Thursday, January 12, 2017

Words [2017:2/52]

I graduated from Bethel College in 1999 with a degree in Communication. Back then you could choose from three different tracks within the Communication major and I chose print media. My aim was to be a journalist.

When I was in high school I discovered a love of writing. I enjoyed both creative writing and journalism. I found more freedom in creative writing but I enjoyed being able to recount events concisely and accurately through journalism.

I held three different positions at two different newspapers for the first eight years that I was out of college. I did a lot of writing and designing during those years.

There were some unforeseen side effects to working in journalism. First, being required to write every day made it less appealing to spend time writing outside of working hours. Second, there is a constant challenge to keep your writing fresh. It's easy to get into a rhythm and pretty soon that rhythm can change into a rut where you use many of the same words, phrases, sentence and paragraph structures. Editors will let it slide for a while, but sooner or later they'll push you to change things up.

Avoiding the use of cliches is one of the biggest challenges I experienced as a journalist. Cliches exist for a reason - they provide accurate descriptions in an easily recognizable way. They also get overused and can even lose their original meaning eventually.

The need to keep things fresh and avoid cliches drove me to keep learning new words. I've developed a love of words over the years and I'm always ready to look up definitions when I hear words that I'm not familiar with. I normally don't use a great variety of words in conversations but I enjoy trying to effectively use new words in my writing.

Here are some of the words and phrases I've been learning or re-learning lately:

Definitions: 1. Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change; 2. Cautiously moderate or purposefully low; 3. Traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness

Sometimes the meaning of a word differs depending on the arena in which it's being used. I believe this is the case with the word conservative.

In last week's post I ended by saying I no longer fit into the political categories of Conservative, Evangelical or Republican. In many ways I still consider myself conservative and evangelical. However, as descriptors of political preferences they do not describe me.

Just as cliches can lose their original meaning with overuse, words can also take on different meanings over time. I believe the meaning of conservative when talking about someone's political bent is different than the definition above.

Rather than describing a person's political strategy or ideals, the word conservative is most often used to categorize people. The words evangelical, liberal, moderate and progressive are used the same way. Each word has a dictionary definition that is still valid, but it also has a commonly applied use, which may or may not agree fully with the definition.

Part of the reason I've tried to separate myself from the political distinction of conservative is because it is often associated with narrow-mindedness, racism, war, lack of concern for the vulnerable and religious extremism. Correct or not, when using the word conservative in a political conversation, those are the characteristics assumed.

"Conservatism always positions itself as a return to a better era. The data tends to indicate that better era never existed." - Mike McHargue, The Liturgists

Going back to the good old days isn't always the best thing for everyone. In the world of politics many people want our country to go back to the values and principles of our founding fathers. I can understand this sentiment but I disagree with it because their values and principles weren't all that great for everyone.

About two months ago I read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States for the first time. While much of those two documents is admirable and worth protecting, there are a few small phrases and caveats that shouldn't be ignored. In the original documents, the rights that were supposedly given to all men were really only given to white men. Africans, Native Americans and women were not given the full array of rights. 

I realize people who want to return to those days aren't trying to take away people's rights, but the founding fathers' view of and discrimination against minorities must not be ignored. It was part of their character.

The reason I've spent so much time writing about this one word is because I've always considered myself conservative. The current meaning of the word, however, is not something I am comfortable applying to myself. It's a part of my ongoing deconstruction and it's causing me to deeply examine both the word and my own heart.

Definitions: 1. Pertaining to or in keeping with the gospel and its teachings; 2. belonging to or designating the Christian churches that emphasize the teachings and authority of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself, and that stress as paramount the tenet that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ

Again, the political use and the common use of the word evangelical have taken on two different meanings. If you're talking about my religious beliefs then I am clearly an Evangelical. But if you're trying to fit me into a political category, I don't want anything to do with the term Evangelical.

Evangelical and conservative seem to go hand in hand in the world of politics. Therefore, Christians who claim to be Evangelical quickly get lumped in with all the stereotypes about conservatives. 

I don't think it's ever a good idea to try to categorize people. We were made by a very complex Creator who created us in His image, so that means we are complex as well. We shouldn't try to fit every person into a box, or even a set of boxes. It makes it too easy to minimize each person's uniqueness.

Definition: the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Personality tests are meant to explain people, but sometimes they are used to categorize people. For that reason, I'm not a big fan of personality tests. However, there is one personality test I've taken twice and my results have caused me to embrace and use my strengths much more effectively. The Clifton StrengthsFinder says my top two strengths are adaptability and empathy.

I was aware of my adaptability long before I took the test. Working in the newspaper business, with its constant tight deadlines, almost requires adaptability.

Empathy, however, was not something I was very familiar with. Honestly, I couldn't have told you the difference between empathy and sympathy until about five years ago.

I was very close to my mom growing up and I've always thought of her as a very kind and loving person. It turns out that she is also very empathetic. She identifies with the feelings of others and has compassion for them.

My mom's influence must have passed on this trait to me. I always knew I could identify with others, probably a little more easily than most people, but I didn't know there was a word for it. I also didn't know it would become a strength in my life.

As I've spent time living and working in different cultures, empathy has been a great asset. It has helped me identify with the struggles of those who are different from me. I have been especially grateful for this ability when I've spent time with people groups who have been historically oppressed or marginalized.

I'm not saying I know what it's like to be oppressed, or that I completely understand the experience of all people. I am saying that empathy has allowed me a deeper glimpse into the lives of people and that has caused me to deconstruct many of the things I took for granted growing up.

One of the knocks against conservatives and Evangelicals is that they lack compassion toward the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. I think this alleged lack of compassion comes from a lack of empathy. 

Many people outside the Church feel only judgment and condemnation from those inside the Church. The Church should be the most empathetic, the most compassionate and the most accepting group of people in the world. After all, those of us who claim to follow Jesus know that if it wasn't for His love, His grace, His atoning sacrifice for our sins, we would all be doomed. And yet, as we look out into the world outside of the Church, we are quick to cast judgment and retreat into the safety and comfort of being surrounded by people who think, act, dress, talk and worship like us.

The people of God's Church have been called to care for the orphans, the widows and the foreigners - the least of these even. So, where is our empathy? Where is our compassion?

Sadly, I believe the Church has become so consumed with being right, with being comfortable, with power and with racism that it can't see past its own doorstep and into a world full of people in need.

"Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it." - Gregory Boyle

There are so many more words I want to discuss, but this post has already gotten very long. Maybe I'll do more "Words" posts throughout the year. Some of the words I wanted to address are privilege, gentrification, justice, equality and unity. Those will have to wait for another day.

It's important to me that I use words accurately and in the correct context. My co-workers and I joke a lot with each other about words. We laugh and call out each other's mistakes, but it's because we really want to communicate clearly. We talk about a lot of very important topics and so we want to be careful in the way we speak about them. We also want to be honest about how words apply or don't apply to us.

My love of words has caused me to carefully examine their meanings - literal or practical - and that has led me to know myself and the people around me better.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Deconstruction [2017:1/52]

A few years ago I saw the inside of a carburetor for the first time. My friend Brad and I were trying to get his 1978 Honda motorcycle started, but it wasn't cooperating. He was sure the engine wasn't getting fuel and so he suggested we take apart and clean the carburetor. 

I had heard the word carburetor many times. I even knew how to spell the word (no small feat). But I had no idea what function a carburetor performs or how to take one apart and clean it.

Growing up I loved to build things. I still do. I mostly liked working with wood to create useful things. I only remember a few occasions when I actually took something apart, learned how it worked, and put it back together. My interest was mostly focused on construction.

That day in my garage a few years ago changed my perspective. I was nervous to start taking parts off the engine because I wasn't sure we'd ever get it back together. With Brad's confidence pushing us forward, we took the carburetor off the engine, cleaned it well, learned how it regulates the flow of fuel to the engine, and then put it back on the motorcycle. Our work, and the risk required to do something we've never done before, paid off. The motorcycle started and I took a victory ride down the street outside my house. Other problems soon surfaced, but armed with my new sense of confidence, I was able to tackle those problems and eventually got it running so well that I used it as my commuter vehicle.

The process of deconstruction can be of great importance. As I look back on the last few years of my life - right around the time Brad and I tore into that motorcycle engine - deconstruction has been a consistent theme. I still get nervous that I won't be able to put things back together in working order, but the risk is always worth it.

I'm not only talking about physical deconstruction of things, but also deconstruction of inanimate things like faith, culture and values. There have been several events that have caused me to deconstruct different areas of my life:
  • Reading books like Irresistible Revolution (Claiborne), Radical (Platt) and Pagan Christianity? (Viola & Barna)
  • Short-term mission trips
  • Living in the Dominican Republic
  • Working in South Bend
  • Reading books about America's history of racism
  • Never earning a large salary
  • Comments from other Christians about how they could never be a missionary
  • Interacting with Catholics whose faith is inspiring

I'm not going to expand on any of those events in this post because they'll come up throughout the year as I continue to write. However, the thing I've learned from those events is that when you experience a different way of living, or a different way of thinking, and discover that it works - that it produces the results you desire - it can cause you to question your own way of thinking and living.

To deconstruct something is not to destroy it. That's called demolition. Deconstruction is not a haphazard process of destruction. It's a careful taking apart and preserving of the pieces. You may or may not use all the old pieces when you begin to rebuild, but you must preserve them long enough to know whether they still work or not.

Most of my life was spent building - constructing - a worldview based on faith in God and strong moral values. I toed the line of American, conservative, Christian standards. My goals were to please God, be a good husband and father, live peacefully and eventually pass away having enjoyed life.

That existence, however, has been interrupted in unexpected ways. The more time I spend with people who have a different perspective - because of culture, economic status, race, religion, etc. - the more I see the important issues that I've never really addressed. 

I'm learning a lot about things like justice, compassion, mercy, unity, equality, racism, poverty, power and privilege. 

Many of those things should have been part of my worldview already, considering I grew up in church and faith was a big part of my life. Somehow, though, my understanding of some important topics was never fully developed. Many of those things never came up in church life, and that has caused me to deconstruct my worldview and my faith.

Remember - deconstruction is not the same as demolition. I am not discarding my faith or my worldview. I'm simply re-examining them, piece by piece, because there seems to be something in there that is not functioning as it should be.

I'm not sure yet if deconstruction is a process that you eventually reach the end of. Maybe it's a continual cycle of deconstruction and construction. Either way, I'm thankful that I'm in the process. I don't ever want to settle in so deeply and comfortably that I'm not willing to re-examine my life. I want to be a lifelong learner, and that will surely lead me through more seasons of deconstruction.

As I end this first post of 2017 I want to leave you with a couple quotes that have been critical to my process of deconstruction. They represent a different way of thinking than I was used to just a few years ago. After the quotes I'll make one final statement that is intended to cause tension and anticipation for next week's post.

"The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather standing in the right place - with the outcasts and those relegated to the margins." - Gregory Boyle
"A sad tendency of evangelical faith is to elevate the act of evangelism over the humanity of the people we want to reach." - Edward Gilbreath

This process of deconstruction has even caused me to reconsider how I describe myself to others. I don't have an accurate description yet, but in the wake of the most recent election I know that I no longer fit into the political categories of Conservative, Evangelical or Republican.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Catching Up

Since the last post was from 2014 and the photo in it was even
older, here is a recent photo of my family.
It has been more than two and a half years since I've written on this blog, so it seems appropriate to do a little catching up, just in case anyone has been wondering what I've been up to during that time.

My last post was in March of 2014 and I can easily say some big changes have happened since then. Here are a few highlights:

In August 2014 I left my job at Nappanee Missionary Church to become a missionary in the Dominican Republic. My family and I lived outside the city of Moca, serving alongside an amazing pastor named Quina Ovalles. Her love for people and her commitment to hard work have changed my life. Even at 72 years old, Quina is constantly learning new things, working hard for the sake of others and presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ - both through words and actions.

We lived in the Dominican Republic for a year and it was obviously a learning experience. We didn't master Spanish, but all four of us became quite conversationally proficient. The biggest lessons, however, were cultural. We learned about different traditions, customs, humor, politics, strategy and even racism. Some of these lessons were a joy to learn and some were very difficult and even hurtful. In the end, however, we came away with a new appreciation for cross-cultural living.

After returning from overseas, I joined the staff of Transformation Ministries in South Bend, Indiana. My good friend Kory and his wife Ali started this ministry in 2009. It was a grassroots operation, and still is in many ways. The focus is the youth of South Bend and we use a variety of programs to spark transformation in their lives. We do not claim to have all the answers and we do not rely on our own strength to carry this ministry. We enlist the help of roughly 125 volunteers and everything we do is an expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We work hard. We try to show genuine and unconditional love to everyone we encounter.

These experiences have taught me much and taught me that I still have much to learn.

Why Blog?
My purpose for rebooting this blog is to explore some of the lessons I've learned as well as to share many of the lessons I'm in the process of learning. I'm not doing this because I think I've attained some great wisdom that should be shared with the world. It's really more for me that I'm writing again. I have a goal to publish one post per week throughout 2017. It is an effort to establish a rhythm and a discipline of writing. I love to write, but I don't always make time for it.

I'm also writing on the blog because it gives others the chance to give me feedback on what I'm writing. So, please leave comments or email me your thoughts at I look forward to some good discussions.

If you've got ideas for topics I can address through my writing, please share those with me as well. I might even ask some of you to be guest writers. I know many people who are far wiser than me, and I'd love to read what they would write about certain subjects.

In the process of writing, it will never be my intention to offend anyone or to diminish the value of any other person. I may address some topics that are very sensitive and I may offend you at times. But please know that my intention is not to hurt anyone, but to share about the things I'm learning. As long as it's constructive and not hurtful, I'll be eager to hear any criticism or disagreement at any time.

I'm excited to get started. Look for my first post of 2017 coming toward the end of next week.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What Am I Living For?

credit: FURORE Photography

For some time now I've been on a thrilling, agonizing journey with my Heavenly Father.

It has been a journey of change, discomfort, peace, joy, angst, cynicism, freedom, worship, progress and confusion - sometimes all in the same day! Nevertheless, God has been faithfully loving me throughout the whole process.

Because of this journey there are some people - maybe you're reading this right now - who might think I've lost my mind. In some sense, I hope you're right! In fact, if I haven't convinced you yet, the rest of this post might just seal the deal.

At the beginning of 2013 I felt a strong push in my spirit to simply study Jesus and do everything in my power to become more like Him. It seems like a simple goal but it has turned out to be a life-changing process. I am not making any claims to have become like Jesus. I hope, in some small ways, my life is a better reflection of Him, but there are times when I feel like I might have farther to go than when I started!

The problem with trying to become like Jesus, I've found out, is that you don't get to pick and choose which parts of Him you want. If you study, and take seriously, the things He did and the things He said, you will surely want to imitate some and, just as surely, throw some out.

In Matthew 19 Jesus told a rich young man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

That's probably one we'd like to throw out, right? But later on in the same story he says something we all want to embrace: "... with God all things are possible."

Or how about in the famous Sermon on the Mount that starts in Matthew 5 when Jesus said, "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven."

We might not want to throw that one out, but when somebody hurts us we can easily justify hurting them back, thus ignoring Jesus' words.

Later on in the same sermon, in Matthew 6, Jesus said, "... do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

I like that one. I think I'll keep that one!

But what about when Jesus touches people with leprosy (Matt. 8:3) or declares Himself homeless (Matt. 8:20) or exorcises demons and kills a herd of pigs in the process (Matt. 8:28-24)?

What about when He says, "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:37-39)"?

How much of Jesus' life and words should we take literally? Where do we draw the line between really trying to be like Jesus and just knowing about Jesus?

These are the kinds of things my journey has forced me to wrestle with. Maybe you're starting to see why I called it an exciting, agonizing journey.

I'm certainly not done with the journey yet, but I was given a point of reference recently to help me see how Jesus has changed my life.

The picture at the top of this post shows me with the most important, precious people in my life. I cherish them more than I could ever describe. I was talking with one of these precious people recently and the topic of our upcoming move to the mission field came up, as it often does. In the midst of the conversation we talked about the level of risk involved with stepping into the unknown. Then some words came out of my mouth that I didn't expect, but believed with everything in me.

"If we die doing what Jesus has called us to do, it's OK."

Somewhere along this journey, my perspective had changed so much that I now believe Paul's words in Philippians 1:21, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." to be true for me.

Of course, the thought of dying does not appeal to me. The thought of being separated from my family makes me sad. The idea of the future never happening makes me feel like someone close to me died. I have a normal amount of desire to stay alive and grow old with my wife and see my kids grow up. It's not that I despise this life or any of the good things God has given me in my life. I cherish all of it!

It's just that when I look at the life of Jesus Christ I don't see a man trying to preserve His own life. I don't see Jesus seeking more comfort or more stuff. I don't see Him working hard so He can put money in His retirement account and still have enough to go out to eat once in a while. And I certainly don't see Jesus living by His own agenda or seeking His own desires.

I know it sounds crazy when I say it, but I'm saying the same thing Jesus said in Matthew 26:39, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup (death) be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

Unlike Jesus, my death on the mission field is far from certain. The chances of anything bad happening to any member of my family while we're on the mission field are very slim. However, I want to have the same resolve He had to fulfill His Father's will!

So, in accordance with Paul's words in Philippians 1:21 my life on earth is Christ and my death will be great gain! I'm ready, Lord, do what you want with me!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Little Context Please

Sometimes because I'm familiar with a particular verse or with a passage of Scripture I think I understand its meaning. However, lately I've noticed I've been missing something in the context.

For example, this morning I read Philippians chapter 4. I admittedly was only about 50% mentally engaged. But when I got to verse 13 I remembered how common a phrase that has become.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

It's a promise we hold onto with fierce diligence because it affirms who we are in Jesus Christ.

But then I noticed something in the context. In this passage Paul is thanking the Philippians for their gifts, which they had not been previously able to give. Paul uses this as a teaching moment, making it clear that financial stability should not effect our contentment.

Here's the passage that includes our beloved Philippians 4:13 ...

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

It's interesting how I never realized what the context of the famous verse was. But now that I see it, I am convicted to be much more careful with how I use the promise given in verse 13. Does the promise apply to many different situations? Sure it does. But it was precisely given for a certain circumstance and should most definitely be applied to that circumstance.

So the next time I'm discontent, worried about money, coveting something I don't have ... that's when I'll recall the promise that "I can do all things (even be content in any and every situation) through him who gives me strength!"

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Philippians 3:5-6
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

If I was going to start bragging about what makes me holy I'd probably go in a different direction than Paul does in the verses above. Circumcision is kind of a gruesome thing to think about, let alone brag about. My self righteous rant would sound a lot different. In fact, I've probably said something very similar to this:

"I grew up in a Christian home. I gave my life to Jesus at a young age, always went to church, went to a Christian college, spent part of my time there as a Ministry major, led youth groups and small groups, been to four different countries on mission trips and am currently preparing to enter the mission field."

Yep, my holy bragging definitely sounds different than Paul's. But, in the end, aren't we saying the same things? He was proving his credentials to the religious elite of his day. His peers valued the things he wrote about. My peers value different things, so I brag about different things.

However, here's where Paul goes in a completely different direction than me:

Philippians 3:7-11
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.[c]For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

I have never - not once - followed up my holy bragging like Paul just did. My strategy has always been to let my credentials sink in to the hearts and minds of those listening so they would consider me worthy of whatever ministry I was attempting. Even now, as I really am preparing to enter the mission field, I find myself using my background as a way to validate the call God has placed on my life.

In the New International Version the word RUBBISH is used instead of garbage in verse 8. Since I didn't complete my Ministry studies I sometimes brag about, I don't have the skills to do a thorough word study. But I once heard Francis Chan say the original word for rubbish actually equates pretty well in today's language to a pile of dog poop. So Paul is saying all those things that he and the world look at as holy qualifiers he now considers no more than a pile of poop so that he can be one with Jesus Christ.

So today I find myself wondering what it will take for me to stop looking at my own pile of dog poop as something that validates me. How can I leave all those things behind the way Paul did so I can pursue Jesus Christ, His power, His suffering, His death and His resurrection?

Friday, February 28, 2014

We Don't Get to Sort the Wheat from the Weeds

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” - Matthew 5:43-45a

Have you ever felt justified in your dislike of someone?
Have you ever felt justified in your mistreatment of someone?
It’s just you and God, so answer those questions honestly!

Most of us, when we are completely honest, have to admit we have found solid reasons for not liking or even mistreating someone. Maybe our feelings have even been directed at a whole group of people.

So, who is it for you?
Politicians? Televangelists? Teenagers? Slow drivers? Your in-laws? Your boss?

We can’t ignore the significance of how we think about other people. Over and over Scripture dismisses our seemingly justifiable reasons for disliking or mistreating others.

In Luke 9 Jesus’ disciples tried to stop a man from driving out demons because he was not one of the 12. However, Jesus responded, “Do not stop him. For whoever is not against you is for you.”

In the Church we find reasons to dislike people from different denominations, or those who have different theology. But are those people against us? If not, then Jesus says they are for us!

In fact, we may be out of line even trying to decide who is for us and who is against us. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds. A farmer’s field is inflicted with weeds sown among the wheat. The farmer’s servants offer to pull the weeds, but the farmer stops them because he fears some of the wheat will be destroyed in the process. He decides to sort the wheat from the weeds at harvest time.

We don’t get to sort the wheat from the weeds - or the sinners from the saints. God will do the sorting at the end of the story! Our job is to simply love the Lord and love people. We must make love the first thought in our minds when we look at the people in our lives!