Pentecost 2019

This Sunday (June 9) is Pentecost Sunday — the day the church (since about the 4th century) observes the gift of the Spirit on the 120 believers and the birth of the church (Acts 2:1ff), liturgically symbolized by the color red, the imagery of fire, and the mystery of the Holy Spirit, whom Francis Chan rightly referred to as “the Forgotten God.”
If your church observes Pentecost, you know that we’re about to dip our toes into Pneumatology (study of the Pneuma/Spirit) which is always a good idea, given that we’re a people who are to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). We are empty containers, all of us, filling the void with who knows what. Only Spirit can satisfy, mysterious as all of this is.
The Old Testament helps us understand God the Father, the New Testament reveals Christ, who shows us the Father and promises the coming of the Spirit. We cannot know Father and Son without the Spirit, and we cannot know the Spirit without the Father and Son. Surely both testaments reveal the Trinity in glimpses, but it was the early church that wrestled with the theology of the Three. These three are inseparable, yet the Spirit is the most misunderstood of the Trinity. We like hierarchy, function, and predictability. Our curiosity pushes us to discovery. The Holy Spirit is a mysterious person who knows us better than we will ever know Him. He knows Father and Son, too, and somehow makes a connection that brings us into community with the Trinity and with each other. How peculiar. This whole thing is so bizarre, yet beautifully accessible by grace.
“Many books have been written by scholarly and spiritual men on the Father and the Son… the Holy Spirit has, on the other hand, not yet been studied with as much care and by so many great and learned commentators on the scriptures that it is easy to understand his special character and know why we cannot call him either Son or Father, but only Holy Spirit.” – Augustine (De fide et symbolo)
The Apostles creed declares “I believe in the Holy Spirit…” which is a bold accusation of ourselves. I don’t fully understand, I will never fully know, I cannot simplify the Spirit. But I believe in the Spirit, which has something to do with knowing but a LOT to do with relationship.
God isn’t a subject to be mastered. He’s not like the Periodic table — memorize this and you’ll be able to cook up anything. He’s a distantly complex creator who, for some absurd reason, wants to be so involved with our lives that He pours out as fire, counsel, wisdom, joy, and love. That should change the way I live.
Enjoy the mystery as we keep writing the book on how the Holy Spirit inhabits and enables the church to do the Kingdom building work of God. Can you believe that? He wants us to do this with Him, by His Spirit, broken and cleansed vessels as we are.
Pentecost Sunday is a day where, if you think about it, most of us should be looking at each other, saying “what right do we have to be doing this…?”
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Book Readin’ in Decline

No big surprise: physical books (their usage, at least) are going the way of AM radio, the fax machine, and Myspace. Encouragingly, when Yale announced plans to relocate a majority of their collection of books from the main library, students staged a sit-in.  Well done.

From an article in the Atlantic:

Statistics show that today’s undergraduates have read fewer books before they arrive on campus than in prior decades…  it is all too conspicuous that we reached Peak Book in universities just before the iPhone came out. Part of this story is undoubtedly about the proliferation of electronic devices that are consuming the attention once devoted to books.

The sharp decrease in the circulation of books also obviously coincides with the Great Recession and with the steady decline of humanities majors, as students have shifted from literature, philosophy, and history to STEM disciplines—from fields centered on the book to fields that emphasize the article.

The steady decline of humanities majors will have a negative impact on the collective perspective of our culture.  Without a certain depth of knowledge in history, philosophy, the arts, and yes, theology, we will lose the why.  “I study engineering!”  Cool!  Why? “Uh… it’s lucrative?  I like it?  They said I should?  I dunno…”

My friend, engineers can change the world for the better (infrastructure) or worse (nuclear war).

We will know how to do something without asking if we should, which is my paraphrase of Dr. Ian Malcolm (in the middle) from the book/movie Jurassic Park.


I read a lot less than I did 5 years ago, and it’s because I, too, am now wired for articles and blurbs, skimming a webpage or google books for the essentials.  The long, slow burn of a novel or commentary is something I have to fight for, a battle best won if my iPhone is out of reach.  I sense mental atrophy when I’m not reading.  Conversely, reading something — anything, really — has a profound effect on my thought life, my outlook, and even my general sense of God’s presence.  He is, after all, a Wordsmith.

What if we practiced a 1:1 ratio of electronic media to print?  What if every 30 minutes on XBOX led to a 30 minute time with a book (electronic or print)?  Or, maybe ever binge on the Netflix can lead to a disciplined binge of the Narnia books?  The shaping of our minds can’t be limited to only utilitarian goals, and the leaders of the future will need to think differently, which only happens if our brains are shaped differently now.

So… whatcha readin’ these days?




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[RadCast] Easter Monday, still resurrecting (1 Cor 15:19-22)

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I spray painted the shrub in our front yard, ok?

The doorbell rang, making all of us run through the list of what it might be: a neighborhood friend, someone dropping off folded laundry (awesome), an Amazon delivery.  This time it was a lawn-chemical company.  They wanted to talk to the homeowner, which worked out well because that’s who answered.  I walked outside to hear the pitch and enjoy the sunlight, fresh back from its vacation away from Michigan.

The peddlers, lawn-chem, wanted to help me achieve the front lawn of my dreams.   “Have you ever treated your lawn?”  Obviously not.  I mean… look at it.  Lawn-chem wanted to give it a spring chem-ing, to help it achieve maximal lawniness.  Thankfully I had just produced proof that I didn’t care one bit about having a chem-lawn: the shrubbery.

I led the lawn-chem door to door team over to our front yard monstrosity, a 70’s shrub that has slowly been returning to the wild form whence it came.  I showed them the broken tow strap tied loosely around the base of the shrub, saying “see that tow strap?  I tried to rip this thing out of the ground last year and it snapped — 3,000 pound tensile rating and POP!”  Lawn-chem was impressed.   Then I said “see these branches here?  They used to be brown.  See, when I tried to rip the shrubbery out, some kind of tree vein must’ve snapped, so these branches atrophied and turned the color of desert.”  Team lawn-chem looked puzzled.  I pointed and said “look closer: they’re spray painted.”  That’s right.  I spray painted some of the branches of our shrub so that the dead brown stuff wouldn’t look so bad.  This is like spray-on hair, or at least a bad combover, and no one is fooled.

To tell you the truth, it’s not even a good paint job.  It’s a totally different shade of green.  Even if you squint, it still looks fake.  It mocks any sense of outdoor suburban aesthetic.

Using my visual aid, an unhealthy horticultural specimen propped up by Hollywood effect, I asked them the obvious question: “Do I seem like the kind of guy who wants to have his lawn treated?”  The lawn-chem duo, already scoping out their next doorbell, agreed that our conversation was moot, which was very kind of them.  I, too, wanted to be kind, so I added “listen, I’m not your guy, plus, I’ve got little kids that play out here, so I’m not huge into toxins and such… but look over there: his lawn is stunning… there’s your target customer.”

Lawn-chems thanked me.  I wished them well.  And sure, tell the neighbors: it’s spray paint.

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The Disruption of Lent

Lent is a 40 week season of preparation.  We’re working our way to Easter — a great celebration! — by taking seriously our spiritual formation, realizing that you can’t have a resurrection without a death.  Jesus calls us to die to self, but we end up being kept alive (though barely) by solutions that give a rush followed by vacuum.  It’s a lot to think about and requires a certain perseverance on our part, made possible by the wonderful grace of Jesus.  Stir us up, Lord.  Disrupt us.  Awaken us.

Referring to this season of Lent, author Thomas J. Talley writes:

To do this is to enter for the time upon a different sense of who I am, a more profound sense of who I am, achieved by disengagement from preoccupation with the structure which normally defines me.  It is a matter of rediscovering ourselves by forgetting who we are and this forgetting, this turning in a new direction, is metanoia, conversion, repentance.  Repentance is not preoccupation with an unsavory past, but the very opposite of that.  It is the positive embrace of our helplessness as a moment of transcendent truth.  It is the exciting discovery of humility, of poverty, of nakedness, and of the utter seriousness of life in God.

Disruption, friends.  Liturgical disruption.  A temporary disarranging that makes us employ our senses in ways we didn’t previously need.  Like rearranging your desk and bumping your left knuckles on the stapler that once sat patiently on your right.  We take new paths to the same old jobs for the sake of variety.  We appreciate cow pastures or coffee shops we never noticed before.  We couldn’t have noticed them because we were on familiar ground.

Familiarity numbs us to the ever-presence of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Emmanuel means God is with us.  In our boredom, God becomes an old winter coat in the closet that we stumble across when we’re looking for our umbrella, forgetting and thus surprised that my old coat was here the whole time!

Lent pushes us out of familiar territory.  Unprotected by routine, our souls smack their lips, wipe their eyes, and look around bleary, asking what time it is…

And that’s when we’re ready for resurrection.

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Friends, Readers, Countrypeople: Lent me your ears

Some people hear the word Lent and their Protestant shields go up, with phasers set on Reformation.  They’re weary of Filet-O-Fish commercials and forehead ash residue.  “We left that medieval stuff in the 1500’s, when Luther put that thing on the door!”  But I assure you that Lent — the ancient practice of observing the 40+ days leading up to Resurrection Sunday — is an extraordinarily helpful practice for any follower of Christ, be they Catholic, Protestant, or even Anglican.  Anglicanism, incidentally, is where I trace my roots as a Free Methodist –> Methodist –> Episcopal.  John Wesley never turned in his Anglican badge. Actually, it was probably more of a vestment, or maybe some kind of sash.

In other words, I’m a protestant/Anglicanish follower of Jesus.  I have faith in Christ — His life, death, and resurrection — and I try to pattern my life after His.  And that, my friends, is where observing Lent is so very helpful.  Let me try ‘n’ explain.

Lent remembers the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring hunger, thirst, and the “best” temptation, in that it came right from the “top” guy.  When Jesus says “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me,” He speaks from the personal experience of self-denial and submission to His Father — to the point of His discomfort, suffering, and death.  There is nothing false, no presumption, when it comes to Christ’s call to follow Him.  We do as He says and as He does.

As it turns out, my life doesn’t give me the opportunity to head out to the wilderness for 40 days.  I gotta work; we gotta get the kids to school.  “Mr. Davidson, where have your children been and why are they wearing potato sacks?” isn’t a question satisfied by a harrowing story of spiritual pilgrimage, transformative as it might be.  Maybe if we homeschooled… nah.

What can I do in these 40 days?  I can say no to certain things: sugar, media, coffee.  In saying “no”, I’m leaving room for a solid “yes” for spiritual transformation and better practices like prayer, serving others, going deeper.  The idea that we can somehow prove our worthiness to God by suffering is absurd.  Abandon that line of thinking.  No, this is about taking control of my appetites and getting more serious about spiritual pilgrimage while still living like a responsible grown-up (or at least my best version of one).

There’s something meaningful about changing up our routine during for Lent.  Anytime is good, but now is especially powerful because:

  1. Lent is observed worldwide.  It may not be obvious where you work/learn, but observance of Lent aligns you with millions of Christ-followers.  In other words: you’re not alone.  You are part of the community of faith, with Jesus at our center.
  2. Lent models the way of Jesus in a tangible, life-changing way.  Turning down a customary slice of pie might not be much, but, if done for the right reasons, the disruption can lead to openness, which then leads to a new kind of hunger beyond food.
  3. Easter will be more meaningful.  The motif of death to self/life in Christ will find a pinnacle at the celebration of the Resurrection.

It’s not too late.  We’re a few weeks out from Easter (April 21, 2019) but you can pick up a Lenten practice anytime.  I’ve hinted at a few already.  If you want more ideas, let’s chat.  Start your research in prayer, simply asking the Lord for a chance to become more like Him.  He loves that prayer, dangerous as it may be.  I hereby invite you: Lent with me.

Let the comments begin:  Do you practice Lent?  Is it a new practice?  Are you uncomfortable with it?  Have you ever worn a potato sack?  Discuss…

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Both Emily and I graduated with Music degrees from Spring Arbor University.  In fact, we met in a class called Music Perspectives, which, for us, has the double meaning of seeing music from different perspectives and meeting our perspective spouses.  Well played, SAU.

Anyway, us two music majors didn’t want to force our kids into music.  We both grew up around music but, as far as I can remember, I never felt pressured into it.  This is a good thing.  But Emily and I actually went to school and took on debt to know what we know.  As we watched our kids in the early days of their music-making, it wasn’t always easy, holding back Whiplash-like admonishments like you’re posture is off, you need to practice your scales, tune that or I will destroy you.  

Thankfully all three have drifted into music at their own pace.  Mac is turning into quite the guitar player.  It used to be that I’d show him how to play chords and strum.  But now the teacher has become the student, thanks in part to YouTube tutorials and his superbly plastic brain, which picks things up instantly.  Zac plays complex rhythms in mixed meter and has a perfect internal metronome.  He’s a better drummer at 10 than I was in college on our summer band tours.  And Lexi, unique as she is in so many ways, loves to go over to the piano and play all kinds of wild intervals.  She looks for two notes to bounce between, searching until she finds the right consonance — a Perfect 5th, Minor 7th, Augmented 4th (we discourage that one).  When she’s not playing music, she needs to hear her Wheels on the Bus mix tape.  I’m no statistician , but I can confidently proclaim that we have clicked that link 38 billion times in the last week alone.

We are fortunate to have some great instruments in our home which get played quite regularly.  Our house sounds like a busy weekend at Guitar Center, except that no one is playing Stairway to Heaven and I’m not selling warranty protection plans.  It’s not all top notch equipment, but it’s good.  We love the cacophony on the Kawai, the Strat, the Gretsch, the Yamaha, and even the Behringer.

Imagine my strange delight, then, when I noticed that everyone was playing the Fisher Price version of all these instruments.  A Paper Jamz guitar, a Yamaha “My First Drum Machine” unit, and frisbees for cymbals.  But then I realized that this was for an outdoor concert to welcome the spring, and, as much as I like a driveway music festival, I sure felt good about having the beaters out in the weather rather than the real deal.

One of these days — maybe on a Tuesday — we’ll do something all together as a “musical family”, like the Partridge Family did so many years ago.  The only reason I know about David Cassidy et al is because of reruns on the Nick at Nite cable channel.  Knowing some of the backstory always gave me a deeper understanding of Danny Bonaduce, though I cannot fully explain the enigma to this day.  Nor should I.





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