The Covid-19 Economy & The Liquidity of Jesus’ Blood

“Don’t look now but there is something funny going on over there at the bank” said Ernie the cab driver in the iconic run on the bank scene of Its a Wonderful Life. I’ve thought of this scene several times during the Covid-19 pandemic and the screeching halt of the global economy. Of all the dominos that fall when people stop getting paid and stop paying, one possibility that gives me a shudder is that people would run to the banks to withdraw their money in hard cash. Your money isn’t sitting in the bank…its loaned out to that stalling business, that questionable mortgage, and out on margin to people speculating in a falling stock market. The system works fine until it doesn’t.

On a macro level markets and investors have watched desperately to see if the Congress would put together a relief package…an injection of liquid capital to consumers and business to keep payments moving and prevent a global equivalent of the lobby scene at the Building and Loan.

Jesus told a story about a type of bank run in Matthew 18 where a forgiven debtor turned demanding immediate cash-in-hand payment from one who owed him. Human nature can get so nasty when a climate of lack and self-preservation is in the air. Its easy to imagine how that second debtor might have to go demand immediate payment from those who owed him and on and on the chain of demand goes. Its a nasty chain that feels all too real.

God the Father injects ample grace into our sinful social economy. In Matthew 5 Jesus tells his followers that they can enter into a new economy that actually gives freely, not just to friends but even to enemies and those who have wronged them. They can give to those who demand without demanding in return. The sun and the rain themselves are means of grace that flow from God to the undeserving and with no strings attached. No quid pro quo. God gives lavishly and unexpectedly.

And then on the rugged wood of Good Friday Jesus injects the ultimate liquid capital into the desperate human race…the liquidity of his blood. He says “Father, forgive them” from a place of searing pain while he gives good news to a pitiful dying thief. The injection of his blood into this world reframes the real world we live in now. All of the times I have been wounded and disappointed can be reevaluated in light of the relief I have received. All of my deep since of personal lack and shame are reaccounted for. I can now break the next link in the demanding chain. The locked down economy of judgement and demand is lubricated by his blood and the wheels can begin to turn…wheels of grace, and love, and forgiveness. We are rich my friends. Happy Easter.

Of Murkiness, Prophecy, and How to Keep Looking Forward

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  2 Peter 1:16-21

I’ve spent time this week meditating on and trying to memorize this passage and found myself needing to untangle some of the reasoning behind Peter’s thoughts here.  Peter asserts that the body of prophecy in the Old Testament has pushed past any accusation of trickery or delusion (myth) in the radical moments of transfiguration “on the mount.” His faith is no longer just on the paper of old scrolls but neither has it left those those scrolls behind. His enlightenment has exposed the Scriptures as “more fully confirmed.”

And yet this non-mythical and confirmed Messianic hope we have in Jesus is still something we draw near to as a “lamp shining in a dark place.”  Per commentators the word for “dark” here implies not only a poorly lit but also a murky and dirty place. The immoral environment obstructs our view of what is true.  Our lamp is brighter (“more fully confirmed”) than it was for those in the Old Testament but it is still a lamp and not the sun itself.  As believers we are people who still sit in a place of hope.  We look to the horizon.  We “will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.”  Limitation is implied and yet confidence is asserted.

It is very striking to me (and to commentators) that the second coming of Jesus put in the imagery of the morning star is said to eventually rise “in your hearts.” The second coming will be subjectively as well as historically experienced.  It implies what I know from experience to be true…that my heart is still one of these dark and murky places…a place that needs hope and light.  Our hearts are the place we experience the darkness of sin but also the place where we sit in hope, the organ for looking expectantly, and the place that will be transformed when he comes again.

As ministers of the gospel we hold this hope out in the murky and dark places of the world.  We hold it out with an objectivity of confidence in prophecy confirmed in history, a prophecy “more fully confirmed.”  We give way neither to the cynicism of agnosticism nor the premature pretending that all is clear and we have somehow arrived. It is dark but we have a sure lamp and wait for the sure rising sun. “And you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark (and murky) place until the day dawns and the mornings star rises in your hearts.”  

-Paul Van Allen

Eating a Hard Breakfast with Walter Brueggemann

Walter Bruegemann is an Old Testament scholar who has interacted with the Old Testament in a deeply honest way.  The result is fresh and prophetic (read troubling and unsettling).  In a podcast interview with Marc van Bulck I discovered recently, he deals with messy themes of the Old Testament as unflinchingly as a triage doctor on a civil war battlefront.  You can not denny as you read the Bible that “God is implicated in violence” says Bruegemann.  He rejects the cliche misconception of the two dimensional mean God of the Old Testament being in disjunction with the two dimensionally nice God of the New Testament.

Why is the Bible so difficult?  Why is life?  If the universe permitted I’d order up something different entirely…a different Bible in which God was predictable and nice on every page…a world where problems didn’t come to me or my children and if they did they would be solved as easily as a misunderstanding in a kids’ chapter book.  Perplexity and pain would give way quickly to clarity and comfort.

Theodicy is a fancy word for the attempt to justify God and clear him from implications of involvement in the evil of the world or the problem of evil.  How can there be so much wrong if God is so right and capable?  Here is Brueggemann again: “Theodicy is a wrong way of framing the problem of evil because it turns a practical relational problem into an abstract theoretical problem that seeks theoretical solutions…I think that in the Old Testament…the final poem of Job is a dismissal of theodicy questions.  Job and his friends were having exactly this conversation…and God in the whirlwind speech simply blows it all away and says ‘I’m not going to have a discussion about that.’  So I think that the Jewish Old Testament answer to the question of theodicy is lament.  Its not a reasoned argument it is a passionate cry and faithful people cry out for justice or for resolution when there is no chance of it, there is no chance of healing in certain…there is no chance of it.  The cries of Israel are an attempt to mobilize God’s fidelity and if you cry out and there is no answers then what you do is you cry out louder.”

This is Fatherhood

Today, my dad turns 70.  There is only one Allan Van Allen…thats one of those safe statements I can make in the world.  Anyone who knows my dad would agree.

Dad, you have been an old-school dying-breed family man.  You loved, love, and will love Mom…its an axiom of my universe.   Keeping that government job over forty years meant less of life’s frills but it also meant a life with margin…margin you spent lavishly on your family.   Growing up I could set my watch to that old yellow VW bug with the smashed in fenders coming up the hill on Little Oak drive.  There was time for wrestling on the living room floor, for playing catch in what we called the “side yard,” and there was what seemed like too much time for family devotions.  As a father now myself, I know the pull of the invisible tractor beams that drag men away from giving their kids the attention they crave.  You were lavish.  You kept your world small enough that we could be the biggest part of it.

I recently stumbled onto the old family ledger from when I was a kid.  It was fascinating to me how far a dollar could go in the late 70’s squeezed by the determination of a young couple living off of a single government paycheck.  What struck me more was how consistently generous you have been throughout your life.  Over and over again $10 and $20 was written next to some missionary, ministry or church’s name.  I know there was no intention to inform your left hand of what your right hand was doing…as I recall the ledger was kept as a safety measure to avoid bouncing checks since each paycheck lasted right up to the next paycheck in those days.  I imagine we would have been able to eat out more than once a month if you hadn’t given that money away.  I wonder how it was used and where the lasting fruit is and if God will humor us someday by rolling the tape on all of those stories we participated in without seeing.  Maybe when he rolls the tape we’ll only get to see His smile and that will be enough.

Some of my earliest and deepest memories from childhood are of you hunkered down before the morning sun over an old Ryrie Study Bible with highlighters and pen in hand while a pot of Folgers brew on the formica kitchen countertop.  I knew that you knew that you needed Jesus.  C.S. Lewis pointed out that it won’t do to line up any old Christian and any old non-Christian and see who is the more agreeable chap.  It won’t work because it assumes we were all dealt an even hand at birth and as your name again attests you clearly weren’t (wink).   Through nature and nurture God carved out in you a greater space to feel the full emotional registry of life than he did in anyone else I know.  You are high voltage.  Sure, I’ve been zapped a few times but I’ve also known a pretty high voltage love.

I respect you, Dad, for the way you have eaten life’s hard breakfasts and gripped tightly to the ancient writ ever looking forward to heaven’s good dinner.  You have grown in the trajectory of Jesus and at 70 years of age your heart is not hard.  You have a family that loves you.  I look 30 years down the road and think to myself that I could do a lot worse.  You have my respect, gratitude, and love.



Old Words Still Have Life

I’ve been rummaging around in the Anglican treasure chest a little lately and found this beauty.  I’m struck by the depth.  Newman has been around the block and his view of life, self, and God are three dimensional.     Newman lives in a universe that has room for God, man, pain, and meaning in life.  These words are old but they still have (and give) life.  Enjoy…

John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman

1. God was all-complete, all-blessed in Himself; but it was His will to create a world for His glory. He is Almighty, and might have done all things Himself, but it has been His will to bring about His purposes by the beings He has created. We are all created to His glory—we are created to do His will. I am created to do something or to be something for which no one else is created; I have a place in God’s counsels, in God’s world, which no one else has; whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man, God knows me and calls me by my name.

2. God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

3. Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.

O Adonai, O Ruler of Israel, Thou that guidest Joseph like a flock, O Emmanuel, O Sapientia, I give myself to Thee. I trust Thee wholly. Thou art wiser than I—more loving to me than I myself. Deign to fulfil Thy high purposes in me whatever they be—work in and through me. I am born to serve Thee, to be Thine, to be Thy instrument. Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see—I ask not to know—I ask simply to be used.


This meditation was written by John Henry Newman in March 1848

Taken from

I would love to hear what strikes you as you read this.


Waiting for Henri


Waves of apprehension and anticipation are swelling each day closer to your arrival (scheduled for April 15th!).  As I take time in the early mornings to consider your coming I can’t help but wonder if I’m ready to welcome you with grace.  C.S. Lewis talked about the stresses in our lives that turn the lights on in our basements and expose the rats of sin…our grossest moments.  I’m looking forward to meeting you Henri but wondering if I’m ready to meet myself in the context of your needs and a deprivation of sleep.

I wonder too what you are getting yourself into.  In God’s mysterious and inexplicable ways he has taken mine and your mother’s broken DNA and woven in an extra copy of the 23rd chromosome into you.  The grief that that news brought us has been gradually replaced with expectation of blessing.  The stories that surround different boys, girls, men, and women with Down Syndrome that have come our way since your diagnosis have been consistently stories of childlike and irreplaceable joy.  Life has its costs and its benefits and the thing about believing in God is that we look with faith for surpassing blessing.  Life is not a zero sum game for those who love God.

Our life before kids and for a few years after your sisters came was marked by adventure and global travel.  That phase of life seems to have come to a screeching halt and yet as I wait for you I sense an adventure coming much greater than the mountain roads of the Karakoram or island hopping in Indonesia.  G.K. Chesterton called out the shallow sentiment of the adventurer who elevated tiger hunting in India which was a chosen and somewhat controlled adventure to the wild uncontrollable adventure of being born:

“There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.”

Henri, I can’t wait for you to be born and to share life with you.  I hope you will learn to like baseball and Chinese food.  I’d warn you about your crazy sisters and the love they are getting ready to smoother you with but you’ll figure it all out in time.  When we pass the peace in church my favorite part is reaching down to your mother’s tummy and saying “Peace of Christ” to you.   You are most welcome to our family be it fairy-tale or misadventure. There is a Storyteller at work who is hard to see but who does not stand at a distance.  Peace of Christ to you, Henri.

A Valentine’s Liturgy for Love

If you’re like me you may feel a little nauseous in the swirl of pink, chocolate and Shades of Grey this Valentines.  Sure, I could rant for a while about the shallowness of holiday consumerism or the dehumanization of our oversexed culture but instead lets just pray.

Here are some selections from an Anglican Valentine’s liturgy I found.  Read them and pray them alone or with your special someone, for yourself or for someone else’s marriage and for our culture.  If pain and regret are the main emotions that register for you this time of year you may just want to go straight for the final prayer for absolution.  I hope that those feelings become the context for encountering the true love of Jesus this week.
love and hope



God our Father, from the beginning, you have blessed creation with abundant life. Pour out your blessings upon all who are married, that they may continue in mutual love and companionship, in holiness and commitment to each other. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Alleluia, alleluia. God is love; let us love one another as God has loved us. Alleluia.


Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we lift up our hearts to you through Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him you have made a covenant of grace with your people by the outpouring of your Holy Spirit.

We praise you for the gift of marriage in which the love of husband and wife is brought together and reflects your plan of love for the world.

We thank you today for N and N [or all who have been married in this place], and for leading them to each other in friendship and love, commitment and trust, and for bringing them here for the blessing of their marriage.

Living God, by the presence of your Holy Spirit, may they know the risen Christ to be with them now, as they celebrate this covenant together. May their lives be a witness to your saving love in this troubled world.

As you pour out your love, may they grow together in your sight, and each be to the other a companion in joy, a comfort in sorrow and a strength in need.

As you blessed the earthly home at Nazareth with the presence of your Son, may their home be a place of security and peace.

And bring us all at the last to that great marriage banquet of your Son in our home in heaven, where, with all your saints and angels, in the glory of your presence, we will for ever praise you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


Heavenly Father, we offer you our souls and bodies, our thoughts and words and deeds, our love for one another. Unite our wills in your will, that we may grow together in love and peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


May the God of love bring us back to himself, forgive us our sins, and assure us of his eternal love in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


I hope these prayers have blessed you.  You may want to share this on Facebook and tag someone you are praying for. You can find more at:

I think I can actually say this now and mean it, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Lost in the Puritan Woods with John Piper

wooden signpost in forest

Yesterday I watched a new video released by the Gospel Coalition with Piper, Carson, and Keller in which the three of them spoke about influential authors and who they would want their followers to read.  No surprise, the conversation was dominated by C.S. Lewis for Keller and Jonathan Edwards for John Piper.

Keller encourages younger people to appreciate the Puritans but to be careful not to “get lost in the Puritan forest.”  Keller jokes that these lost modern day Puritans begin starting sentences with “Me thinks.”  I was relieved to see John Piper laugh at Keller’s joke.   I was honestly afraid he might take it personally.

I’m grateful for Piper and the role he played at phases of my Christian journey.   His time in the Puritan Woods whittling sticks and hunting rabbits with Jonathan Edwards formed an old school Christian with a profoundly prophetic voice to a church suffering from historical amnesia and desperate to be culturally “relevant.”  As Piper says, today’s preachers lean towards being “chipper and fun and glib” and that they “don’t suffer from an abundance of earnestness.”   Yes, I know that preacher very well and Edwards may be good “corrective”, as he says, for this trend.  Sadly, though, its rarely the people who could use a good long stroll in the Puritan Woods that spend time there.

If Piper had a Spinal Tap amp he’d keep the intensity cranked to 11 almost all the time.  Even when he’s speaking softly he’s intense.  He oozes earnestness.  This is who John Piper is and without the earnestness we wouldn’t have the man.  The problem is when young men try to mimic John Piper.  Many of those who have followed Piper deep into the Puritan Woods have tried to reproduce that intensity and the result is that they are often more loud than deep.  They should seriously consider spending more time making sandcastles at the beach with Tim Keller and C.S. Lewis.

(note:  this post is a penitential lenten rewrite draft)


Kicking, Screaming, and Following Jesus

I find Jesus very easy to follow in theory.  Its when he wants to go somewhere specific that I start having problems.

December 2nd, 5am: I’m inexplicably unable to sleep and find myself reading “A Road to Daybreak” by Henri Nouwen.  He talks of God’s call on him to leave the intellectually stimulating environment as a professor at Harvard Divinity School to go and live in a community of disabled people.  He describes himself as going “kicking and screaming.”  The coffee and the unusual silence of our house help the words slow down a little.

December 2nd, 4pm:  We receive a phone call from the birthing center saying that the genetic test results for our expectant baby boy just came in and we needed to “come in immediately” to talk about the results.  We knew immediately that this means Downs Syndrome.

We have two beautiful daughters Ava (7) and Layla (6).  Layla came into the world without any observable trauma and yet an MRI when she was three showed damage on both sides of her brain.  She is considered intellectually disabled and speech impaired.  Her disability meant the end of our life in China, our home for the previous 11 years.  The cost and the blessing of Layla frame the news we receive.

In the movie The Green Berets John Wayne is a seasoned Colonel leading missions in the Vietnam war.  In a scene boarding an airplane preparing for a parachute mission John Wayne comments “Colonel Kai you haven’t said a word all night.”  “You know why?” interjects a third officer.  “He’s never jumped before.”   “Oh, first one’s easy” John Wayne responds.   “Its the second one that’s hard to get ’em to make.”

This is our second jump.  Our minds are a rush of resetting expectations.  The amount of diapers we will need to buy probably just tripled.  The decimal point on medical bills moves to the right.  I see a fork stuck in the hope that we will ever return to our globe trotting international life.

December 2nd, 8pm  we have tickets to Handle’s Messiah.  We keep our babysitting and our plans to go.  The tenor sings “Comfort ye my people…prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  This is getting a little too real.    I feel my soul kicking and screaming.   I sense that this is one of those points where my expectations that Jesus follow me are exposed and He puts the original offer back on the table.  “Follow me,” I hear Him say.