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Author: Daniel

The joy of being found

I have been owned by dachshunds long enough to know three things. First, they do not ask for attention; they demand it. Second, the intensity of their midnight “potty urgency” corresponds directly to the depth of my sleep. And third, they have ADD.

Of my three wiener dogs, the one who most embodies these tendencies is Missy. One recent night she jumped off the bed – which means, “I gotta go now!” My wife heard her before I did, and went downstairs to let her out.

Soon after, my wife started calling, “Mis-sy!” (which sounds really loud at 3:00 in the morning). She then called to me that she couldn’t find Missy and needed help looking.

So I checked around to make sure Missy hadn’t slipped back upstairs (she hadn’t), and then went down to search for her. read more

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Living in the ‘now’ not the ‘what if’

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:25–26.

I don’t run marathons; the only running I do is from the couch to the fridge during Super Bowl ads. But I have a friend who does. And he says that in a marathon, he can’t focus on the finish line lest he get overwhelmed by the size of the task. Instead, he must stay in the moment and focus just on the current mile, one step at a time.

 Writing a book is like that. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon—a long, exhausting, brain-cramping marathon. If I focus on the finish line, I’ll  get overwhelmed and never make it. Instead, I must stay in the moment and focus just on the current chapter or paragraph—one sentence at a time.

 The writing process can be rich and inspiring, but it can also be slow and grueling. Frustratingly tedious. Mind-numbingly painful. Sometimes the ideas come in rapid succession; other times, the brain is a dry lakebed. Times of writer’s block—when my fingers desperately want to tap-dance their rhythms across the keyboard, but the hand-to-brain connection is frozen—are more common than rare. Even if ideas are flying around in my head, sometimes my fingers just can’t get them out. read more

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Nine years later, the pain remains, but God is still good

Today marks one of the two worse days of my life. Nine years ago this morning, in a span of one hour, my postgraduate dreams and career in academia evaporated and my life cartwheeled into a world that was–and somewhat remains–unclear, unknown, and undefined.

This was the day I sat across from my doctoral examiners and was told in no uncertain terms how much they hated my dissertation. I remember vividly the final walk of humiliation–barely able to breathe–down the path and out of the university, the phone call home telling my wife it didn’t go well, and the day I left England for the last time only to return to word weeks later that a contract for a job I loved would not be renewed. read more

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How the church lost our prophetic voice in 2016 (and how we might get it back)

On Friday, our next president will be sworn in.

The 2016 election ended the most bizarre, unsettling campaign season I’ve ever seen. Afterward I felt great relief, not because my candidate won (I couldn’t vote for either major candidate) but because it was finally over.

Thankfully, mercifully, happily over.

Then the protests and riots began—the most violent of them in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. The losers threw tantrums while the winners gloated.

My heart hasn’t stopped aching about the 2016 election season. However, what troubled me most was not the candidates, but the body of Christ. I consider 2016 to be the year the church lost its prophetic voice.

Both progressive and conservative Christians took their eyes off God’s simple requirement: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Each side seemed to have a sickening case of tunnel vision, condemning vile behaviors in the other candidate while overlooking equally vile behaviors in their own. God’s people could have called for justice and repentance without scrambling down into the mud with everyone else. But we didn’t. So we lost our prophetic voice. read more

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Clark Griswold, me, and discovering the joy of Advent

This week, churches around the world lit the third candle of Advent—the candle of joy. This joy is based on the fact that after centuries of promise, Messiah has come at last.

One of my guilty Christmas pleasures is watching the movie, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” In it, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) does all he can to create the joy of an old-fashioned “Griswold Family Christmas.” He prepares in advance. He makes his plans, calculations, and formulas. He pursues the perfect gift for the family (one he clearly can’t afford). He longs to give everyone a holiday as perfect as those he remembers from childhood.

But it’s a comedy, so of course his plans never work. His perfect yard display won’t light up. His perfect Christmas tree won’t fit in the house, and becomes a firework due to a cat and a short in the lights. His perfect family time is disrupted by difficult in-laws as well as his uninvited Cousin Eddie and his, um, dog Snots. His perfect gift falls through after his Christmas bonus morphs into an annual membership in the Jelly-of-the-Month club. And then the whole holiday literally goes up flames when a gas fireball explodes from his sewer. The season is ruined. read more

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Finding the hope of advent in the darkest corners of humanity

For week two of Advent, the theme is hope.

In 2016, the world seems dark and filled with conflict. War and violence are common; our hearts ache with uncertainty and loss. We take sides against each other, both literally and figuratively.

But it is in this darkness that hope shines brightest.

In the 2006 movie Children of Men, the world faces a bleak, hopeless future. For unexplained reasons, humanity has become infertile. No baby has been born in eighteen years. The world, fractured by despots and terrorists, has descended into chaos. The human species is being wiped out by attrition and war.

Then, amazingly, a woman becomes pregnant. Like the infertility, this event is unexplained.

At the climax, a fierce battle rages outside as the woman, hiding in a decrepit building, gives birth. A miracle baby is born. read more

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Why we need Advent now more than ever

5598559126_90f2e2024c_bAdvent—beginning with the first of four Sundays before Christmas—is usually my favorite time of year. I start anticipating it around June 21, when the days start getting shorter. I love the lights and colors, the smells of Christmas trees and warm fresh-baked cookies, the sounds of bells and carols, and the sight of Rudolph and Charlie Brown running across my television screen. But there’s a deeper reason for my love of Christmas.

For years, I have wrestled with my broken life, and Advent is a season to remember how God stepped into humanity’s story—my story—and lived among us for the sole purpose of saving us. Have you ever suddenly realized that you find more excitement in the days leading up to Christmas than the actual day itself? That is Advent. The “secular” Christmas season of anticipating Santa Claus is merely a shadow-like reflection of what Advent is. Advent is waiting, knowing Jesus will come. So for me, Advent is a reflection and celebration of the magnitude of Jesus’s birth, and what it means in the mess that is my life. read more

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Skipping thanksgiving: is selfishness snuffing out our thankful hearts?

The day after Halloween, I went to the store to pick up a few things. In the seasonal section, one side of the aisle displayed leftover Halloween candy. The other held Christmas giftwrap and ribbons.

Typically, this isn’t a surprise. After all, most stores started preparing for Christmas of ’16 way back in June of ’87. Each year, anxious to cash in on every second of the season, shops and stores await the earliest possible moment to roll out Christmas merchandise with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads. That’s just the way it is in a consumeristic society.

20161101_1343431But as I walked down this aisle, I noted an unintended metaphor. One side of the aisle represented a holiday which calls for circling the neighborhood in a silly costume and extracting boatloads of candy (if you have charm, stamina, and a killer costume – pun intended). The other side of the aisle represented a holiday known for massive overspending on gifts which are often unneeded and unwanted (unless they’re really cool, like an XBOX). read more

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Seriously, what is going on with this presidential election, and what do we do now?

hillary_clinton_vs-_donald_trump_-_caricaturesIn the last few days – amid yet another outbreak of scandalous news items and a second debate involving the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates – traditional and social media continue to warn us that if the “wrong” candidate wins, the sky will fall, children will starve, and the Yellowstone caldera will erupt.

Then there are thoughtful commentaries by Christian writers and leaders, trying to present biblical reasons why Christians should vote one way or the other. Theologian Mirasolv Volf says the policies of Hillary Clinton best represent Christian values; theologian Wayne argues that Trump is the better choice.

Christian progressives wag their fingers at Christian conservatives for being single-issue voters, without admitting that they themselves often are too. And don’t get me started on the old argument that “if you don’t vote, then X will win and the sky will fall, children will starve, and the Yellowstone caldera will erupt.” read more

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So what is my story anyway?

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As summer ends and school begins, I’ve been in a funk, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’d hoped to make more progress on my new book manuscript before my fall teaching resumes. Maybe it’s because some of my friends are moving on to greener pastures, and I’m a bit sad. Maybe it’s because the upcoming election depresses me.

Maybe it’s because pretty soon, I’ll turn fifty.

Fifty is a landmark. My body is getting older, my pharmacy visits more regular, and the arrival of my first AARP invitation much closer (that last one really creeps me out). I’m starting to do things I never dreamed I would, like gripe about my sore back and say things like, “When I was your age…” More and more, I feel like Old Man Caruthers in the old Scooby Doo cartoons: “If it wasn’t for you darn kids!” read more

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