What’s Gonna Happen?

What’s Gonna Happen?

COVID-19 has thrown our world into a storm of uncertainty. The economy is in disarray as businesses have shut down, people have been laid off or furloughed, and the thought of reigniting it by slowly opening things up causes anxiety and anger.

I think we can safely say that the majority of the world has been touched in some way, shape, or form by COVID-19. It’s disrupted our lives and its effects will move far beyond the moment when stay at home orders are lifted and people can begin to cautiously emerge from their homes like groundhogs tentatively looking for their shadows. The world is not just untouched during this time, as we move ahead on the other side of the virus, the world will not be the same.

Nowhere has this felt the case more to me than within the church. As a pastor of a barely half a year old church plant, risk is something that I am well aware of, but moving to the other side of this will be an exercise in self-reflection that will only be achieved as we ask ourselves hard questions to which we give honest answers.

Here are five important questions that I think the Church needs to ask herself in this time:

1) Will we embrace change? 

Whether the church likes it or not, this time of separation has forced us all to embrace change on some level or another. I have said for years that the church is one of two organizations in the world that struggles to embrace change (the other is the educational system, who has stepped out during this time). Even when we think we’re good with change, we can generally open up our stable to reveal a host of sacred cows we’ve been hiding.

Change for change sake is never a good idea, but change for the sake of contextualizing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is essential. We see it within the New Testament as Jesus met people where they were as did Paul and so many others within the Book of Acts. It’s an essential part of communication to speak a language that those to whom you are speaking can understand.

The medium may change, but the message stays the same. Will the church embrace change in order to more effectively communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

2) Will we compromise or coalesce?

Changing does not mean compromising, and I believe that many within the Church don’t always get that right. Adapting does not mean conforming to the culture. Attractional ministry can easily lead us down a road where we compromise our values and shift our moral compass simply to appease people we are trying to reach.

I’m not one to harp on certain issues that have the potential to divide, but simply avoiding them is not the right approach either. Will we compromise who we are and who God has called us in order that we can become more “relevant”?

3) Will we focus inward or outward?

One of the reasons that I became a church planter is because, since I became a pastor sixteen years ago and even before that, I had grown frustrated with the inward focus of the local church. The Great Commission has not changed since Jesus spoke it. We are still called to GO and make disciples, baptize them, and teach them what Jesus commanded.

I believe that the local church can often get caught up in the last part and forget the first part: GO. While spiritual formation and discipleship is essential within the local faith community, I believe that we have created an unsustainable model that looks more like a spiritual daycare than a training ground for disciples of Jesus. If our people still look the same as they did five years ago, that inward focus isn’t accomplishing what we thought it would.

Outward focus allows us to put into practice the spiritual practices and ideals that we claim to be learning. It allows us to put hands and feet to ideas and concepts. It also allows us to constantly be changed by seeing those whom God has a heart for, those who have not yet begun to follow Jesus Christ,

If the church is to survive, we need to get back to the essentials of evangelism and discipleship rather than transactional and attractional ministry.

4) Will we build community or clubs?

Community is essential. I’ve told more than one person in the past few months that when I write a book, the theme will most likely be community. My own personal experience with community has shaped and formed me. I would not be where I am had I not been surrounded by a loving, caring, and giving community to help walk with me through some dark periods of my life.

I am well aware that there is an entropy of sorts that happens within churches, even the most progressive and creative churches. That entropy moves us from a place of intentionality of openness to a place of unintentional cliquishness (if that’s even a word). We seek to be welcoming and eventually can become so comfortable with who we have that we simply build a social club.

If the church is simply a social club, there is nothing there that can’t be replaced with a thousand other clubs or organizations. We need to be something much more than just a club, we need to be a community that seeks to change the world one person at a time.

5) Will we become extinct?

The church in America has been declining for decades. Denying that is not just foolish, it’s ignorant. Instead of lamenting that the United States is no longer a “Christian” nation, we need to get down to brass tacks and begin the hard work of evangelism and discipleship once again. If we are simply building local churches around our preaching, music, and programs, there will inevitably come along someone else who can do those things better than we can. We will continue to swap members until Jesus returns and I fear the rebuke may be equivalent to the one talent servant in Jesus’ parable.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 were, “…and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The Church will not fail because the true church isn’t a building, a program, or a person. The Church is a movement of people, disciples, seeking to be kingdom-minded and be part of God’s kingdom expansion in this world. Building the kingdom does not mean adding some beautiful aesthetics to pretty it up, it means literally building and expanding it beyond what it is today.

Will the church become extinct?

I think these questions and many more are essential questions for every disciple of Christ to ask themselves during this time and beyond? The thing about hard questions is that they demand hard answers. While some may see my criticism as harsh, the more complacent we become, the harsher the criticism for us to move out of that complacency to a place of effectiveness.

May God give us the courage and boldness to ask the hard questions of who we are in the church. May we seek his kingdom first and deny ourselves the desire to build a kingdom of our own making. May we elementarily return to our original commission and seek to go and make disciples rather than simply making consumers of programs whose sustaining power is only as effective as the latest trend.

Curating An Experience

I remember a few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who was a worship leader at a local church. We were talking through resources and books recently read. He had mentioned to me a book about curating worship. I was intrigued by the title as I had really only heard that term used of museums and art shows prior to that conversation.

The dictionary defines “curate” as, “to take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit)” or “to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content.” My interpretation was always that it had more to do with strategic organizing, organizing for a purpose.

I don’t think I had thought about the word until the other day when my wife and I were having a conversation and I said something to her about parents curating experiences for their children. That passing statement implanted itself in my brain and I’ve been mulling it over since.

I’ve rarely met a parent who hasn’t, in some way, wanted their own children to have either identical or completely different experiences than they had as children. Parents can often get incredibly nostalgic about their own childhood experiences, almost to the point of obsession, thinking that the only way their children can experience something is in the exact same way that they did.

At the same time, there are plenty of parents whose childhood experiences were such that they want to do anything and everything possible to ensure that their children don’t have to have that same experience themselves. While they may not necessarily have been traumatized by their experience, they know that they want better for their own children than they had themselves.

I have to admit that my approach has been similar, at least in the area of wanting my kids to experience better than I did at their age. But in the midst of doing my best to ensure that, I’ve come to realize that, just like food, organic is better than processed, and experiences that happen are so much better for my kids than experiences that are forced.

I’m learning that presence and availability matters so much more. I’ve been on enough trips with my kids, given them enough gifts, to know that setting my expectations high about their reactions can lead to disappointment and frustration. How many of us have given our three year old child a present at Christmas thinking they’ll be so excited, only to have them playing with the box the present came in fifteen minutes later?

Instead of trying to force my kids to experience things the same way that I did, maybe it’s just about offering suggestions and letting them decide for themselves. While my kids share certain personality traits of my wife and I, they are their own people. They are becoming who they are becoming. Sure, I want them to carry on a legacy of sorts, but I don’t want them to feel forced to do it the way that I do it. Forcing that on them won’t result in joy in the journey at all.

When you have friends whose kids are older than yours, you hear the endless comments about how time flies and how they blinked and their kids went from pre-school to high school. I get it, I’m listening.

So, I’m trying my best to be present. They want to throw the baseball or softball? I’m here. They want to show me the latest trick on the skateboard? I’m here. They want to talk about what happened at school that day? I’m here. Instead of forcing the experience, I want to be there for it, whatever it is, and then be available to respond to that experience.

I spoke with a friend yesterday and we laughed over how much of a growing experience it is to see your own flaws in your children. It’s humbling at best and unnerving at worst. But it’s also freeing to realize that they are who they are and we have the opportunities to shape them, not by force, but through the investments that we make in them.

I’d love to be a curator of life for my children, not to force them to see things the way that I do or even experience exactly what I have experienced. Instead, I want to be available, like a tour guide, to respond to the inevitable questions, do my best to steer them when I can, and support and encourage them along the journey.

What Are You Hiding?

In the wake of the suicides of two prominent public and successful figures, many are reeling and wondering just what happened. How did two people who had experienced such success find themselves in such darkness and despair that they felt the need to take their lives? How did it come to this? And the question that haunts me more than any other is, “Did anyone really know how bad it was?”

We live in an age of information. We get up to the minute news details from around the world. At our fingertips lies more information than generations before us could gather in a lifetime. We call ourselves “connected” but deep down inside, there are so many who are alone, afraid, and in desperate despair.

I’ve been through my own struggles lately, none which have led me to the sickness unto death. Struggles are one thing, but where do we go with them?

My thoughts on my own recent struggles and experiences are raw, but one thing that has emerged larger than life to me is that we are rarely honest people. We love to cover things up. We will divert and project and use all kinds of tactics to ensure that no one has a clue what’s really going on inside of us.

Even the answers that we give of our despair are untrue. We tell ourselves lies, and we tell those lies to others. Why? Why are we trying to hide? What are we trying to hide? What keeps us from confronting the truth of the situations in which we find ourselves?

I am a student of people. I watch, I learn, I gather information. Over the years, I have been both frustrated and intrigued to find that the answers that people give and reasons for their actions are rarely true. I’ve rarely received an answer when asking for a reason or rationale that I haven’t felt the need to mine, dig deeper, and discover the real reason behind the reason.

In an age when we are all supposed to feel closer than ever, we couldn’t be more further apart.

I have been blessed by many things in the midst of this world, but three stand out to me.

First, I have a family who I love and who loves me. My family has gone through transitions in the past few years, losing my parents, losing other loved ones, but we adjust. I am grateful for what I have in the form of loves ones.

Second, I have a select group of friends with whom I feel I can be more honest and open. Some are near, some are far, but the benefit of having those who I feel no need to hide from, whom I don’t need to don a social media presence before, that benefit is invaluable.

Third, my faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, critics of Christianity have criticized it as a crutch. Many horrid things have been done in the name of Jesus, but putting the blame for those things on Jesus hardly seems fair. Call it a crutch if you will, I know the depths of despair from which I have been rescued because of the hope and faith that I have. While that certainly can’t be distilled down into any empty statements suggesting that Jesus is all you need to avoid despair, depression, and suicide, I know that the smallest glimpse of hope has saved me and helped me to seek help in trying times.

I want to be part of a community that knows how to be honest with one another, even when it’s awkward, even when it hurts, even when it’s uncomfortable. I have seen the alternative and it’s been less than appealing to me.

And when we can’t be honest with each other, when we feel the need to hide, can we dig and probe and ask questions to get to the bottom of the despair that’s plaguing our hearts? Can we not settle for, “I’m fine” when we know that it’s less than an honest answer?

Two passages from the Bible come to mind. The first from Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” It takes time and trust to get to the deep waters of a person’s heart, are we willing to spend that time? One who has insight and wisdom will take the time and will do their best to draw it out.

I am also reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul from one of my favorite passages in all of the Bible, Romans 12:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

As much despair as there is in the world, there is always hope, we can always find it if we look in the right place. I hope and pray that wherever you are, wherever I am, that we might be honest enough with those around us that we can face our despair and find hope in the midst. And if we can’t be honest, for whatever reason, I pray that there are those around us who will take the time and do the hard work of loving us and drawing out the purposes of our hearts so that we can move towards hope and peace.

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.

Sex Matters – A Book Review

sex mattersEverywhere we look, we are bombarded by sex. It seems that our culture may be obsessed by sex considering the way that it comes at us from every angle. Television shows. Movies. Music. Media. There is no escaping the issue, for us or our children. The things that might once have been forbidden to speak of have become common place.

Children are maturing faster, physically and emotionally. The landscape of sexuality is not for the faint of heart and addressing the subject with your children will happen one way or another. Either you can be up front and frank with them or they’ll find the answers on their own through the things they watch and listen to or from the people around them.

Jonathan McKee takes on the subject of sex with his hard hitting and brief book “Sex Matters.” It’s just long enough that a kid can sit down and read through it in an evening or two. But don’t let the length fool you, it’s packed with challenging and helpful information. McKee shares helpful insights from reputable resources to emphasize his point that many (or most) young people are engaging in sexual activities.

McKee’s companion book for parents is called “More Than Just the Talk” (check out my review here). “Sex Matters” is a synopsis of the material that he covers in that book but specifically geared towards youth. Within the book, McKee isn’t afraid to tackle head on some of the difficult questions that Christian teens may be asking. He addresses the questions “Why wait” and “How far is too far” and other questions as well.

McKee doesn’t sidestep issues here, he uses language that makes sense for young people, even to the point of discomfort. He doesn’t try to dance around issues with cute language, instead choosing to call things what they are and being fairly explicit and clear in addressing the issue of sex. In fact, he shares with humor about some of the uncomfortable language that was used when he was a youth and just how awkward some of that language was.

McKee isn’t afraid to address subjects like pornography, masturbation, and even same sex attraction. He shares his own experiences in a very personal and humorous way. He admits to his own shortcomings while calling youth to do things differently. He is honest and frank, funny and challenging. An honest reader will come away having felt challenged to, at the very least, ask the tough questions that McKee poses within the book.

This book is meant to be read by youth. There may be some parents who don’t want to be quite as frank as McKee in how he addresses the subject of sex, but softening the message and the importance of the language will not make more safe a subject that can be dangerous if not addressed properly. This is an important read, for both youth and their parents. It’s a quick read and packs a punch, especially for the amount of investment necessary.

Pick up a copy and share it with the young people that mean the most to you.

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

I Doubt It

Anyone who knows me and has spent any significant time with me would not hesitate to label me a “cynic.” While I’m not sure that I would say that I wear the label proudly, I certainly don’t avoid or evade it either. I am not easily convinced but I would define myself as loyal, once you gain my trust and respect, I will go to the mat for you.

In preparation for a message that I gave this past weekend at my church, I read some statistics from David Kinnaman’s book, “You Lost Me.” As president of the Barna Group, a leading research organization, Kinnaman has focused much on what keeps people from engaging in church. He has written a book with Gabe Lyons about what the younger generations really think about Christianity. In “You Lost Me,” Kinnaman talks about the exodus out of the church of young people in the 18-29 age group who have grown tired of many things that the church does (and doesn’t) offer.

One striking statistic for me was that nearly 40% of young people who were polled for the Barna study admitted a period of significant doubting of their faith during their short life. Kinnaman says that a large number of those that doubted did not feel that their faith community was open to this kind of doubting and even made some feel uncomfortable that they would even entertain thoughts of doubt. To that, I say, “What a shame!”

Whenever I meet someone with an overconfidence and self-assuredness in their beliefs, I am suspicious. I am mostly suspicious as to whether or not his person has experienced any real difficulties in their lives. I wonder if they have really had their faith challenged, questioned, and even tested. While faith challenges can lead to a strengthening of one’s faith, they more often than not will result in a crisis of faith, a questioning and doubting of one’s long held beliefs and philosophies.

I certainly don’t think that doubt is disrespectful to God. After all, if he is sovereign as many Christ followers claim that he is, than this kind of doubt should come as no surprise to him at all. The Bible is full of those who have expressed their doubts, who have questioned even the sovereign hand of God in the midst of their struggles and crises. The psalmist, David, was renowned for expressing his doubt and disbelief, but he always came back to the place where he remembered what God had promised, where he was able to see God’s hand at work on a larger scale than the immediate and current.

It’s no wonder to me that so many young people would be turned off to the idea or notion of church when they suddenly find themselves in a season of “question everything” and the church will have nothing at all to do with it.

My hope and prayer is that the church would be open to skeptics. Jesus met many skeptics, but he never left them where they were, he always brought them along, invited the along on the journey. I hope that the church can do the same thing and invite others into the journey and dialogue, allowing for healthy doubt and wrestling. There are so many people that I know who would have benefited from such an environment and I hope and pray that I can be part of something that can create that kind of culture and atmosphere.

 

Why, Part 2

It’s funny how life can imitate art commentating on life.

Yesterday, with no hint of what the day would hold, I wrote a post called, “Why?” I never realized that by day’s end, I would find myself uttering that question and wondering about the timing of things in life.

My wife and I had been eagerly waiting to get the nickel tour of our former church from my father-in-law. He had done a good deal of work on their new building and had overseen a large portion of it as well, so I (as an engineer) was anxious to see and hear all about the building. We waited until after we had run some errands in the morning and after we had eaten lunch before we headed down for our tour.

While innocently driving in our minivan, three kids in the back, we were all shaken up a bit when a piece of flying debris shot from a State Department of Transportation lawnmower hit the back window next to my shattering it. We were literally hundreds of feet from our destination, the church parking lot. So, we pulled into another parking lot before getting to the church to assess the damage. Thank God for class that doesn’t shatter upon impact, otherwise, my son would have been injured badly.

After calling 911 and being told to call the DOT claims line, I walked down the street to find the man who had been driving the lawnmower to alert him of what had happened. He called his supervisor and the waiting game began.

All in all, while the shattered glass wasn’t pleasant, there were no injuries. The DOT should cover the cost of the window. I was able to spend more time with my brother who I don’t get to see very often. We were close enough to my in-laws that I was able to get the kids and my wife taken care of so that they didn’t have to wait with me. Not an ideal situation, but it could have been so much worse.

I half snickered and half cursed when I thought of my blog post from yesterday. I thought about the timing, even reminiscing about the beginning of the film “Magnolia” where all of these coincidences were described. I thought about how we had been delayed going down for our nickel tour of the church. I thought about how we happened to be passing that lawnmower on the other side of the road at just the right time when there was no traffic heading in the opposite direction to be hit with the debris. A few seconds earlier or later, we would have escaped without harm.

As I thought about the “why” of the situation, I had to ask myself, “What?” What was I supposed to be seeing in the midst of this? What was I supposed to be doing?

I’ll be honest, the town where it happened can kind of be uppity, if you know what I mean. Some of the people who live there are rich and have an incredible sense of entitlement. I thought about my own need to distinguish myself from someone like that. I was going to be as calm as possible with these guys. In turn, all of the DOT workers who I came in contact with were incredibly cordial and helpful to me. Again, not an ideal situation or one that I would have chosen to happen, but it could have been very different.

I also snickered as family and friends were alerted to this and began commenting about the “adventure” that seems to follow our family wherever we go. I think we can do without that sense of “adventure” for a little while. I’ll take boring for a season because my heart just can’t seem to take too much more “adventure.”

Like I said, there is a lot to be thankful for in the midst of the accident. Heck, it could have happened on the New Jersey Turnpike while we were 3 hours from home and 3 hours from our destination in Connecticut.

But it didn’t!

Yes, it would be easy to ask, “Why?” But would it be beneficial? I saw growth in myself, reacting in a different way than I might have years and even months ago.

I’m not sure why it seems that I’ve always got major lessons to learn. I guess I can chalk that up as another question to ask God when I see him. In the meantime, I’ll see what I can learn through these challenges. I’ll see if I can grow. I’ll see if I might react differently than I would have before. And that, quite possibly, could be the whole reason for all of this “adventure” in the first place.

Why?

Visiting with family in Connecticut, my wife’s sister came over to her parents, where we were staying, with her two boys, their ages corresponding with my boys but off a year so that our two pairs of boys make a successive four year sweep. They all get along well and my in-laws yard is full of adventure and excitement. My father-in-law, a general contractor, has sheds and gardens and tractors, things that mostly excite young boys, especially during summer when the world seems completely “open for business” for boys their age.

As I was lying on the bed, enjoying some time with no responsibility to catch up on the reading I haven’t done in forever, I began to hear a scream, nothing too unusual given the excitement that emerges when these four play together. My parental instinct was to first, determine whether it was a cry of pain and hurt and second, to determine whether that cry was emanating from one of my own children.

Once I realized it wasn’t my child (I breathed a short sigh of relief) and followed the sound to see what had happened. Turns out that my nephew had come across a bee that was none too happy with him. Whether he had stepped on its nest or had just thrown the insect off course from its usual business, it decided to repay him with a sting……and my nephew made it known what had happened.

As I walked into the den where the wounded child was being cared for by his mother, I was struck by the poor kid’s words. He kept saying, “Why?” over and over again. “Why did it sting me? I didn’t do anything to bother it.” My heart went out to my nephew and I began to think long and hard about those words and how often I had uttered them, or at least thought them, to myself.

In fact, I think I’ve done my best to avoid those words over the last few years. I’ve been faced with all kinds of things and my natural instinct is to curl up and cry, like my nephew, decrying against the injustice that’s taken place, proclaiming my own innocence in the midst of circumstances that seem to indicate my own guilt. Why? Why did this happen?

I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to allow for my theology to become more reformed (and transformed) from the distorted theology of my childhood. Maybe I had read too many Old Testament stories that had shaped my theology without enough grace. Maybe I had heard one too many sermons that had pointed me towards blaming someone for difficulties and tragedies that would occur. Regardless of its genesis, I had formed some theology in my mind which equated tragedies, trials, and difficulties with something that I had done. After all, bad things don’t just happen to good people, do they?

Ahhh, but yes they do. And if we allow ourselves to go there, we ask ourselves, “Why?” We want to know, like my nephew did, what had been done to deserve it. And the reason that I’ve done my best to avoid that question over the years is because we will always find a reason why we DON’T deserve it. We will always find ourselves innocent of anything worthy of such punishment. We will always wonder why us and not somebody else.

I so badly wanted to grab my nephew and tell him to get used to struggling with the injustice of it. The cynic in me would probably tell him to thank me at a later date, regardless of how I might have warped his theology and viewpoint. But I let him continue to cry and ask his mom why it had happened. He’ll come to it on his own one day, my cynicism need not encroach on his own formation.

But it was a reminder to me that, “Why?” isn’t always a good question to ask. More often than not, I’ve tried to shift the question from “Why” to “What.” What will be different from this? What can I learn? What can I make out of this injustice or trial or tragedy? More to the point, what can God make out of it?

When you do a funeral for a six month old who should have lived long past his parents, trite, comfortable, rehearsed answers seldom work the way that one might hope. When you are faced with a diagnosis that seems bleak and impossible, those same answers are likely to evoke bitterness and rage. When you survey the landscape of your life to find multiple tragedies coming on the heels of each other, trite answers will not suffice. In fact, answers, even well thought out ones, rarely assuage.

Why?

I don’t know……

Those three words have been among the most important ones that I have had to learn. They aren’t words that are easily acceptable or desirable, but they’re the only ones that can really bring any closure to the search.

Life brings with it bee stings and pains that cut deeper, physically and emotionally. What questions are you asking when you’re faced with those pains? I hope to understand more one day, but until then, my search can come up short. Faith upholds and strengthens, but it doesn’t always give adequate answers. God knows, and I know that, but sometimes, I just want to know too. I’m hoping that there will be a day when I will, but until then, I’ll just keep pressing on.

50 Things You Need to Know About Heaven – A Book Review

50 Things You Need to Know About HeavenAmong the questions that come up for those who consider themselves to be followers of Christ, it seems that questions about Heaven seem to top the list. I have always considered those questions in my own life, ever since I was a young boy. With the growing popularity of books like “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven Is For Real,” more questions have been raised among the Christian community as to the details about Heaven. Into this environment, Dr. John Hart offers his book titled, “50 Things You Need to Know About Heaven.”

First of all, Hart is writing this book for people who consider themselves followers of Christ. This is not a book to give people who are considering whether or not Jesus or heaven is real. Hart does not try to convince people of this but considers that they are already there if they have picked up this book to read it. That being said, Hart relies heavily on the Bible to support the answers to the 50 questions that he offers as the headings of the 50 chapters within this book.

Hart does a good job sticking with what has explicitly been written in Scripture and offers little speculation. While there may be some speculation there, Hart does his best to base even those speculations upon what’s been written within the Bible rather than offering his own opinions.

Among the questions that Hart addresses are where is Heaven? Who will go to Heaven? Will there be physical bodies in Heaven? Will we know each other in Heaven? Is Jesus in Heaven right now? These questions along with many others are the ones that Hart chooses to address, and he does a good job of dealing with them.

Hart dispels many of the traditional views of Heaven that have been wrongly embraced by the church such as the idea that we will dwell on clouds, float around in robes of white, and strum on harps all day long. Hart even dispels the notion that Heaven is actually otherworldly, enforcing beliefs that have also been espoused by the likes of N.T. Wright that Heaven will actually come down to earth in the form of the New Jerusalem.

One thing that I appreciate about Hart’s book is that he does not try to resolve the tensions of Scripture where Scripture does not specifically speak. While there are many things written in the Bible about Heaven, there are also many things left unsaid and Hart does not try to fill in the blank with anything other than what has been offered within the pages of Scripture.

Another resource that Hart offers is a section called “For Further Study” at the end of each chapter. Hart has listed out various Scripture passages that the reader can go to for further research and study. Instead of simply giving and answer and imploring the reader to simply assent to what he has written, Hart encourages the reader to find out for himself/herself based upon the passages that Hart has found helpful.

If you are looking for a good and simple resource that can help in pointing you in the direction of some answers about Heaven based upon what’s written in the Bible, I would highly recommend Hart’s book. It’s not exhaustive and doesn’t delve into heady theological language, but it’s a worthwhile resource for those who want to gently wade into a topic that has been both controversial and intriguing, especially in recent years.

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

Why Have You Brought Me Here?

Years ago, I recorded a CD.  I did it in a converted chicken coop with some friends who had their own equipment.  Back then, I was a somewhat avid writer of music.  When I would let my melancholy self out to play, I would generally wax philosophical and find some somber tune to match the melancholic words that would seem to roll effortlessly from my brain.

It’s not  often that I find myself so vain as to quote any of the music that I wrote, but among all of the songs that I did pen, there were a few there that I was proud of, not the least of which was a song called “Why Have You Brought Me Here?”

In the years that have passed since I wrote the song, it seems that its poignancy has grown.  I can return to the lyrics and find new meaning there, seeing how the song was not only relevant for my life at the time but almost prophetic for the life that was to come, completely unbeknownst to me.

Whenever I find myself in a difficult situation, I will ask myself what its purpose is and what I am supposed to learn from it.  It’s cause for introspection and a helpful reminder to me that my pain is rarely or never wasted.  There is always purpose behind it, although that purpose may not be evident then or even in the not too distant future, possibly not ever.

As I have faced some difficult situations over the last few years and even looked at the purpose of some current struggles, I have found myself asking that question over and over again.  Why am I here?  How did I get here?  What is the purpose of the struggles in which I find myself?

Answers don’t always come, but sometimes answers aren’t the most important thing.  Sometimes it’s the wrestling, the questioning, the struggling or coming to grips with the situation.  Even if there are no valid conclusions, if it’s caused me to reflect and do some deeper self-criticism, I don’t think that I can say it’s a bad thing.

I don’t know that I can say that I am grateful when I experience difficulties.  The Bible says to consider it joy when trials and difficulties come, I’m trying to get there, but it’s not an easy task.  I work towards it in hopes that each subsequent struggle will get me a little closer than I was before.

In the meantime, I continue to ask the question and while it may seem vain and self-promoting, I occasionally listen to the song.  It’s helped me to realize that there is a bigger picture to see, a picture that I am a part of that encompasses much more than the “now” experience.  When we find ourselves in difficulties, we can get stuck in the weeds, failing to see the forest for the trees and missing the greater purpose in the midst of it.

Nope, I’m not there completely.  It’s a journey, and it’s not for the weak of heart.  I press forward and know that there is purpose in it.  God doesn’t waste my pain and my growth is a process that will continue until the day that I breathe my last.  Why has he brought me here?  I might never know, but I’ll keep trying to find out, even in the midst of those dark and frustrating situations.