anthony Bourdain episode after he took his own life. I quit watching his shows a while back but I decided to watch at least one this week. I always felt like his bad boy antics were desperate acts of insecurity. He seemed to need to project an image of being “bad.” It’s possible much of it all was marketing. So much the worse. But I admit, there was always something likable about him. And his shows were always interesting, to be sure.

6. The problems with American evangelicalism are diverse and myriad. But the fact that you cannot buy Dostoyevsky at the Christian bookstores is symptomatic of most of those problems.

7. Parenting is hard. But one thing I’m learning – though not yet doing well – the secret is to love them and make sure they know it deeply. It’s not the silver bullet to kill all the fears we have, but it is a leaning into how we were meant to live. They will soon enough enter this world that will deal with them based on their usefulness and how they measure up.

8. As the one who authored The God of the Mundane, I cannot recommend Every Moment Holy high enough. It deserves all the praise it is getting.

9. I have been thinking a lot about the Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain suicides. And other suicides too. I find my position as a pastor to be one now of little interest for those who would seek any understanding. Maybe there would be some. But I find myself in a cultural milieu in which the thoughts of a pastor are of little consequence. Even among those who confess Christ. For we have now relegated suicide and the desperation and darkness that precedes it, as the expertise of mental health professionals. Only. It is a disease after all, like cancer. And it must be treated as such. This is a job for chemists, not those who study the soul and the God, Who created all things and through whom all things are held together. But if I cannot speak to despair, what then can I speak to?

10. On Friday morning, my wife had already left for work when I woke up. I sent her a text and when she responded, she asked if I had checked on the kittens. (We have new kittens, by the way.) She told me she had not checked in on them because if she had, leaving for work would have been impossible. There is something uniquely beautiful in watching someone you love enjoy something so much.

A Commencement Speech

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Recently I heard a Commencement speech at the graduation ceremony of the Christian school where I teach. If you are not a teacher, you don’t hear many of these. They are unusual speeches, I think. As I was listening, I got to wondering what I would say if I was ever called upon to give a commencement speech. I never taught these Seniors but I did get to know some of them. And my affection for them, got me wondering what I would want to say…what I want them to hear. By the time I left the building, I knew what I would say.

A number of years ago I was an associate pastor at a church and I was looking at athe preaching schedule to see when I preached next. I panicked because I thought I was scheduled to preach on Mother’s Day. I had never heard a good Mother’s Day sermon and I was sure I was not up to the task. But I didn’t feel like I could ignore the day and just preach on something else. Soon enough, though, I realized I had looked at the wrong day and I was not scheduled to preach on Mother’s Day. But I continued to think about what I would’ve preach on that day. And then I landed on a passage and message I thought was appropriate. And then I started to actually wish I could preach on Mother’s Day. I spent so much time thinking about this I was disappointed at the prospect of not preaching my sermon.

So I wrote it all down.

My blog was starting to get some serious traction. Every now and again I would write something that would get a good deal of traffic. So after writing it all down, I posted it.

That blog post has been my most popular piece of writing ever. Nothing else comes close. Even when it isn’t Mother’s Day, I hear from moms who thank me for writing that short sermon down.

Paul says in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” My message was “Even though you may feel condemned, there is therefore no condemnation for those moms who are in Christ Jesus.”

And I listed out all the reasons they may feel condemned and reminded them that because of what Christ has done, there is no condemnation from God.

Regardless of how much they mess up
Regardless of how much they feel condemned.
They are not.

I tell you this story because I want you to go ahead and hear that good news now. You are going to do things that will make you feel condemned. Some will be sinful. Some will not. Nothing I can say will stop you from sinning. On this side of glory, we will both kick and scream against the goodness of God. We will not only sin and feel like we are rejected by God, but we will be rejected by others and therefore feel condemned. I want you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to know that because of the life and death and resurrection of Christ, that is not the case.

You are not condemned, my brothers and sisters.

You are not condemned when you fail in your studies.

You are not condemned when you fail your friends.

You are not condemned when they fail you.

You are not condemned when you fail to live up to the social expectations of your peers.

You are not condemned, though you’ll feel like it, if you are rejected by a fraternity or sorority.

You are not condemned when you are rejected by someone you have fallen in love with.

You are not condemned when you are not able to live up to the expectations of your parents.

You are not condemned when you cannot afford what others are able to afford.

You are not condemned by your depression.

You are not condemned by your eating disorder.

You are not condemned by your flirtations with drinking and drugs.

You are not condemned by your lack of fashion-sense.

You are not condemned when you look back and regret your course of study.

You are not condemned by your loneliness.

You are not condemned by your sexual sins.

You are not condemned when you experience social anxiety.

You are not condemned when the stares of others make you self-conscious about your body.

You are not condemned when you miss the security of a home you longed to move out of.

You are not condemned when you get cut from the team.

You are not condemned when you don’t get the part.

You are not condemned when you lose the scholarship because of your grades.

You are not condemned by thoughts of taking your life.

You are not condemned when that one sin that you cannot stop, feels like an out of control train bearing down on you.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

If this is true of me as a 46 year old adult, then it is true for this graduating class. For you are no more a sinner in need of grace then I am.

There are going to be times throughout the rest of your life that your own voice and the voice of the culture will collude to make you feel condemned. But if you are in Christ, the Scriptures are clear, “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

There may be some who think this message is dangerous. They may worry that by telling you this I have encouraged you to sin. Yeah, that could happen. But I also believe that the more you believe this good news, the more the Holy Spirit will fill you with love for Christ because of his graciousness. This is no less true for students than it is for adults.

This has always been and will always be my message to students and adults alike. This is my message to you today.

Congratulations and may God bless you with endurance as you begin your journey.

What Good is Poetry? 11 Quotes

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April is the beginning of Spring, baseball, and also National Poetry Month. Three things I love. Most people love two of these in the concrete and the last only possibly in the abstract. Many will enjoy a ballgame at some point. And Spring, throughout the season, with a hike, or around a grill and patio furniture. But poetry? Not really. For over thirty years I’ve kinda been alone in my love of poetry. Thankfully, my dad loved to write occasional poems and my parents encouraged my writing of them. I always felt like there was a power in them, I neither understood nor could communicate. That is still true for the most part. Whenever I talk to people who want to write or be a better writer, I always say, they need to read the poets. It can only make prose better. But there is value for non-writers, too. The following quotes – mostly by poets – will, I hope, help some of you see that value.

1. “Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.” – Carl Sandburg

2. “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” – T.S. Eliot

3. Such a small, pure object a poem could be, made of nothing but air a tiny string of letters, maybe small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. But it could blow everybody’s head off. – Mary Karr

4. “A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” – Salman Rushdie

5. “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” – William Butler Yeats

6. “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” – Leonardo da Vinci

7. “Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone.” – Lawrence Ferlinghetti

8. “Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.” – Dylan Thomas

9. “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. ― Emily Dickinson”

10. The meaning of poetry is to give courage. A poem is not a puzzle that you the dutiful reader are obliged to solve. It is meant to poke you, get you to buck up, pay attention, rise and shine, look alive, get a grip, get the picture, pull up your socks, wake up and die right. . . . Forget everything you ever read about poetry, it doesn’t matter–poetry is the last preserve of honest speech and the outspoken heart. – Garrison Keillor

11. “Poetry is the clear expression of mixed feelings.” – W.H. Auden