Thursday, February 24, 2011

The strange silence of God 2

The silence or hiddenness of God touches questions such as: why does prayer seem to go unanswered? Why does there seem to be no apparent progress on his plan or promises? Why has Jesus not returned yet?

Probably, the most personal question is “What do I do during these times?”

This hiddenness is actually a key part of a biblical worldview. Peter comments in his first letter that certain trials come into our life to “prove the genuineness of our faith”, which he explains is of greater worth than gold. This genuine faith, he says, “…may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

I don’t fully understand why God chooses to hide himself at times, but I do know that even Jesus experienced it. Shortly before he died, Christ apparently sensed an abrupt loss of the communion with the Father and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). But no answer came.

I also know, and is so good to remember, that God’s silence to his only Son was a part of his plan for the good of all humankind. God’s silence does not indicate his absence; he is probably watching and listening more intently.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The strange silence of God 1

A conundrum is a problem that has no obvious or easy answer. Such as: why is there no other word for “synonym”? Or, why is “abbreviation” such a long word? Or, why did they have to make the word “lisping” sound like you are lisping?

Here’s an important one: why doesn’t God communicate more? Or as the psalmist said, “Why, O LORD, do You stand afar off? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1). The natural assumption is that if things are going well, God loves us, and if things are going poorly, God must be upset with us. After all, we are all, by nature, theologians of glory instead of theologians of the cross.


Our ways are often directly opposite to God’s ways. He likes concealment - we like display. He does not crave outward manifestations - we often cannot be content without them. These can bring great trials to us. For some, it can be a deal-breaker.

The writer of Ps. 77, Asaph, was one of King David’s three chief musicians, and the author of Pss. 50 and 73–82. In this psalm, Asaph is deeply troubled over something I call the strange silence of God, demonstrated in the defining questions: “Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me?Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?” (vv. 7-9).

This psalm is his journey from despair to comfort. The flow of thought has been described as passing through four stages: Sighing (vv. 1–3); Sinking (vv. 4–9); Singing (vv. 10–15); to Soaring (vv. 16–20). Asaph evidently was seeking some specific help from God but the Lord was oddly aloof. This caused Asaph considerable stress, yet gradually he finds comfort in meditating on the ways God has displayed his great power and gentle care in the past.

This psalm doe not provide an answer for what theologians call the “hiddenness of God.” Rather, Asaph displays honesty with a common experience and learns a way to endure the strange silence of God.  This reflects the phrase “Occupation with self brings distress; Occupation with circumstances brings discouragement; Occupation with Christ brings delight.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

First Grade drawing

A first grade girl handed in the drawing below for her homework assignment:


The teacher graded it and the child brought it home.
She returned to school the next day with the following note:
Dear Ms. Davis,
I want to be perfectly clear on my child's homework illustration.
It is NOT of me on a dance pole on a stage in a strip joint surrounded by male customers with money. I work at Home Depot and had commented to my daughter how much money we made in the recent snowstorm.
This drawing is of me
selling a shovel.


Mrs. Harrington

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Change is overrated

I read this anonymous quote several months ago: “Change can be overrated. Sometimes people get frustrated when it seems that we constantly have to embrace change; just as things are working, we need to change again.”change ahead

I was once asked at a job interview if I liked change. I don’t think it’s helpful to think about change from such a closed-ended perspective. Change is not inherently good to all contexts. In entrepreneurial or reform contexts, change is to be expected because there is an experimental aspect to the conditions as we are trying to find out what works. On the other hand, change comes with a price such as loss of stability or familiarity which takes a toll on people’s confidence and job satisfaction.

A few years ago I was a part of leading a Bible college through an accreditation process and name change. There is a lot at stake in changing these types of educational contexts. Relationship loyalties, pride in past leadership decisions, and faithfulness to God and his leading are all value-laden issues involved. We revisited the following quote often during this process: “People can move into the future best when they can take some of the past with them. But if they do take some of the past, it should be the best of the past.”

Learning is one of the best things to take from the past into the future. If something didn’t work or is no longer effective, we must learn why and communicate that with gentleness rather than harshness. I have found that managing people’s attitudes about the change is the most difficult aspect – including my own.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Still needing the gospel

It’s funny the ways we have come to express certain biblical teachings, characteristics of church, or aspects of being a Christian. Some of these phrases have come to be known as church lingo, adages or “Christianese.”

One potential problem with such communication is using too narrow of a focus on biblical teaching. For example, one of the most often used phrases in evangelism is to invite a person to “ask Jesus into their heart.” That image is used only once in the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 3:17). There are several other biblical ways that relationship could be expressed.  

Consider also how we use the phrase “the gospel.” I would suggest it is most often used as a set of facts about how a person can be saved and reconciled with God. Certainly this alone is good news, but I am concerned that we might be communicating the gospel is for “pre-salvation” and discipleship is for “post-salvation.” Wilhoit (2008, p. 26) uses this figure to illustrate this problem:

Gospel Discipleship

Another way church culture communicates the growth process looks like the figure below where the gospel is for conversion of unbelievers and discipleship is for new believers. However, as I think about my experiences in church culture/lingo, I’m not really sure what mature believers receive:

Gospel new Xtn

My main point here is stress the notion that the gospel is more than a first set of facts about what God has done through Jesus Christ in offering forgiveness of sins - then comes discipleship. The gospel is good news for the entire Christian life. No matter where we are in our walk with God, we are still needing the gospel.

Taking into account the main transitions people experience as believers, I would suggest the following figure to represent this idea:

Gospel life eternal

As Wilhoit puts it, “The gospel is the power of God for the beginning, middle, and end of salvation. It is not merely what we need to proclaim to unbelievers; the gospel also needs to permeate our entire Christian experience” (2008, p. 27).  The gospel is the power of God for salvation, for growing in maturity of faith, for disarming the power of death, and for the resurrection of the saints to live forever in the new heaven and new earth.

Are you still engaged in hearing the gospel? What aspect of it are needing to be comforted by, challenged by, matured by, educated by, or inspired by? No matter where we are at, we are still needing the gospel.


Wilhoit, J.C. (2008). Spiritual formation as if the church mattered: Growing in Christ through community. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Troubleshooting change in your church

Sometimes we make change happen. Other times we can only watch change happen. Then again, sometimes we just wonder “what happened?” Essentially, change takes place in response to either force or influence. Economics, climate shift, conflict, supply of resources, and many other factors can exert force or influence depending on intensity. As a result, the types of changes we face can be described as ranging in strength from tuning, to adapting, to reorienting, or at its most intense – recreating (Leban & Stone, 2008).

Clearly, a major challenge of leadership is moving a church through change well. Certain elements must be present for any type of change to succeed. Leaders can diagnose what might be preventing success by looking at the mood about the change. Knoster, Villa, and Thousand (1999) provide this framework for troubleshooting change efforts:


According to the authors, successful change requires the presence and alignment of vision, skills, incentives, resources, and an action plan. Without vision to provide direction and goals, people will feel confused. Without skills to give them confidence they can carry out their part, people will feel anxiety. Without incentives that the change will benefit them and the church, people will resist it. Without the resources they need to carry out the change, people will feel frustrated. Finally, without a solid action plan, people will experience false starts – a sense of being on a treadmill, not really gaining any traction.


Knoster, T. P., Villa, R. A., & Thousand, J. S. (1999). A Framework for Thinking About Systems Change. In T. P. Knoster, R. A. Villa & J. S. Thousand (Eds.), Restructuring for caring and effective education: Piecing the puzzle together (pp. 93-128). Baltimore, MD: Paul H Brookes Publishing Co.

Leban, B., & Stone, R. (2008). Managing organizational change. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Keep a true compass

"This is the greatest lesson a child can learn. It is the greatest 41EVHPClByL__SL500_AA300_lesson anyone can learn. It has been the greatest lesson I have learned: if you persevere, stick with it, work at it, you have a real opportunity to achieve something. Sure, there will be storms along the way. And you might not reach your goal right away. But if you do your best and keep a true compass, you'll get there."
— Edward M. Kennedy, True Compass: A Memoir (2009, p. 509)

Sarah Green writes some thoughtful works about Ted Kennedy’s life: “…his life provides an unconventional and, in my view, inspiring model of success. Much of today's management literature focuses on identifying high-potentials; leading your cleverest people; grooming your star performers. If you're here, reading this, you're probably reasonably ambitious yourself. But with that comes an attendant anxiety that if you haven't achieved X by age Y, you've failed...So for me, today, Ted Kennedy's life is a reminder that much can be achieved by late bloomers; that you don't have to have your career all figured out by the time you're 25, 35, or even 45. It's a reminder to look beyond your little cadre of overachieving stars for the person who doesn't have it all together. Don't count him out. There's always time.”

Thoughts worth meditating on…