21 September 2017

Do you listen to the rain?

I awake with the rain.
Still dark, the rain is at play
I hear the drops landing gently
     upon the leaves.

There is a crispness to the sound
     like wind-rustled paper
and I immediately think, autumn.

Briefly, thunder grumbled
admonishing the rainfall to keep silent.
     "People are sleeping!"

I am grateful they persisted.


19 September 2017

Frosty September

Pale canvas sky
I wonder why
     I then remember.
Morning’s greeting
Colors meeting
     Frosty September.

Spirit prepared
With holy care
     To show masterpiece.
God paints the sun
I’m left undone
     Will beauty ever cease?

No. It will shine
Glory divine
     The radiance of Christ.
Creation’s poem
Life of shalom
     Not decay, but life.

18 September 2017

Empowering Grace

I try so hard
To follow God
     Hoping He’ll approve;
I fail and fail
Day after day
     Condemned by this proof.

“You are welcome.
You are my child.”
     Jesus says to me.
“You belong
No matter what.
     I’m your identity.

I choose to live
For God above
     Not to gain His praise,
I serve Him well
As oft I can
     Because He’s given me grace.

14 September 2017

Making Sense of the Syrophoenician Woman

The Gospel of Mark, chapter 7, tells the story of the Syrophoenician woman. I don't know about you, but every time I have read this story, it's almost like hitting an unexpected dip in the road. The kind that makes your car bottom out and you think to yourself, I hope I didn't break anything. Up until this point, Jesus is loving, serving, teaching, and healing. He's comforting the afflicted and confronting the Pharisees. Even a few chapters earlier, a conflict arises between Jesus and the religious leaders over the washing of hands and Jesus confronts them for putting tradition ahead of love. That makes sense. This is the Jesus we know and love.

But then comes the passage beginning at verse 24. He and the disciples go to a house, hoping not to be found. Too many people around all the time gets to be exhausting. But in verse 25, we learn that a woman finds Jesus and falls at his feet. It seems her daughter has an unclean spirit. She came to Jesus to beg him to cast the demon out. Perfect. This is just what Jesus came for! But then there's this little detail. "Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth" (v. 26). We think to ourselves, no big deal, Jesus can heal anyone he wishes.

So after she pleads with Jesus to heal her daughter, we come to verse 27 "Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."

K-LUNK!

Wait what? Did Jesus just refuse a desperate woman because she was of the wrong birth? Did he just call her a dog, a mongrel?  What are we supposed with that?

Here's what I think. Jesus was always teaching his disciples; this time was no different. Taken at face value, Jesus' response was remarkably harsh. It doesn't fit his character. So how are we to take this? We could assume that he was being harsh, Pharisaical, and clinging to tradition...or he was using this woman as a living parable. I think it was the second.

Trying to put myself in the scene, I envision Jesus and his disciples heading to Tyre and Sidon, trying to find rest. The small band of brothers no doubt talking about the recent interactions with the Pharisees. Along comes this woman, full of faith, but of the wrong tradition. She asks Jesus to free her daughter from a demon.

Jesus looks first at the woman and then at his disciples. They've all be raised in this tradition. It flows through their bloodstreams. I suspect that for some of them at least, they looked upon this woman with disgust. Some probably physically distanced themselves from her. They were simply responding to their upbringing. So Jesus, seeing them, offers the response they're all thinking but not saying. "You're no Jew. Go away you dog." He kept watching the disciples. Judas subtly nods. Peter too.

But she persists; she is desperate but faithful. She will take whatever he may offer her. Now, he looks at her, tears welling in her eyes, and in his. "For saying this, you may go. I have healed your daughter." Faith, not tradition; heart, not behavior.

I wonder what shifted in the disciples. Jesus was using misdirection. He was leading them down one path, but then doubles back to his
main message. Faith, not tradition; heart, not behavior. Jesus not only told them parables, in this case, he showed them.

Jesus still surprises me. I read stories like this one that for years don't make any sense and then one day...clunk...the pieces fall into place. When you are reading and something is puzzling or doesn't seem to fit the narrative of the story or the character of God, it probably doesn't. Slow down and pay attention. Notice what is happening in the surrounding verses. This passage makes much more sense when set against the earlier story line in Mark 7.

God is good. All the time.

09 September 2017

A Virtuous Trio

We look for beauty
     on a five inch screen,
surfing the web
     for the next cool scene.

But if we open our eyes
     and look all around,
in creational beauty
     God's glory abounds.

We search for truth
     on Wikipedia's pages,
trusting what's current
     not the wisdom of ages. 

But if we open our Bibles
     and read God's holy word,
we'll find indelible ink
     where *true Truth's conferred. 

We seek after goodness
     in the public square,
pinning our hopes
     to politicians with flair.

But goodness resides
     in God's perfect law,
love one another
     and God above all. 

Ancient philosophers
     said these three transcend,
all time and space
     they will not end.

A virtuous trio
     truth, goodness, and beauty,
seen most fully 
     in blessed Trinity. 

*True truth was a concept put forward by Francis Schaeffer that what the Bible teaches is not just one among many truths, but truth that corresponds to reality.

08 September 2017

Band of Brothers

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.--Proverbs 17:17

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.--Proverbs 18:24

True friendship is a rare gift, especially among men. In a culture that promotes rugged individualism on the one hand, and allows people to have thousands of "friends" through social media on the other, we have lost our way regarding what friendship means. We read stories in the Bible about friendships between men and the closeness they have may seem surreal to us because they are so different from our everyday experience.

We may have buddies, but often we don't have brothers.

We may have men that we like doing stuff with, but often we don't have men whom we love deeply.

I am grateful that for me, at least, results have not been typical. I want to tell you about two of my friends.

Several years ago, our church held a men's ministry event where "accountability groups" were encouraged. If you've never heard of an accountability group, it is essentially when a group of men get together and confess their sins to one another and pray for one another, usually guided by a list of questions (e.g., did you look at porn this week? Have you managed your money well?). My friend Brad was moved and reached out to a bunch of guys about starting a group. Eric and I, even though we didn't attend the men's ministry event, were the only two that responded. We didn't even really have relationship beforehand, other than a time when I offended Brad. The three of us began meeting at 6:00 on Thursday mornings at Randy's Family restaurant.

We are an unlikely trio. Let me tell you why. Brad runs an office--several actually--that sells bearings and transmissions. He is a whiz at math, has great spatial skills, has administrative capabilities that most only long for, and is a neat freak (perhaps even obsessively so).  Eric is a locksmith by profession, but also has an eye for beauty that many people lack in today's culture. Whether from resin or wood, he is able to craft things that amaze. Eric is also driven and visionary. I am a neuropsychologist and pastor. I love words more than anything requiring spatial skills, something both Eric and Brad would be quick to tell you. I am also decidedly not a neat freak.

Brad likes bikes. Eric likes Dungeons and Dragons. I like books.

As I said, we are an unlikely trio, yet these two men are my brothers. The love I have for them runs deep.

When we began meeting, we used " the list." Each week we would walk through the questions. Some weeks, I would hope that we wouldn't get around to me because I didn't want to tell these guys what a mess I was am.  Week after week we persisted, bonds of friendship forming. Eventually, we put away the list. We didn't need it to guide our conversations any longer because we had developed enough trust in one another to discuss whatever was pressing. We began to understand what it meant to encourage, admonish, help, and love one another. We were willing to dig down with one another and to allow the others to dig beneath our false veneer we put up.

But don't get the wrong impression that deep friendship is always easy. It's not. Every one of us have said something stupid for which we have needed to apologize. Every one of us has been confronted and wounded by the others. We have repeatedly had to apologize and forgive. Every one of us has sinned against the others, often unknowingly.

It would be so easy to live on the surface, to talk about the weather, but never get down to what is beneath. It would be so easy to walk away when conflict arises. It would be so easy to live behind our masks and never let one another see our true selves, but then we would never be truly known and honestly, then we would never grow. My friend Larry says "true growth happens when you look bad in the presence of love." I have that with these men and I regularly thank God for them. In a society that says when things get tough you are totally within your rights to walk away, a brother who sticks close by when things get messy is an unbelievable blessing.

In John 17, perhaps my favorite chapter in the whole Bible, Jesus prays for his brothers. At the end of the prayer, Jesus tells the Father that his desire is that these men would love one another the way that He and the Father love one another and that we would be one in the way that the Trinity is one (verses 21-22). This is not love like the world defines love; it is a radical other-centeredness and commitment to one another's good. Jesus wasn't just praying that this might happen in heaven, but that we might manifest this in our relationships now. I am grateful for two brothers with whom I am able to strive for that goal.

Perhaps as you read this, you are thinking to yourself "yeah, that's unrealistic," but what if it's not? How do you stretch toward this end? First, pray. Ask God to help this type of relationship develop. Second, persist. As I said above, when things get hard, our sinful predisposition is to cut and run rather than persevere in love for one another. Third, patience. Change happens slowly. In our instant society, we need to become people who take the long view, who trust the process of growth and relational sanctification.

Brad, Eric, and I are far from perfect, but we are committed to loving one another over the long haul.

31 August 2017

I'm looking for a book about...

People often ask if I have recommendations for books about certain topics. I started putting together a list and came up with 50. Each of these books is relatively easy to understand and hits on important topics.  I have included a number of topics. What did I miss?

  1. Addiction--Grace in Addiction, John Zahl
  2. Adoption--Adopted for Life, Russell Moore
  3. Anxiety--Running Scared, Ed Welch
  4. Apologetics: Content--Christian Apologetics, Doug Groothuis 
  5. Apologetics: Method--Tactics, Greg Koukl
  6. Beauty--Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, ND Wilson
  7. Bible--ESV Legacy Bible
  8. Biography--Confessions, Augustine of Hippo
  9. Calvinism--Chosen by God, RC Sproul
  10. Character--The Good and Beautiful Life, James Bryan Smith
  11. Compassion--Generous Justice, Tim Keller
  12. Counsel (providing)--Soul Talk, Larry Crabb
  13. Creationism--More than a Theory, Hugh Ross
  14. Creativity--World Enough and Time, Christian McEwen 
  15. Decision Making--Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung
  16. Depression--Christians Get Depressed Too, David Murray
  17. Discipleship--Conformed to His Image, Ken Boa
  18. Emotions--Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman
  19. Fasting--Hunger for God, John Piper
  20. Gender--Fully Alive, Larry Crabb
  21. Gentleness--The Allure of Gentleness, Dallas Willard 
  22. Gospel--The Gospel, Ray Ortlund
  23. Grace--Extravagant Grace, Barbara Duguid
  24. Holiness--Holiness by Grace, Bryan Chapell
  25. Holy Spirit--Jesus Continued..., JD Greear 
  26. Interpreting the Bible--Dig Deeper, Niles Benyon
  27. Islam--Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi 
  28. Leadership--Heart of a Servant Leader, Jack Miller
  29. Marriage--What Did You Expect?--Paul Tripp
  30. Masculinity--Men of Courage, Larry Crabb
  31. Mental Health--Grace for the Afflicted, Matthew Stanford
  32. Neuroscience--Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson
  33. Other-Centeredness--A Different Kind of Happiness, Larry Crabb
  34. Parenting--Give the Grace, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
  35. Pastoring--The Pastor's Justification, Jared Wilson
  36. Poetry--The Jubilee, John Blase
  37. Prayer--Whole Prayer, Walter Wangerin
  38. Psalms--A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson
  39. Preaching--Preaching, Tim Keller
  40. Relationships--Everybody's Normal Until You Get to Know Them--John Ortberg
  41. Relativism--Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Midair--Frank Turek and Greg Koukl
  42. Revelation--Reversed Thunder, Eugene Peterson
  43. Sexual Abuse--Rid of my Disgrace, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb
  44. Shame--Shame, Interrupted, Ed Welch
  45. Sin--Why Sin Matters, Mark McMinn
  46. Spirituality--True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer
  47. Suffering--A Grace Disguised, Jerry Sittser
  48. Trinity--Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves
  49. Union with Christ--Union with Christ, Rankin Wilbourne
  50. Worldview--Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey

21 August 2017

Superball

My mind is a superball
     incessantly 
          unpredictably bouncing
seemingly unable to remain at rest.

Superballs are fun
     though they aren't good for much else.

Like a toddler at play
     I move
          I move
rarely slowing for rest. 

The Father says,
     "come touch my knee." 

I resist. 
     Again..."come touch my knee." 

I do so, reluctantly, 
     but my mind still bounces around the room. 

"Look at me, son." 
     I turn to look at Him, 
     but like the superball,
     my eyes bounce away after a short second. 

"Look at me." 
     I try again to hold His gaze,
     a few seconds longer this time. 

He remains patient and tender.
     I draw an uneven breath and, holding it, look.

There is stillness in His eyes
     and love in His smile.

I relax.

How long before I bounce away again? 

18 August 2017

Book Review: The Christian Book of Mystical Verse

A.W. Tozer is a compelling writer, whose books have deeply affected Christians for decades, so I was glad to see The Christian Book of Mystical Verse: A Collection of Poems, Hymns, and Prayers for devotional reading (Moody, 1963). However, it would be unfair to say that this Tozer's book as much as it is a book of his influences. He wrote a 4 page introduction, but the remainder of the book is poetic verse collected under several headings: adoration of the godhead, devotional meditations on the cross, penitential reflections on our sins, rejoicing in forgiveness and justification, yearning for purity of heart, aspirations after God, delighting in God's presence, the rapture of divine love, the rest of faith, the spiritual warfare, victory through praise, the prayer of quiet, the bliss of communion, joyous anticipation of Christ's return, and immortality and the world to come. I found some familiar favorites, such as Isaac Watts, but also some people I was not familiar with, perhaps most notably Frederick William Faber (1814-1863).

All in all, this is a welcome collection. Poets have a way of lifting our eyes higher than simple prose and that goal is certainly accomplished in this book. More Christians would benefit from reading poetry and poetic prayers, such as in the excellent Valley of Vision. This collection by Tozer is a most welcome addition.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Moody Publishers. I was not required to share a positive review. These impressions are my own. 

12 August 2017

A trio of poems from MISA

A Murder of Crows

As night descended
the birds intended
     to raise some havoc.
A murder of crows
their angry shouts grow
     a rageful black flock.

Dark from head to toe
all who see them know
     not to mess with them.
They control the streets
all who see, retreat
     lest they stand condemned.

Grouped voices murmur
crows planning murder
     opposing the peace.
They rule the night
when they take flight
     dark anarchy seized. 

Relative Silence

I sit in silence
listening for God
     but silence is a relative term.

The refrigerator hums
     birds chirp
          once in a while. 

My stomach asks,
     "When's breakfast?" 

I think I hear people moving,
     but perhaps not...

Watercolor Morn

Watercolor morn
I step out my door
     and gaze to the West.

Cool gray sky,
     wet on wet
stands in stark contrast
     to the ragged treeline
          nearly black.

Our minds are trained to fill in missing pieces
     --interpretively--
          blue skies
               green trees
but the Artist's palate 
     contains more color.

As the sun ascends in the East
     and the earth genuflects in reverence,
new brush strokes are added 
     to nature's scene.

Green blue and Indian yellow
     edges mystically softened.

Soon contrasting shapes and colors and edges
     amorophous scene becomes beauty
     bearing the signature of the Creator.