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Archive for October, 2015

Nothing ever happens when it should. Things don’t go down for convenience. Life is a series of interruptions.

Deal with it, the Universe seems to snarl.

So does Paul lay on his protégé Timothy the warning that you’ve just got to be ready to respond. No whining. No evasion. When important things happen, you’re never off the clock.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1–2 ESV)

The professionalism of Christian service threatens the appropriate always-on nature of genuinely sacrificial service. We self-protect and, more often than not, end up over-protecting. We insist upon our selfish rigidity and dress it up in the language of ‘self-care’.

Without doubt, it’s a jungle out there and it will wear you down if you don’t find your way to appropriate boundaries.

But stuff happens when it’s going to happen. Only a healthy capacity for surfing the waves as they come at you and a deep conviction that Providence knows and sends the waves sets you up to endure the storm and shake off the squalls.

Have your game face ready in season and out of season, Paul tenderly but firmly tells his Timothy. We just deal with it.

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The businessman next to me in this crowded airport lounge takes a call from his wife who greets him audibly with ‘Hi, Sweetie!’ before he can take her off speaker.

Though one tries not to eavesdrop, it is impossible not to overhear the textured ordinariness of their conversation via the husband’s responses to his wife in this public-private telephone partnership.

In time, ‘I love you, too’ from this airline lounge ends the conversation. For the moment.

I have briefly been privy to the steady ordinariness of fidelity, of keeping the faith, of privileging what this anonymous couple has and holds together—into middle age, I would guess from the furtive glance over at the guy that I allow myself—over a million volatile alternatives.

It has been a precious three and a half minutes of unintended voyeurism.

We are awash in the twin behaviors of the herd and the addictive originalists. Most people almost never allow themselves an original through. Others find self-expression and the celebration of what is new to be their be-all and end-all.

One worries, occasionally, for the vigorous steadiness of the center.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:1–2 ESV)

The apostle Paul not only writes to his virtual son Timothy in the sustaining language of paternity (‘You, then, my child …’)

He also calls for the sustaining vigor of faithful tradents, men and women who will listen closely to a truth disclosed and then focus their energies upon its faithful and life-giving transmission.

Paul was, from almost any angle of view, a radical in his own milieu. Yet even he, who might be suspected of valuing innovation and courage over reliable continuity, recognizes the dangers to the community that lie in self-centered liberty of expression and communal Attention Deficit Disorder.

Followers of Jesus do well to imitate the apostle in this insistently realistic understanding of how easily truth is lost, pilgrimage becomes mere adventure, and hope betrays those who grasp it too casually.

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Ambition is not intrinsically unholy.

One may grant that human motivations are ever and always complex. Still, the apostle Paul recognizes that those who aspire to the task of shepherding and governing a community of Jesus-followers turns his ambition towards a worthy objective.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. (1 Timothy 3:1 ESV)

Immediately, he launches into a formidable list of qualifications that would intimidate any eyes-open aspirant.

The bar is set high, because the life and health of the community is in play.

Yet Paul will not discourage ambition that is holy or even—given the aforementioned complexity—mostly holy.
He simply insists that the aspirant prove his credentials.

We do well in our time to pursue this same delicate balance. We rightly require that the community of Jesus be tended and shaped by people in whom the presence of Christ’s Spirit is without much trouble detectable. We immerse such folks in a realistic view of what will be required of them if they are to begin, and what discouragement and tears will fall upon them before they have finished.

Then we unleash them to the task, wishing for them that their assigned path had been a more level one, and quietly breathing our prayer that theirs will be remembered as lives in which love and faithfulness met together, righteousness and peace enjoyed a decades-long kiss.

For when fields are white unto harvest, workers are much sought after. The best of them are precious and few.

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No, as a matter of fact I don’t like to travel.

These are the words I say inside my head at least, when a well-meaning person observes that ‘You must really like to travel …’ because my work requires so much of it. More than two million miles of air miles, in fact. I wear them more as a slight limp than as a badge of honor.

Truth be told, I could live a full and satisfied life if I never again climbed onto a plane, awoke to the enervating smell of cigarette smoke curling in from my neighbor’s room in a ‘smoke-free’ hotel, transited from one side of Germany’s Frankfurt International Airport at 7:00 a.m. with an overnight transatlantic flight behind me and a four-hour flight to Lebanon ahead, missed my connection by 45 seconds and so become consigned to a long check-in line in the airport hotel.

But is it worth it?

Absolutely it is. At least I think so in my most centered moments when I realize anew how short life is and what a privilege it is to invest mine in some of the finest people on this planet.

Like the folks at London’s Pars Theological Centre, for example, the hosts last week of a periodic Middle East project meeting I chair. The interwoven grace and competence of these Iranian brothers and sisters draws a guy in like honey draws bees.

At the drop of a hat over a delicious Persian lunch, they treat us to knowledgeable, in-depth consideration of the recent Iranian deal with the Western powers. They let drop tales of their lives as involuntary expats. They speak with stunning perceptiveness about the beguiling layers of spiritual life in today’s Middle East.

As members of the Iranian diaspora—a sizable community in cities like London and Los Angeles—a winsomeness for the old country lingers about them. Most cannot go home, so home—as insider-outsiders everywhere will understand—has become London. More or less, depending on how strongly the pull of Teheran and undying love for those left behind pulls the heart with its tidal strength.

Yet these are the kind of folk—you find them in Johannesburg and Mexico City and Kiev and Frankfurt—who live their lives leaning into the future rather than pining for the past.

A deeply biblical worldview nourishes this rooting in hope. Where others might write off this country or that as a lost cause, followers of Jesus like my London-based Iranian friends sense in their bones that good things are just getting underway. Though deadly serious about the perils of Christian calling in a place like the Islamic Republic of Iran, they are profoundly committed to what they understand to be God’s purpose for their people.

So they labor on, with all that winsome grace and competence that I find so very appealing.

Is it worth the miles to blow a bit of wind into the sails of such folk?

Ask me again when I hit three million miles of air time. But at two million, I can say as I limp: Absolutely.

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