An Anchor for Our Souls

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While visiting family over Christmas, I drove past my old family home. We moved in when I was six months old; I was newly married when my parents sold it and moved away. Now someone else’s Christmas lights are in the windows, someone else’s cars are in the driveway. The outside looks the same, but it no longer feels like home – as though a total stranger had put on your dad’s favorite suit. It’s just a house…but it’s still a bit disorienting to have something be so familiar and yet so different at the same time. As they say, constant change is here to stay.

Have you ever had that experience, a moment of recognition that familiar things don’t remain familiar for long? Friends age. Hometowns become cities, or ghost towns. The founding pastor moves away, or passes away. Nothing ever stays the same. “Only death and taxes never change!” we say. Some of us thrive on change; others feel profoundly disoriented if the coffee shop changes their house blend. But all of us want something to stay the same in life. We need, even crave, an anchor for our inner world, what one poet called a “permanence amid all that’s passing.” Where is such an anchor to be found?

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed,” says the Lord in Malachi 3:6. There is one permanent reality in our shifting world: our faithful, covenant keeping God. Theologians use the term “immutability” to describe a precious truth about the Lord: he remains, eternally, the Unchangeable One.

God is who he is, eternally transcendent over space and time and far exalted above every creature. He rests within himself and is for that very reason the ultimate goal and resting place of all creatures, the Rock of their salvation, whose work is complete. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. II, p.158)

But wait. Passionless stoicism in our heavenly Father’s heart isn’t a comforting thought. If God is unchanging, does that mean that he isn’t affected by our changing circumstances? If nothing changes him, is he capable of feeling grief over our losses, compassion for our fears?

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14)

A parent, knowing full well that there is no monster under the bed, can still be moved by their child’s fears, entering in and comforting them with genuine compassion. So the Lord, unchangeable in himself and knowing fully how every wrong will be righted and every sorrow turned to joy, still binds himself to us in covenant love, sharing our fears, griefs, and burdens. What Isaiah said of Israel is, and will be, true of us in Jesus:

“And he became their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:8-9)

All created things change. Under the sun, there is no permanence amid all that’s passing. Until the unchanging One entered the shifting sands of human existence and became our Rock and our Redeemer. In him, and in him alone, our souls find rest.

Photo by Beverly Goodwin

Fresh Friday Quote: Chip and Dan Heath

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.36.31 PMEach Friday I will share a quote I appreciate. It might be long or short. It might be funny or thought provoking.

How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. This is where so much business communication goes awry. Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions – they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally Sticky ideas are full of concrete images – ice-filled bathtubs, apples with razors – because our brains are wired to remember concrete data. In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.

- Chip and Dan Heath, Made To Stickpage 17

Athletes to Fight, Platform Building, and Responding to Controversy

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It is time for the first episode of the Happy Rant recorded in 2015, and you know what? It’s pretty much as awesome as ever. In this episode Stephen, Ted, and I cheerfully rant about a handful of topics.

  • Which athletes would be awesome to play with but would make you want to punch them if they were opponents?
  • We go inside the brilliant, enigmatic mind of Ted Kluck to mine for wisdom about building your own platform and self-promotion.
  • Why do so many Christians feel the need to respond to every controversy (or respond to the responses) and what is a better way to handle them?

In order to get the goodness, you need to:

Memorize Scripture Easily With Music – Scripture Songs Giveaway

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It’s amazing how setting words to music makes them easier to remember.

Commercial jingles do this all the time.  I can still remember jingles from when I was a kid.  Hide the Word CDs are Scriptures set to music word for word and include the reference.  Many people have told me these Scripture songs helped them memorize God’s word.  And memorizing Scripture has been a huge blessing in my own life.  Countless times God has brought Scriptures to mind when I have needed encouragement or wanted to strengthen a brother or sister from God’s word.

I’d like to give away 10 copies of “The Ends of the Earth” – Hide the Word 10.  If you’d like to enter the drawing, share this post (if you want to) and send me an email at mvaltrogge@gmail saying “I’d like a free CD” or something like that.  At the end of the week, I’ll randomly pick 10 people to give them to.

If you’d like to listen to samples of Hide the Word CDs or see what Scriptures are on each one, you can visit ForeverGratefulMusic.com.  Or you can download mp3s on my site at  CD Baby.  Thanks for checking them out!

A Deeper Well of Joy

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“I had been searching for joy in the relatively good times of life, now I had to find joy amidst darkness and agony.”
- Margaret Feinberg

Margaret Feinberg’s search for greater joy in the Lord took an unexpected turn when she was diagnosed with cancer. What she found in the end, though, was that her fearr and pain led to a capacity for even greater joy. This month she released a new book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy, pointing readers to a truer understanding of joy and and where it can be found. Margaret reached out to a number of writers and bloggers and asked us to share some thoughts on joy and pain. Here is my contribution.


 

You know pain. In some capacity, you know it. All of us do. Some have experienced explosions in life that destroyed much of what we love. Others have experienced the slow drip of daily agony. Some have yet to experience great loss personally but have witnessed it up close in the lives of others. In each case the feelings are similar: an ache that does not leave and for which there is no remedy, a gaping hole in the chest sensitive to every breeze, noise, or look.

Sometimes we cause our own pain. We sin and face the consequences. We make a dumb decision and the blowback is intense. We hurt others through our mistakes. Many times pain just seems to happen, though. Someone betrays us. A spouse leaves us. The tests reveal cancer. A loved one dies. Our company restructures us right into unemployment. A fire or storm takes the house. That oncoming car is steered by a man in a drunken stupor.

Regardless, we feel the same. We hurt. We are empty. Often we feel ashamed because of our own fault or the state to which we have been reduced. We fear and 519scN9F3eLworry. It eats us from the inside out. In all we feel as if our very soul is being jackhammered away, ripped apart, leaving nothing but a pit.

We are not wrong; our souls are being ripped apart. But not as we assume, not without hope and not without end. No, all that grinding and tearing and hammering, that gaping hole, it has a purpose.

It is a well. What is a well but a pit? Our pain is the instrument God uses to carve out a greater capacity to fill with His joy. Until it is filled it is a void, a vacancy in our spirits, but once the joy begins to trickle in we find ourselves with a greater volume for it than ever before. People who know little or no pain have puddles of joy, shallow pools easily evaporated or absorbed. Those who know the depths of pain know the depths of a real well, a cool store of joy able to refresh and nourish through any season.

This is more than a psychobabbly, feel good theory. It is a promise to every follower of Jesus. Hebrews 12:7 says “Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?” From there it builds to verse eleven; “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Our pain is discipline from God—not punishment, but training—leading us to something. And it is not discipline like a coach or personal trainer yelling to keep going and reach that goal, but like a loving father seeking to make his children’s lives better and fuller for their happiness and well-being. For those who are willing to be trained, who do not rebel or quit, who withstand the pain and trust God throughout, there is a reward in the end: righteousness and peace. Righteousness reflects more of God’s holiness. And what is peace but the primary ingredient of Joy?

Unlike some pie-in-the-sky, serendipitous, false promise this is a deep realistic acknowledgment of pain and hardship in a fallen world. For that very reason it is hopeful. It deals with the real and promises the work of the Divine in the lives of those who trust. Our pain is not in vain; our emptiness is not pointless. It is the deep pit, the well, God is digging to fill up with peace and joy.


You can find out more about Margaret’s book here or by searching the hashtag #FightBackWithJoy on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. 

photo credit: jsutc?iffe via photopin cc

A New Convert’s Guide To Understanding Christian Code Words

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Congratulations on getting saved! Now that you’re a Christian, there are a few things you really should know. First, you must listen to the songs “Secret Ambition” and “Jesus Freak”. These two songs will come up a lot in conversations, and have the potential to make you a lot of friends. Familiarize yourself with them. Be ready to lip sync to them on demand.

Second, get used to drinking awful coffee. Since the very first meetings in Jerusalem, Christians have insisted on drinking coffee that tastes like scalding hot paint thinner. It is one of the trials and tribulations we must endure.

Finally, learn the Christian code words. What you may not have realized is we have our own special code language. If you’re going to communicate with other Christians, you need to memorize our code words and their definitions. What exactly are these code words? I’m glad you asked. What follows is a guide to understanding Christian-speak. Think of this as the Rosetta of the Christian world.

TERMS AND DEFINITIONS

Story – Most people think of a story as something contained within a book. Oh how wrong they are! All of us have a story, and each of our stories is important. Your story (also called “Journey” or “Road”) includes: all your life experiences, the most recent book you’ve read, your friends (even though they have their own stories, they’re also part of your story), your Moleskine journal (in which you record thoughts about your story), that one mission trip which was a defining moment in your story, and the existential crisis you had in college (the dark part of your story). Get used to referring to every experience as being a part of your “story”.

A blank moleskine, just waiting to be filled with your story.

A blank moleskine, just waiting to be filled with your story.

Traveling Mercies  – Contrary to popular opinion, “Traveling Mercies” is not the name of a Rich Mullins cover band. Rather, traveling mercies refers to divine mercies which, oddly enough, can only be found on highways and in airplanes. No matter how much you ask, you simply cannot get traveling mercies for a trip to the grocery store. Regular mercies covers that. However, if you fail to ask for traveling mercies prior to a long trip (not to be confused with “Journey”), there is a 95% chance your car engine will catch on fire.

Echo – You’re in a prayer meeting, it’s your turn to pray, and your mind goes blank! What do you do? Don’t panic. You simply “echo” what the person before you prayed. To echo another person’s prayer, simply take their exact words, add the word “just” to the beginning, and add the words “really asking this” to the end. This simple tactic will rescue you out of every prayer jam (not to be confused with a Prayer Jam, which is praying to hip-hop music).

Echoing works especially well when in a "prayer huddle".

Echoing works especially well when in a “prayer huddle”.

Do Life – Christians don’t simply live life. No sir, we do life! And don’t you DARE confuse the two. Living life is boring and shallow, while doing life involves thrilling, exciting, awesome things, like Wednesday night Bible studies.

In This Place – This is a phrase included in many of our prayers as a way of making sure God knows exactly where we are located. We want God to bless us, in this place. We don’t want him to accidentally fire his blessings into the church down the street, so we alert him to our precise location. Think of this as the GPS of Christianity.

Authenticity – Ahh yes, authenticity, the Bigfoot of Christianity. Everyone talks about it and searches for it, but no one has ever actually seen it. I suspect this is what Bono (our favorite maybe-Christian) was referencing when he discussed not being able to find what he was looking for. It is essential that you always be looking for new ways to be authentic, regardless of whether you actually know what authenticity is. There is a theory that authenticity can be achieved by drinking coffee out of a Mason jar, but that theory has not been definitively proved yet.

The magical elixir of authenticity

The magical elixir of authenticity.

Hedge of Protection – What is the strongest thing in the world? Titanium? Diamond? Kevlar? Nope, hedges. That’s why we pray for a hedge of protection to surround us. The “Hedge Prayer” (as theologians commonly call it) is usually prayed in conjunction with the “Traveling Mercies” prayer. We want to be surrounded by a hedge while simultaneously being granted traveling mercies. To be safe, always pray the two prayers together. There is anecdotal evidence that praying for a hedge of protection without also praying for traveling mercies can cause spontaneous combustion. Be cautious.

Love On – When someone is going through a tough time, we don’t simply love them. We love ON them. Granted, to the average observer, this term sounds vaguely creepy and stalker-like, but it most certainly is not creepy. Loving a person involves sending them a condolence card. Loving ON a person involves gallons of sweet tea, a five-pound green bean casserole, a book written by Beth Moore, and a coffee mug with the “Footprints” prayer on it. We take care of our own, gosh darn it. Kind of like the mob, except without killing people or putting horse heads in people’s beds.

Altar Call – An altar call is something that happens at the end of emotionally charged church services. It is an opportunity for you to rededicate your life to the Lord for the 42nd time. Never miss out on the chance to go forward for an altar call, especially if the band is playing “Just As I Am”.

On Mission – This is kind of like the Red Bull consuming cousin of “Do Life”. We don’t simply invite people to church, share the gospel, and seek to bless our neighbors. We are on MISSION! It’s like Mission Impossible, minus the cool gadgets and crazy terrorists and Tom Cruise sprinting for forty-five minutes straight. If you really want to impress your friends, you will inform them that you are both missional and on mission. This is like being able to play both offense and defense in football. No one can stop you.

Hopefully this gives you a glimpse into the world of Christian code words. You are at the beginning of a journey, and your story is just beginning. If you stay focused on authenticity and being missional, you will most certainly get blessed in this place.

My Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal For This Year – It’s Not What You Think

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In 1994 Jim Collins and Jerry Porras wrote Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, a book which encouraged every company to come up with BHAGs, or Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals, which they would attempt to accomplish in a certain time frame.

A few years ago a pastor friend of mine once told me that he and his leadership team had set a BHAG for their church for one year. I believe it was to double in size. They planned how to attract more people, how to double their small groups, double their small group leaders, children’s ministry, etc. I believe he encouraged his leaders and church members to have individual BHAGs. I can’t remember if they encouraged giving BHAGs. Of course he had at least one personal BHAG.

“Did your church achieve the BHAG?” I asked.

“No,” he said laughing, “of course not. We didn’t even come close.”

Maybe BHAGs work for companies and even for some churches. But I would submit that the Bible encourages a different kind of BHAG. Here’s the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal that I am going to shoot for this year: to be faithful. Better yet, I want to be faithful in a few small things.

The Bible doesn’t encourage us to pursue greatness, but to be faithful servants. To be faithful in small things.

A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. PR 28.20

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” LK 16.10

And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ LK 19.17

Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, who planted numerous churches and advanced the spread of Christianity in much of the known world of his time, didn’t consider himself to be great. He regarded himself as a servant, a steward and said the following:

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 1 CO 4.1-2

Paul wanted to be faithful. Sure he made plans – he planned to visit certain cities in the hope of spreading the gospel. But often his plans were thwarted. He wound up in prison. Yet even in prison he sought to be faithful and spread the gospel in the prison.

So this year my Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal is to be faithful in little. The works God gives most of us are ordinary and mundane. Caring for our children, pastoring a small church, teaching sixth graders, working on an assembly line, being a secretary – these certainly don’t feel glorious. But God isn’t impressed with talent or “great” accomplishments. He’s looking for faithfulness.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I’d encourage you to be faithful in a couple things. First, in taking in God’s word. To me, this is one of the most important habits to cultivate. If only for a few minutes each day, read or listen to the Bible. Secondly, prayer. Again, if you’re not in the habit, take a few minutes each day to pray. Spend a couple minutes in thankfulness and lift your requests to him. Of course you can pray throughout the day as well.

Seek to be faithful where God has placed you. Faithfulness is more important than talent or gifting. If we’re faithful in small things, God will increase us and cause us to be faithful in more and more. We don’t have to set Big, Hairy, Audacious goals. Besides, who wants to do something that’s big and hairy?

Rick Carlisle’s Winning Combination

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From my most recent article at WorldMag.com:

David Thorpe, an NBA analyst for ESPN, recently tweeted, “One of Rick Carlisle’s best attributes is his intense belief that he can get more from a player than what previous coach got.” Carlisle, who coaches the Dallas Mavericks and is regarded as one of the best coaches in the NBA, may appear arrogant for believing this, but it’s true.

Carlisle’s belief is based in confidence, vision, and a stellar track record. He has turned various collections of castoffs, malcontents, and one-trick ponies into playoff teams. In a world where we so readily discount and write off people for their faults, Christian leaders should take note. How does one do what Rick Carlisle has so consistently done?

First, see the goal not just the methods. Carlisle coaches with a view toward the endgame, the win. He doesn’t seem to care which methodology will get him there: Play slow or fast, big or small, old or young; shoot threes or grind it out in the paint. He flexes to the players he has and that flexing puts them in a position to succeed. If he stubbornly clung to a single system he would not get the most out of everyone.

Second, see the cans not just the can’ts. Carlisle finds out how players can help the team instead of fearing how they might hurt it. He puts a collection of specific skill sets on the court together. Then he puts them in a system and in positions that use those skills and diminish their weaknesses. He asks players to do just what they can and no more, and it works.

. . .

You can read the full post HERE.

Does God Oppose My iPhone? Actually…Maybe He Does.

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It’s no secret that I’m a tech nerd. I get a contact high when I play with new gadgets. I get unreasonably excited when Apple announces a new product (iWatch? Don’t mind if I do). I upgrade to new operating systems too soon, which inevitably creates glitches on my computer. I probably Tweet too much and spend too much time browsing on Facebook (why do I care what Disney Prince you are?). In the words of Kip from Napoleon Dynamite, “I love technology.”

In fact, I love technology so much that I take my smartphone to church, because it has my Bible app on it.

But it also has Facebook, Twitter, email, text messages, and Angry Birds. There are times during worship or during the sermon when I will casually flip between the Bible app and Twitter. Why? Because I’m easily did you see that new movie with Matt Damon?

Sorry. I’m easily distracted. Because my phone is constantly alerting me to new, exciting, interesting things. A new email! Maybe I won something or a deported Iraqi prince wants to bestow his fortune upon me! A new text message! Maybe it’s a friend telling me that he has free U2 tickets! Must…look…at…my…phone.

Of course, when I’m staring at my screen I’m not paying attention to what is happening in the church service. Worship and text messaging don’t play well together. I’m either paying attention to the sermon or paying attention to the ESPN Sports Center headlines. It’s difficult to multitask and maintain a spirit of worship and wonder.

I recently read the following quote, which grabbed my attention:

When we are distracted from our covenant Lord and preoccupied with our own comforts and pleasures, something has gone seriously wrong with our worship.

John Frame, Worship In Spirit and Truth

Well then.

Maybe I need to rethink just how serious Sunday mornings are. In Matthew 18:20 Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Wow. When I join fellow believers in the name of Jesus, Jesus himself is in our midst. The risen Christ, the one whom all of heaven adores, the conquering king, is present with us. Remember that semi-smarmy old hymn that says, “He walks with me, he talks with me”? When we gather as believers, Jesus Christ really does join us in a unique and powerful way, ready to bless, strengthen, and encourage us.

If I could literally see Christ on Sunday mornings – if he was standing on stage behind the preacher – would I be bouncing around from my Bible to Twitter to Facebook to ESPN to Instagram?

“Jesus, it’s so wonderful to be with you! Thank you for all you’ve…oh, hold on for a sec. I just posted this really funny photo of a dog wearing a sombrero and a lot of people are liking it. Okay, what was I saying? Right. You’re really worthy of…dang it! Sorry, my friend has been texting me all morning. He wants to know if I’m coming over to watch the game. Now, where was I?”

I don’t think so. All distraction would be banished in the manifest presence of the risen Christ. I would be riveted. I would be bowed low. I would be overflowing with joy. I would be giving Jesus loud, lavish, undistracted praise. I would be hyper-focused on the glory, beauty, and majesty of Jesus.

I may not be able to see Christ, but he is still fully present on Sunday mornings. He is still worthy of my loudest, most focused, most passionate praise.

I’m pointing these words squarely at myself. I’m not going to be the shriveled old guy who clings to his tattered KJV Bible and rants about the dangers of technology. But maybe, just maybe, I need to leave my smartphone home from church.

Goodness From The Interwebs for 1/12

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A handful of links that interested, amused or informed me from around the interwebs:
  • There is getting a teammate’s back and then there is getting a teammate’s BACK! This is the latter. Geez.

  • A father filmed his daughter for a few seconds every week from birth to age 14, and it’s been spliced together with original music to create a subtly stunning montage. Any parent will be engrossed by this; it’s beautiful.