Eyes Wide Open

Mark 8:22–26 has always been a troubling passage for me.  In this story, Jesus heals a blind man—business as usual, right?  Well, except for the fact that he appears to botch his first attempt at healing him:

After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”

The man looked up and said, “I see people.  They look like trees, only they are walking around.”

After this weird moment, Jesus does it all again, but this time the man, with “eyes wide open,” can see everything clearly.  So what gives?  Why did it require a second try?  Was Jesus off his game?

One of the things that I’m learning about the gospels (the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is that they are masterfully crafted pieces of literature.  So many of the things we love about good literature are present in the gospels—including nuance and subtlety.  Recently, scholars have begun to realize what a remarkable piece of literature Mark truly is.  For example, in Mark, two sections that may not appear to have any connection actually work together to make a point that neither of them alone could make.  However, by the way that Mark has situated them in the text, a careful reader may be able to pick up what is going on.  It seems that 8:22–38 is one such example.

Here’s what I mean:

Immediately after Jesus heals this blind man, he is walking toward some villages with his disciples.  On the way, he asks them what people are saying about him on the street.  The disciples tell him that some think he’s John the Baptist, others say Elijah, others one of the prophets.  Then Jesus brings it home and asks, “And what about you?  Who do you say that I am?,” to which Peter gives the correct answer: “You are the Christ.”  Peter, being the first person to profess Jesus’ true nature, is probably bursting with that mic-drop feeling.  However, it doesn’t last long.

Jesus goes on to give his disciples a bit more clarity about what being “the Christ” means.  It means that he will die.  They will kill him.  Then he will rise again three days later.  And the text says, “he said this plainly,” as though to assure us that Jesus wasn’t in one of his mysterious parable-telling moods.  He was making his point obvious.

Peter hears that Jesus say that he is going to die, and he actually takes hold of Jesus and scolds him.  Can you imagine?  The disciple–teacher relationship is turned around for a brief moment.  Peter, thinking he knows better than Jesus, steps into Jesus’ role, and actually tries to correct him.

You see, Peter may know that Jesus is the Christ, but he still does not see clearly.  The way of Christ is far from anything Peter may have imagined.  All he sees right now are people who look like trees walking around.

So Jesus tries it again.  He calls them together and lays it down for them:

“All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.  All who want to save their lives will lose them.  But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them.”

This, for Jesus, is to see clearly.  This is the upside-down nature of following Jesus.  It is unlike anything else in history, and completely counter-intuitive on many levels.  It is giving yourself away, completely surrendering, and suffering for the sake of others.

I think Mark is telling us that we are all the blind man.  And when we start to think we understand the Way of Jesus according to our own presuppositions, then we still do not see clearly.  There is a two stage process that must happen.  Stage one is where we see for the first time, and it’s wonderful; but we don’t realize how dim our vision really is.  We come to Jesus with our ideas of what he should do for us.  Perhaps this stage is necessary, I don’t know.  What I do know is that it isn’t the end of the journey.  Jesus must then take us into a moment of disillusionment, where we realize that what we thought we saw wasn’t actually the way things were.  It is, in fact, sort of the opposite.

We must become like a baby once again, with eyes wide open, taking it in as for the first time.  Only then can we see they Way of Jesus as we are supposed to.

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Adoption update

It’s been over 2 years since I last wrote an adoption update (or written a blog, for that matter), so I thought it was probably about time.  Sadly, today I don’t have a much better idea of when this adoption will be completed than I did two years ago.  The exit letter suspension in the DRC lingers on, far past anyone’s expectations.  So, we continue to wait and pray.

To catch anyone up who doesn’t know, Natalie and I have become the legal guardians of a child in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  I won’t reveal any more details about our child online, but we’d be happy to share with anyone who wants to know in person.  We are, according to Congolese law, this child’s parents; the birth certificate even has our last name on it!  However, due to the continued legal entanglements in the DRC, we cannot bring our child home.  This is the situation that hundreds of families around the world have found themselves in.  It’s a mess of the highest order.

For more than 2 years now, officials from the US State department and Embassy Kinshasa have been working hard to find a solution to this problem.  Recently, the DRC officials who were reviewing all adoption cases declared that they had finished their work.  However, as it turned out, they had only actually reviewed 99 of the 1500 or so cases, and of those 99 cases, only 72 children were allowed to leave the country (I think 14 of them were from the U.S.A.).  As for the 1400 others, it has not been made clear how, when, or if those cases will be reviewed.  The latest word we’ve received is that the DRC officials do not intend to do any more work until new adoption legislation has passed in the DRC parliament, which apparently may not happen until next year.

There are a host of adjectives I could use to describe how we feel about this situation, but I think the one that sums it up best for me right now is disheartened.  What do you do when you have a child stuck in another country, with no idea when or how the situation will be resolved?  In the last week I’ve been on the phone with Senator Thune’s office, simply to ask what we could be doing.  We can’t just do nothing.  But the situation really is out of our hands.

So many of you have joined us in prayer over these (almost) three years since we started this journey.  Thank you, and please continue to pray!  If you really want to get involved, then get ahold of your represenatatives in DC and ask them to make DRC adoptions a priority.  That would be swell.

This has, of course, given me much to reflect on as a pastor and a follower of Christ.  The thing I seem to sense God teaching me the most in all this is what I shared in church this morning as I led worship: The way of Christ isn’t simply there to alleviate our suffering; rather, it leads us to a place where we can learn to suffer well.  These trials are comparatively small, but I hope we can endure them in a manner worthy of our Lord.  Thanks to all who have been enduring alongside us.

Much love,



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Adoption update


It’s been far too long since we’ve said anything (at least online) about the progress of our adoption.  We have much to be thankful for.  Let me briefly update you so you can continue to rejoice with us and pray with us:

1.  Fundraising went incredibly well.  We are thrilled to announce that we met and surpassed our fundraising goal for this adoption.  Truthfully, this was one of the things I was the most worried about but it was probably the easiest part of this whole process!  This is a testimony to all the wonderful friends we have and God’s faithfulness.  We’ve been blown away by all who have shown their support – friends, family, acquaintances, people we haven’t spoken to since high school…it’s been amazing.  We are so blessed.

2.  We sent off our giant packet of information called a dossier.  This is basically our application to the country.  This means that we are basically done with paperwork and are just waiting for a referral.  We don’t yet know the child we will adopt, but we hope that in the next few months we’ll get a referral, and then we’ll hopefully travel a few months after that.  So it’s completely out of our hands!

3.  Please pray for the country we’re adopting from (I’m not allowed to say online) because they are currently putting exit letters on pause while they do some investigating.  This means that no orphans are being allowed out of the country.  We are told it could last up to a year, but there’s already been positive progress and we’re hopeful things will get straightened out very soon.  Even though it’s frustrating, we believe that hiccups like this cause governments and officials to refine the process, making it better for everyone involved, especially the children without families!  So please be in prayer.

Thanks so much for all the support so many of you have given.  We are truly thankful, and can’t wait for the day that we get to hold our little African girl in our arms.  It will be several months yet, but we’re trusting God to make our paths straight.

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Learn to do good.  Seek justice.  Help the oppressed.  Defend the cause of orphans.  Fight for the rights of widows.  Isaiah 1:17

Dear friends and family,

We have some exciting news: we are going to welcome our second child into our home!  But the child won’t look very much like us.  In fact, they’ll be African.  That’s right, we’re adopting! 

The adoption agency we’re working with has understandably requested that we don’t share very many specifics online (specific country, gender, and age) but we can say that our child will come from a place in Africa where orphans face some of the worst imaginable circumstances.  Feel free to call us or talk to us and we’ll share any other specifics you may want to know.  We’re still in the beginning stages – we don’t yet know what child we’ll be adopting.  But we’re in the thick of the process, feverishly completing paperwork, getting referrals, getting stuff notarized, completing medical exams, and moving forward with our home study.

Some of you may be wondering why we are doing this.  We’ve had people ask us, “Don’t you want to have more biological children first?”  “Isn’t that something you should do a little later in life?”  These are great questions.  However, for a variety of reasons, we feel urgency about this.  Natalie and I strongly believe that we are supposed to take our countless resources – financial, relational, emotional, and more – and leverage them for the sake of an orphan in this world.  I (Phil) have gone to Africa several times in the past few years.  As crucial as our work in Zambia has been, I don’t want to just go see orphans anymore.  It’s time to make one less orphan in the world. 

James 1:27 says that “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”  Things haven’t changed much.  Orphans (and widows) still face dire situations.  The way we have chosen to live out this verse is by giving a future to an orphan who doesn’t currently have one, and we’re inviting you to join us.

The country we’re adopting from is one of the worst environments imaginable for its five million orphans.  It has been home to one of the bloodiest wars on the planet.  The violence still continues in some places in the country where children are often kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers or sold into slavery.  Millions die of HIV/AIDS, malaria, starvation, and a host of other causes.  As you can imagine, the future for any orphan there is bleak at best.

So we’re asking if you’ll help us bring an orphan home.  Adoption, as opposed to biological birth, gives a tremendous opportunity for everyone to be a part of the miracle.  Every time you see this child, you will know that you were a part of the process that gave him or her a family – you were the miracle.  We hope you don’t miss the chance!

Here’s how you can be involved:

1.  Pray!  International adoption is risky.  There are a number of things that could go wrong.  We’re trusting God to make our paths straight. But we need you to pray for our future child and us and everyone involved in this process.

2.  Donate!  This adoption will likely cost $40,000.  Yes, you read that right.  Forty thousand George Washingtons.  Our goal is to raise at least $25,000.  Keep in mind: this isn’t a program or a charity we’re asking you to support.  It’s a child – a child you will likely meet someday.  And if you give, you’ll have had a significant part in bringing her home.

Donating is easy AND tax deductible!  We have a profile set up at adopttogether.org/wiseman.  Simply go there to donate via credit card or paypal.  Or, you can mail a check with our name on the envelope and memo line to AdoptTogether, 251 W. Central Ave #278, Springboro, OH 45066.  You can also go online to our profile to track our fundraising progress with us.

Because time is of the essence, we’d love for all donations to have been made by May 1st.  Our hope is to have our baby home about a year after the mailing of this letter.  It will be a long, difficult journey, and we covet your support in any and all ways.

There are 143 million orphans in this world.  Together, we can make it 143 million minus one.


Phil, Natalie, and Bella Wiseman

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Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer

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Zambia 2012

Though the wrong seems oft so strong

God is the ruler yet.

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Spiritual Disciplines for the Worship leader

Worship leaders often make their living on stage in front of hundreds of people.  In my opinion, this may very well be a disadvantage in our spiritual formation.  Our faith is one with a cross in the middle of it – a symbol of torture and shame.  We worship a King who “represented a new moral option” (John Howard Yoder!) in his life and teachings.  This moral option was one of selfless love.  Needless to say, it doesn’t leave a ton of room for the elevation of oneself.

Now, to be clear, when I say that this profession may present a disadvantage, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily sin.  Far from it.  I believe worship leading is a wonderful calling.  But it’s dangerous, like fire.  Treat it carefully.  Don’t get too close, too comfortable, too at home. Let the front platform always remain a place of surrender.  Be competent, but don’t be cavalier.  Lead well, but don’t drink your own Kool-Aid.  Let the spotlight always maintain a bit of foreignness to we who serve the One who “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (Phil 2:6).

So I have been thinking about spiritual disciplines for the worship leader.  What spiritual exercises can counter some of the potential dangers of living a life “up front?”

1.  I believe the discipline of secrecy has to be included near the top.  Let there be things only God knows.  “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt 6:3).  Fast and don’t tell people.  Pray and don’t mention it.  Give but don’t take credit.  Have soul secrets, just you and your God.  When your flesh inevitably screams for the attention it so desperately wants, tell it to shut up.  Look for every opportunity to have secrets with God.  Who knows…maybe you’ll have inside jokes with each other.  Sounds fun!

2.  Worship leaders should regularly confess.  Confession can be like a soul detox.  But don’t just confess to anyone.  Find a mentor, a spiritual guide, an accountability partner, whatever you want to call it.  I have a mentor, Norman, who at the end of our meetings says, “now tell me something you don’t want to tell me.”  Gulp!  It’s not always fun, but it’s necessary.  At my church we want people to “worship free of inhibition.”  I can’t authentically lead people in that unless I have named my sin and confessed it to God and another human.  For me, there comes a level of honesty, authenticity, transparency, and rawness when someone is able to claim their junk and take responsibility.  Plus, it’s only then when we can experience the real fruit of confession – grace.  And there is no better inspiration for worship leading than that.

3.  This may seem obvious, but worship leaders should worship.  My senior pastor Phill Tague shared in his sermon last week (that was coincidentally about worship!) a quote that essentially said that trying to worship corporately without having times of intimate, private worship is like having the dry heaves.  You’re trying to bring something up that isn’t there.  Get alone, get your guitar, and let it all out for your God and King.

4.  Last but not least, worship leaders should practice justice.  This goes back to a post I recently wrote about what God really expects out of his people.  Let me give you a hint: it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with how loud you sing.  It’s about a life led in obedience to him, and it just so happens that God is a God who cares about the oppressed in this world.  True worship is inextricably linked to justice and righteousness.  Worship definitely has a horizontal dimension to it.  In the spirit of solidarity, I’ll just admit that this is the area at which I am feeling the most convicted right now in my own life.

One of the most telling moments in the Bible is when Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Son of God reaches for a towel and a basin, kneels before his followers, and washes their stinky, smelly feet.  In my opinion, that’s one of the best examples of worship leading we find in the Bible.  And guess what?  No guitar necessary.

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