The Narcotic Effect of Self-deception

We apply the narcotic of self deception in order to maintain a good feeling or image of ourselves, even though what we are doing is wrong… the narcotic is used to avoid the pain of facing the truth.” — Diane Langberg (pgs. 198-9)

Finished reading “Prayer” by Tim Keller

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with GodPrayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy J. Keller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Strikes good balance between the experiential side of prayer (orthopathos) and the discipline and methods (orthopraxis) of prayer.

View all my reviews

When Your Community Comes Knocking

Halloween is an interesting time.  Little kids’ eyes begin to glow with the possibility of being able to dress up as their favorite superhero-princess-ninja-pumpkin.  Even teenagers start plotting some way to look cool or funny so that they can make the rounds on Halloween night.  [One of my daughters and our neighbor have schemed to go as Bob Ross and his painting.]  And all of this costume fervor is going on because… candy!  

But in the midst of all of this, a huge opportunity went unnoticed for me for years.  Regardless of how I felt about the intersection of my Christian convictions and the practices and themes of Halloween, I couldn’t deny the reality that there was an intersection between my front door and many of my neighbors who I would not otherwise be able to meet.

So last year my family started what I hope will become a tradition for years to come.  parents survivalWe set up a “Parent’s Survival Station” in our front yard.  The neighborhood kids go to my front door where my kids, who can dress up in their own costume, hand out the candy.  But my wife and I sit at the table in the front yard and offer bottled water and cups of coffee to the parents.  We also set out a pad of paper where I invite people to write down any prayer requests that they might have.  I then took what prayer requests we received and worked through them the following day.  This survival station was warmly received by the parents (with a few snide requests for tequila shots in years to come), but we got to talk with a few of my neighbors at a more significant level than the hey-how-ya-doin’ level.  Who knows where the Lord can take these encounters?  At the very least it seems like a great way for us to work on fulfilling the second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor.”

This is not saying that everyone needs to do it the way our family has chosen to do it.  But I hope this encourages some folks to see the opportunity that literally comes knocking every October 31st.  Take our idea for loving our neighbors and make it your own and make it better for your neighbors.

I’m sure this has left some of my readers with one major concern, so let me calm your fears.  Yes, I make sure my kids end up with some candy at the end of the evening.  They are a valued and valuable part of this process, and I don’t mind saying ‘thank you’ with a few Three Musketeers and Snickers.  Lastly, if anyone reading this shows up at the house on Halloween night I have an apology to make.  Sorry, but no tequila shots.

Enduring Alarm Moments

“Think about when you accidentally set off an alarm and you hear a sample of what people in crisis are experiencing. There is a lot of emotional noise in their lives; there is chaos… If people seek you out during their alarm moments, they will bring you their noise… We are uneasy in the face of unadulterated terror and pain. When an alarm goes off, we want it stopped… When an alarm goes off, fleeing is a normal response. Alarms mean things are not okay. How can we have staying power in alarm moments like these?”

Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores

Liturgics for Tragedy

I wrote the post “Mass Shootings and Bad Disciples” back in Feb 2018 after a mass shooting, and its words feel like exactly what this patient needs in the wake of the tragedies at Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton.  But if I believe that worship is the center of life… if I believe the Triune God draws closest to his redeemed people in the gathered worship on the Lord’s Day, what can we do in that context to help shape our lives outside of that?  I’m still asking myself that question.  But I thought starting imperfectly is better than not starting until the perfect way reveals itself.  So here is our congregation’s confession of sin and call for God to act that we will be using this coming Sunday.  May it drive us all to both prayer and action.

Confession of Sin and Plea for God’s Action[1]

Leader: O God of battles, we see the seeds of hate and malice that are native to our own hearts.

People: O LORD of hosts have mercy on us.  Forgive us for the murder in our hearts and protect us from our desire for revenge, when vengeance belongs to You.

Leader: We see how evil suspicions and hateful speech pour out from our mouths, our computers, and our phones.

People: O LORD of hosts have mercy on us.  Forgive us for harming the name of our neighbor, using our words in hurtful and untimely ways, and calling it “speaking the truth”.

Leader: We are grieved by our indifference toward injustice, oppression, and lack of concern for our neighbor’s good.

People: O LORD of hosts have mercy on us.  Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, to make no peace with oppression, and to use our freedoms in the maintenance of justice among men and nations.

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.

Leader: Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

People: But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands;

Leader: to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.

People: Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.

[1] Sources used – 1) A New Directory for the Public Worship of God (Free Church of Scotland, 1898); 2) Westminster Larger Catechism #145; 3) Book of Common Prayer (Oxford Univ Press, New York: 1928); 4) Psalm 10.12-15 (ESV).


Paul Hahn… I’m sorry.

I like church-planting.  At least I like the idea of church-planting.  I liked the idea so much that I tried to get me and church-planting together.  But, as it turns out, church-planting doesn’t like me.  Oh well.  Church-planting is probably right.  It probably would’ve never worked out between us.  I’m glad church-planting gave it to me straight.

I love small towns.  I grew up in one.  I can close my eyes and envision the precise places where they keep their suspicion of new things.  I can walk you down the street and show you all the places where resistance to change lives.  You can try to pull a fast one on small towns but you better look out.  They have long memories.  You can try to dazzle small towns with slick new ideas, but small towns will just rock back in their rocking chairs, listen closely to you, and then quietly go on about their business as if you didn’t say a word.  But this is part of why I love them.

I also love small churches.  I grew up in one of those, too.  Small churches can be a lot like small towns.  Long memories. Resistant to change.  Suspicious of new things.  These things, of course, aren’t necessarily vices.  Not all changes are for the better.  So resistance to change can, for a small church, be almost like having an immune system.  But just as an over-active immune system can be very dangerous to the human body, so an over-active resistance to change can have a heart-hardening effect on a small church.

Here is where my dilemma presented itself.  If I’m a small-town boy at heart, and a small town already has a small church from my denomination in it, how do I both become a new part of a small town/small church and become an effective leader toward healthy change?  According to the small town/small church doctrine, if I’m the new kid on the block, I’m automatically suspicious.  And if I try to lead folks toward something new, there’s resistance to the change.  And, if you’ve ever been in a small church and asked some of your leaders questions about possibly changing a particular aspect of ministry, you know you’ll get a rehearsal of church history.  The re-telling of small church history most often sounds a little like, “Well, the reason we do this in this way is because, you see, when Pastor McGillicuddy was here back in the mid-80’s and was busing kids in from the county…”

In God’s providence, he placed me in a small church in a small town.  So… what do I do now?  It’s like I was asking myself, “Well, now that I’m here, now what?”  Being unafraid of declaring my own incompetence, I started asking questions.  I started asking questions of other small town pastors (even from other denominations{gasp}), started listening to what they are doing, and where they see Jesus moving in their own spheres of ministry.  I picked up a book that seemed to be getting some good press from not a few of them.  (It’s really good so far.)  But most recently, I got invited to a regional conference put on by my denomination’s home missions agency, Mission to North America (MNA).  And, like the good small town boy I am, I was immediately suspicious of this new thing.  After all, the conference was about more than just church-planting.  It was a conference for both church-planting AND church renewal, and MNA has been all about some church-planting for as long as I have been a minister.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love that MNA has been a champion of church-planting and been the connector of so many other missional partnerships for things like prison ministry, ministering to families with special needs children, ESL ministry, Disaster Response, etc.  But what about the small church?  Where do we turn to find assessments and resources for church renewal in our small town setting?  How do they help me answer the question, “Now what?”

This conference was that.  But it was more than that.  The conference was wiser than just delivering a list of professional church renewal tactics.  It understood that church renewal needs to get at even more basic things like, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.”  So one of its focuses was on renewing the pastor.  The leaders of the breakout sessions didn’t assume that they knew all the concerns and questions we small town pastors were dragging into the sessions, so they asked good questions to START the sessions.

There is still lots of room for improvement, but at the end of the weekend, I felt obligated to approach Paul Hahn, national coordinator for MNA, and apologize for my suspicion, which I did.  But I’ll double-down on my apology here.  Paul, if you’re reading this, thank you for your committee’s work to come alongside small town pastors like me.  Please forgive our suspicion of the new.  It’s in the air we breathe around here.  We may feel like we’re just running around in circles.  But y’all are doing good work and it feels like there’s someone out there now hollering, “This way!”