God Is Still There

As I drove home from spending the day with good friends yesterday, my phone began buzzing, indicating that there was a message for me. Someone wanted to get in touch with me.

I checked the message to find that tragedy had struck my community in the loss of a young man. A message had gone out from the principal of the school alerting parents of the situation and letting them know that the school would do whatever they could in the midst of this tragedy to accommodate and care for students.

I looked in the rearview mirror at my three kids. These situations always feel close to home when I look into their eyes. My wife and I carried on our conversation, injecting questions and thoughts as we went. It was hard to wrap my head around this kind of news. When tragic news strikes, I’ve always felt like there are more questions than answers. Who? What? Where? Why?

Why?

Three simple letters that seem to be as invasive as the surgeon’s scalpel. They cut deep but unlike the scalpel, they don’t always get to the heart of the issue. There is pain. There is sorrow. There is anger. The emotions run rampant and wild as we wrestle with a new reality as it begins to set in.

Late last night, I got a text from someone struggling with the news. Words of comfort seem trite to me in times like this. Even as a man of deep faith who has experienced his own losses, the freshness and newness of loss demands something so much more than words can offer.

This morning, I was reminded of the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” The context is important here. Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, has died. His sisters insist that if Jesus had been there, he would not have died. Jesus comforts Mary and Martha with words. He tells them that their brother will rise again and reminds them that he (Jesus) is the resurrection and the life, that whoever believes in him, even though they die, will live. Then Jesus asks where his friend has been laid. When he reaches the tomb, he is greatly moved by the mourners and by the heartfelt pain of these sisters, and Jesus weeps himself.

Jesus’ response in the midst of this tragedy speaks deeply to me. He knew that he was going to heal Lazarus and raise him from the dead. He knew that death would be averted for a little while. Yet he still wept.

Sure, Jesus pointed them towards truth in the beginning, but then he simply wept with his friends. Jesus didn’t get on his soapbox and begin to preach. He said what he needed to say and then he got onto the task at hand: mourning and weeping.

To be honest, I don’t really think that we do that well. I’ve experienced it on both ends of the situation, as the one who is seeking to comfort another and as the one who is seeking to be comforted.

On the day that my father died, I had two friends with me. As I loved on my father and spoke gentle words to him, one of my friends began to weep. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t offer any words. He simply wept.

Sometimes the best thing for us to do is to simply come alongside those who are suffering and experiencing loss and not provide answers, but weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. There will be a time for asking questions and a time for seeking answers.  

The great Scottish author George MacDonald wrote, “The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” While we weep, we are not alone. In the pain, in the tragedy, in the heartbreak, God is still there. His voice might not always seem decipherable in the loudness of death, but his presence can be felt as he weeps with us. We are not alone.

 Yes, there will be a time for questions and answers, but in the freshness of loss, the best thing that we can do is to weep alongside those who are weeping. There may be a time when the answers that we’ve arrived at are appropriate to share, but that time is not now. May we practice the presence of Jesus alongside those who are grieving and mourning.

The Tech-Wise Family – A Book Review

techwise familyUnless you’re living in a bubble, you’re aware of the vast influence of technology on our society and culture (and if you’re living in a bubble, you’re most likely not reading this review). Like so many other tools, technology can simplify our tasks and make things easier for us, but it can also present challenges and pitfalls that we need to be aware of and for which we need to create boundaries. As Andy Crouch says, “If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about technology, it’s that it doesn’t stay in its proper place on its own…”

In his book “The Tech-Wise Family,” Andy Crouch lays out his top ten tech-wise commitments for families. He divides them, more practically, into three separate sections: the three key decision of a tech-wise family, daily life, and what matters most. Crouch leads the reader through each section, pointing to data from the Barna Group to bring some levity and reality to just how serious the technological situation is among families in our culture.

Crouch doesn’t call for a straight boycott and abandonment of technology, just a means and method by which it can be held in check. Either we get it under control or it will control us. Technology has a way of creating a culture where we see “easy everywhere.” In other words, we’ve simplified tasks and other things to the point that all that is required is a screen swipe or a button push, tasks that once required much more brainpower than they now require.

Andy Crouch pushes for creating spaces where we live “tech-free,” once a day, once a week, and once a year. How do we create Sabbath from everything, including technology? The challenge that this presents to families is that our kids might try to lead an uprising and a revolution, but Crouch suggests that, like his family, we need to make sure that the phrase “our family is different” becomes a regular part of our vocabulary.

Crouch pushes for the need to build family who are about wisdom and courage, which is not always easy, but so worth it. Are we instilling good values into our kids? Though he doesn’t explicitly say it, he certainly implies that if we aren’t instilling good values in our kids, values will come at them by whatever is at arm length, like their devices. I don’t think that’s an alternative that many of us who are parents would gladly choose.

While the tendency for parents might be to overreact at the potential pitfalls and dangers of technology, Crouch doesn’t advocate for isolating our children, just doing things differently with them. He writes, – “The path to health is not encasing our children in some kind of germ-free sterile environment that they will inevitably try to flee; rather, it is having healthy immune systems that equip us to resist and reject things that do not lead to health.” Using technology wisely isn’t an abandonment of it but a call to be more strategic in just how we use it.

At the end of each chapter, Crouch includes a “Reality Check” section where he talks about his family’s experience with the tech-wise commitment covered within that chapter. He is honest, not candy-coating the struggles that he and his family have had with some of these commitments. The honesty and candor here is a draw, especially for those families who will have to implement guidelines and commitments after having little to no boundaries around technology.

As I look at technology and its development, it seems that it might be easily compared to a high-speed train. Parents can’t simply sit back and hope for the best, there needs to be intentionality in a family’s approach to technology. Andy Crouch offers a clear, thoughtful, and thorough approach. He never claims that it’s easy, but he does say that it’s effective. For any parent wanting to navigate these waters for their family, “The Tech-Wise Family” is a helpful resource. It’s not foolproof but it offers a good place to start.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Jesus Journey – A 40 day journey

Jesus journeyThroughout the history of Christianity, there have been two ways that people have looked at Jesus. Jesus was God in flesh, incarnate, revealing who the Father is by the things that he said and did. He was seen as more superhuman than human and much more divine than just a man. This is a view of God from above.

The other way people have looked at Jesus was simply as a man, someone that we could relate to who happened also to be God in the flesh. His pain was experienced so that we could know we were not alone. The oppression he faced was faced so that those who are oppressed can relate to him and find comfort in who he is and what he has to offer. This is a view of God from below.

No one has ever existed before or since Jesus who was fully human and fully divine. Trying to find the balance between Jesus’ humanity and divinity can be problematic. Trent Sheppard sees the emphasis having been much more on Jesus’ divinity, which is why he wrote “Jesus Journey.”

In “Jesus Journey,” Trent Sheppard looks more at the humanity of Jesus. He doesn’t deny or diminish his divinity, but he draws from the stories of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to paint a picture of Jesus that helps the reader to see him more human than maybe they have in the past.

Jesus was hungry, Jesus got angry. Jesus was stressed. Jesus needed sleep and rest. It might be easy to gloss over the humanity of Jesus in a reading of the gospels, but Sheppard tries to accentuate the accounts that help the reader see Jesus more realistically. He also does a good job of reminding the reader that the way that we see Jesus, two thousand years later, is not necessarily the way that the disciples and others of his time saw Jesus. It was a stretch for them, a process of belief that they entered into, to come to the place where they saw him as the Messiah.

Sheppard also breaks up the book in sections to look at the relationships that Jesus had with his parents, his Father, his friends, his death and suffering, and his resurrection. Through personal stories and anecdotes as well as the accounts found in the gospel, Sheppard weaves his way through the life of Jesus helping the reader to see the humanity of Jesus.

While I didn’t find anything outstanding here, I appreciated what Sheppard wrote. Having grown up in the church, it’s too easy to look at Jesus as the superhero and forget about his humanity. Sheppard does a good job of not deemphasizing Jesus’ divinity while reminding his reader that Jesus went through all of the things that ordinary humans have to go through as well.

“Jesus Journey” was a worthwhile read and could be useful as a devotion. Sheppard lays out his book in such a way that the reader can go through it in 40 days. The chapters aren’t too long and this could easily be a book that someone could read through during the 40 days of Lent in preparation for Easter.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)