What I Learned from a “Solo” Hike (with 3 Kids)

“Take a picture of that one, Daddy.”Red, star-shaped, wildflowers along the Spring Creek Canyon hike

If I had a dollar for every time one of my kids pointed to a flower beside the Spring Creek Trail outside of Kannarraville, UT, and asked me to take a picture, I’d have 82 dollars. At least, that’s how many flower pictures I had to sort through when we got back home.

This hike was actually our second attempt at Spring Creek. The first one, several years earlier, had ended with a round of “I’m tired” choruses about 300 yards into the hike. For our second attempt, I was determined to actually make it into the slot canyon portion of the trail.

With that definite goal in mind, I briefly considered a solo hike. It was already late in the afternoon, and I knew that hiking 4 miles before dark would be a challenge if I were dragging kids along. But guilt at strapping my wife with them in addition to the evening chores she wanted to stay home to do was more than I could bear. Before I agreed to take them, however, I elicited firm agreements from my young children that this would be a “serious” hike, one focused on reaching a specific destination, and that I wouldn’t be putting up with any whining, dilly-dallying, or related tom-foolery. In other words, I was doing a solo hike, and they were welcome to come as long as they didn’t interrupt it.

The related tom-foolery started almost as soon as we left the trailhead parking lot. Scarcely had we crested the mild hill that obscures the mouth of the valley entrance than one of my darlings declared their need for alimentary elimination. After explaining that there were no facilities constructed for that purpose, dealing with the outburst of indignation that followed, and directing said darling to a convenient shrub a suitable distance off the trail, we waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Eventually, the darling returned. Apparently, pointing your kid towards a cactus patch for such an occasion is not only lousy parenting but also leads to a prolonged search for a “safe” place to take of business.

Mission accomplished, we proceeded up the trail. At the 300-yard mark, I heard a child inhale, and their lips began to form the word, “I’m.” I stopped the rest of the statement with a mean-eyed stare that would have made Clint Eastwood proud.

We proceeded…IMG_4064.JPG

…another 50 feet. There, twinkling merrily in the afternoon sun, was the first of what would be several intersections of trail and creek. Clear, cold, and narrow, Spring Creek crossed the trail, burbling among the convenient rocks someone had thoughtfully placed for hikers to cross on and keep their feet dry. Some, however, eschew such conveniences and we continued past the crossing with three pairs of dry feet and one pair partially soaked and picking up a fine accretion of red-tinted dirt. I knew it would look exquisite smeared over the tan interior of our vehicle.

And, yet, we were still going. At this point, a good 55 feet farther along than our first attempt, we came up the first stunning example of native flora.

“Take a picture, Daddy! Then we can show Mommy!”

Having placed my trusty DSLR in the pack, I had to briefly weigh the benefit of stopping, opening the pack, getting the camera out, and taking the picture to satisfy the oh-so-sweet desire of my daughter to share this moment with her mother against the near certainty that, while the pack was open, the treasure trove of snacks said mother had packed would be spotted. I knew that, even if they caught just a bare glimpse, there would be nothing preventing a ten-minute feast of tangerines and chocolate-covered granola bars.

“The lighting’s no good for a picture right now. We’ll stop on the way out.”

I figured we’d need those ten minutes.

Five minutes, 15 flowers, and 98 yards later, we stopped for snacks in the shade of a juniper tree.

As tiny, chocolate-smeared mouths chomped enthusiastically and clear water turned suspiciously cloudy as cups were raised and lowered, another family hiked by.

At this point, I should probably explain that my family is not poor. You wouldn’t know that to see us in our hiking outfits, however. My stain-encrusted t-shirt could have passed for desert camouflage, though it had started life as pure as the driven snow. One kid had on pants she’d outgrown two years before, which I figured mostly made them capris. Another refused to wear any other shoes and thus had on some cute canvas flats with giant, rainbow-colored bows still peeping out from the red mud. The coup de grace was the dust-flecked snot trail running down a poorly-wiped nose and cheek that blended incredibly with the chocolate ring around a mouth.

Anyways, this family that passed us as we enjoyed our snack looked like they’d stepped out of a hiking magazine marketed solely to upper-crust western families who’d made their fortune investing in Columbia, Merrell, and Osprey stock and then received a bunch of promo gear from the companies and an invite to be a part of an upcoming ad campaign. They were serious about this hike and seriously equipped.

I tried to hide my face behind my thrift store farmer’s hat, waving a greeting that I hoped clearly communicated that we actually weren’t homeless and living off the land back here but also discouraged further conversation. My kids, however, waved enthusiastically, calling out hellos. Embarrassed into interaction, I wished the family a good hike and a good evening. They all smiled, waved, and hurried down the trail before they could catch whatever it was we had.

Snacks finished and thirst quenched, we carefully gathered all of our detritus and stowed it back in my pack. I pulled out the camera, and we continued.

We came across a section of trail that was covered with some of the most perfect sand ever discovered. It was perfect for running through fingers, drawing fun shapes in, and throwing at your siblings.

I hurried the kids along before our free hike could be encumbered by an optometrist’s bill.

We came to a spot where the trees arced gracefully overhead and almost formed a tunnel for us to walk through. It was the kind of place that I had loved as a kid. A place alive with possibility, precociously stirring the soul with vague glimmers of romance, danger, and mystery.

IMG_4060And alive with bugs. Cicadas to be exact. The kids took turns urging one another to touch the rattling things while I snapped a few pictures. We laughed whenever the loud buzzing the followed a hesitant touch drew shrieks of semi-delight from whichever one had gathered enough courage for the act.

And we continued down the trail. After another creek crossing, this one mercifully dry, we found another bug, a butterfly. One of the darlings wanted a picture of it but, after chasing the manic creature for a few minutes, we concluded it was camera-shy and started walking through a grass and sage meadow.

Ahead, we could finally see what we thought was the entrance to the slot. IMG_3993It was almost wholly obscured by a sandstone outcropping that bulged towards the south rim, but we were soon past the obstruction and into the canyon. The creek that had flowed narrow in the wider valley below spread out here, tripping over smooth rocks between the walls of the canyon. A brief duck under some low-hanging branches and we were in a clearing. A brushy embankment covered the north side, but the south side was an exposed face nearly overhanging the creek as it meandered gently.

IMG_4371We stopped and threw rocks in a bend of the creek, scrambled onto the narrow bar between two channels, and floated leaf boats in regatta races. The lowering sun shone perfectly through sheltering leaves and glinted off the peaks of tiny ripples in the stream.

Realizing the sun was sliding inexorably towards the horizon, I gathered my brood and continued, certain that we hadn’t reached the best part yet. But, as we pressed on into the canyon, the walls narrowed occasionally, but never all the way to a “true” slot.

We came to a sand-slide and scrambled up it to explore. At the top, a small cave with a triangular maw greeted us. A brief discussion ensued, mostly concerning who the mountain lion who undoubtedly lived inside would eat first. Anxious to prove the non-existence of said big cat, I crawled in, my heart beating a strange rhythm in my chest and my hands unusually sweaty. When no yowls or claws greeted me, I coaxed my kids into at least peeking in. They did, and then we all clambered back down the sand, filling our shoes and “accidentally” flinging it down the back of the person in front of us.IMG_4374

At the bottom of the slide, we paused to let another party, one we could hear coming but not see, pass. As they emerged from the foliage to the east, I recognized them: it was the ad campaign crew. One kid was yelling at a sibling, and the dad was red-faced, packing another. Mom huffed as she passed by. I asked how it was farther up, and she said that they hadn’t made it much farther so couldn’t really say.

My competitive fire stoked, I urged the kids to tackle the trail again. We passed another interesting branch off the main trail, but I resisted the calls for another exploration. The sun was sinking, and we didn’t have much more time before we’d need to turn around.

“Dad, can we go back and race some more boats?”

“Only if we have time.”

“Well, what if we go back there now?”

“We’re so close to the actual slot! Let’s keep going.”

“Daddy, take a picture of that one!”

“If you kids keep going and don’t stop and don’t whine, we’ll go get ice cream when we get back to town.”

“Daddy, which nature souvenir would you like better: this snail shell or this flower?”

I sighed. And thought. And stopped. IMG_4017We were on a broader section just before a bend. The south wall had crumbled down enough that I could see what lay ahead. It looked like a narrow cut started right there, maybe 100 yards away. I was convinced this was the section I’d wanted to reach.

But there was my child, not looking up, not looking around. She was simply contemplating a plain, brown shell and a purple flower not unlike 562 others we’d already passed. And she was content for one of those two items to be her memento. There was no competition, no inferiority complex, no destination that mattered nearly so much as the decision, right now, between a spiral of calcium carbonate and a semi-crushed splot of petals and pollen.

I told her I’d pick the shell, told my son we’d go race some boats, and assured my oldest that we’d take pictures of each flower she wanted to on the way out.IMG_4031

Then we turned and, backs to whatever lay beyond the bend, headed out the way we’d come in, committed to nothing more than making memories.

And getting some ice cream.

 

 


 

Disclaimer: This post IS based on an actual hike. It IS NOT a 100% accurate portrayal but is semi-fictionalized because, as Mark Twain is frequently (but dubiously) cited as saying,

“never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

But, don’t let that distract you from the fact that there is Truth. Thanks for reading!

American Christian: Are You More Concerned with Your Border Wall than with Your Brother?

There’s been a great deal of hoopla on the interwebs regarding the prospective border wall between America and Mexico. All-caps cries have floated through cyber-space (“RAPISTS,” “BIGOTS,” & “HITLER” being among the most popular) from parties on each side of the issue.

My electronic friends (at least those that the gatekeepers at Facebook deem worthy of my attention) seem to be obsessed with the border wall. Indeed, as someone who deliberately cultivates friendships with individuals from wide-ranging points on the political spectrum, I have been privileged to witness veritable streams of vitriol on the subject, flowing in opposite directions, crashing together in my own newsfeed.

I truly believe that some of my friends truly believe that the border wall is the single-most important issue of our day.

And, if you don’t believe in the existence of a sovereign God who loved humanity enough to come to earth in the flesh and die for the sins of humanity in order to restore to them eternal life and give them meaning and purpose by enlisting them in the task of taking this good news to the ends of the earth, maybe it is the most important issue.

But, if you believe the good news and you’re still convinced that what the world needs most from you is your support for the wall, may I humbly suggest that you re-examine your priorities.

This is not a post about the border wall, for or against; it’s about Christian priorities, on and off-line.

While you’ve been foaming at the digital mouth in your defense of this American Shibboleth, did you know that the Christian faith has been under attack around the world? That your brothers and sisters in Christ have been jailed, had their property confiscated, and even been killed? Not because of a political position, but because of their faith in Jesus Christ?

I just received a copy of Open Doors‘ World Watch List for 2019 from a fellow church member, and it brought some badly needed perspective to my world. Open Doors is a Christian organization that seeks to connect American believers with their persecuted brothers and sisters worldwide. Their Watch List is a ranking of the 50 countries where persecution is at its worst. And it’s incredibly informative:

Did you know, for example, that the number of Christians facing persecution has risen from 215 million to 245 million over the last year?

Did you know that 1 in 9 Christians worldwide faces high levels of persecution?

Did you know that, on average, 11 Christians are killed EVERY DAY because of their faith?

Did you know that in Iran it is illegal to share your faith or conduct a Christian service in the national language?

Did you know that there has been ongoing strategic imprisonment of Christians taking place in Eritrea over the past ten years?

Did you know that the two most highly populated countries in the world are also seeing an increase in their persecution of Christians?

If you’re like me, you’re much less aware of these things than you are the intricacies of the border wall debate. Why is that?

Because, based on what I see online and hear discussed in-person, American Christians are choosing to turn a blind eye to Christian realities in favor of American realities.

Think about it: every single person with access to the Internet has more potential influence that any pre-web newspaper baron ever had. With the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger, they can transmit words, images, and ideas to thousands, millions, and even billions of people.

Christ-follower: Is it really the best use of that power to contribute your own invective to the torrent already flowing regarding a border wall? Are the concerns of your chosen political party really worth sacrificing gospel opportunities for?

Could you not better use your online voice to draw prayerful attention to the needs of your brothers and sisters living under persecution? Could you not use your influence to call for a re-engagement of the American church in the life of the global church?

God has not called you to make Republicans or Democrats: he has called you to make disciples.

He hasn’t called you to give your life to a political party: he has called you to give your life to the King.

He hasn’t called you to stump for a border wall: he has called you to pray for your brothers and sisters and to meet their needs, regardless of which country they live in.

May our engagements, online and off, reflect the One who has called us and advance the mission he has called us to.


I know that some of you reading this won’t agree with it. That’s ok. But, just so you know, I am not anti-wall, nor am I anti-American; I am just pro-using-all-the-tools-we-have-to-preach-the-gospel-and-serve-others.

 

King Jesus and the American Dream

Eliciting much sympathy for the American church is hard. It seems we have been blessed with more widespread freedom, leisure, and resources than any other geopolitically-defined group in Christian history. While brothers and sisters in Christ starve physically and endure persecution socially in places like North Korea, Pakistan, Somalia, and others, we sit, seemingly fat and fit.

But, while we are indeed physically fat, we are not spiritually fit. When the Christian best-sellers list is filled, year after year, with gussied-up, pseudo-spiritual, self-help titles in which a bible verse actually quoted in context is as rare as the Western Plains Jackalope, we’ve got a problem. When our chief spiritual export to the world is a false gospel that says to the less-fortunate, “if you have enough faith, God will give you the kind of life we enjoy by the accident of our having been born in the land of the free and the home of the brave,” we’re sharing that problem. When both our pastors and the people they lead are more concerned with propping up a corrupt system of government than promoting the kingdom of Christ, we’ve crossed a line.

I know, I know: it’s not all bad. Incredible things are happening through various American churches, organizations, and individuals. But the primary weight of our collective Christianity is mired in a bog of spiritual apathy and ineptitude. The few still pulling us towards Christ are hampered, if not stymied, by that life-sucking weight.

What happened? How did all of our apparent advantages lead to this mind-boggling situation?

One reason is that we have an enemy and he convinced us that we could follow Jesus and live the American dream.

That Jesus could be our King and our lifestyle remain unchanged.

That so long as we prayed a prayer, sang some songs, and dropped 10% in the plate each Sunday, we could do what we wanted with the rest of our life.

That the needs of our brothers and sisters could be matters of prayer and not matters of sacrifice.

That our churches could glorify God even as they promoted their brand.

That concern for the poor is now the government’s job as we stuff our coffers and bedazzle our sanctuaries.

And it’s killing us. The lie that we can serve both God and money [or political power] is driving the American church over the cliff and into oblivion.

American Christians are certainly not the first in history to believe, erroneously, that we could have all the benefits of both this world and of the next. But we have mastered the art of trying.

We have stripped the call of Christ of its cost.

We have proclaimed the grace that saves while ignoring the fact that the same grace must sanctify.

We have dreamed up a discipleship full of instruction but freed from obedience.

More and more, I am convinced that the only hope for us, the American church, is to repent of our futile double-mindedness and return to the historical, biblical faith.

To recognize that,

“when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer

To proclaim that while

“faith alone saves, the faith that saves is never alone.” Calvin

To reinstate biblical discipleship:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…(and) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus

Let’s recapture the self-sacrificing, self-denying, others-seeking ethos of King Jesus and his kingdom and leave behind the self-promoting, self-satisfying, and others-ignoring lifestyle of our culture.

Let’s ditch the American Dream before Jesus ditches us.

Praise

Grasses their heads wave in victory cheer

Streams murmur of You, The One without peer

Mountains white-crested their orisons raise

Daisies bright humbly Your attributes praise

Lofty pines still You more lofty declare

Canyons all echo yet still add their share

Wind rushes swiftly to fall at Your feet

Clouds grace its worship, in chorus they meet

Waves toss thanksgiving upon echoing shore

Sands their vast numbers great praises do store

Far reaches of space limitless glory sing

Planets in dance precious offerings bring

The whole world in praises devotes its time

The universe thought-songs to heaven climb

The voices are swelling, repeating the same

Rising crescendo declaring Your Name

—–

With such excellent choir O man, rise!

Join with creation, lifting up your eyes

On bent knee before His glorious light fall

Praise God the mighty, enthroned in His Hall

This Christmas, Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle

It’s that time of year again: advertising season. I have always interpreted the 30 or so days beginning with Thanksgiving and culminating in Christmas as “the holidays.” But a disturbing trend has been evident in recent history: beginning around October 1stand carrying over into the New Year, retailers have bombarded America with advertisements, sales, and window displays. As someone once told me, Black Friday is getting more attention than Thanksgiving these days and J.C. Penney’s is more prominent than J.C., Savior.

This frenzied materialism is merely the visible effect of a deeper reality. In rejecting the tradition of Thanksgiving and Christmas as spiritually centered, family and faith-oriented holidays, Americans have taken a dangerous path. As people move towards atheistic materialism, they have to try to find fulfillment in stuff: stuff that breaks, stuff that gets stolen, and stuff cannot provide ultimate peace.

Christians are called to be different, called to find our peace and fulfillment in God. Yet the temptation to follow the culture in its mad pursuit of “stuff” can be tempting, particularly in this advertising season.

Don’t give in. Instead, let’s figure out how to “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” (to quote the old slogan).

Reduce:

Let’s commit to reducing the amount of focus and money that we put towards material gifts for ourselves and our families. Our goal should be that expressed by Paul in 1 Timothy 6:8: “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Anything above that is God’s grace and cause for thankfulness. It is not that we should not give gifts, but that we should not make those gifts the focus of our hope for contentment and peace.

Reuse:

Another way to combat the spirit of this age at holiday time is to reuse family and Christian traditions that may have fallen out of practice. Find an advent book to go through every night with your family, take a quiet walk reflecting on God’s provision for you, think back to growing up and what practices made the holidays meaningful to you: do those things again. These kinds of non-materialistic traditions can move our focus from stuff to Christ.

Recycle:

If recycling is taking something old and used up and giving it new life, we should think about how we can recycle even the “non-spiritual” aspects of the holidays. For example, instead of a mad frenzy of paper-tearing Christmas morning, consider having each family member take turns opening one gift at a time, thanking the giver as they do so. Invite someone who may not have a place to go for the holidays to participate with you. Maybe you could simply pray before any family gathering, asking God to grant peace and thanking Him for the gift of His Son.

Don’t let the culture dictate your experience this season: seek to create a culture in your home, in your church, and in your community that honors Christ as King.

If “reducing, reusing, and recycling” your Christmas helps, go for it.

Pray With Your Legs

“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” Frederick Douglass

“Lift with your legs.”

Every weeknight, for a year, that’s the phrase I heard.

At the start of the shift: “Lift with your legs.”

After break time: “Lift with your legs.”

As I slept: “Lift with your legs.”

I worked as a part-time loader for a national shipping company and let’s just say workplace safety was important to them. We had group stretch before the shift, a safety briefing every night, and safety officers roaming the facility at all times.

“Lift with your legs.”

I resented it. As someone who grew up lifting hay bales, fence posts, and firewood with some regularity, I thought I knew something about working safely. I’d never torn a muscle, strained my back, or lost a limb.

So, I ignored the advice.

And, while you may have been expecting something different, I never had an accident at that job.

Nor at my next job, also one in which lifting heavy objects featured heavily.

“Lift with your legs” was advice for sissies. Or so I thought.

That is until about a year ago. Reaching for something small, I felt a twinge in my back. When I went to straighten up, the twinge became a stab as my lower back protested every movement.

Hot baths, a massage, lots of stretches, and about a week later I felt fine again.

The experience taught me a lasting lesson, however:

LIFT WITH YOUR LEGS!

See, I had made it 33 years ignoring that sound advice. And it hadn’t hurt me at any point along the way. But the cumulative effect of my idiocy was to make me more vulnerable to injury for the rest of my life.

If it was just my back, I’d shrug and move on, knowing that every body breaks down eventually. However, I see the same idiocy at work in my approach to spiritual things.

And that’s terrifying.

Prayer is a place where this is especially true.

Too often, I pray with just my head, engaged mentally. Or I pray with just my heart, engaged emotionally.

But, more and more, I am convinced that what I need is a spiritual safety officer standing over my shoulder reminding me: “pray with your legs.”

If you’re like me, you’ve heard that we should “carry our burdens to God in prayer and leave them there.”

Yes. That’s all well and good, but what if God wants us to do something about them?

One of the most fascinating examples of this occurs in Matthew 9 & 10. At the end of Matthew 9, Jesus calls his disciples’ attention to the gospel need of the world around them. He uses the metaphor of harvest and harvest laborers:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

As a teenager, I took part in a 9:38 challenge. Every day, at 9:38 AM and PM, we prayed for the Lord to send laborers into the harvest. That challenge took seriously the need for disciples today to obey Jesus’ command to pray every bit as much as the original 12.

But what I somehow missed (not for lack of teaching by my pastors or parents) was that the end of chapter 9 is followed immediately by chapter 10. And in chapter 10 of Matthew, we read this:

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction…These twelve Jesus sent out…

Do you see what I missed? The 12 who prayed for laborers to be sent out were the very ones sent out. They became, in essence, the answer to their own prayer!

That story is fascinating because of the lesson it teaches. We know God wants the Kingdom to grow and we know that Jesus told us to go. We feel the impact of the reality that there are still so many who have not heard the gospel.

And we pray out of that knowledge and that feeling. I’m afraid, though, that like young, foolish me ignoring the injunction to “lift with your legs,” we ignore the clear message of Kingdom prayer in the New Testament: pray with your legs. We pray for the harvest, we feel the need of the harvest, but we have no intention of joining in the harvest.

When we do the work of prayer with our heads and our hearts, but not with our legs, we set ourselves up for spiritual injury. Our souls begin to curve inwards, to atrophy, and to shrink. By not connecting what we pray with what we do, we eventually get to the point where anything can debilitate us: a sin over which we have no victory, a circumstance that causes us to shake our fist at God, and slight at church that causes us to leave.

It doesn’t matter how much knowledge we can cram into a prayer. It doesn’t matter how much feeling echoes through our words in prayer. If we don’t intend to do anything in response to God’s movement, we will be spiritual cripples eventually.

But if we take our knowledge and our feeling and then we engage our legs in what we pray, we’ll find ourselves equipped for a long, healthy spiritual life.

Our prayers have plenty of head and heart: let’s give them legs. Let’s pray for laborers to be sent and then let’s gladly go as the Lord sends us to be the answer to those prayers.

Let’s ask him to expand the Kingdom and then get out and start sharing the gospel with coworkers, and inviting widowed neighbors over for dinner, and giving sacrificially so a fellow disciple can move overseas. Let’s be the kind of people who give up hobbies, comfort, homes, possessions, and whatever else may be required to go take the gospel to those who’ve never heard.

The quote that appears at the top of this post is from Frederick Douglass’s autobiography. A slave, Douglass prayed for freedom for twenty years, but as he said: “received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Douglass’s freedom required him to take action with his legs. His legs were the instrument that God used to answer his prayers.

As we pray for the harvest, I’m convinced ours will be as well.

It’s All About Him: How Every Book Of The Bible Points Us To Jesus

One of my favorite Bible verses is Luke 24:27

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (ESV)

I love it because it reminds me that the reason for the Bible, all of it, is to point people to Jesus. It’s very easy to get bogged down in the text and to miss the truth: there’s something about Jesus, preparing us for Jesus, or pointing us to Jesus in every book.

The following is not exhaustive nor entirely original. But, as I’ve read and taught through the Bible, here is how I see Jesus in every book:

GENESIS: Jesus is the Creator who promises to redeem all of creation as the promised seed of Abraham.

EXODUS: Jesus is the Passover Lamb whose blood saves those who are under it.

LEVITICUS: Jesus is the ultimate High Priest who offers Himself to atone for the sins of His people.

NUMBERS: Jesus is the Bread of Life, sustaining the people of God and the Living Water from the Rock, quenching their thirst.

DEUTERONOMY: Jesus is the obedient son who earns the blessing but freely takes the curse so His brothers and sisters may be blessed as well.

JOSHUA: Jesus is the one who conquers the enemies of God’s people and leads them to victory and rest.

JUDGES: Jesus is the one who delivers His people from injustice and reminds them of God’s covenant faithfulness.

RUTH: Jesus is the kinsman-redeemer who provides abundantly for the foreigner and the widow.

1-2 SAMUEL: Jesus is the righteous King who is also the faithful Prophet and the holy Priest.

1-2 KINGS: Jesus is the King who gives an easy yoke to His people and unites them in love.

1-2 CHRONICLES: Jesus is the Son of David who reigns forever with justice and mercy.

EZRA: Jesus is the faithful priest sent to instruct and encourage the people of God.

NEHEMIAH: Jesus is the one who restores His broken people and leads them to restore that which was broken around them.

ESTHER: Jesus is the faithful One who reigns over kingdoms and individuals even when He is not recognized.

JOB: Jesus is the voice of wisdom calling us to glorify the Sovereign God of Creation.

PSALMS: Jesus is the True Song declaring God’s glory to His people and to the nations.

PROVERBS: Jesus is the wisdom of God guiding the people of God through the trials of life.

ECCLESIASTES: Jesus is the Eternal Wisdom giving purpose to our brief lives.

SONG OF SONGS: Jesus is the Faithful Husband rejoicing in the beauty of His Bride.

ISAIAH: Jesus is the Suffering Servant whose wounds heal His people.

JEREMIAH: Jesus is the Righteous Branch offering shelter to all who will come to Him in faith.

LAMENTATIONS: Jesus is the prophet who weeps for the disobedience of God’s people and the one who will restore them.

EZEKIEL: Jesus is the Son of Man who brings life back to God’s people by sending the Spirit to resurrect them.

DANIEL: Jesus is the Son of Man enthroned over the nations who nonetheless walks through trials with His people.

HOSEA: Jesus is the Husband who is faithful even when His Bride is not.

JOEL: Jesus is the one who restores what the locust has eaten and sends the Holy Spirit to His people.

AMOS: Jesus is the one who proclaims justice for all regardless of wealth or fame.

OBADIAH: Jesus is the brother who never fails His kinsmen.

JONAH: Jesus is the prophet declaring salvation for even the most unlikely of people.

MICAH: Jesus is the lowborn peasant who reigns through justice and mercy to bring God’s salvation.

NAHUM: Jesus is the judge who offers mercy but will assuredly bring justice if rejected.

HABBAKUK: Jesus is the all-sufficient righteousness of God who enables perseverance through trials.

ZEPHANIAH: Jesus is the missionary judge calling all people to receive mercy and a new identity.

HAGGAI: Jesus is the one who restores worship in the people of God.

ZECHARIAH: Jesus is the humble King who allows Himself to be pierced for His people’s salvation.

MALACHI: Jesus is the Lord who remembers His servants and sets them apart from those who do evil.

MATTHEW: Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills the Law and sends His people to proclaim the good news.

MARK: Jesus is the Messiah who serves the people of God.

LUKE: Jesus is the Messiah who seeks and saves the lost.

JOHN: Jesus is the Messiah reconciling God and man.

ACTS: Jesus is the Lord who sends His people to proclaim and establish outposts of His kingdom everywhere.

ROMANS: Jesus is the righteousness of God accessible to all who confess Him as Lord and believe in His resurrection.

1 CORINTHIANS: Jesus is revealed in the lives of His people and they ought to live in love, holiness, and unity as a result.

2 CORINTHIANS: Jesus is the promise made to God’s people of what’s to come.

GALATIANS: Jesus is the only thing God’s people need.

EPHESIANS: Jesus is the source of unity and salvation.

PHILIPPIANS: Jesus is the source of joy and humility.

COLOSSIANS: Jesus is the source of all things and the life of His people.

1 THESSALONIANS: Jesus is the encouragement His people need for the present and the hope they need for the future.

2 THESSALONIANS: Jesus is the coming Judge who will avenge the people of God.

1 TIMOTHY: Jesus is the Savior of the worst who provides for their life in community.

2 TIMOTHY: Jesus is a treasure worth guarding and sharing.

TITUS: Jesus is the standard of truth against which every teacher is measured.

PHILEMON: Jesus is the one who calls His people to unity regardless of status, history, & other considerations.

HEBREWS: Jesus is better than everything.

JAMES: Jesus doesn’t accept lip-service but calls His people to whole-hearted service.

1 PETER: Jesus is the example for God’s people to remain faithful in the midst of suffering.

2 PETER: Jesus is the one who ends the history of sin and restores creation in righteousness.

1 JOHN: Jesus is Love.

2 JOHN: Jesus is Truth.

3 JOHN: Jesus is Good.

JUDE: Jesus is the one who has mercy on us and keeps us from stumbling.

REVELATION: Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who makes all things new.

Donald Trump, a Script-writing Homunculus, and Me

Source: Pixabay

In a lunch-induced fog one afternoon, I was fully immersed in my typical productivity-avoidance routine: scrolling through Twitter, not for the snark and fire icons, but for links to stories that, while not pertinent to my day job, can nonetheless fire my imagination up for an afternoon run back to it.

It was in the midst of one of these reading-frenzied fugues that I stumbled across this article by Jonah Goldberg. Having written about Trump once myself, I consider myself a bit of an expert (note: the Internet really needs a sarcasm font) and happily clicked and read away.

Because I assume that you, the reader, are a curious, yet thorough, personality, you’ve taken the time to read the Goldberg article (you can ignore mine: it’s rather dated) to better grasp the context for this one. So, I can assume you know that Goldberg’s argument: Trump doesn’t interact with the world as it is, but as he imagines it to be and he expects his supporters to do the same. And he’s so good at that unreal interaction that even his greatest detractors resort to a similar fictional narrative approach in opposing him. In effect then, though Goldberg argues we should not follow him into the abyss, Donald Trump is creating an alt-reality at several removes from reality itself, yet which is nevertheless substantial enough to sustain both his compatriots’ and his opponents’ interactions.

(Whew. You should definitely just read the article instead of wandering through my word-maze summary of it.)

Ultimately, however, I realized that Goldberg wasn’t just describing Donald Trump: he was describing me.

And you.

Yes, dear reader, you and I are exactly like Donald Trump. Well, apart from the fact that we’re not president, don’t have our name emblazoned on gaudy buildings around the world, and manage not to end up in the news every day. We, too, see the world through the lens of the story we imagine and expect others to inhabit that story with us. We don’t deal directly with reality so much as we seek to impose our narrative on reality.

At one point in his post, Goldberg refers to “the script-writing homunculus in Trump’s brain.”

That line resonated with me. Mainly, because I have one of my own. A script-writing homunculus that is. And a brain (kind of).

In other words, there is a part of me that seems nonetheless apart from me; something that seeks to control the world around me by controlling my interaction with it according to the script that it is writing.

That little guy seems to be doing me a favor. He manipulates the people around me, making sure they reinforce the storyline that makes me happiest. What he writes guides my thoughts, my actions, and my words. He directs my undying loyalty to the people who do what I want and fills me with loathing for those who won’t.

And I need to drag him out and shoot him.

Because that little script-writing idiot is keeping me from interacting with the world as it is. And the world, as it is, is vastly superior to whatever world he wants to create for me.

I can’t trust him because he is me.

Like every other human, I am naturally self-destructive. The reality that I seek to create will inevitably damage me and those around me. Donald Trump and his script are getting all the attention, but we’re not so different, his and him and mine and me. Our dominant, self-centered narratives can cause heartache and destruction not only for us but in the real world around us.

Instead of living a constant, self-referential, insane live-acting of my life for the benefit of the script I want it to follow, I’m beginning to realize I’d rather take it as it comes. To sit and have a front-porch conversation because my neighbor is there rather than because I want to seem interesting. To savor good coffee because it is good and not because I want to be known as a coffee-aficionado. To marvel at a sunset with my eyes on the grace of creation instead of the filling of my Instagram account.

Believe it or not, most of this reflection is motivated by my faith. I’m a Jesus-follower.

Aaaannndddd…that’s what I’ve been talking about. Depending on your personal narrative, you reacted in a particular way to that statement.

Maybe you don’t like Bible-thumping Jesus-people, and whatever else I say in this post, you’re automatically going to hate because of the script in your head: hate Christians. Anything a Jesus-follower says, you have to dismiss automatically because that’s the story you’re living.

And maybe you consider yourself a Jesus-follower too, but you’ve been angry at me through this whole piece because you suspect that I am “anti-Trump.” You’re just following your script. You assume that every professing Christian is automatically either pro-Trump or a flaming liberal doofus. You can’t listen to anything I say because it doesn’t fit the story you’re telling yourself.

And that’s the problem: instead of reading to understand, we’re often reading to respond.

Look, you may be, you may not be a Jesus-follower. However, like his followers or not, Jesus has a way of stripping away our pre-conceived selves, regardless of the story we lie into our own ears. His teaching lays bare the rotten, wriggling little beast inside of us that forces and coaxes us into living unreality, whether that be liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, white or black, yes or no. Jesus shows each of us that the problem isn’t “those people”: it’s me. And it’s you. It’s every one of us who can’t take the bloody glasses of our own invention off long enough to see what is honestly.

However, Jesus doesn’t leave us to wallow in our false dichotomist views: he calls us to walk, open-eyed and unabashed, into the world, seeing a more significant reality at work and letting it transform us even as we join it. He demonstrated it.

I want to engage the world, the big, broad, beautiful, scary, terrible, terrific world, just as it is because that’s what Jesus did. And he made the world a better place even as he knew that it was a terrible place.

It’s only as I see the world as it is that I can begin actually to make it better.

I want to call you, dear reader, and me to action. But, I don’t really know what to say except to say that if you’re tired of the phony outrage, manufactured beauty, and slick presentations of a world filled by billions of disconnected bodies all following their individual scripts, like I am, then let’s do something different.

Let’s start by seeing the world as it is, not as our self-deluding narrative wants us to see it.

Let’s move away from our “tribes” and towards our neighbors.

Let’s listen to what other people say, not what we want to hear.

Those are just a few things we can do to move away from the script and into the real world.

And Donald Trump is welcome to join us (as long as he leaves the homunculus at home).

Evangelism Shouldn’t Be Hard: It’s Just Telling People Good News

Evangelism.
The mere word seems to send otherwise mature Christians running for the hills.
Potluck. “You know I’m in.”
Worship. “I hope we sing 10,000 Reasons again.”
But, “evangelism?”
“Uh, I’ve got something else going on.”

What is it about this word?

“Evangelism” is a Christianese word, but it shouldn’t be scary. When the New Testament was written, the word simply meant “the declaration of good news.” It was mainly associated with news about the king. The birth of a prince was good news. The coronation of a new king was good news. A king’s victory in battle was good news.

In our Christian context, evangelism is merely telling people the good news that the King was born. The good news that He died on behalf of messed up people like you and me. The good news that He rose again and is going to restore all things to their original, good design.

Telling good news isn’t a special skill. People don’t get degrees in “Delivering Good News.” Little kids, with no training whatsoever, are some of the best at telling good news: “Dad, dad, dad! You won’t believe it: I found a quarter!” “That’s great.” “No, it gets better: I bought, wait for it, a gumball with it!”

Somewhere along the line, we shifted things though. Evangelism went from being simply sharing Good News, to formulas, memorized outlines, and asking terrifyingly awkward questions. Moreover, it went from being something natural, like a kid excited about finding a quarter, to something you had to have specialized training for, a unique calling for.

Somewhere in the course of Christian history, evangelism moved from being the joy of every disciple to being the responsibility of a few specialists.

Reset

We need to reset the dial, regain the joy of every Christ-follower being engaged in telling the good news about the King.

To do that, we need to be reminded why it’s Good News in the first place. Jesus himself gives us a sketch of the Good News in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Such a familiar verse, but one whose message has been lost in our evangelism-averse era of the faith. However, if we can regain an understanding of evangelism as simply telling good news…well, there is all sorts of good news here for us to share!

1. God’s unearned love is good news

The fact that God loves the world is a massive dose of good news. It’s especially good when you consider what Jesus means by “the world.” When he says that God loves the world, he’s not saying that God loves the penguins, and God loves the pandas, and God loves the butterflies. When he says that God loves the world, he’s talking about you and me. He’s talking about humanity, sinful humanity.

God created everything and has the right of creation to outline laws for his domain. He says, “here’s the way you ought to live. Here’s this good world that I’ve created.” And we throw it back in his face and say, “no thanks. We’re going to do it on our own.” We rebelled, and we continue to rebel.

We’re not worthy of God’s love.

And this verse tells us God loves us anyway.

He loves people who reject him. He loves the world, the broken, sin-ridden, filthily-foul, curse-riddled mess that we call humanity. He’s not waiting for us to love him: he loves us and invites us to encounter his love.

So, God’s love is good news, not because we love him and then he loves us, but because we hated him and he still loved us.

2. God’s gift of his Son is good news

People throw out the statement, “God is love” all the time. And, based on the context, many people never try to define that love. It’s like, to them, God is this big, amorphous blob of love, just oozing out everywhere with rainbows and cotton candy.

However, God’s love is clearly defined in Scripture. God loves in a very particular and a very costly way. It’s all right here in John 3:16: “For God SO loved the world that he gave his only Son…”

So.

We tend to interpret that “so” as meaning “God loved the world so much” as if Jesus was merely emphasizing the size of God’s love. Nope.

It means, “in this way.” God loved the world. How do you know? He gave his only Son.

God did something very specific to demonstrate the nature of his love because we needed at least two things to recognize his love: we needed to know who God really is and we needed someone to solve our sin problem.

Jesus reveals the true nature of God by being God. His birth, teaching, life, death, and resurrection show us God’s character and attributes more clearly than was ever revealed before.

That’s an act of love because we were created to know God and be known by him. When we rebelled against him, we lost that knowledge and humanity has been stumbling around in the dark, desperately creating gods in our own image, hoping to find the relational satisfaction we were created to enjoy but always coming up empty.

And when the scales fall from our eyes, and we see Jesus, our hearts leap and shout: “Here is the one who made me, who loves me, who calls me! Now I understand!”

But if all Jesus did was reveal God to us, our hearts would cease their exulting as our minds caught up: “But he’s so perfect, so right, so true and I’m so flawed, so evil, so false: I’m unable to relate to him because my rebellion has dug a chasm between us.”

So.

So, God didn’t just send Jesus to reveal himself: he sent Jesus to heal us. Jesus shows God’s perfection and then dies for our imperfection. The punishment that our sin deserved, death, Jesus takes into himself on the cross. He dies in our place. And because the punishment for our sin is accomplished, the guilt of our rebellion is done away with. That chasm is bridged, and all who will may walk across, back to fellowship with their Creator.

That’s good news.

3. God’s grace is good news.

So how do we walk across the bridge? Because it’s not enough for us to know who God is, that there’s something in us that’s broken, that has to be fixed. Somehow, it actually has to get fixed.

It gets fixed by us believing in Jesus. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It’s only by believing that Jesus is who he said he was and confessing him to be the Lord he is, that we can be saved.

Not, “work as hard as you can and hope that I’ll make up the difference.”

Not, “do x number of good deeds, pray y number of times, and never wet the bed, and I’ll let you off the hook.”

None of that. Believe.

You can’t earn God’s love, you can’t earn the solution to your sin, you can’t earn anything from God. Earning suggest owing and God owes his creation nothing. However, he offers everything to those who believe.

“It’s too easy,” we think. “Surely there’s something we have to do. Surely there’s something we have to contribute.”

Jesus says, “no, no, believe in me.”

That is God’s grace. God’s grace says you can’t earn it, you don’t deserve it, and yet God offers it anyway. This is why Paul tells us that the gospel is foolishness to the Greeks, a stumbling block to the Jews. We want the good news of God’s forgiveness to require something of us, up front. We want it to require us to be smart, to work hard, to earn it somehow.

However, we can’t, we don’t, we won’t. It’s grace through faith, a simple act of faithful obedience, not to a list of rules, but to the call of our Lord: “believe in me.”

That’s good news.

4. God’s offer of eternal life is good news.

Too many people, including the one writing this post, are tempted to think that this life is where we need to find our satisfaction, happiness, and joy.

And every single one of us is going to die disappointed unless we change our minds on that subject. Because the fact of the matter is that this life is too full of brokenness, too full of heartache, too full of disease and death and sadness to ever be what we need it to be.

Whether you have $2,000,000 in the bank or you don’t have two pennies in your pocket, you’re going to face hardship in this life. Money’s not going to solve the problem.

Whether you’ve got a spouse who loves you and completes you and is your soulmate, or you’re stuck in a marriage and think that getting out is the answer, or you want to be married and you can’t seem to find anybody, a relationship is not going to give you the life that you expect.

Money won’t. Relationships won’t. Stuff won’t. Fame won’t. Power won’t. None of it is going to outweigh the difficulty that inevitably comes by continuing to breathe. Humans live in a world that is marked by sin. We experience the effects of both our sin and the sin of the people around us. We deal with hard times day by day by day, and if this life is meant to be our fulfillment, we got a raw deal.

Jesus says, “Here’s the deal: you don’t have to believe in me. You don’t have to take the love that God offers. You can seek fulfillment in this life, and you may come close, but you’re not going to find it because, in the end, you’re going to perish.

But then he says, “Wait. Those who do believe in me will be given eternal life.” And not life like it is now: life like God intended things to be, forever. No more pain, no more cancer, no more dying, no more rape, no more starvation, no more brokenness.

That’s good news.

Tell The Good News

Evangelism is just telling people, “Hey, good news: this world isn’t all there is. It’s broken, I’m broken, you’re broken. But God wants to fix the world, and me, and you. So he sent his Son. Want to learn more about him with me?”

That’s not so hard. Evangelism, in the traditional, churchy sense might be hard, but telling good news: that’s easy.

So, let’s do it. Let’s start telling people the Good News.

John 3:16 is a pretty good place to start.

The Miracle of Transformation

For a brief moment, James stopped and stared at the miracle, transfixed by a reverence that seemed to have materialized in his heart out of nothingness. He was late for his next appointment, but he wasn’t in a hurry. Or, at least not in such a hurry that he didn’t have time for admiring a miracle. After all, miracles were in unusually short supply these days.

“The leaves are beginning to turn,” James noted consciously, as his mind caught up with his soul. He loved it when the leaves turned. He liked to watch the slow, steady, and incomprehensibly-instantaneous transformation from green to gilt-edged, to gold and crimson and ripe barley. Something in the death-process of the leaves stirred that part of him which was still capable of feeling anything without first being exposed to a glowing screen.

It was good to feel.

Musing on nothing but feeling something, he reached the door that marked the entrance to the next scheduled block on his calendar: an appointment with his counselor.

As far as counselors went, so far as James knew, Mike Smith was decent enough. Mike’s office, which was also his house, which was also his cat’s house, (an order of descriptive priority that the cat, a tabby whose purpose for existence, it seemed, was to provide a perfect and living definition of the word “supercilious”, would undoubtedly have taken exception too if he could be bothered to give his opinion on the matter) was pleasant enough.

But James had about had enough. He was sick of counseling. He was sick of scheduling blocks on his calendar for being counseled.

And he was sick of the cat.

So, James’ presence on the stoop that day was not an exuberant one, his reverence pouring out from a hole somewhere near his elbow as he raised his hand to knock on the door. The steps he took inside, the return greeting he gave, and the manner with which he undid his coat’s zipper, could have been described as lackadaisical if they had not so effectively communicated his doneness with it all.

And James was done, he told himself for the umpteenth time.

And he was tired. He didn’t typically walk as far as he had to come here today. Mike had somehow gotten the idea that James’ walking to their next counseling appointment would benefit James somehow. James wasn’t entirely clear on the concept, but it included a great many words from Mike about “fresh air” and “change of scenery” and “consciousness” and other worn-out clichés about the benefits of eschewing convenience.

But James was not one of the iron-willed, self-deterministic members of society. Indeed, James was part of that significant subset of humanity that seems to exist for the sole purpose of doing what other people tell them to do. He liked to pretend that he was capable of independent existence. But he wasn’t. Like many others, James was only happy when he had someone telling him what to do. That way he could mentally complain about them while he did whatever it was that they wished him to do and thereby give meaning to his otherwise meaningless existence.

So James had walked to his appointment today.

And he sat down in the austere fabric chair across from Mike’s plush leather one. Mike Smith was one of those counselors clichéd enough to recommend walking to appointments, but he wasn’t clichéd enough to have a chaise lounge for his counselees to lay upon while he asked them about their childhood. And he certainly wasn’t one to scratch illegible notes on a yellow legal pad and mutter insightful “uh-huhs” at appropriate intervals while James was speaking either. He used a phone with a large screen and was strictly silent except for when he was talking.

It was James who supplied the “uh-huhs.” Mike was prone to long speaking fits. He would break out into one after every few answers James gave to his questions. James would maintain eye contact with Mike, nod appreciatively on occasion, and utter appropriate “uh-huhs” whenever Mike delivered some rehearsed line that he thought was smart and seemed to be trying out for the book he was writing. Mike fancied himself an expert on some esoteric branch of some field or another and, like most self-fancied experts, couldn’t resist at least a small amount of preening in front of the less-informed members of society.

James fit the bill. In fact, he barely qualified for “less-informed.” Like a boulder levered out of rest by external force and bounding down a hillside, James operated less on information than on sheer momentum.

He was in counseling because the sentencing judge in his drunk and disorderly conduct case had told him to be in counseling, along with completing 30 hours of community service.

The reason the case had been one of drunk and disorderly conduct with a sentence of court-ordered counseling and community service instead of the more serious charges of public nudity, defacement of government property, and drunk and disorderly conduct was because he did what his lawyer told him to do and pled guilty to the lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence and having the other charges dropped.

The reason he didn’t also have to negotiate a charge of assaulting a police officer was that he had done what the police officer told him to do and stopped peeing on the officer’s car instead of swinging at the officer like his friend Joey had.

The reason James had been peeing on the car that night was that he had been doing what Joey told him to do: namely, to go out on the town, then to drink more than he could handle, and then to urinate on a parked police car while Joey filmed the incident.

And the reason he was out drinking with Joey was that when James’ girlfriend, Amanda, had replied to his request for her to join him out on the town with an “I’m busy. Ask someone else,” he had.

“Uh-huh,” James mumbled, not because anyone had told him to, but because it felt like it was time.

After the hour was up, James left the chair, zipped his coat, replied to Mike’s farewell, and stepped back outside. He mindlessly groped around his pockets before realizing that he had walked here and would have to walk back now.

Grumbling vaguely to himself, he set back off in the general direction he had come from earlier. He crossed wide sidewalks and narrow streets before coming to the path through the park that stretched out across the lane from his apartment. He stopped there, ostensibly to catch his breath.

Instead, he pulled out his phone. No badge icons to indicate a new message or notification. He pressed the calendar icon and stared at the screen blankly while a swirl of colors in the center indicated that it was thinking about his request. After a few heartbeats, his schedule finally swung into view. Nothing. It was blank until tomorrow morning’s shift at the shop.

He hit the home button and then gently tapped the icon for his favorite social media app. It leaped at his touch, springing to into action and almost immediately flinging updates from friends, both real and digital, against the glossy glass screen. He scrolled for a moment, saw nothing going on that captured his attention and pressed the lock screen button.

He looked up at the trees lining the park, marshaled like barbaric champions pressing back against the encroaching urban hordes.

A bit of reverence slid down from the crook of a branch, entered just at the top of his spinal column, and suffused his being. He slipped the phone back into his pocket. He had time for a walk in the dying woods. After all, today was a day for miracles.