Coming Back Stronger

When all things Covid flipped our world upside down, I found myself asking one question over and over again, “What would it look like to come back from this time stronger than we went into it?” I know that in some ways that’s an outrageously optimistic or privileged question to ask in the face of a global pandemic, perhaps insultingly so. But that’s not how I mean it.

I mean it in a way that helps me find vision for myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I mean it in a way that helps me find vision for my marriage and our family. I mean it in a way that helps me think about more for our church than simply surviving. I mean it in a way that’s consistent with some familiar New Testament texts.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:5-6

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-16

But over the last few weeks, my question has evolved just a bit. Instead of simply asking the vision question of what would it look like, I’ve started asking the implementation question of what is it going to take. It’s one thing to have a picture of what you want, it’s a totally different thing to have a plan for how to get there. While I can’t offer us a one-size-fits-all plan, I can share a few simple ideas that have shaped my plan.

Formation Over Consumption

While there is nothing inherently wrong with it, binge watching multiple online church gatherings every Sunday is not the best way to accelerate your spiritual growth during this time. Binge watching church is one more example of our post-Enlightenment belief that all transformation comes via information or inspiration. Yes, renewing our minds is a big part of spiritual formation (see Romans 12). But so are the spiritual disciplines, and a vibrant relationship with the Spirit, and a more contemplative life, and reading good books.

We come back stronger by deeply engaging with God.

Relationships Over Isolation

I get it. Zoom calls are getting old. They’re not the real thing and they take more energy than a face to face conversation. But you know what’s worse? Isolation. The first thing in all of history that God ever said was not good was humankind being alone. Just about the worst thing you could do right now is retreat from community. I’ve seen that story play out hundreds of times in my ministry and it never ends well.

We come back stronger by staying connected.

Rhythms Over Frenzy

Everything in God’s creation functions with a sense of rhythm. Day and night, six days and then a sabbath, seasons, years, lifetimes. We thrive when we’re living with a sense of rhythm. But right now it’s easy to slide into frenzy, chaos, and disarray. Fight it. Set your alarm, make a schedule, stick to it, go to bed on time, and then get up and do it all again tomorrow.

We come back stronger by adapting our rhythms and then living into them.

Presence Over Anticipation

It’s so easy to obsess about the future right now. When are we going to reopen? What’s it going to look like? Will there be a second wave of Covid in the fall/winter? Please, God, tell me the kids are going to go to school this fall! Obviously, we all need to be thinking about those questions to a certain extent. But not to the point where we lose our ability to be present to today and live this moment well. Jesus said it this way, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

We come back stronger by living one day at a time.

Trust Over Control

So much of my obsessing about the future is driven by a need to find something I can control. Maybe if I scour the internet long enough, I can find the information I need to make definitive plans for how we’re going to come back as a church. Sure would be nice. But it’s just not there, at least not yet. But what we do have as followers of Jesus is actually better – the presence of a God who promises to lead us by the hand into the future He is writing for us (see Psalm 139). Our job is to focus on Him and pray for the faith to believe He’s leading us every step of the way.

We come back stronger by resting in God’s sovereignty.

Generosity Over Hoarding

In the face of uncertainty, our natural tendency is to hold a little tighter to the things we do have, whether that’s cleaning supplies, flour, toilet paper, or money in the bank. But Jesus shows us a better way, a way that only makes sense if we’ve learned to trust Him. We are called to live with a generosity that reminds ourselves that God really is big enough to take care of us if we do our part to help take care of others. If you need help, ask for it. But, if you’re able to help, don’t let this moment pass you by. Chose generosity.

We come back stronger by knowing we did what we could to help others.

So, what does it look like to come back stronger for you? My prayer is that God would not only give you vision for this season but also show you what it’s going to take to fulfill it.

Photo by Hamish Duncan on Unsplash

Overcoming Trauma Fatigue

Trauma Fatigue.jpg

I went to bed feeling pretty good about life on Sunday evening.  It had been a good morning at church, a productive afternoon at the office and a relaxing evening at home with Laura and the kids.  Mondays are my day off and I was looking forward to taking the kids to the zoo the next day.  Little did I know that we were about to set yet another record for the worst mass shooting in US history.  But on Monday, I turned my phone on only to learn that 59 people had been killed and more than 527 had been injured at a Las Vegas music festival.

And I felt numb.  Maybe even indifferent.

Sad, appalled, and horrified, yes.  But also somehow unable to summon those emotions with the intensity this kind of carnage deserves.  It felt like I was suffering from some kind of trauma fatigue.  There’s just been too many bad things happening too quickly to keep up with it at all.  Charlottesville, Houston, The Florida Keys, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas.  North Korean nukes, fake Russian Facebook ads and ongoing debate over kneeling during the national anthem.    It’s just too much to process.

And then Romans 12 helped me understand exactly was was happening in my soul – I was being overcome by evil.  The full verse reads, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rm. 12:2)  I was allowing my spirit to succumb to wave after wave of evil.  I was allowing those waves to lap away at my joy, my hope, my compassion and even my calling as a Christian.  Yes, Jesus is “our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1)  But He is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the One who fights for His people and the One who calls us to overcome evil with good.  He calls us to push back against the tide of hate, division, and fear that is ravaging our country.  He calls us to fight with the weapons of truth, of love, and of grace.

I don’t want to be overcome.  I want to be an overcomer.  Specifically, I’m praying my life and our church would be characterized by the following:

Resist The Temptation Of Self-Righteousness

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of telling the story of the world in terms of good people and bad people, the right and the wrong.  It’s how the world operates; we just can’t agree on who belongs in which category most of the time.  It’s also part of why we rally together during times of national crisis – at least we can all agree that mass murderers are bad.  And they are.  Unthinkably so.  But so are you.  And so am I.

The thing that makes you want to fight back against that conclusion is called self-righteousness.  It’s why we all define good people and bad people in terms that put us squarely in the middle of good.  Bad is always someone else.

But all of us are deeply broken, tragically flawed  and capable of more evil than we are comfortable admitting.  A century ago, a British newspaper asked the question, “What is wrong with the world?”  The writer G.K. Chesterson wrote a famous reply to the editors:

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G.K. Chesterson

If only we could learn to replace our finger pointing with humble self-awareness.  If such spiritual poverty seems off putting to you, remember Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)  Those words were spoken by the One who would go to a cross so that we would inherit a Kingdom.  It’s His love poured out for us that makes it safe to admit that we don’t have it all together.  It’s His goodness that enables us to confront our brokenness.

There are no good people.  And there are no bad people.  Only people simultaneously made in the image of God and in need of the grace of God.

Cling To The Hope Of Eternity

There is a day coming when God Himself will make all things new.  He will dwell among us and “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)  In that day, all the promises of the Kingdom of God will be fulfilled and, as Tim Keller says, every sad thing will become untrue.

That doesn’t mean the pain of this world doesn’t matter.  But it does mean we don’t lose hope in the midst of our pain.  The Apostle Paul explained it this way:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The brokenness of this world only intensifies our hunger and thirst for the one to come.

Talk About Jesus

Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  I’m 39 years old and I can’t remember a time when the world needed the church more than it does right now.  But not a cowering, fearful, disengaged church.  Not a church that runs from the world.  Not a church that’s afraid people will laugh at us because of our faith.  Not a church afraid of upsetting people with the truth of the gospel.  Not a church marked by indifference.  And, most of all, not a church that perpetuates the self-righteous lie of good people versus bad people.

No, our world needs a church that is confident, hopeful and willing to engage the deep questions of our time with the eternal hope of Jesus.  The world is dying for the hope we’re afraid to share.  It’s time to get the lamp out from under the basket. (Matthew 5:15)   Time for the people of God to rise.  Time for the people of God to love, to serve and to believe that He who is in us really is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

The more I ponder the gospel, the more I find my trauma fatigue morphing into determination.  Determination to mourn with those who mourn.  Determination not to turn a blind eye.  Determination to fight back.  Determination to overcome evil.  Determination that only be sustained by the grace and power of God.