- N.T. Wright
Here's a strong example of Jimmy Fallon's great interviewing technique. He's talking with Bradley Cooper about The Elephant Man, a play Cooper says inspired him to become an actor. Watch and learn, friends.
This just in. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has begun to build a center to house it's a extensive collection of documents from the great preacher Charles H. Spurgeon and offer space for lectures and study. They're calling it the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching.
A 1959 essay on creativity by Issac Asimov, that has not been published, has been released by a friend at MIT. In it, Asimov talks about the origin of the theory of evolution, which he says was devised by two men independently, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.
A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.He goes on to say a team hoping to develop great new ideas needs to become comfortable with each other and inspire each other to look forward. (via Prufrock)
Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)
From today’s reading of Matthew 19, Mark 10
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10: 15-16 (ESV)
. . .
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. – Mark 10:21-22 (ESV)
. . .
But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” – Mark 10:31 (ESV)
. . .
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45 (ESV)
. . .
And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. – Mark 10:51-52 (ESV)
Jesus overturns our sense of what makes sense, doesn’t he? The natural self want to grow out of the powerlessness of childhood into the power of well-integrated adulthood. The natural self pursues possessions as a divine right. The natural self see a lot of good in being first in line (who doesn’t love that?). Boss or servant? Which seems more appealing?
Jesus keeps repeating this theme, because we need to have it repeated: pursue dependency on God and simplicity in spirit. Pursue generosity versus things. Pursue service rather than lordship.
Jesus always, always lived what he taught. Though he was God, he did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2). He lived a life marked by absolute dependency upon God. He left heaven and all its riches to become the riches of God toward us. He gave himself to the poor. He associated with and befriended the “lasts” and “leasts”, the ones, like the beggar, blind Bartimaeus, that no one else had time for. They weren’t nuisances to Jesus.
I love the last part of the passage quoted above: And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
Jesus said “go your way”. No-longer-blind Bartimaeus saw his way very clearly; following Jesus. What other way could he choose but to follow the Master who willingly made himself Servant and lavished upon him the riches, the healing, the love of his Father?
An army of sea monkeys. A boy villain named Stacey de Lacey. A nearsighted mermaid. Rambling Isles that walk/swim around the ocean. Sarcastic seaweed. A talking albatross named Mr. Culpepper. And a beach optician. Not in that order.
The author of this stew of ridiculous is the same Phillip Reeve who wrote a dark Arthurian saga called Here Lies Arthur and won the Carnegie Medal for it in 2008. Oliver and the Seawigs is not dark, not Arthurian, and not a saga—and contrary to the series title (yes, there’s a series of at least two books so far), not very possible. But then again, who cares about possible when you’re reading something that reads as if it were an exercise in six impossible things before breakfast?
Ten year old Oliver Crisp is the son of explorers who met on the top of Mount Everest. They’re finally ready to settle down in a house by the sea, having explored all there is to explore, but when they arrive at their house of dreams (for Oliver who’s tired of exploring), there are some new islands in Deepwater Bay just off the coast. Oliver’s parents are compelled by their exploring nature to go explore, but then it’s Oliver who must rescue them when they don’t return in time for supper.
Only 193 pages with lots of pictures, this rollicking adventure would be just the thing to suggest to the third or fourth grader with a silly sense of humor (or one who needs some silly in his life). The next book in the series, Cakes in Space, features Astra and some scary-looking cakes. In a spaceship.
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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.
The skies today in central Indiana were as wild as any I’ve ever seen.
Such contrasts! Here and there, brilliant patches of naked blue broke through a pervasive chaos in the firmament, suggesting some paradise beyond the swirling fury. White, black, and every shade of gray between percolated across heaven’s dome. There was no discernible pattern, just helter skelter as far as the eye could see. A mythic battle ensued overhead all day long while we mere mortals trudged along below.
Where my day was typical for a hospice chaplain.
It started in the hospital, with a visit to a man just admitted to end of life care. I walked into a dark room, filled with family — a daughter, son, grandchildren, great grandchildren. I introduced myself and sat down to talk. The patient was non-responsive, the daughter looked beaten down, and the grandchildren were preoccupied with eating their biscuits and gravy breakfasts. In recent months, the family had lost a grandmother, an aunt, and a mother. Now dad was dying. When I expressed sympathy for their losses, the daughter squinted her eyes and recoiled as though a cold wind had gusted and slapped her in the face.
I did my best to let them know I was available as a friend. What did they hear, I wonder?
As I was starting to leave the hospital, I received a call that another of our patients there had just died. I turned around and went to a different unit. There, two adult daughters were weeping and consoling each other over the loss of their mother, who had just passed after a weeks-long family vigil at the bedside. I asked permission to join them and sat down. This was listening time, and that’s pretty much what I did for awhile. What could I say? I did praise them for keeping faithful company with their mom during her last days, but this was their time to talk.
The visit ended up lasting a couple of hours. I moved in and out of the room, checking on them, giving them some space, doing a few small tasks on their behalf, touching base with the staff, and mostly just waiting. One daughter remarked how quiet it had become in the room, how little there was to do now. Other family members eventually arrived and we gathered around the deathbed where I commended them all into God’s care.
Then I moved on, and they walked out to face the turbulent skies.
On the way to my next visit, the sun began shining brightly, and as I drove through the city I was surrounded by resplendent trees under wide swaths of azure. The dear lady I went to see in her home has the most beautiful white hair, and as she sat in front of the window, the rays shone through and it sparkled like a million tiny diamonds. This woman, in her 90’s, always dresses to the nines whenever members of her care team visit. She loves to entertain, tell stories, and make us laugh. Sometimes she sits with three cats on her lap and one on the back of her chair, looking every bit like the queen of paradise, with her fancy sweaters, glimmering jewelry, and flashing, smiling eyes. I always kneel before her and pray at the end of my visit.
God save the queen.
When I left her home to drive to my next stop, I noticed that the battle in the sky had intensified. The gods had marshaled their forces, the trumpet had sounded and all over heaven the lines were advancing with swords and shields drawn. No peace in sight. With each turn of the steering wheel, another vista of cosmic warfare. Maybe I should take shelter. But I can’t look away.
My day ended with a few mundane activities: a meeting, a cancelled visit, a stop back at the hospital where I found a patient alone and asleep and decided not to disturb him. Time to go home.
All the way to my house I thought about just how fine the line is between ordinary and extraordinary.
Nothing could be more common than what I do. Travel. Greet. Sit. Listen. Converse. Pray. Repeat.
But it all happens under a roiling sky, a cosmic battle, Job’s whirlwind.
Today I saw it. I really saw it.
Sometimes I wonder how any of us makes it home alive.
In the late 1990′s / early 2000′s our Men’s group was studying the Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper book. During the discussion about sexual purity/lust, all the men in the group admitted to an ongoing struggle against lust. Even our oldest class member, in his late 70′s admitted to still struggling with lustful thoughts. Lust continues to affect even Christian men.
Janie Cheaney talks about war in the context of Andrew Peterson's fourth book in The Wingfeather Saga. Do Christian novelists simplify and glorify it? "While most wars are wasteful and pointless, some are not. And ugly and terrifying as it is, battle seems to have an almost primeval appeal, especially to men. It's as if they are called to find out what's in them: savagery or heroism, unspeakable cruelty or self-sacrifice, the best or the worst."
It's a strong desire to live for something large. Perhaps that's how we currently express the eternity God has set in our hearts "yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). That yearning for glory easily yields to the lust of our pride, making our desire to live for something big subservient to a desire to live a self-directed life, and in doing so we end up fighting over selfish things or for unwise causes. Lars' latest novel, Death's Doors, deals with this in that there's a real battle over life and death raging around the characters, but their perspectives are too self-centered to see it for a while.
Chris, I’m having a really hard time with the picture you paint of a super fine line between modesty and shame. I simply cannot find a way to convince myself that this is a difficult balance to walk. And frankly you seem to be describing an anti-fundie/RHE blogosphere created tempest when in fact reality is as simple as sipping tea.
First off, I imagine it is true that there are some groups where female modesty and chastity is so over-taught, that a few females feel shame about their bodies. I can grant you that this probably exists in certain fundie groups.
However, what I observe is a much more simple reality.
- Our culture is sex-saturated.
- Boys and girls need to hear about the beauty of sex in marriage and dangers and sinfulness of sex outside of marriage.
- Boys need to be taught to control themselves.
- Girls need to be taught about the importance of modesty and the reality of how males respond to physical cues from females.
- College girls need to know that going to parties and drinking heavily is ridiculously unwise. And that your dress choice at such parties is also part of being wise in social gatherings. (this opens up a different, but related, topic…)
My daughter and wife have not found this to be difficult. My daughter is careful about modesty and dresses appropriately—albeit sometimes complaining about the limited options. And sometimes telling my wife to make a better choice for herself! And my wife has spent some time helping her understand how males respond to the way she dresses and why that makes her choices even more important.
The other fundie issue you mentioned, alcohol, seems much more filled with shades of grey, as one tries to balance freedom in Christ with potentially frightening side-effects and social ramifications.
Let’s just all hope that none of our daughters end up on a wrecking ball.
Wait, wait. Who said that we should be shaming women for their shape? We should be shaming them for their dress, which is something entirely under their control.
Anyway, The Lost Planet opens with our amnesiac hero recovering from a nasty head wound. He doesn’t know where he is or who he is. However, a somewhat damaged memory chip embedded under his scalp (ouch!) indicates that his name might be “Chase Garrety”. The only thing he remembers, sort of, is a message: “Guide the star.” What does it mean? Who is he really? And is someone trying to kill him?
What in this book reminded me of Star Wars?
*a robot helper/guardian.
*lots of alien species with odd non-humanoid bodies from several different planets.
*travel on a rickety old space ship with a less than trustworthy pilot.
*space smugglers and arms dealers.
*a “who am I” and “who are my parents” mystery.
*a vaporized planet.
*a motley crew of frenemies thrown together by misadventure and running for their lives.
*a “federation” made up of many planets (but that’s more Star Trek, isn’t it?).
On the other hand, Lost Planet is not just a Star Wars knock-off. It’s different enough that fans of that sort of story might very well enjoy it, especially middle grade readers who are looking for science fiction/fantasy with “no kissing” parts. No romance, lots of action, and inter-planetary adventure make this novel just the right read for—well, whom does that description bring to your mind?
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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.
(1) If as JesseB says, shame in this area is truly a dichotomy, then shouldn’t the shame be on the men for their lust, rather than on the women for being the shape that God made them?
(2) I can’t help but think that this discussion is colored by the fact that we’re all a bunch of middle-aged men who, if statistics bear out, have all struggled with visual temptation for much of our lives.
Oh and $650K + $200K housing allowance? And “nobody needs to know” it? Lord have mercy.
There’s such a thing as a lot of bad kinds of shame but in his book on violence and aggression Baumeister wrote that shame had probably the most important pre-emptive role in curbing human violence and aggression. Take away fear and shame and you may think you’re doing humanity a favor but you’re taking away the biggest emotional/social disincentives to harm people.
And didn’t even Paul write in one of the epistles not just “I don’t say this to shame you” but also “I say this to your shame”? We’ll never be able to avoid people feeling guilty and we’ll keep expecting that some people should feel guilty that won’t feel guilty.
It sounds like there’s at least some consensus here that whatever that golden mean might be nobody’s staking out precepts that would let us come close to finding it.
“Hope and redemption” doesn’t make biology stop being real. Testosterone increases sex drive, which is why teenage boys have had a well-deserved reputation for being horny for as long as humans have been observing teenage boys. You can’t pray the T away.
Here’s what we know works: Segregating the sexes. Don’t put them together when mating behavior isn’t desirable. But that makes women cry because they’re “denied opportunities,” so we can’t have that, unless it’s a left-wing all-female college like Wellesley, and then we’re creating a “safe space” for women.
So we also know, again from centuries of experience, that a bit of modesty goes a long way. We know, from decades of experience that when girls are twerking their spandex-clad butts at boys, the boys don’t learn what they’re supposed to learn in school.
The obvious solution is to re-segregate education, but the obvious is a hate crime now, so we can’t do the obvious. The next most obvious thing is to tell the girls to cover their boobs and wear actual pants, but it turns out that’s a hate crime, too.
So that’s not allowed.
What is allowed is to chide the boy and tell him to stop paying attention to the girl flashing her whale tail at him. He should just learn to not look, “because we as humans are better than that.”
Of course, we all know that’s absolute nonsense, because all of us were pubescent boys once. But by golly, that’s what feels like the moral thing to say, so that’s what we’re going to say, no matter how totally disconnected from reality it may be.
How can we help the guys out without making (some of) the girls feel guilty?
Why is guilt undesirable? Back in the bad old days when men felt they ought not to engage in sexual contact with women they weren’t married to, and women felt they ought not flaunt their assets at the men they lusted after, the divorce rate was lower, and there were fewer illegitimate children.
Maybe the previous millennia of human civilization knew something about the sexes that we’ve forgotten because we’ve become enchanted with the silly idea of equality.
Note from CM: Our friend Miguel Ruiz will now be blogging at The Brothers of John the Steadfast. This article, “First Church of Authenticity and Trends,” was recently published there, and Miguel gave us permission to run it as well.
• • •
First Church of Authenticity and Trends
By Miguel Ruiz
…is it just me, or is this title hopelessly contradictory? And yet, this is the message that countless congregations endeavor to send to our culture. “We’re the genuine article, bona-fide disciples of Jesus, and we’re just like you, so you’ll fit right in!” Mercy.
So my wife and I recently visited a local festival associated with the harvest of some plant that makes delicious pies (and they were!). It was hosted by a local congregation associated with a (non-LCMS) historic Protestant tradition who, though the denominational acronym had not been completely removed from their signage, had transitioned to the “Community Church” name and image. As a part of a nation-wide initiative, they were aggressively advertising “National Back to Church Sunday,” which I thought sounded just plain lovely, almost like “back to school,” but without all the corresponding sales. I said to my wife, “I didn’t know the Methodists took off Christianity for the summer!”
All snark aside, a few of the promotional materials, pamphlets, and fliers wound up in our hands, and as we read through them, a few paragraphs jumped out at me.
“You’re invited to church this Sunday at ______ Community Church! At ___CC, you will find friendly people striving for a better life, varying music styles, upbeat worship, relevant messages, and a focus on living life with a purpose. Come see what church has to offer for your life.”
If I were an unbeliever and the least bit skeptical, I think my initial response to that last sentence might be something along the lines of “Apparently, absolutely nothing.”
“Special coffee hour to follow. Casual Atmosphere, Real People, Active Mission, Mid-week Bible Studies, Fun Children’s Program, New Youth Programs.”
Now, if that isn’t cheesy or cliche, is it at least missing something rather critical that ought to have some prominence in a church advertising campaign? There is no Jesus in the equation. Does He have anything to offer my life? Or more importantly, does He have any life to offer me? From the pamphlets we received, you might indeed assume He was anything but high up on their list of priorities, most of which reflected the first world desire of consumer culture for historically unprecedented comfortability.
But the crass concept of church advertising aside, as if we were entrepreneurial businessmen trying to attract a clientele to our new product, consider the potential negative implications of such marketing phrases. Whatever you advertise yourself as will say something significant about what you wish to be seen as not. For example, when you advertise yourself as a church of “friendly people,” there is an implicit suggestion that other churches may be somewhat less than friendly. Otherwise, why would you advertise it if, in your mind, everybody expects every church to be full of friendliness?
Well of course, there are unfriendly churches. I don’t think they are a majority, or that being friendly makes you stand out. But the message seems to clearly imply, “We’re not like those indifferent congregations that you wouldn’t like to be a part of.” So maybe your people are friendly. You may even rightly consider that an asset. And by no means is it over the line to include that fact on your promotional materials. But let’s take a closer look at some of the other claims: Striving for a better life, varying music styles, upbeat worship, relevant messages, a focus on living life with a Purpose (TM), casual atmosphere, etc….
It kind of sounds like many other churches are probably irrelevant and purposeless. I’m reminded of Matt Chandler’s adage that trying to make the Gospel relevant is like trying to make water wet. So… do these other churches not preach the Gospel, or is this saving proclamation not enough? Is the purpose of church really to provide a relaxed, peppy environment for the pursuit of self-improvement? I don’t see that anywhere in the teaching of, you know, Jesus. Further, if your church is full of “real people,” do the rest of ours contain imaginary parishioners? No, this is a subtle, inverse way of playing the pharisee card: We’re real, which is different, because elsewhere you will probably find phony.
When a church says “you should join us because we’re friendly, upwardly mobile, creative, upbeat, relevant, purposeful, casual, real, active, fun, and new,” at what point have they crossed the line of being pretentious? They might as well just come out and say “We’re totally awesome in every way you could possibly dream of, and you really want to hang out with us so it can rub off on you!” I didn’t realize I was missing so many of these things from my life. It’s all quite intimidating, really, I’d want to ask if they have more of an introductory step or recovery group for my purpose-less excuse for an irrelevant life.
At the end of the day, it appeared to base a marketing image 100% on knocking over a straw man caricature of their own creation. These blurbs so attempted to define the congregation by how much it is not like the religious boogeyman that they failed to define themselves by that which actually makes one a Christian! Campaigns like this do not seem designed with the religious skeptic or uninformed in mind. Rather, it appears to target the comfortable Evangelical religious consumer; those who have lost interest in another congregation they either quit attending or are frustrated with its inabilities to meet their “felt needs.” Like it or not, shuffling the deck chairs and inflating conversion statistics is big business. Or at least, it used to be. It will be MySpace by the time the LCMS learns the ropes.
Where is Christ and His Gospel? I’m near positive that somewhere in the doctrinal statements of this particular congregation they are acknowledged, among the many false beliefs Methodists also have. But in the day to day operations, it would appear that they are more assumed than actively confessed. It’s as if once they are in the doctrinal statement, they can safely be ignored most of the time.
What if a congregation defined its “brand image” solely on belief the Gospel? How would this function in terms of negative implication? To put ourselves forward as “Christ-centered, cross focused,” or “Gospel driven” simply implies that our Christianity is about being Christian, and not about what isn’t Christianity (finding purpose etc…). What if it were clear from our advertising that our message is about Jesus from start to finish, and our methods are formed around that which keeps our eyes on Him, in what the late Michael Spencer described as a “Jesus shaped spirituality?”
God bless the people of this congregation for their sincerity and strategic intentionality in reaching out to their community. From the bustle of activity occupying their facilities, you might even conclude that their efforts are successful. But I can’t help but wonder: What are they being reached with? What is being advertised and sold to them? Is it Jesus, or is it the congregation, with her leaders, methods, and new, more relevant message?
If you can indulge me a moment of satire, what if the impression we sought to give our communities for the reason our church exists looked more like this:
“Grumpy people, bored or frustrated with life, mundane diet of dirges, dull worship, droning sermons, focused on just surviving, burnt coffee, constricting atmosphere, hiding behind a mask of formalism, and little activity outside of Sunday morning. What kind of a God would want us? Join us on Sunday to hear all about the wonderful love of a crucified Savior. We might bore you to death, but you’ll be in good company!”
If we’re going to advertise what we’re selling, let it be Jesus. Not ourselves, not a wonderful life, not a purpose-driven all ages 24/7 community activity center. Nothing more than Christ crucified, for the forgiveness of sins. Is Jesus enough if He is all we have to offer?
….so what if I told you that the church we visited was an LCMS congregation? Would you be surprised? Should you?
Why is the dichotomy false? Please show your work.
I’m not trying to be snarky here. I actually want to know how you think this is supposed to work. How can we help the guys out without making (some of) the girls feel guilty? Or do we prioritize female self-esteem and tell the males to suck it up? What does a non-guilt-inducing teaching on modesty look like? One probably exists–on this we agree–but I’m curious as to what it should consist of.
Everyone has a novel in them, they say. And those works of art or escapism should be published for everyone to read. Apparently, millions and millions of books are being published in the US every year. A small percentage of those books are novels (or fiction novels, as some call them). A very small percentage of the novels published over the last three or four years have depicted the world in chaos as Harry Potter and his friends discover they have been left behind in a uniquely British rapture.
A little under 200,000 people profess to be writers in the US. The rest are too ashamed to admit it. The latter are mostly the ones who participate in library-sponsored parties for NaNoWriMo writers, where anyone can gather with other strangers for a few hours to scribble or type at the first of at least 50,000 words. They will be hear great advice, like this from Chris Baty:
- Jot down the names of your characters to stop a Mike becoming Matt or Mick as you write.
- Eat peppermints: a Nasa-funded study showed the peppermint plant increased alertness by 30 per cent.
- Go outdoors with a newspaper, a pen and a notebook. Close your eyes. When you open them spot 'Your Person' and write down everything about them. Close your eyes. Open your paper on a random page and let your finger choose a spot. Open your eyes. The thing you're pointing to has a link to the person you just collected. Work it into your next chapter.
Many will say, "Just get it written." They may insist, "The story must get out of you." But let these stats depress you. And while you're thinking over your plans for next month's exercise, ask yourself whether your story is worth pursuing.
"Nine times out of ten, your idea is really quite mediocre and has been done before, actually a number of times and in a number of different ways," Laurie Scheer states, but you haven't read those stories. You're just invested in your own. What still lies before you is the biggest challenge for all writers today: whether you want to write or to have written.
Go ahead and write 50,000 words next month, and if you love it enough to keep at it, then keep writing. Words are awesome. If you don't love it, maybe you can organize that library party into a community lacrosse team.
Which is more important: protecting women from shame or men from lust? Is it better for a woman to be plagued by anxiety and guilt for her dress, or for a man to be plagued by anxiety and guilt for his thoughts?
I’ll take “smells like a false dichotomy” for $200, please, Alex.
Edit: that was unnecessarily snarky. So let me add on. As a servant leader shouldn’t my intent be first to help serve others before myself?
Which is more important: protecting women from shame or men from lust? Is it better for a woman to be plagued by anxiety and guilt for her dress, or for a man to be plagued by anxiety and guilt for his thoughts?
I’ll fully admit that I’m still a bit reactionary about things like dress / modesty codes given my fundie upbringing.
That’s what you said. I literally have about zero clue what that means. Especially since you’re a straight guy and you have daughters.
What I mean is that, having seen a teaching abused or pushed to a point of absurdity, my first reaction when the topic comes up is in the opposite direction of the abuse. When I catch a whiff of something that even smells like hyper-literalist Bible interpretation, my first reaction is to oppose it. Same sort of thing for topics like consumption of alcohol and modesty/dress codes.
I think that a lot of the current trendy evangelical progressives are pushing back so hard against their fundie upbringings that they haven’t figured out when they’re unwisely pushing back way too far. And I recognize that tendency in myself at times, so I’m trying to own it and not let it run away with me. That’s all I’m trying to say.
If we accept the testimony of many of our sisters that they have been saddled with guilt and shame about their bodies because of the dress/modesty codes that the church has endorsed
I’m not sure I accept that. And more importantly, you’re going to have to explain me what that even means.
In that case we’re clearly not reading the same things. I don’t have time to go dig up links this morning, but there have been a number of Christian women who have been sharing their stories about growing up feeling an intense sense of shame about how their bodies were shaped thanks in large part to the fact that the church’s teaching focus was mostly on how women should cover up so that men aren’t tempted. I’ve heard similar from personal friends, so it isn’t just (at least in my world) random blog crazies telling these stories.
Ashley is mad and sad and and jealous and worried and grumpy. Her best friend, Lucy, is moving away at the end of the summer, and now Lucy is going away to summer camp—without Ashley. What’s more, Ashley’s mom wants her to spend the next few weeks babysitting the seven year old daughter of an old friend. The seven year old, Claire, shows up with a list of “surprise” stuff to do (Ashley hates surprises) and with an over-powering extroverted Pollyanna personality (Ashley is more of a melancholy introvert). It’s going to be the worst summer ever.
Then, Ashley finds a wish jar, a jar full of papers with wishes written on them, in the basement. And when Ashley reads one of the wishes, she sees two other girls who are living out the actions that produced the wish. It’s kind of time travel, kind of clairvoyance, kind of magic. It’s scary, it’s change, and it’s surprising—all of which Ashley doesn’t like much. But she’s fascinated with the wish jar.
Most of the author’s books before this one were written for a younger audience, and it shows in the writing style and plot of this story. Third and fourth graders, maybe fifth graders, might like it a lot. Older children might find the book a little unsophisticated for their tastes. It was nice change for me from the themes and plot lines in which the kid has to save the world or fight the evil sorcerer or find the magic talisman. Nobody goes on a journey, and the book is not the beginning, middle, or end of a series. Dreamer Wisher Liar is a smaller story. Things happen and it’s interesting, but the events are modest events. It’s about friendship and learning to accept change and growing up in small but significant ways.
Ashley is a bit self-centered (like all of us), somewhat conservative and resistant to change (like many of us), and overly analytical (like me sometimes). She thinks about things, and she wants to do the right thing even when she does the wrong thing. The wrong thing she does forms the last last part of the title, the liar part, and Ashley is afraid that “the universe” is going to take its revenge on her for lying to her mother about the wish jar. But she just can’t share the magical time travel that is happening in response to the wishes for fear that it might go way. So she lies about what she’s doing in the basement. This “liar” aspect was the weakest part of the story; there are never really any consequences for the lying that goes on. And Ashley doesn’t exactly decide to quit lying; it just becomes no longer necessary to lie about the magic.
Anyway, aside from that, there are several small mysteries that come together in a satisfying way at the end of the book. Ashley learns several small but important lessons. Everything is resolved, and mostly everyone is happy, or at least content. At one point in the story Ashley tells a friend about a book she’s just finished: “I don’t usually like endings, but this was different—it was satisfying.”
Her friend answers: “You mean it’s all wrapped up, finished, no loose or uncomfortable ends sticking out.”
“Yes,” thinks Ashley. “It was all done–there was nothing left to worry about.”
If that’s the kind of book you like, that’s the kind of book Dreamer Wisher Liar is. Enjoy.
Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.
From today’s reading of Luke 17:11 – 18:14
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
The natural human condition, in our fallen state, is one of competition and comparison. The sin of comparison and self-exaltation is a sin that is easy to miss or dismiss in our culture, but it is among the most deadly sins. We live in a society that runs on the fuel of covetousness. Just watch a few minutes of TV and you’ll see what I mean. Every ad screams at you about what you don’t have, what you need that you didn’t know you needed, or what they have that you must have, and that you must not rest until you have it. At the time of this writing there is a Sprint commercial making the rounds that literally features women screaming about getting an iPhone 6 (really, that’s about the extent of the commercial . . . women screaming).
Did you catch the deadly mistake made by the Pharisee above? “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”. An entire prayer, comparing himself to other men. I’m sure the Pharisee would beat me in external holiness. I have no doubt that he was honest, that he was just, faithful to his wife, generous, etc. He was a good guy.
The problem of the Pharisee is one of comparison; the path of least resistance in our natural fallen state is to compare ourselves to others. That’s easy. The comparison that our souls run from in terror is the comparison to God. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” is an exercise in missing the point. Plus it is untrue. This man is like other men; a sinner desperately in need of a Savior. All the external holiness in the world is mere window dressing around the cracked and dirty panes of our lives.
The tax collector chose wisely. His prayer is one of comparison also, but it is a comparison between who he is and who God is. He agrees with God that he is a sinner and appeals to the throne of Mercy.
Turning our eyes upon Jesus results in the abolition of all the silly ideas of topping our fellow men and women in righteousness. That is a game we may “win” in the eyes of the world but that we will ultimately lose when engulfed in the holiness of God. Looking to Jesus will overwhelm us with our need for him, because the more we see him as he is, the more we see our own desperate state. And that is the path toward fulfilling the destiny he has for his children: to become like Jesus.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 (ESV)
Thinking Outside the Blog: Connecting With Others in the Wilderness
By Steve Scott
I have an idea.
We know that Michael Spencer wrote much about the problems within evangelicalism. So much so that the subtitle of the Internet Monk blog has long been, “Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness.”
Wilderness, you say? Yes. That place of dry wandering – and wondering – where neither the city, nor the suburbs, nor the small country town consider us one of their own. Its citizens long for a home, and the comments section at IM has been filled with wilderness wanderers documenting their journeys. Occasionally we hear of success stories of wanderers finding a home. Maybe within the Lutheran church, or the Catholic Church, or the Orthodox Church. Even so, many of us still wander in the wilderness.
But what if there were a way for those in the wilderness to connect with each other? I have occasionally wanted to post a comment asking if there are others in my metro area of 8 million who would be willing to meet, maybe for coffee or a meal, maybe to share our journeys, maybe to start a church. Surely, with iMonk’s vast readership there has to be somebody out there. But the last thing I wanted the blog to become is a place for personals ads. So I sent an email to Chaplain Mike asking for any input. And…
Chaplain Mike had an idea.
What if we started up an Internet Monk Community page on Facebook? That way people could join and send messages to each other privately and maybe set up get-togethers in various places or communicate in ways other than the usual comment threads.
So, Mike set up a Facebook group called “iMonk Community,” with the following as its purpose: “The iMonk Community Group is designed to help readers of the Internet Monk blog connect and communicate in other ways.”
This group will be a “secret group” on Facebook, meaning that members must be added or invited by another member. This should help keep spammers, posers and trolls away and provide a format with reasonable privacy. If you are a reader of the iMonk blog and wish to be a member of the Facebook group, see the instructions at the bottom of this post.
I am excited about this meeting place for iMonk readers. Keep reading this post and Chaplain Mike will give instructions on joining the group. Peace.
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Instructions for Joining iMonk Community on Facebook
- The iMonk Community Group on Facebook is a “secret” group, which means only members have access to the site. Membership is by invitation only.
- If you would like to join, make sure first you have established a Facebook profile.
- Then email Chaplain Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org and request an invitation to join the group. Use the email account you want to be contacted at.
- Chaplain Mike will send you an invitation by email to which you can respond.
I love history because I love romance (by which I mean, not novels by Barbara Cartland, but romantic adventure - swashbuckling and gunplay in long-lost times and distant places). I picked up The Brothers Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf, by William C. Davis, to get some of the facts behind the legend of Jean Laffite and his brother Pierre. I knew what I was getting into, and was already aware of their sordid side, so I read it with interest.
Most of us know the Laffites as "the pirates who helped Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans." And they did that, though they weren't quite as noble as the movies make it seem. They were operating a smuggling operation out of Barataria Island, taking advantage of political instability and the difficulties the US government had enforcing its laws in the newly extended territories of the Louisiana Purchase. When the British fleet sailed in, they seem to have tried to play both sides against the middle (a recurring theme in their story), but the Americans got their hands on them first, so they helped them.
Like most criminals, they never actually got very rich, although they tried to live like it. They seem to have been rather courtly with their (white) prisoners, but at bottom their reality was pretty ignoble. They violated America's ban on importing slaves through a clever manipulation of the law, first importing the miserable captives illegally, then turning them in as contraband and collecting the reward (Jim Bowie partnered with them in this scam). They were also "filibusters," a term which originally referred to adventurers, mostly Americans, who set up bogus "revolutionary republics" in Spanish America and then issued letters of marque giving their acts of piracy a cloak of legality. But the Laffites added a characteristic twist of their own - they informed on their fellow filibusters to the Spanish, for pay.
There's little heroism to find in this story, but what it does offer is a fascinating look into a formative but little-known era of American history. The book is very long, but half of it is footnotes.
From today’s reading of John 11
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” – John 11:17-27 (ESV)
I once went to an evening session at my church featuring a guest speaker who had fashioned an entire study around the basic idea “Mary good. Martha bad”. His talk included a humorous and surly rendition of Martha’s “rebuke” to Jesus: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Throughout his talk he repeated this refrain, “Jesus doesn’t have favorites, but he does have intimates.”
In other words, be Mary, not Martha. This sentiment is based on Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha in Luke 10:41-42; I get it. What I don’t get is how anyone can read John 11 and come away with a negative opinion of Martha.
The beauty of God’s word is that it is written about real people, not paper cut-outs. In this passage, Martha and Mary are both the same. They are both distressed and grieving, and both believe that if Jesus had just come sooner their brother would not have died. When Jesus finally arrives, only Martha goes to him.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
This is not a statement of rebuke. It is a statement of faith. Yes, Martha’s has a more “get-er-done” personality than Mary. Mary is a more contemplative person, Martha tends to practicalities. In Luke 10 Mary chose the better way, seated at the feet of the Master. But keep reading.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
This is what is known as “hitting it out of the park”. It is a statement of faith from someone who knows Jesus, loves him and is loved by him.
I’ll never make fun of or be critical of Martha. Ever. (On a side note, there’s John 11:16 for those of you who think your faith is stronger than Thomas’s).
These people knew and loved Jesus, were known and loved by him, and were changed. The raising of Lazarus from the dead is only the more dramatic and physical sign and wonder demonstrating what Jesus, our compassionate Savior, does for everyone whom he calls.
From the time I can remember I’ve been interested in photography one way or another. It started out, I think, by seeing my mom and dad use a camera to take family snapshots. In fact I now have an old print, taken around 1940 or so, of me sitting in the grass holding my mom’s Kodak Bantam camera to my eye and looking through the viewfinder. When I was about twelve they gave me an Ansco Panda camera for Christmas. I was in heaven. From that time to this I have been involved in photography to one degree or another. It wasn’t until retirement that I had time to devote to my hobby in a serious way.
However it has always been more than a hobby. It’s a way to get me out into God’s creation. Here I’ve learned to see in new ways. But not only see, but also to listen. To listen seems to me, to be an important part of being with God.
Photography is an interpretation of the beauty we behold. It’s a rendition of reality, or a viewing of what is “out there” literally through a different lens.
It also means that I must slow down, wait for what will happen. The light will change in a subtle way. Something will move. Contrast will grow deeper. The sun will play some trick. A shadow will grow longer, or simply fade away. Landscape photography is the genre I’ve enjoyed most, although I venture some other directions also.
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[click on a photo below, then click on it again on the page that opens for a full size image]
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I don’t mistake myself for a great photographer. I’m just someone who has taken it seriously for some time, learned lessons, practiced, and at the margins keep improving. Photography in the digital age gives one the opportunity to learn at a quicker pace.
I’ve always found myself photographing scenes consisting of a pathway of some sort. In some ways they resemble persistent dreams. Often they start where I am and lead out to infinity— a place which in theory has no end.
For me a pathway has always involved walking. I learned to love walking from an early age because my dad and I would take long walks through the woods. These are some of my earliest and fondest memories. With him I learned to observe nature, and to just enjoy the walk. To be with him, to have a conversation, to love being with each other was what it was all about. I miss him, sometimes so very much.
There are two places I visit most often for photography. One of them, and the easiest, is the farm I live on. I’m surrounded by fields, woods, crops, cattle, woods, birds, deer, coyotes, foxes, and several other members of the animal kingdom. This is an eighty acre detached portion of my son-in-law’s dairy farm.
The other is a large nature sanctuary about fifteen minutes from home. It is Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College (Mennonite), consisting of 1,200 acres. This consists of “Unique geological features such as peat bogs, a marl pit, and glacial gravel formations are present. Observable management practices include wetland, prairie, and savanna restorations, as well as sustainable agriculture.”
The website states “Those associated with the care, management, and ownership of Merry Lea recognize that we are accountable to God for our stewardship of resources in the same way we are accountable for other aspects of our lives.” I’ve been free to come and go, and to roam this place as I wish.
Photography, to me, is about walking a certain path, and seeing something. Sometimes it’s about seeing something not ordinarily visible to the naked eye. When God created this earth and all that is in it, again and again God “saw” something. And what He saw was “good.” He worked from an image when He created us— “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion….”
My best photography is a result of a “vision”— an image that forms in my mind— one that I hope to convey. Photographers often use the words “luminosity” and “luminous.” Their understanding of these terms is rather nebulous in connection with photography, but it has to do with the word “presence.” One well known photographer said that for a photograph to be good it must have “presence.” And that it is luminosity that produces presence. And to be luminous means to be radiating or reflecting light, to be shining or bright. This all sounds a bit circular. But it is something we know when we see, and when we see we understand.
Was it something like this in the beginning? From “The Message:”
First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
God spoke: ‘Light!’
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.
From today’s reading of Luke 16 – 17:10
And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” – Luke 16:27-31 (ESV)
This is from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
At first blush there’s a tendency to agree with the rich man who is in torment in hades. Surely sending Lazarus to his brothers to warn them would work? But there’s a truth, often repeated in scripture, regarding seeing and hearing, that bears upon this. It is expressed, for example, in the calling of Isaiah:
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
- Isaiah 6:8-10 (ESV)
In our fallenness, we can often hear without hearing, and see without really seeing. If we would but see what God has placed before our eyes, and hear his words, and understand, we would be healed. But the hardness of hearts and the distractions in life and just an inborn force-field to spiritual input leaves us deaf and blind.
This is one reason Jesus healed the blind and deaf during his earthly ministry; to demonstrate the blindness and deafness of those who physically see and hear just fine but who completely miss him.
There is the cry of the agnostic heart: “God, show yourself, and I’ll believe!” To this the Lord responds, “no you won’t.” If we ignore his Word, skeptically deny his work, and continue shutting our ears and covering our eyes to an entire universe declaring his glory, it is doubtful that there’s any great miracle that will sway us. We were designed to see and hear clearly, but we are fallen and broken and our eyes and ears are in need of the healing touch of the Lord. Thank God that Jesus still touches blind eyes and deaf ears and opens us up to the light and music of salvation in him.
I’m participating in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon this Saturday, the 18th. However, for me it will be more like a 15-17 hour readathon. I don’t stay up late on Saturday night because it’s very worshipful to fall asleep in church on Sunday morning. So, I’m planning to be reading from 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning until maybe midnight, at which time I will turn into a well-read pumpkin. And the rest of the family is going camping, so I can read to my heart’s content.
UPDATE: I’m about to start my readathon at 8:00 AM, an hour late, since I had trouble sleeping last night. Excitement? At any rate, it’s off to the races with one of my Cybils nominees.
What will I be reading, you ask? Cybils Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, of course. We have over 100 books nominated, and I’ve actually read about 40. So although I’m pleased with how I’m doing so far, I have a lot more books to read.
UPDATE at 9:40 PM (CT): Well, I’ve read most of the day, and I’ve read two books for the Readathon, The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani and Grave Images by Jenny Goebel. Both were enjoyable and solid, but not amazing. I also wrote my reviews for these two, and now I’m going to pick another book and head for bed. Happy reading to all who plan to complete the remainder of the readathon. Bedtime for me (with a little more reading)!
Have you ever wondered how the books for the Newbery Award and the Honor books are chosen? Abby the Librarian writes about what the Newbery Committee actually does, and she does so without sharing any “classified” information.
The Texas Book Festival takes place in Austin next weekend, October 24-26. I can’t go, but for those of you who will be there: hug an author for me. Or buy a book. Or something. Enjoy. Some of the authors who will be there and who would be recipients of at least a smile from me: Kathi Appelt, Shannon Hale, Trent Reedy, Chris Barton (Hi, Chris!), Molly Bloom, Jon Meacham, Jon Scieszka, Varian Johnson, Susan Goldman Rubin, Jennifer E. Smith, Greg Leitich Smith, Deborah Wiles, Jacqueline Woodson, Annie Barrows, Nikki Loftin, and many more. (I met Chris Barton at KidLitCon last year in Austin.)
Not for the usual picture book crowd of preschoolers and early readers, Aviary Wonders is beautiful, funny, and carries a good message without beating it into the ground. The lavishly illustrated book is the work of a fine artist. But to whom would I recommend it?
I just don’t know if that’s going to be a wide enough audience to make the book a success, which is a shame. It ought to be seriously considered for the Caldecott Award because the illustrations are gorgeous. The book also shows, in a quirky way, what the world might be like if all or most of the bird species become endangered or extinct. What if people had to build their own birds out of metal and rubber and silk and other materials in order to have the experience of seeing a bird in flight or hearing a bird song?
Aviary Wonders shows, doesn’t tell, the lesson that God’s creations are unique and valuable and can never be completely replicated by man. The book doesn’t mention God or creation, but that’s the message I got as a Christian who cares about our responsibility to steward and care for the world and its amazing diversity of plant and animal life. I didn’t know this fact about passenger pigeons, until reading this book led me to look it up:
“The passenger pigeon or wild pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) is an extinct North American bird. Named after the French word passager for “passing by”, it was once the most abundant bird in North America, and possibly the world. It accounted for more than a quarter of all birds in North America. The species lived in enormous migratory flocks until the early 20th century, when hunting and habitat destruction led to its demise.” Wikipedia, Passenger pigeon.
Anyway, I recommend the book, but it may be a hard sell. At least, take a look at it in the bookstore. It’s lovely. It’s also odd and different in a world that values tried and true and formula.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.
One of my favorite weekends of the year: Leaf-Peepers Paradise. The second weekend in October is typically near or at peak time for fall foliage in many of the places where I’ve lived. Tomorrow we will feature some spectacular pix by one of our faithful iMonks, and your chaplain himself is hoping to spend some time over the weekend rambling around the woods looking for good photo opportunities.
But for now, let’s ramble together through some of the more interesting sights around the web this week.
Sigh. I guess we should start with . . .
Something about some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle . . .
Something about how some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle took the corporate way out, not the Christian way . . .
Something about a few lessons we can learn from some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle . . .
Something about what some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle teaches us about being a pastor in the digital age . . .
Something about church properties now for sale in the wake of some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle . . .
Something about questions that are being raised about church governance in the light of some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle . . .
Among the changing church practices related to this change in transit is affinity, a fancy word for common interests we share. It’s a “likemindedness.” These shared interests might be sports or music or art, or they might be doctrines, morals, and lifestyles.
The interplay of cars and affinity isn’t simple. To flesh it out a bit, take a non-religious example: choosing a restaurant for dinner. Now, most drivers don’t think in miles but in minutes. In 20 minutes, you can drive exponentially farther than you can walk. And this freedom gives you a lot more options.
With so many options, we’re forced to ask ourselves “What do I want?” and go from there.
So how do you decide where to eat? It’s a classic first-world problem: “What am I hungry for?” Chinese? Tex-Mex? Burgers? Pasta? Gluten-free? Deep-fried? While much of the world struggles with scarcity, in the United States, narrowing your options is the first-world problem of abundance. With so many options, we’re forced to ask ourselves “What do I want?” and go from there. We can’t not ask it.
Life with cars almost requires it.
Speaking of technology, this week may have witnessed the crack in the dam that will ultimately lead to a flood of changes in the world of television. Both HBO and CBS announced that they will start stand-alone Internet streaming services in the United States. These services will not require a subscription to a traditional television service, but viewers will choose them in the same way they choose Netflix or Hulu now. A new age of à la carte television has now reached the toddler stage, is starting to walk, and will only continue to grow. As Emily Steel of the NY Times says:
The moves signal a watershed moment for web-delivered television, where viewers have more options to pay only for the networks or programs they want to watch — and to decide how, when and where to watch them. Rapidly fading are the days in which people pay an average of $90 a month for a bundle of networks from a traditional provider.
Personal note: Gail and I discontinued our satellite TV service at the end of 2013 and have watched little but streaming TV and movies since. We also have a digital antenna on one set to pick up local channels. The only service live TV offers that keeps this trend from going hog-wild is live sports. But the Times article mentioned that CBS is having talks with the NFL about this very subject. If sports can find a way to make the megabucks they are making now by streaming instead of relying on cable or satellite, we will have truly entered a new era.
A lot of U.S. Christians were outraged this week when the city of Houston subpoenaed sermons of pastors who oppose a local equal rights ordinance. Scott R. Murray’s strong words at the Washington Post are representative of the way many view what has happened:
In the bare-knuckled realm of American politics, the mayor and City Council are not really interested in reading a bunch of Christian sermons to find out what they say. They are attempting to stop Christian pastors from commenting on moral issues that are important to politicians. They are using the coercive power of the city’s legal department and turning it on the speech of the church. Not only is this an effort to shame the pastors for their principled stand on sexual mores, but it is a naked attempt to silence them.
On the other hand, our friend Pastor William Cwirla pointed us to another, less reactionary point of view from another Christian commentator, Dr. Joel McDurmon:, who says, “Is Houston demanding oversight of pastors’ sermons? No.”
I write this only to calm some of the unnecessary alarm, and to introduce some reason and understanding into the mix. The headlines read as if the city has made some move to start monitoring all pastors’ sermons, and this simply is not the case. It also gives the impression that this is some out-of-the-blue, general attack tactic by the activists upon the pulpit. It is not. It is not out-of-the-blue, it is not broad and general as far as the implicated pastors goes, and it should not be a surprise at all.
The City is not making a move to monitor sermons. The city is merely responding to a lawsuit against it and using standard powers of discovery in regard to a handful of pastors who are implicated as relevant to the lawsuit. The issue is here: once you file a lawsuit, you open up yourself and potentially your friends and acquaintances to discovery. This is the aspect that has not been reported, but it is an important part of the context.
This is basic court procedure. But the headlines make it sound like a surprise attack by leftists advancing their agenda on unsuspecting Christians.
If you want to see what autumn looks like in various places around the U.S., well, that’s exactly why God created web cams. At this time of year, a number of them help folks chronicle the fall foliage. Here are a few examples for you to enjoy as we trace the progress of fall.
- Brown County, Indiana.
- The Bitterroot Valley, including time lapse video.
- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Mt. Washington, NH.
Finally, we can’t talk about October without celebrating the World Series.
Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants for reaching the Fall Classic. The games have almost all been nail-biters, with the vast majority coming down to one pitch or one last at-bat.
At the risk of ruining Matt B. Redmond’s weekend, here’s how the Giants won their series. The call is by the peerless Jon Miller. [note: starts with commercial]
And what a great story the Kansas City Royals are, returning to the World Series after 29 years on the outside:
About 30 inches
We're starting the transition into 12 month clothes. He's still in 9 month pants for the most part, but with his cloth diapers the 12 month stuff fits pretty well
Buster, Bubba, Booger and Crankster (a new addition during vacation).
We're currently trying to get back on track after our vacation last week. He's doing pretty well, especially where naps are concerned! At night he's typically sleeping from 8:30 PM to 7:00 or 8:00 AM with two feedings over the course of the night. Sometime during the next month I'm going to try to drop ALL nighttime feedings... wish me luck!
At this point he's tried pretty much everything that I can think of (that he's allowed to eat). He really prefers to feed himself these days, so I'm having to get creative on finger foods that are nutritious and yummy. Cherrios are a current favorite, as well as vanilla yogurt whenever I sneak him a bite.
Torturing Junebug, pulling up on EVERYTHING, being held by Mama, being tickled by Dada, chewing on straws, riding in his stroller and crawling on his hands and knees (no more army crawling)!
Missing naps, not being able to feed himself, having his face wiped and having his snot sucked. Coincidentally, these are all things I also hate
Crawling on his hands and knees, pulling up on EVERYTHING, finally cutting his first tooth and clapping (it's SUPER CUTE, y'all)! It's been a big month developmentally!
This month has been full of great moments, but finally seeing that first tooth make it's grand debut was definitely one we've been anticipating a long time! It was also pretty precious to see him playing with Macy and Grace for the first time
Traveling with Deacon this last vacation was pretty tough. For some reason he decided he HATED car rides, so we spent a lot of time shhh-ing him and singing songs to calm him down. It will definitely be a little while before Deacon gets to go on anymore vacations...
- Overall he is still such a JOYFUL baby! Vacationing was hard on him, but ever since we got back he has been all smiles, giggles and baby talk. He is such a joy to parent.
- We're starting to get a better sense of his personality these days. Besides being easy going and joyful, he is also mischievous and a little too smart for his own good!
- He has started to say "Mama" and "Dada" pretty regularly, but not usually in the right context. We figured out that "dadadadada" is the noise he makes when he's in a good mood and is feeling talkative and "mamamamama" is the noise he makes when he's tired and/or whiny. I'm trying my best to switch those two so I can get some of those joyful jabbers
- These last few weeks have turned him into a bit of a Mama's boy. While I know this is only a season, I am definitely embracing all the cuddles, sloppy kisses and gummy smiles I can get!
I took my first vocational ministry position the summer I graduated high school (1994), becoming the youth minister for Zion Chinese Baptist Church. (You read that right.) In the twenty years since, I’ve heard a lot of good words on ministry and ministry life, and while a lot has been good, a few choice bits of wisdom have stuck with me since I heard them and have proven truer and truer over the years. Here are just five.
1. “The core you start with isn’t the core you finish with.” – Bill Hybels
Hybels did not say this to me personally, but he said it in a workshop at the 1996 Willow Creek Church Leadership Conference. I don’t know why it stuck with me then — I was a youth pastor at a Willow model church, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of church planting or anything then. I’ve sifted out a lot I’ve heard from the church growth guys, but this one I’ve kept and it’s pretty true, in a variety of ways. I’ve had guys I was close with, been on leadership teams and in the trenches with, decide the whole “living a Christian life thing” wasn’t for them. You’re biggest fans can turn into your biggest critics, and often do. Mainly because they are your biggest fans because there’s some kind of idolatry they’re getting out of you, seeing you as a functional savior in some way. And then you disappoint them and BOOM: it’s all over. But even if nobody turns on you or falls out with you, the longer you go in ministry, you see the seasons of life and the growth of a church or ministry takes the rose-colored glasses off of “doing ministry” with the same people forever. Some people get to do that. Most don’t. The core you start with is not the core you finish with.
2. “You must renounce comfort as the chief value of your life.” – Mike Ayers
Mike was my first pastoral mentor, the guy whose ministry actually kept my wife and I sane and in ministry after I’d had a bad experience at a previous church that almost made me give up church altogether. He was the first guy to really take me under his wing and trust me and empower me and take me seriously, even as a young punk. I served as a youth minister at his church and learned a lot, especially about loving the lost and building relationships. Mike and his family have been through a lot themselves, so when I heard him say this line in a sermon, I knew it came from a place of authenticity. It stuck with me. And it’s exceptionally important for all Christians, including pastors, who can get too comfortable with praise and growth and too despondent with criticism and conflict.
3. “Whatever your elders are, your church will become.” – Ray Ortlund
It’s no news to regular readers that Ray is my Yoda. I don’t remember the context of him saying this, but I remember him saying it and I took it to heart. When we went about establishing elders at Middletown, I remembered this sound word of wisdom. So I looked not just for guys who met the biblical requirements for eldership, as high a bar as that is, I also tried to get guys with different personality types and outlooks and perspectives on theological non-essentials. But I also became a stickler for the biblical qualifications that many churches seem to gloss over — long-temperedness, gentleness, good public reputations, etc. If my church is going to be come like the leadership that is modeled for them, I wanted conformity on the biblical qualifications and orthodoxy but high maturity and as much diversity as possible otherwise.
4. “Don’t say something about someone you won’t say to them.” – Andy Stanley
I heard this in a Stanley teaching series called “Life Rules,” which with only a few caveats I recommend. I’ve used it numerous times. As with Hybels, I don’t resonate with a whole lot Stanley says, but this word of advice has stuck with me and I’ve used it with great fruitfulness. In Christian community and in pastoral ministry, the opportunities for gossip and other relational sins are practically infinite. I am a great sinner who screws up a lot, but I’ve tried to maintain this rule for how I talk about people. If I have a problem with someone, I either swallow it or I take it to them. If I’m not willing or able to do that, I certainly can’t talk about it with others. There’s so much crooked speech in the church, it’s ridiculous. Stanley’s advice is good for keeping the lines straight and the accounts current.
5. “You don’t just wipe away the web; you’ve got to crush the spider.” – Steven Taylor
Pastor Steve was one of my pastors when I was a kid. I think I was in the ninth grade when he said this in a sermon at Sandia Baptist Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I confess I have forgotten a lot of what he preached, but this line hooked into my brain and got me. For a kid with a tender conscience and struggling with lust, my eyes were opened to how I ought to approach the war on the flesh. Pastor Steve said you don’t just wipe away the effects of sin; you’ve got to be “extreme,” go to the source of temptation. In my adolescent way of thinking at the time, I went home and took the TV set out of my room. Since then, I’ve been able to apply this principle to even deeper actions of spiritual warfare, looking to the idolatrous roots of my behavioral sins as often as I can. But the advice is still good. Don’t just wipe away the web; crush the spider.
Yesterday morning I undertook the difficult task of resigning the pastorate of Middletown Springs Community Church. The last five years have been a tremendous joy to me and my family, and making that announcement was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
I shared with my congregation that the sense of discontent I’d been feeling for more than a year had become gradually clearer and clearer to me as a matter of personal deficiency. This is always hard to admit. When I first began feeling overwhelmed, overburdened, over-tired, I simply assumed we were in a difficult ministry season. And we were. We still are. Our church has been through some tremendous suffering over the last couple of years, and with the growth we’ve experienced, new challenges and a higher pace of ministry with heavier demands have compounded the intense sorrow we’ve all been walking through.
But I eventually realized the problem was much deeper than that. It wasn’t entirely out there. It was in here. The truth is that I reached my capacity in leading the church well. I’d come to believe that I’d brought the church as far as my gifts would allow. Now, nobody else was saying that. But I knew it was true. And I didn’t know what to do with it.
I am not one to run. Especially since things have been going so well on the growth front. We have more than tripled in attendance the last five years, but even more importantly, we have seen an increase in souls saved by Christ and baptized, in young families and mature leaders moving to our area to join us on mission, and in forward-thinking vision, culminating largely in our efforts to plant a church in downtown Rutland, Vermont. So there’s nothing to run from, really. Nobody’s mad at me. There’s no conflict pushing me out or great sin disqualifying me. There’s just me. There’s just me realizing, “I don’t think I’m the right guy for what comes next.” It’s as if God has led me to the brink of the promised land and said, “You can’t go in.”
And while I was praying that God would change his mind — or just show me how to manage in the meantime — Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary called me. I was not looking to leave Vermont. I was not sending out resumes. I had been offered jobs before and have always flatly said “no” without thinking. But this time, I listened. I needed to. And the call was no less visionary, no less mission-minded, no less gospel-centered than my call to Middletown Springs. When I learned more about the seminary’s plan to engage, equip, and encourage local church pastors, something stirred in me. Something clicked in place, as if the tricky combination in my heart had finally landed on that last digit. I see clearly that a door has opened to a new season of serving the church with more intensity and a greater fit.
In March, we will be moving to Kansas City so that I may serve full-time at Midwestern Seminary and College as the Managing Editor of Resources and Director of Communications. There I will be leading a team of creatives and writers passionate about telling Midwestern’s story and developing ministry resources for the church. I am thrilled about this transition, because I share Midwestern’s love for the pastors who love their churches. They are the faithful, patient, unsung heroes in our day, and I am excited to serve them — as well as the young men who are becoming them.
I will continue to write and travel, speak and preach. We will seek out a local church to call home, a place to worship together as a family and to serve as the Lord leads, to be fed as I have fed. Lord willing, after some time, I would love to submit to some smaller role as shepherd according to my capacity. I do believe that is God’s calling on my life. At this time, he is asking me to answer it in contributing to the growing ministry of Midwestern. (We will be releasing some major projects in the months ahead, so stay tuned.) If my work has blessed you in any way over the last few years, I ask that you’d pray for my wife and daughters, for me, and for the seminary, that through this work God’s Son would be made more visible in the world and trusted as saving and satisfying.
And please pray for my church. Like my family, they are deeply saddened about this parting. Many in the congregation are shocked, confused. And as we all process this bittersweet transition together, I am planning over the next five months to continue pointing them to Christ with all the energy God works within me. Middletown Springs Community Church is unlike any church I’ve ever been privileged to call family. It has been an exceeding joy to be their shepherd for this relatively short time. They are, in the good sense, as Paul says, “my boast.” I will miss them terribly, because I love them with my guts. And because they have loved me and my family in the same way.
But they will be better than great after I’ve left. I am not taking the gospel with me! It is too hidden in their hearts. And I leave them, by God’s grace, spiritually healthier and more fixed on Christ’s finished work than I found them. I envy the man who has the honor to hold their hands and point them to Christ next. He will not be worthy of them. But he will be more worthy than me, which is what they need. And I’m grateful and honored that they have asked me to lead the process in finding that man.
When I finished my announcement yesterday morning, I began my planned exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. It’s important stuff. Sometimes I am a planter, other times a waterer, but all the time I am “not anything” (v.7). Middletown Church is “God’s field, God’s building” (v.9). I am learning with my flock and through them, by the Spirit’s power, how to point them to Jesus and get myself the heck out of the way. I hope God always grants me the grace to do that.
Christ the Lord is everything.
I am my mother’s daughter
In all the ways that matter
Not the eyes and the mouth
But all the history
In the demons that have fought her
And the angels in her laughter
In the rains that headed south
Through all her misery
Well, they are mine and locked away inside my chest of hope
Tied together with a coil of exhausted rope
In the morning I will open all my drawers to find the keys
To break this chain of sorrow from me
She’s been beaten like a boxer
By the folks who said they loved her
Not by will or intent
But by passivity
In the ruins of her father
And the settling of her mother
All her joy has been spent
By her infinity
It’s a prodigal and potent way to slowly learn to breathe
While you’re drowning in a life that will not let you grieve
In the evening I will lie awake in wooliness and wonder
What could break that chain of sorrow from her
And pride is a difficult habit to break
But in the end it’ll only just take
All the life right out of life
All the hope right out of sorrow
And happiness is a hard memory to make
When your love is nothing but hypothesis and dream
I am a shattered mirror
I am an iron hammer
I crack with the weight
Of what I cannot fix
And caught in all the furor
Of my self-righteous manner
My city’s open gate
Turned into broken bricks
And a city on a hill can be full of lonely ghosts
So I turn my bleeding ears to listen for the Lord of hosts
In the darkest depths of night will I find someone to trust
Who could break this chain of sorrow from us
“[G]entleness is essential to Christian living. It is not an add-on. It is . . . one of the few indisputable evidences of the Holy Spirit alive and well within someone. Gentleness is not just for some Christians, those wired in a certain way. It cannot merely be an inherent character trait, a result of personality or genetic predisposition, because it is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Looked at another way, nowhere in the New Testament’s lists of spiritual gifts is gentleness identified as one such gift. It is not a gift of the Spirit for a few. It is the fruit of the Spirit for all. To be gentle is to become who we were meant to be; that is, to return to who we once were, in Eden.”
– Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway), 91.
After the shameful way Abram comes off in Genesis 12 — going into self-protection mode, trying to control the situation, putting his wife in danger by passing her off as his sister — he certainly comes off brilliantly in Genesis 13. Perhaps newly chastened, he is ready in this moment to trust in God’s sovereignty.
Something has been going on between Abram and his nephew Lot. They’ve both got lots of land but apparently it’s not big enough for the both of them. Some kind of conflict has arisen in the mix of their parallel prosperity. But Abram seeks the better way; he’s realized what is happening. Their “stuff” is coming between them and he does something remarkable:
Abram says to Lot: “Hey, take your pick. Whatever you want, you can have. Take whatever looks good to you, and I’ll take the rest, whatever’s leftover. If you want east, I’ll take west. If you want west, I’ll take east. No big whoop.”
What’s Abram doing? He’s giving Lot first choice, but really he’s giving God first choice. He’s abandoning himself to God’s sovereignty. “God, take me wherever you want. I’ve tried doing this my own way; I’ve tried controlling things. I’ve tried manipulating the situation; I’ve tried getting everything. And I know this is an offense against you.” So he goes back to the first altar, reaffirms his commitment, cries out to God and says, “Take me where you will.”
This means giving Lot first dibs and taking the scraps. And then look at what God does:
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”
Abram gave up and God gave him everything!
He said “I’ll take east, or I’ll take west. Whichever.” And God says, “How about — ALL OF IT?”
This is another dynamic we see throughout all of Scripture.
Mark 10:31 “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Matthew 23:12 “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
1 Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,”
And probably the two most applicable to this passage:
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Matt. 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Abram meekly said “Whatever you want,” and God gave him the earth. It’s like, he gave up his seat on the bus, and God gave him the keys.
When we’re going around stuffing ourselves with every pleasure and desire we can get our hands on, it’s because ultimately we’re looking for God. And so none of it satisfies. But when we finally turn our gaze to God and say “I only want you” — we get him.
But isn’t this where we run into trouble? Because we can’t quite get ourselves empty, can we? I mean, can you pray for five minutes without thinking of that funny thing you saw on Facebook? Can you read your Bible for very long without getting distracted about that deadline at work?
Abram looks great right here. But we’re only three chapters away from his trying to manipulate the situation and control the covenant with his own scheming all over again!
It’s impossible for us to empty ourselves because we’re constantly so full of ourselves.
None of us can give up everything. Before Christ, we are sinners — dead and full of utter need. But even after Christ has justified us, until he comes back to vanquish sin finally and fully, we still wrestle with our sin. We are sinner-saints. So some days we’re the Abram of Genesis 13 but most days we’re the Abram of Genesis 12.
If we’re looking at this principle that to give up everything gains everything and emptying is the way to exalting, we are on the right track but we can never arrive in and of ourselves. In ourselves, we never quite give up everything. In ourselves, we will never truly become empty.
And now we see just how much we need Jesus. We need the Jesus who loves us in our Genesis 13 moments and our Genesis 12 moments. We need the Jesus whose favor rests on us purely by the grace of his Father and the power of his Spirit – not because of anything we’ve done or not done – purely by his sovereign pleasure. We need the Jesus who can sort through our mixed motives, who can heal our deepest wounds, who can free us from our strongest prisons, who can rescue us from our deepest graves, the ones we dig ourselves.
Only Jesus has truly given up everything in order to gain everything. Only Jesus has truly emptied himself (Phil. 2:6-11). And in his emptying, comes his exalting. In his emptying and exalting, comes our own.
So there was a time that Jesus was in the midst of the wilderness, and he was hungry and weary and the devil took him by the shoulder and showed him the vast multitudes of glorious cities in the valley below and said to him, “Look, Jesus, there doesn’t need to be conflict between us. There’s plenty for everyone. Look east and west. Look at all the beautiful riches out there just waiting for you. Why don’t you take your pick? You can have it all.”
And where Abram said to Lot, “there’s plenty of room for both of us,” Jesus instead turns to Satan and says, “You know, there’s not enough room in this world for both of us. So you’re going to have to leave.”
And I picture Satan beginning to tremble. Suddenly that vast desert didn’t seem so big. Suddenly he felt invisible walls closing in around him. Suddenly he realized the tables had turned. Jesus was not his prey; he was Jesus’!
No, the Son of God says to that ancient enemy and to sin itself, “The cosmos is not big enough for both of us, because I am filling all things. I am the omnipotent God, and my glory will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. So evil’s days are numbered.”
So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord
— Genesis 13:18
I’ve been quoting this, and since it’s now PAGES back, I want it posted here so I can find it quickly:
To the Progressive Socialist Totalitarian Left, Christianity is a threat to the primacy of the State. The Totalitarian Left believes the Authority of the State must be absolute, because the left can control all the apparatuses of the State and impose their moral beliefs on the population. For example, the belief that unborn children can be sacrificed in the name of personal convenience and the sick and elderly can be sacrificed to save the State money. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that there is a Higher Moral Authority than the State; and that the conscience of the individual… not the Collective Will as embodied in the State and its organs.
It isn’t necessarily because of Gay Marriage, per se, but Gay Marriage is a cudgel that the left can use against Christianity; forcing Christians to bow to the State (e.g. being forced to participate in gay weddings as bakers, photographers, and florists). The ultimate goal is to eradicate Christianity and its tenet that each individual has a conscience and a moral imperative.
Win a T-shirt and book from 20 Schemes:
There is one thing that the churches experiencing historic revival have in common: they seemed overrun with the sense of the glory of God. They preached the gospel and the response was, as some describe, that “glory came down.”
Now that’s not something you can schedule. You can’t advertise it on the church signboard: “Every Sunday: Glory comes down.” But it is something we can aim for, yearn for, cast a vision for, desire, crave, proclaim. You can’t program the glory, but you can plead for it.
See, nobody ever said, “We changed our music style and revival broke out.”
Nobody ever said, “We moved from Sunday School classes to small groups and the glory of God came down.”
Nobody ever said, “You would not believe the repenting unto holiness that happened when our pastor started preaching shorter sermons.”
(I’m just sayin’.)
No, all those things and more can be good things. Done for the right reasons, those can be very good moves to make, but the glory of God is best heard in the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s where the glory-aimed church is going to camp out.
We all talk a big game about the glory of God, but it is a rare church that takes God’s glory seriously as the purpose of everything.
I preached on the servant-hearted harmony and burden-bearing of Romans 15 to my church last Sunday, and one point I stressed is that we aren’t to strive for these things in order to become an impressive church. The exhortations of Paul in Romans 15:1-5 are there so “that together,” verse 6 reads, “you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I cast the vision over to Ephesians 1. Why has he blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places? Why has he chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him? Why has he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will? Ephesians 1:6: “For the praise of his glorious grace.”
I took them to 1 Peter 2:9. Why did he make us a chosen race? Why did he make us a royal priesthood? Why did he makes us a holy nation? Why did he call us a people for his own possession? “That we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Over and over again, from Old Testament through New, we learn the foundational truth echoed by the Westminster divines, that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We make realized the 5th of the Reformational solas: Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone be the glory.”
A gospel-centered church makes that not just a spiritual slogan but her spiritual blood. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the nicest church in town. That’d be nice. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the most popular church in town. That’d be cool. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the smartest church in town. That’d be okay.
No, a gospel-centered church doesn’t aim to be the anything-est church in town because it’s not comparing itself to other churches, but to the holiness of God, which will shrink the church down to size in its own estimation and make her hunger for the holiness that only comes from the riches of Christ in the gospel. A gospel-centered church aims to be a gospel-proclaiming church in town. Because that would be glorious.
A gospel-centered church is okay with its own decreasing — in reputation, in acclaim, in legacy, even in (gasp) numbers, but especially in self-regard — so long as it serves the increasing of the sense of the glory of God.
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7
No, Victoria Osteen is not exactly right when she says we ought to do good for ourselves instead of for God, but neither is she totally wrong. She’s derailed and in the ditch, but the right track is in eyesight.
Osteen is not totally wrong, because walking with God is a — let the reader understand — happy thing. It’s a different kind of happy, to be sure. But it’s a happy thing nonetheless. Not happy-go-lucky. Not happy in moments or gifts. But happy in the Sovereign, in the Giver. George Whitefield preaches:
“As it is an honorable, so it is a pleasing thing, to walk with God. The wisest of men has told us, that ‘wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace’. And I remember pious Mr. Henry, when he was about to expire, said to a friend, ‘You have heard many men’s dying words, and these are mine: A life spent in communion with God, is the pleasantest life in the world’. I am sure I can set to my seal that this is true. Indeed, I have been listed under Jesus’ banner only for a few years; but I have enjoyed more solid pleasure in one moment’s communion with my god, than I should or could have enjoyed in the ways of sin, though I had continued to have gone on in them for thousands of years. And may I not appeal to all you that fear and walk with God, for the truth of this? Has not one day in the Lord’s courts been better to you than a thousand? In keeping God’s commandments, have you not found a present, and very great reward? Has not his word been sweeter to you than the honey or the honeycomb? O what have you felt, when, Jacob-like, you have been wrestling with your God? Has not Jesus often met you when meditating in the fields, and been made known to you over and over again in breaking of bread? Has not the Holy Ghost frequently shed the divine love abroad in your hearts abundantly, and filled you with joy unspeakable, even joy that is full of glory? I know you will answer all these questions in the affirmative, and freely acknowledge the yoke of Christ to be easy, and his burden light; or (to use the words of one of our collects), ‘His service is perfect freedom’. And what need we then any further motive to excite us to walk with God?” (Whitefield, Walking with God)
The gospel cannot puff us up. It cannot make us prideful. It cannot make us selfish. It cannot make us arrogant. It cannot make us rude. It cannot make us gossipy. It cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, and it stands to reason, the less we would see those things antithetical to it.
You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear.
It works out this way individually. The most gracious people you and I know are people who have had an experience of grace and fixate on grace. The least gracious people we know are people who may know about grace academically, “theologically,” but don’t seem the least bit changed by it and really have a fixation on the law. They have an inordinate fixation on who did what wrong and what they deserve.
The same dynamic takes place in churches. Where grace and law are taught academically but law is “felt” as the operating system of the church, you will likely have a stifling, gossipy, burdensome environment. Where grace and law are taught theologically but grace is felt as the operating system of the church, you will see people begin to flourish, breathe. (You’ll also attract more sinners, which is where religious people start getting a little antsy.)
But the message of grace made preeminent will generate an atmosphere of grace.
This is why the harmony with each other of Romans 15:5 is “in accord with Jesus Christ.” It’s not predicated on having a bunch of stuff in common. It’s not predicated on common race or social class. It’s not predicated on a common special interest or political cause. It’s not predicated on all being theology nerds, liking the same authors, being Reformed or Arminian or somewhere in between. It’s not predicated on all being Republicans or Democrats. It’s not predicated on all being for social justice. It’s not predicated on all being homeschoolers or public schoolers. It’s not predicated on music styles or preaching styles or anything like that. All of that sort of commonality produces a very fragile harmony.
It is instead predicated on our common Savior, Jesus Christ, compared to whom we are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and from whom we have all received grace upon grace. It’s impossible to bask in the glorious grace of Jesus Christ and at the same time toot your own horn. So the more that we together focus on the gospel of Jesus, the more together we will walk in accordance with him and therefore in harmony with one another. “Gospel doctrine,” our friend Ray Ortlund says, “creates a gospel culture.”
“I really do have love to give! I just don’t know where to put it!” –Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, played by William H. Macy, Magnolia
I used to think that I was
An empty jar
With my face turned upward
To wait for the sweetest wine
To fill me up and quench my thirst
But now I know
That I have been filled up
With water and carried to the desert
To give life to thirsty travelers
On their way to another country
And they will pour me out
Into cups and troughs
But they will keep dipping me
Into the coolest wells
They will wrap me up
So I will not break
And little did I know
That these were wandering princes
And high-born ladies
That this poor clay jar
Has the privilege to love
(This is a response to and a ruminating upon this article. I recommend it highly.)
It's not a coincidence that a fall-off in posting here has coincided with my wife and my youngest son's going off to college. This month, for the first time in 28 years, we don't have at least one son living at home with us. We're happy for our sons, of course, but getting used to an empty nest takes some mental and emotional adjustment. Apparently that means I don't have a lot of energy left over for blogging.
It's possible that my once again slacking off on blogging may disappoint both my regular readers, but I do plan to be back at it soon. Thanks again to both of you for visiting.
Royce Ogle reflects on the wrong way to pray:
Often we pray for God to change our circumstances. I have done it and you have too.
Meanwhile, God might have orchestrated your circumstances so he can change you. So, instead of asking for things to change so we can be happy, maybe we should ask, "Lord help me to see how I need to change in my present circumstances."Indeed. I recommend Royce's whole article.
I am not a big fan of using the blog to raise money for stuff, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you know about an important missional opportunity in this New England region so many of my readers care deeply about.
I would like to introduce you to Redemption Church and invite you to partner with my church in Middletown Springs, Vermont as we seek to plant worship of our Savior in the burgeoning mission field of Rutland, Vermont.
Since my family’s arrival here in 2009, our church has seen a steady increase in mission-minded believers with a heart to plant a gospel-centered church in the downtown area of Rutland, Vermont, the largest town nearest us and the second largest town in the state.
Our church has more than doubled in the last 4 years, and we have already established a solid, mature, multi-generational core team in the city of Rutland that has already begun the work of community groups and evangelism. Our plan now, Lord willing, is to move from twice-monthly prayer gatherings to weekly “simple church” gatherings with the goal of launching public worship services for Redemption Church on Easter Sunday, 2015.
You are likely aware of the spiritual climate in New England generally and Vermont specifically, but to give you some perspective about the mission field in our area:
o The state of Vermont is regularly charted as the least-churched, least-religious state in our nation. There is roughly 1 church for every 5,000 people, and those churches are all over the map theologically.
o There are roughly 16,000 people in the city of Rutland proper and only 2% attend any church.
o There are approximately 5 evangelical churches not in decline in the greater Rutland area and there are none directly in downtown.
o There is a growing epidemic of poverty, physical and sexual abuse, and drug addiction in the city. $2 million in drugs is imported to VT daily. (The New York Times recently highlighted Rutland’s growing heroin problem.)
o While there are a few evangelical churches doing good work in our region, the need for gospel-centered missional churches is great.
Middletown Springs Church has been praying and planning toward our role in serving God’s work in this important mission field for years now, and we believe God would have us move forward now, sending our own Rutlanders out into their own community and launching an extension of our church, a “satellite campus” of sorts with its own elders, ministries, and vision. Until we have identified a lead planter to take over the work, I will be providing the primary preaching and leading.
Here’s where you come in: We need you to pray for this work. I am sending this to you because I know you have a heart for God’s mission in the world, including in the hardest regions of our own nation. Rutland fits the bill. Please pray for us. But you should also know that Middletown Church is still a small, rural congregation made up of folks with average resources employing a modest budget.
Our church has dedicated approximately 9% of our projected annual operating budget to fund this specific work. We are seeking to raise the remaining need to further God’s mission in the city. Can you help?
If your church or organization would feel led to serve our mission this way – either with regular financial support or in a one-time gift — you can contribute by making your contributions out to Middletown Springs Community Church, writing “Redemption Church Plant” in the MEMO portion* and sending them to:
Middletown Springs Community Church
PO Box 1213
Middletown Springs, VT 05757
We would be incredibly grateful if you could help in this way. Whether you are able to make this commitment or not, I’d be grateful if you would share this need with any family or church you think might be interested in partnering with us.
There is lots to share with you about our efforts here. If you’d like to know more about the church plant or mission in the region in general, please don’t hesitate to message me at jared AT gospeldrivenchurch DOT com. We will also send regular updates on the work to all of our prayer and financial partners.
I hope you will understand I hate asking for money, and while God doesn’t need it, his servants in New England certainly do!
* (Alternatively, if you prefer electronic giving, you may use our church PayPal account email: mscchurch AT gmail DOT com. Please make sure to designate to Redemption Church Plant in the note section.)
Thanks for reading.
Nakedness is still considered (mostly) immodest today and people with good sense don’t let anybody but their spouse or their doctor see what they normally cover up, but in the biblical times, nakedness was considered extremely shameful. To see someone in their nakedness was an extreme violation, an act of disrespect, of dishonor.
Whether Ham sees his father on purpose or not, we can’t rightly say, but in any event he appears to find Noah’s shame amusing and he goes and tells his brothers, probably joking about it. He has an opportunity to cover his dad’s shame and instead he exposes him further.
What’s interesting about this event in the context of this passage is that Ham’s sin is treated as more serious than Noah’s. Noah has drunken himself into passing out — we’re not talking “getting buzzed” here, we’re talking about getting blacked-out drunk — but the emphasis of wrongdoing in the passage is on Ham for laughing about it.
This doesn’t mean that drunken exposure is not a sin. But it does seem to mean that denying a sinner grace is a bigger one. Couldn’t we say that Jesus certainly had harsher words for the outwardly tidy religious leaders of his day than the drunks? He told them all to “sin no more,” but he seemed to regard intentionally squandered opportunities to cover shame as somehow more heinous than (so-called) “sins of the flesh.”
We commit the sin of Ham whenever we hear of someone’s struggle, of sin, of failure, and instead of figuring out how to bring grace to them, we “run and tell.” We gossip. We pile on.
We should note that in all the Bible’s words about reproof and rebuke and discipline, the Bible never says to “confess one another’s sins.”
And Ham has capitalized on his father’s great vulnerability by heaping more shame on his shame.
But his brothers had more grace.
Genesis 9:23 reads, “Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.”
Some translations read “the garment,” indicating that this garment is the one Noah had with him in the tent, suggesting that Ham even further exposed Noah by taking it fully off and out of the tent with him. Almost as if Ham wanted his father’s shame exposed in order to enjoy it. (I wonder if there’s a lesson there for our tabloid culture and the spiritualized schadenfreude evident on Christian social media about those falling away.)
In any event, Shem and Japheth with the utmost care and reverence, go to cover their father. They do not treat his sin casually. But they do treat it with mercy.
It is possible Peter has this image in mind in 1 Peter 4:8 when he writes, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
This is what Christians do when confronted with the sins of others; they do what they would want done for them — not shaming, not ridiculing, not lording over — a demonstration of grace.
This doesn’t mean not mentioning someone’s sin or never confronting or rebuking or preaching against sin — it just means doing so with reverence for God and with grace, not to demean or squash or humiliate, but to provide the shelter of God’s love.
Roughly 20 lbs
About 30 inches
He's still in 9 month clothes right now, though I've started trying to stock up on 12 month stuff since he seems to be pretty snug in most things these days. I'm pretty sure by Fall he will officially be in 12 month clothes.
Buster, Bubba, Booger and Stinker. Now that he's getting more and more active I find myself using Booger and Stinker more often
We're finally back to a normal sleep schedule (praise the Lamb!). Recently I've been putting him down between 8:00 - 8:45 and he's been sleeping until 6:30-ish with one dream feed around 10:30 or 11:00. I know I need to drop the dream feed soon, but it's usually the only time I can steal some cuddles, so for now it stays!
All of the same foods as last month with the addition of spinach, broccoli, oatmeal, pumpkin and sweet potato puffs (similar to cheerios, but they dissolve and are much messier). Watching him eat broccoli was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. He looked so betrayed and confused every time I tried to feed him another bite!
Army crawling, climbing over things, sweet potato puffs, licking/biting Junebug and getting tickled by Mom or Dad
We are getting more belly-laughs and he seems to be paying more attention when we are talking to him. I don't think he understands what we're saying yet, but he is definitely keying into the fact that we're talking to him! He's still army crawling EVERYWHERE and has recently started climbing over some of the barricades I've set up. Time for baby gates!
This may make me a terrible Mom, but this broccoli video takes the cake...
We had a couple of really cranky days last week that were rough on everybody (especially Mama and Junebug ). Thankfully it passed quickly and Deacon is back to his happy-go-lucky self!
- When Deacon gets in a really good mood pretty much anything can make him laugh. We had a blast the other day in Walmart when he decided that saying "hi!" over and over again was the funniest thing I'd ever done!
- Last Sunday Deacon moved up a room in the church nursery. He is now officially a Platypus and this Mama can't handle it! I just kept getting flashes of him going to kindergarten and then college. *sniff* It's all happening so quickly!!
- Hi, blog readers. Sorry. Again.
- Things I have been up to: Reading (but that’s a given by now, I hope), writing some stuff here and there that is not yet fit for public consumption, thinking about writing stuff but not actually doing it because my brain hurts (more on that later), watching the news (which, in the past few weeks, has been both a terrible and a great idea–more on that later, too), planning a party, watching way too many YouTube videos, and, well, recovering from pneumonia.
- Yeah, pneumonia…I was wicked sick for a couple of weeks (!) and was dealing with things like 104* fevers and not being able to take deep breaths and coughing up green things. Oh, and weird medicinal side effects, too.
- It’s very interesting, though, because my being forced to slow down and not do a whole lot except read the news and watch YouTube and movies means, well, God finally got hold of my attention and pointed out all the ways that I’d become really self-centered and self-righteous and, as a result, I became really awful at loving Him and other people well. This is not a particularly fun revelation to receive, but it was very, very good at the same time, because with it came the recognition that I am also really terrible at receiving grace, both in forgiveness and in the help that God gives us in fighting our self-centeredness and self-righteousness. And then, the understanding that it’s okay to receive grace–more than that, God really, really wants me to, because in doing so I am receiving Him, which is why He’s been after me from eternity past in the first place. Which is all to say, I want to please God, not just because I love Him, but because He has loved me to the uttermost and wants to help me to please Him.
- ^ That was utterly rambly and repetitive. Did I mention the part about my brain hurting? My body is not exactly efficient at oxygen absorption and usage (freaking lungs not working properly…), so I mostly just have the ramble lately. But you get what I mean, right? I hope so.
- Okay, so the news: If nothing else, the past few weeks have gotten us talking about mental health, power (and the abuse thereof), race and privilege, and persecution of the Middle Eastern church. We still have so far to go, so much to talk about, so much reconciliation and forgiveness and trust to be had. We cannot love one another if we don’t at least try to understand each other, and even if we come out disagreeing, we can at least hear each other’s stories and experiences and try to know one another as people, not ideas. As my brother–my Christian brother, my fellow adopted one of the Father’s children, which makes him my kindred in ways that are deeper than race and gender and even denominational lines–as my brother put it in an interview on NPR, all of this “is a human issue.” We have to care for and shepherd one another through all these things.
- Whew, that was a lot.
- And if nothing else, the last few weeks have taught me that we are frail. We are weak. And it is in our weakness that God proves His strength; it is when we are in crisis that, somehow, by grace, we learn how badly and how deeply we need Him. And it is in our desperation that we realize how much He meets that need–not just with His blessing, but with Himself, and that is what we need most. My church, or at least pockets in my church (who knows, it may be more than I know about) have been talking about revival, and asking God for it to happen, and recognizing it when it does happen. Very frequently, revival is birthed of crisis, sometimes pain, but always in a people who cry out to God for help. May it happen in our day, and in our hearts. (And by the way, I would commend to you Tim Keller’s speaking on revival: here, here, and here, and probably some other places too, if you Google “Tim Keller revival,” which sounds like the name of a terrible band.)
VotM Persecution Blog has a helpful post on five truths to keep in mind as IS advances in Iraq. I like these two the best:
2. God always finds a way to encourage, grow, and build His church. He's just looking for those willing to count the cost. . . .Amen.
5. The battle is already decided.
Have you read the Book of Revelation? We know who will ultimately win the battle—the Lord Jesus Christ. Until that day, when Jesus makes His final return to take His rightful place, you can stand with your persecuted family by choosing to fellowship with them through your prayers and actions.