How Beautiful That We Exist: Friday Morning Coffee #72

The smell of old books greeted me when I stepped through the door. It was my favorite type of used bookstore. The shelves were heavy laden with old books. Haphazard stacks of them crowded my feet. It was a treasure trove. A museum in which I could touch the artifacts.

After a few minutes of browsing, the bookshop owner poked his head around the nearest shelf. He was tall, with an absent-minded spray of gray hair. “I’m running to the post office. Probably be gone ten or fifteen minutes. You guys are in charge.” He gestured at Scott and me with a long finger. “If anyone comes in and wants to buy something, just have them leave the money on the counter.”

And with that, he was gone. We suppressed our laughter until he disappeared onto the street. I will never fail to delight in such small town interactions.

After he returned from his errand, we paid him four crumpled dollar bills for an Agatha Christie novel and continued on to our destination for the weekend: Acadia.

It’s been on our New England bucket list since we moved here five years ago, and finally, last weekend, we made it there. So much beauty.

The highlight of the weekend was our hike up Gorham Mountain. As we stood on the granite shelf at the summit, we seemed to be on top of the world. My ability to absorb the beauty was inadequate. The words “oh, it’s so beautiful,” uttered for perhaps the thousandth time that weekend, fell short.

“With shortness of breath, I'll explain the infinite
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist.”

The words from Ryan O’Neal’s (Sleeping at Last*) song “Saturn” sneak in at such moments. [If you haven’t listened to Sleeping At Last, you really must. It is a frequent writing companion.]

How beautiful it is that we exist. And that we were given a world of such beauty. That we were set loose to explore its mountains and seas and meet its quirky bookshop owners. That in all its vastness we are seen and loved by a Creator who calls us friends. So much beauty.

What Kind of Disciples Are We Making?

My elbows were propped on the dark wood of their table as I listened. They were friends we didn’t see often, and there was much to catch up on. I settled back in my chair, and the rungs nestled into my back. My full belly and the thick warmth of the summer evening were soothing after a busy week.

They were sharing about the challenge of finding a new church. The perplexity was familiar. The questions from those who didn’t understand why they were leaving. The sudden lack of community, lack of friends, the starting from scratch. The uncertainty of how to decide—the criteria of how to make a good decision.

I asked, “Why did you decide to leave your old church?”

This question serves up such a variety of responses.

They looked at each other, their chins tilting as if to say, “Do you want to take this one?” Finally one of them spoke up. “We saw the type of Christian that church was making, and it wasn’t the sort of disciple we wanted to become.”

* * *

When we become Christians, we respond to Jesus’ invitation to “come follow Me.” Follow me into your work and your play. Follow me into your relationships, your dreams, your financial decisions. Let me transform the way you see the world and other people, the way you see yourself.

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Obviously, there is a personal component to our discipleship. We spend time reading the Bible, in prayer, and engaged in other spiritual disciplines. We seek the guidance and molding of the Holy Spirit, to weed out our sin and to allow Christlikeness and obedience to flourish.

But discipleship is also inherently communal. Our Christian life is as a part of a Body, in which all the parts work together and encourage or discourage our health. This is obviously true in our friendships. I think we’ve all seen how the people close to us shape our thinking, words, and attitudes. We see this in our family life. Hopefully we get to experience this in a discipling relationship, in which a mentor invites us to follow them following Jesus and shapes our growth with their hard-bought wisdom.

The church community as a whole fosters our discipleship. We are taught about the highest good and the ideal picture of the Christian life. We learn about how we should engage the culture and the vast world outside of the church walls. We are taught about right belief and right practice—and perhaps taught which of those beliefs and practices are more important than the others. We are given a model for faithful living.

Ideally, this discipleship is occurring explicitly (more on that another time), but discipleship is happening in the church, whether we intentionally engage in it or not. These lessons are communicated implicitly in what we celebrate and teach, what we model and how we teach people to think. The question is not whether it’s happening, but rather what sort of disciples we are making.

Are we making disciples whose lives are marked by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5)? Do we see people who are compassionate and kind, humble, slow to anger, quick with self-sacrificing love? Are we teaching them to idolize marriage and children, to think their work is only meaningful if it’s explicitly “spiritual”? What are we teaching about pain or how to support others when it strikes? Are we cultivating a love for God’s Word, a desire to obey it, and equipping people with tools to study and apply it themselves? Are we making disciples who are grace-obsessed and grace-dependent, or ones who still think they have something to prove in order to earn God’s favor?

The litmus test could be long. Ultimately, though, we must ask: are we making disciples that look like and abide by our particular brand of Christianity? Or are we making disciples that love Jesus, submit to His Lordship, and look like Him?

Who Has Your Trousers?: Friday Morning Coffee #71

Last weekend, I was honored to be part of a panel on mental health and the church. A friend’s church is exploring ways they can support those affected by mental illness and encourage mental health as a community. It was a deep encouragement to see the room full, more chairs being pulled from the metal racks to accommodate those entering the church basement. We need more conversations like this.

One reoccurring theme throughout the evening was the importance of relationships. To say such things has become a cliche, I suppose, but that does not remove the truth. We need meaningful, invested, agape-love relationships. We need them to prevent crises. We need them to survive crises.

A friend on the panel said that we need people who will be honest enough to tell us we’ve forgotten our trousers - and who come prepared with an extra pair because they know we might need them. This applies to mental health, surely, but it applies to all of life’s twists, turns, and trials.

This talk about friendships brought to mind my current research-friend, William Cowper. Cowper struggled deeply with depression and suicidal thinking. He was also the 18th-century poet who brought us poems like “The Task” and hymns like “God Moves In a Mysterious Way.”

Once, during an episode of depression, he managed to get himself out of bed long enough to walk to his friend John Newton’s house (of “Amazing Grace” fame). He didn’t leave for sixteen months. What a house guest. Many would cripple under the sudden prolonged household addition or the effects of debilitating depression.

But John said this about his friend: “The Lord has given us such a love for him … that I am not weary, though to be sure his deliverance would be to me one of the greatest blessings I can conceive.”

Do you have people in your life who are willing to the bear the weight when life gets messy? Who have come prepared with “trousers”? Treasure them. And tell them how thankful you are they exist.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: A Resource

What makes life worth living?

It’s a question that seems easy to answer when life is going well. But it becomes painful when life seems to be a never ending string of pain, sickness, or sorrow. It becomes tragic when it’s a question tinged with despair.

Sadly, suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the 2nd leading cause of death for those aged 15-34. These are our friends and neighbors, family members and coworkers. We should not cease to see this as a tragedy.

But this is not a tragedy we must merely accept. Death by suicide is not inevitable and can be prevented.

This is why I want to share with you today the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can call the Lifeline for free, confidential support for yourself or to learn how to help a loved one in crisis.

I would encourage each of you to save the number in your phone (seriously - do it now). You never know when it may be a help to someone or help you receive support in a crisis situation. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also chat with a trained crisis team member online at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

During this National Suicide Prevention Week, I would also encourage you to take a few minutes to read the great resources on the Lifeline website to learn more about the warning signs of suicide and what you can do to help.

I deeply believe that life is worth living. I believe your life, my friend, is precious, valuable, and worthwhile. You are a gift to the world.

Let’s keep reminding each other of this truth.

We're Back!: Friday Morning Coffee #70

Hello friends! 

My, how the summer has flown by. We've filled ours with weekend trips and dinners with friends, beach bonfires and blueberry picking, ice cream and engrossing conversations. The latest excitement is a move to a new house!

Summers like this make me thankful for the friends we've been given. We've shared many a meal, a celebratory dinner, and full-bellied laughter with some precious people this summer. (Not to mention the great friends who helped us move! I never underestimate that kindness.)

One of the highlights was a weekend spent on the eastern shore of Maryland with some of my dearest - and oldest - friends. We've scattered all over the country since our time together in college, and we had a delightful few days together with our growing families.

Last weekend, we enjoyed a lovely visit from my side of the family. I consider it a gift to have a family that makes visits something to look forward to and goodbyes hard to say. Most of us rode the Cog Railway up Mt. Washington. The brave ones of the bunch - Scott, my dad, and my uncle - hiked to the top. They waved from their perch on the rocks as the train crested the summit. 

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The summer may have been quick, but it's been full in the best sense. And while the fall seems to be hurtling toward us, I'm thankful for the return to a steady routine and crisp autumn nights. I'm glad to be back with you.