Gift 65 – Good news: You Don’t Have to Change the World

“Follow your dreams!” “You will do amazing things!” “Change the world!” ”

These kinds of sentiments are becoming increasingly prevalent in both “secular” and Christian communities.  In one sense, it might be good and life-giving to run after the big ideas you have, but I think you have to be careful, too.

Sometimes this “change the world!” mentality can keep you from the work, the people, and the life right in front of you–your right-here-life, the one that might not appear all that shiny or spectacular at first glance.  The truth is, believing God wants you–calls you, even–to “change the world” will likely end in disappointment if you end up having a “normal job”, or a “normal family”…a “normal life” (which you will).  And guess what, believing this isn’t the life you should be living will keep you from investing in it…which will make it even more disappointing.

Sometimes, my imagined calling keeps me from my actual calling.  Sometimes, my imagined future influence (when I get “there” by becoming x or accomplishing y) keeps me from my actual influence (the student’s email, my lesson for tomorrow, etc.).  Sometimes, my imagined life keeps me from my actual life.

If you find yourself here someday, the good news is that you didn’t miss the boat with God’s calling.  Investing in the work and people right in front of you is called faithfulness. And faithfulness is best supported by contentment.  When you are faithful with a little, as a member of Christ’s Body, God works in powerful ways to bring about the kind of change He wants for the world.

 

 

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Gift 64 – Sharing More

Hi Little Dear,

A few minutes ago I was flipping through old prayer journal entries and read this one: “God, I love and adore Reagan more with each passing stage. I think it’s because we’re able to share more and more–a picture book, a silly face, hiding from Piper, etc.  I love sharing life with her and can only imagine sharing more and more as she grows.”

I think this might be what sanctification means for the child of God.  In becoming more and more like Jesus, we are able to share more with God.  We grow to share His burdens, His passions, His compassion, His patience.  “Growing up” in the faith means having more and more in common with God, and thus, participating more fully in this life-giving relationship.

Gift 63 – The Dangeruss Parables

Daughter,

Your uncle Garrett and I just finished putting together a collection of short stories for you and your cousins!

We did this because in the last few years we’ve become keenly aware of the shaping, making, molding power that particular stories had on our own lives, and we wanted to give you that gift, too.

As the preface says,

Garrett and I decided to tell these stories because we care about the shape of our children’s hearts. We want our kids to become rebellious citizens of light in the dominion of darkness. We want them to hunger and thirst for righteousness in a culture that loves complacency. We want them to be dangerous enemies of injustice and evil. We want them to see and live into the “unseen world”. Our hope is that these few short stories help them become the kind of men and women God is calling them to be.

These are stories of friendship, and adventure, and mischief, and fun.  Enjoy them, my dear.  We wrote them with love.

 

(And for everyone who isn’t my daughter, you can find more about the book here: dangerussparables.com :))

book-pic

 

Lessons From the Prophets

My friend suggested I write something about all this election craziness. But as I sat down to type, I realized that there isn’t really anything to say that hasn’t already been said, and consequently ignored. So instead, I thought I would share some things I’ve been learning as I wade with students into the prophetic books of the Bible as part of our 10th grade curriculum.

The prophet Amos taught me to be burdened (that’s actually what the name “Amos” means) by the plight of the outsider—the poor, foreigners, orphans, widows—and to step syrian-refoutside my own little world of comfort and relative wealth to care for the physical needs of others. God beckons us beyond a preoccupation with self in order to defend the defenseless.

The prophet who wrote Jonah taught me that God actually cares deeply for my enemies, and that my enemies aren’t necessarily His. This satirical story proclaims that God’s heart is not like mine, but deeper, stronger, softer.

The prophet Isaiah taught me that trusting in a morally corrupt political power is never the way, that God’s holiness demands a holiness in us, that God longs for a day when weapons will be turned into farm tools, when dividing walls will be knocked down to pave the way to God’s mountain on which he’ll sit and eat with all of his children.

The prophet Ezekiel reminds me that sin isn’t always what I think it is. Rather, it is almost always relational—a lack of compassion and concern for the “other.” As Ezekiel 16:49 says, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

As I listen to the prophets I’m reminded of why I love these books. I’m reminded of the Scriptures’ power to shape, to convict, to sharpen, to challenge, to change. I’m reminded that God’s Kingdom is an upside-down kingdom.

And then, Wednesday morning as I opened my computer and turned on the TV, I was reminded that no one reads the prophets anymore.

Gift 62 – Forgiveness and Joy

Dear Reagan,

These “gifts” are increasingly becoming from you to me.

I’m adjusting to the role of dad and all the multitasking that goes with it.  A few nights ago we went to a Lugnuts/Whitecaps baseball game in Grand Rapids and only when I pulled into the parking lot did I realize that I had forgotten your bag at home.  No sunscreen.  No hat.  No food.  No juice.  No toys.  Nothing.  And you were still so good!  You looked at me like, “It’s okay, dad, I know you’re still getting used to this whole responsibility thing.”  (Plus you got dip-n’-dots and lemonade for dinner, so it wasn’t a total disaster).

Just today I drove to pick you up from daycare.  Upon walking out of the building I realized that I left your carseat in mom’s car.  [Yell.]  So I dropped you back at daycare and drove 20 minutes home to get your carseat before coming back.  And guess what?  You were still so joyful and happy to see me (for the second time).  Part of it is that you don’t know what’s going on yet.  I know.  But still, I’m so grateful for your joy, Reagan, and I’ll be grateful for your grace and forgiveness when you start to figure out that your dad needs serious help.

I’m sure by the time you read this you’ll have forgiven my absentmindedness about a million times.  Thank you!  I really am trying 🙂  Here are some fun daddy/daughter pictures for you to see what this first June together has been like!  The first one is from the baseball game, haha.

Gift 61 – Explorer Buddies

Dear Reagan,

Since your mom works two nights a week at the hospital, you (sort of) and I set a goal of exploring all the parks in Ottawa County over the next few weeks.

It’s been so much fun wandering trails, looking at birds, touching different types of tree bark, spitting in rivers, picking up cool looking rocks, and “talking” with you all the way. You seem to like exploring as much as I do (except when you fall asleep 15 seconds into a walk, ya turkey).

I really believe humans were made to explore. If you think about it, exploring and learning are the same things. Whether reading a book or exploring a park, it’s about seeing new things, going new places, collecting, gathering, growing, and going towards something good. There’s almost nothing better than doing these things with someone you love. So thanks for being my exploring buddy.

I love this list from Keri Smith’s How To Be An Explorer Of The World.

1. Always Be LOOKING (notice the ground beneath your feet.)
2. Consider Everything Alive & Animate
3. EVERYTHING Is Interesting. Look Closer.
4. Alter Your Course Often.
5. Observe For Long Durations (and short ones).
6. Notice The Stories Going On Around You.
7. Notice PATTERNS. Make CONNECTIONS.
8. DOCUMENT Your Findings (field notes) In a variety of ways.
9. Incorporate Indeterminacy.
10. Observe Movement.
11. Create a Personal DIALOGUE With Your Environment. Talk to it.
12. Trace Things Back to Their ORIGINS.
13. Use ALL of the Senses In Your Investigations.”

Here are some pictures of our recent adventures (sorry they’re in snapchat form, my iphone camera is maxed-out with pictures of you).

 

a

Last nights’ park

b

Someone looks happy to be here.

c

d

15 seconds in to the walk.

e

Still sleeping.

f

Different park. Still Sleeping.

g

Look who woke up!

h

i

j

k

l

 

Gift 60 -What’s the Big Deal about Pentecost?

I’ve probably heard it shared a thousand times: Jesus died for your sins so you can go to heaven when you die.

And while this really is wonderful news, you know what I see a lot of? Young people growing up in the church with nothing significant to do. Aimless. Directionless. Purposeless. Bored. Going to be with Jesus when we die is certainly something to look forward to, but does being a Christian have anything to do with here and now? Is there anything significant to do? (Some communities have plenty to say about what not to do, but that doesn’t quite satisfy our desire for an important purpose.)

And herein lies the problem. We haven’t been telling the whole story! I believe that we’re robbing the cross of its purpose and effectiveness by leaving out the story of Pentecost.

What is Pentecost? Well, many people miss the fact that the one we read about at the beginning of Acts wasn’t the original. This day was already a very old Jewish holiday during the time of the disciples. Here are some basic facts:

  • 50 days after Passover (the Jewish holiday commemorating the exodus from Egypt–This celebration is the backdrop of Jesus’ Passion Week) is the “Feast of Weeks”, or “Pentecost” (from the Greek word that means 50).
  • The Feast of Weeks is about Two Things: 1) Celebrating the harvest. 2) Celebrating the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Remember, when God gave the Law at Sinai, Moses went up (to the mountain), the Law came down, and “about 3000” were killed for worshipping a golden calf while Moses was away (Exo. 32:28).
  • On this special Pentecost celebration we read about in Acts 2, Jesus goes up (the ascension happens ten days before), the Holy Spirit comes down, and “about 3000” were added to the number of believers (Acts 2:41). How cool is that!

But what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that the Gospel is incomplete without Pentecost. After all, we profess that the death and resurrection of Jesus was about uniting God and people. Well, the message of Pentecost is that while this “uniting” is in one sense still to come, in another very real, very powerful way, the union between God and people has begun! On Pentecost the Holy Spirit enters human beings!

Pentecost means that the Spirit of Jesus now animates the “Body” of Jesus.

Remember the story of Elijah? He ascended into heaven, too, and even gave his disciple Elisha his spirit to continue his ministry in Israel with his same power and authority after he’d gone up. And as Elisha the disciple performed miracles the people said, “Look! The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha!”

Pentecost means that Jesus’ ministry isn’t over, it’s just beginning.

Pentecost means we have something to do! Like Elisha, we’ve been given the Spirit of our Lord and amazingly “will do even greater things than these,” so that people say, “Look! The Spirit of Jesus is resting on the Church!”

This MAJOR event is like pistol shot that begins a race—And the Church is off! It’s called the book of Acts. But the movement of Acts doesn’t conclude with the end of Luke’s letter. Not at all. The end of the book isn’t the end of the story.

Joining this movement isn’t as much about passively waiting for heaven as it is about actively continuing Jesus’ ministry of restoration and reconciliation in the world. Pentecost means that we’re invited into the most significant purpose on earth by submitting to the Spirit, asking “What do You care about, God?”, and then moving to new rhythms as the Spirit teaches us the dance of the Kingdom of God.

pentecost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gift 59 – Why We Read Together

One of my favorite things to do as a Bible teacher is to enter into the Scriptures with my students.  We learn a few strategies in the first weeks of school to help us do this effectively and imaginatively (We call the strategies Chew, Dig, Dress, Listen, and Move).

The cool part is that they always see things that I haven’t.  We’ll gather around a particular text and, incredibly, each come away with different questions and insights.  Reading together allows us to seek God as a community instead of as just individuals, and this always results in a wider, deeper, bigger understanding of God.

I’ve been having fun putting together images to represent this kind of communal reading.  The following pictures  show what happens when we enter the Story together. (I layered a group of students’ annotated texts on photoshop so they all appear on a single page.  Thanks for the help Justin Dreyer!)

John 11

John 15

 

Gift 58 – Why God Made

Hi Rea,

Yesterday, as I watched you playing on the floor by my side, I thought of all the wonderful things I can’t wait to share with you.

I can’t wait to read the Narnia books to you.

I can’t wait to play soccer in the grass with you.

I can’t wait to eat chicken alfredo pizza with you.

I can’t wait to watch the Harry Potter movies with you.

I can’t wait to go camping with you.

The list goes on and on.  In fact, even before you were born I made a list of all kinds of things I couldn’t wait to share with my child someday.  This made me even more eager for your arrival.

A question I’ve always wondered is, Why did God make the universe?  If God was completely satisfied, entirely content, totally happy existing in the community of Himself (we call this the Trinity), why change things?  Genesis 1 doesn’t tell us.  It starts with, “In the beginning, God made…” But I’d really like a Genesis 0 to tell me WHY?!?!  What is it that drives a totally content and happy God to build a universe?

The thing is, I don’t know.  I think the full answer is beyond my reach…But I’m willing to make a small guess.  Remembering that eagerness I felt even before you were born–that desire to share the things I love, all the good things I knew about–makes me think about God’s motivation.  Could it be that Creation is a supreme act of eager sharing and inviting?  That God wanted to share the goodness of Himself, and so invited us into existence in His world?

I like thinking about this because it helps me imagine just who God is.  This question of “Why did God make?” is so important because it offers insight into the very heart of God.  Our God is one who desires all good things for His children, to be shared and experienced alongside the ultimate good gift–God Himself.

Gift 57 – The World (As We Knew It)

So…where exactly are we?

I love exploring how human beings have answered this question for the last few thousand years or so.

Ancient people groups had all kinds of ideas about the world and just precisely how it all worked. Some folks imagined the sky was some kind of celestial canvas separating humans from the gods, and the stars were merely holes poked into the tarp-like divider that revealed the glory of the heavens beyond. Others (including the ancient Hebrews and their neighbors) pictured the world like a massive snow globe supported by view of worldgreat pillars below and covered by a vault that kept out the waters above (except when the floodgates of heaven were opened and the waters came down…we say, “hey it’s raining!” today).

The oldest discovered maps show how our human ancestors imagined the world to be flat.  That is until those clever Greeks figured out that we’ve been living on a ball all this time (Mind. Blown.). Even so, their very best maps looked something like this:

posidonius map

Eventually, this dude named Pomponius divided the earth into five separate sectors (only 2 were habitable, he thought) and discovered an invisible belt that separated northern and southern hemispheres. Now we’re getting somewhere…

Pomponius map

Jump forward about 1500 years (and a whole bunch of crazy looking maps) later and we have southern Germany’s own Martin Waldseemüller (it took me forever to figure out how to make the u do that) who compiled Waldseemuller map 2information for years and years in order to develop a clearer vision of the earth.  First ever shout out to “America” on a map. Looking familiar yet?

 

The progression went something like this: “There’s way more land than we thought” and then, “There’s way more water than we thought” and then, “So apparently this thing is round?!?” and then, “Believe it or not, there’s more land on the other side of all that water!” and on and on, all the way to the pictures of the earth we have today.

And then, of course, our perception of earth’s place in the universe has radically (like radically radically radically) transformed as we started dabbling with high-powered telescopes (uh oh, here we go again…). Come to find out, there’s a whole lot of universe out there.

Watch this video if you want your head to explode:

 

When I think about our ever developing understanding of the world—how we’ve gone from thinking the earth is a snow globe in the very center of the universe (which isn’t very big anyway), to the realization that our puny planet is smaller than a single punctuation in the vast realm of the Internet—I can’t help but think about our ever growing understanding of God.

In one way, God has made himself known through what we call “revelation”: The Scriptures, and the natural world, and most importantly, Jesus. But in another way, I believe with all my heart that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of just who God is.

In the Bible, after talking about how incredible and overwhelming God is, Job concludes with this: “And these are but the outer fringes of his works; how faint a whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

And earlier in the Bible, when Manoah asked an angel for its name, the angel replied, “Why do you ask my name? For it is too wonderful for you to endure.” AHH!  And that’s just an angel! Imagine what God’s Name sounds like! Actually no, don’t even try.

And through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let them proclaim it!” Yep, God is being sarcastic there at the end.

My point is this…just like how our concept of the world is ever unfolding like an always-budding flower, so too our understanding of God blooms and blossoms as we make new scientific discoveries, explore new places, uncover new species, and even tell new stories. This is why learning can be a thrilling form of worship!

Maybe heaven will be a sort of exploration into the never-ending glory and goodness of God, and we’ll have to constantly make new maps as He shows himself to be even more and even better than we thought the day before.

The Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware said, “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a Mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”

My prayer for you, Rea, is that you begin this God-discovering process at a young age and continue to your last day when the journey will begin in earnest. I love you.

– Dad