Are You Languishing?

Some months ago the NY Times* ran an article that declared “languishing” as the reality many of us are living under.  In a nutshell, editorials are telling us that since there has been immense national and global upheaval, we are languishing under the reality of it all and the uncertainty of what is ahead. 

How is it with your soul in these days? Is languishing a descriptor you resonate with? 

Several weeks ago my wife, Beth, and I met with her back surgeon.  He is well respected in his field; conservative, not quick to make hasty decisions. 10 years ago he operated on her resulting in much relief.  However, the past seven years she has been living with chronic pain. This time, the doctor told us that based on all he is seeing with her MRI’s, he is unwilling to do surgery – that it will not provide long term relief. Her case is “complex” and requires a longer range view.  So he is referring her to a pain management doctor. 

We have no idea what this means. We have no idea what Beth’s mobility will be. We have no idea what her work, let alone, daily life will look like. More of the same? Improvement? Lessening?  

The Spirit is nudging me to hold onto hope.  I do not want to give into “languishing” under this uncertainty or limitation.

I want to allow the Lord to define this reality, and to walk with him and others as he provides grace. He said “no” to Paul’s times-three-pleas to have his “thorn in the flesh” removed and instead gave Paul more grace. 

So, how is it with your soul? 

How is the Father bringing to reality the blessing of Romans 15:13 within you:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope?”

This is neither triumphalism nor prosperity pick-me-ups.

This is the Person of the living God pouring his love and life into ours amidst the very context we find ourselves in.  In the midst of deep adversity, God can define our inner world and relational response by terms of joy, peace and abounding hope.

As followers of Christ, as caregivers, leaders, and shepherds, the context we find ourselves in is the very one Jesus beckons us to walk with him and with others in.

Let me say that another way: Whatever the circumstances that mark your life, it is right here, right now, that Jesus is with you, beckoning you to deeper abiding with him and to steady companioning of others.

How is God defining your present context? How is he revealing himself to you?

Jesus, please give more grace; fill us with all joy and peace so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we may abound in hope. Amen.

* (I think this is the article I originally read last Spring)

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Pilgrimage Guide Included

When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” John 16:14

This “truth” that the Spirit of truth is guiding us into is not a mere download of doctrine. Rather, it is into the very life of Jesus, who is the Truth. Concretely, it is a way of living with God and others. Let me share a story of one who modeled this to me.

A Personal Heart-Language Guide

When Beth and I were church planters in Hong Kong, our first order of business was to learn Cantonese. It’s one of those tasks you don’t ever check off the list. After two years of formal language study at Chinese University, I still had much to learn.

I was introduced to a dear Chinese woman named Peggy.  Her round face always radiated a warm smile above her tiny little frame. She tutored Chinese secondary level students in English and art. And she kindly took me on to tutor me in Cantonese.  

Two years of formal schooling had taught me ample Chinese vocabulary, but I had much to learn of the heart-language.

There is a way to order lunch that is technically correct and will get what you food, and there is a way to relationally engage an exhausted restaurant worker who has not had a day off in months and gain a friend.  Peggy was my guide into that heart-relational world. She was patient with my linguistic messes, generous with compliments, gentle with her corrections.

Peggy was my God-given guide into the heart-language of the adopted culture we had taken up residence in.

The Kingdom Guide Within

The Spirit’s role as guide is not so much a lecturer of truth, rather more like a wilderness guide. The new landscape the Spirit it leading us into is the kingdom of God. This unfamiliar terrain has a heart-language of the Jesus-way of living.

The Spirit is guiding us into the relational culture of the Kingdom of Jesus. 

He is patient, pouring out the Father’s love in us, tending to us with the grace of Christ, ever beckoning us deeper into Jesus’ way of being in this world.

This kingdom has a heart-language that allows for relationships to begin, to be restored, and to be deepened. 

The Spirit takes what is Jesus’ and declares it to us. The Spirit bears Jesus’ mark in us. Over time we grow in the way of love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control, sacrifice, generosity, forbearance, considering the concerns of other above our own.

Learning the Heart-Language

How does the Spirit do this?

The primary way we learn this way of life is from the Word amidst real life over a life-time.

I have noticed over many years that there is far more going on when I am in a chair in the morning, reflectively reading through the Bible than is immediately apparent. Sure on occasions there can be a significant insight or breakthrough. But mostly it is about accepting the invitation to show up. 

It’s in the written Word of God that we are met and nurtured by the Living Word of God.^

In keeping with that, the Spirit has come to mediate Jesus’ presence and ministry in our lives, he is there with us each day as we are in the Word and praying. This is the ordinary, daily, steady walk of growing in Christ. The Spirit, gives us sight, opens our ears, tills up the soil of our heart that we may receive the seed of the word. 

Then, in real life, amidst daily relationships in real time, he guides us, slow yet steady.

“He’s Not Trying to Take Something from You”

Several years ago I had been wrestling over letting go of a pattern in my life. One early morning, in that space between being fully asleep and fully awake I clearly had this phrase come to me: “He is not trying to take something from you. Trust Him.”

That was the Spirit, the Guide, leading deeper into the Father’s care.

He was gently urging me to relinquish, to open my hands and let go of an area in my life I had been resisting letting go of.

This is the gentle and firm work of the Spirit in our lives. He is always present, always guiding. An open “yes” to follow allows us to be led deeper into the kingdom way of living, which impacts every area of our life in beautiful ways.

How have you been responding to the Spirit your guide?

If you wonder if you have sensed his presence and direction, ask him. He is a person. He wants to be related to. He is eager to lead you into his life and way. Ask him to literally show you the way. He has promised and he will do it. 

* As stated in the Nicene Creed

^John Calvin first coined this phrase.

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Fall 2021 Member Care Conferences In the US

Two US-based conferences are going forward with plans to gather this fall:

PTM (Pastoral Training in Member Care) will be held September 28-October 1, outside Asheville, NC

This year’s theme is Grounded in Glory. There are some fantastic pre-conference events too, for which you will want to register soon as some have limited space.


This year’s Mental Health and Missions Conference iNovember 18-21, 2021i s moving to northern Texas at the Tanglewood Resort and Conference Center, Pottsboro, Texas

2021 Theme: Collaboration: Doing Together What None Can Do Alone

Check out both events and hope to see you there this fall!

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A Christmastide Feast: 2020 Reads List

A feast indeed. Time to belly up to some books.

I am grateful for all the friends in the Kingdom – some known and personal friends and some unknown literary friends who shared books, articles, journals and podcast with me this year.

Attached is my 2020 reads/listen list. If you have problems downloading it, drop me a note.

Please do share some of what you have read or listened to this past year!

Joyous Christmas Season

Scott Shaum

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Advent Reflection: Journey in the Valleys

The Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23)

The Valley of Achor (Hosea 2)

The Valley of Baca (Psalm 84)

Three valleys in the journey of life named:

“Shadow of Death”



How did we get here?

Psalm 23 The Shepherd Leads Us

Psalm 23 is the great comforting Psalm of the Lord as our Shepherd. We are assured He will lead us, guide us, provide for us, and protect us.

He leads me in the right paths for His names sake (3).” Jesus is the Way and He knows the Way well.

Suddenly, we are down in a valley called the “Shadow of Death (4).” Has our Shepherd left us?

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

For His names sake; in wisdom that is greater than ours; to ever tune our ears to his particular voice; to show us yet once again that he is always present, always caring, always leading: The Good Shepherd leads us on the “right path” which sometimes heads down into the valley called the “Shadow of Death.” There, on this “right path,” He is with us.

Psalm 84 The Pilgrimage Toward God

This Psalm resonates with heart yearnings for God’s presence, the soul’s thirst, the ache for beauty, the necessity and goodness of worshiping the Living God, the desire to build one’s nest and just stay there with Him (V. 1-4).

We are all on pilgrimage toward God. Sanctification, formation, maturation, discipleship – synonyms of Jesus teaching us and shaping us.

The way forward?

A Beatitude: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you.” The Lord is not only at the finish line waiting for us to show up. He is with us, strengthening us, guiding us. We need God to move toward God in relationship and maturity.

A Valley: “As they go through the Valley of Baca (Bitterness), they make it a place of springs…”

Each path has stretches of Bitterness. That is certain. It is norm for all in a fallen world. Every one suffers.

A Larger-than-Ourselves Purpose: The one’s walking with God are the one’s who leave a transformative effect in the valley of Bitterness. The place of bitter waters, is the very place the Spirit overflows with streams of living water through his people.

Hosea 2 The God who Allures

The Lord ever allures his people, He speaks tenderly to her, graces her with gifts.

What catches us by surprise is that to show us His tender love he will on occasion lead is into the wilderness valley of Trouble.

In this troubled time, He is awakening his people to his love – a love that is greater than all the other loves in this world. He knows we are seduced by the false-comforts of this life, so he leads us into a barren place. Do you hear Him?

Now that he has our ear, our desperation, he lavishes us with tender words and vineyards. And again there is redemption beyond our own lives – the Troubled valley becomes a door to hope – for us and for others.

The Valley Named Advent

Advent is a season of longing, for waiting for the Lord who has come and will come again.

In between the heights of Jesus’ two Advents, we watch and walk in life’s valleys.

Valleys are not detours, they are on the Way.

They are not mistakes, they are Wisdom from the Father.

Though they may be harsh, valleys are landscapes of love, redemption and intimacy.

God’s people don’t skirt the valleys, they follow the Lord into those shadowed, bitter, troubled places. There are Kingdom opportunities larger than our own lives. It is through His church that He redeems a world overwhelmed with fear, want and false comforts.

Advent Reflections

What is the name of the valley you are in? Name it specifically.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in and with His people. Where do you see Him? Hear Him? Where is there silence? Mystery? Wonder?

How is He overflowing your life into this dry and weary valleys with living water and words of hope for those in your midst?

The Father delights to tend to His own. Remember that He has a Wisdom and Love greater than ours. Follow Him where He leads.

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Summer Reads

Here are some of the books I’ve been enjoying these summer months, that I highly recommend!

What have you been reading? Thanks!

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The Enemy Attacks Our Understanding of Who God Is

Who is the liar but he who denies Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.  1 John 2:22

In the previous post we were confronted by the Apostle John’s call to us to receive the Father’s love in simple faith and to walk in that reality by abiding in the Father who is love.

The enemy knows that this truth – that God, as our divine Father who loves us and sent his Son Jesus Christ to rescue us to himself, is core to all reality. It is core to who God is and thus core to who we are.

All of life is either ordered under this reality of the Triune God or is in disorder in denying it.

It makes sense then that the enemies of our God and soul (Satan, the world and our flesh) would seek to strike at the heart of these realities.

Let us consider our enemies’ tactics from 1 John 2:22.

Denies Jesus is the Christ

The world clearly still debates the reality of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God – in his salvific work and/or in its contemporary relevance. The enemy would seek to stoke this debate. Why?

“No one who denies the Son has the Father.” 1 John 2:23

When we deny the Son, we deny our own adoption. They who receive the Son are graced with the power to becomes children of the Father. John 1:12

“And this is the testimony, that God (the Father) has given us life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life, whoever does not have the Son does not have life.” 1 John 5:11-12

Say no to the Son, then say no life. Only death, both today and forever. 

The enemy knows this and seeks to undermine this fundamental reality. He seeks to deny Jesus’ identity and salvation. The enemy sows doubt and fear.

Yet, in God’s formative grace, many of us, upon hearing the gospel, are moved to faith by the Spirit and Word (Romans 10:10, Ephesians 2:1-10).

For those ones, once they trust in Jesus as the Christ and their Savior, the enemy goes on to another tactic.

Denies the Father

If the enemy has failed in undermining our faith in Jesus’ identity and saving work on our behalf, then he will go after our simple trust in the Father’s love.

Why? Why does the enemy strike here?

Our own stories answer this query.

What are the implications in our own lives for not knowing and doubting we are loved?

How many false and destructive ways do we seek to validate our own existence, our own worth?

How do we seek to control our life through our false self? In effect, believing the lie that we are on our own, its all up to us, and we know what’s best for ourselves.

The result? 

Our lives are rife with doubt and fear and angst. Yet, the Father offers love.

We strive and grasp. Even still, the Father delights to grant his kingdom to his children.

We exhaust ourselves seeking to prove our own worth. The Father calls us beloved and gifts us to serve in his eternal purposes. 

I am often astounded at how pervasive this dynamic pervades the church globally, so many Christ-followers continue to respond to God the Father as a Pharaoh. 

God is Father, not a Pharaoh

A pharaoh needs more and more slaves to build his kingdom for him. 

A Father loves children, calls them by name, and makes them his own. He does not need anything. He is all and has all. He leads his children into Sabbath rest and from that identity and rest he empowers them to walk with him into a world strewn with needs. 

Yes, the Father will call his children to lay their lives down for others. He did so with his own Son. This is the way of wisdom. It is the way of eternity. It is the way of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our God is not a needy God, He is a giving God. And so are all his children. Like Father, like daughter, like son….

But first things first. We rest in the Father’s love. Then we share that love with the world as it overflows from our lives.

How has the Enemy Deceived You?

What of your flesh has refused to relinquish control? Surrender that to the Father in Christ.

What old story lines are needing to be laid aside to receive a new story line from your Father in heaven? Name them. Who can you talk to to let these lies go?

So we have come to know and to believe the love that the Father has for us.  The Father is love, and whoever abides in love abides in the Father, and the Father abides in them. 1 John 4:16

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Do You Believe the Father’s Love?

Do you receive the Father’s love as his beloved child with the same simple faith that you believe that Jesus died for your forgiveness?

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 1 John 4:16

It is understood that in the New Testament, when the word “God” is used, in most all instances, the writer is referring to the Father.*

Thus we can see what John is writing here in a more personal and attention grabbing manner when we insert Father into this verse:

So we have come to know and to believe the love that the Father has for us. The Father is love, and whoever abides in love abides in the Father, and the Father abides in him.

The Father is love. He has demonstrated that by sending his Son. Jesus embodied the love of the Father before us (John 14:7). Jesus on the cross, as the atoning sacrifice, is the greatest, clearest, most stunning display of the Father’s love.

Have you “come to know and believe the Father’s love” for you, personally?

In his first letter John clearly writes that this is a hallmark of matured elders in the faith – they know the Father (2:13, 14) and in knowing the Father they know the Father’s love for them.

An Odd Dichotomy in our Faith

We have come to know and believe that Jesus has died for our sins; that if we confess our sins, he will readily forgive us and cleanse us (1 John 1:9).

This is a hallmark of orthodox Christianity – to confess Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. We have come to expect that of any one who names Jesus.

And yet….

When invited to identify ourselves as the Father’s beloved, we often pause….We believe Jesus died for us, yet doubt, or maybe hesitate to believe the Father’s particularized love for us….

Jesus’ death did not win the Father over toward us. It was an act of the love that the Father sent Jesus. The Father has loved us from eternity. He sent his Son to seek out and save lost children. To those who receive, the Father now calls his adopted children (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1).

Jesus did not die so God could be turned from an frumpy judge to a gracious Father. It is was an act of grace from our Father that the Son was sent to die on our behalf.

This is the gospel message.

Coming to Know and Believe

Love is not a substance, love is a Person. God is love – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

We have been given of the Father’s Spirit (1 John 4:13).

Paul writes that the Spirit pours out within us the Father’s love (Romans 5:5).

The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are no longer slaves but children. He beckons us to respond by crying, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:4-6)

The Father’s love for us is the same love he has for Jesus (John 17:26).

The witness of both the Holy Spirit and the Written Word is that we are beloved. Be encouraged. Simply receive His love for you. Confess this transformative truth.

When Faith Struggles

When I struggle to “know and believe,” I am reminded I cannot just try harder and well up within myself change of attitude.

I do ask the Spirit to remind me and to grant that I may be increasingly aware of the Father’s love which is a well-spring within me – ever flowing in me. The Spirit has been sent to guide us into all truth.

This is what a weary world yearns to drink, the overflow of the Father’s love in us to others.

How does this resonate with your faith journey with the Father? How is the Spirit beckoning you to respond by simple receptivity to the Father’s love to you?

Next: We will look at how the enemy seeks to deny us this reality.

* See this article that addresses why the Triune God and Trinitarian language is so crucial to our faith.

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