When God Heals (or Doesn’t)

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Reminder: Update Your Subscriptions

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As previously mentioned, I have moved this blog to a new, more permanent home in order to add some much needed functionality. I value all of your feedback and would love to have you join me at my new home. So, if you are interested in keeping up with the things happening here, please take a moment to journey over to the new place and update your bookmarks or subscriptions. If you haven’t subscribed already, and would like to, you can do so through the sidebar on the new site.

Liquid Faith is Moving

I have spent quite a bit of time planning out things that I want to do better in 2014. Part of my goals includes changing the way that I use this blog. Over the next couple of days I will be moving Liquid Faith from WordPress.com, which has been my faithful host for 7 years, to a new WordPress.org site at http://www.isaachopper.com in order to add some much needed functionality to this space.

If you currently subscribe to this blog, I am working with the great happiness engineers at WP to move your subscriptions, so that you will continue receiving updates on new posts. If you do find that your service is interrupted, please join me on the new site, where you can manually subscribe as well.

Thanks for sticking with me.

5 Holy Patterns for Living in the New Year

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I’ve never been one who does well making and keeping resolutions in the new year. I’ve only really been successful at it once, so I only do it sporadically, and usually last-minute. This is probably due to the vagueness of past resolutions, more than my unwillingness/laziness, though both of those have come into play at times.

This year I decided to do something a bit different. I am not making any new year resolutions. Instead, I am setting some specific goals for the year, something Michael Hyatt and my friend Chad Brooks have both stressed recently as important for leaders, particularly leaders in the church. What’s the difference between setting goals and new year resolutions, you wonder?

Resolutions celebrate the destination, often ignoring the process. They tend to be vague, lacking the imperative of deadlines and measurable success. You resolve to lose 15lbs this year; how and when you get there doesn’t matter as long as you arrive.

Setting Goals celebrates the journey toward a specific end. When setting goals, one typically decides on an end result, yes, but also the measurable steps that will be necessary to attain the goal. This provides opportunities to not only celebrate the attainment of the desired end, but also to recognize what is happening along the way. With this frame of mind, you might still set a goal of losing 15lbs, but you will also set parameters for measuring success, such as a completion date, and the steps necessary to attain that goal.

It may be a matter of symantics, but I think you get the point. This year, I am setting some specific goals with measurable markers for success and with plans for how to achieve those specific goals. This year it will be about the process, rather than the end goal.

The grand narrative of the Bible tells the sweeping story of God’s love for humanity. The overarching thread in this story is God’s ultimate goal for his people: holiness, which is righteous love of God and others. This righteousness is something which we are told cannot be produced by us, only received as a free gift of grace. It is a righteousness grounded upon, and set in motion by, Christ’s meritorious crucifixion, death, and resurrection. It is a righteousness that cannot be known apart from a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of our heavenly Father.

Like goal setting, the holiness of God’s people is not just some vague future goal reserved for life after death. It is a goal to be realized in the present life as well, and God has given us parameters within which his people can grow in holiness, and markers by which we can witness the transformation of lives.

The key to success in achieving goals lies in developing new patterns of life. We cannot hope to achieve new goals while continuing to do the same things we have always done. Likewise, we cannot hope to have our character transformed (to gain holy tempers), if we continue to follow the same patterns that we have always followed.

The Bible is full of God’s decrees, which were made to establish new patterns for Israel. I urge you to take some time to read Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I know some of the language is difficult, but you can’t help but notice in reading them that God is setting up new patterns for the benefit of his people, not for the purposes of control and repression.

Even (maybe especially) now, the patterns of life that we see in scripture point those who follow them toward God and his purposes. They help to reorient us. Holiness is the free gift of God to those who believe and follow him along the road that leads to eternal life. But there is more to this than simply looking toward the destination. Becoming a holy people is about the journey as well.

Here are just a few of the patterns that the Bible demonstrates for us. I wonder if we haven’t missed something critical to discipleship when we fail to live into these patterns of life, and instead follow our own wisdom.

1. Sabbath

In a recent Productive Pastor podcast, Seedbed Sower-in-Chief J.D. Walt, Jr. mentioned that the Sabbath is the first thing in the Bible that God calls holy. It is a day of rest established to interrupt the ordinary pattern of existence and re-orient us toward God. In Jesus’ day the Sabbath had been twisted through the addition of laws which missed God’s intended purposes, and he reminded us that Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In our day we have done far worse than the first-century Israelites: we have jettisoned the Sabbath altogether. I know very few people within the church who take a true Sabbath (your’s truly included). It is not our right to take down that which God has instituted for his people. What would we look like as individuals and the church if we were to insist on taking Sabbath as God has commanded us?

2. Fasting

This is another area of struggle for me. As an American I live in a place of plenty. Even though my family is at the low-end of the fiscal scale, we do not often suffer or go without. Our society has become gluttonous with success. We have forgotten what it means to rely upon God to supply all of our needs and have built idols of gold for ourselves. Throughout the centuries the church has observed a regular practice of fasting, which continues the pattern set by Israel before. Fasting is observed for many reasons and in many ways, but always at the heart of a fast is the desire to develop complete dependence on God. We are called to fast in solidarity with the poor, to protest injustice, to cry out to God for mercy, and for a myriad of other good reasons. In all of these, we fast in obedience to God until the bridegroom (Jesus) returns.

3. Feasting

The pattern of fasting in scripture is balanced by a pattern of feasting, where the people of God give thanks to God alone for his provision and give praise to him for his loving-kindness. Feasting loses its true meaning without the fast. In our society, feasting has become the norm, to the extent that it is mere gluttony and self-indulgence. When we first live into a pattern of fasting first, we can then rightly feast on the knowledge of God and his good gifts.

4. Mourning

Just as there is a time to fast in solidarity, there is also a time to mourn. Some cultures have created an art form out of mourning, and even employ professional mourners for necessary occasions. This was the case with Israel in the first-century. I wonder if we don’t also have our professional mourners. They don’t follow a funeral procession, wailing and crying for the deceased. Instead, they constantly wail and cry about the church, declaring her damaged or dead, not recognizing that the lifebeat of the Holy Spirit still courses through her veins. They forget that the Bride is beautiful and instead declare her a corpse. But what if we returned to a Biblical pattern of mourning, where we cry out at injustice and persecution, and where we openly lament that so many are wandering lost, apart from the saving love of Jesus Christ?

5. Thanksgiving

As feasting provides the balance to fasting, so also thanksgiving brings balance to mourning. I am saddened when I reflect on the times when I have been thankless, even bitter, in the midst of God’s great blessings. When I read stories of the persecuted church around the world, I am often amazed by the declarations of hope and thanksgiving uttered by those who have lost everything, but gained Christ. What would it take for us to become a people of thanksgiving, who related to others first and foremost through a posture of complete gratitude to God for his love and mercy?

What other patterns of life do you see in scripture that help to orient you toward God? What challenges do you face in living into these patterns? And what do you think about the five patterns listed above? Leave your comments below and let’s reflect together on what it means to be called by Christ to be in the world, but not of the world.

5 Reasons I love My Kindle, But Will Never Stop Buying Books

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So I finally joined the new millennium this year. That’s right, I am now the proud/perplexed/amused owner of an Amazon Kindle. You might find this news a bit strange, since I work in the tech sector and am a research student (I read a LOT of books).

I have always been a late adopter of technology, really. I like to wait until all of the bugs are worked out before I adopt a new platform that significantly impacts my life.

With the Kindle, this normal delay was compounded by the fact that I really, truly love old fashioned, hard-copy books. I mean, I really LOVE them. I sometimes go into the old dusty sections of libraries and used book stores just so I can smell the books. Every book purchase makes me excited, and I will almost always buy a book that is on sale if I think I will eventually read it.

I might have a small book fetish, or sickness. Its too early to tell.

But this year, I decided it was time to take the plunge and blend the new and the old. I still love my hard-copy books and will continue to buy them, but I no longer have to space to put all of the books I read. While the library helps me with this problem some, there are plenty of other books on my reading list that aren’t keepers. I won’t read them more than once, and if I do I can always buy a bound copy later. For everything else, there is the Kindle.

Thanks to a lovely gift from my in-laws, I finally got a Kindle this year, and have already loaded it up with books from my reading list. Thought it could never fully replace the “real thing” for me, I find that I have already been sucked into its many awesome features. So, without further ado, here are a few reasons why I love my new Kindle, but will never EVER stop buying books.

Why I love my Kindle

  1. Kindle offers real immersion through an infinite scroll (sort of). I find that my disbelief is suspended much more readily with a Kindle, the seamlessness of the pages really helps to suck me in to a story, and i more easily get lost in the words and my imagination.
  2. Convenience. I’ll admit it. I love convenience, and there is little that I find more convenient as a bibliophile than the ability to carry vast quantities of books with almost no effort.
  3. Caters to my whims. I am a bit ADHD when it comes to books, especially fiction books. I like to read multiple books of varying genres at once, to ensure that I can always step into a story that matches my mood. My wife once questioned my ability to track with so many stories at once, but after explaining to her what was going on in each of the 5 books I was reading at that moment, she has never questioned my method again. The Kindle makes this easier by placing all of the books I am reading at the tips of my fingers.
  4. Instant gratification. This is terrible, probably, but sometimes I just don’t want to wait to get a book. Once I know I am ready to read something, I am ready to get started right then. With the Kindle, if I want a book I can have it instantly.
  5. The cool factor. I may be late to the party, but let’s face it, gadgets are fun whenever you get them.

Why I will always buy books

  1. Permanence. I love the fact that my hard-copy books have a sense of permanence. I can’t turn them off. They remain on my shelves. They have a tangible presence, even when I am not actively reading them. This gives me comfort.
  2. Tactile. There is something genuinely wonderful about holding a book. And let’s not forget the smell I mentioned before. Nothing quite rivals the smell of a good, old book.
  3. Markup. You can (and should) markup real books. Only then are they really yours (see Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book).
  4. Thumb-through. You can thumb through a book to find something you are looking for. I like having the ability to keep my fingers between pages for quick reference, and I enjoy the “big picture” view I can get by flipping back and forth between sections of a book.
  5. Covers. Book covers are like rings on a tree trunk. They tell a story and convey meaning. How many times has this book been read? How much has it been loved? Some of my books are so worn with use that they have been taped multiple times and still hang on by a thread. A simple glance at these book covers reminds me of the content they protect and brings back a flood of memories, some of the book itself, others of my life as I was reading it.

Which do you think is better? Analog or digital? Leave your reasons in the comments, then go enjoy a good book.

7 Reasons Santa is Welcome in Our Christian Home

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The conversations that come up around Christmas are always interesting to me. One that has recurred over and over the last few years revolves around the varying opinions of Christians about whether or not we should promote the idea of Santa Claus. I find this particular conversation interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that this didn’t seem to be an issue for people just a couple of decades ago.

As the somewhat resident theologian in most of the groups we hang out with, I sometimes get inquiring looks or questions when this topic comes up. This may be because I rarely offer an opinion on the subject publicly, or maybe because people expect me to have some awesome Jesus-y reason that the Bible either supports or rejects the concept of Santa (hint: it doesn’t).

My personal belief is that Christian parents should thoughtfully consider how they want to raise their children, then act in accordance with their convictions. If you choose to include Santa in your Christmas traditions, just do so with temperance and try not to turn him into the Wal-Mart of the North Pole. If you choose not to include Santa, that’s great too, but please don’t force your opinions on every family you meet and don’t ruin it for their kids. Whatever you choose, I urge you to follow your convictions with a humble spirit.

In other words, don’t be a jerk.

This year, since I reflected on the issue a bit more than usual I thought I’d give a few reasons why Santa is welcome in our Christian home.

  1. We don’t just talk about Jesus at Christmas, so by the time it arrives we don’t have to scramble to explain its “true” meaning to our kids. I am not concerned that Santa will draw our focus away from Jesus, nor am I afraid that my kids, upon finding out that Santa isn’t what he is cracked up to be, will flee from the church, turn against Christ, and curse my name for feeding them a pack of lies.
  2. We often talk with our kids about how much fun it is to give gifts and how important it is to care for others who are in need. Santa is a distant second after everyone else. He is more the icing on the cake of giving.
  3. We don’t address presents from Santa (though we are fine with the grandparents doing so). Because we travel every Christmas, we fill the kids stockings on the way out the door, so that they know Santa visits our house too. But all of the presents under the tree are from family and friends.
  4. Our children are just that – children. They will lose their sense of wonder soon enough, so we want to let them keep it as long as they can. I have no problem with our children playing with imaginary friends, pretending to be super heroes, or using their imaginations for any of a hundred other activities. Why should it bother me that they imagine a jolly fat man flying around the world to deliver presents to children?
  5. It is decidedly unkind to spoil the surprise for other families, and children who are in-the-know are ridiculous little evangelists. Its fine if your family doesn’t want to talk about Santa. Its your choice how you want to raise your children. However, not everyone shares your convictions about this decidedly un-Biblical topic, so for the sake of others, at least tell your kids to keep their knowledge to themselves. We allow talk of Santa around our kids in part to preserve the peace and joy for other families.
  6. We don’t buy into Christmas commercialism (pun intended), so our kids don’t view Santa as a magic genie who grants all their wishes. There are many things they simply won’t get for Christmas, even if they ask. So including Santa in our traditions doesn’t carry the burden of breaking the bank so that the kids don’t think Santa doesn’t love them.
  7. If we didn’t let our kids believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy would get pretty lonely around here. And boy does she visit often.

Whatever you decided this year and for your future, I hope you and your family had a very Merry Christmas!

John Wesley on Christian Debate

In his Letter to a Roman Catholic, John Wesley called for an end to vitriol and slander in debate between Protestants and Catholics. Though he was known to employ terse language himself in such dialog, his words stand as a thoughtful call to remember that Christians are brothers and sisters, children of God one and all, even (and especially) when we disagree.

Now can nothing be done, even allowing us on both sides to retain our own opinions, for the softening of our hearts towards each other, the giving a check to this flood of unkindness, and restoring at least some small degree of love among our neighbours and countrymen? Do you not wish for this? Are you not fully convinced, that malice, hatred, revenge, bitterness, whether in us or in you, in our hearts or yours, are an abomination to the Lord? Be our opinions right, or be they wrong, these tempers are undeniably wrong. They are the broad road that leads to destruction, to the nethermost hell.

Let us all be thoughtful in our speech and loving in our disagreements. Neither requires us to surrender our convictions. Both require us to surrender our pride.