Simple things are not always what they appear.
A shared piece of fruit; rebellion.
Bread and table wine; redemption.
A lamb becomes majestic.
Parables of the mundane instruct a child and marvel a theologian.
Complexity and simplicity from the Creator of galaxies and the Creator of gnats.
A Word written to touch an untouchable in New Delhi or confound the confident in the marbled halls of Cambridge.
We need simplicity right now.
Simple questions to bring us back to the source of Life. Invite us to encounter again.
Where are you? (Genesis 3:9)
Cool of the day.
He calls out.
Hiding but not hidden.
“Where are you?”
Our first father and mother face a new reality.
“Something has changed.
Where are you?
For the first time, I was afraid and hid.”
Shame. Identity. Justification.
But God is working.
Redemption begins to unfold.
Thousands of years later, another question like the first.
Do you want to be healed? (John 5:6)
A sheep’s gate.
A pool of water.
38 years of motionless wandering.
The Great Physician.
The Living Water.
A greater Moses, leading a new exodus.
“Do you want to be healed?”
“Sir, I have no one to carry me…”
Shame. Identity. Justification.
But the Son doesn’t stop working.
Where does your mind wander these days?
What has your affections?
What are the desires of your heart?
The I AM,
not the I was,
not the I will be,
is still asking,
Still afraid? Still hiding?
“Sir, This virus,
this school situation,
I have no one to carry me…”
The Son is working.
Where are you? Do you want to be healed?
But they were never just questions.
They were, and are, invitations to encounter, to behold.
And they need to be asked, to be pondered, to be answered more today than ever.
This letter is for you. I realize that this is published in a medium you aren’t likely to see- a blog. What teen reads a blog? My hope is that your parents will read these words and get them in front of you. I’m writing this letter because I know that there is a lot you are dealing with during this season. You feel it, yet might not know how to express it. Or you may feel it and want to express it, but don’t know if you have permission to express it. I mean, “Why talk about the loss of a sports season when your parents are dealing with the loss of a job?”
Your grief may seem small in comparison to others or to the adults in your life. They are dealing with “real problems”, you are dealing with problems of privilege. We adults might not say it that way, but that’s the way we can make it feel.
Let me first say that I don’t see your losses and suffering that way, and I don’t think Jesus does either. They are real to you. They are big to you. So they deserve space to be recognized. They need space to be talked about. You need an opportunity to lament- not complain- but lament. Confession: We don’t always know how to lament well. We adults, don’t always know how to create space for lament. We sometimes think, because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, Christians, have no “right” to lament. That is simply not true. We should lament.
Lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. It is Christian to lament. Complaining tends to be the expression of dissatisfaction about something to someone. Lamenting is sorrow or grief about the reality of something. Complaining is sorrow or annoyance about something I deem unjust. Lamenting is sorrow that your vacation was canceled. Complaining is sorrow that the vacation, I deserve, is cancelled. Lamenting is sorrow because of brokenness. Complaining is sorrow that the universe doesn’t bend its will to ours.
What happens, and what has probably happened in this season, is that your heart is feeling sorrow and grief and what comes out is complaining. We, adults, aren’t always good at recognizing lament hidden behind a complaint. Or maybe you do lament, but we don’t have a theology of lament. We don’t see it as a recognition of a fallen, sinful world. Too often we jump to the “Good News” without talking about the reality of the bad news. Sin, brokenness, and a fallen world are a reality. A reality that isn’t just hypothetical or general. It is real. It shows up in big and small ways. And good news can only be good to the degree we recognize the bad in a real way, not just hypothetically. So, I want you to know that I understand there is a lot to lament about right now.
Your sport’s seasons are cancelled. Your summer plans are likely to change, if they haven’t already. No overseas GO trips or overnight summer youth camps. Vacations are cancelled, changed, or delayed. No end of the school year activities. Crisis-schooling has been, very likely, frustrating and daunting. Hours on the computer, assignments minus instruction, grades, but they don’t count, but can count if you want them to. That’s frustrating and confusing all at once.
To our Seniors, no cap and gown ceremonies. This thing you’ve been expecting since kindergarten will not happen. Do you cry or complain? Is it a big deal or not so important? You still graduate, right? It’s hard to know how to feel. A weird sense of emptiness, of not being able to orient yourself to what’s going hangs in the air. It’s like a fog. It has a form, but you can’t hold it. It’s tangible and not tangible. Something more has been lost than just a ceremony, a trip, or time together with friends. It’s a peculiar feeling. Not like a death, but exactly like a death. And that doesn’t make much sense.
And the cancellations keep coming in waves. It would have been one thing to cancel everything up front, but it’s been a slow trickle of disappointment. You’re probably apprehensive to even hope in summer plans. And you carry the hidden stress of your parents’ job situation as well. You feel it even if they try to hide it from you. You hear the hushed conversations and see the forced smiles. You know there is stress. You carry that weight too.
I’m sure there is more you could add to my list. It’s not comprehensive, just a sample. I wish I could read this letter to each of you individually, sit with you, and hear what sorrow you have to share. This isn’t a “But Jesus” letter, where I turn everything on a dime. Redemption, reconciliation, and maturity of faith rarely “turn on a dime”. I will say this though- this season will either leave you bitter or more hopeful in Jesus. There is no other option. If you think there is a third way, you are kidding yourself. There is a way that seems like an alternative to bitterness or hope in Jesus, but it is a lie. The false third way, is to pretend you’re not sad, have that sorrow turn into bitterness deep down and hide it, and then have that bitterness spill out next time suffering calls your name. Bitterness or hope in Jesus, there are only two roads.
I do think the Bible speaks to you in this moment. In many ways actually, but in one way I’d like to address in particular. It’s not just about what the Bible says, but more about the process God wants you to walk through. A process, not a “turn on a dime” moment.
“We rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Paul can speak about rejoicing in suffering because he knows something about suffering with faith in Jesus. He knows, not just because of what he has learned through study, but what he has learned through the process of experiencing life. Suffering is a process that produces endurance, then character, then hope. Not always at the same time. It doesn’t mean Paul gets used to the pain of suffering. No, pain is pain. But he looks and knows that suffering with a posture of faith in Jesus, produces hope, because he has experienced it.
I’d like to think, as Paul lay blind after meeting Jesus, he wasn’t thinking first about how excited he was that Jesus had come to meet Him. He was probably confused, disoriented, and trying to come to terms with the new reality that he had just witnessed. Sound familiar? It was a process for him, I believe. Paul is not just telling the Romans to rejoice, he is inviting them to experience it too.
How about an analogy? Imagine you were forced to run 10 miles. For most of you, it would be painful. It would hurt. You would suffer. Not only that, but the next day, you might actually be hurting more. You may have residual suffering (sore muscles) from the initial suffering. But let’s say you kept at it. You kept running. Eventually, you would gain endurance, a sustained ability to keep at it. After awhile, you might even begin to see yourself as a “runner”. Eventually, you might even have enough confidence to enter a race, knowing that you could trust your abilities. Now I would say, if you want to get better at running, it will never get easier. You will always have to push yourself, thus you will never outgrow that feeling of suffering. But you might endure the suffering because you now know (you have record of experience) that the process is producing something positive in yourself.
The point of the analogy is that what started off as an act that only seemed to produced suffering and pain, now produces endurance, confidence, and trust, even though it is still painful. Now the analogy falls short, in that, our suffering with a posture of faith in Jesus, shouldn’t produce confidence in our ability, but a hope and confidence in Jesus.
Paul says “We can rejoice in our suffering, knowing…”. That’s the key. You need to know that your suffering- this loss- is not in vain. The hard part about that knowing, is that this COVID-19 season might be like that first day after your 10 mile run. It was painful then and even more painful now. Nothing good has “seemed” to be produced from it, yet.
There are two truths you need to hear. You aren’t getting these sports seasons back. You won’t get 2 weeks of vacation where you’ve lost 1. You may never get to walk across a stage and get your diploma. The may just mail it to you. The other truth you need to hear: You will suffer again. This is a loss and its big to you. That much I’ve tried to validate, but its not the last one. We can’t even promise you that this quarantine won’t happen again. That’s not comforting. But if we are to be comforted we must start with the reality of our lament. A real savior can handle the reality of our sorrow.
The comfort is this- Your hope in Jesus will never be wasted! “Hope doesn’t put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” God’s love is everlasting. “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting”. (Psalm 103:17) If you were secure in His love 6 months ago, be secure now. His love hasn’t changed.
But as Paul alludes to in Romans, this isn’t a comfort you can only hear about. This is a process you must experience. Your suffering, with a posture of faith towards Jesus (that’s paramount) will produce endurance. That endurance, character, and that character hope in the goodness and greatness of Jesus. God has promised that to us. You will get bitter or you will see Jesus better.
Maybe you are a young Christian, maybe Jesus is making you a Christian with endurance. Maybe you have faithful endurance and Jesus is weathering you, giving you deep roots to be able to produce fruit even in a storm. Or maybe Jesus is setting your hope on that eternal weight of glory in Christ Jesus! (2 Cor. 4:17) Either way, it is a process. And here is the beauty of the process. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 also talks about another process of suffering. Read it will you. I’ll sum it up, you suffer, the God of all comfort, comforts you, this allows you to comfort those that are suffering, thus giving others love and grace. Your suffering produces opportunities to show the love of Christ to others who are suffering. This process isn’t just for you. It’s for future people and situations you will find yourself in. You will get bitter or you will love Jesus better and that will have an effect on others eventually.
I can speak from some experience. I love Jesus. I’ve loved Jesus and failed and continued to love Jesus more. I’ve loved Jesus and had opportunities unjustly ripped from me. I endured and loved Jesus more. I’ve experience loss and barrenness and hoped in Jesus through tears. Talk to older people in our congregation. Their testimonies will speak of a real Jesus that walked them through-not above- their suffering.
I’m on the same road as many of you. A few steps ahead maybe, but the same road. I’ve known a little about the rejoicing Paul speaks about. Maybe more than you, but not as much as some. I really wish there was a different way to mature in Jesus Christ, but God in is His divine wisdom knows what we need more then we do. I’d like to think that I can rejoice because I’ve developed, by the Spirit, some endurance, character, and hope.
My prayer is that the same would be true for you. It’s a process. As John Piper might say, “Don’t waste your pandemic.” This may be your first brush with suffering and loss. It won’t be you last. Endurance doesn’t feel like rejoicing. But keep beholding Jesus. In the end it will, you will see. Don’t take my word for it. Take His Word and experience it. Hold these truths together and press on: You have experienced real loss and that produces suffering and grief, but no suffering will be wasted if our hearts are postured towards our King Jesus in faith. “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the [teen] who takes refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8)
Your pastor and fellow traveler,
Todd Van Dyke
Faith over Fear.
That is what we have heard a lot about these last several weeks.
We’ve encouraged it as a church, you’ve probably seen it in a
social media post from another Christian outlet, or maybe you have
even encouraged someone else with that same truth. And for good
reason, it is a good reminder during times like these. It is a good
reminder that faith is what should be produced in us as we seek the
Lord in this season. Pressing into the Lord during this time is
important for us all to do. Seeking refuge in the Lord is right.
But what if the Lord
is asking more of us? What if it is not just a simple equation of
replacing fear with faith. Or having faith, instead of fear. What if
the Lord wants to use this season for something much more?, What if
He wants to remove that which stands in our way of faith most often,
something that is actually at the root of the fear we often have?
What if before the Lord can increase our faith He has to do a much
deeper work; a much more inconvenient work in our life?
What am I talking
about? Well let me lead you there by way of describing first how the
Lord showed me this work just this week.
I was reading Exodus
14. Now this isn’t so much about what I was reading. It is more
about how, deep down in my heart, I was reading it.
It is a familiar story. Moses has led his people out of Egypt into the wilderness. The people have watched over time how God has shown up through plaques and miracles, signs and wonders, and now as a pillar of dust and fire. To say that these people have seen some amazing acts of God would be an understatement. He is literally leading them day and night in a pillar of dust and a pillar of fire by night.
But now they have come to the Red Sea, a geographical dead-end. And here comes Pharaoh, hard-hearted and ready to destroy the Israelites. Imagine you are an Israelite, you’ve seen God literally send an angel of death to fight for you. You have seen God overthrow and bring to his knees the super-power political leader of your day. You have spent the last several days watching as God manifest himself in your midst through dust and fire. And at the first sign of trouble you want to run back to Egypt. I mean, I can get you being afraid. I can get there being some trepidation in your voice and heart at this moment. I can even expect the question: “Lord this looks like a pretty tough situation. Not sure how you are going to get us out of this one.” I can understand all that, but No! The Israelites sarcastically mock Moses, basically saying, “Oh so you brought us out here to die. We told you so. We had it better in Egypt.” (Exodus 14:11-12)
And if I am honest
as I have told that story to kids, as I have read about it over and
over, there are times that, I may not have shaken my head, but deep
down in me, I was shaking my heart at least. I was scoffing at the
Israelites. “Oh yea of little faith! You’ve just witnessed God
fighting for you. And now you doubt him?”, my heart would say.
But this time,
during this season, reading that story in the midst of COVID-19
exposed my pride, arrogance, and vanity. I didn’t shake my heart at
the Israelites, I sadly identified with them. I asked myself, “How
many of your prayers sound like those Israelites?” I may not be
staring at the Red Sea, but take a second and look at your calendar
for April. Think about the prospect of employment if this season
continues. Look into the abyss of what is now our unknown situation
and see if you don’t feel a little bit of what the Israelites felt
Which leads me to
the inconvenient work the Lord is up to in my own life, maybe your
life, and maybe the church as a whole. We have talked a lot these
last few weeks about having faith and believing in the goodness of
the Lord. But what I have forgotten and maybe you have too, is that
belief and faith is a two-step process. Faith’s biggest obstacle is
not fear, it is what lies as the source of that fear, sin and
John the Baptist comes on the scene and his ministry can be summed up in three words, “Repent and Believe.” Jesus comes on the scene and begins his ministry in Mark 1:14 and his first recorded words in that gospel are this, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus first “sermon” in Mark is to call people to repentance and then belief. “Root out the sin, recognize where you have believed in opposition to my good news, and then believe in the gospel,” Jesus says. Repentance is always the first step in the process of deepening faith. Moving towards God is always accompanied by moving away from and acknowledging false beliefs, false gods, and insufficient idols.
I don’t say this
from an ivory tower or some emotionally distant vantage point. I
realize our current situation has already seen people lose their
jobs. Families are making or will begin to have to make tough
choices. Much of what lies ahead of us is unknown. That is why I
called what the Lord is wanting to do, such an inconvenient work.
Not an insensitive work, but an inconvenient one. In the midst of
all this unknown, in the midst of this Red Sea of questions and
worry, in midst of this diseases and hurt, the fact that the Lord may
want us to repent so that our faith could be made stronger is
inconvenient, from our human perspective at best.
But if we want more of God. If what we really seek is to be transformed into the likeness of His Son in the midst of this trial, then it would be foolish for us as a church not to recognize that the greater work of deepening faith may have to come through the road of repentance. We want to be comforted by God, but realizing areas where we have first made God small is often the first step in His comforting work.
Think back 6 months ago. Would you ever have believed, in the midst of your work and toil, your leisure and spare time, your business and money-making endeavors, that out there in the world somewhere there was lurking a little tiny virus, no bigger then 1/1000th of an eye lash that could bring the world to its knees? Our biggest weapons, all our money, and all our power have yet to stop this thing. At best right now all we hope to do is contain it. Oh but how powerful, whether we realize it or not, did we feel at that time. How little thought did we give of the millions of ways God’s good grace was maintaining our world and keeping us going. How much of our days did we think that we, in our own power and might, happened because of our ability to make it so?
And yet a tiny virus
has shown us that we aren’t as in control as we thought we were.
One tiny virus has shown up and once again reminded us how fragile,
how needy, and how vulnerable we are. And we would be worse off if
we simply hunkered down during this time, thought nothing of the
different ways, known and unknown, that we have forgotten God in the
midst of our everyday lives.
God brought his people to the Red Sea because he loved them. It was easy for God to get them out of Egypt, but it took a much longer time to get Egypt out of them. The same is true for us. We are living a similar exodus story. The Israelites were brought to the Red Sea so that they would feel their need of God. And God has brought us to this point because we need the same. And neediness’ companion on this wilderness journey is often repentance. God may not part every figurative “Red Sea” for us. What God did for the Israelites in the wilderness that day, is not prescriptive for what God will do for you in your family, with your health, or with your job in this season. Not because God doesn’t care about those things, but because God has already parted this sea. He did it when His Son came to this virus infected earth and died on the cross for our redemption. He did it when he raised His Son from the dead because death had no claim on his sinless and perfect life, and he does it today because he is still ruling and reigning in the midst of the pandemic. God has not been dethroned by COVID-19. And as you look to an unknown future, acknowledge the ways in which you are stilled pulled to want to go back to Egypt. Acknowledge where you heart is prone to despair. Stare at the Red Sea of your future and be reminded of Moses words to the people at that day, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord.”
Do you have any
Christmas traditions? Did your family have them when you were
growing up? What were they? Take a moment to think about them. Are
your memories of them fond? I bet you have more traditions then you
think. Sometimes that which is normal to us becomes invisible.
I will give you
one example from my own life. If you are a part of the Van Dyke
family, then Christmas day had a very important tradition. It
actually started the night before. My brothers and I would all sleep
in the same room. We weren’t allowed to exit that room until the
next day when we heard Christmas music – It always seemed to be
Bing Crosby. When the music started playing, we would run down the
hall towards the kitchen – it became a full contact sport as we got
older and older- and there in the kitchen we would find glasses of
orange juice. We would race to drink the glasses of orange juice and
sit down. The first one finished and seated was the victor and the
first to get to open a gift. No one quite knows how this tradition
got started. It proceeded my brothers and me. And yet we all
continue it with our own children to this day. You can say that in a
weird and funny way, it marks us as a family.
season is full of opportunities to make traditions, renew old ones,
or borrow from others.
can be really important markers in our life. They can mark us as a
family, a culture, or even as Christians. Within the church, these
traditions have a special name – liturgy. A liturgy refers
to the structure and ritual of a church service with a purpose to
point us and others to God. Liturgies are the structures we use to
formalize our worship. They are structures that are meant to teach
us something, express something to others, and lead us into deeper
worship. Some churches are more “liturgical” than others. Some
denominations and churches have highly structured ways of worship.
If you grew up in a highly structured church or “high” church, as
it is sometimes called, then you will know what I am talking about.
You may even balk at my mentioning them because all that form and
structure stifled your worship.
But here is the
problem. As James K.A. Smith talks frequently about, the problem is
not in the form, structure, or liturgies themselves. The problem is
how we use them.
Think about the
Christmas traditions that we just talked about. I don’t think many
of us would say that those rituals or traditions have stifled
Christmas. Just the opposite. Those traditions marked us. They
give us an identity as a family, part of an ongoing story. They form
and inform our worship. As Paul David Tripp says, “worship is an
identity before it is an activity.” We are made to worship, and we
will worship something, and we will create structures for our
worship, whether we know it or not.
Which brings me
to my ultimate point: Advent. We are in the middle of this Advent
season. You may or may not have noticed the candles upfront of the
church, the special prayer, and the lighting of those candles these
past two Sundays, but those are a part of the way we, as a church,
recognize that we are in the Advent season. Advent means coming. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas. It starts 4 weeks
before Christmas, so we already in the 2nd week of Advent.
Each week is
marked by a different word – Hope, Love, Joy, Peace – or Bible
reading. There have been more traditional ways of celebrating Advent
with specific Bible readings, an Advent wreath, etc. Advent is a
liturgy/tradition of the church and hopefully will be a liturgy in
your family and your life.
Advent is a
season of looking back- of remembering what God has done. Advent is
about placing ourselves, as a community and family, in that part of
history that looked towards the coming of Jesus, not back at it.
It’s about connecting to what is being sung when we hear Come
Thou Long Expected Jesus. Ponder these words from that great
thou long expected Jesus
to set Thy people free;
our fears and sins release us,
us find our rest in Thee.
Have you ever
been to a jewelry store? If you have you know that they always
display the diamonds on black velvet. They do that so that the
brilliance and beauty of that diamond can be seen in its entirety.
Advent is like that. It is about remembering the black velvet of
Ephesians 2:1-3 (you were dead in your sins and trespasses…) so the
diamond of Ephesians 2:4-10 (But God, being rich in mercy…) can
That is Advent.
A season of remembering the bad news so we can fully appreciate the
glad tidings of great joy. We need Christmas. We need to celebrate
better and with more joy than the world does. But we shouldn’t
rush to the 25th without taking some time to remember what
we are celebrating and why we are celebrating it. Advent is one of
those liturgies, traditions, rituals, whatever word you like, that
helps us see the weight.
times I will read an article or a blog that makes me realize I don’t have to
write on that subject because someone has already done a better job than I
could have done. The below articles are
from Chap Bettis, a pastor, speaker, and author on
biblical parenting, and Tim Challies, pastor and Christian blogger.
both write about a phenomenon they notice in today’s churches. The phenomenon
of parents that are resistant or
reluctant to receive and be given parenting advice in the church. I am thankful
and honored every time a parent asks me for wisdom, for many reasons, but many
times because I know that it is a rare gift to speak into someone’s life. It is a rare gift that shouldn’t be that rare
in the church. Bettis and Challies give explanations for why they think this is
and I think both are right.
highly recommend that we all read these articles. They aren’t just for parents. They are for those whose kids are now out of
the home. Our young parents need those
that have gone before them. If we want
our next generation to be equipped and supported so that they know and love
Jesus Christ, then we need to know how to disciple them in both a formative and
corrective way. Which means we need
parents that know how to form and correct their children as they disciple them,
which means our parents need someone to form and correct their parenting. We
aren’t meant to do this Christian life thing alone. This is actually one area that our some of
our parents can learn from our single parents.
Our single parents are usually much better at asking for wisdom and
advice from older people in the church.
will end by saying this. I don’t know how much Sarah and I have done right in our
life, but I do know that one of the things that we did right was to ask older people
to speak into our lives about our marriage and parenting. And when they did, we
promised to receive what they had to say knowing they were people that loved
us. We decided to be unoffendable in our
pursuit of discipleship. Sarah and I are eternally grateful for people that
came into our lives that were able to guide us in our parenting. People who I can still name and call on. I will continue to be grateful for those
people that the Lord puts in our life that will help us through the next
season. We need each other. We need the
covenant-community-of-the-unoffendable-because-they-are secure-in-Christ. Parenting is hard enough that we shouldn’t
try to do it without our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the Lord.
this article. And then read this article about that article. And then you will
better understand my article about an article about an article.