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Sometimes, a person sits down and has no idea what they should feel. This is exactly where I am today. The last week has been a blur of emotions, activity, and adjustments. The long and short of it is, I experienced a TIA (A transient ischemic attack) last Wednesday at 5:30 in the morning. It is a small stroke that left my left leg and arm nearly useless. These are the words which no 20-year-old has ever thought they would have to learn. Most 40-year-olds live without thinking about these things. Frankly, this 61-year-old had assumed that I’d live my life as wisely as I always have. On Wednesday my ideas shifted. I have officially entered the land of the mortality club. No big, “AHA,” moment, simply a notice, my days have a cap. My activities on earth will someday come to a close.
This is hardly a morbid moment for me. I feel pretty good and Dawn and I are working through a few transitions. I also realize that my days matter, certainly, not more than ever, but I am more aware. Most of the physical issues caused, let’s say 99%, are completely restored. I am tired but I attribute this to my team of diligent nurses who made sure I was doing well each hour.
I suppose I currently have three takeaways from the events of this last week.
1. Prayers matter.
I literally felt a peace and security that would transcend the circumstances. Can I preach for two sentences?
There are times of difficulty in which we decide God’s job is to deliver us from the difficulty. I have come to understand God desires more to be with us in the inevitable struggle that is life. It makes sense right? This isn’t Heaven, and we aren’t ultimately trying to relocate to a better place on Earth. It is a relationship when we desperately need and seek it.
When God’s people pray, God extends His hands into our lives. I believe that the fact of His presence is more powerful than the work He does to “Fix,” it for us. I felt this in the last week.
2. We have an army of friends and family.
The body of Christ is an invasive force of God’s love. I have been overwhelmed by the people who chose to invest in us during this recent hiccup in our lives. The church can matter. When God’s people love others, others are strengthened, encouraged, and comforted.
Remember, if God desires to manifest Himself, He has almost always used a human.
3. God determines our paths.
My phone has been strangely quiet. Don’t misunderstand though. Dawn’s has blown up. What I mean is the world did not end while I was laid up. There was no panic in the office or ministry. Since I could not control my, well, anything, God and His other people did. This makes a simple truth evident. God allows me to partner with Him and incredible people for His Kingdom. He doesn’t need me to though. That is pretty freeing.
I’ll be doing smart things to be healthier for certain. I will try to rest in God’s plan each day, but I am not entitled to it. That is freeing as well.
Eph. 1:11 “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,”
A few months ago, we watched our Amish neighbor Victor and his son Raymond take our old bank barn down. Wind damage through the previous few months had sheared an upper-corner beam at its joint. This left our oldest barn swinging in the wind. The damage had been caused through decades of a decaying roof line and exposed joints. The solution was pretty quick, however.
This process of an old barn coming down can be sad for a community, but this time has not been. Taking the barn down has been a part of our plan from the beginning. The bank barn was taken apart systematically, piece by piece. The remaining foundational block was buried. The base of the old has created a base for the new Bunk Barn. The beams and siding were placed under the farm’s lean-to by the category of lumber. It will be stored there until the Bunk Barn construction begins.
Systematic deconstruction- asking troubling questions, wrestling through difficult issues, and acknowledging less-than-perfect understanding- allows us to build back again over the pieces and parts we know are solid. It has a purpose. We can use a cultural occurrence of deconstruction to “build back better!”
I have been listening to Christian leaders discuss the current generational crisis in the church today. I believe I have a different take on what is happening. It seems these seismic shifts in value and core beliefs happen with each generation, which would mean this is not a new scenario. It is simply a reoccurring adjustment which the church has always made. We can afford to stay the course with a few sensitive tweaks in our approach to the lost world. The fact that these shifts almost always target a certain age group from our faith communities (16–28-year-olds) is not so much an indictment of our “doing it wrong,” as much as it is a recognition of a strategic plan on the part of our adversary, the devil himself. It is also an understanding of a developmental reality. Young people test boundaries.
The Strauss–Howe generational theory states a culture “turns” each 20-25 years based on generational persons. The good news is that following the “turn” is a season of recovery. This is the good news into which I choose to lean. A stronger generational commitment is coming on the heels of the season of questions. Instead of worrying about the season of attacks on tradition, we can embrace it as an opportunity to build into better answers and disciples.
Here is my point. Faith is not the only thing under the scrutiny of a Gen-Next deconstruction. Politics, historical icons, economics, racial definitions, entertainment, culturally accepted norms, and much more is all under the firehose. I think we would all probably agree, many of these traditional institutions needed a major overhaul. At the very least, they would benefit from a facelift.
Rather than fear it, we should love the idea of getting out in front of faith-deconstruction is obvious for several reasons. First, the purpose is to build something stronger out of the strongest parts. It is a guided exercise as opposed to an angry, misguided, or reactionary response.
Second, it reinforces our understanding of the core truths while releasing our theology from traditional information which may not be essential.
Thirdly, our reliance on bedrock theologies and philosophies becomes sure footing. Francis Schaeffer called these “true truth.”
Let me be clear about what I am saying. God’s truth cannot fall because of a few questions. It is written on our hearts. It is confirmed in scripture, history, and personal experience. Faith is believing the few essentials while understanding if God is able to be understood by human logic, explained with a few really good answers, or become stronger based on something I add to the discussion, then he is not much of a God.
By the way, I have never had to deconstruct a fairy tale. They fall apart on their own. I also do not determine whether something is true by listening to everyone else. I will never discover the ageless and eternal truth of God by submitting it to my subjective emotions.
In this day of classic deconstruction, I need to throw away the things which cannot stand the questions. This is an open invitation to lean on God in His most sovereign position.
So, let’s talk about God. Let’s take away the conjecture and zero in on the firm foundation of Christ.
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3
Each year, as Christmas cards come to the Routledge home from across the U.S. and Canada, we read them and then attach them to two oak support pillars in our living room. As Christmas day gets closer, these posts fill with messages from friends and family. For me, this is a daily reminder of greater things than our temporary struggles. These beams remind me of love, and prayers, as well as changes in each sender’s life. As much as this simple tradition can, it is a signpost of God’s continued care for us.
Traditions are stabilizing factors, balancing our futures beside our pasts. We lean into them when life around us becomes chaotic.
On more than a few of these seasonal notes, there is the word, “Peace.”
Nearby, hanging on the same post is the card which quotes Isaiah 9:6. Christ is referred to as, “The Prince of Peace.” It is what He offers us but we do not have to reside in His peace.
Many of you may already know, Crossroads Farm is putting the finishing touches on our new prayer chapel. Recently, our ancient bank barn was pulled down in order to preserve the barn wood for our next national building project. Our branch in South Boardman, MI is about to embark on a campaign to finish their current facility. Our branch in Cadiz, OH is in process of pulling its leadership team together. Training for their first volunteer corps begins on January 9th. Regular life at the farm can be a bit… well, the opposite of peaceful.
In a week or so, I will be meeting with denomination heads. These conversations always seem to stir the pots. Meetings and funding and training and life, offer us, “busy.”
In only these last two weeks, a couple of our Hillsdale County schools were forced to shut down for a few days because of violent threats. In light of the rash of recent school shootings, the normalcy of school has been disrupted. At the time of writing, the rising number of Covid cases is anything but peaceful. Political turmoil, financial uncertainties and supply line backups are also reasons to roll around in our beds.
These challenges to our, to your peace, are not new or unique. Nor is the solution.
As I focus in on a scene involving a manger, a young couple, a few sheep herders and a baby, I realize my peace comes from a faith in the provision of my God. Nothing else transcends the anxiety. I find peace when I stay my mind on Christ. After all, if I am to believe the rest of the angelic prophesies, I need to trust this simple reality of God’s ample provision.
Sin has been swallowed up in a manger holding a promise. Death has died because of the baby who will die for all. Chaos comes to order when I heed the counsel of the counsellor.
If ever we have needed to hear this message, it is today. I am claiming God’s promise with you today.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
I heard a sermon this weekend on a whirlwind 72-hour round-trip drive from home to Mobile, AL and back. Steve DeNeff of College Wesleyan Church made a simple statement. It, along with a steady variety of highly emotional stimulants, seems to have struck a nerve which is still resonating. His comment was something like this, “We are at odds with God as long as what we desire is not what our Father desires for us.” He went on to say, “We remain at odds with God as long as we pursue our desires in ignorance of God’s best.”
I don’t know exactly where to place this thought.
Dawn and I were binge-listening to the Christianity Today Podcast, "The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill" on the visit to Alabama. It chronicles the meteoric rise to becoming the largest church in the United States and the church’s pastor’s subsequent fall from common grace. My opinion about what went wrong or who failed is much less important than the fact that it and they did.
As I listened to the trek from what clearly was a God-ordained movement to a leadership structure that is tagged as abusive, I saw a failure of nuance. Big things did not bring down a ministry. Rather, it was little foxes, a wide variety of unwise alliances, power plays and, most importantly, division, and mistrust.
I have said all-to-often in recent years, Satan’s job does not need to be destruction. He simply needs to create doubt and subtle misdirection and in turn, he will have what he wants- division. We’ll do the heavy lifting of destruction on our own.
There is a Christian phenomenon these days. While we critique the world for its cancel culture, we are busy making sure that flawed leaders and spiritual mentors are beaten in the town square and then run out of our Christian world on a proverbial rail. Nobody is better at cancelling opposite or contrary beliefs and believers than us.
This is because we are missing three pieces of truth.
On Sunday night, as I was experiencing worship at CRF South Central’s Shed, I couldn’t stop crying. I was pretty glad I was in the very back of the room or I would have lost “tough guy” points. I’ll admit I was overtired, emotionally conflicted, plagued by TMI and off my game, but when I came into the presence of God’s worship, I was broken by one question: “What do you really want, Doug?”
I answered pretty easily. “I want this, God. I want you to keep me close enough from nuancing you. I want you to bless me still. Keep me protected by your grace. Make me dilute of grace for others. Do not let me disqualify myself from being your mouthpiece.”
As I wrestled with God, I realized that Luke Marshall, our CRF Harrison Ministry Director, was speaking about Jacob and his iconic match against the heavenly visitor. Hanging on to God’s blessing is a matter of walking in lockstep with God’s will.
What I want, every time, is to be walking with Jesus. Everything else places me as king. I’ve read the Old Testament. There were 39 combined kings between Israel and Judah. There were only eight that walked with God. I don’t need that kind of conflict.
What do you really want?
For the last couple weeks Dawn, my wife, and I have been resting in the seclusion of Michigan’s upper peninsula. There is a lake there called Piatt. It sits three miles (as the crow flies) south of the shores of Lake Superior. It has no cell phone connectivity. It has no internet availability, and if we sneak in very quietly and very late under cover of darkness, even the mosquitoes take three days to find us.
We sleep until we are finished. We eat until we have to stop, and we make no plans. Some evenings, I throw a line or twelve out from my dock. Occasionally, a bluegill eats the worm, and we add fried fish tacos to the menu. We read and walk and pray and talk, but we do not work. We sequester, sabbath, and indulge in the quiet. It is our place of soul rest.
I know many people who regard our vacation plans as boredom. I believe I can honestly say that I cannot ever recall being bored. I don’t function like this. My mind drifts and rests and absorbs. We think of the days at Piatt as breathing in life.
Today was my second day back in the office, and I am committed to allow God to work into all the slow lulls. I am working to see the empty spaces as “God-ordained” along with the hectic, busy, and frenetic times.
One of the books Dawn and I read, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, introduced me to a thought, a nuance into which I think most believers fall. We tend to think that God’s main objective in our lives is somewhere over the top of the hill. We are getting where God eventually wants us to be, but right now I need to endeavor. I have many friends who regard the work that God wants to do in them as after the accomplishment. I need to finish the book, make the team, pass this test, or lose the next pound. It essentially moves God out of the equation for the moment I am in right now. God does not function like that.
So many of us have been waiting for the next thing to move us out of our current troubles. Maybe for you, it was a return to live, in-person services, an upgrade in your company’s internet capacity, a chance to see your grandchildren, or a return to the stadium in order to cheer on your team. For so many of us the principle of coming back is as much about what we have been waiting for God to do… hopefully, sometime soon. We may be missing something here. Don’t feel too bad. Elijah missed it, too. God has been here… with us… doing a new thing in us.
Here’s the twist. As I finished the last sentence, I went home to enjoy a quiet evening. The romantic commitment to peace and resting in Jesus was interrupted at 2:30 a.m. by a frantic daughter informing us of a bat in her bedroom. Solving the bat issue took a half an hour. I slumped back into bed only to be woken again at 4:30 by a storm that shook our home. Thursday early morning the power went out and stayed out for the next four days. Life was slammed with a new reality. Survival.
Our home gets its water from a well. No electricity, no water. Here’s the kicker. We have cows, cats, dogs, and chickens. Together they must drink somewhere around 35 gallons of water… each day. I spent hours trying to get our generator to fire and stay working. You see, our food supply for the entire year is stored in four large freezers. It is not about lights and air conditioning for those of us in the country. It is about eating. Finally, the generator sparked to life.
My daughter was scheduled to leave for Mobile, Alabama on Friday. Are you feeling the rising of the need to hurry? I was. But wait! It got better. We quickly booked a hotel room in Detroit by the airport. They had electricity despite the half a million customers who were without. As we happily travelled to our hotel room, complete with a shower, we felt the hurry subside. When we realized the hotel was booked for the next week, in the lobby, by the way, hurry was replaced with chaos! We desperately began to call friends we had in the Detroit area. Finally, after 20 minutes of panic we reached a friend who allowed us to stay in their home. We felt like Goldilocks since our friends were on vacation. We showered and crashed for the night. Rest returned.
Over the last 56 hours, rest has come and gone, largely on the heels of a sketchy generator. Finally, on Sunday morning, rest returned. It was the spirit of God helping me settle into a difficult but doable rhythm of survival. It was the voice of God, despite a throbbing arthritic neck, saying, “I am in this moment you know.”
I had forgotten. I have come to expect that God’s best moments are when the sun is shining.
My epiphany is simple.
God doesn’t have, “best moments.” He is always at his best. He is best. The moment I am in right now is the moment God waits to show me his best. Every moment is ordained. Every moment is His.
I realize that these last (few) days have not been THE Tribulation, but they certainly have been a tribulation of sorts. The truths regarding Christ’s appearing during tribulation have implications today. Read these words carefully.
Matthew 24: 26-30
“So if they tell you, ‘There He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days: ‘The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.’
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven,”
The next tough stretch, when you are tempted to believe that God is in the peace after the storm, remember Scripture promises Christ is putting His sign on the darkness. God is here, now, doing his best work because quiet or tribulation have no bearing on God being God.