Eugene Peterson, 1932-2018

petersonAs I learned of Peterson’s death, I reflected on the first time I read the “Message.”

His paraphrase was attacked by many, loved by many and now not known by many.

I do not recommend it as a primary Bible. Peterson implied that in his “Introduction,” : “There will be time enough for study later on. But first, it is important simply to read, leisurely and thoughtfully.”

I often read “The Message” to compare it to a passage I’m reading and/or studying. I sometimes read a psalm or two before bed.

Peterson’s words are earthy, gritty, real.

He wrote many, many books; the ones I have read have been a blessing.

Here’s a couple familiar verses in “The Message”:

John 3.16ff: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”

Psalm 23:

1-3 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

Probably not for everyone; but if you’ve never given “The Message” a look, now might be an appropriate time.

MidTerms and Revival

Obviously I am going to vote in a couple weeks.

Equally obviously, like most, I think this is a crucial election; and I’m praying that the people (and thus hopefully the agenda) I vote for are elected.

But at the same time I continue to pray for revival in our community, nation, and world.

Could the two prayers be contradictory?

In other words, if the “other” side wins; and the agendas I support are negated and worse; will that help set the stage for revival moreso than if “my” guys win?

Whatcha think?

How to Pray for Your Missionaries

As Jane and I serve as home missionaries, this may appear a bit self serving, but I’m grateful to Mark Rogers for doing the research and writing to come up with this list of ideas as to how to minister to missionaries:

In an effort to learn how we can best encourage missionaries, I emailed some and asked how they would most like to be served and encouraged. This list is drawn from their responses, including many direct quotes.

1. Pray for them and let them know that you are doing so frequently.
“One of the most encouraging/inspiring things we receive from people is a quick note via email to say that they are ‘thinking’ of us.”

2. Send “real mail.” 
“Send a small care package. Some little fun food items that we can’t get where we serve is a good idea.”
“One idea is to send a special package before an American holiday (like Thanksgiving) filled with things that we can use to decorate for that holiday.”
“Send us a birthday card. This doesn’t have to be some long handwritten note, just a little card – maybe even printed at home.”
“Real mail is always special. Really, the thing with real mail is more than just getting some nice stuff from home (which is nice), but it seems a more tangible reminder that the people I love and miss love and miss me too and are thinking of me.”

3. Pray for the people the missionaries serve and not only for the missionaries and their families.

4. Recruit others to pray for the missionary’s area of service (city, people group, etc.) or for the missionaries themselves. 
“This can be an amazing thing to have a person or group of people actively supporting the work that we are doing overseas – becoming an advocate for our city/work. It really encourages us to know that there are people going to bat for us and raising more prayer support for the work.”
“Become an arm of our work in the United States. Some ideas include handling our newsletter distribution, website hosting (i.e., hosting a virtual website for the city), logistical arrangements, or short term team orientation.”

5. Go visit them with the purpose of serving and encouraging them in their work.
“Have a group of your people come to minister to us as we are seeking to pour out our lives to others. This could be hosting a small retreat in country for our team or something similar, or coming to prayer walk the city we live in.”

6. Send them updates and pictures of you and your family (by mail or email).
“It would especially be nice to receive end of the year updates or Christmas card pics. We want to stay connected to you! We love hearing from friends and family and enjoy keeping up to date on what’s happening in your life!”
“If you have a friend overseas, stay in touch with them. Don’t let cautions about being careful with spiritual language keep you from talking about the day to day “un-spiritual” things you would talk about if you met up for lunch one day. Sometimes the least spiritual emails are the most helpful, because somehow I feel less distant when friends talk to me like they always did before I left. Share updates on family, school, work, life, sports—whatever it is that you used to talk about with them.”

7. Ask questions about their work.
“Ask not only how we are doing, but ask about our work and try to learn all you can about the people or city where we are serving.”
“I know that this has been said, but truly CARING about the work is the best way to encourage us.”

8. Continue to be a Christian friend and continue to minister to them.
“Don’t stop being the church to us when we leave. Whenever security allows, spiritual conversations are good for our hearts. Missionaries struggle with the same sinful attitudes that plague Christians everywhere. Leaving home to live among unreached peoples, may be a step of faith in the process of sanctification, but it is not a step that roots out all sin. It is likely to lead to and expose all kinds of previously unnoticed and unexpected sin. Having friends that know me, are patient with me, and expect me to be the same struggling sinner I was when I left helps me stay humble when tempted toward arrogance, and hopeful when tempted toward despair.”
“Even for us with strong member care, it is helpful to receive pastoral care from the stateside church’s pastor who many times will know the missionary personally and have the history with them to be able to invest and mentor them and their family and marriage.”
“Ask us those hard questions. Do a little pastoral counseling with us.”
“Please don’t elevate us onto some false pedestal. We are normal people too who have been forgiven much and for some reason God called to live and minister overseas.”

9. Support them financially.
“Finding out if we have any specific needs and meeting those needs is great.”

10. Seek to encourage them when they are on stateside assignment.
“Let us talk to you and your congregations, and small groups. We want to share what God has been doing and would love the opportunity to talk about it, raise awareness and hopefully gain more prayer support.”
“Invite us out to lunch or dinner. Nothing fancy is needed. Remember we’ve just been in places where we may not have been able to even enjoy a little Mexican food.”
No missionary mentioned this to me in emails, but I know it is a blessing when someone shares their summer home or cabin for a missionary family to get away and relax for a few days.
“Let us know about any good books that are must reads. Tell us about any good resources that may benefit our personal growth or ministry work: things like conferences, training for ministry/leadership, and so forth.”

This Shouldn’t Generate Any Controversy

A friend posed this question/scenario on a Facebook thread earlier. I wanted to read the whole thing and the easiest way is to copy/paste it here, and then reply. So it evolved into a blog post…

Here is the scenario etc:

Jack, hypothetical and honest scenario – Your church is going through the hiring process of a new pastor. He is a super solid guy who has been with your congregation for decades. Actively involved in youth group both as a student, then an intern when he was in college, and even a volunteer now as an adult. The youth pastor loves him and all the youth can’t stop raving about how cool and awesome he is. 

Unbeknownst to you he sexually assaulted your daughter when she was in the youth group as a student and he was an intern at the time. She never told you or anyone because she was afraid of the embarrassment, shame, guilt, and the too loud whisper in her head that says “maybe I shouldn’t have (fill in the blank: dressed that way, stayed that long after youth group, laughed so easily at his jokes… etc.)”

Days before the hiring committee selects him as a new pastor your daughter finally speaks up. She shows you detailed journal entries from the time of when it actually happened, and tells you how she revealed her assault in vague detail to another female small group leader a few years ago. You’re even able to confirm with the small group leader that your daughter did indeed seek counseling for being assaulted by an active church member, but made a passionate appeal not to tell anyone until she was ready. Additionally, your daughter revealed it in such vague detail to the small group leader that the leader was completely unaware of the seriousness of the issue. Perhaps she thought it was a miscommunication between the two.

What do you do? You’re in complete shock because you have loved the committee’s selection up to this point. The guy is a stand up man who has never given the slightest hint that he’d ever do something so evil and awful to anyone, let alone your own daughter. More over, you even have the thought, “will the committee believe me if I stand up for my daughter’s accusation? Will the congregation understand??” How would you handle this? How is this different from the current news? 

I am aware that there are sick political games being played on both sides on this. I believe the democrats are weaponizing her story and I also believe there are too many republicans doing all they can to get the judge voted in before it’s too late, regardless of whether it’s true or not. I don’t deny those things. 

But from a person perspective. Human Ford, and human Kavanaugh. One is lying and one is telling the truth. How do we handle it? How would you handle it if Ford was your daughter? How would you handle it if the committee was your congregation?

Here is my response:

Couple things before I answer –

  1.  The scenario is not necessarily similar. You are writing this as it was an actual event; neither I nor anyone else at this point knows if the California professors story is true.
  2. I’d hope I am enough a man of character that the fact (in your story) that the girl was my daughter would not impact the way I responded.

Now, my response…

I would go to the church leadership, in private, with the girl/daughter and tell the story. I am, at this point, not sure what I would do if the girl refused to go with me. I’d probably drop the whole thing…but, again, I don’t know.

Assuming she went with me, I’d recommend that the leadership called in the potential pastor (without me or the girl present) and say something like, “We have been told that long ago you assaulted (not sure if I’d name her or not at this point) a girl. What do you have to say about this?”

His response would dictate the rest of the scenario. Obviously he would either admit it or deny it.

If he denied it I would not hold a general church meeting and say, “So and so has been accused of sexual assault. We need to know if anyone else in the church would say they have been assaulted by him.”

might hold a general meeting and tell the church of the accusation, and that there is not enough “evidence” to decide the truth of the matter. I’d probably let the accused speak. And I’d allow for a vote (if that’s the way the church functioned)

Sexual assault is a horrific thing. But the fact that it happened, in your scenario, years ago, and that there has been no other accusation makes it fuzzy at best. Why would my daughter/girl “make it up”? No idea. Is it possible she did? Yup. Is it possible she made it up without even realizing it was not true? Yup.

If the accused admitted that yes, in fact, it happened; I would demand that he tell it to the church. Whether he tearfully confessed or simply confessed does not factor into my decision. I don’t know his heart; I don’t know her heart.

Then I would have them vote.

In other words, in my mind, the accusation in and of itself is not the proverbial deal breaker.

I have never sexually assaulted anyone; but I am a convicted thief, drug dealer, and the only reason I don’t have other convictions is that I plea bargained. I served my time (and as a result of incarceration was confronted with the glorious gospel and converted), was released after a few years and have been in full time youth and prison ministry ever since.

Had I been convicted of a sexual crime I believe I could still be in ministry though, obviously, not with youth or children.

I appreciate your question/scenario; and I’ve thought long about it. The whole thing stinks, but I’ve typed what I believe I’d do. No one knows what they would actually do in such a situation, but that’s my answer.

 

#notmetoo

First, no one ever “deserves” to be raped or otherwise sexually abused.

Even the woman who said she was raped…after attending ten parties where, by her own admission, she “knew” rapes were happening did not “deserve” what allegedly happened to her. Though it does make me think that if I knowingly stroll through a minefield more than once I may be somewhat responsible for being blown to bits…

That said, I wish there was a #notmetoo group of women who would discuss the fact they were never raped or otherwise sexually abused, and who might, for the benefit of others, discuss what they did to help prevent such activity.

I think many preteens and young teens are scared these days.

I fear many young girls fear that every guy is a rapist-in-training. That fear is unjustified.

I fear many young men (and not so young) are fearful that some disturbed, angry, jilted girl is going to destroy their lives with a false accusation.

That fear is, tragically, justified.

Victimized by Parents?

I’m starting what I perceive to be a great book.

The title grabbed me: You are NOT Special and Other Encouragements. The author, David McCullough, Jr, gave a commencement speech that went viral a few years ago, and that birthed the book, published in 2014.

hovering parent

In the forward, he writes:

“Today’s teenagers are, too many of them, unwitting victims of their parents’ good intentions – or passive agents of their parents’ vanity, or pawns to their parents’ insecurities, or anxieties, or limited imaginations. They’ve become showpieces in an arms race to impress admissions officers, and thereby the Joneses, and perpetuate the legacy of privilege…Too often, though, their privileges are unwisely expended, in my view, and serve to promote, however inadvertently, swelling narcissism, assumptions of entitlement, superficial and/or robotic thinking. Empathy withers. Maturation is slowed or halted altogether. Self-reliance dies in the bud. And the anxious parent feels compelled to intercede once again.

Yup. At the risk of sounding racist; if I were to read that quote four decades ago I would have thought of my Korean/American friends (as well as other newcomers to the so called “American dream”).

Now…sadly…it is applicable to all.

 

 

Lawnmower Parents and Snowflake Spirituality

I wish I had written this…but it is from James Emery White. It would probably do you better to read this today than to watch the Kavanuagh hearings…

There’s a new parenting category. You’ve heard of helicopter parents, free-range parents, tiger parents… now there’s “lawnmower parents.” What does a lawnmower parent do? They “mow down all of a child’s challenges, discomforts and struggles.”

The idea has taken hold due to a viral post from an online community for teachers that said, among other things: “In raising children who have experienced minimal struggle, we are not creating a happier generation of kids. We are creating a generation that has no idea what to do when they actually encounter struggle.”

The teacher author shared a story of “being called to the office, expecting to retrieve a student’s forgotten meal money or inhaler. Instead, a sheepish parent in a suit was dropping off an expensive water bottle after repeated texts from a child. Water fountains exist all over the school.”

This was actually tame.

Here are some of the “lawnmower” stories that came in as a result of the post:

  • The parent of a high school student who asked a teacher to walk their student to class to assure that the student would not be late.
  • A parent who requested someone from the cafeteria blow on their child’s too-hot lunch to cool it down.
  • A parent who called to schedule a make-up test when the student was clearly old enough to request a time.

To be clear, this is not about a parent’s willingness to help a child succeed. “The problem,” notes Hannah Hudson, Editorial Director for WeAreTeachers.com, “comes from a parent’s repeated efforts to eliminate any and all struggle so that children are ill-equipped when they grow up and life inevitably goes sideways.”

I’ve noticed that, whether as a result of lawnmower parenting or not, there’s also a growing trend among younger Christ followers in regard to handling adversity. In short, many are spiritual snowflakes.

For example, I recently read of a Christian couple who actually considered becoming atheists because they had difficulty conceiving a child. They did conceive, mind you, but because they had difficulty, they began to doubt the existence of a loving God. I’m not diminishing the emotional heartache of not being able to conceive. I am suggesting that elevating such things to the level of spiritual crisis, leading to the rejection of faith altogether, reveals a very weak and shallow faith. A faith that had never been exposed to real challenge or, at the very least, never been discipled for a life of challenge.

This is deeper than the “health and wealth gospel” that is no gospel at all, being proclaimed in 4 out of every 10 evangelical churches. This is broader and more insidious. It’s the belief that we are entitled to a life free of difficulty and challenge, and when difficulty and challenge come our way we shake our fist at God in either doubt or condemnation. Or we simply collapse emotionally and spiritually and wallow in self-pity, elevating our issue to the level of Jeremiah’s lament or Christ’s passion. There’s no spiritual toughness, no spiritual backbone.

In his most recent book, Malcolm Gladwell explores several ideas, but his central exploration is how it is weakness that often makes us strong. Or, more to the point, strength comes from overcoming weakness. I was particularly drawn to the second part of the book, “The Theory of Desirable Difficulty.” There he tells the story of David Boies, who credits his dyslexia for forcing him to compensate by developing skills of observation and memory. Gladwell asks: “You wouldn’t wish dyslexia on your child. Or would you?”

Here lies a deeply important and deeply biblical idea.

As a pastor, I’m often confronted with the confusion and bewilderment surrounding why God might allow pain and suffering into a human life. I know one of the reasons. It is to strengthen us, for what has wounded us most deeply is often what has made us who we are.

Think of how it works with our muscles. To build muscle, you have to actually tear the muscle. And then, when it heals, the scar tissue builds the muscle up and strengthens it.

Biologists have witnessed this in their work among plants and animals for years. They call it the adversity principle. They have discovered that habitual, ongoing well-being is not good for a species. An existence without challenge is not healthy.

You see it in the flabby animals at a zoo that have their food delivered to them every day.

You see it in rainforest trees—because water is everywhere, they don’t have to extend their root system more than a few feet below the surface. As a result, the slightest windstorm can knock them down. But a tree that is planted in dry land has to send its roots down 30 feet or more in search of water. Then, not even a gale force wind can knock those trees down.

It’s no different with our life. Our pain is often what has developed us, strengthened us, allowed us the ability to grow. And that is, of course, precisely what the Bible teaches: “… we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3, NIV).

I am sorry for those who have early first trimester miscarriages, have a car breakdown when money is tight, have to put a beloved pet down or have a cousin who has shingles. But again, to elevate such everyday struggles to the level of spiritual or emotional devastation betrays a significant deficiency not only in faith, but in perspective.

I think of Corrie ten Boom who endured the horrors of Ravensbruck, the infamous Nazi concentration camp for women. (You can read her story in the anointed pages of her biography The Hiding Place.) After her imprisonment, Corrie traveled throughout the world, telling her story of suffering in the context of a faith in God. For 33 years following Ravensbruck, she never had a permanent home. When she was 85 years old, some friends provided her with a lovely home in California. It was a luxury she never dreamed she would have. One day, as a friend was leaving her home, he said, “Corrie, hasn’t God been good to give you this beautiful place?”

She replied firmly, “God was good when I was in Ravensbruck, too.”

So maybe the next time challenge comes, there should be less lawn mowing and certainly less wallowing. Perhaps we should just pick up a copy of The Hiding Place and be reminded of the role faith is meant to play in the face of adversity.

And remember that God is good to us there, too.