In the World

Why write in public?

Blogging seems like a strange thing to some. A playground for ranters and trolls. A pool for Narcissus.

But I blog for the same reason I jog down the sidewalk on our busy street: I want to be in the world. You and I were made to be in this world, alive to wonder and in community. (And the two typically go together).

A treadmill in the basement provides a certain kind of amusement. But running under open skies with all the mishaps of rocks and rain and the occasional honk makes for an adventure no air conditioned room can replicate. I want to be in the world, where skies scream His name and people reflect a deeper image though dimly.

To be in the world means forsaking hearth side and home. It requires risk. But it yields some of our best moments and our brightest memories.

If I had to guess, I would say your best moments were moments in the world, too. You at last said what you were thinking. You prayed with a friend. You entered your art in a contest. You finished a race. You made the trip and saw it with your own eyes. You were in the world. That moment costed you time or money or privacy. But you found something on the other side, something you could never find inside.

So I write in the world. Where else would I write? Or run? Or live?

What about you? What do you need to do in the world? A bike ride in the sun? A workout in the gym? Go to the game? Time in the library? A word in season?

The Discipline of Retreat

This weekend the students at our church participate in our annual fall retreat.

It is easy to think of a fall retreat as an event. But we try to think of our fall retreat as a spiritual discipline.

M. Robert Mulholland Jr. (1993) describes retreat in these terms:

Retreat is the discipline of setting apart a time, individually or corporately, to step aside from the normal flow of life and give God our full and undivided attention. While the disciplines of prayer, spiritual reading, worship, daily office, study and fasting all serve as means to clarify the focus of our life in Christ and keep us centered as citizens of God’s new order of being, we also need special times in which we allow God to help us reevaluate the whole structure of our life in Christ. We need to stand aside from our discipleship so as to be able to see more clearly the direction in which we are going and the course corrections God would have us make. It is possible for the practice of the classical disciplines itself to become a subtle form of works righteousness in which we come to think that by our faithful exercise of the disciplines we are transforming ourselves into the image of Christ. We need to take times to stand aside and allow God to show us what we are doing and what we ought to be doing (p. 119)

This is our heart for retreat: “to step aside from the normal flow of life and give God our full and undivided attention.” A spiritual retreat is deliberate time away to focus on God, and this is what we want for our students and leaders. Will you pray with us for this time?

And what about you? How does retreat work in your life? What does it look like? Do you need a weekend away? Could the best way forward right now be the way back?

References

Mulholland, M. R., Jr. (1993). Invitation to a journey: A road map for spiritual formation. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books.

Hidden Hurts

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Somedays it feels like the world is winning.

Somedays word reaches you of a person now gone.

Some deep struggle now done, now over. Good-bye.

And you never knew.

You had seen them around, in passing. Maybe you waved. Maybe you were in a hurry, so you looked the other way. But they were drowning, and you didn’t know.

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Sometimes the desperation breaks through, and you have a chance to speak and love and encourage and fight. And sometimes you find out too late.

If You had been here…

I am the resurrection and the life.

Why trouble the Teacher any further?

Do not fear, only believe.

See how He loved him!

Selah.

On those days, my only hope is that Jesus is the King of Reversals.

Son, your sins are forgiven.

Talitha koum.

He has risen; he is not here.

Don’t Stop Now

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Several years ago I trained for a marathon. The first time I ran six miles I remember panting and thinking, “How will I ever run 26?” I was spent after my first long day. My legs ached. An hour of running seemed so long.

But I kept running.

I wasn’t very fast. My body creaked and cracked. And I moaned and groaned through the opening weeks.

But I kept running.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but at some point, the training started to be fun. The very thing I had dreaded I started to anticipate with alacrity. I had more energy. My legs were stronger. I felt good. I felt better for the effort. I honestly felt more alive. What had happened? How did running go from draining to fueling?

I had discovered the benefits of endurance.

Endurance

Endurance is the strength of mind, body and spirit to keep going. How do you develop this ability to keep going? Well, surprisingly, you develop this ability when you decide to keep going. Yes. The way to develop endurance is to endure. Not very exciting, right? But it’s a critical point of encouragement.

This realization means that there is hope in the fact that you’re still going right now. There’s hope in the midst of busyness and stress, suffering and tiredness. If you can just keep going, you will keep going. And eventually, you will find you have the strength to keep going. You will have endurance.

Christian Endurance

But this process is more than just a physical or psychological phenomenon. Endurance is a God-backed, Spirit-packed process designed for Christians. Paul writes:

“[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Suffering is what Paul calls the first part of training. The pain. The questions. The aches and dark nights. But through the power of God, these sufferings become soil for growth, and the first green sprig is endurance, the ability to keep going. This ability is not for the purpose of keeping you on a treadmill. As you keep going, you are going somewhere. You are headed towards character. Grit. Deeper faith. Resilience. Buoyancy. And all of this leads to hope. And no one can steal hope from you once you’ve got it good.

Don’t Stop Now

As we begin a new year, I am encouraged by this reminder.

Right now, life seems a little crazy. School has resumed for our children. Soccer practices are just around the corner. Ministry programs and events have started up. We are juggling as many balls as ever. I am sure your life is no different. But I strengthen myself when I remember that God is faithful to take this stress and make me better for it. Remembering that, I keep going. It will get better. I will get better. He will get bigger. God will do great things for me and you. He’s promised it!

So, don’t stop now! Keep going!

Knowing God Takes Time

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“God, however, cannot be downloaded as can the reams of information we have at our fingertips from the Internet. Acquiring information is one thing. Understanding it is another. Learning to become wise by incorporating that information into a framework of understanding, and doing so before God, is yet something else. This, like many other things of value in life, takes time. There are no shortcuts here. Instantaneous knowledge from the Internet is one thing. Learning to know God is quite different. The knowledge of God is, in fact, a lifetime pursuit, not some instantaneous download. God has made himself known in Scripture, but we need to learn how to walk with him through life in the light of what we known of him. This journey never ends until, like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, we finally cross the great river and are welcome to the shores of eternity and the presence of God . Can we, then, set aside the impatience that the Internet tends to breed, and the habits of being distracted which our highly compacted modern lives create, in order to focus on what really matters?

“I am confident we can.”

David Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 38.