“A traveler loses his way in the forest; it is dark and he is afraid. Danger lurks behind every tree. A storm shatters the silence. The fool looks at the lightning, the wise man at the road that lies – illuminated- before him.” = Stories of the Hasidim
My heart has been heavy as the darkened storm clouds of hatred and strife have gathered around our cities and homes.
I have been lost amidst the woods of uncertainty.
Longing to respond, but unsure as to the next step.
Then the lightning hits.
Some act that illuminates the reality of depth of our brokenness.
Pending my proximity to the strike, it leaves its mark even after I close my eyes.
Shadow images of pain and violence.
The thunder clap of tension reverberates around me and my heart quakes inside my chest.
So many of us long for hope.
We long to do something.
But are we just watching lightning?
We look to social media, a lightning storm of emotion.
Words said in anger, without regard as to context.
News sources reporting how bad the lightning strike was and the dangers of where the next one could hit.
Yet does this help us out of the forest?
Or does it merely distract our eyes while our hearts stumble in the darkness?
What if we were to look at the forest instead?
Lightning will hit.
Yet in its flash of light, revealing the depths of brokenness, it can also reveal the path through the woods.
The path of repentance.
The lightning shows our brokenness.
All of us.
We are all in need.
We are all broken.
We are all hurt.
This path that lays before us is hard.
It is humbling.
To walk the path of repentance is to surrender my self sufficiency.
To walk the path of repentance is to acknowledge my humanity.
To walk this path is to acknowledge that I need a Savior.
To acknowledge why it is that Jesus had to come.
Watching the lightning does not change the heart.
Walking the hard road of repentance does.
This world is harsh.
Lightning will strike.
Thunder will quake.
Yet God will reveal our path.
May we all be humble enough to walk it.
We have seemingly unlimited capability.
We have limited capacity.
A finite people creating seemingly infinite tools.
I believe that the tension created by this discrepancy causes our souls to stretch beyond our natural functioning. The result is that we feel that we are losing life or connection, while in the same moments being inundated with information and possibility.
Let me explain.
The phenomenon of social media has only existed in our culture for the past decade, and many would argue that it still has not reached its maximum capabilities. As a culture we have fully embraced this new creation and have so interwoven our lives and the lives of our children with social media that we can scarcely imagine or remember what life was like before we had it.
I would ask that you ponder this analogy. Could the creation of social media be just as potent as the creation of the first gun? Though this comparison may seem a bit far-fetched at first, guns, like social media, can be used both as a tool and as a weapon. A gun can be viewed both as a tool in the obtaining of food in the context of hunting or as a weapon caused to inflict harm. A tool or a weapon, is social media not the same? We praise social media for its capabilities as a tool, but are we fully aware of this same platform’s ability to inflict harm? Not just on bystanders but also on ourselves? Have we just created a weapon and put it in the hands of adolescents without fully understanding its abilities ourselves? Do we marvel at the tragedies inflicted upon those around us without realizing that we are all adolescents in this game?
I believe that social media is overstretching our souls in three key ways: distraction, disengagement, and detachment.
With our new ability to have information and interaction at our fingertips, have we unknowingly created a Pavlovian society? We have evolved into a society in which we have suffered the loss of the ability to wait and the art of patience. A society in which we are conditioned for immediate results and stimuli. We conditioned ourselves, and specifically the generations after us, to expect instantaneous results and interaction. We must ask ourselves: what are the ramifications in doing so? In our development of technology, are we breeding out the ability to engage? Engagement requires patience. If I am used to instantaneous responses and results, do I then have a growing frustration with the world and relationships around me that cannot naturally nor practically provide the results and interaction at the times that I am conditioned to expect. Does this then cause me to devalue these relationships and consider them not worth the focus it takes to develop them?
If I am distracted due to being conditioned to expect a rapid response, there will be an increasing tendency towards disengagement. This will be amplified if the world I am distracted from begins to suffer tension. For example, as a parent, if I am disengaged from my child and that child acts out, not responding to my attempts at correction how I desire, do I then retreat online to find a solution instead of engaging in the moment? This may appear noble at first due to my desire to gain access to resources, but at what point does it become a hinderance? Where is the line when my efforts to educate myself crossover and actually become me barricading myself with the information? In this scenario, I should consider whether I have reached a sufficient level of information to handle the situation responsibly or whether I’m searching for information as a form of escape?
It is my belief that we have become so engorged on information that we have stretch marks on the skins of our souls. Emotionally we do not have the capacity to engage with all of the various scenarios and information we are inundated with. Mentally we do not have the capacity to process and store all of the information we are gorging ourselves upon daily. One may respond, ‘“Should we not be concerned with (insert various cause/war/tragedy)?” But we must balance our intake of information with our capacity for response. When we do not balance information with response, we feel residual guilt and building anxiety. My friend’s 11 year old son has been having nightmares about ISIS taking over our town and killing his family. I am not saying this child should not know about tragedy in the world. However, I am saying that we are giving people access to information without giving them the tools to process this information in a healthy way. The frustration of the recipient of the information in these scenarios then leads to a state of detachment. I simply become used to feeling helpless. This is why we see bystanders making videos of heinous acts instead of putting down the phone and helping. We have become used to watching without having the ability to act. We have become detached.
I am not saying that social media is all bad. What I am saying is that it is not only tool but also weapon.
We must ask ourselves a few questions:
Are we fully aware of what we have created?
Are we stewarding it well?
Should adolescents have unlimited, unmonitored access to it?
If my daughter brought home a gun, you can bet that we would have talks about safety and reasons for having it. Why are we not doing the same with the emotional and mental guns that our society is freely distributing and encouraging?
This is the second installment for the stories of the refugee situation in the Czech Republic. Thank you for reading and if you feel led, sharing.
The borders open at 4am.
The line to go in starts to form way before that, women and children are given the first priority. They open at 4am but they close as soon as that day’s total is hit, many times within a few hours.
There is such a rush to cross that people become desperate.
Desperate people do desperate things.
Desperate people many times take advantage of anything they can.
In this case, it is the children.
There is a growing number of children, mainly infants and toddlers, that have been abandoned just across the border.
Stolen from their weary families in the middle of the night, they are incapable of explaining the injustice being done.
They are used to get across, and then cast aside, with no papers, no family, no protection.
They do not speak the language, if they can speak at all.
Currently these children are not taken to a regular orphanage.
Instead they are taken to a place that houses children with special needs.
Why these places? Because it is where things are hidden.
When approaching the government to help these children, the response to the refugee workers is a hard “No”.
They don’t need help or any aid, they are taken care off – translation: they are hidden.
You see to allow them help is to acknowledge them and their value.
It makes what is hidden now revealed.
It requires responsibility.
Voiceless victims, tucked away.
How do we fight such injustice, even on the other side of the ocean?
We give them a voice.
We tell their story in our language.
We fight for them, because they cannot fight for themselves.
May God use our voice for those that have none.
May He use our strength for those that have none.
May we be willing to let Him do it.
Over the next few weeks I would like to share with you about our trip to Prague and specifically about the refugee situation in Europe and stories from the lives of some of the those helping. Thank you for reading.
Weary But Willing
“Please kill me”, this is what the note said that was put in her hand as she passed out blankets and clothes in the detention center where the refugees are being held.
The refugees found out that they may be getting deported. If deported back to their home country they will be publically executed in front of their family and friends. They view killing them here as a more merciful option.
What do you do when you are faced with so much despair?
What do you do when you are one of the few trying to care for so many.
A few weeks ago I had the honor of traveling to Prague on a humanitarian partnership trip with Collegiate Abbey and The University of Tennessee. It was on this trip that I met Petra, the refugee worker mentioned above.
Petra heard about the refugee crisis in the surrounding countries. The refugees are not welcome in her country. There is a state of fear and anxiousness. This state of fear has left many who would consider helping paralyzed. Fearful of being wounded by those who appear to be in need, but also alienated from their countryman if they try to help.
Petra felt she that as a follower of Christ, she must do something.
Armed with a sign that said “I am here to help” in arabic, she went to the train station not knowing what she would encounter.
She was pushed.
She was spit on.
She was berated.
Yet still she went.
The refugees never arrived at the train station.
After some digging, she found that they were being taken off the trains at the border and sent to detention centers.
These detention centers are old prisons that they are using to house the families that are coming.
The cost of staying in these centers is the equivalent of whatever you have on you at the time.
So after your “stay”, you move on….with nothing.
Petra visits the centers. She, along with some other brave volunteers that have joined her, visit to let the people know they are not forgotten. They take clothing, blankets and snacks -hoping that the refugees see that someone does care.
Many of the detention centers have now emptied out.
Some have started the process of resettlement, granted asylum the refugees now try to make a home in a country where they are not wanted.
Petra is once again serving.
She smuggles people to doctors. They have to travel after the office closes and go in side entrances. The doctors fear what would happen if it was found out they were helping refugees. She tries to find teachers for the families to learn the language.
At a recent volunteer training several church members attended only to be countered by other from the church protesting the training.
When asked, “are you not afraid that some of these are terrorist?” She responds, “does the fear of a few with evil in their heart cancel out what God has called us to do for so many others?”
Petra continues to face opposition.
Yet she is willing.
She serves at a cost.
She is tired – physically and emotionally. She has her own family.
She has done so much, seen by so few.
She told me recently that her hope is that others would see Christ through what she is doing. That she is only demonstrating the love that Christ has shown her.
I can say, that in my case, her hopes were realized.
Petra is one of the most beautiful pictures of Christ love that I have ever seen.
Weary but willing.
Please join me in praying for Petra and the others serving the refugees in countries around Europe. Pray for strength, for encouragement and for hope.
Also please stay tuned for ways that you can join me in partnering with Petra.
Within a few flicks of my finger, I have had 37 conversations, all in the span of 20 seconds.
Although not conveyed in person. They did not lack emotion or purpose.
That is more than some people have in a day.
Our capability has outpaced our capacity.
Our hearts and minds are over stimulated.
With our access to social media, our ability to be instantly connected, we have created a new tool.
As with any tool, this can be used to create or to destroy.
Are we mature enough to tell which one we are doing?
We consume, yet do not process.
There are many ramifications of this.
Stress, shame and anxiety being the three most prominent.
Because, although we know the information, we lack the ability and capacity to act on it.
I am stressed because I am now made aware of the issues and goings on of a much broader scope.
I feel shame because I lack the resources or capacity to fully engage with it.
I am anxious because I either wonder about what else I do not know, or from my attempts to control situations that I am now involved in.
At what point does the amount of conversations we have decrease their value?
Does constant over stimulation produce a sense of desensation?
Not out of hardness of heart but out of self-preservation.
These are the thoughts that have echoed through my life as of late.
It has led to the recognition of a theme.
Distraction, a subtle redirection from engagement.
I can hide behind distraction, stating that I care about “X” but was focused on “Y”.
Ignoring the fact that it was I who welcomed “Y” and gave it a seat at the table.
Distraction is the enemy of stewardship.
Adolescence is where we are to learn to navigate distraction.
Yet, I put seemingly put myself into a state of voluntary perpetual adolescence.
Edmund Burke is attributed with the quote “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”
Is the reason why our problems are perpetuating due to our distraction?
In Genesis, God calls us to more, to be stewards of the life He has given and to cultivate and spread His image to the world around us.
As a believer in Christ, I am to be a steward of the gospel and a champion of the value of the life that God has given.
Has this new tool that we have created and gorged ourselves on put me into an adolescence state? Am I capable of processing all of the information from all of the conversations that I am having from my relationships? Or is my overstimulation and gorging on information just a distraction from being a steward?
My distraction is an addiction.
Many would call it normal, but normal doesn’t make it healthy.
During this season of Lent, I am taking a step. A step away from distraction. A step towards a mature handling of the tool that we have created.
I will switch the data plan off from my phone. I will take a step back.
Because distraction is an addiction, I am expecting to go through a process to get healthy.
There has already been denial, it isn’t that bad. Everybody is on here!
There has been the gradual acceptance that this is where I am, engorged in the opulence of information at my fingertips.
There will be withdrawal. Anxiety will surface as to what I may miss out on, or not know about.
And then, prayerfully, there will be recovery. The panic of what is being lost replaced with the appreciation of the value of what I have. The mile wide and inch deep will shift to depth of intimacy in close proximity where growth may flourish in healthy relationships.
My desire is to move from overstimulation, to the appreciation of feeling, to be a steward that values life and isn’t distracted with all of the information about it.
I am not saying that the tool is bad, I am saying I’m not sure how to use it the way God intends. I’m not quite sure any of us are yet. We are all new at this.
My prayer for us is this: May we maturely develop as stewards to value the life and the gospel that God has given. May we engage deeply in the relationships that He provides, for His honor and for His glory. May we use the tools given, to cultivate and spread life and not distract us from it.
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
I have recently been spending time looking at the book of Mark. In the first chapter there is an interesting recurrence of the word wilderness. It frames the setting in which the events happen. We read of the way of Christ is proclaimed by one crying in the wilderness (vs. 3) how John appeared in the wilderness (vs. 4) and how people followed him there (vs. 5). Then after Jesus’ baptism, He is driven out to the wilderness by the Spirit’s leading (vs 12) and spent 40 days there (vs. 13).
What do we learn in the wilderness. What is it about this setting that creates a stage of God’s story in our lives?
The wilderness of the ancient near east is a bit different than the wilderness here in Tennessee. It is a barren place, with harsh beauty and radical shifts in climate. Yet, they share similarities. The wilderness is a rough place, in it you are made aware of your needs. It is a place of challenge, a place of exposure. We may go out on a hike to challenge ourselves for a day, maybe overnight, but few make their homes there.
So why does God call us to the wilderness?
The past few years in the life of my have been lived in the wilderness, not physically, but emotionally. They have been challenging and overwhelming, we have been made aware of our needs and have felt the pain of emotional hunger in our hearts. We have been exposed.
It is tempting when you are in the wilderness to think that it is a place void of God. We tend to view the wilderness as a penalty and not part of a process. It is important to note that Jesus was moved to the wilderness not because of sin, but because of the Spirit. It was not a passing visit, but he was there for a season. The day hike turns into a settlement, again not because of sin, but because of the Spirit.
A few years ago I remember my friend Matt saying “Dang B (he called me B), I just want something to go right for you all.” Little did Matt know that we were still at the beginning of our time in the wilderness. As the next few years unfolded we were faced with hardship, loss and pain. We wanted out. We wanted to live in the cities where our friends went about their normal lives. Seemingly void of extreme worry and not falling apart at the seams. Their lives appeared as if they were effortless, yet ours, a daily scavenge to find the emotional food for our next meal, and many times,going hungry.
God had moved us to a season of exposure. Initially, you try to live up to the good Christian role model and be a good example, after awhile your thought is, “get me the hell out of here.” Yet God keeps you there and the needs intensify.
It is in those moments that temptation comes. We see it in Christ life in the passage in Matthew 4. For many years I discounted this example from Christ life, thinking that He couldn’t really have been that tempted. This was a very immature handling of this passage. After living in the wilderness, I understand the temptation to live in your own efforts because you feel like God has abandoned you (Matthew 4:4), to find a shortcut past suffering (Matthew 4:7) and to look for an escape (Matthew 4:10).
We only survive in the wilderness through the divine provision of Christ in our lives. Christ does not change the character of the wilderness, He changes our character. In the desolation and the pains of hunger He sustains us. Though we are exposed and shivers of doubt and loneliness run down our spine, we are enveloped in Him.
He calls us into the wilderness. Will we follow? The journey is not comfortable, but it is meaningful. The wilderness is not our final destination, however we may find ourselves sojourning there beyond what we thought was a mild excursion.
We must remember…we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[d] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:7-18
May God bless us and keep us. May He cause His face to shine upon us and give us peace, even in the midst of the wilderness, through the seasons of exposure.
Bread or Stones
The Character of God the Father in a fatherless culture
A look at Matthew 7:7-11
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
I recently gave a talk at a conference on the different ways that we connect with God. One of the ones that stuck out the most was of God the Father. Having recently become a father myself, this aspect of God has taken on new meaning. Realistically, it has shown me about how little I know of God. In just starting the journey of a Father’s love, I have become more aware of the vast landscape of meaning that I am so new to exploring.
In Scripture we see the analogy of God referred to as a Father quite frequently, both in the Old Testament and the New. Yet, it seems that in our culture, the word Father or maybe more so, the role of a Father has changed dramatically.
We are influenced by our culture and by its narratives on roles and topics. When we look at the storyline of a father in our society we so often see not the hero in a story, but the antagonist. The Father figure is often portrayed as inept, vindictive, absent, irresponsible, toxic or disconnected. It is here we ask ourselves,” Does society reflect art or does art reflect society?” The story of the troubled Father is so commonplace that the storyline of a positive Father figure is now rare.
What are we to do? For some of us, the thought of God as a Father is not comforting, it is scary. It is scary because it is an unstable image. In ancient cultures the Father was a symbol of stability, security, but we do not live in ancient times. We have had a lineage of struggle and absence. Most Fathers today are not drawing from a singular example of a Father, but a conglomeration of hopes that we have constructed in an attempt to remedy the plague that we see in the families around us. We are trying to build solid homes on broken foundations and when the cracks start to show in our own lives we have a hard time taking advice from men whose homes have crumbled. We fear standing in ruin, we fear our families living in it, sifting through the rubble to find what they need to survive.
In Matthew 7 we are once again given the analogy of God as a Father. There is a contrast between what a good Father would do and what He wouldn’t do. There are three participants in the story: the earthly Father, the heavenly Father, and the child. Each one portrays a call to a deeper relationship.
First let’s take a look at the child. There are certain expectations that the child has of the Father in this story. The child expects the Father to have the character to provide, the desire to provide, the resources to provide, the relationship to provide and the responsibility to provide. The child does not view his request as an inconvenience, but a part of a natural relationship. Yet so often I do not approach God that way. I feel as though He may have the character to provide, but not the desire. That I am the bastard child that is an inconvenience for the King. This many times comes from a borrowed ideal or scenario from an earthly relationship to a Father or a Father figure. I may also view God as having the desire but not the capacity to provide. Like the loving Father that is a junkie in the movie or tv show. He always wants to be there, but never comes through and the child is left to fend for himself. Self-reliance may have been a necessary skill but if we are not careful, becomes self-idolatry. At this point you may be thinking, as am I, “How in the world do we change this, or grow out of this?”
One step at a time.
If we have come from scenarios where we have had to be self-reliant or our value and worth was based on performance,we will have a hard time relating to God as a Father. We have to take it a step at a time. Every milestone of our walk with God is reached by one small step of faith at a time. So is our image of God as our Father restored.
The Earthly Father
The Earthly Father mentioned in the text portrays a Father who poses all of the things the child desires. The character, desire, resources, relationship and responsibility to provide for the child’s needs. Let’s look at the request the child is making and how the father meets them.
Bread vs. Stone
Bread was of great value in the ancient near-east culture. If you were walking and saw a piece of bread in the road, you would not trample it underfoot. You would pick it up,dust it off and set it to the side, so that it may be of use to someone else. It represented the needs of daily life and the work it took to provide for it.
The child is asking for his (or her) basic needs to be met, for nourishment.
The Father is left with a choice. He can provide the basic needs, which would be a sacrifice and require work, or he can give a stone. Obviously a stone is hard and can provide no nourishment. The bread during these times were made in small loaves. Could the neglecting father be trying to pass off the appearance of provision in giving a stone? Could he even warm the stone so that at first glance and on the surface it looks beneficial? Yet, it lacks the ability to meet the needs required. Or, is the stone a harsh response to a genuine request? An extreme response to a genuine heartfelt need. The stone may have been an obvious denial of meeting the request or it could have been a subtle side step to appease people looking at a distance.
The earthly Father in the story does the hard work and makes the sacrifice to provide what is asked for, what is genuinely needed.
Fish or Snake
Whereas bread was a daily commodity, fish was not. Fish was a blessing. A gift that not only sustained but blessed. I believe this is the child asking for a blessing, that this is a picture of not just the functionality of the relationship (daily bread) but the depth of the relationship. The Father is left with the choice between the blessing of the fish or the gift of a snake. Again, they could be passed off as a bit similar in appearance to a distant onlooker, but the effect is just the opposite. The stone was unusable, the snake is deadly. Filled with poison, it injects venom into the request for a blessing. It lashes out when the request for depth is given, leaving pain instead of joy. For many of us this is our story. Longing for blessing we have been bitten and the poison of the past courses through our veins. Only by the blood of Christ and the gift of the gospel can this poison stop. Only through Jesus can we be healed. The power of Christ overcomes the poison of a malicious Father.
The Heavenly Father
Verse 11 states that if we, who are evil by nature, know how to give good gifts, how much more so will our Father in heaven give good gifts to His children.
Three words: How Much More
The Heavenly Father is not just a good Father, He is an extravagant one. He is One who possess the character, has the desire, the resources, the relationship and accepts the responsibility to provide despite our brokenness. We are not perfect children, but in Christ, we have an extravagant Father.
I believe that if we really grasped the depth of our relationship with God our Father through Christ, we would not doubt His intentions, His desires. Yet the reminders of other Fathers compete with what these verses reveal.
As I learn to be a father, I find myself learning how to also be a child. A child who believes in His Father, a child who is taking steps of faith towards healing and hope. I am finding that my cries for my needs do not go unanswered, and if I dare, the cries for blessing do not either. In faith I am learning to be bold in my relationship with God. That He does not love me because of what I do, but because through Christ, I am His child. I am learning that He desires more for me than I could have ever dreamed myself. I am learning to eat the bread that He gives and accept the fish from His hands, that there are no strings attached. In a fatherless culture I am not only learning how to have a Father, I am learning how to be His child.