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Lessons from Pain

Recently, my foot is experiencing ebbs and flows of pain that keep moving around. At times, it’s been manageable. Other times, it’s debilitating. The past few days, several lessons/insights/reminders came to me.

  • The obvious: pain hurts. Because of that, it diverts some of my energies to compensate for that pain. While I’ve had moments of “push through the pain” (and have expected others to do so), pain is a trigger for us to pay attention to something and to address it appropriately. It also reminds me to be empathetic to those who experience chronic pain and the energy diversion they deal with regularly.
  • It slows me down. Literally, it takes me 3x as long to move anywhere (especially when the pain is heightened). It’s helped me to simplify my day and to ensure I’m expending my energies in the best way. In some ways, it’s kept me out of trouble.
  • It’s pushed me to ask for help as needed. Usually, I’m a “I’ll do it myself” person. This forces me to ask for help when appropriate, whether it’s my family, my colleagues at work and other places. I need to consider if that task can only be done by me or can I delegate it as needed (because there are others just as capable).
  • Before, I assumed the pain was the result of gout. Before, I had a way to treat it. Now, I don’t think gout is the issue, so I need to find the source before I can address it. I also can’t leave it as is, so I need to find the answers from those who are qualified to assess it.
  • I experience the love and compassion of God through others around me. I appreciate their prayers and their willingness to help as needed. I’m grateful for what God still provides and his presence.

What other lessons do you learn from pain?

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Transparency goes hand in hand with authenticity and integrity. Is who you project/present yourself to be the person you actually are? However, there are levels of transparency depending on your audience. Here’s my suggestion from “least” (i.e. I wouldn’t necessarily share that much about myself) to most.

  • online (e.g. social media): I rarely share information about myself that I wouldn’t otherwise publicly disseminate.
  • via email: While this tends to overlap with some of the other areas here, generally speaking, I will only share factual elements and I’m comfortable that will remain for eternity. While I do express some opinions, I wouldn’t share as much vs if I were talking to someone in person.
  • as a figure head: Whether I like it or not, in some spaces, I am seen as a public figure (e.g. when I host an event or when I’m preaching). It is good to display some level of transparency (after all, it’s not like I’m infallible). But, would I share the darkest, innermost struggles? It wouldn’t be advisable.
  • with youth: Given my ministry involves youth, transparency is a key element in building trust. I would be willing to share a certain level of struggles and my own failures. Again, there is a certain depth level because it’s not appropriate to share certain topics with them.
  • with friends: Depending on how deep the friendship is, I will determine how much I share. With an acquaintance, I’ll be honest with perhaps how I feel, but wouldn’t delve into details. With my small group, I will share about practically anything.
  • with my kids: Similar to sharing with youth, I need to be able to share some level of transparency with my kids. Partially because they see me a lot of the time and thus are able to tell if something is off or not. Kids can almost tell intuitively whether you’re “playing them” especially as they get older. I would share what would be appropriate to their age, but would be more willing to be honest and upfront about my state of mind or attitude at the moment.
  • with my spouse: She will know practically the most about me (besides God). With her, I would share pretty much anything. After all, that’s partly what intimacy is about: the “exposure” of who I really am, no matter how dark some parts of my life is. Grant it, this is sometimes the hardest because of the level of transparency makes one vulnerable. However, if I am truly to be one with my wife, I must be willing to allow that level of authenticity.

What else would you add?

Had a conversation recently with a friend who was sharing a resource that seemed to be resonating with some local churches. He sensed my hesitation about this. I realize I usually come with a sense of skepticism (maybe even cynicism) when someone shares the “next best thing”. As we discussed it, I began to better articulate what’s behind my skepticism.

In the last few years, there have been many “magic bullets” in Christian ministry. A “if you do this, things will be great”. It usually stems from an ethos/resource/system that God used greatly to grow his church in that original location. Then other churches try it and it seems to be a “miracle”. Soon, many churches are jumping at implementing it so they can experience the blessing (more accurately, the success). However, time and time again, eventually, we realize there is no magic bullet.

I think one of the key reasons why something may not sustainably succeed is because the “replicating” churches don’t go through the struggle before receiving the blessing. The originating church likely spent a lot of time wrestling in prayer and likely failures before discerning and following a specific leading from God. Those leadings hopefully are biblically-based and make sense with the context.

However, just because it works in one area doesn’t mean it automatically will work in another. Part of the reason is the next church hasn’t necessarily gone through the struggle to really discern God’s next step for them. It’s through the struggle that we grow. It’s the the struggle that God prunes and prepares us for the next phase. But then it’s through the struggle that we connect with God and are better able to listen and obey that next step.

More and more I’m realizing this isn’t just true with the church, but also for us individually. Many times, we need to not necessarily avoid the struggle but allow God to lead through it but depending on him.

A couple of notes of caution:

  1. Moving with that next step after the struggle doesn’t guarantee “success”. It may not unfold the way we anticipated. If anything, it pushes us to return to God’s feet to listen and continue.
  2. This doesn’t mean we create the struggle. Some may interpret this as “if I’m suffering, then I must be on the right track.” Not necessarily. We need to check whether the struggle is self-inflicted (whether that’s through self harm or in other cases but checking whether we were a jerk or not).

We tend to avoid struggle. (I know I don’t enjoy it.) But many times we need to steer into that struggle to really sense God’s next step so we might experience whatever the blessing he has in store for us.

Andy Crouch in his book “The Tech-wise Family” offers strategies on how to put technology in its proper place.

His premise is based on 10 commitments (you can find them on pg. 41). Each of these are meant to help refocus on the family on each other instead of their devices. He’s not advocating the abandonment of technology, but rather to understand both their benefits and their specific drawbacks. One specific premise he has is much of today’s technology is “easy everywhere” (p.51).

Most of Crouch’s commitments make sense. We’ve implemented #8 early on (for parents to have full access to kids’ devices and spouses to have access to each other’s personal logins). However, there are others I’m not sure about. e.g. #7 suggests to make car time conversation time. To be honest, I’m not sure if that time is necessarily best used for conversations. Personally, I find that 1. many times I’m concentrating on driving (as I’m getting older, I find I need to focus more) and can’t have in-depth conversations all the time, and 2. sometimes it’s just good to have that space to decompress.

What I appreciate is Crouch reveals a reality check for his own family’s assessment with these commitments. His honesty addresses both the benefits of the commitments being fulfilled and the shortcomings in attempting them.

Crouch provides some great practical strategies in helping to put technology in its place. To paraphrase Jesus’ thoughts on sabbath: people are lord over technology, not technology lord over people.

Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Books in exchange for an honest review.

Mandatory Pass

passage: Matthew 4:18-22, Acts 4:13-14, Psalm 78:4

-age(Mt17:24-27)
-rabbinic
prime talmud
-Jesus-Peter-John
Mt4:18-22;Mt14:28
Ac4:13-14,18-20;1-3John
Ps78:4
-invest ng
$1000
5:1
RF
-who 2?

(Markham Chinese Baptist, Greenhills Community-Toronto, May 5/19)

Promise Fulfilled En Route

passage: Genesis 32:1-33:20
title: Promise Fulfilled En Route

(Cornerstone Chinese Alliance Church, April 28/19)

fear
32:1-2
3-6(tact)
6-8
9-12
13-24
25-32(ye’abeq/ya’aqob/yabboq)(struggle God/Israel,humans/Jacob,overcome)
33:1-3
4-15
16-20
promise,embrace

I’ve learned a lot at CBOQ. Growing up in a Baptist church, I didn’t always understand what being Baptist really meant. I’ve deepened my understanding of what Baptistic distinctives exist both in theory and in practice.

One key area is understanding how respect is earned. From my role, at the end of the day, churches and youth workers don’t have to pay attention to me at all. The autonomy of the local church essentially means I have no power or authority that requires them to do or accept whatever I put before them.

Thus, to earn respect and credibility is through the quality of what’s provided or offered. It’s leading by influence (not by authority). I hope I’ve gained the respect of some of our constituents in my last 14+ years, partially because of the quality (and integrity) of what’s offered.

In many ways, that’s how I’ve approached most relationships. Whether as a speaker or in another role, I can’t assume respect will be given. In some cases, it is. However, I need to ensure I’m leading by influence in ensuring the quality and integrity of who I am and what I can do.

Otherwise, there’s really no reason for anyone to listen to me.

Chap Clark expanded on his previous book “Adoptive Youth Ministry” to encompass an adoptive church. His premise is simple: all members within the church are siblings to one another, and the intention is to invite others to be part of God’s family via adoption.

As Dr. Clark points out, the language of adoption is very biblical (the appendix to the book). Many times, we use the language of “brothers and sisters in Christ”. This helps to frame what our relationship is with one another and how we work within that.

Recently, I had a youth leader ask me, “What should be our role with the students in our youth group? parent? friend? teacher?” The idea of older sibling helps to establish the appropriate boundaries between youth leader and youth. As an older sibling, we get to hang out and share life. Part of that includes some level of authority with needed and teaching at times. It also establishes that the friendship between the older and younger sibling is different than the peers of the younger sibling.

Chap offers practical insights in establishing this paradigm. (As he has now moved into a senior pastor position, I would assume he’ll be implementing these in his own context.) A worthwhile read in looking for a biblical framework not just in youth ministry but in church life.

Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Academic in exchange for an honest review.

I was able to take the last few days off. It was a relatively good time off. Five things I learned.

  1. Things will not go according to plan. (I should know this one by now.) Day 1-4 included an inflammed foot which limited my mobility and a lot of what I wanted to do. Whether by choice or force, I had to rest.
  2. I actually rested when I needed to. Rather to push to my next task, I allowed myself to take a nap when needed. It was freeing and, at this point, I do feel rested. Because I felt rested, I wasn’t stress-eating and found myself making better choices.
  3. Creativity often comes from doing nothing. (Someone spoke on this as a TED talk, but I can’t remember who.) I had quite a few brainstorms just pop up sporadically. I jotted them down and let them sit on the backburner.
  4. I was able to put things aside and be fully present with family. Whether it was a YouTube video they wanted to show me, playing some frisbee or just sitting back for one of our 20-min talks, I took time to be present.
  5. One more I forgot to add: I was able to take extended time in reading/listening to God’s word. Specifically, I was able to go through the 4 gospels this week. Even late at night, instead of ending my day with YouTube videos, I could either read or listen to Scripture, and then end with silence. It was a great way to cut out some of the noise from the day.

Now, as I step back into my “normal” routine, let’s see which of these can I incorporate and remember for the long-term.

Reframing Christmas

Lately, I’ve been learning more about the cultural context surrounding Christmas and Jesus’ birth (see the links at the bottom of this post). There are definitely some cultural assumptions I’ve made (assumed) that really aren’t part of the story. For example, I spent 15 min the other day looking through Luke 2 to find the word “stable” and realized isn’t there at all. (BTW, I’m learning the nativity scene I’m used to seeing isn’t necessarily accurate.)

That being said, with that understanding of what surrounded Jesus’ birth, it doesn’t mean I need to disregard all of the Christmas pageantry. A few things I’m reframing as I approach Christmas:

  • I need to consider/understand what’s the context of what I’m reading in Scripture. What are the cultural biases I bring into my reading? Part of that is returning back to Scripture and reading it with a “fresh lens”.
  • As we understand more, it deepens God’s message. Ray Vanderlaan’s explanation paralleling the Jewish festivals and many of the central Christian events gives a deeper meaning to what God was portraying both through imagery (of the Israelites) and reality (in Jesus).
  • While not everything in the public may give an accurate representation of Jesus, it does give me the opportunity to share Jesus. I’ve already had some “did you know” moments with other people that reframes how they see God/Jesus in a way that they didn’t consider before. (Call it at Acts 17 moment.)

Christmas is indeed a special time of year. It’s a reminder that God indeed is “with us”, Immanuel. While I may not specifically refer to Christmas as the actual birthdate of Christ, Jesus is always worth worshipping and remembering. This season brings that worship more in the open.

https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/once-more-jesus-was-not-born-in-a-stable/
https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/original-setting-of-the-christmas-story
https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/get-ebook/thank-you/?freemium_id=732

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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