An Oklahoma winter that seemed to drag on forever is finally over. The warm weather, spring rain, and sunshine has started to green up the yard and send the redbuds into a spectacular bloom. One of the perks about being in that narrow stretch of the year between the frigid cold and the blistering heat is letting the three year old spend a good bit of time in the backyard. This has a couple of great benefits. The first is that the parents in the household regain a bit of sanity after having an energetic little boy largely cooped up in the house. The second is getting to see the world through his eyes as he engages the fascinating backyard world.
We will often let Liam play out in the yard by himself. It is during these stretches when he has the whole backyard to himself that his little imagination really kicks into high gear. This afternoon I stepped outside to check up on him and found him in the back corner of the yard. He was dutifully collecting little rocks and placing them on one of the boards on the fence. There were a number of little ants crawling around the rocks. I asked him what he was doing. “I’m feeding the bugs Daddy!” Of course. This feeding of the bugs kept him busy for close to thirty minutes as he watched with wide eyes while the ants navigated the feast he had laid out before them.
By this point you are surely wondering what this has to do with God’s Kingdom. First of all let me state that I am referring to the Kingdom that is yet to come. The one that is not yet fully realized as we live in that time between the inauguration of the Kingdom at Jesus’ coming and the full arrival of the Kingdom upon his victorious return. I watched Liam explore the backyard with wide eyed wonder. I watched him care for the little bugs by carefully laying out a spread of rocks in front of them. I was struck at how true the words of Jesus are in Matthew 18:1-4:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
That got me to thinking about why Jesus would say those things? I mean, anyone who has been around a young child for more than a few minutes knows just how quickly they can turn from angelic little cherubs into a whirling dervish. But when you try to see the world through the eyes of a child I think it is easier to grasp just why Jesus pointed to children as an example for how we should act in his Kingdom. Think of the awe a child has as he explores the world around him. Think about how he basks in the wonder around him without question or cynicism. Think about how a child trusts. Our youngest never shows an ounce of fear when I hold him up over my head while we play. Children have a proper sense of awe, wonder, and faith.
I think that is what it will be like when we experience the Kingdom of God. When the old world passes away and a new heaven and earth are put in place and creation is once again rightly ordered. We will all get to experience the world like our children do. We will see the wonders of creation with a sense of awe as we see the world restored to the way God intended it to be. We will look on in wide eyes at the little ants that we once considered pests. We will be able to experience the world from a place of innocence rather than one clouded by the results of sin and the fall. We will experience the love of God with a faith like that of young children. Knowing that God will never leave us and never fail us. Our fears and doubts will finally be put aside and replaced with a perfect understanding of his faithfulness. It brings me a great deal of peace to think of those who I have loved who are already experiencing God’s Kingdom. Think of them being present with their Savior and experiencing a world where all is made new. A world where work is wonderful (for we were created to work) and where each day brings new discoveries about the unfathomable depths of the creator God. Where the most minute details of eternal every day life are a cause to worship. Where the glory of God is experienced in perfect fullness and not through the dim mirror of a sin tarnished creation still in the throes of renewal.
So the next time you see a wide eyed child exploring the backyard or preparing a table of rocks for a kingdom of ants, I hope you will think of the Kingdom that has not yet fully arrived. I hope it will put within you a longing for that Kingdom and a longing to be able to see a world restored and to experience that new Kingdom just like our kids experience this broken world in the wonder of their younger years.
It’s hard to believe how close a dream a decade in the making is to becoming reality. I’ve started to get a bit nervous about all the changes, the new things to learn, new people to meet, and the move to a new home. The nerves are the typical ones that crop up when a new thing is on the horizon but these feel even weightier than normal because of how long all of this has taken to come to fruition.
In preparation for our transition to Active Duty I quit my job at Best Buy. The six months that I spent at the store were good for me. I got to meet dozens of new people who I never would have had the opportunity to meet. I also gained a new respect for people who have made working in a retail environment a career choice. If we’re being honest, it’s really easy to look down on those who work in retail. Many folks see it as just a starter job or something you do when in dire straits (e.g. me), I had the opportunity to meet a number of people who were really passionate about their jobs in retail. I was also reminded how poorly some people treat those who work in retail. Folks, just don’t. When you walk into a store or sit down in a restaurant make sure to treat those helping you with respect. They are working hard to make ends meet and if you are kind to them the chances are they will go out of their to give you a great customer service experience (in fact, many will be much nicer to you than you deserve even if you do treat them poorly). So my six months at Best Buy were a great experience and a time I’m grateful for. I’m so thankful for the managers who brought me on board when I was in desperate need of a job and gave me the opportunity to work with some fantastic folks.
On top of all the other changes, the kids are growing like weeds. Liam can be incredibly stubborn and frustrating but we are increasingly seeing a very sweet side of him. He is very aware of when mommy and daddy are upset. Sometimes if Laura accidentally hurts herself Liam will run up to her and hug her leg. He’s started paying more attention to Ewan and it has been fun watching him start to see him more like a little brother and less like a little blob who just sucks up our attention and energy. The biggest thing we are working with right now are best ways to discipline and redirect his energy to things more productive than tantrums. It’s an ongoing battle and one that often seems to require more patience than it feels we possess but we are trusting the God will give us the grace we need.
Ewan has really come alive in these past few weeks. Ever since he got over the endless cold that it seemed we passed around for months he has become steadily more active. He is now trying his hardest to crawl and has really started interacting with and playing with objects around him. He has an infectious little giggle and still smiles just as easily as ever. He also started sleeping better again. There were a few weeks where it felt like he didn’t sleep more than an hour at a time until about three or four in the morning an then he’d sleep five or six hours.
Laura and I are still working through everything that went on at the church in Kansas. I think the wounds are slowly healing and seeing this transition on the horizon is helping put those events more and more in the rearview mirror. That said, the things that happened to us left scars. Sometimes something will trigger a memory and reopen those wounds. I don’t think the scars will ever completely fade but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Hopefully the things we faced will make us more compassionate and loving people as move into our next phase of ministry.
“Culture War.” It’s a term that gets tossed around a lot. Most of the time I hear it from conservative political circles and evangelical theological circles. I’m not really sure about the etymology of the phrase but I suspect the modern incarnation of the “culture war” could be traced back to the late 70s and the “Moral Majority” spearheaded by Jerry Falwell. The whole idea was there was a broadly conservative and evangelical bent in the American culture that was being passed over and needed a voice.
Fast forward to today and it pretty clear that there in no “moral majority” (if there ever was one) and the culture is increasingly moving in a direction that is at odds with orthodox Christianity. There is not even a cultural sheen of supposed Christian values any more. Just look at any survey about the religiosity of the millennial generation. This perfect storm of declining influence and increasing animosity from the larger culture has made the “culture war” language increasingly popular on evangelical circles. But I wonder if that language, no matter how accurate it may feel, does us far more harm than good?
Most of the culture war language today is applied to the demonization of anyone who would oppose “gay marriage.” You have bakers, photographers, florists, and CEOs. It seems like every other day there is a new story of some person being forced to violate their convictions because they are different than the status quo of the larger culture. It sure feels like warfare language is suitable when describing this sort of bombardment. But it’s not.
To have a war you must have an enemy. To win the war you must sufficiently kill, capture or maim the enemy in order to force them to surrender and submit to the terms you spell out for them. To have a “culture war” there must be an enemy to kill, capture, or maim. There must be a group to force into submission through relentless pressure. Often this is accomplished through dehumanizing the enemy. Making them seem like backwards neanderthals who hold back progress. Sound familiar? Those are things that have been said about anyone who opposes “gay marriage” of late. But there is something in the culture war language that is extremely dangerous and unhelpful when Christians use it to apply to those who hold to values outside of Christian orthodoxy.
Imagine that you have a neighbor or a coworker who you find out holds to a different set of cultural values than you do. Maybe they *gasp* voted for a Democrat or attend an open and affirming church or regularly post on social media in celebration of each time a judge orders a state’s laws against “gay marriage” unconstitutional. If the idea of a culture war is deeply embedded into your psyche than this person is no longer your neighbor or coworker but rather your enemy. They are someone who is out to get you. Someone who is responsible for helping push a cultural change in which evangelicals no longer enjoy the ease and comfort they once did.
So now that this neighbor or coworker is your enemy in the culture war does it change how you approach them, if you approach them at all? Can you still be a friend and a good neighbor to someone when you see them as an enemy? Maybe some people can, but I fear that for many of us that is simply not the case. I worry that the language of the culture war only makes it harder for us to fulfill the summary of the law and prophets that Jesus gave us: “26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:26-28) I worry that the culture war language makes it harder for us to fulfill the Great Commission because we don’t see our neighbors as sinners in need of the abundant grace of God but as purveyors of a worldview that must be crushed and destroyed above all else. This culture war worldview makes people the ones we contend with, wrestle with, and do battle against.
But Paul tells us that our biggest beef is not with people who don’t know Jesus. These are people who have not experienced salvation and who have no sanctifying work taking place in their lives. Those people who the culture war would tell us are our enemies are merely acting normally. The real war is taking place behind the scenes. It is one that Christians are aware of, and it is also the one where we find the real enemy. It is not our neighbor or our coworker. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:11-12)
Now, you might be saying, “Hold on here, doesn’t the Bible say something about people who oppose God being our enemy?” You may be thinking of Romans 5:10 which says: 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Wait, what? So am I saying that if that friend or coworker is not a Christian they are an enemy of God. Yes. But did you catch what else Paul said in that verse? We were once enemies of God too and the only reason we don’t hold that unenviable title now is because Jesus saved us. So, but for the grace of God, we’d be just like our coworkers and neighbors: sinners in need of a Savior.
And that is what it really all boils down to. We need to see those around us through grace colored glasses. See them as people who are as we once were: enemies of God but not our enemies. So maybe we should rethink the language of a “culture war” if it ends up making it more difficult for us to fulfill the commandments of Scripture. Personally, I don’t want to live in a world where everyone around me who has different ideas is my enemy to be silenced and forced to submit. That’s something for people on both sides of “gay marriage” issue to remember.
Maybe I’m turning into an old fogie. A couple of weeks ago I was visiting with a friend who leads worship at our church. We were discussing how hard it is to find good Christian music on the radio any more. We pined for the ol’ days of the 90s before K-Love and Air-1 owned almost the entire Christian radio market. When small, regional, and independent Christian radio stations were still the norm and thus had more say in who got spins on their airways.
One of the top Christian musicians of the 90s was Peter Furler. He was a member of Newsboys who wrote, sang, and played drums until taking over frontman duties in the late 90s until 2009. Furler just released his second solo effort. I picked it up on release day and it was a welcome salve to ears that had grown tired of the stagnant lyrics and music too often heard over the CCM airwaves.
If you’ve made it through the first two paragraphs you are either nodding your head in agreement or thinking that I really am an old fogie who “just doesn’t get what the kids are digging these days.” Let me try and break it down with a comparison of two songs. Mandisa is one of the biggest names in CCM today. Her latest album was a big hit and the single “Overcomer” is a number one song. So lets take two similarly titled songs, released relatively close to each other, but from who found their stride in very different eras of Christian music and compare them.
Here’s a sampling of Mandisa’s “Overcomer“
Staring at a stop sign
Watching people drive by
T mac on the radio
Got so much on your mind
Nothing’s really going right
Looking for a ray of hope
Whatever it is you may be going through
I know he’s not gonna let it get the best of you
You’re an overcomer
Stay in the fight ’til the final round
You’re not going under
‘Cause God is holding you right now
You might be down for a moment
Feeling like it’s hopeless
That’s when he reminds you
That you’re an overcomer
You’re an overcomer
Got it? Could the first verse be more generic? Granted, by the time you get to the final verse of the song you find a bit more depth but the whole song feels pretty shallow. What if you are down for more than a moment? Are you not an overcomer? Is God not with you? Does God turn you into an overcomer or is it really God who is The Overcomer working through you? The song seems to be saying that you are the overcomer.
Now consider the lyrics to this Peter Furler song entitled “The Overcomer“
It’s getting cold
for the faithful who
want to trust the true
wanna follow you
just passing through
catch a chill
and then you’re numb
if the gospel’s easy
was it even tried?
just step outside
where the odds are long
and the enemy’s strong
can it be overcome?
IN THIS WORLD
WE KNOW THE POWERS THAT BE
LET DRAGONS RUN FREE
DON’T BE AFRAID
THIS WORLD’S GONNA BE REBORN
BUT WE’RE GETTING WARM
HERE BETWEEN HEAVEN
AND THE PERFECT STORM
Wait? What? Here’s a song that has deep theological and eschatological roots. The very first words of the song attest to a songwriter tuned into what the culture is saying about Christians (e.g. It’s not getting easier) and with a strong grasp of Scripture. Then Furler puts forth a piercing truth the reminds the listener that the Gospel isn’t easy and it seems the odds are stacked against believers. Can they be overcome?
The answer is the rousing chorus that rises from the punctuated questions of the verses. Yes, they can. Why? Not because I’m an overcomer but because of The Overcomer. The one who empowers believers living in a world that is still being made new but has not arrived yet. A world still waiting to be reborn. A world hostile to the exclusive claims of Scripture. He’s the one who has overcome the world and is remaking the world. He is the one who works through Christians in the church to bring about his kingdom. It’s about Jesus.
Peter Furler- “The Overcomer”
So there you have it. A song about you and a song about Jesus. What say you?
So I’ve been meaning to write this post for, I dunno, three months now. The last six months have been crazy so the blogging has fallen by the wayside. I set a goal of reading 20 books last year and I ended up reading 21. I’ve set a similar goal for this year but I don’t have as much time for reading. When I was pastoring I would set aside time to read just about every day. Perhaps I’ll be able to do that again at some point later in the year once we adjust to life on Active Duty.
Anyway, here are my top five books that I read in 2013. They are in no particular order.
Out of The Silent Planet and Perelandra
Both of these books started very slowly for me. In fact, there were times in the early going where I almost set them aside. I stuck with them and was rewarded for that perseverance. These are incredible stories that essentially ask “what if” about some of the major themes of the Bible. These books require some patience but they are worth it. The final book in the trilogy is on my docket to read this year. We’ll see if it makes the 2014 list.
This book gave me a far deeper understanding of the social and economic conditions that were at the foundation of the Civil War. Instead of focusing on names, dates, and battles (although he did touch on those) Guelzo focused on why the war was fought and how the war was fought. The chapters on medical care and weaponry were both fascinating and horrifying.
Command and Control
The Cold War ended when I was just a young kid. I don’t really have any memories of it. I wanted to learn a little more about it so I picked up this book about a near nuclear disaster. This book reads like a fast paced techno-thriller and includes a blow by blow account of a missile silo disaster in Arkansas as well as a brief history of nuclear weapons and other near nuclear disasters. This book will have you wishing there was no such things as nuclear weapons and saying prayers of thanks that we have not accidentally irradiated large swaths of the world.
Tempted and Tried
I’d had this book for awhile and finally got to read it. It is a compelling and challenging read that would benefit any Christian. Moore has an engaging, straight forward, and humorous style that has me hoping he’ll churn out a few more books.
I Am a Church Member
Short and to the point. This book serves as a corrective and a wake up call to the church. It will challenge you to become a better church member and if a large portion of your church membership reads it and applies it, this little book could completely alter the structures of your church for the better. Our pastor is finishing up a series based on this book and in a couple of weeks we will have a ceremony where church members who wish to become “covenant members” will have the opportunity to sign the church covenant and make a deep level of commitment to our local church. So I’ve seen the practical implications of this book played out in a local congregation and highly recommend it.