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Archive for Spiritual Formation

Sep
08

What’s Up With Deconstruction?

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A friend sent me an article today from the Mere Orthodoxy website asking my thoughts about the current trend of theological deconstruction that is becoming prevalent in evangelical communities of faith. The author, Skyler Flowers, does an appreciable job of attempting to develop categories that sort the conversation, albeit akin to nailing jello to the wall.

Evangelical deconstructionism is a topic forceful enough today to have become a cottage industry, complete with books, podcasts, and small group gatherings to discuss theological dissonances. It’s not nearly as tidy as the six neatly defined categories outlined in Flowers’ article, but yes, it’s a thing. By definition, to “deconstruct” basically means to question or doubt what you have previously believed. It can be motivated by the awareness that one doesn’t really know why they believe what they believe due to strict indoctrination, or from a negative event associated with a church such as spiritual abuse or moral indiscretion from a church leader.

The motif seems to follow this model: prior order, disorder, then re-order. In other words, a person has their normative belief and practice disrupted by something or someone, then re-ordering takes place as persons attempt to put the pieces back together. But the pieces create a new picture. They re-create the old one into something new. 

Admittedly I know little with regards to the deconstruction movement, but there’s a reason for it. There is no template to follow. Deconstruction tends to be more individualistic by necessity, for each person has their own catalytic moment that produces disorder and their own rhythm and tempo for processing re-order.

When I think about it, King David may have been the first deconstructionist. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann used a similar patter to interpret the Psalms. His structure is orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. If you read the Psalms carefully, you’ll see David wrestle with people and situations that cause in to question what he had always believed that then turned into something stronger. Deconstruction, to that point, doesn’t have to end with atheism or apostasy as some would assume. It just transports you from where you were to where you are, and ultimately to where you’re going.

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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Aug
30

There is One Sin

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“There is one sin: to call a green leaf grey, Whereat the sun in heaven shuddereth.” — G.K. Chesterton

This quote was cited by Lynn Anderson in his book Talking Back to God, as he described walking through his cancer diagnosis and the accompanying ‘dark night of the soul.’ When I read it, it leaped off the page and I’ve spent the better part of my weekend turning it over and over in my mind.

Chesterton’s words fell on my heart and mind like this. A leaf, as I understand it, represents something in my life that comes from God. That can be a blessing or a gift that he has bestowed. But it can also be in the form of a challenge or difficulty. Either way, the leaf finds its origin in God, and by nature is green, which is the color of life and growth. Green speaks of the value of the leaf and the benefit that it offers.

But to call that green leaf gray, the color of death, is to diminish the value and benefit of the leaf. In life we all have to play the hands we are dealt. And each hand beckons, “What is the invitation within the hand I have been dealt?” For Anderson, even the hand of cancer contained “an invitation,” and he learned that indeed, the green leaf in not gray.

It is easy to devalue what God has given. We can even do it by taking credit for the blessings we have or by simply being ungrateful.

My prayer for today is that I take the good and perfect gifts from God and remember they are ever green.

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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Jul
18

Don’t Look Back

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Many years ago I engaged a church member in a conversation about an obscure verse found in Luke 17:32. The verse simply read, “Remember Lot’s wife.” These words were spoken by Jesus in the context of a teaching he was giving about his return. The original hearer would have heard the phrase and recalled the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Genesis 19) where the cities were destroyed following Lot and his family’s escape. According to the story, Lot and his family were to leave the city without looking back, lest they be turned into pillars of salt. Well, Lot’s wife didn’t listen to the warning and subsequently was turned into a pillar of salt. So in our conversation we talked about what it meant to stand at the crossroads of a difficult decision and following the Lord’s will to the best of our knowledge, without reservation or regret. In other words, those kinds of decisions have to be made whole heartedly with singular focus on what lies ahead. And as illustrated by Lot’s wife, that can be a hard thing to do.

Old guys like me have practices and rituals that, in my case anyway, serve well and merit repetition. One of those rituals has been to find a verse in the Bible that speaks to my current situation in life and then use it as a sort of guidepost for the year. In 2021, my verse has been Proverbs 15:24, which says, “The path of life leads upward for the wise, they leave the grave behind” (NLT). This verse has become a daily mantra and a source of reflection.

I love the book of Proverbs and read it daily, and I love the contrasting nature of this particular verse. Here, the writer contrasts movement and stagnation; life and death; up and down; wisdom and foolishness; and forward and backwards. And the principle that I’m learning this year, based on this verse, is that break throughs are always break withs. In order to move forward, some things by necessity have to be left behind. In many of those cases the things that need to be left behind are not life giving. They belong in the grave with resounding finality.

One thing we all share in common is the need to be wise and walk away from those graves toward things that are life giving. Maybe it’s an unhealthy work environment or a toxic relationship. Maybe it’s a proud attitude or habitual behavior. Maybe it is the inability to uncouple from past successes that serve as present day limitations, keeping you affixed to the “good old days” instead of living in the fulness of the present moment. In the words of one athlete last week, “When you focus on the past, that’s just ego.” These examples are just a small sampling.

I don’t think it’s healthy or even possible to simply “move on” from past difficulties. To me, that implies one is going to continue to carry the emotional baggage of the past. I do think it is possible to “move forward.” Moving forward suggests that the past has been dealt with and that the time has come to embark on a new journey, assuming one is willing to walk away and walk toward.

It’s been an interesting 12 months in the Deatrick house. But God, my family, and a team of friends have consistently and patiently walked with me. As a result, I’m not just standing, I’m moving forward with passion and energy toward things that are life giving. I am forever grateful for your listening ears and words of insight. I can fully embrace the future, because the past doesn’t need me anymore.

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Jul
17

Perspective Matters

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Once there was a man who walked alone down a dark street late at night. Out of nowhere appeared a man who was wearing a mask and carrying a knife. The masked man cut the man and took all of his money.

A passerby found the man lying on the sidewalk and called an ambulance. The ambulance quickly arrived and paramedics placed him on a stretcher and drove him to the hospital. When the man arrived at the hospital he was rushed into surgery, where out of nowhere appeared a man who was wearing a mask and carrying a knife. The masked man cut the man and took all of his money.

Motivation matters.

Context matters.

Perspective matters.

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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Jul
11

Getting Right Sized

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Last week I was standing on the sand of the Pacific Ocean. While children played in the sand and surfers tried to catch a wave I watched as the sun began to set in the western horizon. The noise of the ocean was deafening, repeating the same cadence over and over. As I stood on the beach of this vast body of water with my family I couldn’t help but feel small.

I can’t remember who said it, so forgive me for my lack of precise citation. But the words of someone more wise than I once said that the purpose of art and beauty is to make us feel small in all the appropriate ways. That quote came to mind in that moment. I wish it was original, but its not.

Along side that quote came another quote, the citation of which I do recall.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.

God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
    It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
The sun rises at one end of the heavens
    and follows its course to the other end.
    Nothing can hide from its heat.
(Psalm 19:1-6, NLT)

This Psalm is attributed to David, who would have been quite familiar with the grandeur of creation. In his observations of the beauty of the earth he saw the greatness of God and the smallness of self. Creation, beauty, and art all have the ability to keep us right sized. For some it’s a piece of music or poetry. Others see it in a painting or a photo. Like my experience, many find it beside the ocean, atop a mountain range, or within a well manicured vineyard, or the face of a child. This greatness keeps us right sized, but not in the sense that we are worthless and of no value. These images and experiences remind us that we are something in God’s eyes, but that we’re not the only thing God cherishes. Each of us is part of something bigger than ourselves. I, for one, need that reminder.

When all we look at is our neighborhoods and possessions we eventually look only at ourselves. That which is close and common become our points of comparison and the basis of how we determine whether we’re winning at life. If my income is a bit bigger, my car a bit newer, my house a bit larger, and my kids GPA a bit higher then I become self congratulatory in the “bigger barns” I have built. Our lives become wealthier, but our hearts become smaller, and we become smaller in all of the inappropriate ways.

The solution? Get right sized. Intentionally put yourself in places with perspectives that remind you of who you really are in the context of God’s universe. Let me quote King David once more.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
    Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants
    to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies
    and all who oppose you.

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You gave them charge of everything you made,
    putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds
    and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
    and everything that swims the ocean currents.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! (Psalm 8:1-8, NLT)

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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Jun
28

When Life Feels Random

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There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:   
 

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
   a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV)

While poetic, reading these verses without their context can leave the reader somewhat frustrated. They seem to reduce one’s existence to random, chaotic and arbitrary experiences. Life is unjust, unfair and unjust. I think the writer’s point is clear: this is the stuff that happens in life, and if you live long enough, you’ll experience every event in these couplets. But the good news is that we don’t have to stop with verse 8. The following verses offer some insights as to how to navigate the undulations.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12, NIV)

Here are six observations from these verses.

  1. Embrace the Mystery. Life can be unsettling and leave us filled with questions. We want answers and believe we deserve them, but maybe the goal is not the answers. Maybe the goal is the next best question. Instead of demanding answers, form better questions.
  2. Enjoy the Beauty. It has been said that the purpose of art is to make us feel small in appropriate ways. I think that’s true of music and creation as well. The counsel to enjoy life’s beauty challenges us to life our eyes from life’s small irregularities and focus on things that are glorious.
  3. Engage the Eternal. We have been created as spiritual beings, able to live beyond our own horizon. The ability to possess eternal insight helps us see what ultimately matters now. Eternal perspective yields clarity on the present moments we experience.
  4. Find Joy in Sorrow. The spiritual fruit of joy is available to us, even in the midst of toil and trouble. That’s why we are able to laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously.
  5. Do Good for Others. The text calls us to serve, regardless of present circumstance. Lest we forget, the greatest way to serve God is to serve our fellow humankind.
  6. Finally, Be Content. Satisfaction is something everyone should aspire to have. More often than not, contentment is achieved in the small and simple more than the grand accomplishment. Think about Jesus. His ministry was surrounded by loaves, fishes, children, donkeys, mangers and mites. He wasn’t a reductionist. He just saw value in the people and things we often overlook.

The counsel of Ecclesiastes is helpful to me, and I hope you’ll consider these suggestions from chapter three. I hope you will find them beneficial as well.

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Jun
28

Let Go And Let God

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“Let go and let God” is bad theology, right beside other ‘fridge magnets like “God helps those who help themselves” and “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle on your own.”

When people say “let go and let God,” I think they mean that they are facing a situation that is beyond their control and therefore they are going to totally turn the situation over to God. But most often I hear the phrase spoken with the tone of resignation or giving up. My challenge with the phrase, since you asked, has to do with neglecting one’s own responsibility for whatever they are facing. While we should always acknowledge the sovereignty of God and our need for him in every waking moment, that acknowledgement does not mean that we extract ourselves from participating in the solution that God desires. For example, I believe God heals.

Two years ago I had a bicycle accident that resulted in two complete tears in the rotator cuff in my shoulder. I believe God heals, but I didn’t let go and let God. I went to the Emergency Room, scheduled an MRI, had surgery, and did 30 days of immobilization followed by another 30 days of physical therapy. Did God heal my shoulder? Yes. Even my surgeon acknowledged as much. But I needed to participate in God’s plan and provision.

God knows the truth of every situation we face and has sent his Holy Spirit to “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13). Truth is our friend. Sometimes truth reveals to us the deep hurt buried within. Sometimes truth shows us what changes we need to make. It may expose our weaknesses and limitations, or a character flaw we have. Truth may help us to see the cracks in a relationship that we can not objectively see ourselves. The Spirit may clearly point out our part of a conflict, even though we are naturally prone to accept the role of victim. This is merely a sampling to point out that when we are faced with a difficulty we cannot simply lay it down and walk away with the expectation that God will clean up the mess. Yes, God will come alongside us in our struggles and he will walk with us through the valleys. With us. Not for us.

So instead of letting go and letting God, maybe it is better to say that we’ll trust God to work in us and through us as we depend on his wisdom, provision and strength in spite of our own human limitations.

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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Jun
13

Casting Shadows

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This week I spent some time preparing a meditation on the Old Testament story of Ruth. Nestled in the first half of the OT, Ruth is generally interpreted as a sweet love story. The reader is introduced to the main character who is grief stricken over the passing of her husband. She and her sister in law are there with their mother in law, Naomi, wondering about their future. Famine has plagued the land, and the three women are jointly experiencing multiple layers of loss.

Because of the severity of the famine, Naomi decided she would return to her homeland, Israel. She then looked at her two young daughters in law and implored them to go find new husbands and remarry so they can move forward with the remainder of their lives. One accepts the challenge, but Ruth is deeply committed to Naomi and will have no part of it. It is in this critical moment that Ruth speaks these famous words: “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death separate us!” (Ruth 1:16-17, NLT)

As the story progresses we find Ruth is a remarkable person, although she didn’t do anything remarkable. She didn’t earn a graduate degree. She didn’t get a job in the corporate world, nor did she write a book or have a website. She never started a business or sold real estate. But time and time again the narrative affirmed her as a woman of character, integrity and depth. She would eventually marry a man named Boaz, and have a family.

The story could end there and the reader would be satisfied with the happily ever after that Ruth experienced. But the story concludes in an unexpected way. Here are the last three sentences of her story. “Boaz was the father of Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David” (Ruth 4:21-22, NLT).

To simplify, Ruth and her husband had a son, who had a son, who had seven sons, the youngest of which is David, arguably the most famous character in the Old Testament. Ruth is David’s great grandmother, and is specifically mentioned in Matthew’s ancestry record of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

Ruth reminds me that we are human beings, not human doings. Ruth is not mentioned alongside the giant slaying heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. But her righteous character and integrity cast a long shadow that would extend all the way to Christ. As time passes, the shadows of our lives lengthen. Yet often we are led to believe that the only measurements that count are the things that can be counted such as our accomplishments and acquisitions. But not everything that can be counted counts. The stuff that cast shadows that are impactful is the stuff of who we are.

Ruth can be read as a sweet love story and left at that. But there’s so much more to her when her biography is read to the end. Or in her case, read through the end.

Jun
06

Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks

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“Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world” (Matthew 12:18-21, NLT).

Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus spoke of the kind of servant leader he would be. He would be Spirit filled and directed, pursuing justice in the world. He would be characterized by deep humility as well. I love the imagery of how Jesus would relate to humanity.

The weakest reed, having reached its breaking point, would not be snapped off, and the flickering candle, barely holding on to life, would not be snuffed out. These word pictures describe those who are at the end of their rope, barely clinging to hope. I don’t know if you can relate to either of those images, but I can. The preacher in Ecclesiastes warned that those who move boulders are in danger of being crushed by them (10:10). And those of us who pursue life to its fullest are in danger of being damaged by the same.

We have two basic options. One, we can live in fear, hoping that no one or no thing will pass by and cause further damage to our bruised reed or smoldering wick. To live in fear is to live with harsh limitations, for fear establishes the limits of our lives. If I’m afraid of heights, I stay low. If I’m afraid of water, I stay dry. If I’m afraid of change, I stay the same.

Option two is to live in faith. C. S. Lewis describes faith as “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” Fear brings into question the security we once held because it has been disrupted by circumstances often beyond our control. Faith, on the other hand, reminds us that even though we are broken, God has not changed.

Even though the reed is bruised and bent, it is not broken. And even though the flickering candle is close to being extinguished, it still holds life. Fear interprets those images as near the end. Faith sees them as opportunities to stand again and be reignited. Our comebacks can be greater than our setbacks. Therein lies our hope.

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May
30

Finding Shade

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We have a German Shepherd. Without a doubt, she is the smartest dog we’ve had, possessing an extensive vocabulary of English words (yes, that’s a thing). She’s active and athletic, and provides a lot of joy for our family. One of the things I’ve noticed about her is that she doesn’t care to be outside in the heat of day. Summers in Iowa are not renown for intense heat and humidity, but we have had several days of 100 degree heat indexes. On those days she immediately seeks shade when outdoors.

Shade is something that makes summer what it is. It is a place where we find rest from the heat of the noonday sun. There are times when we have to be in the sun, but its nice to have some shade available.

There isn’t really much about shade in the Bible, but recently I’ve been thinking of the story of the Exodus. When God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, he provided his presence and guidance through the form of a cloud. The fleeing children simply had to keep an eye on the cloud to know the path to the land of promise. Interestingly enough, the same thing that provide them with guidance also provided them comfort, for those who followed the cloud walked in its shade.

The same thing is true today. Following God provides some marvelous benefits, including his comfort. The more closely we walk with God, the more we sense his comfort. The Psalmist understood this principle far before I did. Psalm 121:5-8 says, “The Lord watches over you–the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.”

So next time you see a park bench under a shade tree, remember that the Lord is your spiritual shade, provide rest and refreshment from the noonday sun.

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