2018 Books in Review

31 December 2018

I set goals every year, and I always include a reading goal. This year was a little different for goal-setting, but I still set a reading goal to finish 30 books. I read 40. Over drinks a couple nights ago, a friend asked me to name the top five, and after some thought, here they are.

Spirit of the Rainforest: a Yanomamo Shaman’s Story by Mark Andrew Ritchie

This was the hardest book I read this year. Replete with rape, murder, torture, sickness, and death, it is also a stunning tale of beauty and redemption. We in the modern West like to keep spiritual and physical as separate categories; in these pages, you’ll see spiritual and physical as a single, complex world–the way they really are.

Here, through the eyes of a shaman who calls himself Jungleman, you will find the unvarnished truth of Yanomamo life before they ever made contact with modern culture, and how things changed across the decades as they made (often traumatic) contact with traders, missionaries, anthropologists, soldiers, and other outsiders. The author chose to tell the story as Jungleman told it to him, in Jungleman’s words (as nearly as translation allows), but he also worked hard to verify the events described from multiple sources where possible. For this, he has been excoriated by missionaries, anthropologists, and other modern folk for telling the unvarnished truth about them all. Some folks apparently want the freedom to opine about all things Yanomamo, but don’t want the Yanomamo to have the same freedom to comment on them back–and especially don’t want the folks at home to hear how they behave in the field. Colonialism dies hard, I guess.

Despite not being a “theology book” as such, this is the best theological book I read this year, by far.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of my Life by Scott Adams

Books about success are largely written by successful people, about their big successes. That approach delivers what people want to read (and the story a successful person wants to tell), Adams says, but it leaves out crucial parts of the story. In this book, Adams–himself an indisputable success–takes us on a guided tour of his lifelong string of failures, and shows how they contributed, over time, to his success. (And in concrete, imitable ways, not just “building character.”) More importantly, he shows you how you can do the same: choose projects and partners and set processes in motion so that even when you fail, you get something out of it, and increase the odds of future success.

Adams’ conversational style and self-effacing manner make this an easy, fun read, and it is brimming with clear, immediately actionable advice.

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

Healthy cultures have certain elements in common, whether you’re talking about a military unit, a sports team, or a restaurant staff. In Culture Code, Daniel Coyle profiles successful cultures: the physical practices, beliefs, and emotional landscape that separate stimulating, rewarding, effective cultures from the rest of the pack. Liberally illustrated with examples both good and bad, Culture Code is not just illuminating, it’s applicable. Coyle concludes with an epilogue describing how he put his insights to work in his own life, coaching a team of young writers, with excellent results.

This one is a must-read for church leaders. If your organizational culture does not reflect the profile Coyle is describing–which tracks pretty tightly with how the Body of Christ is supposed to work–it would be worth your while to ask why. And fix it.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Slow Regard is an odd little book, and it might not be for you. It’s a week in the life of a singular character named Auri, who lives a life of self-imposed exile in, and under, the world of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle. You need to read book 1, The Name of the Wind, before this one to get necessary context, but that’s not going to be a chore. (This one’s labeled #2.5 in the series, but you can read it after #1; there’s no spoilers.) TNOTW is a stunning achievement in fantasy fiction, and if Rothfuss can deliver the finish that the first two main volumes promise, he will be deservedly mentioned in the same breath with the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and Frank Herbert. I wouldn’t take anything away from the achievement of the series as a whole…but Slow Regard is important.

In Slow Regard, Rothfuss takes us inside Auri’s head. She’s beautiful, whimsical, deeply intelligent, powerful, and absolutely broken. She sees the world in a unique way, a way that might be totally delusional. Then again, it might be uncommonly perceptive. Or maybe a bit of both; you’ll have to decide for yourself.

And then you’ll have to decide how that maps from her world into ours. It might be one of the more important decisions of your life, because, you see, there are real people like Auri. You can write them off and be the poorer for it. Or you can learn to love them, to dance with the oddness, to profit from the things they see that you cannot. There is so little space in the world for such people; if some corner of your life can hold space for an Auri, that’ll be a kindness well worth doing in itself, and both of you will be richer for it.

If you can stand to, read this book. Whatever you do, don’t skip the author’s foreword.

Internal Body Mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua, and Xingyi: The Key to High-Quality Internal Structure and Movement by Ken Gullette

Despite the title, this one is not just for martial artists. If you’re a massage therapist, an athlete, or you just want to learn to use your body in an attentive, aware way, there’s a lot here for you.

The standard disclaimer applies: there’s no substitute for personal instruction from a qualified teacher, etc. But you learn martial arts by practicing, and there’s a lot here to inform your practice and make it more fruitful.

When it comes to “chi,” Ken Gullette is an uncompromising materialist: for him, there is no non-physical energy, just a very sound–if uncommon–set of body mechanics. Being a Christian, I don’t think the world is quite that simple, but Gullette’s line of inquiry here is undeniably productive. Whatever the truth about chi, there are physical mechanics at work.

Selecting a series of six key mechanics–groundpath, peng jing (which I’m not going to try to explain here), whole-body involvement, silk-reeling (spiral) movement, dantien (pelvic, kinda) rotation, and proper use of the kua (hip hinge)–Gullette walks us through key exercises and practices to develop each one. Start practicing even a couple of these together, and you’ll instantly understand why so much of Tai Chi practice is done slowly.

Gullette has been teaching for many years, and I’ve benefited from some of his and Mike Sigman’s earlier efforts. (Thanks, guys!) This book shows the results of a lot of trial and error to find the best words and exercises to convey these key concepts. The explanations are crystal clear and the photos are shot from useful angles (which is a lot harder than it sounds, y’all.) I’ll be spending a lot of time with these practices as I work to refine my own movement–as a martial artist, as a massage therapist, and as a structurally healthy human being.

***

So that’s my top five of a lot of good stuff–a total of 40 books and 8,389 pages, according to Goodreads, which is kind enough to track all this for me (and sell my data to the highest bidder, no doubt, but who isn’t, these days?)

As with any goal-setting exercise, I review my reading list periodically to make course corrections. A few things stand out to me about this year’s reading list:

  • It’s low on classics and poetry.  Be good to re-read some Shakespeare, Bacon, and Frost, just for the joy of the language.
  • I have some quality theological work on my shelf that I want to read, and didn’t quite get to. I want to do more of that this year.
  • I set the goal low on purpose, knowing that this was going to be a demanding year in other ways, and I might not have time for a lot of reading. And then I way overshot the goal without really trying. I expect this year to be equally demanding, but I should probably raise the goal a bit.

Also with any goal-setting exercise, it’s important to celebrate what went well. My standout items are…

  • I read 40/30 books!
  • I had fun! By setting a number goal, with just a few must-read items, it didn’t ever feel like something I had to do. I was just having a good time reading about whatever interested me. That’s ideal; I retain a lot less if it becomes a chore.
  • I finished The Unshakeable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person. That doesn’t sound impressive, but I’ve been chewing slowly away on that book for three years. (It’s not that long, but it was meaty. I’d read a few pages, and then have to go think about it for a week. So it took a while. I got most of the considerable benefit from it in the first year, but this year I finally finished, which feels like a significant accomplishment.
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A Year in Review: 2018

30 December 2018

2016 was a dumpster fire of a year, a torrent of damage. It’s no exaggeration to say it was by far the worst year of my adult life. 2017 was a year of recovery, not in the good way, but more in the sifting-the-ashes-of-your-burned-home-through-a-screen-box kinda way. 2018 was a year of new direction. But you wouldn’t have known that from the way the year started….

I usually set 8-12 goals for the year, spread across the categories of Body, Spirit, Calling, and Relationship; I’ve been doing this for years. (I generally only hit about 60% of my goals, but that’s way better than I ever did with New Year’s resolutions, so it’s all good.) By the time I’d dragged myself through 2016 and 2017, I was in no shape to choose goals. I tried, and I just couldn’t do it. Nothing made sense. I found myself incapable of believing any set of goals I put on paper. I didn’t know what to do.

And then, as so often happens at those moments, God spoke. He told me if I wanted to take the safe road, get a bodywork job working for Hand & Stone or whoever, and do another season of true bivocational work–one job to pay the bills, and a ministry gig on the side–that there was a job out there for me, and it was ok to do that. I’d done that before; it’s a tough life, but I understand how it works, and it’s known territory for me. But God also told me that wasn’t the only road open to me. If I wanted to go for the dream, He would support that too. The dream was…poorly defined, to put it mildly. But I knew exactly what He meant: I could live a life that seamlessly blended my ministry and my livelihood, a life where all my gifts came into play together. It was what I’d been dreaming of my whole adult life. I thought I had it, briefly, a bit over a decade ago, during the short time when I was a full-time professional geek…but no. That turned out to be too sterile, too one-dimensional. And it didn’t last anyway.

God told me (via a prophetic friend that I deeply trust, and confirmed various ways) that my dream life was now within reach…if I was willing to take the risk. I thought about the safe road, and the security it offered, and waiting another five years (or however long) before this opportunity came my way again. And then I muttered something like, “Oh, what the hell, it’s too late to start playing it safe now,” and went for it.

I kept my freedom and plowed into developing my business and my ministry, all at the same time. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and let me tell you, it showed. My marketing was beyond amateurish. My bookkeeping needed serious help. I had poor judgment in my partnerships. (I had some great partners, but also some that were…well, let’s just say not great, and leave it there.)

But you know what? God supported it. Clients came. The business side got (somewhat) organized. God winnowed out the partners that didn’t belong. The bills (somehow!) got paid. In a month when the bottom fell out of the bodywork business, I inexplicably got extra ministry funding; when the ministry funding dried up, suddenly more massage and Trauma Touch clients came my way. I had day after day when I went home, sat down, and thought, “YES! This is why I do what I do!”

And after a year of that, I finally have clarity on what God has given me to do. Back in early 2015 when I first started my business, God told me clearly that there were four skills that would define what I do. I tried to list them, and every list I made came out to three or five. I could never quite get a list of four that made sense…until now.

The four skills that define my calling are

  • Massage Therapist
  • Minister
  • Trauma Touch Therapist
  • Martial Arts Instructor.

Those are the four corners of my existence; I play in the space between them. And the center, the bullseye, the place where it all comes together? Spiritual healing that takes the body seriously. That is the center of what I do. Of course, depending on the needs of the moment, sometimes I’m just giving a massage or whatever service they came for. But often–very often, in fact–I find myself holding a space where God shows up, and my client receives spiritual healing. That’s what I do.

A year ago, I couldn’t say that without feeling silly. After a year of doing it, seeing God bless it and people blessed by it, I don’t feel silly at all. I feel like I have purpose again. I know what I’m shooting for; I know what I’m asking God to bless.

And I am asking. I don’t want to bury the talent in the backyard; I want to put it to work in the marketplace. Let’s grow this thing.


Going Full Cornpone

17 December 2018

Most of the American church is in bondage to a worldview that doesn’t wholeheartedly believe in the supernatural. It grudgingly allows for a handful of supernatural things that we feel forced to accept, but the truth is that the more intellectually respectable you aspire to be, the fewer supernatural things you can believe in. That’s how the hierarchy works.

If you’re okay with just being part of the rank and file, then you can be a little mushy on creation, and believe in the miracles of the Exodus. That’s fine for normal people. If you want to be an educated Christian, then you’ll clearly see myth in the early chapters of Genesis and have a tentative scientific explanation for the Exodus stories. Maybe the Sea of Reeds was only waist deep, after all. You’ll only start going supernatural around the later prophets or the ministry of Jesus.

The real intellectuals explain away the miracles of Jesus’ life, and just barely tolerate the resurrection. Of course only the total cornpones believe in 6-day creation or a worldwide flood, and even those guys mostly don’t expect God to do anything supernatural today.

Jesus wasn’t a big fan of that kind of thinking. He seemed to think and act as if God could show up anytime, anywhere, and do absolutely anything. Always had, always would. And He taught His disciples to act the same way.

Why’d we stop?


Family in Community

7 December 2018

One of the early responses I got to an earlier post on community was, “Tim, most people in the evangelical world can’t relate to the experience you’re describing. They don’t have anybody present in their homes, much less participating in the family life.”

The question I want to ask is: why not? How can it be that the people of God, the visible reflection of the Trinity on earth, do not live in each other’s lives?

And the answer is, “Because we’re rich.” This is most definitely a first-world problem; the rest of the world is very different, and the rest of time more so. But here we are in the first world, and if it’s a first-world problem, we have it.

In a first-century village (or even a city), people lived on top of each other. They knew each other’s business in the same way that I know when my upstairs neighbors take a shower, make love, or leave for work in the morning. The ceiling’s not soundproof, and I can’t really help knowing what’s going on up there sometimes. By contrast, the American dream is to use our wealth to separate ourselves from each other rather than to grow more interdependent. We live in single-family homes. We park in attached garages; we’re already ensconced in our little steel-and-glass universes, radio tuned to our favorite station, before the garage door opens to the outside world. We shop in stores that serve a wide enough area that we usually don’t run into anybody we know. (I live in a relatively small town, and have a fairly wide circle of acquaintance. I run into someone at the grocery store every now and again, but it’s pretty unusual. Back when I lived in a big city (or the suburbs, before that), it was vanishingly rare.)

If the culture makes it hard to follow Jesus, then we need to be countercultural; it’s that simple. Wordliness is not about what kind of car you drive or how many iPads you have or hemlines and necklines (although it can be expressed in all those things). Worldliness is about how much The Way Things Are dictates your willingness to be obedient to Christ. When our culture makes sin look normal and easy, and righteousness look strange and costly, what will you do? Will you be carried by the stream, or swim against it? Will you follow Jesus when it makes you weird?

In the culture we’ve built for ourselves, it is actually very difficult to live in close community with one another. We’d have to go well out of our way to do it. Which is to say that our repentance really will be costly. But it will also be rewarding.

I’ve been seeking tight community since early adulthood. I managed a form of it…and then I moved cross-country to a new state eight years ago, and had to start all over again.

It wasn’t easy; I’m not a naturally outgoing person. But I got there. In my community now, I’ve called for help at 1 in the morning, and gotten it. I’ve been called for help, and dropped everything to go help with…whatever. Taking chicken soup to a sick friend. Babysitting during a family emergency (or to salvage a date night when the regular babysitter got sick at the last minute.) Providing a ride to the hospital. Taking my massage chair and oils to relieve a headache or back spasm. Running to the bank because my friend’s small business was out of quarters.

As I make my final editing pass through this post, there’s a spool of grey thread on the counter. I’ll drop it off with one of my friends later today, so she can mend a hole in a pair of her daughter’s pants. We noticed the hole yesterday; she doesn’t have the right thread, and I do. It’s a simple thing, a small extra errand.

But it’s also an extra errand in an already crowded day, and it would have been easy enough to avoid. All I needed to do was keep my mouth shut instead of saying, “I think I have the right color thread for that at home.” Why complicate my life? Because the right kind of complications are glorious.

Marriage complicates your life. Having children complicates your life. Making lasagne or bread or soup from scratch complicates your life. Deciding to build your own piñata for the birthday party instead of just buying one complicates your life. Calling a friend instead of an Uber complicates both your lives. Making music with your friends rather than just popping in a CD complicates your life. Close community is made of just such complications. We are choosing that rich complication over convenience. We want to live closely. We live for the triune God, and therefore for each other, not simply for ourselves and our own realization of the American dream.

How did I get there?

Not, I can assure you, through some virtuoso display of relational acumen. I’m actually kinda awkward. But I keep showing up, and I keep loving people. I followed God’s leading, and as I participated in His mission on earth, I found some fellow-travelers that would walk alongside me. We supported each other in our shared mission, and along the way, we became friends. We walk with God together, worship together. We support one another, day in and day out, in all kinds of ways. And we face the world together, caring for broken and hurting people, supporting the weak, bringing healing to the brokenhearted and light to the darkness.

When we ask each other, “How are you doing?” we actually want a real answer — first of all because we love each other and we care, and second because we do rough work together and if somebody can’t bring their A game today, we gotta know so we can adjust. (And it’s ok — nobody brings their A game every day. We cover for each other as needed. But precisely for that reason, honesty is prized.)

In the suburban churches I came of age in, there was far too little of all this. There was an awful lot of country-club Christianity: folks were saved, sure, and lived a generally non-scandalous red-state existence. Beyond that, their faith often seemed to make very little day-to-day difference in their lives. They came to church and pretended everything was great, no matter what was actually happening. I saw at least one family utterly ostracized for telling the truth about the ruin and hurt in their lives.

The teenagers, with their gift for cynicism, saw right through it all. They still see right through it all, and they’re disenchanted with the church, in droves. Rather be anywhere else. They want something real, and in too many churches, that’s simply not on offer.

In other words, the way we’re called to live is everything your jaded suburban teenager craves and doesn’t know how to ask for…and they are the future of the church. Get ’em involved in something real. Let them spend time with addicts and drunks and soccer moms and restaurateurs…people of all kinds, just like Jesus did. Let them serve, and bless, and have hard conversations, like Jesus did. Debrief with them, just like Jesus did with the disciples. And like Jesus did, lead by example–which means you go first.

It will do your heart good, trust me.


Practicing Unity

27 November 2018

This post is part of the November Synchroblog on church and national unity. See the bottom of this post for a link list of other participating blogs.

The prompt for this month’s Synchroblog framed the quest for unity in terms of politics.

Well, the elections are over … but not really.

As I write this, counting is still going on in various states, and lawyers are setting up battle lines. Newly elected officials are heating up the rhetoric, and protesters are starting to lash out.

What is the role of the church in all of this?

It goes on to ask some bigger questions.

How can we work toward unity in the Body of Christ?…Does unity mean uniformity? If not, then how can we get along? And beyond unity in the church, how can we show the world the path toward peace and unity?

At the policy level, those are some tough questions. At the level of national policy especially.

To address those questions at the policy level, the level of presidents and congressmen and archbishops and general secretaries and such folk…jeepers. You would need a strategy that would unite the vast majority of all Christendom. As things stand now, any council with sufficient authority would never agree on a strategy.

But what makes us think we have to solve the problem from the top down? Top-down solutions are convenient, because they mean that most of us don’t have to do anything until the higher-ups get their act together. That shows no sign of happening anytime soon…so we don’t have to do anything, and it’s all conveniently somebody else’s fault.

That convenience ought to make us suspicious. Jesus rarely leads us by the convenient path. So what if He’s calling us to solve the problem from the bottom up?I think He is, and I think any straightforward reading of John 17 and Ephesians 4 confirms it.

What would that look like? Well, let me tell you what it looks like in my life right now. I’m not using myself as an example to say, “hey, look at me, I’ve got this thing knocked” — not a bit of it. I have a lot to learn. But I’ve also come a long way. What I have now? The man I was 15 years ago didn’t believe any of this was even possible. But it is.

I’m part of an interdenominational pastors’ prayer group in Englewood, Colorado. We meet once a month, and the pattern of the meetings is simple. We’ll go around the circle and check in with each other, and then we pray for each other. The check-in consists of three questions:

  1. How’s your ministry doing?
  2. How’s your family doing?
  3. How’s your walk with God doing?

That’s it. Brevity is valued — the goal is to answer all three questions in 3-5 minutes per participant. (Of course, we’re all pastors, so we don’t always make it under the 5-minute mark, but we try.) In a normal meeting, we’ll pray for each other, celebrating victories and blessings, and lifting up needs. When something unusually difficult is happening, we may abandon. The format entirely. There have been meetings where we put a chair in the center of the circle, sat our wounded brother in it, laid hands on him and just prayed for him for half an hour.

Nondenominational, Southern Baptist, Anglican, United Methodist, Assemblies of God, Messianic, Dutch Reformed…all of these are regularly represented, and over the 8 years I’ve been part of this group, we’ve also had Missouri Synod Lutheran, Grace Covenant, Vineyard, independent Baptist, a Navy chaplain, and many others. We don’t need a denominational commission to sign off on this; we just do it. We do it because Jesus told us to love one another. We do it trusting the Scriptures, which tell us that the Spirit makes the unity (not us!); our job is just to steward it (Eph. 4:1-6). And it works.

I’m also part of a ministry to the homeless of our city called Giving Heart. Come into Giving Heart when it’s open, and you’ll meet volunteers from all kinds of different churches — any of the ones above, and then some. You’ll also meet people who don’t go to church; some of them don’t even identify as Christian. They just want to help their city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents, and this is where it’s happening.

Giving Heart began 7 years ago with the realization that most apartment-dwellers are sorely lacking in community life. It started as a privately held community center serving a big multi-housing complex. The goal was to provide a third space where people could meet–host dinners, movie nights, parties on the holidays, and so on. It worked to an extent…but the open door turned out to be a magnet for the local homeless population. When we didn’t turn them away, more came. We didn’t have a lot to offer back then, but someone gave us a big popcorn machine. So if we were open, you could come by, get a bottle of water and some popcorn, and take a load off for a few minutes. Many did. A bottle of water led to conversation, which led to sharing life together.

Over time, the apartment ministry dwindled and the homeless ministry grew. Today, Giving Heart has grown into an access point to medical care, job training, transitional housing, counseling services, resource navigation assistance, and much more. Along the way, my business partner Joe Anderson was able to lead the pastors’ prayer group into a partnership with the city that birthed Change the Trend Network. Change the Trend is a partnership of city government, police, healthcare providers, Giving Heart and other ministries like them. Together, the network’s member agencies provide a road map out of homelessness, and the wrap-around services that getting out of homelessness requires.

Again, none of this came from a fancy council of archbishops, general secretaries, and so on, nor is it sustained by such people. It was birthed by local Christians working together to help the people right in front of us, because that’s what Christians do.

When we do what Christians do together, we minister healing to the sick and freedom to the captives. We proclaim the good news of Jesus to the poor and broken. We seek the Kingdom of God, and God is pleased to give it to us. As we do this together, the unity of the Body is a daily practical reality.

You notice I haven’t said anything about the elections. You know what? The people I rub shoulders with…some of them voted Trump, and proud of it. Some of them are “I’m with Her” folk. Some of them only voted for Hillary because Bernie wasn’t an option. Some of them held their nose and voted R or D; others held their principles and voted third party.

We’re just not that susceptible to the Facebook-meme level of political discourse, where you either voted like I did or you’re literally the devil. We already know better. We laugh together, cry together, pray together, work together to care for the people we all love. We have that basis of positive experience; we already know that our fellow workers who voted for those people are–however inexplicably–really decent human beings, definitely among the good guys.

So when the time comes to have hard conversations about politics, we have the relational and spiritual capital to handle it without demonizing the people who voted differently. We have a reason to actually listen to other points of view, because we already trust each other.

And the brutal truth is, we will not get to a solution any other way. If we can’t love the people right in front of us–the faces we see at home, at work, at church, on the street–then we will not become the sort of people who can handle bigger conversations and bigger issues. Conversely, if we will simply do what Jesus said — love our neighbors — we will find that the Spirit has already given us unity, and we will become the kind of people who steward it well.

Then when the time comes for the archbishops and general secretaries to do their thing, they won’t be trying to manufacture unity out of whole cloth. They will be seeking to steward  the unity their people already have. And that’s the way it should be.

***

Here is the list of other writers and authors who contributed to this month’s Synchroblog. Go read them all to see what others think about church unity.


Riffing on Romans 10

23 November 2018

Christians have always been called to engage in the healing and growth of the world in a holistic, spiritually aware way — not that we’ve always been good at doing it. Today in spiritual-but-not-religious circles, a quasi-secularized version of the same kind of person is often referred to as a lightworker.  

My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the lightworkers is that they would experience overflowing life. For I bear witness that they have zeal for love and peace, but their zeal is not according to knowledge.

For being ignorant of God’s ferocious personal love for them, and seeking to establish connection to divine love by their own wisdom, they have not submitted themselves to the love of God, although they often benefit from it. For Christ is the convergence of all wisdom that produces love, for everyone who simply entrusts themselves to Him.

Solomon writes in a certain way, “By wisdom God founded the world” and “those who hate wisdom love death.” But love through faith speaks in this way: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” which is the word we preach: that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you, too, will be filled with life,

Because with the heart one believes, resulting in reconciliation to divine love, and with the mouth you make your confession, resulting in overflowing life.

As the Scriptures also say: “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

Because with God there is no distinction between those who are religious and those who are not. The same God over all hears their requests and is rich to all who call on Him, as the Scriptures say: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered.”

But how can they call on God for deliverance, if they have not trusted themselves to Him? And how could they trust themselves to Him, if they’ve never heard the truth of who He is? And how will they hear the truth, unless someone tells them? And who will tell them, unless someone is sent to do the job?

As Isaiah says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace.” But having heard that good news, they have not all obeyed, as Isaiah also says: “Who has believed our report?”

So then they trust God because they hear the truth about Him, and they hear the truth when we proclaim the word of God. Can we say that they have not heard? No! “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies declare His handiwork” and “There is no speech or language; their voice is not heard, but their sound has gone out to the end of the earth, their words to the end of the world.” And again, “What may be known of God is revealed in them, because God has shown it to them.”

Paul explains: “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became empty in their minds and dark in their hearts.” In that they have addressed their prayers and credited their results to the created universe, they have evaded the need to thank the God who made it, so that “professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the creator God into an image made like the creation” and “worshiped and served the created thing rather than the Creator.”

So these lightworkers, seeking healing, yet having fled from the one from whom all healing comes — has God cast them away forever?

No! I am one of them! God has not abandoned His creation, but “we also are His offspring.” Jesus said, “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to Me.” And with this Paul agrees, saying, “when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” As also Isaiah said so many years ago: “I was found by those who did not seek Me, and was revealed to those who did not ask for Me.”

Remember that when Elijah pitied himself and said, “I alone am left,” God said, “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal,” and on the last day, John shows us the saints before the throne of God, “people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.” Therefore among the lightworkers, God has reserved for Himself a people, for He “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

And knowing that “the kindness of God leads us to repentance,” He bestows rain on the just and the unjust alike, and also healing grace and love on those who seek Him and on those who do not. His love flows through lightworkers who know His name, and through those who erect altars “to the unknown God,” not recognizing the source of the grace that is given to them.

And yet the altar bears witness that they are grateful, and that they know this power does not come from within them. And so, God has overlooked this ignorance, but now calls all people everywhere to repent.

And from that call, we in the churches are not excluded. We have neglected the healing grace of God. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted, but we have said that healing of emotions and memories is not God’s work. Jesus came to make the blind see and the lame walk, but we have been too timid to ask that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. If these lightworkers have found no place among us, is it because they have rebelled against God? Or is it because we have?

But thanks be to God, He calls all people everywhere to repent—even us.

 


For The Healing of the World

16 November 2018

From the beginning, we were always supposed to be about cultivating and guarding the world. After our failure in the Garden to guard the world as we should, we can add healing the world to the list. The world is broken, and we can’t cultivate and protect it if we don’t heal it too. That applies to our own hearts as surely as it applies to the rest of the world.

Of course we’re inadequate to the task — we were never meant to do any of it except hand in hand with God — but it is our job nonetheless. Into our weakness, Jesus came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” (Luke 4:18-19)

We are invited — commanded — to follow His example.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:12-14, emphasis added)

How can we possibly live up to that?

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

At Pentecost, the Spirit came upon the Church in power, and from that day to this we are called to attend to the words of Jesus, to practice the ways of Jesus, and to do the works of Jesus in the world. We are united with Him in baptism and partake of Him at His Table, and we are the Body of Christ in the world, because we are what we eat.

We are citizens of a capital city which is presently in heaven, but will one day come to earth. That new city will be the center of the whole world, and the center of the new city is the Lamb, who is its Temple.

“There shall be no night there: they need no lamp or light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.” (Revelation 22:5)

That future light shines down the corridors of history, and if we have eyes to see, it illuminates our present world well enough:

“If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)

May we live in the power of the Spirit that Christ has given to us.