Category Archives: Holidays

Good Friday Meditation

21After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, 24so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out.
And it was night.

—John 13:21-30 ESV

A few years ago, our pastor in Texas preached a whole sermon around this last sentence, “And it was night.” I was amazed how much he pulled out of that, which I don’t recall exactly now, but was along the lines of these:

  • For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. (1 Thessalonians 5:7 ESV)
  • This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (I John 1:5 ESV)
  • But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. (Matt 24:43 ESV)

Anyway, Tim Keller recently (on Psalm 11, with many of the same ideas here) reminded me of the time of waiting between Jesus’ betrayal and resurrection, and I connected the two in a new way, and considered an application to our times.

The night surrounding the betrayal of Jesus was dark —physically, morally, and spiritually. And now, as we await the celebration of the His resurrection on Sunday, we have an opportunity to consider what that must have been like for the disciples to endure. They believed in Jesus, but didn’t know at the time how it would turn out.

Just as we sit here, in the middle of this pandemic, with little idea how things will turn out. We try to do the right thing, but that isn’t always rewarded. We miss things we depend upon in our daily lives, and regulations seem to just keep changing, as different authorities try to figure out the best course through this time.

But despite the fact that the disciples didn’t know that Sunday was coming (though they were told), it was coming, and it came. God did not abandon them, and He won’t abandon us now. The end of this pandemic will come, though we don’t know how, or when, or at what cost. And we know that on the other side of it, God will still be good.

I find it amazing that the Spanish/Swine flu of 1918-1920 (described in great detail here) hasn’t been talked about much, for two reasons. First, I think it amazing that we have lost this very relevant history. There were some 500 million cases, and some 50 million deaths.  COVID-19, as of today, seems to have about 1.6 million cases, and less than 100 thousand (0.1 million) deaths. I don’t mean at all to belittle the suffering many people are going through; I know this is very hard on many people —we are not yet sick, but under isolation orders, and we know many are worse off. But I wonder if we would panic as much, if we thought through the fact that only 100 years ago, there was a much more deadly influenza, and we got through that one.

The second reason I find current ignorance of the Spanish/Swine flu of 1918-1920 interesting is because of what that ignorance says about it. Yes, people died. And yes, it was horrible. And yes, today people are dying, and it is horrible. But one century later, no one remembers that horror. Will our current horror, as much as we feel it today, be remembered in 2120? Again, I don’t mean to belittle the pain and grief that any of us are going through, but I find these things give me perspective.

Anyway as we move from Good Friday to Easter together, let’s take some time to grieve our losses (for they are many), feel the pain, and process it in perspective. We can’t see the other side of this thing yet, but we know it is there. And we may not feel God’s goodness now, but we know that He is good,  and that we will feel that goodness again, some day. Let us pray to trust Him in the mean time, with full assurance that Sunday is on it’s way.

Just a blast from my past, with particular relevance to today

Ships, Patience, and Long Longing

Several of our dear Texas friends helped us catalog our shipment to move here to Cameroon, carefully tucking and packing things knowing the great journey they would travel. That was in late May and early June. Several asked, “When will this arrive in Africa?” I would reply, “Hopefully by Christmas.” Their shock was evident. We don’t have a culture that breeds patience. It is foreign.

When we arrived in Yaoundé July 8, our boxes had already been trucked across Texas up to North Carolina, where the JAARS office was packing them into wooden crates to be loaded into a sea freight container. When we sat in Orientation classes July 24, we were excited to hear the shipment had left NC and was due into port on this side of the Atlantic as early as September 12! That sounded too good to be true, so I mentally added a month. If it could arrive before our birthdays at the end of October, THAT would be a great birthday! They added a comment that it’s important to get shipping containers through customs well before the holiday rush.

In September, we began to really start longing in earnest for our belongings. Joel needs his own scientific calculator for math class. It’s coming on the shipment. Anna needs a longer skirt for Chapel day. We have one on the shipment. We need a board game other than a deck of cards to play when the power goes out! I need my cooking pots & pans, the sewing machine, the piano, the mixer, etc… Multiple times per day I think of something I have – but don’t have here – and don’t want to buy again for 1 month’s use (IF I could find it in a store!) I always thought of myself as a friend to the simple life, fond of minimalism, but feeding and caring for 3 teenagers for months on end is not so simple out of a few suitcases.

In October, we learned that the shipment had been delayed 3-4 weeks, but was almost to Cameroon. And in November, we learned of it’s safe arrival in port! But it can take 2 weeks to process customs paperwork. Then last week we learned that initial paperwork was rejected. No idea when it will actually make it here…

Why is it so hard not to have a sewing machine? A Halloween costume? Wrapping paper? These are American things that our African brothers and sisters live without. I find myself longing. I have been longing now for a very long time. Even when it may be broken or ruined when it all arrives! I have been pitiful enough to read those packing lists for fun…

The longing in my heart grows so strong for these physical things. And I know the Scriptures say, “Do not store up for yourselves earthly treasure, where moths and rust destroy or thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Have I put hope & joy and comfort on earthly things that perish, spoil and fade?

This morning in my study of the apostle Peter I read the phrase: “…when God waited patiently for Noah to build the ark.” I ever thought about God waiting patiently. How long was that? No one knows exactly, but Biblical scholars all estimate somewhere between 40-100 years. Years! God’s patience is beyond my imagination. I’m having a hard time waiting for even 6 months…

As I marveled at his patience, and my lack of it, He spoke,

“Do you long for Me, like you long for this shipment?”

Wow!

Do I long for Jesus’ arrival like I long for my ship’s arrival?

Do I long for heaven as my true Home like I long for these cement walls to feel like home?

Transition is hard.

It is rootless wandering.

Challenging me to build on the Rock of Ages.

The joy of every longing heart. ?

– – – – – – – – – –

What are you longing for? Is it eternal? Or can it perish, spoil or fade?

Let us set our “minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Colossians 3:2

Boxing Day Rhymes with Trebuchet

This Boxing Day, we got started on Joel’s Christmas gift, “Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction”. Needless to say, the paperclip trebuchet was not sufficient, leading to an upgraded version built from stuff in it garage.

Here’s Anna Explaining the mechanism:

Some trials worked better than others:

And we even got in a bit of medieval warfare:

Of course it didn’t always work as well as we’d hoped:

Joel got to give it a try, as well:

But of course we took appropriate security measures:

Epiphany 2017

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous. (Ps 146:8 ESV)

I took two days off altogether from writing, for Sunday worship and rest, then Christmas day, and yesterday I got back to putting edits into my manuscript. While doing this somewhat mundane work, God opened my eyes to see something in my analysis that I’ve been looking for for over a year.

Last week, when meeting with a mentor in Canada, he encouraged me to rethink something I’d decided to leave out of my dissertation, since I simply couldn’t get it to work. And also, I had plenty of other things to write about, including a fairly important theoretical issue in the development of new tones.

But yesterday I took another crack at it, made an assumption that I hadn’t liked (and still don’t really like, honestly), and the rest of the pieces just started falling into place.

So in the middle of the afternoon on Boxing Day, God opened my eyes. I thank God that he still does that. And thank you for your prayers for us, and especially for my ability to do my work. We really can’t do this without your support, and we’re grateful that you’ve joined us in this work.

Merry Christmas!

White Christmas morning

The snow stuck around for a bit, and more came down this morning. I know it’s may seem like a small thing, but I remember wishing for a white Christmas all my childhood, and not having it more than once or twice. So this morning I’m thanking God for this icing on the cake of the celebration of Jesus coming to be with us:

And I’m particularly grateful to be able to share this with our kids, who are outside building snowmen:

And the whole thing tastes great!

Merry Christmas, again. May the Grace and beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you in this day of celebration!

Home Stretch

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written much about my progress through my degree program, but I hope it has been for good reason. I guess we all hope that we do what we do for good reason, but in any case, I hope a short update will begin the road to making amends.

I met with my advisor this week, and it sounds like I’m on track for graduating this year, as early as May 2018. That will involve finishing a complete draft of my dissertation by the end of 2017 (i.e., about two more weeks), in addition to a number of other deadlines to revise it according to comments from each of the three members of my committee, before defending it and turning in a final copy for posterity (Lord willing, in early May).

So, as I feel the push to finish the home stretch well, I realize I need your help more than ever. Please join us in praying specifically for the following:

  • Diligence to write, edit, and correct my work (especially with the boring/tedious stuff, like checking the clarity of what “this” refers to.…), that it would be clear
  • Clarity in analysis, that I would be writing what is accurate and true about these languages, and what they say about language more generally
  • Time management, as I try to balance the above with communicating more broadly about our work (e.g., a long overdue newsletter!), spending time with our family (e.g., Christmas!) and ministry in our local church
  • Financial support to make all of the above possible, without additional stress

That’s about it. We covet your prayers as we seek to do right by the various responsibilities we have. Thanks so much for being behind us in this!

Now I need to get back to my second day of Edit/Find… on the word “these”; apparently there are 178 of them left to check. :-)

Christmas Depression

As we approached the Christmas season, I’ve asked various groups to pray for the depressed on a number of occasions. I’ve been aware of the general increase in depression around Christmas for some time. But I hadn’t thought seriously recently about my own struggles in feeling left behind in the joy others seem to feel, especially at this time of year. Which is a serious shame for a Christian, as we are guardians of the greatest hope of Joy this life has to offer.

This week I had a short but substantive list of things to get done before being able to take time off for Christmas, and enjoy the holiday with my family. This morning, Christmas eve, only one item on that list is done, and that not entirely. My kids are enjoying playing a game in the other room, and I’m still working on a project that really should have been done yesterday.  And I’ve abandoned another project that should have been done earlier.

So where do we go from here?  I’m told that maintaining routines is good for putting the breaks on the downward spiral of depression. One of my routines is to read through a Bible reading plan which has portions of psalms, proverbs, other old testament, and new testament each day to cover the Bible in a year. Yesterday’s reading (which I was catching up on today; did I say I was behind on things?) has Psalm 142, which seemed apropos for my mood today (the following is ESV):

1 With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
    with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him;
    I tell my trouble before him.

Another thing I’ve learned about depression, which I believe is absolutely critical for Christians, is that we must express our worst feelings. We often try to bottle them up and deny them, but they only fester and rot inside, until we ultimately burst. At which point things are uglier than if we had just been honest upfront. What’s worse, I think the desire to keep things bottled up comes from a desire to look like we have it all together. Which comes from a mistaken belief that it is even possible to have it together (c.f., Romans 1-3), which amounts to a basic denial of the Gospel. How can we fully rely on the Good News of God’s provision of Jesus for our sin, while at the same time believing (and or pretending) that we have it all together?

When we are tempted to fake holiness until we make it, while feeling like a tomb full of rotting bones, the gospel shows us another way. And this psalm gives us a way that may even work with our cultural sensibilities. If you can’t show up to church without makeup, fine. Don’t tell anyone else your problems, if you can’t bear it, but you must cry out to the Lord. He already knows your troubles anyway, so you’re really just being honest with yourself — which is a good start to emotional health. Ultimately you’ll want to be honest with others, too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Once we’re committed to crying out to the Lord, what can we say?

When my spirit faints within me,
    you know my way!
In the path where I walk
    they have hidden a trap for me.

Once we’re committed to seeing and admitting to what’s going on inside of us, and crying it out to God, it’s amazing what comes out. To have a fainting spirit that you can’t acknowledge is a great burden. As is feeling like there are traps everywhere you walk. If you feel on the verge of death (physically, emotionally, spiritually, or in any other way), this is a good thing to bring to the surface. One particular pain many feel is loneliness:

Look to the right and see:
    there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
    no one cares for my soul.

There is nothing quite like feeling there are two groups of people out there: those that are against you, and those that don’t see you. I mentioned already the downward spiral of depression; I think it is helpful to at least acknowledge at this point that if we are unwilling to share our pain, we should only expect that no one would know it, or us. Beginning to acknowledge and share our pain, loneliness, and depression is the beginning of the path out of loneliness. But in the mean time, even if not one really cares (which rationally thinking, is probably never true of anyone), you can still tell God you feel that way. Even if you can’t communicate your feelings with another human being, you can talk to God. In doing so, we do eventually find that there is Someone who cares for our soul, however much it doesn’t feel like that now. Ultimately we will be able to say with the psalmist:

I cry to you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”

I don’t think the psalmist necessarily believes this as he speaks; I find that I often have to speak truth before I feel it is even possibly true. Sure, He doesn’t feel like a refuge, though we know that He is. I have to decide to proclaim what I know to be true in some part of me, even if that part is so small and feeble at the time. We stand with the father’s prayer: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV) Even if our speech denies that we believe what we’re saying, crying out for help is a necessary part of getting where we want to be. We need a refuge, but feel that there is none. We see the Bible claiming God as our refuge (Psalms 18, 46, 71, 92; Proverbs 14:26, 18:10; Isaiah 25:4; Jeremiah 16:19, inter alia), but we don’t feel it. Cry it out anyway. This is our need, and this is God’s promise. We must cry out and ask for the safety we feel we need.

But sometimes we need more than just a safe place:

Attend to my cry,
    for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
    for they are too strong for me!

Sometimes we feel like we are being actively persecuted. Like it isn’t enough for people to just ignore us; we feel attacked. There is no safe place, because we are pursued by people who hate us, who are stronger than us. The rational part of me knows this is never true; not only has God provided us refuge, He is also stronger than any adversary (c.f., Rom 8:31-39). But while it doesn’t feel that way, we must cry out and say so, while we wait for the Truth to sink in.

Bring me out of prison,
    that I may give thanks to your name!

Sometimes we feel like the work of our adversaries has not only been against us, but has imprisoned us. We are not just attacked, but locked up, and someone else has the key. We need someone to let us out, even if the prison is more a function of our own issues than the actions of others. When Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1-2a in Luke 4:18-19, he explicitly referenced liberty and the Gospel (ESV):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This was Jesus’ mission, set down long before He was born. But in the mean time, we feel poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed. To me, the best news in this situation is that if we begin to acknowledge just how horrible we feel, then we are ripe to hear Jesus’ proclamation of Good News. He came to deal with these things. He came to meet our need. If we cry out to him, and tell him how horribly oppressed we feel, then we join the ranks of those He spent most of His time with during His earthly ministry, and we stand apart from those He criticized, who had religious systems in place to feel like they had it all together.

After all this crying out, the psalmist has a glimmer of hope:

The righteous will surround me,
    for you will deal bountifully with me.

Again I’m not sure how much he believed this, but it is a good thing to say, and to trust that we will ultimately feel. Do we feel lonely? Yes, but the righteous will surround me. Why, because I’m a cool person with lots of money and a winning personality? No. Because the Lord will deal bountifully with me. He is our hope and our shield. He is the liberator of the oppressed. He is the one we need. Crying out to Him, then, is really the only hope any one of us ever had.

 

Sick … Again

What a rush the last several weeks have been! I was sicker than I’ve been in a long time, and it took me another week or so to get back to 100%. I’m not sure everyone in the family was completely well when we had a record drop in temperature this weekend (we had 70+ to freezing in about four hours). I didn’t feel it at the time, but right now most of us are sniffly or congested, as we’re trying to prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior. So sad to not feel like singing!

Anyway, any spare time for prayer would be appreciated for our health, or for the DRC elections, or for those that are depressed, or that people would feel the Joy of the Lord, and be saved.