Saturday, November 18, 2017

Redemption Comes Crashing

This year, Heather and I participated in a retreat where, at one point, we were challenged to consider the struggles, hurts and pains from our past and consider how God has redeemed them.

Sounds like a pretty simple proposition framed around a large supposition.  Mainly, that God truly does redeem the hard things that happen to us.

As it turns out, I worked through the exercise and discovered that most of the heartache and pain I had been through, when looked at through this lens, really had been redeemed.  The exercise asked us to list out the ways specifically, which I did, except for one.

One.  Even after a decade.  Still doesn't make sense.  I don't get it.  I can't see anything good that came out of it.

And that was the battle with cancer that a young man in our church in Ancona lost.  Massimiliano's death does not make sense.  It doesn't fit.

Just weeks after that retreat, we found ourselves at dinner with Jim & Cindy Davis, themselves battling her cancer, battling the same questions: Why?  How long?  What is God doing?

I shared honestly with them about the redemption exercise and how I struggled to understand Massi's death and how walking alongside them through Cindy's disease scared me.  I didn't want it to happen again.

And it did.

And I don't.

Piles and piles.  Stacks and stacks.  Boxes.  Containers.  Tubes of paints.  Markers and pens.  Pencils and scissors.  Bags of feathers.  Totes full of stencils and tools I've never seen before.  An easel.  Walk into my office today and you will see this:


It's a mess.  A beautiful, haunting mess.

Last week we hosted Angela Foster with Rapha House for lunch in our office.  Our staff heard firsthand about what this amazing organization is doing to heal and restore victims of sexual trafficking around the world.  At the end of the presentation, at hearing that one of the things they do is teach art to these girls and young ladies, Jim asked if they could use Cindy's supplies.

Know this: Jim dreamed of seeing his beautiful Cindy using these tools in a studio of her own.

He longed for a day when things would slow down, settle down and she could paint and draw and craft to her heart's content.

He knew there were projects unfinished, sketchbooks half filled, images partly formed and shaped.

And for whatever reason, God said, "no."

And in a blind act of heroic courage, Jim offered these tools and supplies as a humble gift.  And Angela said she would take as many suitcases as it would take to get these supplies into the hands of these rescued little girls who are being restored.  Whose stories are being redeemed.

And as much as I don't want it to, it begins to make some sense.

It's strange.

Months before Cindy's death, I had approached her and commissioned a painting for our office.  I told her I wanted it to be something bold and vibrant.  Something that captured the heart of our company's vision:

Hodell is here to be a positive, transformative presence, to bring light into darkness and to provide the best solution to every window covering project.

And I thought, bitterly, that I never got the painting I commissioned.

I stand corrected.

I have this bold, vibrant vision of rescued little girls, holding the very tools that Cindy used to breathe life onto page and canvas, finishing her job.

Maybe redemption comes in waves.

It ebbs and flows.

One day it starts to make sense.  The next, it doesn't.

Maybe I begin to see it clearly here, but Jim just can't.  Not yet.

And the waves continue crashing.

His hand continues leading,
pressing,
writing a story of redemption through the tears and on the hearts of his children.


Monday, November 13, 2017

A Prayer for the Trafficked

Floundering in fear, shackled in shame’s chains,
Bruises borne on beloved bodies, borne heavy on hearts.
Deepest, darkest despair.
Despondent, drugged, desperate.

Hope is hopeless and ransom a distant dream.
Strength squandered,
Names nothing,
Tender trust doused.

Faces fractured, blurred in blood.
Marred masks ghastly glued.
Freedom fleeting,
Barely breathing.

But, no.

Stop!

Hope is coming,
Rescue rising,
Longing for life,
Dazzling light dashing darkness.

Chains change hands.
Smiles spread across scarred lips.
Clean, cleansing comfort;
Strong, safe embrace.

Arm in arm against harm and alarm,
Bring the battle!
Loose the light,
For those forgotten and trapped just beyond sight.

Like survivors rising after a storm,
Huddled and shivering and longing for warm.
We open our hands and our hearts and our homes
So they’ll find new life in the arms of the Lord.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Left Ahead


I'm a fast walker.  It's a reflection of the way I'm wired and the way my mind works.  I don't like to mess around.  I'm a man on a mission.  It's difficult for me to enjoy the journey.  There is simply too much to do.

This summer we visited our eldest son, Jacob, who was serving an internship at a church in Rockford, Illinois.  Used to traveling by myself for business, when we landed in Chicago, I began walking toward baggage claim.  Three minutes in and I notice I’m by myself.  I look back, still walking, and notice that my daughter is just a few steps behind me, but my wife, Heather, is almost out of sight.

I impatiently wait for her to catch up before asking her to speed it up.  Then I’m off again.  Two or three minutes later, I stop and repeat the above encounter.  This leads to frustration on my part and anxiety and hurt on her part.

I’m thinking, "I want to see my boy!  I want to get in the rental car so I can get going!  Daylight is burning!  Chop chop!”

She’s thinking…well… 

I don’t know what she’s thinking.

And that’s the problem.

Twenty one years, now, we have been married and this dynamic has played out time and time again and never ended well.  How many times will it take?

Some of our best friends have been married as long as we have and they have been taking dance lessons for a few weeks and trying unsuccessfully to convince us to join them.  It’s comical to hear about how they are doing, but insightful, too.  It is causing them to learn to listen to each other, to be perceptive and to trust.

To lead and respond.

To move together.

The more I reflect on the dynamic in our relationship, the more I see this being left behind as a recurring symptom of what causes disruption in our oneness.

If I am not slowing down, can I hear her?

If I am not adjusting my pace, will I know her?

If I blindly and doggedly rush to where I’m going, will I be alone?  Will anyone be following?

How many other areas of my life is this dynamic playing out in?  At work?  With friends?  With my children?  At church?  With God?

Speed for speed’s sake or efficiency for efficiency’s sake is simply wasting energy.  Then again, so is fiddle-farting.  (I hate that term and use it here, on purpose.)

So I have to remind myself to lead by slowing down and matching our rhythms.  To stroll.  To listen and engage.  We will get to where we are going, it may just take a little longer.  But together is better.  No one wants to get left behind, and I’m tried of getting left ahead.



The flip-side: are you following someone like this, or trying to?

What are some good, gentle ways you have learned to get the other’s attention?


What are ways you have discovered to close the gap?

Monday, March 13, 2017

New Song

I will write a new song to the Lord, for he is worthy of praise!  His ways are high above the ways of men.  They are glorious to behold.  They bring me to my knees.  I am not worthy to be included, so great are his thoughts and plans.  His beautiful mind knows all.  His glorious eyes search out a man's spirit and He brings all things together for good.  Like a weaver he pulls threads together, he pulls blues and golds and bright crimson together in the loom to make a heart-stopping beauty of a creation, a tapestry awe-inspiring to behold.  Lord, your thoughts are so far beyond mine, who am I that you would reveal them to your child?

It can only be by your holy spirit that courses within me, seeking to break down the old, the rusty and crusty, the torn and worn, the tarnished and barnacled, working to make all ways within me new, and vibrant, pulsing to the rhythm of the Father's heart.  It is only by the Spirit's power and ability that my dull senses are made alive and like a faint candle in a forest do I see his movement, and squint my eyes to see, to seek out its path and stumble slowly after it.  It is only by his glorious quickening of my spirit and eyes that I can see and follow.  I long to catch up, to where I can bask in the Spirit's presence, to let his light pool around me, to make fear dissipate altogether, to feel the warmth and safety of his presence.  What a glorious path we tread together, even at night, though all around me is dark, though forms both ominous and treacherous encroach us, ever does my gaze roam, flitting back and forth from the Spirit's light to the moon that slips from treetop to treetop.  What a glorious path.  I would take no other.  For it is along this one that my heart is tested and made strong.  It is along this one that I knew the strength that you have infused me with.  It is along this one that I find rest and refreshing.

From time to time our path runs parallel to the other, the way of the weary.  Like lifeless zombies it seems, they plod along, sick and decaying, neon light in their dead eyes, they have given up hope, taken a false name, traded a hurt heart for a chain.  Low and coarse is their chant, their moan.  It can be heard from over the sound of the wind as sorrow fills their lungs.  They are blind and do not care.  They are deaf and do not miss their hearing.  They bump into one another with vicious violence, not caring, tearing paper-thin skin, chuckling melancholy, choking on tears.  Oh Lord, I do not want to gaze upon that path.  I praise you for opening my eyes to its plight for I once tread upon its thorny trail.

Praise be to you for freeing my spirit from its painful plodding.  And as you lead me along, away from its horror, your heart yet hurts for these weary souls, for they, too, are sons and daughters, thought they know it not.  They, in calloused hands, hold tattered and frayed ends of puppet strings, pulling themselves along, believing to be controlled by others, when all along, it is they that lead themselves.

Oh Lord, your ways are so good and I exult in your marvelous creation.  Be not far from me.  May I ever see your light and the path before me.  Teach me your ways.  May wisdom be my constant companion.  Whisper to me by night and may I hear your roar in the morning and your laughter at noontime.  Fill these woods with your Song and lead me onward to places of delight.  Oh, that all may know this great joy.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fluency Ramblings

Learning to understand, hear, absorb and ultimately speak the Gospel is hard; much harder than learning Spanish or Italian.  I find I have fewer hooks to attach things to.  In reality, it's not fewer hooks, it's that the hooks I do have are wrong.  Faulty.

I've read through Timothy Keller's The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness twice in the last two weeks: once by myself and once with my wife and both times found myself marveling at its simplicity, daring to believe that it could be that basic.  I moved on to Jesus + Nothing = Everything and found a very similar theme.  There, Tchividjian shares how learning Gospel Fluency has required re-reading Scripture and having his eyes opened to the reality of grace, of the centrality and day-to-day reality of Christ's sufficiency, of the separation of sin from our identity in Christ.

Just this morning I flipped through the little stack of Navigator flashcards to Matthew 5:16 and read:

In the same way, let your light shine before men, 
that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

All of my life I've read those words and thought, "Yes, I must work harder.  Prove my worth.  Prove that I love God."  Even in light of such clear passages as John 15 where Jesus explicitly states that it is God that produces fruit, there is something in me, perhaps in my Restoration Movement DNA, that cries out, "Rules!  Regulations!  Boundaries!  Systems!"

But reading through this verse this morning, I'm hit with the truth.  My light is a reflection of his.  No connection between my evil deeds and identity or worth in his eyes.  There is a matter-of-factness about Jesus' words.  Simply allow God to shine through you so that people will see him and praise him.

Heather and I took an incident from earlier that morning and applied what we were listening to and found that we really don't have anything to hook this kind of thinking to.  It really hit us that these are things every believer should know.  We can't send our kids off into the world without knowing and applying these truths!  Heather asked, why doesn't the Church teach this - it's so simple.  So practical.

Good question.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writer's Block & Alan Hirsch


I have, yet again, been floundering for words; too busy with life to stop and process.  Ironically, the thing that takes up most of my time when I'm not at work, is...church.

I've been reading Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways and literally been stuck on Chapter 1 for months.  I honestly don't like his writing style, it's stuffy and hard to get through, like he's writing a paper or thesis.  It doesn't have the polish that more mainstream, edited books might have.  But it's solid and thought-provoking as I continue to wrestle with the church.

Specifically, in chapter 1, I would read the last couple of pages and then set it down for a week or two.  Then I would read the pages again and set it down.  A couple of weeks ago I punched through the wall and kept reading.  I got to chapter 3, entitled "The Heart of it all: Jesus is Lord" and kind of rolled my eyes, thinking, yeah, yeah...but as I worked my way through it in my room one night at Barksdale Air Force Base, it really impacted me.  Hirsch is putting into words one of, if not THE, reason that church as I'm experiencing it is not working; why I feel more and more strongly that the way we 'do church' and 'see church' in the U.S. and most of the Western world is not only inefficient and bloated, but it actually makes it HARDER for disciples to be made and equipped.

To that effect, I've included some notes below, some highlights from Chapter 3 in case you don't have time to read it.  Plus, it helps me digest it better by typing it out.


The Forgotten Ways
Chapter 3 Notes
'The Heart of it all: Jesus is Lord'

1 Corinthians 8:4-6
We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.  For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth...yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

What is necessary is faith.  What is needed is the kind of faith which uniting a man to Christ, sets him on fire.  Roland Allen, The Compulsion of the Spirit

And it all starts with Israel's basic confession, called the ShemaYisrael (Hear, O Israel) based on Deuteronomy 6:4.  (See The Shaping of Things to Come, chs. 7 & 8)

(Christian movements)..."are maintained throughout by what he calls 'white hot faith' brought about by a rediscovery of the place and importance of Jesus."  (Addison, "Movement Dynamics", ch. 2)

Persecution drives the persecuted to live very close to their message - they simply cling to the gospel of Jesus and thus unlock its liberating power.  One of the "gifts" that persecution seems to confer on the persecuted is that it enables them to distill the essence of the message and thus access it in a new way.  But in order to survive in the context of persecution, they also have to jettison all unnecessary impediments, including that of a predominantly institutional conception of ecclesia...they have to condense and purify their core message that keeps them both faithful and hopeful...something else is unleashed in the recovery of simplicity, namely, the capacity to rapidly transfer the message along relational lines...but in order to distill the message in our context, we need to once again appreciate its core, namely, that of the primary theme of the Bible: God's redemptive claim over our lives.  (*This is precisely how Paul can plant a church in a week and then say that they have no need for any further instruction because they received the gospel in its fullness (Acts 17:1-9; 1 & 2 Thess., Acts 16:11-40)

The belief that God is One lies at the heart of both the biblical faith and that of the remarkable Jesus movements of history.

(as opposed to a polytheistic worldview)...Rather, Yahweh is the ONE God who rules over every aspect of life and the world.

"When God invades man's consciousness, man's reliance on 'peace and security' vanishes from every nook of his existence.  His life as a single whole becomes vulnerable.  Broken down are the bulkheads between the chambers which confine explosions to one compartment.  When God chooses man, He invests him with full responsibility for total obedience to an absolute demand."  (Minear, "Eyes of Faith"

It is thus (the Shema) a call to covenant loyalty, rather than being a statement of theological ontology (nature of being).  (Ontology is the philosophical concern with the nature of "being" (ontos).  In the hands of the Christendom church, influenced as it was by the Hellenistic/Platonic thinking, theology is more concerned with metaphsyics (the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time and space) rather than with physics and is therefore highly speculative by nature.  Ontological theology, therefore, focused on God in his eternal Being - his innate nature - rather than on his existential claim on our lives.  It is almost impossible to find anything of its kind in the whole of scripture, and yet it became, and still is, the chief concern of theologians in the Western tradition.)

The sole sovereignty of God is realized only by stern struggle with other gods, with all the forces that oppose his will...Christian belief does not consist in merely saying, "There is One God."  The Devil knows that.  Christians respond to God by faith in his deeds, trust in his power, hope in his promise, and passionate abandonment of self to do his will.  Only within the context of such a passionate vocation does a knowledge of the one Lord live.  And this knowledge necessitates rather than eliminates the struggle with the devil and all his works.  Only in unconditional obedience, spurred by infinite passion, infinite resignation, infinite enthusiasm is such "monotheism" wholly manifested in human existence, as for example, in Jesus.  -Minear, Eyes of Faith

God will simply not share us with false gods.  But it is because idolatry will damage and fracture us, not because God "feels jealous."  

God is ONE and the task of our lives is to bring every aspect of our lives, communal and individual, under this one God, Yahweh.

All of life belongs to God, and true holiness means bringing all the spheres of our life under God.  This is what constitutes biblical worship - this is what it means to love God with all our heart, mind and strength.

See "Rethinking God", a section in N. T. Wright's "Paul: Fresh Perspectives."

 At its very heart, Christianity is therefore a messianic movement, one that seeks to consistently embody the life, spirituality, and mission of its Founder.  We have made it so many other things, but this is its utter simplicity.  Discipleship, becoming like Jesus our Lord and Founder, lies at the epicenter of the church's task.

I use this as an example simply to highlight how deeply dualism, including as it does the idea of the sacred/secular divide, penetrates our understanding, and how biblical monotheism helps us to develop an all-of-life perspective.  Dualism distorts our experience of God, his people, and his world.  People involved in dualistic spiritual paradigms experience God as a church-based deity, and religion as a largely private affair.  Church is largely conceived as a sacred space: the architecture, the music, the liturgies, the language and culture, all collaborate to make this a sacred event not experienced elsewhere in life in quite the same way.  In other words, we go to church to experience God, and in truth God is there (he is everywhere and particularly loves to abide with his people), but the way this is done can tend to create a perception that is very difficult to break - that God is really encountered only in such places and that it requires an elaborate priestly/ministry paraphernalia to mediate this experience (John 4:20-24).  This dualistic spirituality has been called a number of things, but perhaps the idea of the Sunday-Monday disconnect brings the experience to the fore.  We experience a certain type of God on Sunday, but Monday is another matter - "this is 'the real world,' and things work differently here."  How many times have we professional ministers heard variations of that phrase?  "You don't really understand.  It's just not as easy for me as it is for you.  You work in the church with Christians," etc.  The two "spheres of life," the sacred and the secular, are conceived as being infinitely different and heading in opposite directions.  It is left to the believer to live in one way in the sacred sphere and to have to live otherwise in the secular.  It is the actual way we do church that communicates this nonverbal message of dualism.  (Emphasis mine)  The medium is the message, after all.  And it sets people up to see things in an essentially distorted way, where God is limited to the religious sphere.  This creates a vacuum that is filled by idols and false, or incomplete, worship.

If we fail to do this (embrace an all-of-life perspective to faith and committing all of our lives under Jesus) then whilst we might be confessing monotheists, we might end up practicing polytheists.  Dualistic expressions of faith always result in practical polytheism.

All this results from a failure to respond truly to the One God.  This failure can be addressed only by a discipleship that responds by offering all the disparate elements of our lives back to God, thus unifying our lives under his lordship.

Syncretism effectively dilutes the claim of the biblical God and creates a religion that merely diminishes the tension of living under the claim of Jesus and ends up merely affirming the religious prejudices of the host culture.

What does all this practically mean for those seeking to recover Apostolic Genius in the life of the community of God?  For one, it will involve (re)engaging directly the central confession of "Jesus is Lord" and attempting to reorient the church around this life-orienting claim.  It will also mean simplifying our core messages, uncluttering our overly complex theologies, and thoroughly evaluating the traditional templates that so shape our behaviors and dominate our consciousnesses.

Is the real Jesus really Lord in my community?

In order to recover Apostolic Genius we must learn what it means to recalibrate, to go back to the basic "formula" of the church.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Yardwork.

We work hard. We toil. We sweat. We pull weeds. We rake. We burn the branches that don't produce. We water. We pray. We wait. We rely on an understanding that any growth or fruit happens because of this amazing nature imbued in Creation; set in motion with amazing design beyond comprehension and understanding. It is beautiful.