It’s Never Too Late to Come Back

waitingI have regrets.

It doesn’t matter how mine compare with yours. Scripture says they’re all the same in God’s eyes. So I cannot approach you with judgment in my heart.

Instead, I can relay this story.

‘I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.  So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:18-24)

Take in the gladness of this moment. The father doesn’t sit down forbiddingly, list his son’s errors one by one, or even let him finish his apology. He runs to him. You can see a weight lifted off his shoulders, months (years?) spent grieving over his son’s absence, perhaps waiting with dread for news of his death, evaporating in an instant. His relief and delight are unrestrained, bountiful, fierce.

And when the older brother would bring up the returner’s past (could we insert your own experience with bad churches here?), he is gently rebuked – and invited into the celebration.

But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (v. 29-31)

May God spare me from being the older brother. If I ever have, I repent of it. For Jesus also crafted whole stories to rebuke such a heart (read Matthew 18:23-35 for that), to shield the returning from the condemnation of those already at home.

Instead, may I be an older brother who invites you home. Who marshals the servants. Who helps find the robe, unshelf the ring, dust off the sandals, grill the steaks, and lead the household in a toast of gratitude.

This Father waits for you as well.

What if there is only relief and reconciliation waiting on the other side of admitting our past to God? What if God has decreed that no black record can restrain his love?

Test the story. Come home to God today and find rest for your soul.

Come At Me, Brethren

4933411158_d307f2590e_zIn a world that seems to be all about pulling out the red carpet for one’s ego, I say this: I need criticism.

I wouldn’t say I love it. But I’ll tell you this: the worst feeling in the world is not criticism. The worst feeling in the world is fearing that people have criticisms of you but won’t tell you.

Sure, I’m a sensitive soul. Perhaps folks want to protect my feelings.

But I’m not going to grow that way. The saying is “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. The saying is not “as silence sharpens iron”. Silence doesn’t sharpen anything, except perhaps the cut of my mistakes.

Then I stumbled upon this passage and went yes, yes…this is exactly what I’m talking about!

Do not let my heart turn to any evil thing
or perform wicked acts
with men who commit sin.
Do not let me feast on their delicacies.
Let the righteous one strike me—
it is an act of faithful love;
let him rebuke me—
it is oil for my head;
let me not refuse it.
Even now my prayer is against
the evil acts of the wicked. (Psalm 141:4-5)

Amazing. David would rather be rebuked by a brother than sin against God. How many of us have those two priorities reversed?

My mission teammates once sat me down and informed me that I was behind on my lesson-building preparations. A prominent woman and friend pulled me aside to tell me that a facial expression I’d used while speaking about her husband could be taken the wrong way. And just last year, a looongtime friend sat me down to explain to me how one careless comment of mine had thrown my loyalty into question.

None of these people were wrong.

And I need this stuff. It’s hard to hear, but it’s better than having no idea where I really am, how I’m really doing. It’s better than not growing.

And if I’m ever going to be raised into higher levels of life – ministry, marriage, parenthood – I’m going to need it even more. Every one of those arenas features heavier fire. Even blogging has required stronger discernment and the occasional gentle correction of others.

So I would say to those who call me a friend – if I need refinement, let me know. I welcome it. I need it. We cannot be sharpened if we have thin skin.

And let us all seek out friends, mentors, and spouses who can challenge us kindly and tactfully, but powerfully. It is one of the greatest gifts of Christian community.

*ducks and braces for the firestorm*

The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive. (Proverbs 27:6)

God’s Not Dead and Neither Am I

Hello, everyone.

Again you’ve caught me in an extended hiatus from blogging. Everything’s fine. Going quite well, in fact. I’ve just stepped back to consider what I want this blog to accomplish and how to go about it. But I will be resuming posts – this Thursday, I’ve decided. And I’m posting that as self-accountability – now that I’ve publicly set a date, I have to meet it.

If you’ve left a comment on my blog in the past couple months, thank you. I’m grateful. I’ll do my best to go through and catch up this week. I hope you swing by again, generous followers.

“I thank my God every time I remember you.” – Philippians 1:3

 

Christmas is Bigger Than Your Opinion Of It

Rewritten for the sake of…well, not letting it remain an awkward, stumbling piece of literature like it was the first time. Feeling a lot more excited about it now.

Brandon J. Adams

catIt was on a December 27th (long enough ago that I got the news over a corded phone) that my family was ending.

At least the blow waited until after the 25th, but is there really ever a “good time” for such things?

The result was a double whammy for Christmas. Not only was the month now historically connected with tragedy in my mind, but every family gathering since has screamed its ongoing incompleteness. The count in the room is always short.

Others have similar stories (and I’ve heard a lot worse). Christmas has a way of reminding you of what you’ve lost, or never had to begin with. A brief week of sanity before going back to the grind, fear, and disappointment.

So I’m the last person to tell anyone to “just get over it and celebrate”. The Bible defends our grace-given ability to approach God with our pain…

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Yes, We Can Still Carol Amidst the Darkness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I learned that I shouldn’t be singing carols as long as suffering persists in the world.

At least that’s the charge of John Pavlovitz, a Christian progressivist blogger whose post I stumbled across today, quite unintentionally, in the course of my internet wanderings (I will not link it). He says our holiday joy should take a sober and subdued form as long as poverty, disease, injustice, and war persist.

I’m still trying to decide how literal he’s being. At first, this seems like a rigid and unfair stance. Suffering will always be around. The poor will always be with us. If you’re holding out for utopia on earth, you’re in for a long wait.

Should we never again sing at Christmas, then?

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6 Pieces of Advice for the Christian Joining the Military

Brandon J. Adams

CENTCOM CoCSo, you’re signing on the dotted line.

First thing I’d say is, thank you. Good decision. You’ve either got a lot of guts, a lot of devotion, or a lot of trust in God to be joining the armed forces. Or some combination of all three.

I served a four-year tour in the Air Force. It was all stateside, the only really notable aspect being that it took place in the immediate post-9/11 world. Over a decade since my separation, I still vividly remember the lessons – how they equipped me for the future and simultaneously cast a pall over my track record. I have regrets from those days that the grace of God is still chipping off.

So I humbly ask for your ear now, because I want you to do better than I did. Here is the advice I’d give for surviving military life.

1. Learn to admit…

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In Which I Nerd Out Astronomically and Theologically

orionThe constellation Orion has returned to us.

Enough of a familiar sight to basically be the herald of winter to Northern Hemisphere dwellers, the Hunter, as Orion is often called, is known for its two brightest stars: Rigel at the lower right, Betelgeuse at the upper left. They’re the sixth and eighth brightest stars in the sky respectively, with absolute magnitudes of -7.84 and -5.85 (lower is brighter on that scale).

Next time you look at Orion, do so with this fact: the brighter star, Rigel, is over 200 light-years further from Earth and not even 10% the size.

Since learning those facts, I have never looked at Orion the same way. Rigel is an object of unbelievable luminosity.

Then consider that no created light can outstrip that of its creator.

And Orion is such a small sample of his work. Earth’s atmosphere, while a blessing, also does us a disservice towards understanding the breadth of his work, because it hides most of it. The stars of Orion appear to be relatively isolated objects floating in a sea of blackness, like chips of ice on a perfect sea. They are not isolated.

Shortly after moving to a rural town several years ago to teach math, I looked up one chilly but crystal clear December evening trying to pick out Orion and…could not locate it. That’s a different kind of chill. It took several seconds of confused scanning before I spotted it – it was right there, where it should be.

But it was now surrounded by so many stars that I had never seen before, only just now appearing in the absence of city glare, that the entire constellation of Orion had initially blended into the cosmos. No longer was the night sky a sparse collection of points; it more resembled a black canvas covered with fine dust, so numerous were the stars. Even the three collinear stars of Orion’s iconic belt had been able to hide at first amongst the galaxy’s sprawling glory.

Then consider that the stars visible from Earth are only an infinitesimal fraction of God’s work.

We are so alone among the stars…yet not alone at all.

This man is only one small step towards grasping the immensity of God.