Our Lives as Parents Can Teach Us Something About the Life of the Church

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking to the congregation of North Metro Church in Marietta, Georgia. This thriving, growing church is located near Atlanta, and is shepherded by Pastor Rob McDowell. There’s something special about North Metro, and I knew it three minutes into the first service. There was a unique energy in the room; a vibrant enthusiasm radiating from the congregation. North Metro is young at heart, and it’s obvious. They’re engaged in worship, attentive to the message, and ready to respond. They have a youthful energy, even though their age demographic isn’t particularly young (I met lots of folks my age and older). Most pastors would be delighted to have a church family such as this, and I can’t wait for an opportunity to return. Afterward, as I was sitting in the airport, I started to think about how North Metro has been able to form this passionate family. I recalled all the conversations Rob and I had prior to the event as we toured the church campus. North Metro “gets it” because folks my age continue to value the needs and priorities of young people ahead of their own desires and comforts. All of us learn to do something similar in the context of our families, and we ought to use this experience to rethink our mission as a Church.

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The Wound of Loneliness

I’ve been reading some Jean Vanier lately for some work I am doing on theology and disability, and I’ve come across what appears to be an idea central to his thought – that at our core, as fallen humans, is a wound of loneliness. Most of what we do is develop strategies to protect this wound, and most of our relational decisions stem from how we respond to others in the midst of our woundedness. The disabled, for Vanier, are special because they tap into our wound in a way others do not. The disabled, and I’m thinking mostly mentally disabled here, do not pick up on the kinds of strategies we usually employ in conversations, nor are they impressed with the kind of things that impress the world. Instead, they want someone to be with them, to love them, and not leave them. The disabled only want what we do, and yet they refuse to settled for what we do (i.e. shallow conversations, approval, etc.).

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Losing One's Life in the Era of Lebron

I am a huge basketball fan, and like many people, I was wildly disappointed about how Lebron James left Cleveland over the Summer. For a while after "the event," there seemed to be an unanimous concensus that his behavior was nothing short of deplorable, and then Lebron played the race card. His argument was that if you look at demographics, the majority of people (we can assume people outside of Cleveland) who thought his actions were wrong were white. Rather than race, I think, it is better to understand this as a clash of cultures.

There is a culture whose motto is: You have to do what is best for yourself. This motto is frequently repeated by sports commentators: Well, he did what was best for him and his family, and you can't ask for more than that. Now, in a broad sense, this seems reasonable. But it is only reasonable when we are talking about putting food on the table, and not, as in the case of Lebron, when it comes to self-fulfillment. But there is a culture gaining steam in America and beyond where "the best for yourself" is simply the ability to self-fulfill (or, to follow Nietzsche, the will to power). "Can" has suddenly come to imply "ought." 

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Fear and Love

In my recent post on "Fear Leading to Awe,"  I focused on the kind of fear we are called to have of God. Joan Ball let me know that she is working through similar things here, and it is worth a read. In my last post I noted that fear can lead to anxiety or awe, depending on how that fear is oriented and what its impulses are. Ball notes in her article that fear is a controlling kind of thing. We know what someone means when they say that they were "overcome" in fear. Fear of God leading to awe, therefore, is the same kind of thing as submitting fully to the Lord. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord because fearing the Lord is recognizing who he is. 

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Fear Leading to Awe: Understanding the Fear of the Lord

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," we are told in Ecclesiastes. This, of course, is true. But the fear leading to wisdom is not fear to anxiety, but fear to awe. To be filled with awe is to know the one who you stand before and to know acceptance. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because fear of the Lord is simply the recognition that the Lord is God - the God of glory. Fear, in this proper sense, undermines our handholds and our footholds, leaving us with no ground on which to stand, argue or fight. Fear is the beginning of wisdom because this fear leaves us undone - calling out, "I believe, help me in my unbelief," as well as "Without you, I can do nothing" (John 15:5).

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Jonathan Edwards's message to the downtrodden

As many of you may know, I am a Jonathan Edwards scholar. In the grand scheme of things, that doesn't mean all that much, expect that I read a lot of Edwards's work and spend a great deal of time thinking alongside of him about the nature of the Gospel of God for our salvation. From time to time, I come across a really great nuggest in Edwards's theology. What I mean by "nugget" is this, what I consider one of the great misfortunes of Edwards's legacy is that we have next to nothing on what he was supposedly best at - spiritual direction. His daughter, in a letter to a friend, once commented on how blessed she was to have someone like her father to help her navigate her relationship with God. Edwards was, it would seem, a fantastic and discerning director of souls. Fortunately, we do have some evidence of this. Edwards wrote a letter to a woman who just saw her only son die. In it, he tells her that he writes about the one thing he knows for a time like hers - Christ. You can read the letter in its entirety here, but I have copied the last portion below.

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Do you see the beautiful?

I recently preached a sermon at Colorado Christian University on, what I called, God's work to "till the hearts of believers." In it, I focused on seeing the beautiful as a way to talk about both conversion and spiritual formation. As Evangelicals we focus on the true and the good, but the beautiful is often left to the side. I suggest that understanding conversion as having our sight changed, is the equivalent to Jesus' statement that those who do not receive him have ears but cannot hear and eyes but cannot see. You can either listen to the sermon or watch it here if you are interested. If so, I would love your feedback and thoughts (I don't get to preach all that often).

Should we give to beggars?

A good friend of mine did his Ph.D on the question of the Church's relationship to homelessness, and now runs a homeless ministry down in Atlanta. In his latest blog post, he addresses the question he is asked most: Should I give money to a homeless person? His response is thoughtful, engaging and addresses primarily how we need to think about these questions in the first place. Go check out his post here, and let me know your thoughts.

Where is your hope?

I was reading in Lamentations 4 today and came across verse 12: 

"The kings of the earth did not believe, nor did any of the inhabitants of the world, that the adversary and the enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem."

As I meditated upon this verse, I couldn't help but think about America and how easy it is to trust in governments, systems and historic precedent. In other words, like ancient Jerusalem, it is easy to simply say that we are safe because we are powerful, we have the right system and we have the "American spirit" which will continue to strive as it always has. Even as Christians it can be so easy to trust in our life situation, and, rather than casting ourselves before God in praise for his generosity, we become proud and secure in our worldly endeavors.

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Beyond the Ruins

Why name a blog "Beyond the Ruins?" First, I love ruins. The picture at the top of my blog was taken by my wife as we were on a ferry from the famous Iona Abbey back to mainland Scotland. What I love about that picture is that it is so full of life - fresh green grass and ivy thriving against the castle whose walls barely stand. If you look closely, just to the right, you'll see a large white celtic cross. Amid the ruins at Iona stand dozens of magnificent celtic crosses, and here too, amid other ruins, the cross still stands.

Second, there are several images I hope to evoke from the title to this blog which highlights what I hope to focus on. The first image is spiritual. We, as those indwelt by the Spirit of God, have been newly created - the old has gone and the new has come.  The Christian life, therefore, is a life beyond the ruins; or, to quote Paul, our life is hidden with Christ in God. 

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