Archive - June, 2011

Jesus Didn’t Drop Pearls

I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor off and on for the last couple of weeks. It has been a delight. In the

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book he tells a story of a time that he and his wife Jan were invited to speak at a retreat center in Texas. Jan spoke to a group of women about hospitality and raising children. One of the women asked, “Do you have any pearls of wisdom that you can give us for raising our children?” Her response: “Have a family meal every evening.” She went on, and this is good stuff:

“There are no ‘pearls’ out there that you can use–no scripture verses to hand out, advice to guide, prayers to tap into. As we live and give witness to Jesus to our children and whoever else, we are handing out seeds, not pearls, and seeds need soil to germinate. A meal is soil just like that. It provides a daily relational context in which everything you say and don’t say, feel or don’t feel, God’s Word and snatches of gossip, gets assimilated along with the food and becomes you, but not you by yourself–you and your words and acts embedded in acts of love and need, acceptance and doubt. Nothing is abstract or in general when you are eating a meal together. You realize, don’t you, that Jesus didn’t drop pearls around Galilee for people as clues to find their way to God or their neighbors. He ate meals with them. And you can do what Jesus did. Every evening take and receive the life of Jesus around your table.” (emphasis added)

Jesus didn’t drop pearls. He ate meals. The point of this post isn’t necessarily to encourage you to make sure you are eating daily meals with your family, whomever your family is at this stage of your life, but I would encourage it. The point is instead to see that often in life and ministry we want to know “the point” or “the principle” or “the answer” to help us be “more”. More productive, more effective, more successful, etc. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in fact it is often a good thing. But real life is found not in taking and applying principles. Real life is found in eating meals, passing the potatoes, both proverbial and literal and sharing stories. We live in an era that offers many substitutes for presence. But may we remember that they are all hopelessly inadequate.

The Magnificent with the Mundane

As you likely already know, the chapter and verse divisions that we find in the Bible were added several hundred years after the texts were originally written. Needless to say they are incredibly helpful, but they also have a tendency to create artificial divisions in the text that cause us to sometimes miss the fact that two verses are right next to each other.

I really appreciated what the leader of the monthly Santa Barbara pastors’ prayer meeting said this morning as he dismissed the group of 50 or so pastors in attendance.

We had just finished praying for one another that God would work through the mundane parts of the day that we have ahead, and after reminding us about the fact that chapter and verse references were added later, he read to us out of 1 Corinthians 15 and 16, the final verse of one chapter and the first phrase of the other:

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. Now concerning the collection for the saints…”

A beautiful exhortation to keep on keeping on…

followed by an accounting report.

A reminder of an incredible promise of God…

followed by a reminder that there is busy work left to be done.

Today I’ll pray with 50 pastors, write a sermon, and sit in a boring but necessary meeting.

The magnificent with the mundane.

That’s life.

In fact, it is often our faithfulness in the mundane that paves the way to moments of magnificence.

We’re in big trouble if we forget that.

Doubting a God that Doesn’t Exist

I was hanging out with a recent high school graduate this morning. We don’t know each other super well, but we’ve hung out a few times. We know each other well enough to have at least somewhat substantive conversations. His mom works at my church. I guess way back in the day he used to be pretty involved in the youth group. Now he says he’s an atheist. Nice kid, though. After drinking some iced tea and making small talk for a while we talked a little bit about God. I asked him if he thought I was a fool for believing in God. He said I wasn’t. He said that we are all entitled to believe what we want to believe. I agreed with that, and then told him that the blue place mat he was fiddling with was orange. I then told him it was a tree. “I’m not really asking if I’m entitled to my beliefs. We all know that. I’m asking am I wrong? Am I a fool?” No, you’re not. You’re not hurting anyone, and it brings you happiness, so it’s fine. “I’m not asking if it’s morally foolish, I’m asking if it is intellectually foolish.” He didn’t seem so sure about that. He told me a bit about God. He told me how he did all sorts of stuff for God growing up. He told me about how he was really genuine about the things that he did. Then he told me how God let him down. We’re all wired differently, so we react differently to circumstances. One thing that unites us is that if we worship a false god and that god gets taken away, we’re devastated. His false god got taken away. And God wouldn’t give it back. God’s failure to intervene on his behalf was all he needed to conclude that he didn’t exist. “Where did you get the idea that God is supposed to serve you?” I don’t know, I guess I just thought that if I do things for him he is supposed to do things for me. “Oh yeah,” I said, “That God doesn’t exist. You’re right about that.” I told him that his version of God reminded me of the version of God that is so often attacked by the New Atheists. Often I want to say, “Yes and amen” to their attacks on God, because they are attacking a god that bears little resemblance to the God of the Bible. I don’t think doubt is bad thing. If you’re doubting the God of the Bible, that’s fine. There are answers to the questions, if you want them. If you’re doubting a God that doesn’t exist,

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that’s even better. We read Philippians 4:12-13 together. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, weather living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. We shared a bit of a laugh at how silly it is to put Philippians 4:13 on t-shirts with pictures of sports equipment, given that it comes after verse 12. And I told him that the God he doubted did not exist. I told him I get really sad when I hear pastors and preachers point people to faith in that god, because it’s really dangerous. I told him that the God of the Bible doesn’t promise us that our pain will disappear, but he does promise to bear with us in our pain. He doesn’t promise that things won’t hurt, but he does promise that with his strength we can get through those hurts so that they do not devastate us. Our kids need to know about that God. Our adults need to know about that God. We all need to doubt that God, so that in exploring our doubts we can come to more fully know that God, and learn to doubt and ultimately reject our false conceptions of God.  

Everyone Thinks Someone Else is Rich

Lots of good stuff here in this clip from Mark Driscoll.

“Every person I’ve met, pretty much, thinks that when the Bible says “rich” it is somebody just above them.”

True story.

Just as it is fashionable to be super busy, it is also fashionable to be envious of someone else’s finances.

We all think that someone else is rich.

I’ve fallen into this trap more times then I care to count.

Despite the fact that I’ve never gone hungry, I’ve always had my basic needs met, and I’ve enjoyed a level of affluence that most humans in the history of our planet can only dream about, I’ve had plenty of instances where I have looked at my peers and thought of them as “rich”.

What’s funny is that in the last couple of years I’ve had a few instances in which close friends have expressed some level of astonishment at my present financial situation. They wonder how we’re able to get by.

And frankly, I’ve always been somewhat astonished at their astonishment.

We’re doing just fine. We’re very comfortable. There’s room for improvement, sure (improvement that will come when we’re both able to work), but we’re rich. When we talk about what we’ll do when we have a little more income, we don’t really talk much about upgrading our lifestyle.

I’ve been in plenty of conversations with people that are quick to talk about the wealthiest people in my church, school, or work environment.

Those people are rich.

Not us.

How widespread this mindset is really came home to me during college. I had a job tutoring two junior high school students at their home. They were brothers. They had an elevator in their house. They had enough video game systems to melt their brains. They lived in a gigantic three story home in Beverly Hills.

One day in the course of a conversation I mentioned something about them being rich.

The younger of the two boys reacted as if I had just told him that I was a giraffe.

They weren’t rich, he insisted. Other people are rich. But not them.

As laughable as it was to hear him say that, I do think on some level that mindset exists in all of us. Our natural inclination is to think that we’re not rich, even though we are.

That’s just one of the handful of subjects that Driscoll tackles in this five minute clip, and it’s well worth watching…

Book Review: First-Time Dad

Preface: I was given two copies of this book and asked to write an honest review of it. That means I’ve got one copy to give away. If you’re interested, leave a comment on this blog post and at the end of the day tomorrow I’ll randomly selected one person to receive a free copy of the book! (And make sure your comment includes a way for me to contact you!) Title: First-Time Dad: The Stuff You Really Need to Know by John Fuller with Paul Batura Where you can get it: Leave a comment on this post for a chance to get it for free, or Better World Books has it for $12.98. Review in a sentence: This book is a simple, easily readable guide to some of the basics of fatherhood. Full Review: When I first received an email inviting me to review First-Time Dad, I was excited. It’s always good to review books that are relevant to my life stage, and, well, it doesn’t get much more relevant for me than books on fatherhood (my wife and I are expecting our first in August). John Fuller of Focus on the Family is the father of six kids, so he has no small amount of expertise on the subject of raising children, and I was happy to sit at his feet for about 160 pages and soak up some of his wisdom. The book is divided into 12 manageable chapters that each address one aspect of fatherhood, ranging from expectations that come with awaiting child #1 to the important role that dad’s play in the spiritual formation of their children. Each chapter begins with a sort of summary quote (For example, before the chapter “What Fatherhood is All About”: “If you remember only one thing from this chapter, I pray you’ll remember this: Don’t take your cues about fatherhood from the culture, but rather from the God of the universe.” Emphasis in the original), and then each chapter ends with suggested resources, or bullet points of particular action items that are based on the chapter’s contents. I found these closing lists to be really helpful. Throughout the book Fuller paints a picture of fatherhood that is difficult but simple. He emphasizes the importance of quality time (children spell “love” t-i-m-e), and he makes it clear that being a good father will involve many personal and professional sacrifices. Looking at the state of fatherhood in this country, this sort of sobering message is urgently needed. For every child whose father outright leaves, another is “orphaned” because their father is a workaholic, or is simply unwilling to disengage from leisure activities enough to take fathering seriously. In working with teenagers, I see this all the time. Fuller offers advice to fathers who are looking to “break the chain” of poor fathering in their family tree, and also offers all sorts of practical ideas for ways that fathers and children can spend quality time together. He also emphasizes the importance of prioritizing the marriage relationship once kids enter the home. He has one chapter entitled “Loving Your Wife” and another entitled “Loving Your Baby’s Mother”, each of which provide plentiful practical suggestions for loving your wife well. There is still another chapter about how bringing children into the home impacts marriages. The book also dives into the differences between boys and girls, and the subsequent differences that raising each gender entails. He closes the book with a great chapter on spiritual formation, and another that is a simple reminder of a truth that seems impossible to believe from where I’m sitting now, but one that I nonetheless know is true: raising kids goes quick, so I better enjoy the ride. All in all this was a simple, easy-to-read, practical book. It doesn’t cover everything, but it provides tons of specific, easy to apply advice. I am confident that I will be a better father for having read this book. Whether

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you’re a reader or not, if you are a first-time dad or plan to be some time soon, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Rating: 5 (out of 5)