Thursday, March 28, 2013

On the Wearing or Display of Crosses

"To wear material crosses as an ornament, to place material crosses on churches and tombs, all this is cheap and easy work, and entails no trouble. But to have Christ's cross in our hearts, to carry Christ's cross in our daily walk, to know the fellowship of his sufferings, to be made conformable to his death, to have crucified affections, and live crucified lives—all this needs self-denial and Christians of this stamp are few and far between. Yet this, we may be sure, is the only cross-bearing and cross-carrying that does good in the world. The times require less of the cross outwardly and more of the cross within."

-Bishop J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, p. 214 (written over a hundred years ago)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Suffering and Darkness

I've heard it said that we must approach ministry to each other as "sinners, saints and sufferers." That is a pretty holistic view of our fellow brothers and sisters. We've been going through a rather protracted darkness (maybe a haze) more intensely for the last 15 months or so. There have been feelings of abandonment and darkness. In his book While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks, Tim Laniak's chapter on darkness is riveting.

Many of us have experienced the desperate isolation and cold darkness that Job describes in his memoir. These season of life with out the light of understanding or any sense of God's presence test our faith in an invisible Shepherd. My wife and I journeyed through such deadly shadows for several years when our children were young. Faced with disabilities and the resulting shift in our life's direction, we entered tsalmavet ['shadow of death' or 'deadly darkness']. the light we longed for did not dawn as we expected. Only slowly did we reemerge from this valley as sobered believers and humbled leaders. When a friend recently explained the devastating impact a family tragedy was wreaking on their spiritual life, I couldn't respond like Job's friends. I simply said, "Welcome to the darkness. There are more questions than answers in this place. But you'll find good company among those who understand how little we understand--but still hold on to God's hand. Saint John of the Cross describes a particular kind of spiritually arid experience as the 'dark night of the soul'. This journey through shadows purges the soul of its pride and earthly attachments. Our challenge in dry and dark times is to respond in simple faith--to believe that the unseen Divine Shepherd is with us in our unlit valley. we grope in hope until rays of light begin to push the night away. Eventually, as Job confessed, 'He reveals mysteries from the darkness, and brings the tsalmavet into the light.' These shadows come at unplanned awkward times in our ministries as leaders. Just when we need to show enthusiasm for a vision. Just when our families need us most. Just when we thought we could enjoy the status quo. When we least expect it, the lights go out. and our faith, the only fire in the soul's night, barely smolders. As we remember those segments of our journey that have been covered in deep shadows, can we now see some evidence of the Shepherd's presence? If not, will we continue to walk by faith and not by sight? How do we respond to others who feel destabilized in a dark spiritual wilderness? Do we try to fix their feelings with pat answers, or are we content to sit with them in tsalmavet? If the darkness has settled across our employees, have we looked for ways to replace them with happier or more productive individuals, or have we treasured them as uniquely vulnerable to the deep work of God? Having emerged from some dark valleys, do we now have a more balanced response to the 'mountain tops'? Are we ready for more valleys, should they come--even the 'valley of the shadow of death'? (172-73)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A 2012 Challenge

When people challenge you to something what do you think? Have you ever been challenged to a sword duo and lived to tell about it? Has a close friend or relative challenged you to lose weight or confront some other physical obstacle? Often challenges are wrought and fought in the realm of a community of sorts.

So, if you have stumbled here or through a social media link, would you consider joining me for a challenge this year? What is it?
Memorize a part of the New Testament.
Part= 80 (?) verses or more.

Backstory on the Challenge
Back in 2005 or 2006, I read Juan Piper's book When I Don't Desire God. It's a book, well, about John's favorite subject to write on. In it, he mentioned a resource that he has employed to store up God's Word in his heart. I took it as a challenge. I started memorizing a chapter here and there, but didn't get serious about it. Maybe not as serious as the author of the article. So in mid-2010, I committed to memorize a small book of the New Testament using the tool: An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture. Since then, I've stored up 3 mid-size NT books; no big deal; nothing to really be proud about. The effect has been both rewarding and constantly rebuking and the full effect, well, remains to be seen which is the beautiful thing about the Word of God (not returning empty). I don't promise that you'll be a better wife or husband, student or pastor. If anything you'll be a more awakened sinner. Perhaps, you'll gain discernment and wisdom along the way.
Without feeling the need to convince you of the importance of storing up God's Word in your heart and before you read the whole article, let me give you the skinny.
  1. Choose a book that is neither too long or too short that stirs your soul. For your first go at it, I would recommend a book that has between 80-120 verses; maybe even smaller for starters.
  2. Identify the same time of day that you'll do this (before kids get up, morning commute, before you jump into bed, etc.)
  3. Count the verses and add about 10 or 15% more days to give you some space for a break or the occasional miss. So, if you are shooting to memorize 60 verses starting on January 2nd, 2012, then mark that date and Saturday, 3/10/2012 allowing for that 15% fudge space.
  4. Learn one new verse a day.
  5. Prioritize the review of all old verses before learning new ones.
  6. When you finish around the 10th of March, then pause to celebrate and praise God. However, your work has only begun.
  7. Commit to a 100-day review of the chunk. Start the day after you finish your regular, daily memory to keep it fresh. Mark your calendar for the finish of the 100-day review (again, I would add a 10-15% fudge factor).
My challenge is for you to join me in memorizing something. I am considering Romans 1-8. You may want to start w/ something smaller. Would you start w/ me on January 2nd? would you even bring someone along in your church or geographic area to do this w/ you? If you're a church leader, how about taking another elder, emerging leader or a deacon and pass the challenge on to him/her?
Would you contact me via email if you are considering this? willpareja [at]
The nice thing about such a challenge is that you and I don't have to live close to each other and say verses to each other. We can pray for one another in the endeavor and check-in regularly that would be the accountability side of the challenge.
Let me relay an example of a way you could bring others along in this even in some modified form. Last year as I was contemplating what book I should take on next, I challenged one of the guys in my community group to memorize one chapter of 1 John with me (for I had decided that that was the next book to memorize). Without telling him my full ambition, he accepted my challenge for those 10 verses. We decided on a 3-4 week space to memorize and set a date to get together for coffee and say these verses to each other. By God's grace, my friend nailed it and so did I. Then, I just kept on going.

Wouldn't it be great if in 2012, we could see a wave or movement of God's people around this country committing to this (or some similar) method? Elections and Olympics, what would the effect be in 2012? over 5 or 10 years?
Pray about this. Think about it.
Email me by December 10th to let me know if you are in for January.

Monday, July 11, 2011

When I'm at My Worst...

As an adult, it becomes easier to become cynical maybe even hopeless. Surely, neither quality is desirable but just a by-product of living in a fallen world.
When I'm at (or near) my worst, I sometimes resonate with Sgt. William James (main character in) The Hurt Locker as he talks w/ his baby boy.
Start watching at about 0:40. "But you know what, buddy? When you get older, some of things that you loved might not seem so special....By the time you get to my age maybe it's one or two things."

Friday, January 7, 2011

Resolved Re: Scripture in 2011

This year, I have some ambitious aspirations regarding the Word of God.
By God's grace in the latter half of 2010, I memorized 2 Timothy and 1 John. I have been employing a tweaked version of this method. My greatest "fears" are pride, forgetfulness and spiritual obesity (if that is even possible or an appropriate analogy). I fear pride b/c of my own propensity to take something given to me and steal the divine "copyright" for my own glory and ambition. I fear forgetfulness because, well, look at God's people Israel in the Old Testament. I fear becoming spiritually obese, that is, I would not in turn apply it and live out its powerful truth. In other words, if I have faith and hope and knowledge and speaking (or memorizing) ability and determination and great self-discipline and not love my wife, kids, God's people and his image bearers, who cares what I memorize. I'm just an intellectually, overweight "spiritual" wanna-be.

In 2011, I hope by God's grace to:
1) Read the New Testament in Spanish.
2) Read the Old Testament in English (probably chronologically).
3) Read through a third of the Greek New Testament. I studied New Testament Greek for over 5 yrs and am not staying as current in the language as I would like. There are right around 7,957 verses in the New Testament. Over the next 1,095 days (3 years), D.V., that would translate into about 8 verses a day. Of course, I need to allow a fudge factor for missed days (about 15% of the total) and that'll put me over 3 years from now. While it could have benefit to my soul as I become more proficient, I should not be disappointed if I miss the mark after 3+ years. If anything, I will just keep pressing forward until it gets done.
4) Continue memorizing and reviewing portions of the New Testament.

Over the years, God has allowed me to get through the Bible a number of times, read it in about 6 English translations, use different "plans", and I have come to the conclusion that sustained exposure to the Word over years and years will not only sharpen my discernment but also will forge the story of Scripture more deeply into my heart and mind. While I do believe that piety and transformation are the effects of exposure to God's voice, I believe that the little-by-little, day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year, decade-upon-decade reading will bring about gradually the piety and transformation that (from our consumer mindset to sanctification) we long for NOW. We won't have to work ourselves into a "tizzy" about meditation on the Word of God, b/c we will find that the Scriptures starting seeping into many areas of our thinking and confronting us w/ the need to destroy rationales and every lofty opinion that raises itself against God's knowledge. The amazing thing about Spirit and Word working in concert is that they change my will. I have no boasting outside these gifts of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria. Really.

For some brief yet helpful thoughts on Bible reading and New Year's resolutions, see:
Matthew Hoskinson series on Bible Reading.
John Piper on the "flexibility" resolutions.
Matt Perman on looking back and looking forward.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Model Homeless Ministry

Running a non-profit must be a hard business. It must specialize in the art of "friend-raising" and a heart of compassion. I ran across this WORLD magazine article on a Manhattan rescue mission and Ed Morgan, its leader. As someone who witnesses homelessness and disenfranchised people on a daily and more stark basis (say, than suburbia or rural America) and who has tried to get closer to them, I am intrigued by organizations who wear the name Christian and are able to keep the Gospel front and center while not tail-spinning into just mere do-gooder"ness".

Ed Morgan runs his organization like a business so that donors will be attracted to it not just pity it. "Most charities measure process--how many meals are served and how many beds they have, but we measure permanent results. We are outcome-focused."
As an example of that he lists 5 things necessary for the homeless in his mission to graduate from the Bowery Mission recovery program:
  1. Connected to Christ.
  2. Connected to family.
  3. Clean and sober.
  4. Employed with a place to live.
  5. Have a plan for the future.
It is this kind of commitment to people (note I didn't say poverty) that will avoid either the token, occasional drop of a few coins in a bucket or the relentless giving to the poor thus confirming or sinking them deeper in their poverty. I pray that all of us would grow in our understanding of the Gospel and its radical claim on our time and assets. Not that we are all called to run a homeless shelter, but we are commanded to do good to all men and women. God help us.

"You don't change lives through social services. That's called behavioral modification. Recovery from homelessness is an affair of the heart," Morgan says.

An explanation about the picture:
This is Larry Purnell. I knew him for over a year as we employed him at our office to do so some menial chores (like cleaning the sidewalk around the clinic). We eventually had to let Larry go because he was just not doing the job or even showing up. It was sad for me to see that happen. In this picture, Larry is about 51. I'm not even sure if he is alive today. One of interesting things I got to help Larry with was taking him to a center where people who get arrested get to reclaim their stuff. Larry had been stuck in the clink for a few days and needed to get his effects back. Larry had been in and out of jail and was dependent on his mother. Until she died just a few short years before. This is one of several men I have befriended. I wonder how Kenny, Willie and Mark are doing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What's a Job Worth to You?

Would you even leave something more comfortable and less strenuous for the less comfortable/more strenuous job?

I've heard it said that if you find a job you love, you never work another day in your life. While I certainly sympathize with the sentiment behind that, I don't agree fully. Work is a privilege given from the Creator God to partner with him in his creation. It was quite ideal and even worshipful before this world got all jacked up. Then it became toil, painful, bloody and death-hastening, but it wasn't devoid of significance. Vocation in this broken world is still significant. It groans for something better; something more enduring--yes. But, it and the paycheck are to be enjoyed, wisely managed and dispersed justly.

Malcom Gladwell said, "Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning." See more from my post about his book Outliers.

Work is not only a privilege, but it is also significant. It is very much a part of human identity. All humans were created to work, and all humans have the opportunities to rest both physically and spiritually-eternally.

How important is your work to you? Would you leave a higher-paying job for a more-fulfilling job? Let me know your thoughts.