Even better than the real thing?

Have you ever seen an ant lion? These tiny fierce preditors make a pit in the sand where an unsuspecting ant falls to its demise. Poke it the right way with a stick and the ant lion flings sand up and creates a mini-avelanche. We were doing this at someone’s house and invited the 10 year old boy who lived there to join in the fun. “Why?,” he said on his way back inside, “I can just look it up online.”

A title of a talk at an upcoming Charlotte Mason conference caught my eye: Growing Up with Technology—Helping Children Resist the Seduction of Mediated Experience.

That phrase, mediated experience, is what struck me. There are things in between us and an experience that we mistake for an experience itself. We watch cooking shows and feel a sense of accomplishment. We, like the Pharisees, mistake knowledge about God for first-hand interaction with God.

Imagine a child who turns down a trip to pick fresh ripe strawberries because the artificially flavored strawberry-shaped candy in his backpack is good enough. Not only is the candy more convenient but by eating it constantly the child’s tastebuds come to prefer it over the real thing. The tummy gets what it wants but the heart is not fooled and remains unsatisfied.

Mediated experience, in this sense, is nothing new. But technology intensifies the temptation. Why go outside and wait for the ant lion to come out when one can watch it on a screen now?

Modern culture is built on the assumption that getting what we want—information, food, you name it—as fast as possible brings happiness. But it doesn’t. Everyone knows this deep down and simple observation shows it to be true.

And so what are we to do?

Don’t think me a Luddite wanting to return to the “good old days.” I’m not convinced the old days were that good. Genuine and lasting happiness in God is the end game here. And the Master shows us how to get there in Him: “self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself—your true self.”

A small part of self denial for us is limiting our kids screentime. This is a touchy subject where the Spirit has to lead. No law will do. We can’t be driven by fear of exposing them to the wrong thing or a desire to achieve some vintage ideal. The goal is freedom and joy. The simple fact is that excessive mediated experience makes most of us self-focused, irritable and unhappy.

So here’s to more ant lion poking and strawberry picking, Scripture play-acting and living room dancing, more fishing and sandcastles, more talking to God and less talking about him. Our hearts know Real when we see it and taste it and touch it. May we deny ourselves the quick thing to enter into the joy of the real thing.

Getting past getting on

Family devotions. Exercise. Dentist appointments. In the past all those things were in the same category, stuff you know is good for you but that doesn’t sound like a good time. Thankfully our family is getting into some life-giving rhythms that elevate family devos out of that mix.

But sometimes I still slip back into going through the devotion-motions. My wife and kids have a sixth sense for sniffing out when I’m in obligation mode. In those times everyone get restless at the table. Thumbs fidget. Frowns abound. We all know I’m just trying to plough through it so I can “get on with life.”

Any move towards goodness means encountering resistance. Family time is no exception. In the past I’ve overcome this resistance through brute force of willpower. As you can imagine this is no fun for anyone involved. But there are areas where willpower can be used that later leads to life around the breakfast table. Here are a few things I’ve found helpful.

First, whenever possible I get up before the rest of the family and write or exercise. I don’t particularly look forward to either of those activities but both clear cobwebs out of the mind and make me feel alive.

Second, praying aloud and singing worship by myself helps re-center me on what is important. A prayer might be something like, “Father, help me be present to my family today. De-familiarize my eyes, open them again to the beauty in front of me. My family is a garden which won’t look this way forever. Help me to walk in it now, enjoy it, water it and be watered by it.”

Third, on good days I help the kids get up in a gentle and unhurried way. When we all get to the breakfast table early the temptation to rush is removed.

Here’s the truth. Everything I’m trying to rush onto in the day has nothing on the gift of my family’s presence. My computer, in front of which I’ll spend the majority of my work day, can wait. My thoughts can wait. My todos can wait. God is in all those things, too, but how much more is He present in this little community of God-imaged beings around the kitchen table?

Sin boldly

“Go to your room,” I said in a firm tone. A little too firm. The offending 7 year old sulked off.

Afterward my wife kindly pointed out I could’ve handled that with a little more gentleness.

She was right.

But here’s something wonderful: I didn’t beat myself up about it as I usually would. No cyclical self-analysis or inner slow-motion replay of my every motive, just a simple recognition of wrong.

This peaceful repentance came at the end of Sunday on which I had actually rested body and mind. And the rest bore fruit in an unexpected way: I sinned boldly. Boldly in the sense in which I think Martin Luther meant that oft abused quote. That is, I wasn’t bound up under the tyranny of trying not to sin. So I sinned, I recognized it, I turned from it. No gluttony of guilt necessary.

And when I went to my daughter in her room, asked forgiveness–without excusing my or her offense–she had some words of wisdom for me from a story she’d heard recently. “Daddy, when someone was mean to Saint Francis he was kind to them back.” Too true, small one. We hugged. God, the master recycler, had done it again. He wove sins the Enemy meant for evil into a teary eyed moment of grace.

Do You Want To Be Well

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” – John 5:6

As a kid reading that verse I remember thinking Jesus to be horribly insensitive. Of course the guy wants to be healed, he’s sick and he’s laying at the pool where healing happens. But Jesus never wastes his words. He never says things simply to offend. His words are a pickax to break up the ground of our heart so seeds of life can grow. The older I get the more I understand the importance and weight of that stark question.

“Do you want to be well?”

There’s a cost to being made whole. Now I think it’s a much smaller cost than not being made whole. But there is a cost. For the man in the story it meant learning to walk again and finding a new way to make a living, which at his age was no small matter. For me it means laying down habits of hurry and surrendering scruples I substitute for genuine Spirit-led life. It means admitting that I can’t, despite all my efforts, heal myself.

What would you say if Jesus asked you that question? Our seven year old answered, “Yes!” I’m a little slower to respond. Today I’m sitting with the question again, not just for me but for our family.

Jesus, please grant us the courage to take you up on your offer and walk out the healing you offer.

A few years ago I wrote a song about this…

The Wait

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

For some reason I thought he’d be early. Weeks early. I’d wanted this son for 5 years, and the final days of waiting were killing me. Every day for a month I would wake up and check the bassinet just to make sure he wasn’t there yet.

The people of God had been waiting for the Messiah a long long time too. Not just 5 years. More like 500 (give or take). He didn’t make his grand entrance quite the way they were expecting him to.

He still doesn’t.

Sometimes we wonder if He’s coming at all.

When the angel came to Mary to tell her how he was coming, she replied “How can this be?” The Christ child was a hard thing for the child Mary to wrap her mind around. She was afraid. She never had Life inside her before. Never even been touched. “I’m just a virgin, how can this be?”

One of my favorite things about this passage is the angel tells her a story. He gives her a testimony of Life springing up in barren places: Once upon a time, there was a woman who couldn’t bear children. Your cousin. The barren one. Six months ago life came to her. She is with child. She has recieved the seed of life inside her. For “nothing is impossible with God”. Literal translation: “No freshly spoken Word of God comes without the ability to complete itself.”

The atmosphere of fear and confusion shifted to one of faith. The levels of her faith sky rocketed! Even excitement surged thru her! Yes! Yes! I want to be a part of that! “Let it be unto me according to your word” Let the Seed come and bring Christ Life inside me! Her joy was so great that when she got to her cousins house she broke out in song. She believed that what had been promised would come to pass.

When the Lord whispers his plan for us he’ll also tell us a good story. The word of the testimony that helps us overcome. Seeds of Life in barren places. It increases our faith in a moment. The testimony gives us grace to agree and wait with patience for what he says he will do. There’s the story of lives of those in Scripture, in the lives of fathers and mothers of the faith. Stories of Immanuel, God with us. Then there’s our very own stories. Where he has bent down to dwell with us. To be born in us. It’s these that infuse us deep with renewed faith. Even when our flesh shakes and says, How can this be?

Here’s the short version of my story. Once upon a time I lost my mind. I was told I’d never be better. I was told I was chronic. I was told I’d never be well enough to have another baby. But then! The word of The Lord came to me in a humble little church, bright as that angel who came to Mary. “All Things Are Possible With God.” It set me free from months of dark depression. That was March of 2010.

Then on a glorious Saturday in late August of this year my long wait came to its glorious end. My son came, my little miracle boy. Now I have a story that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. It fills me with faith to believe for things that seem impossible. Praise be Immanuel. Nothing is impossible with You. Let it be to me exactly as you’ve said.

– Joy

The Right Way

There is a tiny guard who casts a fierce shadow who stands between us and anything worthwhile. His name is The Right Way.

You see, The Right Way is a cruel taskmaster. There are parts of me that have been liberated and no longer live under his tyranny. But other parts still stand at a trembling attention when he barks, “You better get this right.”

When it came to Advent my old adversary The Right Way came knocking. The problem is there are dozens of good Advent traditions and loads of variations of each. I was agonizing over this, as if there is some magic combination that will instill Christmas joy and reverence in the hearts of my children forevermore.

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. – Gal 5:4-6 MSG

How about that. Turns out there is no magic combination, just faith expressed in love. The cure to my Advent-angst was simply picking something and trying it. Or, as my wife wonderfully suggested, picking two things and mix-matching them: pulling Jesse Tree symbols out of the numbered pouches of the Advent calendar. Take that you lame old legalism! Simple action in love is like a kung-fu chop to the jugular of The Right Way.

So the other night we had a bunch of friends over. We lit a candle in the Advent wreath and did a Jesse Tree reading and sang carols while kids danced with streamers across the living room. While I didn’t understand all the steps of what we’re doing–What do the candle colors in the wreath represent again?–I did know this: we were turning our hearts towards our Maker and anticipating the coming Christ. The strong arm of The Right Way was overcome by the gentleness of love and community and simple action.

Someone said that children are so free because they don’t have an inner list of all the things that could go wrong. Father God, give us hearts like children, free to make mistakes and stumble into wonder.

Meet the Morykons


We’re the Morykons—Brian, Joy, Lucy, Ramey and our new addition, Liam. The fab five as we like to now call ourselves. Joy and I, Baptist born and bred, encountered spiritual formation in our 20s at an Evangelical Free church. A few years ago we moved from Lynchburg, VA to our current location in Fort Mill, SC—to take a swim in the charismatic stream, as I like to tell people. It’s been quite the adventure.

It’s popular in charismatic churches to pray for revival. And right they should: we need to be revived. But what’s often not described is what a revived life looks like. You may find yourself in need of a defibrillator to jolt you back to life. But afterward (one hopes!) the heart beats on it’s own. That’s why we’re doing this Good Dirt devotional. We want to walk out revival, to do sustainable soul exercises that keep the heart of our family healthy and makes us feel alive, awake and free.

People who visit our home say it is a place they feel God’s peace. It’s not always peaceful here, of course. We fight, cry and each try to get our own way. But we’ve done our best to cultivate an unhurried life and make room for each other. Joy is a creator and artist, often knitting, sewing or painting. She’s a natural at cultivating creativity in kids, and I’m always amazed at the artwork that awaits me when I arrive home from work. And me? I’m a web designer, songwriter, worship leader and recovering perfectionist. I’m graced with a super flexible schedule that I often take for granted, but I am reminded in this moment how much of a gift it is.

That’s a snapshot of us and why we’re doing this. Thanks for joining us on the adventure.