Category Archives: Meditations

Bright Monday: A Meditation on the Day After Easter

The familiar ringtone breaks my semi-restful night at the appointed time. Another Monday–another week–arrives with the expected regularity. My routine of mug and bowl and Word seems about the same. Outside, the birds and bugs seem to carry on their everyday rhythm. Cars zip past as yet another workday begins.

But something is different.

The resurrection happened yesterday, did it not? The ground shook and soldiers fell down like dead men. Women gasped in astonishment at empty corpse-wrappings, and men ran with reckless abandon to discover the truth–while others desperately conspired to hide the truth.

But today my life continues as usual.

Or does it?

Bright Monday, for the Christian, is an aftershock of the resurrection. Sure, it’s a return to normal–another swing of the God-ordained weekly pendulum of life, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s the ordinary Monday lived in the brightness of the not-so-ordinary Sunday. The ripple effects of the rolléd stone baptize the Monday ritual of regular work in extraordinary worship to our resurrected King. As every Sunday serves as a resurrection reminder, so every Monday serves as an opportunity to live the new life we’ve been given.

This is the day that the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Psalm 118:24 with Paschal Troparion (c. 6th century)

Giving Mid-Life Saints a Vision for Real-Life Discipleship

They’ve been married and have grown kids. As empty-nesters, they are experiencing newfound freedoms and newfound challenges. Many are still plugged into successful careers, but have extensive personal life histories to draw upon. Some have been saved and serving in the church for dozens of years. Chances are, your church has a number of these men and women. They’re the mid-life saints who often form the backbone of well-rooted churches. They usually give of their time and resources in the offerings and programs of the church. They usually have strong walks with God. But if there’s one wish that their pastors had for them, it would be that they would serve as the disciplers for the younger members of the church.

What if our mid-life saints could catch this vision? Wouldn’t it be incredible if the multi-generational discipleship dynamic of Titus 2 would be deeply rooted in the soil of our churches? But let’s be honest; there are some major hurdles that keep mid-life saints from discipling younger believers. Mid-life saints aren’t frequently discipling the young married couples, college students, and teenagers in the church and need help from their fellow-believers to move them toward these meaningful relationships. In this article I’d like to examine 5 ways we can help our mid-life brothers and sisters follow this Great Commission call.

Leading Mid-Life Saints through Personal Discipleship

“Phil, to be quite frank, I haven’t ever been intentionally discipled,” the saved-since-childhood, middle-aged father of two confided in me. I was a little startled at first. But then I thought about it. Most of my millennial friends could share in the same sentiment. And from what I seen, my parents’ generation seemed pretty “lone-wolf” when it came to their faith. They were probably better at the corporate worship bit of their Christianity, but when it came to connecting deeply with other believers on a one-on-one basis for accountability and discipleship, they seemed to, on the whole, come up lacking.

So, Church, let’s help prepare these believers for discipleship. Pastors, take some time to invest in them. Young up-and-coming leaders, plug into the life of an older believer and allow the experience be one of mutual growth. Instead of seeking out someone your own age to be disciple by or to disciple, build these relationships with middle-aged believers. Mid-life saints will continue to struggle to disciple until they themselves have been discipled. Walk the road of life with a mid-life saint and exponentially multiply the Church’s impact on the younger generations (2 Tim. 2.2).

Preparing Mid-Life Saints for Paradigm-Shift

A huge challenge that keeps intergenerational discipleship from happening in the church is the divide between old and young. To many mid-life saints, the younger generation in their church may be too liberal, tech-driven, or worldly. These notions of the young believers in the church are often mistaken and driven by mere cursory interaction between the generations. Tensions between the generations result in a sort of impasse whereby each generation assumes that the other is out of place and neither generation benefits from the other.

Breaking the impasse requires a Romans 14 kind of experience where both generations loosely hold to what divides them and are willing to do whatever it takes on non-essentials in order to experience unity and growth. In this spirit, both generations are able to see their blind spots more clearly and and love each other better (Phil. 2.3). This paradigm shift of unity in the non-essentials is absolutely essential if mid-life saints are going to be able to do the difficult task of intergenerational discipleship.

One substantial realization that is essential to helping mid-life saints clear this hurdle is awareness that millennials crave the input from the older generations. It’s a big deal to us to have those older and wiser than ourselves invest in us. Despite our uncomfortable social media choices and our unusual clothing choices and our prickly personas, we really do appreciate you. Your paradigm of what a “good Christian” looks like may shift by hanging out with us and loving us. But the Church will be all the better for it; that’s the way it’s always been (Gal. 3.27-28; Col. 3.11).

Moving Mid-Life Saints from Monologue to Dialogue

Another challenge for the seasoned Christians in your church when it comes to interacting with younger believers is that most of our mid-life saints learned best and most frequently via monologue. But this isn’t so with many millennials. Most of us learn best in dialogue. In order to prepare mid-life Christians for discipleship, we need to prepare them for a new method of interacting and teaching. But this takes time and intention.

In order to begin a transition away from monologue in discipleship, it’s essential for the discipler to understand the effect of a misunderstood monologue. To a dialogical learner, monologue can be misunderstood as not caring about my perspective, a superiority complex, or not allowing for helpful questions. Monologue in a discipleship context results in a “speaking at” mode rather than “discussing together” which is essential for true learning. At its worst, monologue in discipleship comes across as what a few of my friends have called “drive-by accountability.” You pop out of nowhere with a baseball bat, smack that newb Christian down, and get out of there. And how do you think that young believer is going to react? He’s going to avoid discipleship relationships like the plague!

Let’s encourage the monologue-trending disciplers to take a cue from Jesus when he asked, “Who do people say that I am?” And when their answers had prompted a surface level of consideration, he brought the question home, not by telling them the answer, but by forcing them to answer. “Who do YOU say that I am?” Prepare middle-aged believers to disciple by pointing to this discipleship technique from Jesus’ playbook.

Healing Mid-Life Saints from Failure Paralysis

I think if I were to guess why more millennials aren’t getting discipled by the empty-nesters or men and women with college-aged kids is that most of our mature saints are paralyzed by past mistakes. They look at their kids and ask themselves if they’re really ready to speak truth into the lives of the next generation. Most of the time, the answer is “no.” They simply can’t get past what they see as their screw-ups and parenting failures.

This is a reality that we would do well to be sensitive to. The deep wounds and irreversible scars of those they love who are far from Christ are no small matters. We shouldn’t be surprised to find many middle-aged saints paralyzed because of the hurt in their lives. But sometimes this paralysis isn’t just due to parenting hindsight; sometimes the paralysis is the result of real personal failure. A divorce, a besetting sin, or an inglorious exit from vocational ministry can make a mid-life Christian question whether or not they would be the optimal candidate for mentoring the next generation.

I want to address this very real concern with two observations. First, the two men who had the greatest impact on my life could have easily allowed their life situations keep them from investing in others. One of these men had never married and had no children. Although he could have excused himself from investing in the youth of the church due to his lack of parenting experience, he instead used every gift that God had given him in the next generation of the church. The other man who plugged into my life is divorced and never remarried. In a church culture that often highlights what a divorced individual can’t do, he chose to focus on what he could do—disciple the next generation. And I think that God enjoys using those whose life experiences seem utterly disproportionate to the task at hand. Moses and Gideon doubted their capabilities too! Encourage the paralyzed to trust God with their weaknesses and failures and see what God might do through them in this Great Commission work.

Second, there’s probably no greater New Testament example of this paralyzed saint than the Apostle Peter. After denying Jesus and letting down the other disciples, Peter struggles to make heads or tails of what to do next. He checks out and returns back to his vocation of fishing the lake. But then Jesus shows up on the beach. After a rather abrupt and pixilated arrival upon shore, Peter finds himself struggling for words as Jesus asks him a tough question over and over. Lots of consideration has been given to what Jesus meant by “love” in this passage, but I think there’s something we miss in the process—the command. “Feed my sheep.” Why did Jesus tell Peter to feed his sheep? Why did Peter need to be told to feed the flock of God? What was it about Peter’s situation that demanded Jesus wake him up and drag him in this direction? Jesus knew that Peter loved him (Peter admits this), but Jesus wanted Peter to do the hard work of discipleship in, through, and for the Church. So many of the hurting and paralyzed saints in our churches, like Peter, think to themselves: “If you only know how messed up I really am you wouldn’t be asking me to disciple others.” But Jesus gently questions them, “Do you love me?” The paralyzed believers inevitably respond, “Yes, of course!” On that basis, our Lord calls out, “Oh hurting Christian, I want you to feed my sheep. I know you better than you know yourself, and I particularly want you to invest in my Church!” The passion that these paralyzed saints have for Jesus is the only thing that will help them victoriously disciple the sheep.

Arming Mid-Life Saints with Confidence

Instilling confidence in the established Christians in your church begins with our first point—disciple them! This process is not only important for their growth, but for establishing their footing for future discipleship. But beyond one-on-one discipleship, we have more options at our disposal for transitioning the mid-life saints from disciples to disciplers. First, strong disciplers can allow a mid-life believer into an established discipleship process with another believer. Pulling them in for a few meetings after which you can discuss the process with the mature believer can help take the edge off. Maybe using a group discipleship process could help here. Second, strong believers can coach mid-life saints in their own efforts at discipling others. This may look like handing off an existing discipleship relationship to them or meeting to debrief and prepare for another discipleship session with a less mature Christian. Finally, keep working them into discipleship relationships with other believers. Their own discipleship process doesn’t end until they’re discipling others. Continue to provide accountability, opportunities, and support as mid-life saints catch the vision for real-life discipleship.

Remembering PaPa

My PaPa died on Thursday. It was his 82nd birthday. Having spent a significant amount of time with him at various points in my life, I wanted to remember and honor him. And the best way I can do that is to do the thing I enjoy, and write about him. These are the 6 lessons I learned from my grandfather, Edward Bird.

He was Subtle yet Strong

As a kid, I always admired my PaPa’s ability to lift giant rocks, move seemingly immovable objects, and work all day long on draining PaPa and Metasks. My hands would blister 15 minutes into a stump removal project, but he would unflinchingly smash away at the roots for hours until the remnants of the tree which we cut down the day before were fully erased. But he never flaunted his strength. You never saw him lifting weights or flexing or bragging about how much he could lift. He would just lift bags of concrete or multiple sheets of drywall without a word. PaPa’s subtle strength taught me that real strength doesn’t come from working the weights in the gym, but from working hard to better the lives of those you love. Those same hands that could fell a tree with a crosscut saw would also gently cradle his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He Appreciated the Small Things in Life

Anyone who knew PaPa for any length of time could see that he was essentially a hoarder. My amazement for his massive collection as a child turned to confusion and then suspicion as an adult. But I’ve often thought that there’s something I missed in my estimation of his copiously organized stacks of treasures in the labyrinth of his West Virginia basement. You see, PaPa didn’t collect what we thought of as junk simply because he needed it; he collected his prizes because he saw value in the stuff we see as valueless. He reminded his grandkids to take small bites of their food in order to savor every morsel. I’m pretty sure that he never missed a single sunrise. He took me and my siblings out to collect aluminum cans, teaching me that hard work can be fun and rewarding. He taught me that a dollar saved is a dollar earned as we labored over nail-filled 2×4’s until they were clean and ready to be reused.

He was Passionate about his Beliefs

He was a Christian with an unflinching belief in his God. Some may have found his beliefs as odd or extreme, but he found them reliable and emboldening. He always seemed open to talking about what he PaPa and Lanebelieved. I’d like to think of PaPa’s faith as what supported him through years of loneliness and sickness. His God cared for him on the mountaintops and in the valleys. God strengthened his arms as a younger man caring for his family, and God strengthened his mind as an aging man in hospice care, remembering the word “baby” after we visited him. There’s something attractive about this simple faith. PaPa taught me that there are things worth believing in, even if it makes people uncomfortable.

He Avoided Technology Distractions

PaPa never seemed to struggle overmuch with adapting to new technology, but he had little to no time for innovations that would waste his time. I remember staying at Grammy and PaPa’s West Virginia home one summer. For some time we worked on a tool tote which we built from scratch. I often wanted to pull out the power tools, but he insisted that I learn how to use a handsaw. Then, instead of settling in front of the TV after a hard day of work, PaPa would go out on a walk. To him, walking the railroad tracks or hiking along a busy road brought him far more joy than any TV show ever could. His form of Minecraft was building sheds and toys and raised bed gardens. PaPa taught me to hold technology loosely and to find more meaningful ways to enjoy life.

He Relished Acceptable Risks

I get the feeling that PaPa would find the riskless society in which I’m raising my daughter as not very fun. I remember cutting down a huge tree in the front yard that required that someone pull the rope in the direction we needed it to fall. He was inevitably the one happy to stand in the path of destruction. He even more happily posed me as if I had been crushed by the tree when my mom came out to look. He enjoyed the thrill of taking his grandkids on hikes along a busy highway. And he built us the most incredible rope swing one time. I can hardly imagine my mom’s reaction when she returned home to see her pre-teen children hoisted dozens of feet in the air on the makeshift trapeze. Oh, but it was immeasurably fun. And I think he may have learned this from his dad. My mom told me that her PaPa (my great-grandfather) would shoot across multiple lanes of traffic while announcing, “you can’t live forever!” So the tradition lived on. PaPa taught me that an acceptable amount of risk always seems to pay off in the end.

He Cultivated a Bevy of Skills

We live in an era of specialization. Most of us live our entire lives only learning a single trade. But PaPa and his generation were the supreme generalists. He could ride a bike backwards or draft anEd and Me with PaPa.jpeg architectural or engineering model. He could construct just about anything as long as he was supplied with the proper amount of wood and nails. A veritable panoply of magic tricks came with him on every visit. He taught me how to cut sheetrock like a boss (a skill I did almost by instinct a couple months ago). He made his own cistern. He could build the best fires and lay a pristine pad of concrete. He could cut his own hair and do a little investing on the side. He cooked and canned food, often using food he raised in his carefully composted garden. He read frequently and did everything in life with a winsome attitude that would turn the most recent acquaintance into a friend.

An Observation:

We’re all role models. We teach by our lives what is important and what is unimportant. We all mess up and emphasize the wrong things from time-to-time. PaPa and his culturally unique values are a reminder to me and my generation to reconsider what we esteem as the most important goals in life. Is a safe, single-trade, faithless, grandiose, technology-crammed life really worth living? Or is there something more satisfying to pursue during this fleeting journey?

16 Questions the Guest Preacher Should Ask

I hope these questions are helpful for my friends who are called upon to preach in a new church from time-to-time.

  1. Which service do you want me to preach and when does it start? If there are multiple services, you need to find out which ones you’re expected to cover. When you figure out when the service starts, plan to arrive at least 15-20 minutes early so you have time to greet people, connect your media, get your wireless microphone, and calm your nerves.
  2. Would you like me to attend another service or Sunday School? Some churches would find it helpful if you attended a Sunday School class, but others don’t see it as necessarily helpful. Get a sense of the importance of this meeting, if it exists, and plan accordingly.
  3. Who will be introducing me? This question is especially important if the lead pastor is out of town. You need to know who to especially introduce yourself to and who to be watching for your queue from to go onstage.
  4. What’s the usual order of service? This question not only helps clarify when you’ll be going onstage, but also flags any liturgical anomalies that you may do well to be aware of.
  5. How much time is usually allotted for the sermon? You need to ask about sermon duration so that you can begin shaping your content for the amount of time you’ll have. I often do a practice run to make sure that I’m in the ballpark of the time that I’ve been given. As a guest speaker, I’m pretty sure that it’s a cardinal sin to preach too long. You’ll never get a congregation angry at you for letting them out a few minutes early.
  6. When do you usually finish? This is a slightly different question than the previous one. Sometimes an excited worship leader, other liturgical elements, or an unusual announcement prior to the preaching may eat into your allotted time. You need a method to gauge if this has happened.
  7. Who closes after a guest speaker preaches? How is this done? Some churches always have an altar call. Some churches never do it. Making assumptions here could lead to a major faux pas. The ideal is to be able to hand off the service closing to someone who knows the people and the process.
  8. What Bible version do you typically use? Even if the version is one that you don’t typically use, you’ll gain more rapport with the congregation if you’re quoting the text that most of them have in front of them. This question also needs to be asked early on because it will determine the English version that you’ll “stew” in (read, re-read, memorize, etc.).
  9. Do you typically use projected media? If so, how do I connect to it or where do I need to send material/links? As a guest speaker, you need to be cautious about being reliant on technology. Even if you’ve carefully asked the right questions and prepped your tech, you can still hit an odd hitch as you’re getting set to preach. Remember that you’ve usually got only a limited time to get this right. Have a backup method for deploying your media and, worst case, be capable of delivering your sermon without any technology.
  10. Do you use a portable microphone? If so, where will I get it and will there be someone to show me how it works? This isn’t usually too complicated, but sometimes you may be dealing with some odd mic that doesn’t work normally. Pro tip: even if the sound guy tells you that he’s not going to have your mic hot until you get up to preach, keep it off and remember to turn it on while you’re on your way up to the platform.
  11. How much room is on the podium for a Bible, notes, etc.? Pulpit real estate is at a premium. Some churches have tiny pulpits that are comfortable for the pastor who may preach with different pulpit material than you do. As more and more younger preachers bring iPads and other tech with them onstage, the variety of what a preacher can expect has only broadened.
  12. What do you wear when you preach? And don’t just take a “professional” or “business casual” category answer on this one. People mean different things when they use dress categories. Get a specific answer (i.e., “jeans and a button-up shirt untucked”) and don’t deviate from it.
  13. How would you describe your style of preaching? What have you been preaching on lately? Although you have your own style as a preacher, it is helpful to understand the norm at this church. Maybe if the pastor tends to do exegetical studies of books of the Bible, you could do an exegetical study of a one-off topic? If the pastor has been doing a deep dive in Romans, it may be healthy to do a narrative passage.
  14. What is the congregation like? Young/old, quiet/interactive, new/old Christians, jobs, backgrounds, approximate attendance? Truth preaches anywhere, but it never hurts to understand the audience you’ll be speaking to. Jesus didn’t have to study in order to know the hearts of his listeners, but Paul definitely understood the philosophers on Mars Hill. Every bit of information you get should shape how truth will be presented.
  15. Does your church have a missions statement? You need to know what this church is and isn’t all about. Follow up this question by asking: What are some major red flags of what you don’t want someone to preach about? Are there any practical or theological issues that you think might be important for a guest preacher to know? I try to use questions like this to draw out go/no-go zones. Regardless of how you feel about a church’s hangups or pursuits, it’s not your job to do a drive-by sermon on any of these issues. If there’s an issue that is too big for you to ignore, consider declining the invitation.
  16. Can we meet before I preach in order to get to know each other? Also: How can we follow-up afterward? I think this is the most frequently missed question on the list. Meeting before you speak can help you better understand the heart and philosophy of the pastor. If you’re able to meet on the church property, you can get a feel for the auditorium, platform, pulpit, microphone, etc. Following up gives you a great opportunity for a critique of your preaching and an ongoing relationship with the pastor.

I hope these questions are helpful. I’ve missed a couple of these in some instances and have learned from my mistakes. There are probably a few questions that you shouldn’t ask, the chief of which is anything related to compensation for speaking. Speak out of a desire for ministry and not for money. For some great additional insights on filling pulpits, see Dane Ortlund’s excellent article.

May God bless you as you preach his Word!

5 Questions We Ask about Trials (And How Jeremiah Answers them)

“Everything I had hoped for is lost!” Have you ever felt like you’re just running on fumes? Do the trials you’re going through this week make you feel like you’re in the middle of a desert and you just drank the last drop of water from your water bottle? If you’re in the middle of a trial, you can probably resonate with these mournful words from Lamentations 3.18.

Maybe you’re on the sad long road toward divorce. You’ve done everything you can think of to resolve the problem, but it just seems inevitable.

Maybe you watch as your mother fights a protracted battle with cancer. Has God just walked out on you and your family?

Maybe you’ve struggled for years with depression and suicidal thoughts. No therapy or drugs or prayer seems to be helping.

Maybe you’ve been slandered by friends at school or at work or at church and they’ve dragged your name through the mud. You feel like trash right now and you just want to disappear.

“Everything I had hoped for is lost!” You get it. And you’re asking the tough questions that come with this place in life. Jeremiah seems to have been asking those questions too. In Lamentations 3, we get a peek behind the curtain on the answers to those questions. Jeremiah the prophet is writing here after his whole country has been destroyed and his friends and family have been taken captive. Yes, it was because many in the nation kept sinning against God, but this didn’t take away the hurt. What a devastating time for this prophet — everywhere he looks there’s pain and trial. So he laments; he cries out to God. Everything has been taken away from him. It’s a nightmare that he can’t wake up from. He keeps pinching himself and saying, “just let me wake up and this all be over. Please, oh please!”

In Jeremiah’s pain we begin to see answers to these common questions we ask when we’re in trials:

How do I re-engage with God when I’ve totally lost hope?

This is where I’ve found myself time and again over the past month or so. When so many people you’ve ministered to and alongside suddenly turn against you and you feel hurt and discouraged, you know that you need God. But where do you start? God feels distant, mean, or uncaring. You feel like you can’t just pick up where you’ve left off with him. Things were different then. Now you’ve got this insurmountable and unavoidable pain in your life. And you’ve got to figure out how to make sense out of what’s happened and re-engage with God. Jeremiah re-engages with God in two ways.

First, we must overlay our grief with God. We’re not called to ignore our grief. Jeremiah thinks of his grief like a deer which has been shot in the guts (Lam. 3.13). It reminds him of the nastiest thing he’s ever tasted (19). He even goes back to discussing his grief (c. 4). We’re supposed to be brutally honest about it. We need to talk about it. But we must place God over top of it. Think of those science books for children that had plastic overlays of the digestive or circulatory systems which could be placed over a picture of a person. I think that a lot of times, we look at God as a separate paper page. Either we turn to God and forget our grief, or turn to grief and forget God. But God and grief are meant to work together. In the moments of our greatest grief, God is there. The Gospel shows us this at the cross. God and grief play well together because he knows what grief is all about. One could even say that he is acquainted with it (Isa. 53.3).

Second, we must rediscover God. Often it’s in the times of darkest trials that when we begin to see the person of our God with greater clarity. His love is steadfast, his mercies are endless, his faithfulness (or, reliability) is great (22-23). As you find who God really is you will find hope. Our trials show us that God isn’t just the ignorant grandfather in the sky; we want him to care about sin and injustice and to right the wrongs. Our trials show us that God isn’t the angry policeman in the sky; only when everything else is stripped away can we see the care and love of our Heavenly Father. The Gospel shows us God is a God of justice who won’t let sin slide, but that he’s a God of compassion and mercy who took the penalty of sin on himself.

Will I be able to make it another day?

If you’ve been there, you’ll never forget the feeling. If you’ve ever run out of energy to take another step or if you’ve ever felt like suicide could be a viable option, you’ve been there. But there’s hope. Jeremiah shares your pain and reminds us of a powerful truth.

Remember that each day will have its own challenges (Matt. 6.34 – “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”), but Jeremiah tells us that each day will have its own grace (Lam. 3.23a). Now the prophet doesn’t mean that God becomes different. What he’s saying is that our trials allow us to see fresh expressions of God’s mercy. You’ll see dimensions of his love tomorrow that you’ve never seen before in your life. You’ll screw up and need fresh opportunities for God’s grace.

But God gives us this grace day by day. This means that we can’t just ask for grace and coast for a month. We need to rely on him every day. It also means that there will come times when you feel like you’ve hit the wall and can’t make it any further. You’ll feel like your resources are exhausted. And then, like manna for the people of Israel, a new day comes along with fresh mercies. As you hear the alarm ring on Monday morning, your alarm isn’t the siren for the beginning of the Monday morning blues, but a signal for a fresh day of God’s mercies!

Where should I turn after I’ve lost so much?

Jeremiah tells us that there’s a treasure that we’ve overlooked (24). It reminds me of a time early in my married life when I was working for just over minimum wage and I could barely keep up with the bills each week. After a particularly stressful week when we’d paid for groceries on the credit card, I checked the mailbox that Sunday and found a letter that had likely been in the box for most of the week. It was my tax refund check. I’d been full of anxiety and worry all week long, but there’d been a check in the mailbox the whole time. I think we treat Jesus like this a lot too. Jesus is there to address your anxieties and worries, but yet we never bother to look for him until we’re in a bind. So God uses trials to show us that he’s all we ever need.

Let your newfound treasure renew your hope. With Jesus, you have everything; without Jesus, you have nothing. You may have lost your home or job, but no one can take Jesus away from you. Your husband may leave you, but Jesus will never leave you. Jesus is your everlasting portion when everything else is in limbo.

How am I supposed to respond?

Responses in the middle of a trial aren’t easy. I’ve heard it said that trials bring out what’s really inside of people. I’m not entirely certain of this, but I do know that trials force us to wrestle with unique situations that call for unusual responses. Often when everything falls to pieces, it’s hard to know whether your responses are right or wrong. A mix of emotion and spiritual struggle often result in actions that seem best at the time. Nothing’s simple. People that are on the outside of your trial looking in will be Monday morning quarterbacks about how you should’ve reacted to the suffering. But I like to think that God isn’t like that. Instead of standing with his arms crossed in the distance, he’s running full steam toward us, giving us every grace for every sin, every wrong response. But Jeremiah does give us some ideas on how to respond.

Responding to God

Jeremiah tells us that our response to God should be one of trust. Trust his goodness (25). He isn’t just able to bring you out of this trial whole. He wants to bring you out. Trust in his coming deliverance (26). He doesn’t work on our timetable, but this doesn’t mean that he isn’t working to deliver you. Trust in his sovereignty (27). The process and timing of our suffering has a maturing effect. God allows trials in our lives at particular times in order to prepare us for what’s next.

Responding to Others

Our response to others needs to be humble. Don’t complain about your trial (28). If you complain, you’ll just draw attention away from what God’s doing and place all the attention on yourself. Don’t be proud (29). Be willing and able to admit wrong. Show grace to those who’ve hurt you. Don’t seek revenge (30). Let God right your wrong. Let him raise up people who will advocate for you.

Finding Hope to Respond

But how on earth are we supposed to react like this? I don’t know about you, but this is a difficult calling. Frankly, I tend to be the type who’d love nothing more than to open a can of whoop-[rear] on those who’ve hurt me. But I’m enabled to respond appropriately when I recognize three truths about God. God has greater things in store for me ahead (31). I’ll lash out or walk away from God if I lose hold of this confidence. And this confidence in a future hope is driven by another truth about God. God is absolutely compassionate toward me (32). I can endure the most uncompassionate snarks from fellow-believers so long as I know that God’s compassionate arm is there to hug me when I cry, support me when I fall, and defend me when I’m attacked. This is my God. He’s so compassionate that Jeremiah says a third incredible thing about God. God doesn’t want us to suffer (33). Suffering is related to the fall, and the fall was not what God wanted for his people. He wanted so much better for us. And, guess what? God went to every length to ensure that your suffering will come to an end. One day our suffering will be glory because of this truth–God doesn’t send suffering on his people from his heart.

But what about the injustices that have been done?

Jeremiah isn’t ignorant of the real injustices that have happened. Just because God cares about our suffering doesn’t mean that he overlooks the injustices that have happened to us. To those who’ve wronged us (and to the cry for justice in our hearts) Jeremiah reminds us of 3 truths.

  1. Don’t forget that God is watching (34-35). My favorite line from the Bourne series is when in the middle of the manhunt, Jason Bourne calls the CIA agent who’s hunting him. Watching her from within the obvious easy range of his lethal abilities, he tells her: “Get some rest Pam, you look tired.” In a single instant, the agents’ entire perspective on their situation shifts because they’ve become aware that one who holds their life in his hands has them in his sights. But I, personally, would rather be in Bourne’s crosshairs than in God’s (Matt. 10.28). Take comfort or fear in the fact that those who unjustly bring trials into the life of the believer do not go unnoticed by God Almighty.
  2. Don’t forget that God is judge (35 – “Most High”). God is the one who has the prerogative to right the wrongs. Human courts of justice can be perverted. Even the God-given method of conflict resolution in the church can be turned on its head. But God is the Supreme Court of the Universe. And it’s his verdict that really counts. Your boss’ harsh review of you isn’t the final word. That boy at school who humiliated you doesn’t have the final word. Those Christians who’ve attacked you don’t have the final word. God does.
  3. Don’t forget that God angry with injustice (36). Those who have a position of influence and use it to hurt or harm don’t just flip the lever of God’s justice, they unleash the angry arm of God’s wrath. And deep down we really believe that this makes sense. If there’s a God, he needs to be ticked when the killer goes free because he’s got the right skin color. If there’s a God, he needs to look with fury on those who kill children or those who make themselves rich on the suffering of others. If there’s a God, he must be angry with those who abuse children and traffic women. The fact is that deep down we really want a just God for every abuse and sin in the world except our own.

The Gospel teaches us that God has seen us in the crosshairs of his wrath, but that he turned the anger of his justice on his own Son so that we might not only escape, but that we stand forever as righteous in the sight of the Most High God.

9 Observations on the New Year

As I consider 2014 and the transition to 2015 in light of Psalm 90 and several other relevant passages, these are 9 observations that I found worthy of considering:

  1. The God of 2015 is the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul, moving all things to their created end (Psa. 90.1-2).
  2. God created 2015 (Gen. 1.14). There’s no need for doom and gloom, because God creates everything for a purpose.
  3. 2015 may be your last year. Make it count for eternity (Psa. 90.3-6, 12). Count the years and make them count!
  4. 2015 should, by nature of the fall, hold a store of evil and frustration (Psa. 90.7-11, Rom. 8.22-23 – “creation groans” – birthpangs that grow in intensity as the time of the child’s birth draws closer).
  5. 2015 will, because of God’s covenant, hold a store of grace and blessing (Psa. 90.13-17).
  6. 2015 will be for nothing if we don’t rely on God to establish our efforts (Psa. 90.17).
  7. 2015 offers us a fresh experience of God’s care (Psa. 90.14; Lam. 3.23 – in the midst of a time of great suffering and destruction, the Prophet Jeremiah rejoices in God’s mercy which is new every morning).
  8. The transition to 2015 is a picture of what God will do in the future (Isa. 65.17; 66.22; 2 Pet. 3.13; Rev. 21.1-5). He will make all things new.
  9. The transition to 2015 is a picture of what God does in the lives of those who believe in him (2 Cor. 4.16; 5.17-21). He will make YOU new.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” – GK Chesterton

Boredom vs. Gospel Joy

[For the visual presentation, click here.]

College students will tell you that certain professors bore them out of their minds. Many professionals in the midst of their careers find themselves bored with being monotonously stuck in a position they’re unhappy with. Even those who are retired can find themselves bored without the busyness of their former careers. This overly common issue is worth considering from a Christian perspective in order to understand how we need to respond to boredom. First, let’s define boredom.

Definition of Boredom

Boredom is:

“feeling weary because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.”

In other words, it is an admission of inadequacy and a need for greater satisfaction, a raging restlessness, and the idealization of something else as interesting and exciting at the expense of something we have in front of us.

C.S. Lewis once made the analogy of chasing worldly pleasure as that of a boy making mudpies in the slums and missing out on the value of a holiday at the beach. I would suggest that boredom is like building a sandcastle on the beach, all the while feeling like you’re making mudpies in the slums.

As we begin to consider Scripture in relation to this definition, let’s start by looking at the students’ favorite verse, Ecc. 12.12:

“And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

  • “weariness of the flesh” is a very close parallel to boredom. Here the flesh is worn out not by physical labor but due to being overwhelmed and uninterested
  • Solomon states this simply and factually. It is something that just happens. Repetitive work that demands close attention often leads to boredom!
  • This passage highlights the curse on Adamic work (Ecc. 2.24-26). In verse 26, the sinner experiences “travail” in his gathering. His work is empty and vexes his spirit. Literally “a vapor and chasing after the wind.”

This is one of the few occasions where Scripture alludes to this challenge. Yet this issue seems to be an experience that many of us experience on a daily or weekly basis! Take a look at how this issue has overcome modern society…

This graph shows how boredom has overtaken modern society.

But you don’t have to just see it in books. Take a stretch on an airplane. On a recent trip to Brazil, I was amazed by all of the distractions that Americans used to make the flight less boring; however, the Brazilians were  content to sit contemplatively or in casual conversation throughout the flight.

Think of how, in a momentary flash of boredom, we’re quick to reach for our smartphone or the TV remote!

And all of this is where Christianity pushes up against one of the norms and values of our culture. Boredom is the result of a productivity-oriented society, which values a lack of waste and a high return on investment. This is why the high-pressure CEO who spends every waking moment on the run feels far more bored than someone seemingly less productive. When he’s taking a break between meetings, or on a vacation, he can’t really disconnect. He’s bored with time spent relaxing. This stands in stark contrast to people several hundred years ago who remained in the same vocation as their parents and didn’t experience as substantial opportunities to shape their futures. Yet they knew how to rejoice both in the monotony as well as in times of relaxation.

Kierkegaard: “boredom is the root of all evil”

The Bible and Boredom

So what does the Bible have to say about boredom?

Hebrews 5.11-14

  • The writer is using this plea as a “goad” towards activity. The assumption is that the readers want to move on…they want to be teachers. They want to be mature people. But they’re actually not progressing in that direction.
  • The readers are no longer listening because what the writer wants to teach them builds upon simple, well-versed beliefs that they’ve grown tired of hearing.
  • “when for the time” – seems to indicate that a long duration of time has elapsed. Their boredom has kept them from progressing on pace. Rather than continuing with the repetition and then progressing, they’ve become bored and tapped out.
  • “have need…again” – that which they’ve grown bored of will need to be repeated in order for them to be ready to handle what God has for them.
  • “first principles” – the ABC’s. Do you remember the boring and repetitive monotony of learning to write your ABC’s or beginning to write in cursive (I know, I’m probably dating myself here…)?
  • “word of righteousness” – This probably refers to the Scriptures. Joyful constancy in the Bible leads believers to skillful handling of the Word. Bored avoidance of the Bible leaves believers unready to discern the teachings of Scripture.
  • “by reason of use” – continual practice. Think of playing scales on the piano.
  • “exercised” – This comes from the Greek word gymnazo. Do you think that the Olympic gymnasts are performing those floor routines for the first time when they step out on the Olympic stage?

Hebrews 12.1-3

  • “run with patience” – The Christian life is not a sprint, but a marathon. It isn’t won by beating others, but by making it to the end.
  • “set before us” – the finish line has been assigned to us by the master of ceremonies. We don’t set the duration, but we’re called to stick with the race despite the hardness or terrain, injury, or weariness we experience. My brother who was preparing to join the Marines would run for hours at a time. I asked him how he did it. He told me that many times he just puts one foot in front of the other and looks ahead for a goal to reach. This leads us to the next point from the text:
  • “looking unto Jesus” – The Gospel frees us from the monotony, repetition, and weariness of our race.
  • “author and finisher” – He laid out the track and he’s already run it.
  • “joy…endured” – Jesus patiently put one foot in front of the other, carrying out the monotonous  journey with “joy”!
  • “be wearied…faint in your minds” – boredom with pursuing the spiritual journey ahead of us results in a lack of nerve and paralysis in our spiritual lives. Boredom tells us that there’s no point in forging ahead. The Gospel tells us that there’s purpose in monotony, and we see that purpose fulfilled in the victory of the Son of God!

Danger Zones of Boredom

Like cholesterol, not all boredom is bad for the Christian. But there are several danger zones that we would do well to be aware of. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Theological Boredom

  • Do the great truths of the Christian faith seem insignificant to me?
  • Has reading the Bible become a chore rather than a delight?
  • Is the challenge of receiving doctrinal truth off my radar?

Spiritual Boredom

  • Have the ups and downs of my spiritual journey become monotonous?
  • Am I longing for the “victorious Christian life” of other saints?
  • Do prayer, church, service, and fellowship seem less exciting than sports, entertainment, and vacation?

Vocational Boredom

  • Am I unable to focus and complete tasks?
  • Do I keep daydreaming about greener grass elsewhere?
  • Have I made the assumption that the work I do is beneath me or meaningless?
  • Do I consistently experience Monday dread?
  • Am I struggling to be thankful for my employment?

Conclusion: Gospel Joy

Zephaniah 3:17 portrays God’s ecstatic pleasure over his saved people on a daily basis. This verse uses multiple words for joy. Some of these imply clapping one’s hands and others imply dancing. It ends with God singing songs over his saved ones. Now you and I don’t often see that much to get excited about when we see other Christians. But apparently God does. And he never stops his eternal joyous dance over the ones whom he has redeemed.

This makes me think of my little daughter. When I get excited or sad, most people will never know. But we she gets upset or happy, everyone knows! She continually slaps the ground or claps her hands on her legs just to let us all know how thrilled she is. And in the Gospel, this sort of unrestrained mirth shows up in the character of God. There is no cure for boredom like looking at the joy of God in the Gospel. G.K. Chesterton writes:

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

Have you ever thought that our eternity will be spent over and over again in vocation, experiencing doctrine, and in spiritual duty? Do you exult in the monotony that is your future or do you despise it?