Month: September 2018

I will fight for you.

Determined

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Nemo’s dad is a coward. He has been scarred by life; he lost his wife and all his children but Nemo, one little fish with a bad fin. And when Nemo is kidnapped by a human and put in a fish tank, all hope is lost. Nemo gives up. No one will come to rescue him.

Until he hears that his father is fighting for him.

Tonight we watched Finding Nemo with my family. The boys were jumping up and down with excitement. My oldest daughter watched, enraptured. My newest daughter lay on my chest sleeping.

The animators captured Nemo’s expression perfectly. The second he realizes how far his dad is going, he is awed. My dad? He’s going that far for me? And there is a sense of hope, of amazement, of love.

And as I look at my children, their gazes locked on the screen, I want to tell them: “I will fight for you.”

I want to be Marlin. I want to be the dad that has crossed the ocean to save his child. (more…)

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This is the Time to Stand

Esther pic - final - fade out edges

My queen!” one of the eunuchs rushes to Esther. “My queen! Your friend. The one out in the gate. Mordecai? He’s going to be punished!”

Esther sits up. “What? What’s happened?”

He’s wearing sackcloth, your majesty. Anyone who’s mourning isn’t allowed in the king’s gate. I tried warning him, but he’s still just sitting there in the gate crying out!”

What could be wrong? Why would Mordecai do this? Esther looks at the eunuch. “Go to the market. Purchase him some appropriate clothes. Bring them to him. He won’t refuse a gift.”

Yes, your majesty.” He rushes out. Esther paces the harem. What’s wrong with Uncle Mordecai? What’s happened that he’s mourning, and so loudly, and in a place that will kill him? (more…)

This is the Time to Honor

Esther pic - final - fade out edges

His adopted daughter is queen. Mordecai still misses her. He waits by the gate for word from Esther. One day a trumpet blasts. Every noble passing in and and out of the gate, all the guards, everyone drops to the ground on their faces. And as they do, a man in regal robes and a massive black curly beard passes through.

Mordecai looks at all the people groveling on the ground. Clearly this noble passing through is some big-shot, someone very full of themselves. Now Mordecai has no problem showing respect, but he’s got a big problem worshiping anyone but Creator God. And these people aren’t just showing respect. At least, that’s not what it looks like. So Mordecai stays on his feet.

A man with a perfect oiled beard and orange-colored robes stands up next to him after the noble has passed. “What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you bow down to Haman?” (more…)

Review: When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend

When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend: Reflections on life and ministry with depression
by Mark Meynell

Depression defies description. When in the midst of darkness, finding words to grasp doesn’t work well. Mark Meynell attempts to chart a course through depression, talking about its causes, what the experience is like, and how he has so far survived it. He also talks about how is depression changed his ministry forever.

This is an emotional book. Meynell walked me into his cave, and I saw so many reflections of my own depression. His takes a different form, but there were enough similarities I was shaken more than once. He takes more than half of the book describing what depression is like, describing shame, guilt, wanting to be invisible, longing for intimacy and fearing it all at once. While this part of the book wasn’t particularly useful for me, I think it could be very useful for someone trying to grasp either their own depression or that of a friend.

I appreciated that throughout this section of the book, Meynell repeatedly turns to God’s promises for comfort. He’s blunt in saying that repeating these promises rarely help in the season of darkness. He also talked about all the ways so many people try to help that actually hurt during those seasons. Meynell also outlines how to actually help someone who is going through a season of darkness.

In that same section, he also points to numerous psalms. I cheered more than once at his choices as psalms that have also comforted me and gave me a voice. He points out that by simply including the psalms, God legitimizes the wrestling. After all, if God didn’t want us talking about the darkness we experience, he wouldn’t have included it in his Word! (One minor point: his treatment of Psalm 22 may indicate that he does not believe it to be Messianic prophecy, but that may simply be picky reading on my part.)

The last few chapters focus on how depression affects the ministry. The book before this was good but not anything that made me say, “This book is amazing.” The last chapter, though, hit home in all the right ways. He talks about why depression can even help ministry:

He is unashamed of his weakness. Why? It is because his strength, as well as his identity and purpose, all derive from the security he has discovered in Christ. Christ brings the forgiveness for his guilt, the acceptance that heals his shame, the strength that assuages his insecurities. Paul does not derive his sense of worth, nor understand his identity, from either his role in ministry, or from afflictions and weakness. In short, the thorn keeps him humble, while God’s grace frees him from pretense. … If I can put it starkly, we should learn to do weakness and failure well. (180)

I have found that for as much of the weight of the curse I feel when depression strikes, it has forced me to rely on Christ and not myself. I find that my ability to love those around me increases, as I am not holding them to a higher standard of what should be, but can be broken with them. Meynell addresses all these concerns, and it’s good to know I am not alone.

He also wrestles with whether or not ministers should be open with their depression, and he urges ministers to be cautiously open. Don’t air all your dirty laundry, but at least your leadership should know where you struggle. That transparency often brings people closer together, and shows that you rely on Jesus as much as you urge everyone else to. I am thankful for his arguments here.

The appendices of the book may be worth the price of the book by themselves. Meynell sums up the need for self care and some ways to do it, also listing resources that are easily found online. Then he lists books, albums, and poetry that have all aided him. This list comes with great notes. I plan on ordering a number of the books he talked about. He lists two pages of classical songs that express his darkness and hope. He even includes some of his own poetry here.

While this book wasn’t groundbreaking for me, it was well, well worth my time. If you want to understand depression, either your own or someone else’s, better, look this book up. It will give you a vocabulary to wrestle with reality while also pointing you to the hope you have in Christ.

Turn Back

Cliffside Large

Photo by Lane Smith on Unsplash

I’ve never met you. We’ve exchanged emails back and forth for months. I’m supposed to be your shepherd, the one called by God to feed you the Gospel, but you keep saying you’re “too busy.”

You have too busied yourself to hell.

Jesus claimed you for his own. In your baptism, so many years ago, you were washed and made new. Later you spent years investigating God’s promises, and you stood before a congregation. You claimed that you would face anything, even death, rather than turn from Jesus. You rejected the devil and all his lies.

And now the lies, long taken root, have borne bitter, bitter fruit. (more…)

Review: Stirring Scenes from the Life of Luther

Stirring Scenes from the Life of Luther
by Gerhard E. Lenski

Who was Martin Luther? What should a child know about him? This short book from 1935 gives a brief sketch of Luther’s life aimed at schoolchildren. It walks through his childhood, entrance into the monastery, combat against indulgences, stand at the Diet of Worms, the establishment of the Augsburg Confession, and Luther’s death.

Here, let me sum up for you: Don’t give a child this book. Don’t give it to an adult, either.

First, though the book is entitled Stirring Scenes from the Life of Luther I wasn’t stirred at all. In fact, I found the narrative to be pretty severely lacking. This isn’t simply a matter of the book being older; one of my favorite fiction series is The Wizard of Oz and its thirteen novel sequels which all predate this volume. The tone felt like a pastor who’s used to teaching seminarians trying to give a children’s sermon. He might claim he told a story, but all the kids would say all he did was talk about something, not tell a story! (more…)

This is the Time to Do Good

Esther pic - final - fade out edges

Hadassah’s parents’ voices were filled with longing. “Someone is coming to save us. The Savior will be born back home in Israel, from our people. He is coming to redeem us from our sins. And our God will not forget his promises.” They told her of God’s faithfulness to sinners like Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham. They filled her with wonder that God wold love sinners like her no matter how bad she was. They told her, “And we have a promised land, Hadassah. So many of our people already went home. And someday we will go, too. We’ll leave Persia and go to the land our God promised us.”

And then… her parents died.

Hadassah went to live with her older cousin Mordecai. He told her those same promises over and over again.

And then the king exiled his queen. And then he got lonely. And then there was a contest. And Hadassah was taken. She was pried out of her home by the king’s guards, stolen from the man who had raised her, kidnapped by the government from Mordecai. As the guards marched toward their home, Mordecai grabbed Hadassah. “Don’t tell them who you are. Go by your Persian name!” He knew how dangerous it would be to be a minority, especially if the king’s eyes were on you. And so she was known as Esther.

And then Esther won the contest. She pleased the king so much, he threw a week-long party to celebrate. (more…)

Review: Messy Spirituality

Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People
by Michael Yaconelli

Is your life messier than it seems like a Christian’s should be? In Messy Spirituality, Michael Yaconelli shows that Christians lives are meant to be messy, because we’re messy people. Rather than pretending we have it all put together, it’s good to live in the messes and praise God for forgiveness. Through several short chapters and a number of emotional examples, Yaconelli demonstrates that Christianity really is messy.

I picked this book up because of the subtitle. I love that phrasing and may well steal it. Unfortunately, the book focuses less on God’s love and more on how we’re messy and that’s ok. The author waffles a lot when it comes to sin and any theological distinctions, leaving a marshmallowy mess that could have been so, so much more comforting. (more…)

For Those Who Have Lost One Yet Unborn

adult alone anxious black and white

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Too many of my friends have lost children. Too many of them have been ignored in their pain and grief.

A child unborn is still a child.

I was told recently that a pastor refused to do any kind of memorial service or even offer comfort because, well, it was “just” a miscarriage.

I don’t know this man personally, and that’s a good thing. There is not much I will become violent over, but this would be one of them. If that unborn child is indeed a child, if that unborn child is indeed human, knit together in his mother’s womb and known by the God who chose to die for every sinner, then should that child die, that child is “worth mourning.”

And yet so often parents who struggle with miscarriages are forced to hide their grief, to get over it quickly.

How dare we.

How dare we claim to be “pro-life” and yet ignore this pain. How dare we claim to value life and yet tell someone to get over it quickly.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. I wrote something. I don’t know if it’s worth much. I don’t know if it’ll actually help. I’d rather sit and groan with grieving parents than write something like this. I’d rather mourn with them. But in the meantime, if this can be a help to those mourning, I hope it can be used. Feel free to share this with whomever you think would benefit.

(more…)

This is the Time

Esther pic - final - fade out edges

Hadassah lugs the clay jar back home. Susa’s dust swirls around her ankles. The capital city of the Persian empire is relatively quiet at this hour; the women gossip at the well, and over at the market the men grumble as they set up their stalls. The sun peaks over the roofs of the buildings around her, sending golden light everywhere. She breaths a morning prayer of thanks to Yahweh. “Creator, you make the sun to shine on us. Bless this day and bless this water. Give us life. Move us to be thankful. We look for the One you promised would come. Watch over those Jews who have gone home. Bring us home to Israel someday. And help me have a good birthday.”

She comes to the orange clay wall that hides her home. As she rounds the gate to the front garden shadowed by two date trees, she sets down the jar and wipes the sweat from her forehead. Today she is fifteen. Maybe Uncle Mordecai will finally tell her who she’s going to marry. Most of her friends are already married. Chava’s going to have her first baby soon! She hoists the jar to carry into their little home.

Somewhere in the distance, someone screams, breaking the quiet morning air. And then another person screams. There’s weeping far away, carried over the clay roofs of the city. (more…)