A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any

Your kids aren’t going to remember what you get them for Christmas. They’re just not.

At least I don’t.

My mother died when I was a teen, my dad when I was in my early twenties. And when I think of the holiday seasons with them, I remember them. I don’t remember their gifts.

I remember my mom stomping down snow and scattering bird seeds to feed the menagerie of winged color that knew where to find a good meal.

I remember slow evenings around rock and wood and fire.

I remember egg nog, sipped slowly, and luminaries of sand and wax.

I remember Christmas Eve walks with family, sometimes comfortable and sometimes minus twenty.

I remember their love, not their presents.

Remember, the one with the most toys does not win.

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Your kids don’t need more stuff. They need you.

To put it bluntly, there will come a Christmas without you. Hopefully, it’ll come much later, but it might come sooner. That’s not a morbid thought, it’s a centering thought. Your kids will always have stuff. They will not always have you.

So hug them. Read to them.
For Christ’s sake, be silly with them and show them that joy exists outside of presents.

Dance with your children and make memories. Watch Elf together and belly laugh. Schedule some down time. Block it out on your calendar because it’s important. Say no to something so you can say yes to something better.

Pause long enough this holiday season to cuddle with your little one. Or listen to your big kid. Don’t spend so much time watching football with your kids that you never play football with them.

Remember: it’s not about stuff. It never was, and it never will be.

Please, don’t give your children something so cheap as things. Stuff never connects people in meaningful ways. In fact, it seems to have the opposite effect, isolating the user: “I play with my stuff and you play with yours.”

Stuff fills our hands, making it harder to touch another person’s soul.

Stuff fills our ears, blocking out the heart-cries of the near ones.

Stuff fills our eyes all the way to the periphery, keeping us from seeing the tremendous value in the people right here.

Remember, the best memories are not made of money. The best memories are made of people and places. If you have money, spend it on memories. If you don’t have money, that’s ok too, because money’s certainly not a prerequisite for memories.

Remember, for this Christmas and the ones to come, the gifts won’t be remembered. Your presence will. Or your absence. Both of my parents are absent now; I can’t change that and neither can they. But while they still could, they gave me memories. And I do remember.

I remember my mother’s last Christmas. She was sick and we all knew it. That last Christmas morning, she sat on the couch and held a large stuffed bear and watched her children. And she smiled.

And that smile remains one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received.

 

*from trotters.41.com

It’s Not All About War: Balancing our Kingdom Rhetoric

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How we motivate people to care about cross-cultural missions matters.

Should we try to motivate people to care about cross-cultural missions? Should we try to motivate people to do cross-cultural missions? Yeah, I think so.

But when our talk of Kingdom and Mission skews too much to an emphasis on war and doing battle, people pay the price and we all suffer in the long run.

I’ve done it before, and I was wrong.

It’s a classic motivation strategy, really. Focus on the danger and the risk. And the glory. Highlight the adventure and the cost. Appeal to our desire to make a big splash in a book-worthy, mic-dropping, eternity-altering manner.

If you can make sure the danger seems enormous and foreign and somewhere exotic, even better. If you can talk with passion about the millions who will die without Christ UNLESS PEOPLE GO, good on you. The Gospel calls us to go and sacrifice and burn and bleed for the eternal destiny of souls.

But when we over-emphasize some of those intense facets of radical obedience and overlook the more mundane ones (like “a long obedience in the same direction,” faithful plodding, and deep friendships that span years), we set people up to fail and burn out. We set them up for idolatry. When the magnificent doesn’t happen when they thought it would, or when they realize that “failure” is a word they’re beginning to apply to themselves, the results can be destroying.

 

Scorched Earth or Green Grass?
Jesus didn’t talk WAR very much, actually. Some, but not a lot. A military commander would have talked like that, for sure, but a military commander he explicitly was NOT. That’s what people wanted him to be, but he just wasn’t. At least not the type of Commander they imagined.

People wanted EPIC. (People always want epic.) They wanted a strong fighter and warrior. They wanted munitions, and he didn’t provide them. Or, at least, he didn’t take aim at the folks his listeners wanted destroyed (Rome).

People always want epic. They want to see POWER and a flood of victory and they use big and overwhelming words that sweep us away with their immensity and majesty.

But the Scriptures also talk about green grass and a Shepherd.

They speak of the Father’s house, of peace, safety, and comfort.

They speak of calm and Shalom.

 

Mobilization vs. Member Care
I see this illustrated in the differences between Mobilizers and Member Care folk. Is a healthy tension between the two necessary? I think perhaps.

One wants to send everyone, packing luggage in coffins if need be, for the glory of the Cross. These people love John Piper and David Platt and stats about how many people die every minute. Paul is their patron saint.

The other wants to keep people healthy and whole, preferring writers like Ruth Van Reken and Pete Scazzero. They probably spend an inordinate amount of time in the Psalms.

One is all about sacrifice. The other is all about Shalom.

One says, “Go and die for the King!” The other says, “Come and find rest for your soul.”

One’s like the battle-hardened soldier who runs headlong into the fight. The other is like the medic who’s trying to keep people healthy, and then when that doesn’t work, cleans up, bandages up, and packs up the results.

Both are emphatically for Jesus.

 

We Need Both
As a young man, I jumped into the battle-talk-save-the-world camp. It motivated me. Nate Saint the martyr was my hero, and John Piper was my soundtrack.

Now, I am much more medic than fighter, and I sometimes feel the tension.

The truth is, we need both. We need to be overwhelmed by God’s intense love for the nations and the certain truth that God desires ALL people to know him and love him, and that he calls his Church to participate in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

We need to remember that the Bible supports both the Mobilizer and the Medic, the call to arms and the call to His arms, and we need to make sure that our churches and organizations do too.

 

This is Our God
May we remember the fire in his eyes and the tenderness of his touch. May we remember that he spoke hard truth harshly, sometimes, and he spoke comforting truth softly, sometimes.

May we remember that we are in a battle and that we have an enemy. And may we remember that we are in a royal procession, en route to the greatest victory celebration the cosmos has ever seen.

May we remember that our Warrior is gentle, refusing to break the bruised reed or snuff the smoldering wick, and yet he remains capable of destroying the armies of darkness and death itself.

May we remember the full character of our God.
The Lord of Hosts is his name.
The Lord strong in battle.
The King of Glory.

May we remember the full character of our God.
The wounded Healer.
The Great Physician.
The Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

May the magnificent love of our Jealous God propel us to obedient service, far and wide. And may the intimate love of our Father God sustain us once we get there.

 

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How do you balance these things? Have you seen churches and ministries balance this well?

Have you seen them balance these things poorly?

 

Further Reading:

The Idolatry of Missions

To the ones who think they’ve failed

Missionaries supposed to suffer… So am I allowed to buy an air conditioner?

Why Are We Here?

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When God Won’t Give Me What I Want

Is he really a “good, good Father”? We sing it often enough, and truth be told, I really like singing and talking about the good character that our Abba Father indeed has.

But sometimes it sounds like we’re desperately trying to convince ourselves. Because sometimes we doubt. And no wonder.

Because sometimes we ask for things that we don’t get it. We ask for more support and we’re still blank. We ask for healing for ourselves or someone we love, and they stay sick. Or they die.

We brush up against storms and trauma and we see horrific things and we question him. Where are you? Why this? Why him or her?

And they’re good questions. They really are.

And it’s OK to ask them. People of faith can (and must) ask these questions.

But still, resonating deeply, we wonder, is he a good Father?

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Have you ever asked for bread and felt like you were given a stone? Or maybe you asked for a fish and were pretty sure he delivered a snake?

You ever wanted to take your receipt to the Manager and demand he get your order right, at least this one time?!

Yeah, me too.

What then?

Maybe Jesus says it’s bread, maybe he says it’s nourishing and important, but maybe it looks an awful lot like a rock. Do we throw it back in his face, screaming?

We signed up for food, right? For bread and fish and nourishment. We demand, Feed Me!

But the gifts don’t come like we thought they would. The rewards of obedience seem delayed or even replaced with cheaper trinkets. We feel lied to.

What then? Do we chuck it all, sinking into depression or rising into anger? Perhaps both?

Or do we pause and listen for his voice? His voice that says,

Trust me. Look at the cross, look at the empty grave, and trust me. The cross is the proof. I chose it. For the Father’s glory and your salvation. Because I do indeed give good gifts. Namely, myself.

Can we stop and remember these truths? For we serve a good Father who says,

I don’t give rocks and I don’t give snakes.

In fact, I roll away rocks and I crush snakes.

Give me time. Perhaps give me eternity, and I will show you the extent of my love for you.

 My child. My little one. Be still.

 Rest. 

 I am here, and I give good gifts. 

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Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

Matthew 7:7-11

Go to the small places

There are three places that make me feel very small.

  1. Standing at the edge of the sea, watching the never-ending motion as water is pulled by the unseen and unrelenting forces of gravity and wind and planetary motion.
  2. Standing at the foot of a mountain, pondering the historical shifting and breaking that pushed stone into sky
  3. And sitting with a client during pastoral counseling, listening as they delve into the deepest parts, the pains and hurts that few see.

In the small places, I feel inferior and inadequate, unable to change much or make an impact. Do you have those places? Truth be told, those feelings of “smallness” are why I love the sea and mountains; that’s why I seek them out. But I don’t typically welcome those feelings on the job, with clients. Maybe I should.

Maybe we all need to go to the small places. On purpose.

Sometimes, we do long for the small places. For a reminder about our place in things. For context. But sometimes the small places break in upon us uninvited; a diagnosis, an accident, a betrayal. A terror attack.

The small places cause us to remember reality, whether we like it or not. They are sobering splashes of cold water. When we overdose on our own importance or the magnitude of evil in the world, the small places are the antidote. Narcan for the soul. Or at least, they can be.

Lately, God has been asking me to “go to the small places.” And to remember who he is. It’s fairly easy to do that by sea and stone, but I have to work at remembering him in the other places.

But I will go to the small places. I will embrace my smallness and remember the One who makes mountains skip like a calf. The one whose voice is powerful and majestic, splintering cedars and twisting oaks. The one whose voice thunders over the very depths of the sea. (Psalm 29)

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I will go to the small places.
I will stand and be small and point upwards.
I will go to the places where my ego and abilities are rightly overwhelmed.
I will go where my ambition slams up against the reality of my inadequacies.

For it is there that I remember: I am not God.

And in the small places, I will shout the only thing that makes sense. GLORY! Whether by the edge of seas or mountains, or in the presence of the wounded, I will remember Him.

I will remember my place in the scheme of things, refusing to bow to the news or nature or narcissism.

I will remember my place before the throne of God, and I will join the ongoing chorus: “In his temple everyone shouts, ‘Glory!’” (Psalms 29:9)

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What is your small place? Where do you feel inadequate and overwhelmed?

  • Language school?
  • Your ministry job?
  • Reading international news?
  • In your role as a parent?

Is God asking you to go to the small places? To remember to say the only thing we can say in such places? Glory!

What would change if, in those very places, we looked up?

Now, sometimes we say Glory and we’re all jumpy thumpy happy clappy. Other times not so much. Sometimes we pause and remember and say Glory through tears and valleys. Sometimes we say Glory through protest, arguing with God.

We must remember our calling. Our invitation, really.

For we have been invited to enjoy God forever and ever. We have been invited to look at the world differently. Yes there’s pain, and yes there’s political turmoil, and yes there’s suffering on a massive scale. That is all true.

And there is God.

And yes, he has called us to respond to the pain around us with love and compassion, and with cries of justice for the poor and oppressed.

But in order to do it, in order to maintain a Christlike posture towards the people around us, we must visit the small places. And there, aware of our size and his, we must say, over and over and over again:

Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, so it is now and so it shall ever be, world without end.
Alleluia. Amen.

Dealing with Conflict on the Field. Or not.

Let’s talk about conflict, ‘cause that’s fun. I mean, hypothetically, at some point in the (distant) future, you may or may not experience an uncomfortable disagreement with someone. Maybe.

In this imagined scenario, the ensuing “discussion” could arise between you and your spouse or kids or co-workers, or maybe even — like this would ever happen — yourself.

So, when conflict comes, what will you do? Will you run away scared? Hunker down? Gear up? Lock and load?

Whether your natural tendency is to ostrich or explode, these two principles must be remembered:

Principle #1 – Conflict always has Context

Principle #2 – Conflict always precedes Closeness

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How many of you have ever experienced conflict? Go ahead, raise your hands. Do you see all those hands raised? Yeah, me neither, but I’m guessing that all over the world people on their phones or laptops are raising hands. It’s a pretty shared thing, this interpersonal junk. (You can put your hands down now, we don’t want people thinking you’re a weirdo. Oh wait, you’re a missionary. Nevermind.)

Conflict is not something “out there” that other people deal with. This is us. This is our story.

 

Oh, Conflict!
I used to work in an Emergency Room, so I’ve had people try to cut me, spit on me, and in other ways break me. I’ve helped security guards and police officers wrestle dangerous patients to the ground. By the way, did you know they make “spit hoods”? It’s a mesh net that covers a patient’s head to keep the spit from getting from their mouth onto your face. Pretty cool, eh?

I’ve also worked in churches with church people.

I served as a youth pastor, working with peoples’ kids. Sometimes there was too much pizza, other times, not enough. Sometimes parents thought we weren’t doing enough cool stuff, while other parents thought we were doing too much cool stuff.

I served as a worship pastor. Corporate worship, now there’s an area where everyone has ideas and they’re not afraid to share them. It was an a cappella church (i.e., no instruments), and you would think that might reduce disagreements. NOT SO.

I served as a camp director. I listened to staff complaints, teen complaints, parent complaints, caretaker complaints. Once, a camp manager was angry with me because I wouldn’t tell the teenagers to STOP SPLASHING IN THE POOL. Apparently, by playing in the pool, too much water was splashing out of the pool. Duly noted. And ignored.

We’ve all experienced conflict, and we’ll all experience conflict again. So here’s the first thing we must remember.

 

Principle #1 – Conflict always has Context
Conflict is very rarely just about the facts, and it never happens in a vacuum. All parties bring their unique historical issues to the table even if they’re not aware of it. That’s what makes this all so interesting.

Much of conflict’s context exists just under the surface:

– Fears (of losing love, or support, or respect, or safety)
– Past experiences with conflict (positive or negative)
– Goals that might be thwarted
– The family’s approach to conflict
– The culture’s general approach to conflict

If we don’t want to fly blind (or be blindsided), we must seek to understand the context. In addition to considering underlying fears and goals (yours and theirs), ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the typical approach to conflict in my passport culture?
  2. Growing up, how did my family handle conflict?
  3. Do I pretty much handle conflict the same as #1 and #2 or have I changed?
  4. What words come to mind when I hear the word “Conflict”?

Consider talking through this list at your next team meeting.

Now, when we’re looking at the cultural component, it’s important to remember that the Gospel is counter-cultural in every culture. There are parts of your culture that are really bad and unhealthy and need to change, just like mine! And there are parts that are great and wonderful, just like mine!

I was speaking at a regional missions conference last month and I asked the participants to tell me what words came to mind when I said “Conflict.” Many of the attendees said things like, Scary, Shame, Anger, Rage, Dangerous, Yelling, and a whole slew of negative words. One lady stood up and said, “Opportunity!”

She was from Switzerland.

Our background and culture will greatly influence how we deal with conflict, for good or bad. Do we run away and hide or prepare to fight? Do we get louder or quieter? Do we think conflict is mainly about peace or justice?

Painful experiences from our past also provide context for our current conflict. If a current situation triggers painful memories or associations from times past, that matters. It’s possible the current situation is solely because someone’s a jerk, but most likely, there’s also underlying pain and fear that is historical. It’s worth your time to see it and address it.

 

Principle # 2 – Conflict always precedes Closeness
Many people treat conflict as if it’s radioactive. They avoid it at all costs and only touch it with protective suits, Geiger counters drawn.

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That makes sense if you see conflict as a direct threat to closeness, or intimacy. However, I believe that conflict is necessary for intimacy. Put another way, intimacy requires a tremendous level of honesty, and you cannot be honest with another human being for very long without conflict.

Conflict does not necessarily lead to intimacy, but you cannot have intimacy without honesty. And you cannot have honesty for very long without conflict.

 

Conflict and Christ – Changing the Paradigm
Conflict is scary. It’s also normal, and it can be healthy and actually really good. Just ask Jesus.

There’s the famous “Get behind me, Satan!” passage. And the incident with the tables. There’s the conversation with Peter about feeding sheep that left Peter “feeling hurt.” There’s the whole “whitewashed tombs” fiasco. And the time Jesus just ignored the Pharisees.

Jesus once abandoned a crowd that had plans he didn’t like. Another time he allowed the crowds to worship him, which was something the ruling elite didn’t like. Jesus surprised Pilate with his silence. And he taught the disciples to ignore some of the most respected people.

At least once, Jesus didn’t like his Father’s plans and told him so.

Can you think of some more examples?

 

The Way of Jesus
He didn’t “do conflict” the same way every time. He occasionally used conflict as a doorway to deeper intimacy and commitment. Sometimes he was very passionate and active, while other times he ran away or was silent. He stated his opinion clearly, but remained aware of authority lines and obeyed. He was always aware of the context.

How does Jesus’ approach differ from yours? Do you need to more actively engage in necessary conflict, or do you need to pursue holiness for a bit and shut up? Jesus’ approach varied. Does yours?

 

Conflict and the Love of God
Now we come to it. The best advice I can give you for dealing with conflict: Become more and more aware of the magnificent love of God.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:16-19

You want to get better at dealing with conflict? Wrap your heart around the Love of God. Dive deep into the love of the Father. Ponder the intensity with which the Father loves the Son, and see how the Son loves the Father.

Consider the mystery that the eternal Creator loves humans, and meditate on the miracle of the incarnation. Invite the Holy Spirit to show you what He thinks of your teammate. Or spouse or child.

 

Remember How Loved You Are
Do you really believe that your WORK is not what makes God love you? Do you believe that even if you never accomplished anything else, God wouldn’t love you less?

He loves you just as much now as he did before you were a missionary. You cannot earn more of God’s heart. It is not divisible. It is turned towards you, just as it has been towards the dawn of Creation.

The father did not kick the prodigal son out. The son left, and the father let him. BUT, as soon as that son came back within sight, THE FATHER RAN.

And he still runs. For you. For your heart.

And whether you return to him from a life of workaholism or whores, ministry or mud, when you return to Him, HE STILL RUNS.

Because the Father loves you. And he entered into great conflict to make a way for you to come back. Don’t ever forget that.

 

To Recap:
The next time you meet Conflict, remember that it’s got Context.
Remember that it precedes Closeness.
And remember the Crazy love of God.

May God richly bless you all,
Jonathan T.

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More on conflict:
Necessary Endings, by Dr. Henry Cloud
Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzer
Ask a counselor: What about conflict?, by Kay Bruner
Run Away! Run Away! (And Other Conflict Styles), by Elizabeth Trotter

Misogyny in Missions

Ladies Who Lunch – With Men

That’s the name of an article I shared on Facebook recently, not knowing it would unleash a torrent of opinion. How should men and women interact? If they work together, what sort of rules should we put around their interaction? How do we safeguard marriages while treating women with respect?

Do our rules surrounding male-female interaction demean women?

It was an interesting discussion, and one that I think our community needs to have.

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Women as Traps
Are men and women who aren’t married to each other allowed to meet together? Ride in cars together? Be in the office alone together? If we allow those types of things, is an affair inevitable?

The author of “Ladies Who Lunch” references The Billy Graham Rule. She says, The ‘rule’ goes something like this: to avoid temptation, or the appearance thereof, it has been said that Billy Graham never meets with a woman alone. Graham has done his best to avoid solo encounters with females—whether over lunch, prayer, dinner, a meeting, or any other occasion.”

Many churches and missions agencies have similar rules and policies, and I believe they’ve typically been enacted with good intentions and without malevolence. However, I believe there are problems with strict enforcement, least of which is that it misses the heart of the matter entirely, treating women as traps.

These types of rules, broadly applied, end up sexualizing every woman I meet, dehumanizing her and turning her into an existential threat to my marriage. An illicit liaison waiting to happen. That, to me, is simply untenable.

Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, Josh Duggar, all had VERY STRICT rules surrounding their interactions with women. Or at least that’s what it looked like.

The thing is, moral purity cannot be created through rules. And frankly, rules provide much less protection than we think while objectifying women more than we think.

These rules have been made by men for men. And typically, the conversations are filled with male voices. I’d love to hear from the women. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. 

 

Culturally Sensitive?
Perhaps some of these policies are the result of cultural sensitivity. Great. There’s certainly a place for that.
Perhaps the driving force is our fear of false accusations. OK, we can talk about that.
Or perhaps the rules exist because deep down, to the core, we believe that women are scary.

Well, I’m not really ok with that.

Protecting marriages is a great thing. Recognizing the great risk of moral failure is wise. But when that slips into discouraging men from having normal and healthy friendships with women, we’re in dangerous territory, and we end up robbing our communities of something both the men and the women need; healthy relationships with one another!

The difference is subtle, but just because something is hard to see doesn’t mean it’s not there.

 

Objectification Much?
Do our rules actually end up objectifying women? Often, I think the answer is YES.

Now, if you’re a guy and you don’t like what I’m saying, can I ask you a question? Do you watch porn? Do you watch movies or shows that objectify women?

Using women in private and then piously protecting yourself from them in public seems a bit disingenuous. Don’t punish women in public for your sin in private. Deal with your own stuff.

My wife experienced this in a local church before we met. Strict rules, with high levels of outward purity. And a respected leader who abused girls. He’s still a leader.

I experienced it too. Charismatic leader, courtship culture, very restrictive purity rules, and a leader who’s now been accused of sexually molesting scores of young women. He’s still a leader.

I’m NOT saying that every guy that disagrees with me on this has a porn problem or is an abuser. It’s just that I’ve come across too many men with “high standards” in public who hurt women in private. I’m not ok with that, and I’m pretty sure Jesus isn’t either.

 

Should we have rules?
Yeah! In Proverbs 5, the young man is warned about the immoral woman. [And I will certainly teach my daughters to take heed and avoid the immoral man!] This is the woman whose lips are “as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil.” This is the woman who “cares nothing about the path to life.”

He is warned: “Stay away from her! Don’t go near the door of her house.”

The caution is to stay away from her door, not all doors. He’s not told to avoid walking by the houses of all women all the time. Just her house. She is dangerous. She’s looking for an affair and she cares nothing about the path to life.

This does not mean that all women are dangerous to him. Or me.

We shouldn’t check our brains at the door and avoid all women. We also shouldn’t check our brains at the door and embrace all women.

 

False Accusations
Strict rules on male-female interaction probably do provide some protection against false accusations, and there’s some value to that. Even so, we seem to be way more concerned with false accusations than Jesus ever was. He let women do stuff to him that REALLY caused a stir and ignited the burning glares of the religious elite.

He didn’t stop her and say “This looks bad. The important men are going to judge me.” No, he saw HER instead of the others. He saw what SHE needed instead of what he needed.

She needed love more than he needed respect.

There are lessons here for us.

 

Our Story
Early on in our marriage, I had to come to terms with the fact that my wife was in a male-dominated university studying engineering with a bunch of guys. She had male lab partners, she studied late on projects with guys; frankly, she was with guys alone a whole lot. I think my thoughts on this are greatly flavored by that experience.

And then, of course, I started studying nursing, which meant I was in a female-dominated world, with female lab partners, studying late on projects, etc. And then I worked as a nurse with a bunch of ladies.

And then, as now, we talked about it. There were no secrets, but there was trust. And it was totally cool.

Nowadays, I do a lot of member care and pastoral counseling, and since women seek out pastoral care too, I often meet with women.

If I’m going to have a meeting with a woman, Elizabeth knows about it. While protecting client confidentiality, I still tell Elizabeth when I’m meeting and where I’m meeting. There’s still trust.

 

Honesty as Protection
If I begin to feel any attraction, even slightly, for another woman, I tell Elizabeth. I name it and say it and steal temptation’s power. The light defuses the darkness.

When I do this, I’m not telling my wife that I’ve fallen in love with another woman; I’m telling her that I don’t want to. I’m acknowledging that there’s some attraction there, but I’m affirming our relationship, and I’m recognizing that in the telling, the temptation’s power is stripped and the threat greatly reduced.

Honesty. Trust.

We had conversations like this when I worked in a local church in America, when I was in nursing school, when I worked at a hospital, and now, when I’m working as a pastoral counselor.

Not talking about it doesn’t make it not exist. It just makes it a secret.

Women are not scary. Secrets are.

Talking about it brings it out into the open, and it also shows Elizabeth that I’m turning my heart towards her. And if I’m constantly turning my heart towards my wife, it’ll be much less likely to turn towards another woman. It’s locked on Elizabeth.

 

Conclusion
Rules are easy to make.

Rules make us feel safe.

Rules are simple to follow.

And rules are terrible at creating emotionally healthy, intimately connected human beings.

What if we spent more time growing intimacy on the inside of our marriages and less time trying to kill the threats on the outside?

What if we worked to develop trust and honesty within more than we fretted about the dangers without?

Sure, it might be scary, and it might be complicated.

But I think it’d also be really, really good.

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Questions
We come from a great variety of cultures and experiences, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A friend of mine commented on my original Facebook post that perhaps this is an American thing. What do you think? Are these types of rules something that Americans are hung up on?

How have you been impacted by these types of rules?

How do we balance the desire to guard against false accusations with the mandate to love people well?

How do we ensure that women on the field (married or single) feel like equal players, with equal access to relationships and opportunities?

 

Further Reading:
Women are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men)

What is a Woman Worth?

A Letter to Singles

I asked a friend of mine to preview an early draft of this article. Her responses were so insightful and her perspective so unique that I asked her if I could publish them. In Misogyny in Missions {part 2}, Tanya Crossman gives us a whole lot to chew on.

Facebook lies and other truths

Have you ever created a fake boyfriend? Yeah, me neither.

One woman did, though, and while she’s no Chewbacca Lady, I still think she’s pretty awesome. You can read Ms. Smothers’ story here. Apparently, It only took one week and five easily stageable posts for Smothers to convince her followers that she had found love.”

Facebook, er, Instagram, lies. [And for the purists, Facebook owns Instagram, so the title of this post still fits.]

Ms. Smothers succeeded in convincing her followers that something amazing had happened: she had found love!

But it was all a ruse.

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I’m really glad you’ve never created a fake significant other, but have you ever created a fake missions point? You know, tweaked a ministry photo of someone else’s ministry and gently hinted that it was yours? Piggybacked on someone else’s success without explicitly giving credit?

Ever not posted your vacation pictures because they look a bit too exotic for the home team?

Ever tweaked your ministry numbers just slightly because you know the people counting?

Using social media to deceive is pretty easy, especially when everything gets washed through thousands of miles of sub-oceanic internet cables. Using social media to salve our souls (or attempt to) is also pretty simple: have you ever shared something because you were lonely and you needed some smiley faces and thumbs up and likey hearts? I have.

The accumulated consequences of these behaviors are enormous, both to us individually and to the future of cross-cultural missions. How we use social media really, really matters.

We all know that our online lives differ significantly from our senders’. Our supporters and friends probably won’t lose money by showing a picture of a vacation. We might. On the other hand, our friends won’t make money by showing a picture of a destitute child or a baptism. We might.

And that’s disgusting and gross.
It’s also true.

Our use of social media, like all communication, can construct or destruct. Our words can be sweetly hospitable or bitterly mean.

I want to figure out how to bless the socks off of people with my online presence. I want people to meet Jesus and his power when they browse my Instagram feed or Facebook page. I want them to leave in awe of a God who takes little people, connects them to his heart, and then changes the world.

To do that, I have to own my role as a curator/creator. And so do you.

 

Missionaries as Curators
Facebook and other social media allow us to show a curated life, and that’s not a bad thing. As it turns out, most of us actually like curated things, like National Geographic and the BBC. “To curate” simply means to select, organize, and present, typically using professional or expert knowledge.” We really should do that.

Curating is communicating; it’s you and me choosing what to communicate to the world outside of our heads.

The alternative of “just being real and showing everything” is a non-option. It’s not that people don’t care about our ENTIRE lives, it’s that people aren’t God. Simply put, no one has that kind of capacity. So, again, we must curate, select, and present.

Now, the key is to remember that the thing is curated.

The one photo in a National Geographic stands in the place of thousands that didn’t make it. The story on the front page of the Huffington Post hides hundreds of others.

What we share is what people see. How we spin stuff is typically how it stays spun.

You see, the power to curate is the power to blind.
It’s also the power to create.
To raise awareness, instill courage, raise up prayers.
To disciple, challenge, and bless the world.

 

The Power We Wield
How we talk about missions impacts the next generation of cross-cultural missionaries. It impacts their expectations and their hopes, and perhaps whether or not they even show up.

Those arriving on the field in 10 or 20 or 2 years won’t learn about cross-cultural missions from a book. They’ll learn from Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat (Lord, have mercy!) and whatever’s next. Will they think it’s all safaris and hugging kids with darker skin? Will they think it’s all boat rides and baptisms, with a swig of bubble tea to end the day?

Will they think it’s all loss and dirt and manual labor? All grief and regret, and after a certain number of years, you just come home weird?

How we talk about missions impacts how our senders see missions. Is missions something we do (as in “we, the elite missionary force”) or is it something WE do (as in, “we the global church reaching the people of the globe”)?

How we talk about missions impacts how our senders see the next missionaries. Do missionaries rest? If we never let our supporters see us resting and having fun, they will go on thinking that the next missionary they send can go 20 years without a vacation. That is not a gift I want to leave for the next missionary!

We influence these discussions. A lot.

 

Going Deeper – The Curator’s Id
Social media can be a dangerous place. We take our fleshy souls and string them up on an http:// and hope for the best. Maybe we hope for love and acceptance. Or affirmation.

Or maybe we’re afraid that if we don’t post, we’ll be forgotten, abandoned, and ignored. The fear is real.

Because the curator’s task – our task – is so crucial, we must seek to understand what lies underneath our social media selves.

Fear: Am I afraid of losing support. Am I deeply afraid of being labeled as lazy, or ineffective, or unworthy? Am I afraid that people will withdraw their love? Or money? Fear is such a terrible motivation for everything (except maybe teeth-brushing). If what you post/don’t post on social media is driven by fear, name it, call it out, and talk with God and your close friends about what to do with it. And maybe read some Brené Brown.

Attention: I need to be awesome. I need people to think I’m doing amazing things and visiting amazing places because, you guessed it, I’m amazing. You wouldn’t really say that, but does your Instagram account? I’m 100% sure the Pharisees would have been on social media, and they would have looked good – like, perfect, white-washed good. They had their street corners of boasting/prayer. Is social media yours?

Affirmation: Am I ok? Am I doing enough? Am I enough? Will my kids be ok? Have I ruined my family? Are you sharing your life in order to be affirmed by your friends and senders? Hopefully, there are people IRL (in real life) who do affirm God’s work in you. People who know you deeply and love you unconditionally. Write their names on a list. Then talk with them. Regularly.

 

Facebook, Fracking, and Viral Posts
Social media is like fracking. We inject tons and tons into this thing in hopes that we’ll get something usable bubbling to the surface. And we do. But then we come to find out that we’ve just destabilized a whole region and earthquakes are now common in Oklahoma!

Facebook “like” buttons and happy emojis offer illusions of care and affirmation; they’re nice, but they cannot fill the void. They are empty carcasses, incapable of answering the deeper longings.

It took one viral blog post to sink this home for me. It felt really great, sure, and I got a lot of attention. But pretty quickly, “real people world” crashed my internet party with the messiness of kids and ministry and marriage. And you know what I found? Real joy, lasting joy, is found in real places with real people. Not online.

It’s a ruse. A golden pot at the end of a rainbow. On the moon.

 

A Word on Vulnerability
Curating your story openly and with vulnerability does not mean you share everything. Transparency doesn’t mean everyone sees everything. Jesus himself didn’t let it all hang out for everyone. He had layers of subscribers and followers and disciples and friends. And then he had John.

Vulnerability gets hijacked when we use it to meet our own needs, and that’s not healthy for us or anyone else. Brené Brown, renowned vulnerability and shame researcher, goes so far as to state in her book, Daring Greatly, “Using vulnerability is not the same thing as being vulnerable; it’s the opposite – it’s armor.”

Are you using your online vulnerability in an attempt to get your own needs met? Is it your armor? One easy way to find out is to quit the internet. Go dark for two weeks and see what it feels like? If you feel like the wind got knocked out of your sails, like you lost all your friends, like a failure, you might need to recalibrate.

I tried this last January, and I was really nervous. I wondered if I’d die. I didn’t. In fact, I’m planning to do it again because it was entirely refreshing. It reminded me of the outernet, which is actually way bigger and more entertaining anyways.

 

Logging Off
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, curate an online life, but live a real one. Connect with your neighbors and your teammates and your friends and let them see you. Not the Facebook you, not the Insta-filtered you. You.

Yeah, Facebook lies. So find some friends who won’t. Friends In.Real.Life. Of course, “In Real Life” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re physically present; these could be people with whom you spend time connecting, personally – and privately – via e-mail or private message or Skype. We all need people who are close enough and trustworthy enough to hold our stories.

The world doesn’t need any more fake boyfriends. Or fake missionaries. Let’s learn how to curate our stories well, and with integrity. Perhaps we could start by praying this prayer…

Serenity Prayer for Social Media.1

 

Peace,
Jonathan T.

 

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Articles someone somewhere might find helpful
Check out How to Communicate so People will Care for some simple guidelines to more engaging communications.

Read Elizabeth’s thoughts on asking supporters for prayer When the lights go out.

 

Chewbacca Lady
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you could just go on thinking I’m crazy (which would go on being accurate), or you could just go ahead and do something 150,000,000 other people on the planet have done and watch this video. You’re welcome.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife

Marriage can really be a drain on missions.

Marriage on the field can be a constant source of distraction, discouragement, and pain.

But I hope it’s not.

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I’ve written before about marriage and its purpose, but today I’d like to take a step back and speak directly to husbands: my brothers.

This advice is carefully given, and with no slight hesitation. After all, if you want people to argue with you (and I don’t particularly enjoy it), then write about marriage. Even so, I will write. Because it matters. And because I hope the men who marry my sisters will do these things. I hope the men who pursue my daughters (in the very far distant future) will do these things. I hope my sons will do these things. Because marriage is important. It’s also really complicated.

Marriage is a complex thing (2 into 1) entered into by complex people (humans) who have to do complex stuff (live).

And you all know this already, but missions is a hard gig for marriages. You’ve got sky-high stress levels, extreme temperatures, lots of broken things, financial tightness, the fishbowl of fundraising, and a rewarding but very hard job. Sounds like fun, right? Well, if you add all of that to an unhappy marriage, I can tell you the one thing you certainly won’t be having is fun.

So, onward! What are three things you can do to care for the heart of your wife? And for the record, I’m trying all these too, man, and learning as I go.

 

1. See Her
Your wife needs you to really see her. She’s not touched up and airbrushed and two-dimensional. She’s not a product of Photoshop. She’s real, with body and mind and soul. And she needs you to see and value all of her.

She’s the one who shares your memories, your children, your bed. She’s also the one who shares your future. You chose her. So brother, keep choosing her. She is, after all, a daughter of the King.

Read this article (and the comments) and hear the cry of women who long to be seen. [Although it was written to singles, many of the points, as well as the comments, speak to this issue directly.]

Now, here’s the deal: it’s very hard to turn towards your wife and really see her when your face is glued to the porn screen. Watch two-dimensional fakeness, body parts flying for your pleasure, and try to see your wife as anything more than disconnected pieces. It’ll be really hard, bro.

Porn kills love.

And watching porn keeps you from seeing your wife.

Porn is really expensive. Even the free stuff. Want a reminder of the cost? Check out Matthew 14 or Mark 6. The story of Herodias’s daughter dancing for Herod reminds me of the old anti-drug campaign in the States: This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs [porn]. Herod was willing to give away half his kingdom (or behead a prophet that he didn’t actually want dead] because he thought a teen girl was hot. Yikes.

Turn to God, man. Repent. Get some strong accountability. Yeah, it’s scary, and costly, but the price you’re paying is way higher, and climbing.

Resources:
– Want to see what a porn addicted missionary looks like?
– And here’s a list of resources from A Life Overseas writer, Kay Bruner.

 

2. Listen to Her
Listening is an extremely validating gesture. It feels good to be listened to. It’s like someone cares. So yeah, you want to care for the heart of your wife? Listen to her. Want to see how you’re doing? Complete this short quiz and then have your wife do it too. Then compare scores.

If your scores are vastly different, that’s probably worth noting and may indicate that one or both of you aren’t really listening (or communicating) very well.

Most people never feel listened to. Our wives shouldn’t be most people.

Need help? Check out this book by John Gottman. He’s got decades of experience helping couples listen (and hear!) each other. By the way, his research indicates that healthy couples devote at least five hours per week to specific, focused, I’m-paying-attention-to-you time. If you’re too busy for five hours per week, you’re too busy. Find some margin.

Not interested in a book? Check out this short article with some basic (but important!) info on listening.

Not interested in research? That’s cool. Check out 1 Corinthians 13 and ask how a patient, kind, non-boasting, humble, non-demanding, non-irritable, non-record keeping husband would listen to his wife. Then listen to your wife like that.

 

3. Touch Her
Not like that, dude. Chill.

This one’s last, but not because I want you to see her and listen to her so you can sleep with her. That’s just crude.

No, that’s not the kind of touch I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind of touch that tells her you’re there for her. I’m talking about comforting touch. Intimate touch.

I’m talking about touching her with your heart.

I’m talking about holding hands and long hugs. I’m talking about a soft kiss that has nothing to do with a proposition.

I’m talking about loving her with your arms. I’m talking about showing affection in a culturally appropriate way. Often.

Ladies, if you’re reading this (and I hope you are), please help us out. We’re not really very good at reading minds. Tell us what kind of touch you want and don’t want. And ladies, can I just say one more thing, it’s OK to want non-sexual touch and ask for it, just like it’s OK to want sexual touch and ask for it.

 

Conclusion
These are generalities, I know, so I won’t feel too bad if your wife reads this and says, “That’s not me at all!” Cool beans. Just makes sure you ask her what is her? What is it that will help her feel loved and cared for?

For our 5th wedding anniversary, I bought Elizabeth a large, framed periodic table of the elements. My dad warned me that might not be such a good idea. He was so wrong. I knew my wife, and although most folks wouldn’t find that sort of gift endearing, it was a slam dunk.

If you really took the time to see your wife, to listen to her, to touch her, would she feel cared for? Loved? Probably.

If not, then ask her what would help her feel cared for and loved. Easy Peasy.

You might be thinking, “OK, remind me again why this is on a missions site?”

Well, because you take yourself (and your marriage) with you.

And because it matters.

And because we’re most likely working with people, and people often get married, even in other countries.

And because marriage is The Beautiful Hard.

Oh yeah, and because I really, really like seeing “husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church.”

May God help us all to love our wives like that!

— Jonathan T.

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Ladies, I know that many of you feel loved and cared for already. That’s wonderful! However, as a pastor and lay counselor, I also know that many of you don’t. You feel widowed by Missions, unheard, unloved, and alone. That really breaks my heart. If that’s the case, perhaps this article could spark a conversation between you and your husband. If he doesn’t want to budge, or if he thinks everything is just fine, please reach out to a trusted pastor or counselor or member care person. You’re not alone, or at least you don’t have to be.

The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement {part 2}

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Thanks for joining us for Part 2! If you missed yesterday’s post, you can read it here.

Here are some resources for filling in the gaping whole. This is pretty much the opposite of an exhaustive list, so please feel free to share any books, music, videos, etc. that have helped you dive into the Psalms, either personally, organizationally, or congregationally.

Just put the titles or links in the comment section below. Also, if you have developed any resources for using the Psalms in your context, please feel free to share them with the community here. Thanks so much!

 

A note for those working in a Muslim context
I serve in a Buddhist/animist context, which maybe explains why I have not studied Islam to any depth. Therefore, please consider this a request for info and certainly not didactic.

Recently, a friend serving in a Muslim context told me, “My Muslim friends are VERY resistant to studying Jesus or the New Testament in general; but the Psalms are much less threatening.”  He went on to explain that in his context, the word used in the Bible for the Psalms is the word for poetry, which his friends absolutely love. He went on to say that many of his friends had been through tremendous suffering and things they considered extremely shameful. We discussed the possibility of beginning with Poetry. Specifically, the Poetry that discusses pain and shame and points to Jesus. Martin Luther referred to the Psalms as “the little Bible,” so maybe it would be a good place to start!

Would something like that work in your context? Perhaps you’re doing this already. In any case, I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences!

Now, on to some quotes!

 

The Case for the Psalms: Why They are Essential, N.T. Wright

“The celebration is wild and uninhibited; the misery is deep and horrible. One moment we are chanting, perhaps clapping our hands in time, even stamping our feet. . . . The next moment we have tears running down our cheeks, and we want the earth to open and swallow us.”

“The Psalms not only insist that we are called to live at the intersection of God’s space and our space, of heaven and earth, to be (in other words) Temple people. They call us to live at the intersection of sacred space, the Temple and the holy land that surrounds it, and the rest of human space, the world where idolatry and injustice still wreak their misery.”

“The Psalms are among the oldest poems in the world, and they still rank with any poetry in any culture, ancient or modern, from anywhere in the world. They are full of power and passion, horrendous misery and unrestrained jubilation, tender sensitivity and powerful hope. Anyone at all whose heart is open to new dimensions of human experience, anyone who loves good writing, anyone who wants a window into the bright lights and dark corners of the human soul – anyone open to the beautiful expression of a larger vision of reality should react to these poems like someone who hasn’t had a good meal for a week or two. It’s all here.”

“The Psalms are the steady, sustained subcurrent of healthy Christian living.”

“Scripture is not simply a reference book to which we turn to look up correct answers – though it’s full of those when we need them. Scripture is, at its heart, the great story that we sing in order not just to learn it with our heads but to become part of it through and through, the story that in turn becomes part of us.”

“If the Psalms provide a sense of sacred space, that space is where celebration and sorrow are held together within the powerful love and presence of the one God.” 

 

The Psalms: the Prayer Book of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church.”

 “The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity.”

 “That can be very painful, to want to speak with God and not to be able to.” [Bonhoeffer saw this moment as the best time to pray the Psalms.]

“There is in the Psalms no quick and easy resignation to suffering. There is always struggle, anxiety, doubt. God’s righteousness which allows the pious to be met by misfortune but the godless to escape free, even God’s good and gracious will, is undermined. His behavior is too difficult to grasp. But even in the deepest hopelessness God alone remains the one addressed. . . . He sets out to do battle against God for God.”

“If I am guilty, why does God not forgive me? If I am not guilty, why does he not bring my misery to an end and thus demonstrate my innocence to my enemies? There are no theoretical answers in the Psalms to all these questions. As there are none in the New Testament. The only real answer is Jesus Christ.”

 

Billy Graham

“I used to read five psalms every day – that teaches me how to get along with God. Then I read a chapter of Proverbs every day and that teaches me how to get along with my fellow man.” 

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Martin Luther

The Psalter promises Christ’s death and resurrection so clearly – and pictures his kingdom and the condition and nature of all Christendom – that it might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible.”

 

Further Resources

The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, Tim Keller

Songs from the Heart: Emotions in the Psalms, a fantastic article by Richard Vincent

Here’s one way to combine the Psalms with Discovery Bible Studies and inner healing ministries. You can read more on this method here.

The Psalms: A Reentry Handbook, by Robynn Bliss

A devotional journey through Psalm 13, developed for a two-hour quiet retreat for overseas workers in Cambodia: Finding a song in Psalm 13

A wonderful song (and story) from Psalm 84

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (online edition)

Out of the Pit and Back Again, (a reflection on Psalm 40), by Jennifer May

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Please feel free to share more resources below. Thanks!

The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement {part 1}

I think something’s missing.

It’s something that Jesus loved (and studied) a whole lot.

It’s missing because it doesn’t really fit into our Discovery Bible story sets. It doesn’t seem to add value to our NGOs or leadership trainings. It doesn’t offer an immediate return on investment or accelerate the planting and growing of churches.

It’s the Psalms. We’re missing the Psalms, and it’s hurting us.

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I grew up reading the Psalms. Our family did the “read a Psalm and then add 30 until you can’t go any further” thing. For example, on the 12th of the month we’d read Psalm 12 and Psalm 42 and Psalm 72 and so on. It was boring and predictable, but also transformational.

I began re-reading the Psalms in earnest about a year ago. I bought a commentary. I started reading books and articles. I began teaching them, singing them, and preaching them. And I started noticing their conspicuous absence.

And I’ve come to believe that my country of origin (America) and my country of destination (Cambodia) desperately need the depth and breadth of the Psalms. We need more Psalms in our families and our agencies. We need more Psalms in our church plants and Bible schools. We need to steep our discipleship strategies in the Psalms. (Many of our more liturgical siblings never really stopped reading the Psalms, and for this portion of their orthopraxy, I’m very grateful.)

But we don’t spend much time in the Psalms. We really don’t. The prayer book of the Bible, the book most oft-quoted by Jesus himself, gets relegated to the background with an occasional nod to the pastoral Psalm 23 and a sideways glance at the beautiful Psalm 139. But that’s not enough.

Full immersion is needed.

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Making the Case for the Psalms
We need the Psalms; not because the Psalms will teach us how to be super Christians, but because the Psalms will teach us how to be human Christians. I know that sounds silly, but there are a lot of dissociated folks who are trying to follow the Son of Man divorced from their own earthy humanity.

The Psalms teach us what it means to live and breathe and feel and follow. Here. Now. What does it look like to follow Jesus and still FEEL all this stuff? Life’s a freaking roller coaster. Just like the Psalms.

Author N.T. Wright describes the Psalter Coaster like this:

The celebration is wild and uninhibited; the misery is deep and horrible. One moment we are chanting, perhaps clapping our hands in time, even stamping our feet. … The next moment we have tears running down our cheeks, and we want the earth to open and swallow us.

Sounds a bit like life. Basically, the Psalms identify (and make allowance for) our humanity. In fact, the Psalms allow more raw humanity than many churches. Again, Wright illuminates:

The Psalms not only insist that we are called to live at the intersection of God’s space and our space, of heaven and earth, to be (in other words) Temple people. They call us to live at the intersection of sacred space, the Temple and the holy land that surrounds it, and the rest of human space, the world where idolatry and injustice still wreak their misery.

How do we live at that intersection, connecting worlds, without being ripped apart? The Psalms will show us.

 

The Full Spectrum of Emotions
The Psalms speak to core human needs and feelings without resorting to cliché. There are more than enough platitudes floating around already; we need the Psalms to teach us how to care about people without adding to the detritus.

What emotions is a believer allowed to have? What feelings are against the rules? The Psalms show us, and the answer is shocking: they’re pretty much all allowed. That’s not to say that all actions are allowed, but pretty much all the feelings are. In fact, the Psalms teach us how not to avoid uncomfortable feelings.
Whatever the emotion, keep talking to God. The Psalmists sure did. We are to pray with (maybe because of) our uncomfortable emotions. We enter our prayer closets with all of our hearts. There’s no need to cut pieces off before initiating a conversation with our Papa. We don’t have to “make ourselves presentable” for God. Jesus did that already.
Many people have a hard time identifying and allowing emotions; some countries and cultures (and denominations) struggle with this more than others. But wherever we’re from, the Psalms draw back the curtain and help us to see things as they really are.
The Psalms provide emotional nomenclature.

Furthermore, the Psalms can help people to acknowledge the presence of pain, an important first step towards healing.  This is especially crucial in honor/shame cultures; the Psalms give the reader permission to feel negative emotions: “Well hey, he felt this and he’s in the Bible! Maybe it’s OK if I feel it too.”

Once, after watching a young believer read a Psalm that discussed “unacceptable” feelings, I simply asked, “Have you ever felt that?” The resulting heart-level conversation would not have happened without the ice-breaking action of the Psalm.

 

Letting Others Make the Case for the Psalms
Are you tired of listening to me talk about the Psalms? How about these guys?

Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church.”  Bonhoeffer went so far as to say that “The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity.” — Dietriech Bonhoeeffer

I used to read five psalms every day – that teaches me how to get along with God. Then I read a chapter of Proverbs every day and that teaches me how to get along with my fellow man.”   — Billy Graham

The Psalter promises Christ’s death and resurrection so clearly – and pictures his kingdom and the condition and nature of all Christendom – that it might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible.” — Martin Luther

And yet we hardly ever read or teach or preach them! Could we change that, please?

 

Letting Jesus Make the Case for the Psalms
You know, Jesus really loved the Psalms. In fact, Jesus quotes it more than any other book in the Old Testament. These are the four Old Testament books that Jesus quoted the most:

#4 Exodus
#3 Isaiah
#2 Deuteronomy
#1 Psalms

Kind of makes me think they’re important. But here’s the kicker, when Jesus quoted the Psalms, it was almost ALWAYS in a difficult situation. That is to say, when Jesus was in a stressful situation, he fell back on the Psalms. Here are some examples:

  1. Jesus outwits angry, accusing, scheming, educated guys (aka Pharisees) with the Psalms on several occasions (Ps 8:2, 110:1; Mt 21:16, 22:44; Mk 12:36, 14:62; Lk 20:42–43).
  1. He quotes the twenty-second Psalm while dying on the cross (Ps 22:1; Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34).
  1. Jesus is hated without cause, which he says the Psalms foretold (Ps 35:19, 69:4; Jn 15:25).
  1. He quotes the Psalms when talking about his betrayal (Ps 41:9; Jn 13:18).
  1. When the Jews want to stone him for claiming to be God, he responds with a line from the Psalms (Ps 82:6; Jn 10:34).
  1. He quotes Psalm 110 when Pilate asks if he is the son of God (Ps 110:1; Mt 26:64).
  1. After having his authority challenged, he quotes Psalms to the chief priests and elders, calling himself the chief cornerstone (Ps 118:22–23; Matt 21:42; Mk 12:10; Luke 20:17).
  1. He references the Psalms when foretelling Jerusalem’s destruction (Ps 118:26; Matt 23:39; Lk 13:35).

So basically, when Jesus quoted the Psalms, good things weren’t happening. In stressful situations, when he was under duress or attack, Jesus referred back to the Psalms. Maybe that’s when we need to remember the Psalms too.

And for what it’s worth, it’s not a great idea to pack for a trip after the trip started. (Although, with this audience, I’m sure some of you have tried!) You know life’s going to be crazy. You know it’s not all going to be smooth sailing. Pack your bags now. Read the Psalms now. Soak in the Psalms now.

Repeated exposure to the Psalms etches into the hearts of young believers (and old ones too) a Biblical response to pain and suffering. The Psalms show the new way.

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Theologically, we need the Psalms.
Emotionally, we need the Psalms.

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Looking for Balance
The Psalms balance Paul’s head with David’s heart. We tend to idolize Paul, valuing an intellectual (rational) approach that prizes productivity and aims at “finishing the task.” But if we’re not careful, we become automatons on an assembly line to salvation. We show up, clock in, put a rivet here and a prayer there. The Psalms protect us from heartless evangelism and cold workaholism, modeling integration and allowing the mind and heart to be simultaneously present.

The Psalmists weren’t scaredy cats, but they were sometimes scared. They weren’t sobbing piles of emotion, but they sometimes cried. They weren’t angry men, but they sometimes demanded sovereign revenge. They got depressed. They sang. They wept. They danced.
And they prayed.
Closing Argument
We’re working in hard places in dangerous times; we need the Psalms.
We’re working among people who’ve suffered tremendously and endured courageously; they need the Psalms.
Jesus knew the Psalms and used them. A lot. So should we.
How? Read them. Sing them. Pray them.
Especially when you have no words to pray, pray the Psalms. Have you ever been there? Wordless but hurting? Bonhoeffer said, “That can be very painful, to want to speak with God and not to be able to.”
We need the Psalms to be deeply planted and carefully cultivated. In Part 2 we’ll look at some quotes and resources to help you as you journey into the Psalms. We’ll also discuss what this might look like in a Muslim context.
Until then, check out the links below, and maybe go read a Psalm.
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The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, Tim Keller

The Case for the Psalms: Why They are Essential, N.T. Wright

Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

When you just want to go home

I swim in the abyss of memories. People and places I cannot return to, and few know.

It is a morass I voluntarily enter, knowing it will hurt, but needing it still. Someone should remember these things.

Birthdays used to be happy occasions, full of cake and memories of years gone by. Now, birthdays are just full of memories of years gone. And places gone. And people gone.

Home, once lost, can never be regained. Another home can be built, to be sure, but what has been cannot be again. It is gone.

There is hope. But hope for the future does not remove loss from the past.

When does one grow up and forget their childhood? Thirty-five? Eighty-five? I think never. Something deep and strange happens when the heart goes back. When pictures show you things you remember feeling more than seeing. Like the faded painting on the wall – of water fowl and cattails — that I haven’t thought of in decades. My mom loved that painting. It feels peaceful, silently overwatching a family grow up, and then leave.

Another picture shows my late mom and dad in the kitchen, but what I see is the blue metal bowl with white speckles. It was part of the country kitchen I grew up in, the one with glass doors looking out upon green, or brown, or white, depending on the season. I see that bowl and hear the clank of metal spoon upon metal bowl, and I feel at home. No one else had metal bowls.

Oh how mysterious is the snapshot that elicits such emotions!

I look at the photos slowly, seeing the details. Looking for the background. The memories swarm, and I let them. Something deep within is washed by these shadows of what was. I need this cleansing. I need to remember my moorings.

I won’t be getting a call from my mom on my birthday. She won’t be telling me she’s proud of me, or asking about the grandkids. I won’t hear about how her journey with God is growing and changing.

My dad won’t ask about my work or ministry. We won’t talk about books or hawks or how tall the grass is.

A Pacific separates me from siblings. Time separates me from everything else.

For now.

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For the time being, I am time’s subject. Moving at its pace, regardless. But time is God’s subject, and at the end of all things, time itself will be changed, and we will reign with him “forever and ever.” Time’s thermodynamic authority will be renounced, along with its painful propensity to separate. No longer will time rob and decay, slowly pulling like gravity on the soul.

God will finally do something I never could, although I was told to often enough. He will redeem time.

And he will relocate.

In a physical, undeniably earthly way, he will come home.

“Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3)

And when he gets here, He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)

He’s longing for home too.

So, in my drownings and darkness, perhaps I am brushing up against the heart of God. Perhaps I am tasting his tears too.

I will never go home again. Until I do.

And that home will last forever, and not just in snapshots and pixels. It will last forever, in three-dimensional space, because of him. And all those longings, elicited by memories of home, will in turn be satisfied.

I will belong, with my own place at the table.

I will be at peace.

I will be wanted. There will be a mutual desire for presence. I will desire to be with God, and he will desire to be with me.

And then I’ll find my mom and dad and a blue metal bowl, and we’ll sit and talk forever about work, and grandkids, and maybe even grass.

And we will be,

Home.

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Sometimes, music can do something that words alone cannot, giving melody to the longings of a heart. 

I’ve added an instrumental piece to the end of the song, giving you space to linger, respond, cry out to Him, and remember.

I Will Bring You Home
by Michael Card

Though you are homeless
Though you’re alone
I will be your home

Whatever’s the matter
Whatever’s been done
I will be your home
I will be your home

I will be your home
In this fearful fallen place
I will be your home

When time reaches fullness
When I move my hand
I will bring you home

Home to your own place
In a beautiful land
I will bring you home
I will bring you home

I will bring you home
From this fearful fallen place
I will bring you home
I will bring you home

*Adapted from trotters41.com

Why Are We Here?

Why are we here? Why have we chosen lives that cause us to engage suffering in very raw ways? Visible ways? Why do we expose our hearts to people in pain?

Why do we use our passports for more than an occasional vacation? Why do we live in places where we sweat more than we thought possible? Places where we get diseases we can’t even spell?

We say goodbyes. Our kids say goodbyes. And sometimes we say goodbye to our kids. Why?

To give someone clean water?
Access to healthcare?
A chance at democracy?
Education?
Sustainable agriculture?
Counseling?
Economic viability?
The Bible?

Yes, of course.

But there’s more, isn’t there? Those things, by themselves are good and right and worth doing, out of common decency and love for humanity. But on top of all that, indeed, overarching all those good things, is Jesus. He takes those good things and infuses them with something else entirely. Something holy, eternal, and altogether lovely.

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The Gospel compels us to love as we’ve been loved, and that’s something worth remembering. If our work gets separated from the Word, we’re in trouble. We must let our “roots grow down into him, and let [our] lives be built on him.” Then we’ll overflow with thankfulness, strong in truth. (Colossians 2:7)

We must remain in him, refusing to forget the Story of his immense love and our surprising salvation. (John 15:5-8; Romans 5:8)

Through our actions, our preachings, our service, we announce the news that God is not absent. We show and tell the redemption of all things.

Why are we here? Because the story is bigger than suffering and pain and death. Because there is a glorious, mysterious hope that’s code-named Jesus.

Why are we here? Because we are awed by the love of God. The magnificent, sky-shattering love of God that tears time and dimensions to deliver a Son. Because there’s a Savior who was willing to bleed his heart out for the “bad guys.”

Like me.

And you.

The Gospel is a time-capsule from the future, announcing what will be. Not what might be, or could be. What will be. And in part is already.

It’s a saving. Available to all, because of One.

It’s redemption.

It’s a Father who loves unendingly and perfectly. Fully. And wholeheartedly.

It’s justice that won’t blow up in our face (although that’s what we deserve), because it’s been disarmed, defused, and fully satisfied by a Lamb.

The Gospel is peace with God.

We echo a messenger from another time and place who said, He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)

We say he lived, and he lives still: “But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.” (Acts 2:24)

The Gospel travels to “the land where death casts its shadow” and does what light does, revealing reality, removing fear: “[T]he people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined. (Matthew 4:16)

May we never forget the Gospel.

Through our medicine and our activism, our education and our micro-finance, our preaching and our translation, our counseling and our parenting, may we preach his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

May we preach the Gospel of a poor man who purchased the world: Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14)

May we preach the Gospel of a day-laborer who’s coming back for his Bride.

May we preach Jesus, the One who steals death’s sting: “And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) Check Out infoneter

May we remember the truths penned by John Donne in “Holy Sonnet 10”:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Death does not win. Jesus does, and “everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)

So why are we here?

Because Jesus is here, proclaiming “that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19)

And that, my friends, is Good News indeed.