"It is a pity that we know so much about Christ, and yet enjoy Him so little."

- Charles Spurgeon
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From internetmonk.com
Sundays with Michael Spencer: April 19, 2015

The Calling of the Twelve, Higgins

The Calling of the Twelve, Higgins

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”…And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

• Mark 3:31-35

• • •

Most Christians aren’t like Jesus.

Should we even try to be? Isn’t that impossible?

None of us can be like Jesus perfectly, but the Gospel of the Kingdom calls Jesus’ disciples to hear his call and set the goal and direction of their lives to be like him. For a follower of Jesus, Paul’s words of “follow me as I follow Christ,” are translated simply, “follow Christ in every way possible.”

Ghandi said “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” He’s far from the only one to have made that observation, and those critics aren’t holding anyone to a standard of perfection. They are simply looking for enough congruence that the claim to be a follower of Jesus makes sense.

Christians have gotten very good at explaining why they really shouldn’t be expected to be like Christ. At various points, these explanations are true. At other points, they start sounding like winners in a competition for absurdist doublespeak.

Perhaps many Christians don’t resemble Jesus because they don’t really know what Jesus was like. Or- more likely- they assume Jesus was very much like themselves, only a bit more religious.

Getting our bearings on being like Jesus will start with something very important: discarding our assumption that our personal and collective picture of Jesus is accurate.

One of the constants in the Gospels is the misunderstanding of Jesus. The list of mistaken parties is long.

Herod the Great mistook Jesus for a political revolutionary.

The religious leaders mistook Jesus for another false Messiah.

Jesus’ family mistook him for a person who was “out of his mind.”

Nicodemus mistook Jesus for a wise teacher.

The rich young ruler mistook Jesus for a dispenser of tickets to heaven.

The woman at the well mistook Jesus for a Jewish partisan.

Herod Antipas mistook Jesus for John the Baptist back from the grave.

The people said that Jesus was a political messiah, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

The disciples….oh my. The disciples were certain Jesus was a political messiah/king who would bring the Kingdom through miracles, but just at the moment they were most certain of who and what Jesus was, he turned everything upside down. Only after the horror of the cross was past and the Spirit opened their minds and hearts to the truth did the disciples begin to see Jesus clearly.

Thomas mistook Jesus for a dead man.

Like the blind man in Mark 8, the disciples had partial, unclear sight that required a second touch for clarity.

I believe Judas misjudged Jesus. Saul the persecutor certainly did, as did Pilate and the Romans.

If you got all the people who misjudged Jesus into a room, you”d need a bigger room.

When our children were small, my son was a big fan of wrestling. Every wrestler has a “signature move” to end a match; a move that no one does exactly like they do.

When I read Mark 11 and the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the merchants and moneychangers, I believe Jesus’ “signature move” is turning over the tables of expectations about who he is and what it means to follow him.

Read back through the Biblical examples I’ve cited. In almost every instance, it’s Jesus who overturns the tables of expectations and preconceived notions. It’s not just a discovery by a seeker. Jesus is the initiator of the big surprises. Part of what it means to be a Jesus-follower is to have your notions of religion, life and God turned upside down by the rabbi from Nazareth.

So is Jesus like today’s Christians who so easily assume they know what Jesus is all about? I’d like to suggest that the answer is “No.” Jesus isn’t like today’s Christians at all, and a large portion of our failure of Christlikeness comes down to a failure to know what Jesus was like.

Do you like grape Kool-Aid? I’ve always loved the taste of grape Kool-Aid on a hot day.

Have you ever tasted grapes? Do grapes taste grape Kool-Aid?

No, they don’t. But you could easily imagine a child who loves grape Kool-Aid eating a grape and saying “Yuck!! This doesn’t taste like grapes at all!”

The real thing has been replaced by the advertised replacement so long that there’s genuine confusion and disappointment at the taste of a real grape.

So it is with Jesus. The version of Jesus that dominates so much contemporary Christianity is the grape Kool-Aid version of a real grape. And many, many Christians have no “taste” for Jesus as we find him in scripture, especially the Gospels.

Where would the real Jesus perform his “signature” move of turning over our popular misconception of him?

Here’s just a few tentative and preliminary suggestions.

Jesus wasn’t building an institution or an organization, but an efficient, flexible movement with the Gospel at the center and grace as the fuel.

The church Jesus left in history was more a “band of brothers (and sisters)” than an organization of programs and buildings.

The message at the heart of all Jesus said and did was the Kingdom of God, which implicitly included himself as King and the status of all the world as rebels in need of forgiveness and surrender.

The movement Jesus left behind was made up of the last, the lost, the least, the losers and the recently dead. The world would never recognize this Jesus shaped collection of nobodies as successful.

The Woman Caught in Adultery, Higgins

The Woman Caught in Adultery, Higgins

Jesus treated women, sexual sinners and notoriously scandalous sinners with inexplicable acceptance.

Jesus taught the message, power and presence of the Kingdom. He did not teach how to be rich, how to improve yourself, how to be a good person or how to be successful.

Jesus didn’t teach principles. He taught the presence of a whole new world where God reigns and all things are made right.

Jesus rejected the claims of organized religion to have an exclusive franchise on God, and embodied the proof that God was in the world by his Son and through his Spirit to whomever has faith in Jesus.

Jesus practiced radical acceptance in a way that was dangerous, upsetting and world-changing.

Jesus calls all persons to follow him as disciples in the Kingdom of God. This invitation doesn’t look identical to the experiences of the apostles, but the claims and commands of Jesus to his apostles extend to all Jesus-followers anywhere.

God is revealed in Jesus in a unique way. What God has to show us and to say to us is there in Jesus of Nazareth. All the fullness of God lives in him, and to be united to Jesus by faith is to have the fullness of all God’s promises and blessings.

Jesus didn’t talk much about how to get to heaven, and certainly never gave a “gospel presentation” like today’s evangelicals. Nor did he teach that any organization of earth controlled who goes to heaven.

Jesus never fought the culture war.

Jesus was political because the Kingdom of God is here now, but he was the opposite of the political mindset of his time as expressed in various parties and sects.

Jesus was radically simple in his spirituality.

Jesus was radically simple in his worship.

Jesus wasn’t an advocate of family values as much as he was a cause of family division.

Jesus fulfills the old testament scriptures completely, and they can not be rightly understood without him as their ultimate focus.

The only people Jesus was ever angry at was the clergy. He called out clergy corruption and demanded honesty and integrity from those who claimed to speak for God and lead his people.

Jesus embraced slavery and servanthood as the primary identifiers of the leaders of his movement.

Jesus didn’t waste his time with religious and doctrinal debates. He always moves to the heart of the matter. Love God, Love Neighbor, Live the Kingdom.

Jesus expected his disciples to get it, and was frustrated when they didn’t.

Jesus died for being a true revolutionary, proclaiming a Kingdom whose foundations are the City of God.

Does this sound like Jesus as you’ve encountered him in evangelicalism?

That’s the sound of tables turning over.

That’s the taste of a real grape, not the Kool-Aid.

That’s why so many Christians aren’t like Jesus.

They have no idea what he was really all about.

From internetmonk.com
Saturday Ramblings, April 18, 2014, The Pissing Off Putin Edition

Hello, all, and welcome to the weekend.  Ready to Ramble?

1929 Rambler

1929 Rambler

We’re going to start with news from Russia that memes are now illegal. Well, not all memes, just those that feature a public character.  Gee, I wonder what powerful public figure is tired of being made into a meme.  [in Church Lady voice]: “Could it be……Putin?”61360728

Yes, it seems his Royal Shirtlessness has decided his cheesy photo-ops are not to be laughed at any more. Well, too bad. This is America, Baby, and we do what we want here! My forefathers watered the ground with their blood to give me the freedom to meme, and I’m going to use it! In fact, we are going to dedicate the rest of the Ramblings to pissing off Putin. Whaddya say to that, Vladimir?

The NBA playoffs start today, and boy is there a changing of the guard. The Miami Heat, who won the East for the last four years, did not even make the playoffs, nor did the Pacers, the Thunder, or the Suns.  The Lakers won barely a quarter of their games.  Instead the teams to beat are the Hawks, Cavaliers, Raptors (!), and Golden State Warriors. Who are you rooting for, imonks?

Speaking of the NBA, apparently Stephen Curry just knocked down 77 three-point shots in a row!  It was in practice, but still.  Wow.  I was going to mention that time I nailed four lay-ups in a row, but I changed my mind.

funny-putin (1)The NRA held its annual convention last weekend, and all the Republican hopefuls were falling over themselves in proclaiming their allegiance to guns, guns and more guns. Rick Santorum held up his concealed carry card before the audience and boasted that his wife requested ammunition for an upcoming birthday. Scott Walker talked about bow-hunting, while Mike Huckabee listed on stage the guns he grew up with, including his first BB gun at the age of five. Jeb Bush boasted of being an “NRA life member since 1986.” Ben Carson had to play defense. Some NRA types have grumbled about his statement in 2013 that people who live in large cities should avoid having semi-automatic weapons. Carson backtracked. And Ted Cruz, of course, topped them all by whipping out an Uzi and taking out the cameramen. Only one of those is made up.

Hillary announced her presidential candidacy last weekend, and unveiled the campaign logo: Yep.  I’m not kidding.  Someone on her staff is an absolute beast with Microsoft Paint. The reaction to the logo has been… not pleasant. Some suggested it looks like directions to a hospital.  Or a hurricane evacuation. Others wondered why the logo for a democratic candidate highlights a huge red arrow pointing right.  My own thoughts? Its dull, static, uninspiring, lifeless, and devoid of purpose. In other words, it fits her perfectly.

"Really, lady?  Only 20 bucks for the logo I made you?"

“Really, lady? Only 20 bucks for that logo I made you?”

Turns out not everyone loves Pope Francis. In Turkey, he’s about as popular as Obama at a KKK rally.  Why? Because Francis dropped the G word in discussing the one-hundred year anniversary of the massacre of Armenians by the Turks:  “In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies,” the Pope said at a Mass at with representatives of Armenia. “The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,’ struck your own Armenian people.”  Turkey responded by pulling their ambassador to the Vatican, and by calling his words, “unacceptable” and “out of touch with both historical facts and legal basis.” Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian rebuked Turkey. “We are in a situation in which Turkey speaks a different language from the rest of the international community and it seems that it doesn’t understand that it is speaking a different language.”

Annegret Raunigk of Germany has 13 children, but her  youngest daughter, who is nine, wanted a little brother or sister. So Annegret is now expecting  … 4 more. This is after a year and half of artificial insemination. Did I mention that Ms. Raunigk is 65 years old?  Wait, what? A senior citizen giving birth to quadruplets? Annegret, do they not sell dolls over there?

Larry McElroy was outside his mother-in-law’s mobile home in Lee County, Georgia, on Sunday night when he decided to shoot an armadillo. No, I don’t know why.  It’s conceivable that alcohol was involved. According to Leroy, the bullet bounced off the armadillo, hit a fence, went through the back door of the mobile home, then through a chair and struck his mother-in-law.  Again, according to Leroy. Fortunately, 74-year-old Carol Johnson was not seriously hurt (though Christmas may be awkward this year). Officials are not considering filing any charges against McElroy, although they have recommended using different methods of armadillo removal in the future.

Armadillo 1, Larry 0

Armadillo 1, Larry 0

The new Star Wars trailer was released this week.  Thoughts?

What do Steve Taylor, Michael Card, Twila Paris, Amy Grant, Keith Green, Steven Curtis Chapman, and BeBe and CeCe Winans have in common? They were all signed by Billy Ray Hearns, the man who shaped Christian music more than any other person in the 70’s through 90’s. Hearn died Wednesday, at age 85.

Michael Kimmel of Kentucky was arrested for a DUI this week.  Or, more technically, an RUI.  It seems Mr. Kimmel was arrested for drunk-riding a horse. 

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West travelled to Israel so that their daughter, North West (nope, not kidding) could be baptized. “Kim Kardashian’s daughter will be baptized and become a Christian officially and a member of the Armenian church,” Archbishop Aris Shirvanian said. “All I know is that she’s a famous personality. I don’t know her in person. In any case she is welcome with her family.” d64 (2)

Did you know you can tell a person’s politics by the restaurant they choose? That is the claim made by a recent survey by Experian Marketing. This was reported after the Wall Street Journal fixated on Hillary’s campaign food with this headline: “Clinton Bypassed Centrist Taco Bell for Liberal Favorite Chipotle.” The WSJ even printed up the nice graphic below.   Not sure where you fit in?  You can find out if you are liberal or conservative by taking this seven-question survey of your restaurant choices.

46ac3530-c767-0132-46b2-0e9062a7590aWell, that’s it for this week.  I will be on a road trip Saturday, so will not be able to respond much.  As always, play nice.

And, hey, President Putin….ummmm, you know how to take a joke, right? I mean, didn’t you think some of them were a little funny? bce75a4833876ba231495f5bfe89fd1641f41a9e0024de5d92082981337607c8

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: April 18, 2015

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

From internetmonk.com
Why People Move Between Different Church Traditions – A Hypothesis

Movement

 

I was wondering a few weeks back, if perhaps people’s worship style preference could be directly correlated to their personality type.  I found this article that seemed to affirm that belief.  I asked our readers to guess what my Myers-Briggs personality type was based on what they knew of my worship style preferences and the way I approach church.  The first response was exactly right!  I started developing that thought a little bit.  That is, if we grew up in a church that didn’t fit our personality type, and wanted to make a change, what would that change look like?    I came up with diagram above.  With apologies to our Orthodox friends and others, I have simplified the American religious landscape into the three largest streams of Christian expression in the U.S.A.

Looking at the diagram from left to right we can make a few observations.

1.  A person who grows up in a liturgical Catholic Church whose personality does not fit well with a liturgical style of worship, and decides to leave, has primarily two options:

  • Become one of the “Nones” –  Agnostic, Atheist, or no religious affiliation
  • Attend an Evangelical Church

2. A person who grows up in a liturgical Mainline Protestant Church whose personality does not fit well with a liturgical style of worship, and decides to leave, has primarily two options:

  • Become one of the “Nones” –  Agnostic, Atheist, or no religious affiliation
  • Attend an Evangelical Church

3. A person who grows up in an Evangelical Church whose personality does not fit well with a non-liturgical style of worship, and decides to leave, has primarily two options:

  • Become one of the “Nones” –  Agnostic, Atheist, or no religious affiliation
  • Attend an Liturgical church.  My hypothesis in this case is that the move will primarily be to a Mainline church, as it will enable them to maintain certain elements of theology with which they are familiar, but attend a style of worship with which they are more comfortable.

4.  If the above hypothesis is correct, we would see the greatest hemorrhaging of attenders from the Catholic Church with two primary outflows, and the most stable numbers in the Evangelical Church with two outflows and two inflows.

I created the graph below a number of years ago from Pew Forum data. It represents people’s moves from the faith of their childhood to their current faith in adulthood.

religiousswitching2

As predicted, the two major moves out of Catholicism are to the Nones and the Evangelicals. The two major moves out of Mainline churches are to the Nones and the Evangelicals. Finally, the two major moves out of Evangelicalism are to the Nones and the Mainline Churches. Catholics had the strongest decrease in numbers, while Evangelicals remained relatively constant.

Does my hypothesis ring true to you? If so, what should churches do to counteract this? Should they do anything? I haven’t talked about those who have left the Nones, nor do I have a hypothesis about why they end up where they end up. Any ideas for me on this? I want to explore these ideas some more in future posts. As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Auster: "Writing is a Disease"

Paul Auster visited Yale at the end of March for the Schlesinger Visiting Writer Series. They asked him a few questions.

Q: Yale is teeming with aspiring writers. Is there any golden advice that you would like to give them?

A: Don't do it. You are asking for a life of penury, solitude, and a kind of invisibility in the world. It's almost like taking orders in a religious sect. Writing is a disease, it's not anything more than that. If a young person says, "You are right, it would be a stupid thing to do," then that person shouldn't be a writer. If a young person says, "I don't agree with you, I will do it anyway," alright, good luck! But you'll have to figure it out on your own, because everyone's path is different.

From Gospel Driven Church
Jesus, the Gentle Pastor

Jesus__good_Shepherd_by_fenixflowerI still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
— John 16:12

These words of Christ really minister to me. The immediate context is this: Jesus has resurrected and he is issuing warnings and promises to his disciples. He is consoling them about his soon departure, saying he is going to send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. He’s going to keep speaking to them, only now through the Holy Spirit, primarily through the Spirit-inspired new covenant Scriptures.

But I love Jesus’ pastoral heart. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus is patient with his people. He plods. He knows how to hand out bread day by day. He doesn’t overcook his sermons like us dumb pastors, thinking we’ve got to hit everybody with everything all at once. He does not “turn on the firehose.” He does not inundate. Of course, Jesus has the benefit of omniscience — he knows how things will play out tomorrow — and we do not. But he is so gentle in this moment.

These words remind me that Jesus is committed to giving me all that I need at the times I need it. It has been said that all our knowledge of God at any given moment is merely a thimble of water compared to the ocean of water available. And yet the thimble is a daily supply, more than enough, just the right amount. Jesus is so good. He knows my limits and condescends to fill them and minister to me within them.

Pastors, take note.

From Gospel Driven Church
What Does An Open Heart Look Like?

Heart-Ink-17We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.
— 2 Corinthians 6:11-13

An open mind — if by that we mean a discerning mind that tests all things and clings to what is good — is a very good thing. But it must be partners with an open heart. A wide open heart. An open heart is much preferable to what the world considers an “open mind.” The point of an open mind, like an open mouth — paraphrasing Chesterton here, I think — is to shut it again on something solid. Or, if you prefer Steve Taylor, don’t be so open-minded that your brain leaks out. If our mind is closed in the right way, shut on the solid things of Scripture, an open heart makes a lot of difference.

What does an open heart look like? It probably doesn’t wear its feelings on its sleeves, but is certainly transparent in its dispositions. An open heart has developed a thick skin but remains tenderhearted. Funny how that works.

An open heart feels no compulsion to self-protect or put on airs. An open heart sees no advantage in putting up a facade. An open heart knows it is hidden with Christ in God, so there is nothing left to hide. An open heart bleeds out grace. An open heart is generous with its affections. An open heart is missional with its passions. An open heart is hospitable to the joys and pains of others. It rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep. An open heart sits across the table from another open heart and does not check its watch.

An open heart feels the circumstances it finds itself in but, inhabited by the Holy Spirit, is tuned to the deeper frequency of the gospel’s indomitable joy.

An heart wide open speaks freely — and love comes out.

At the end of every Middletown Springs worship service, after we’d corporately prayed a blessing over our community and sung The Doxology, I used to dismiss my congregation with these words: “I love you.” Why? Well, because I love my church! I look at them and I can’t help saying it. But I make it a discipline to say “I love you” so they know it’s okay to say such things to people who aren’t children or spouses, so they know their pastor — who might have been challenging them or even rebuking them in the midst of proclaiming the gospel to them — is doing so out of love, and so they will have a reference point for the freeness I feel to cry, laugh, walk around, yell, whisper, and all the other sorts of things that may be involved in exulting in the Scriptures. Over time, I began to hear the call back “We love you too” from more and more corners. They were widening their hearts also.

From internetmonk.com
Easter: do we just not “get” it?

Easter Sanctuary smDo we “get” Easter?

This year, I’ve had this sneaking suspicion that I don’t really “get” Easter, and maybe a lot of the churches and Christians I’ve been around don’t either. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! (Repeat 3x.) Yeah, then it’s back to Monday morning and life as usual.

This feeling became intensified when I tried to put together an Easter playlist of music to listen to throughout the Great Fifty Days of the season (didn’t know Easter lasted fifty days? — well, that helps makes part of my point). I found lots of songs about the cross and some of them ended with a climactic verse on the resurrection. But it was hard to find many songs that focused on the resurrection itself and its implications for our lives.

(Compare the number of Christmas songs with the number of Easter songs in any hymnal, or if you’re more hip than that, on any worship music site, and you’ll get the message about what’s more important to us.)

I did find a wonderful new album by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, called Easter at Ephesus, and I highly recommend it. A whole collection of songs and every one reflecting on the resurrection and its meaning! That’s a rarity.

Then I came down here to Gethsemani. Of course, they follow the liturgical year and that means the normally austere sanctuary is decorated with flowers and a magnificent banner of the risen Christ that I can’t take my eyes off of when I’m in one of the services (see above). It is so grand that I think, “How can we just stand here and not look up with joy and hope and exhilaration every moment? How can we chant anything in a minor key or keep from dancing right here and now, with the risen Christ towering over us in glorious splendor?” The services are a bit more celebratory, but nothing like I imagine they could be.

I don’t think this is the fault of the Trappists, but of the liturgical tradition and a lack of imagination by those who practice it. Why, Fat Tuesday is more festive than most of the Sundays in Easter! Every service in this season should be filled with music like the Sinfonia from Bach’s Easter Oratorio, trumpets blaring. Priests and ministers should be splashing baptismal water over congregations each Lord’s Day, dousing them in new life, laughing and jubilant. Let’s have Easter parades galore! Kids’ events as rowdy and playful as egg hunts each week of the season! A continual feast of church suppers, concerts, extravaganzas! One thing our pastor has done since the beginning of the congregation has been to have a fish fry on one of the Sundays after Easter in remembrance of the story in John 21. Love it! Now if only we could have it on the beach!

Shouldn’t Easter Sunday unleash a season of festivity unlike any other? Shouldn’t it bring a time of celebration unmatched by any other season? Why is there not a flood of Easter music? Why not an entire season of feasting, rejoicing, doing good works, showing generosity, practicing hospitality, giving gifts, engaging in special mission and service projects, holding sacred concerts and art festivals, and decorating our homes, churches, and communities with beautiful reminders of new life and hope?

At least the liturgical churches do something. For many Christians outside those traditions, Easter is over at 12:01 Monday morning and it’s time to move on. Gotta get ready for Mother’s Day, I suppose.

But it’s not just what we do (or don’t do) when we get together this time of year. It’s the lack of theology, the lack of in-depth discussion, the lack of consideration, contemplation, and immersion in resurrection life that I’m missing in me and all around me. What difference does it make that Jesus is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father?

I mean, the entire New Testament is predicated on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead! Too many of us are content to merely try and prove that as a fact in the face of skepticism. Or we sidestep its implications for today by making it about: Jesus has risen, and now we’re going to heaven! Is that all it’s about? Apologetics? Angel wings?

And then I read this quote from Christian Wiman:

The problem with so much thinking about Christ’s resurrection and the promise that lies therein is the self-concern that is attendant upon, and often driving, this thought: resurrection matters because we matter, our individual selves; it matters because it is for us. But Christ’s death and resurrection ought to be a means of freeing us from precisely this kind of thinking, this notion of, and regard for, the self, which is the source of so much of our suffering and unhappiness. (“To hoard the self is to grow a colossal sense for the futility of living.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel) Instead, contemporary Christianity all too often preaches an idea of resurrection that is little more than a means of projecting our paltry selves ad infinitum, and the result is a grinning, self-aggrandizing, ironclad kind of happiness that has no truth in it.

My Bright Abyss, p. 165

Thankfully, I got help celebrating Easter Sunday this year, because April 5 was also Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season — for me the perfect alignment of heaven and earth!

But come on, the greatest day of our faith, and I need to watch the Cubs to make it better?

And then what? What about the other forty-nine days? What about the rest of my life?

Something’s wrong here. I don’t get it.

From Semicolon
Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak

This 89-page little gem of a story takes place in Corfu, a Greek island in the Mediterranean, and it’s about a boy and his donkey. Well, it’s really his grandfather’s donkey. The boy Mikis, however, is the one who names the donkey Tsaki and the one who cares for Tsaki when he is hurt and the one who insists on building Tsaki a new stable and the one who finds Tsaki a lady-friend.

This one reminded me of Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil, a 1953 Newbery honor book: Mediterranean island, simple family life and family dynamics, children exploring the island and learning about their heritage and their place in their culture. Mikis and the Donkey also won an award from the ALSC, the Batchelder Award for children’s books originally published in another language and translated into English.

Anyway, it’s a lovely book, and I wish I had a copy for my library. It’s definitely going on my wishlist.

From Gospel Driven Church
Against Bloodless Ghosts in Theology

Brown_ladyJohn Updike, from his 1963 review of Paul Tillich’s Morality and Beyond:

[T]he net effect is one of ambiguity, even futility — as if the theologian were trying to revivify the Christian corpse with transfusions of Greek humanism, German metaphysics, and psychoanalytical theory. Terms like “grace” and “Will of God” walk through these pages as bloodless ghosts, transparent against the milky background of “beyond” and “being” that Tillich, God forbid, would confuse with the Christian faith.

— “Tillich,” in Assorted Prose of John Updike (New York: Knopf, 1966), 220.

We too often toss around words like “spirit,” “grace,” “peace,” and “hope,” smooshing them all into some Christian-ese gobbledegook. This is not the Christian faith. The Bible will not let us have these ideas merely as ideas, as things. They are personal. Thus: “He himself is our peace” (Micah 5:5; Eph. 2:14) and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Let’s not mess with ethereal virtues, no matter how Christianly gauzed. Leave ethereal virtues to vague saviors. Let’s not toy with bloodless ghosts, which time and time again only slip through our grasping fingers like smoke through pitchfork tines. All biblical virtues find their solidity in our real and risen Lord, Jesus the Christ. The Word is real and em(glorified)bodied!

Sinclair Ferguson brings it home:

[R]emember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of Jesus. If I can highlight the thought here: there is no “thing” that Jesus takes from Himself and then, as it were, hands over to me. There is only Jesus Himself.

From internetmonk.com
Ron Rolheiser on Priestly Prayer

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I have an idea some people have a misconception when I tell them I am going on retreat to a place like the Abbey of Gethsemani, where I am this week. I know I’ve had such wrong notions in the past, especially in my free-church evangelical days.

This is especially true regarding the daily services of prayer in which retreatants may participate. I can hardly imagine what my evangelical friends would think if I told them the monks pray nine times a day and that I delight in joining them.

Weekday
3:15 am Vigils
5:45 am Lauds
6:15 am Eucharist
7:30 am Terce
12:15 pm Sext
2:15 pm None
5:30 pm Vespers
7:00 pm Rosary
7:30 pm Compline

Can you imagine nine evangelical-style prayer meetings per day? No thanks. And if I were to tell those folks that the prayers being offered at Gethsemani were more of a written, liturgical style, I doubt that they’d grasp the purpose. They get together and chant nine times a day? You call that prayer? How does participating in that help you have a more intimate relationship with God?

In his excellent book, Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist, Ronald Rolheiser helps us distinguish two types of prayer, only one of which is understood in the evangelical world from which I come.

The first is public, or liturgical prayer, the second type is private, or devotional prayer.

These two types of prayer are not always apparent just by looking at them. Five hundred people can be together, each praying privately or together in a devotional fashion. Likewise, one person can pray the Daily Office by herself and it is liturgical prayer, the public prayer of the Church. These two types of prayer are not distinguished by how many people are praying, where they are praying, or whether or not they are praying together or individually.

In order to help us understand the difference, Rolheiser suggests we change the names of these types of prayer to:

  • Priestly prayer
  • Affective prayer

Priestly prayer is, in essence, not my prayer, but the prayer of Christ through his Church in which I participate. Rolheiser comments:

Our Christian belief is that Christ is still gathering us together around his word and is still offering an external act of love for the world. As an extension of that, we believe that whenever we meet together, in a church or elsewhere, to gather around the scriptures or to celebrate the Eucharist, we are entering into that prayer and sacrifice of Christ. This is liturgical prayer; it is Christ’s prayer, not ours. (p. 88)

Furthermore, this prayer is not for us but for the world. “In liturgical prayer we pray with Christ, through the church, but for the world” (ibid).

Affective prayer is different and serves a different purpose: to draw me as an individual closer to the Lord. In this type of prayer, I seek God in order to deepen my communion with him. As Rolheiser says, this type of prayer is designed “to open us or our loved ones up in such a way that we can hear God say to us, ‘I love you!’” (p. 89)

Both are necessary and important forms of prayer.

However, only the historic traditions grasp how essential the first type is. Only they grasp the significance of “common prayer,” prayer that is not immediately “relevant” to my life and my feelings, but which represents Christ and his entire church and is essential for the health of the world. Through such prayer the Church embodies and voices the priestly ministry of Christ, offering true sacrifices of praise and petition to the King who formed this world to be his dwelling place. Through it we experience the communion of saints throughout all time and in all places, and with them we cry out in lament and plead in intercession for the Judge of all creation to put the world to rights in Christ. Such prayer is most fully represented by the Psalms, and thus at places like Gethsemani the Psalms make up the majority of the prayers that are lifted up to God.

For the monks who chant the Psalms nine times daily, this is their primary work: they pray for the life of the world. Those of us who pray the Daily Offices throughout the world join with them and all the saints to share in that work.

Now I can also come to a place like Gethsemani to draw near Christ in personal devotion, and I hope I will, through various practices of reflection and formation. But Ronald Rolheiser has helped me distinguish what I do for my own spiritual well being and what I do for others in prayer. His distinction here helps me think more clearly about why I’m praying and participating in the various practices I engage in here and in my daily life.

As I wrote once before, the monks and the Church around the world, who pray priestly prayers every day at all times and in all places are the ones who are keeping the fires burning in the engine room of the world. And it is my privilege to shovel a bit of coal toward the Flame with them this week.

From Semicolon
Genuine Sweet by Faith Harkey

I think this book, about “a small-town girl with big-time magic”, a middle grade novel that hardly mentions God and never references prayer as such, has something important to say about prayer and the way we relate to God and his generosity and grace, nevertheless. I’m just not sure I completely understood what it had to say, even though there’s a chapter at the end in which Miss Genuine Sweet tries to wrap it all up in a great big bow and present The Lesson(s) to the reader who’s made it all the way to the end of the story.

Genuine Sweet finds out near the beginning of the story that she has inherited the family shine for wish-fetching. Like her mother (deceased) and her grandmother before her, Genuine is a wish-fetcher. Gram tells Genuine: “Wish fetchers are real. The underlings of angels, my ma used to say, with humbler clothes.”

Of course there are rules. The most important rule is that “wish fetchers can’t grant their own wishes.” And they only grant “good-hearted wishes”, not wishes for revenge or evil gain at the expense of others. Wish fetchers draw down magic from the stars and find a way to grant other people’s wishes.

So Genuine Sweet, twelve year old inhabitant of the very small and isolated town of Sass, Georgia, becomes a wish fetcher. And it’s not long before the whole town is in an uproar over Genuine’s ability to give people what they want and need with her wish biscuits, made out of liquid starlight and special miracle flour. And Genuine wonders what good it does to grant other people’s wishes when her drunken Pa is unemployed, she and her family are about to starve, and the electric is about to be turned off because they can’t pay their bill.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but turn Genuine’s wish-fetching into a metaphor for prayer in my mind. What good does it do to pray for other people when it seems as if I have needs and wants of my own that God isn’t satisfying? How do we know how to pray and what to pray for? If we try to help others will our own desires be granted somehow in the end? What if the one you’re wishing for/praying for doesn’t want to be healed/strengthened/given whatever it you’re asking for on their behalf? Should you wish a good wish or pray a good prayer for someone who doesn’t want it? Jesus actually told us to ask God for our daily bread and for His provision for other needs, but sometimes (most times?) His answer to those sorts of prayers comes in the form of our own hard work and ingenuity. What if our prayers go unanswered?

At least one of the conclusions that Genuine Sweet comes to after all her adventures in wish-fetching is that “there’s nothing in the whole world—except our own selves–that can keep us from our good.” Her conclusion sounds a lot like a secularized version of a Bible verse I know: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:28-29)

I really enjoyed the story and the writing and the thoughts that the book brought to mind. If you read it, I’d be interested to hear what you think. Leave me a comment.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
For Want of Wonder

Ron Block explores unbelief in a George MacDonald novel, noting Chesterton's observation, "The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder."

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
People Don't Write Books

Author Jonathan Rogers was passed up by Senior Ms. America in last April's Music City Half-Marathon. It proved transformative.

Here in my forties I have gained wisdom from running that I never gained from books. To wit: I have learned never to ask, "Can I run 13.1 miles?" (the answer is probably no) but only to ask "Can I run to the next telephone pole" (the answer is probably yes). To apply this principle to my line of work, people don't write books: they write sentences.

From Gospel Driven Church
When the Wilderness Seems a Paradise and the World a Wilderness

Beach Of Paradise Wide Desktop BackgroundBeautiful and logical, from Thomas Chalmers’s sermon The Expulsive Power of a New Affection (pdf):

“Conceive a man to be standing on the margin of this green world; and that, when he looked towards it, he saw abundance smiling upon every field, and all the blessings which earth can afford scattered in profusion throughout every family, and the light of the sun sweetly resting upon all the pleasant habitations, and the joys of human companionship brightening many a happy circle of society—conceive this to be the general character of the scene upon one side of his contemplation; and that on the other, beyond the verge of the godly planet on which he was situated, he could descry nothing but a dark and fathomless unknown. Think you that he would bid a voluntary adieu to all the brightness and all the beauty that were before him upon earth, and commit himself to the frightful solitude away from it? Would he leave its peopled dwelling places, and become a solitary wanderer through the fields of nonentity? If space offered him nothing but a wilderness, would he for it abandon the homebred scenes of life and of cheerfulness that lay so near, and exerted such a power of urgency to detain him? Would not he cling to the regions of sense, and of life, and of society? — and shrinking away from the desolation that was beyond it, would not he be glad to keep his firm footing on the territory of this world, and to take shelter under the silver canopy that was stretched over it?

“But if, during the time of his contemplation, some happy island of the blest had floated by; and there had burst upon his senses the light of its surpassing glories, and its sounds of sweeter melody;—and he clearly saw, that there, a purer beauty rested upon every field, and a more heartfelt joy spread itself among all the families; and he could discern there, a peace, and a piety, and a benevolence, which put a moral gladness into every bosom, and united the whole society in one rejoicing sympathy with each other, and with the beneficent Father of them all.—Could he further see, that pain and mortality were there unknown; and above all, that signals of welcome were hung out, and an avenue of communication was made for him—perceive you not, that what was before the wilderness, would become the land of invitation; and that now the world would be the wilderness?”

From internetmonk.com
Andy Zehner: On Communitarianism

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Note from CM: I have said often that I am a-political — I don’t care much for politics, and we don’t talk too much about that world here on IM, except when it impinges on some facet of religious discourse. In today’s terms, I consider myself a moderate and you will usually find me lamenting the severe partisan divides that keep our governmental leaders from being effective in working for the common good. My roots are deep in the Midwestern small town ethos, and I also lived for some time in New England, where town meeting was still the main political event of the year. One of the best socio-political expressions which represents the way I think politically goes by the designation “communitarianism.” My friend Andy Zehner (Damaris’s husband) is an eloquent proponent of this commonsense, neighborly approach to community and civic life. I’ve asked him to explain it for us today here at IM.

Andy blogs regularly at Jordan or Styx? It’s a great site; you should check it out.

• • •

Many of the urgent, practical questions that arise in life find no answer in the Bible or the catechisms and doctrinal texts of the various denominations. The Sermon on the Mount is wonderful, but it doesn’t help a young Christian woman decide whether her skirt shows too much leg. There’s nothing in the Westminster Confession of Faith to help a conscientious person decide what to think (or do) about fracking, Ferguson or flat tax. When we do find specific commands (e.g., Lev. 25:35-37 or I Cor. 11:6), we are quick to dismiss them as irrelevant to our time and culture. And because practical instruction is rare and often disregarded, practical decisions about how to live continue to perplex us.

Communitarianism is a social theory suggesting how people can develop a fair and effective society. Chaplain Mike has asked me to explain a bit about it. If you will agree that fairness, effectiveness, and possibly God’s favor are worthy goals, I’ll try to show how communitarian principles lead to those ends. Consider:

  • Psalm 68 offers a litany of God’s great works, among which David lists, “God sets the lonely in families,” and concludes, “Praise be to God!”
  • Cooperation and community are the very essence of the Christian life as described by the apostle Paul: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5).
  • John Donne, the brilliant 16th century pastor and poet, declares: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” (Meditation XVII).
  • Dorothy Gale from Kansas experiences wonders meteorological, anthropomorphic and occult, and concludes, “There’s no place like home.”

These glimpses attest that relationships are fundamental to the human experience. God intends us to live with and through others. Communitarianism accepts the central role of community, and then builds a social theory to suggest how we should live. Human happiness requires, according to this view, a balance of personal freedom and civic rules. This is in contrast to libertarianism, which contends that liberty alone secures happiness. Communitarianism also disagrees with any who say personal wellbeing should be compromised for the good of the state (fascism). Personal wellbeing is the communitarian priority. A healthy society is the means to that end.

A new movement based on old ideas

The roots of communitarianism go back to the Bible and to Aristotle. It emerged as a school of thought only in the 1980s. Some important modern thinkers associated with the theory are Harvard professors Michael Sandel and Robert Putnam, whose 2000 book, Bowling Alone, describes the decline of civic engagement in America; the conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet; the political philosopher John Rawls; and Notre Dame theologian Alasdair MacIntyre. Its most fervent proponent is the Israeli-American sociologist Amitai Etzioni, who runs the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University.

Caution: If you do any follow-up reading on this subject, you’ll likely come across dishonest articles equating communitarianism with one-world government and hidden agendas of domination. Here’s one. Here’s another. And here’s a third. These are fantastical misinterpretations. What the communitarian platform actually says is, “No social task should be assigned to an institution that is larger than necessary to do the job.” The important issues, in other words, should be resolved around the family dinner table more often than at the UN Headquarters or at Davos. Giving a voice to people in a Detroit slum or a Brazilian rain forest is the opposite of world domination.

Far from it

An informed and involved citizenry is the sine qua non of communitarianism. America today is far from that.

“It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.” Charles Dickens put these words into the mouth of Ebenezer Scrooge, knowing they would mark him as an odious miser. In ancient Athens, a man of Scrooge’s mind was ιδιωτησ, an idiot. The word didn’t imply deficient mental capacity. A man was an idiot if he neglected his civic responsibilities. America today is a nation of avowed idiots, and of people proud to share Scrooge’s worst quality.

Let’s clarify what communitarianism isn’t. It is not politics. The purpose of politics is to gain power by winning elections. Communitarianism stands for a consistent idea whether it is popular or not. Communitarianism is not religion. The purpose of religion is to explain and regulate man’s relationship to what is transcendent, while communitarianism focuses on this life. Communitarianism is not ideology. Ideologies insist on a short-circuit path from principles to priorities to conclusions. Communitarianism asserts only foundational principles and leaves the conclusions to work themselves out through experience. I think it fair to say that communitarian principles are congruous with religion, but not so much with politics or ideology.

Communitarianism is, as I’ve said, a social theory. It is a package of ideas that ideologues and politicians pick up and discard as it suits them. Political conservatives tend to talk the communitarian talk concerning morality and limited government. They part ways when communitarians defend labor unions, immigrant groups and other minority perspectives. They agree about Normal Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech, in other words, but not about Norman’s Rockwell’s Golden Rule.

illustration_281_1_freedom_of_speech-400x506
rockwell-golden-rule

Communitarians and political liberals also maintain a tenuous alliance. A liberal regime seeks to act mainly through each individual’s dependence on the (national) government. Communitarianism prefers that families, church congregations, neighborhood associations and dozens of other groups provide the guidance and support the individual needs.

Communitarianism hovers on the periphery of public discourse. At his 1989 inaugural address, George H.W. Bush spoke of “a thousand points of light.” Since leaving office Bill Clinton has said the country (and world) needs, “Not liberal, but communitarian solutions.” According to Etzioni’s history of the movement, George W. Bush was also onboard until September 11, 2001, when urgent security concerns seemed to demand state power, secrets, and ruling by fiat  (all very anti-communitarian). Barack Obama has been more of a classic liberal, at least insofar as his signature health care reform is a big government program. Still, at his famous 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, Obama declaimed, “For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people. If there’s a child on the South Side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child.”

Am I saying all or any of these men are communitarians? No, they are politicians. Their convictions are shallow and changing. But you can see that communitarian principles are not far from center stage. Indeed, they’ve been there since before America’s beginning.

We must, we must, we must

In 1630, as his puritan followers prepared to debark at their Massachusetts Bay settlement, John Winthrop delivered his famous “City on a Hill” sermon. It is one the highest, noblest agendas ever uttered. It thrills me every time I read it. It is thoroughly communitarian:

[W]e must be knit together in this work as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other’s necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make other’s conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. 

Now, it is a fact that the Massachusetts Bay puritans fell short of these ideals. They argued over doctrine. They burned witches. They plundered their Abenaki, Narragansett and Pequod neighbors. But their failure doesn’t tarnish the ideals.

If community mattered to the earliest settlers, and top politicians of today continue to endorse the rhetoric of community, why has communitarianism failed to accomplish widespread social improvement? Perhaps it has done more than we know. But I think the answer is that people have too little regard for their neighbors, and too much regard for the distant halls of power.  The first of these is sin, and the second is madness.

Waiting for the government to solve your problems is a poor strategy at any time. With the dysfunction that pervades Washington now, it has become even less hopeful. A former presidential advisor said not long ago that it is not possible to coalesce all Americans around an idea. “We don’t have the ability to communicate with them . . . They are talking to people who agree with them, they are listening to news outlets that reinforce that point of view, and [President Obama] is probably the person with the least ability to break into that because of the partisan bias there.”

If, in today’s bifurcated society, even a president cannot rally the people to consensus, he still has the option of ramming through his policies irrespective of public support. Or does he? The Affordable Care Act was passed by a Democratic Congress and with little discussion. In the five years since, several million Americans have gained health coverage and the cost of health care has fallen. Yet a majority of Americans still distrust the law and many are working to undermine it. Without consensus and support, even federal law is weak. But laws based on communitarian consensus would be supported by the people who administer them, and the people who obey them.

And this is where communitarianism might disappoint potential adherents. Consensus takes time and patience. Working in hundreds of communities is harder than commanding once and for all from on high. When decisions are decentralized, laws and practices can vary from place to place. And that is OK. Communitarianism is comfortable with legal marijuana in Colorado, if Coloradans decide after careful consideration that they want it. Most communitarians would not force rules onto all Americans from above, even on critical issues such as abortion or gun control. Compelling people to do the right thing is just another sort of tyranny. From the communitarian platform: “[W]hen a community reaches the point at which these responsibilities are largely enforced by the powers of the state, it is in deep moral crisis. If communities are to function well, most members most of the time must discharge their responsibilities because they are committed to do so, not because they fear lawsuits, penalties, or jails.”

Count the failures

The Sandy Hook School massacre represents a failure of the federal congress to take action. And that is where most people’s analysis rests. But it was also failure at many other levels. Adam Lanza failed to respect his mother. She failed to raise him up in the way that he should go. Neighbors and school officials failed to notice that Mrs. Lanza had more than she could handle, or failed to do anything about it. The schools failed to even try to teach moral and civic duty. Local police and mental health officials failed to act on what they knew about Lanza’s morbid intentions. A communitarian society would instill many local checks – many points of intervention – before the bullets began to fly.

Have it your way

The mention of moral teaching and intervention evokes the thought of religious or cultural or ideological indoctrination. “Whose principles,” you might ask, “will these communitarian societies expound?” The surprising answer, if you are not a complete sociopath, is: “Yours!” Again from the communitarian platform:

“We ought to teach those values Americans share, for example, that the dignity of all persons ought to be respected, that tolerance is a virtue and discrimination abhorrent, that peaceful resolution of conflicts is superior to violence, that generally truth-telling is morally superior to lying, that democratic government is morally superior to totalitarianism and authoritarianism, that one ought to give a day’s work for a day’s pay, that saving for one’s own and one’s country’s future is better than squandering one’s income and relying on others to attend to one’s future needs.”

And now….

Before ending I should give you some proof of communitarianism in action. I don’t presume to urge the iMonk community to be communitarian or to join any social movement based on communitarian principles. I just want you to know things are happening and it’s not just a theory. The nature of a human-scale, decentralized ethic is that it will never be large and headline-grabbing. But there are plenty of growing initiatives with communitarian values:

Urban farming is one example. Rather than settling for what giant retail and agro corporations provide, people in the hearts of big cities are growing fresh, healthy food on vacant city land and sharing it with their neighbors. For people who live nearer to farm production, community supported agriculture cooperatives connect conscientious growers with customers eager to pay a premium for fresher meat, fruits and vegetables than the stores supply.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund helps communities defy “unsustainable economic and environmental policies set by state and federal governments” in order to achieve “sustainable energy production, sustainable land development, and sustainable water use, among others.”

The best and most extensive example of success built on a foundation of community and cooperation is the Mondragon Corporation of Spain. The company is a major enterprise with nearly 75,000 employees worldwide and sales of €12.5 billion. But Mondragon operates according to principles laid down in 1941by Catholic priest and corporate founder José María Arizmendiarrieta. Those principles are cooperation, empowerment, innovation and social responsibility. This video shows more. Most workers own shares in the company. Layoffs almost never happen, even during the severe recession of 2008-2010. Such things might not work in America where focus on maximum profits forces out other priorities. And then again, they just might work in Ohio, too.

From Gospel Driven Church
Called into the All-Surpassing Awesomeness of Jesus Christ

jesus-christ-statue-rio-de-janeiro-brazil-awesome-desktop-background-images-of-cities-free-downloadJohn 1:35-51 is John’s account of Jesus’ calling some of his first disciples. The thing that strikes me as I look at this passage is the array of titles ascribed to Jesus. There are at least 7 titles/descriptors given to Jesus here:

1. The Lamb of God, ultimately referring to his atoning sacrifice
2. Rabbi, ascribing to him the place of teaching and wisdom
3. Messiah (the Christ), acknowledging him as the answer to Israel’s expectation
4. Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, which reminds us of his incarnate humanity
5. Son of God, referring not just to Jesus positional relationship with the Father but his unique nature shared with the Father
6. King, which is pretty self-explanatory
7. Son of Man, an earthy title which actually belies its prophetic and apocalyptic meaning, in v.51 connected to his exaltation

Seven titles, seven facets of Jesus’ identity. Seven angles at his all-surpassing awesomeness.
In just 17 short verses, in just one short narrative recounting Jesus calling men into the radical life of following him, we see a big picture of all that Jesus is.

And it occurs to me that this is not just a great picture of this call to discipleship, but that it’s a wonderful picture of our call to discipleship. We tag along and Jesus asks, “What do you want?” and so many of us answer with a piddlin’ amount of expectation compared to the all-satisfying goodness he is actually drawing us into.

Think about the mentors you’ve had throughout your life. What would you say if they were to ask you, “What do you want out of this relationship?” The expectations we have vary: guidance, information, affirmation of gifts, encouragement.

We go to Jesus asking for these slices of wholeness, as well.
The titles in John 1 speak to these needs — he is the Rabbi for those needing wisdom, he is the Messiah for those needing fulfillment, he is the Lamb for those needing forgiveness — but the truth is that we need all that Christ is, and the truth is that in becoming his disciples we actually receive all that Christ is!

We settle too easily. As C.S. Lewis says, “We are far too easily pleased.” We want and expect Jesus the information desk, Jesus the ATM, Jesus the boyfriend, Jesus the socially conscious vegetarian, Jesus the culture warrior, Jesus the chest-thumping ultimate fighter, Jesus the tea drinking beatnik, and he is none of those things (but perhaps, in some way, all of those things). He is all of God, and he is all of life.

There are two instances of “evangelism” in this account, also. The Baptizer’s disciples ask Jesus where he’s staying and Jesus responds, “Come along and see what’s happening.” Philip doesn’t just tell Nathanael about Jesus; he says to him, “Come and see.”

Clearly it is one thing to impart information about the goodness of Jesus, but the real affect, the real impact upon those desperate for life, occurs when someone “sees” the fullness of Christ in action. If discipleship means embracing the fullness of Christ, the community of disciples should radiate the wonder and worship life in the fullness of Christ really evokes.

We worship an amazing God who supplies all our needs according to his riches in King Jesus.

From Semicolon
Books about Books, with Book Lists

Maybe you’re not as addicted to book lists as I am. But I often get questions about what books are really good to read aloud or to give to my seven year old or nine year old. Or what should I give to my son who reads nothing except Redwall or Encyclopedia Brown or whatever the latest fad is? Or how can I help my voracious reader find more good books? Or what books do you suggest that are set during the Middle Ages? What about books for science-loving children?

Well, I almost always have some to suggest. However, when I run out of ideas, or when I want to dream about more books for my future reading or for my library, or when I want to remind myself of all the great books I’ve already enjoyed, these are the books I go to. Books about books for children and for young adults:

Picture Book Preschool by Sherry Early. I am putting my book first, not because it’s the best, but because it’s for the youngest of our children—and their parents, of course. The simple spiral-bound book is a preschool curriculum, suitable for ages three to five, based on picture books that I have been reading to my children for the past twenty years. Each week of Picture Book Preschool is built around a theme, and includes a suggested character trait to work on, a Bible verse, and at least seven suggested picture books to read to your children. Available in print from Cafe Press or on Amazon as an e-book.

Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. First published in 1969, this guide to “the imaginative use of books in family life”, is in its fourth edition (2002). Ms. Hunt recommends Harry Potter and other “modern classics” as well as as older books by more established authors, writing about all of these varied authors and books from a Christian perspective. Even if you’re anti-Potter, you can still get a lot out of this well-loved book about the joys of reading together as a family. Gladys Hunt also has two other books, Honey for a Teen’s Heart and Honey for a Woman’s Heart, both with excellent reading recommendations.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Mr. Trelease’s book has been around for quite a while in several editions. (Latest seventh edition, 2013) It’s not written from a specifically Christian or homeschool perspective, but I didn’t find any of the ideas or the recommended books to be offensive or inappropriate for Christian readers. About half the book talks about why you should read aloud to your children, impediments to reading aloud, studies and thoughts about how reading aloud to children is foundational to their education, and the creation of a climate of reading the home and at school. The other half is an extensive list of suggested books: wordless books, predictable picture books, reference books, whimsical picture books, short novels, full-length novels, poetry, anthologies, and fairy and folk tales. I have the 2006-2007 edition in my library, and in it Mr. Trelease recommends lots of good books, some of which I have yet to experience and others of which I am quite fond myself.

Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson. Sarah Clarkson is the daughter of Christian homeschooling inspiration, Sally Clarkson, and her book, subtitled Whole Books for the Wholehearted Family, is a treasury of wonderful reading suggestions. Sarah is a kindred spirit, including many of of my slightly lesser-known favorite authors such as Nancy White Carlstrom, Mem Fox (Australian, not as well known in the U.S.), Joan Aiken, Caroline Dale Snedeker, Brinton Turkle, Sydney Taylor, Barbara Willard, and many more. Ms. Clarkson’s newest book is Caught Up in a Story: Fostering a Storyformed Life of Great Books and Imagination with Your Children. Long title, great book with even more reading suggestions.

Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Chidren’s Literature by Elizabeth Wilson and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. (Revised edition: 2002) Susan Macaulay is another daughter of a well-known Christian thinker, Francis Schaeffer. Her book of book lists is based on Charlotte Mason’s ideas about the use of “living books” (another term for good, enriching books) in the education of children. The books are listed by grade level, and many of them are old classic books that would enrich any child’s, or adult’s, education.

Who Should We Then Read? by Jan Bloom. The ungrammatical title notwithstanding (the author explains and defends her reasons for choosing to use “who” rather than “whom”), this guide to “authors of good books for children and young adults” is invaluable for its listing of wonderful authors and series from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, authors who wrote wonderful, imaginative books for children and who are in danger of being forgotten and not enjoyed by a new generation. Some of my favorites listed in this book, with information about the author and an exhaustive list of each one’s works, are: Patricia Beatty, L.M. Boston, Leon Garfield, Elizabeth Janet Gray, Cornela Miegs, Lois Lenski, F.N. Monjo, Leonard Wibberly, Glen Rounds, Katherine Shippen, John Tunis, and again, many, many more. Ms. Bloom’s book is ring-bound so that it lies flat, and there’s a sequel: Who Should We Then Read, Volume 2.

The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer. This book is more for mature students and for adults who want some sort of guide to reading the “best” books that they never managed to read in high school or college. Ms. Bauer writes about training your mind to read thoughtfully and wrestling with books and keeping a reading journal, and then she recommends books for “jumping into the Great Conversation” in the areas of classic novels, autobiography and memoir, history and politics, drama and poetry. The book is somewhat intimidating to some folks, but I just read it as another book of old friends and new book suggestions, not as a definitive list of the books one must read in order be properly educated.

You should know that these books were all published at least ten years ago. Many of the books in them are out of print, and many public libraries have weeded these older books out of their collections in spite of their quality and excellence. Librarians must keep up with the new and the popular because of public demand, but when they do so, these older books are endangered. That’s why some homeschoolers and others I know are making it their work to preserve, publicize, and in some cases loan to others, these endangered titles.

If you have any of the books on this list or any of the out of print and hard to find books that are listed in these guides that you would like to donate to my library, please feel free to contact me.

From Semicolon
The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson.

Prayer is a mysterious thing. Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., writes about answered prayers and unanswered prayers and prayer circles and praying through and specific prayers and dreams and life goals. I found the book inspiring, and as I indicated, somewhat mysterious. Appropriately enough. If I had prayer figured out, I would very nearly think that I have God figured out, and that would be presumptuous and unwise of me.

“Most of us don’t get what we want because we quit praying. We give up too easily. We give up too soon. We quit praying right before the miracle happens.”

“We shouldn’t seek answers as much as we should seek God. If you seek answers you won’t find them, but if you seek God, the answers will find you.”

“Sometimes the power of prayer is the power to carry on. It doesn’t always change your circumstances, but it gives you the strength to walk through them. When you pray through, the burden is taken off of your shoulders and put on the shoulders of Him who carried the cross to Calvary.”

“Faith is the willingness to look foolish.”

“There is nothing God loves more than keeping promises, answering prayers, performing miracles, and fulfilling dreams. That is who He is. That is what He does. And the bigger the circle we draw, the better, because God gets more glory. The greatest moments in life are the miraculous moments when human impotence and divine omnipotence intersect – and they intersect when we draw a circle around the impossible situations in our lives and invite God to intervene.”

“if God doesn’t answer the way you want, you still need to praise through. That is when it’s most difficult to praise God, but that is also when our praise is most pure and most pleasing to God.”

I am in the midst of a prayer journey with God, and it looks impossible. I’ve been asking him to do something, something good and right and big and important, for nigh on ten years now. So far it’s not happening. In fact, as far as I can tell, nothing is happening that moves us closer to God’s glory or my desires. However, I’m determined to keep praying, keep wrestling, until God gives me what I am asking or until I die and go to be with Him. And if I’m in heaven and my prayers are still not answered, I’ll keep asking there.

I think that’s what this book is all about, and that’s what God asks us to do in the Bible:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. John 14:13

And if we know that he hears us—-whatever we ask—-we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:15

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16

The other thing I got out of this book was a new encouragement and vision for goal-setting.

“Goal setting begins and ends with prayer. God-ordained goals are conceived in the context of prayer, and prayer is what brings them to full term. You need to keep circling your dreams in prayer, like the Israelites circled Jericho.”

Maybe I’ll share some of my “life goals list” with you soon. What life goals has God given you?

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Beatles Wanted to Do Lord of the Rings

I didn't hear this news when it hit years ago: "The Beatles had approached J.R.R. Tolkien about doing a film version of Lord of the Rings starring the Fab Four."

Lennon wanted to play Gollum; McCartney, Frodo; Ringo, Sam; and Harrison, Gandalf. Tolkien said, "Over my dead body," or something like that. Too bad Nimoy didn't have to ask him for permission to sing about Bilbo in the 70s.

From Semicolon
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

The Family Romanov: Murder Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming.

Were the Romanov family a Christian family, persecuted by the evil Communist revolutionaries and ultimately martyrs to their (Orthodox) faith?

“Alix (Alexandra) . . . spent hours a day on her knees in prayer.” (p.28)

“God’s will must always be accepted without complaint. After all, everything that happened in life was the result of God’s will, so it was pointless to question the meaning of events. ‘God knows what is good for us,’ Nicholas often reminded himself. ‘We must bow down our heads and repeat the sacred words, ‘Thy will be done.”” (p.43)

“Typically Nicholas believed Alexei’s illness was God’s will, and so he accepted it passively. ‘My own fate and that of my family are in the hands of Almighty God.'” (p.55)

“Alexandra believed Rasputin’s healing powers were a gift from God, the answer to all her long hours of prayer.” (p.87)

“Alexandra wanted to do more. So she enrolled in nursing courses, and she took nineteen-year-old Olga and seventeen-year-old Tatiana with her. . . Working in the wards, the students washed, cleaned, and bandaged maimed bodies, mangled faces, blinded eyes.” (p.138)

“‘It is necessary to look more calmly on everything,’ she (Alexandra) said three months after her husband’s abdication. ‘What is to be done? God has sent us trials, evidently he thinks we are prepared for it. It is a sort of examination—to prove we are ready for His grace.'” (p.185)

“Their mornings began and evenings ended with prayers.” “Marie offered to read aloud from the family’s favorite collection of sermons.” (p.228)

Or was Nicholas an evil, violent man and was Alexandra blinded by her near-idolatry for Rasputin and for her icons to which she turned in faith that they would make her son well?

“They (the police) shared Nicholas’s view that ‘the Yids,’ as he derisively called his Jewish subjects, ‘must be kept in their place.'” (p.69)

“Nicholas decided to crack down on all of his subjects. Now, he declared, they would ‘feel the whip.’ Perhaps then they would think twice before rebelling.” (p.79)

“Their work (the pogroms) delighted Nicholas. Once, after reading a particularly gruesome report of hangings and beatings, he turned to an aide. ‘This really tickles me,’ he said. ‘It really does.'” (p.80)

“Alexandra firmly believed Rasputin was God’s messenger, sent to guide them through the war. ‘I fully trust in Our Friend’s wisdom endowed by God to counsel what is right for you and our country,’ she wrote Nicholas.” (p.148-9)

Both, I think, however contradictory that may be. The book is certainly a warning to those of us who are Christians: we may be blinded by our own prejudices and those of our culture into believing things that are contrary to the gospel of Christ and into acting upon those erroneous beliefs. We must always compare our actions and beliefs with the yardstick of Scripture and ask for specific guidance from the Holy Spirit. I believe that if Nicholas and Alexandra had done so in regard to the Jews and to Rasputin, that guidance would have been granted to them.

Ms. Fleming does a good job of presenting a balanced and intriguing picture of the Romanovs, and I recommend the book.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'Hardrada's Hoard,' by Tony Nash and Richard Downing



An intriguing premise: On his way to conquer England by way of York in 1066, King Harald Hardrada of Norway secretly buried a great treasure in a ruined Saxon church. Some time later, the church was rebuilt without the treasure being discovered. Only now, in the post-Christian present when the church is falling down again, a priest accidentally finds the secret vault where the treasure lies. Once he informs the authorities, his church becomes the target, first of ordinary thieves, and then of right-wing, racist political extremists. So a Norwegian agent is assigned to infiltrate the conspiracy and sabotage it.

Hardrada's Hoard could have been a pretty entertaining book. And I enjoyed it enough to finish it. But overall I found it unsatisfactory, for a couple reasons.

First of all, the numerous historical misrepresentations. The authors clearly did some research in preparing this book - their image of the Vikings is better, for instance, than that of the History Channel series - but they make a lot of pretty serious mistakes. They think Vikings used two-handed swords. They tell us with straight faces that King Harald's queen and two daughters died in battle with him at Stamford Bridge (in fact the queen, a delicate Russian princess, stayed home in Norway with the girls). They tell us there was a spell of cold climate in Scandinavia during the Viking Age (the precise opposite of the truth). They seem to think Harald and his men were heathen (they were Christian). They think the 1950s Kirk Douglas movie popularized the idea of winged helmets for Vikings (the image goes back much further, and there are no winged helmets in that movie). They think Vikings sported Norman hair styles.

My second problem is that the sex scenes are far more explicit than called for.

And last but not least, the final resolution is both improbable and unsatisfactory.

Didn't work for me.

From Gospel Driven Church
Lay Off, Mr. Law!

Martin-Luther-1526From Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, commenting on 3:19:

“[T]he Law is not to operate on a person after he has been humbled and frightened by the exposure of his sins and the wrath of God. We must then say to the Law: ‘Mister Law, lay off him. He has had enough. You scared him good and proper.’ Now it is the Gospel’s turn. Now let Christ with His gracious lips talk to him of better things, grace, peace, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.”

From Gospel Driven Church
They Will Know You Are Conference Christians By Your Porn?

iBAHN-HotelRoom091A gentle word of warning for the thousands entering Orlando this weekend for next week’s Gospel Coalition Conference: what you do in the privacy of your hotel room can be a witness against the gospel. Seriously.

From Steve Farrar’s Finishing Strong:

A number of years ago a national conference for church youth directors was held at a major hotel in a city in the mid-west. Youth pastors by the hundreds flooded into that hotel and took nearly every room. At the conclusion of the conference, the hotel manager told the conference administrator that the number of guests who tuned into the adult movie channel broke the previous record, far and away outdoing any other convention in the history of the hotel.

I wondered if this was not a bit of an urban legend of sorts, so I asked my friend Justin Holcomb to help me look into this phenomenon, and recalling from his own research, he wrote in an email to me:

I interviewed hotel managers about this when I was teaching in the sociology department at Univ of Virginia. All managers said that porn rates increase during conferences in general. That’s normal because they have more guests. A few admitted that it seems to be the same or a bit more when Christian conferences come to town. One manager was a Christian and he said a line I’ll never forget: “Unfortunately, ‘they know you are Christians by your…porn consumption’ is more truthful than ‘love’ when it comes to this.”

Friends, this should not be.

We may flood to the area hotels next month and outwardly demonstrate a solid witness for the gospel, and then put a black eye on the church, thinking viewing pornography in our hotel room is easy, confidential, and inconsequential. Will the church stun the managers of the Rosen Shingle Creek with its porn consumption next month?

If you believe you are susceptible to this, take precautions now. Secure a roommate, have your TV removed or stations blocked, whatever you have to do. Don’t assume now it won’t be an issue, especially since if you already have filters and accountability software on your personal devices, you may in the moment think viewing PPV porn is “safe.”

And of course you shouldn’t not view porn next week merely because you could contribute to a black eye to the bride of Christ. You should not view it any time because it dishonors God and because the joys of Christ and his gospel are stronger and more fulfilling than lustful indulgence.

Blessings, TGC’ers. Watch your life and your doctrine closely, because your private life gives public witness, whether you realize it or not.

And a final warning for those convicted by their succumbing to this temptation or the lure: Don’t give in to despair. Christ is for you. Repent and cast your cares on him, because he really does –  truly and really — care eternally for you.

From Gospel Driven Church
The Right Kind of Christ-Centeredness

shapeimage_2Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance . . .
– 1 Corinthians 15:1-3

To be gospel-centered is to be Christ-centered. But as it pertains to the pursuit of holiness and obedience to God’s commands we may opt more often for the terminology “gospel-centered,” because without more qualifications, “Christ-centered obedience” can be misconstrued to imply simply taking Jesus as a moral example.

Jesus is our moral example, of course, but the power for enduring, joyful obedience comes not from trying to be like him, but in first believing that he has become like us, that he has died in our place, risen as our resurrection firstfruits, ascended to intercede for us, and seated to signal the finished work of our salvation.

Christ-centeredness properly qualified is truer than true. But many unbelievers have accepted (some of) Jesus’ teaching as the center of their self-salvation projects. Gospel-centeredness, however, tells us in shorter fashion what of Christ to center on: namely, his finished but eternally powerful atoning work.

Christ’s work is not all of Christ, but it is the doorway to all of him.

[T]he simple focus of my life is to be like Christ. That is why I must let the word about Christ dwell in me richly, as Colossians 3:16 says. That is why I must gaze at the glory of Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:18, so that I can be changed into his image. That is why Christ must be fully formed in me, Galatians 4:19. That is why if I say I abide in Him I must walk the way He walked, 1 John 2. I’m to be like Christ. This is the goal of my life.

So the goal of my life as a Christian is outside of me, it is not in me, it is outside of me, it is beyond me. I am not preoccupied with myself, I am preoccupied with becoming like Christ. And that is something that only the Holy Spirit can do as I focus on Christ. I focus on Him and the Spirit transforms me into His image.

– John MacArthur, Fleeing From Enemies [emph. added]

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Bonhoeffer 70th Anniversary

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed on this day in 1945.

A while back, Hunter Baker enthused over his exploration of the free-church idea in Germany. Baker observes, "A regenerate church is not a private church," and so must engage the state while remaining independent from it.

Here's a short piece on Bonhoeffer's last twelve hours.



Michael Hollerich reviews a biography of Bonhoeffer, getting into many of the ideas presented in Charles Marsh's Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, including this one:

Protestantism in particular could not surrender the claim to be a Volkskirche, a true national church and the spiritual custodian of the German people. This was the preoccupation, even among Confessing Christians, that ultimately disenchanted Bonhoeffer and led to his visionary anticipation of an outcast church on the margins of ­society. We can appreciate the measure of that disenchantment if we remember that he had taken membership in the Confessing Church so seriously that he once said that whoever knowingly separated himself from the Church separated himself from salvation-for which he was roundly denounced for "Catholic" thinking.
As with most things, the man had something there.

From Gospel Driven Church
Being the Best is No Cure for Eternity

“Why do I have three* Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what is.’ I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think, ‘God, it’s got to be more than this.’ I mean this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.” When Kroft asked him, “What’s the answer?” Brady responded, “I wish I knew. I wish I knew. I love playing football and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I’m trying to find.” (– Tom Brady interview with Steve Kroft, 60 Minutes, 12.23.07.)

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
– Ecclesiastes 3:11

*Now four. Just sayin’.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Chaplain Mike put up a good conversation starter on the church and our place in it today, especially for those who are wandering. It’s odd to be in a place where I’m serving out of a sense of calling/giftedness/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, but where I choose to keep the institutionalization of it as far from me as possible. I want and need to be connected in faith to real people in my area, but at the same time, I reject everything about the culture of so-called leadership, growth, success, etc. that permeates so much of the American church experience.

From Gospel Driven Church
The Forgetfulness That Imperils Nations, Cultures

solzhenitsynoffice“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

“Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

“What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.”

– Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Men Have Forgotten God,” The Templeton Address (1983)

From The Boar's Head Tavern

The church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. Its ministers belong to Him. All things pertaining to following Jesus, from greatest to least, is to be built upon the truth that Jesus Christ is LORD over His church, as well as the entire world. It is by His Holy Spirit that He calls, equips, guides, rebukes, warns, encourages and strengthens His people (including ministers, elders, deacons, pastors, evangelists, teachers, etc.). The church is His. (I am paraphrasing NT Wright here).

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Happiness is Bland

Gary Saul Morson describes "The Moral Urgency of Anna Karenina," starting with this idea about drama and happiness.

Often quoted but rarely understood, the first sentence of Anna Karenina-"All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"-offers a paradoxical insight into what is truly important in human lives. What exactly does this sentence mean?

In War and Peace and in a variant of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy quotes a French proverb: "Happy people have no history." Where there are dramatic events, where there is material for an interesting story, there is unhappiness. The old curse-"May you live in interesting times!"-suggests that the more narratable a life is, the worse it is.

With happy lives and happy families, there is no drama to relate. What are you going to say: They woke up, breakfasted, didn't quarrel, went to work, dined pleasantly, and didn't quarrel again?

Happy families resemble each other because there is no story to tell about them. But unhappy families all have stories, and each story is different.
I was writing about this idea yesterday. Patience and tolerance are demonstrated in undramatic ways. People don't make flamboyant displays of tolerance unless they are passive-aggressively attempting to communicate something else. Real tolerance comes in what isn't said, what isn't confronted. The person who listens to you, stays with you through the dull times, and makes you feel loved is the patient one.

A while back, a video guy told me about working on a TV project which was essentially Jon & Kate Plus 8 with an African-American family. They recorded several situations with this family, but the project never came together because the parents were loving and self-controlled and their kids were well-mannered and disciplined. Whenever a child started to get out of line, a parent would take him aside and correct him. Problem solved = no drama. Who wants to watch a loving family handle their problems respectfully?

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Are Anchormen Worth Watching?

Take a look at this culture shock from 1954. It's Camel News Caravan, brought to you by the makers of Camel cigarettes--so mild and smooth.



This video came to my attention while reading Frank Rich's article on whether the TV news anchorman is a relevant job anymore. Though anchormen are popular, he cites "60 Minutes" as a successful news program without a steady anchor.

Alex Carp chips in. "What is going to come back, in my view, is the importance of sector expertise, on-scene reporting, and enterprise journalism. I saw a poster in Times Square the other day for the new season of HBO's Vice magazine show. You know what the tagline is? 'We go there.' It's a sad day when a newsmagazine can use 'we go there' as a distinctive selling point."

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
When non-persons are murdered

Gene Edward Veith writes on the horrific murders of Kenyan university students here. What impresses me most about the story, and the larger story of Christian persecution in the Islamic world, is how, despite all the coverage, nobody seems to have any plans to do anything about it. Expressions of outrage seem to be the limit.

I think I see a reason for this. Nobody really cares, because these Christians occupy no conceptual place in the mind of the world. Or at least in the mind of the world's opinion makers.

In contemporary thought, there are two religious alternatives for third world people. They can belong to indigenous religions, such as animism, or they can be Muslims.

In the eyes of the world, Christianity is a religion for white westerners only. Anyone not white or western, in this view, should not be a Christian. If they are Christian, they are somehow "inauthentic." Uncle Toms. Race traitors. In a sense they deserve anything that is done to them.

They are non-persons in the eyes of the world.

But "precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psalm 116:15).

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
He Is Risen!

Waiting for Gabriel's call

Christ Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Assault on Christianity

We've been considering buying our own stock of "pew Bibles" so that we know that we will have enough ESV Bibles for the Sunday School class that we teach.  We'd bring them with us, or store them in a locked cabinet for our use.

I was looking for Bibles, and (when looking at a book, I find the 1-star reviews more useful than the 5-star reviews) I saw a few 1-stars.  There were a couple of "the print is too small" and "the binding fell apart."

But the majority of 1-star reviews were people who simply reviewed a variety of Bibles in order to mock Christianity.

In what is supposed to be a country based on liberty and religious tolerance, there is an increasing amount of vitriol aimed at Christianity.

It's not going to stop and American Christians are simply not prepared for the coming "worst hard time."

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Psalm 23

I'm trying to get my Sunday School class to "get" the importance of Scripture - bringing their Bible to class and memorizing God's Word.

Our March "Sword Passage" is Psalm 23 - which I learned in KJV.  This is a really good illustration about how what you learn when you're young stays with you!  My commitment is that whatever I'm asking them to learn, I'll come to class ready to recite.

Re-learning Psalm 23 in ESV is harder than I thought it would be...

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Philippians 2

I was reciting the chapter today and stopped short.

"even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering..."

I've heard it many times...but today something more...drink offering upon WHAT?

the altar?  no, although that's what I'd always been taught, but it's really, really obvious.

Memorizing the whole book has taught me a lot about the "therefores."  Paul adds on to the add-ons, building on the previous part to make a point.

I had been taught that Paul was referring to becoming a martyr, being tortured and burned for the gospel.

But *offerings* are made by the religious adherents *to* God.  If somebody else sacrifices *you*, it's hardly your offering!

the "drink offering" was not poured on the altar.  It was poured on the sacrifice!

Throughout this letter, Paul has been referring to the fact that he is currently imprisoned for the gospel, and he has been urging the Philippians to act out their faith...  The people that he is writing to are sacrificing themselves for the faith of the gospel.

Jews would have been familiar with the offering system.  The animal sacrifice was made, and burned - a symbol looking forward to Jesus' final sacrifice.  Then, a specific amount of wine (the drink offering) was poured over the burning meat, symbolizing the blood of Christ.  (This is important:) the drink offering was only offered to God after His people entered into their promised land.

Paul knew that he would be killed for his faith; so put the drink offering in the context of that.

His beloved students were given Christ as an example who was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross...therefore, his students should also obey.  As their obedience becomes their sacrifice Paul himself would be the drink offering adorning that sacrifice.

The drink offering was not poured on the altar.

for me to live is Christ and to die is gain...my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better...

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering up the sacrificial offering of your faith..."

You also should be glad and rejoice with me...

Paul was ready to die.  As his students laid their faith down, Paul's life would be the libation that adorned their faith.  And he was glad.

And they should rejoice with him.

 

 

From fingerpost


And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, whereas grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
A Note To Women

In a total change of pace, I thought I’d give a little relationship advice to our women readers. I know, I know, in the modern day and age, we’re supposed to recognize that no woman can ever be at fault for any misfortune in her own life, nor can she be expected to act in such a way as to avoid misfortune (modern feminism is the belief that women have zero agency whatsoever). It’s all the fault of the whitecisheteropatriarchy. But bear with me. Let’s just imagine that women have the ability to make choices that influence their own lives.

If you’re a normal woman, you probably like to give your man a little crap to see how he’ll respond or maybe get what you want. You know, you sort of act disinterested in him in order to see what he’ll do or maybe so he’ll do something nice for you in order to win your affection again. Or maybe you go a little more active and say something a little nasty, or denigrate the value of your relationship, or something along those lines. Or maybe you just like to act like you’ve always got something better to do than give any attention to your relationship. Whatever. This is normal. You like to give us crap, we like boobs. It’s give-and-take.

But ladies, I’m here to tell you that you can take it too far. The man in your life may actually become truly, deep in his soul, 100% convinced that you really don’t love him and in fact are completely incapable of love. If you push it to that point, it will be nearly impossible to win him back. When you treat someone who loves you like he’s an afterthought, it doesn’t make you funny, cute, or clever. It makes you stupid and cruel.

I’ve seen more than one marriage collapse in part because the wife took a strange satisfaction in making her husband grovel, and in every case, she was absolutely shocked and wept her eyes out when she pushed it too far and he left.

If you don’t want your husband to think you hate him, don’t treat him like you hate him.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

You’re missing my point. I’m not talking about normal usage. I’m talking about people who leave their loaded, chambered gun in their purse within reach of their toddler.

Leaving aside the fact that many handguns can’t be “unchambered,” what *I* am talking about is the fact that such people are a statistically marginal minority, proportionately much smaller than people who don’t pay attention when they drive or leave unsecured household chemicals within reach of children.

And because this minority is so tiny, I really can’t be bothered to get exercised about it at all.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Amos…

From time to time I run again across this minor prophet in the Old Testament.

Once more reading Amos reminds me that God uses who He wills, including mere shepherds.  Amos was in the fields when God spoke through Him.

This time through, I looked at what God judged these nations for.

"threshing" (we would call it "trashing") Gilead, kidnapping into slavery a whole people, fighting among brothers, targeting the weak (pregnant women,) desecrating the dead...

Then Israel and Judah:

Rejecting the Law of the LORD, and exploiting the poor.

Sexual immorality and idolatry.

And this:

“But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
    and commanded the prophets,
    saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’

Nazirites were bound by conscience and by oath to certain behavior (abstaining from alcohol, for one) and the state of Israel had forced Nazirites to violate their conscience and break their vow.

Knowing that prophets were the ones who warned the people that they were sinning and God's judgment was on the way, they were told to "shut up"

This impacted me on this day, we live in a state where people of faith are being told by the state that they must violate their conscience, and those who would speak up are being told (in an attempt to shame or scare into silence) to "shut up."

Food for thought...

From The Boar's Head Tavern

You’re missing my point. I’m not talking about normal usage. I’m talking about people who leave their loaded, chambered gun in their purse within reach of their toddler. (that was the context of my car analogy) I’m not anti-handgun. I’m not advocating banning handguns. Let me repeat myself since that’s what we’re doing. I’m anti-people who are so fearful (or stupid) they don’t take reasonable precautions and end up creating a hazard with the thing they think is keeping them safe. That includes people who keep a loaded rifle or shotgun in their house that are not behind lock and key. I’ve heard a woman talk about getting a gun for her nature walks because she’s worried about coyotes. I think fine, go take a hunter safety course, shoot about 200 rounds, and then go get a gun. And learn to recognize what a coyote looks like.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I think a closer analogy, would be for someone to leave a child in a car with the engine running and the transmission in drive.

No, that’s a terrible analogy. In normal usage, a carried firearm is safely tucked away and not doing anything. In normal usage, an automobile is hurtling down the road with enough kinetic energy to kill a large animal outright.

In physical terms, an automobile driver driving down the road is more analogous to someone walking down the road and firing a weapon every 30 seconds or so than to someone merely carrying a firearm.

Let’s repeat it once more:

150 million households with guns. 600 accidental gun deaths a year.
196 million drivers’ licenses in the USA. 33,000 accidental car deaths a year.

It’s pretty obvious from the facts that guns are not a big danger to Americans. By the way, about a hundred of those accidental gun deaths are hunting accidents. Perhaps it would make more sense to ban sport hunting than to take away people’s CCW permits. It’s pretty clear sport hunters are a safety menace, and besides, you can get your meat at the deli.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

More dangerous for the people in the car.

I think a closer analogy, would be for someone to leave a child in a car with the engine running and the transmission in drive.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I feel the same way about people who recklessly and carelessly drive their cars. Those sorts are a far greater danger to me on a far more regular basis.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
On Lent and the practicing thereof

A couple of weeks ago I heard a sermon that surrounded "tradition."

There is a tendency in "Modern Evangelicalism" to reject all things "tradition" because...well...tradition.  (NOT saying that's what this sermon said, just making a starting place for this post.)

At the same time, I read a few posts about how practicing Lent might was well mean going back to Rome because...well...tradition.

What both positions mean is "legalism" - by making "tradition" into "Law" we miss the point of both.

Law holds us to a standard.

Tradition (at its best) gives us the platform by which to connect  with 2,000 years of Christians who have gone before us.  Tradition connects us.The "anti-Lent" folks needed to treat all practice of Lent into "law."  That is a straw man that leaves no room for the right use of the practice.Lent, as a spiritual discipline that prepares us for "Holy Week" (including Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Resurrection Day) is a good thing.The "anti-Lent" folks also needed to make a poke at feast days, etc., tying them to the Law, therefore saying that to use a church calendar is crucifying Christ all over again.  Again, a straw man.God have us seasons, and he gave us time.  Life moves in cycles, and it's okay if we use those cycles as periods to mark spiritual time.I don't practice Lent every year.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.  Sometimes I fast from something, sometimes I add something, other years I don't.  Sometimes I simply use a Lenten devotional to refresh my spiritual memory of the last days of Christ.  Some years I do that same devotional at other times of the year!Bottom line:  I'm not going to jettison Lent because...tradition; I'm not going to practice Lent because...tradition.For clarity, this year I had every intention of going through a devotional, and it fell apart...after about 2 days.  But, since it's not Law or tradition, I can pick it up anew!

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Ken: Yeah, that makes sense. Sounds like no one is going to end up accidentally shooting themselves or someone else with your handguns. My beef is with people so fearful or careless that rather than making themselves safer they are actually a danger to themselves and others.

I’m still interested in the pigs. I’ve read about places down south they are as numerous as rabbits and they cause a lot of destruction. Some farmers just shoot them and leave them in the ditch.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Bill – there is no safety on a revolver. My Ruger has the transfer safety bar, which means I can keep all six chambers loaded. If I accidently drop the weapon, the transfer safety bar keeps the hammer and firing pin from striking the cartridge.

I have an older 38 special that does not have a safety bar. If I carry it into the woods, I keep the chamber beneath the hammer empty. A tap on the hammer could accidently fire a shell in the chamber.

I don’t hunt the wild hogs. We see them infrequently, but I don’t want to walk up a sow and her piglets unarmed.

If I don’t anticipate crossing or walking public roads, I might carry my 9mm carbine instead of a revolver.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Orange Jumpsuits

So, I lost the "blog every day" bug (yeah, it happens every February, but this year I want it back  ;-)

This is going to be sort of "stream of consciousness" sort of post, but this is something I want to articulate and I'm not sure how to do it.

I read in one place that the writer would never be able to read Hebrews 11 without seeing orange jumpsuits...

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth...

 

of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

And in the midst of this, I read in other places that "Coptic 'Christians' are not saved, since they don't get the nature of Christ right."

The Coptic church is the one that the apostle Mark founded when they was sent out to evangelize the world - it's not like they made up their own religion.

The split happened later on, when Arius was preaching his heresy.  Arius taught that Jesus was not God.  Jesus (Arius taught) was a created being, and thus, he denied the Trinity.

There was a big church council, and Arius was declared a heretic.  Here's where I'm a little fuzzy, but I think I have the basics.

All of the "streams" - Alexandria (Coptic) and Constantinople (Orthodox) and Rome (well...Rome) agreed that Arius was wrong.  They all affirm the Divinity of Christ, they all affirm the doctrine of the Trinity.  They all affirm salvation by faith.  They all affirm the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin.

If a person is going to judge the salvation of Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Copts, Arminians, and pretty much everybody other than the "truly Reformed" because of the works debate, I cannot go there.

Even if I don't understand the role of works, is it Jesus Christ who saves me through faith?

Do I hold Christ through my faith, or does He hold me?

How right does my doctrine need to be before Romans 10 is found to be valid?

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Is it "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead *AND you get the hypostatic union right...you will be saved?"

Is it "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead *AND you get the relationship between works and faith right you will be saved?

 

Is it "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead *AND you get TULIP right, you will be saved?

Is it "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead *AND** you can quote from the Catechisms and Confessions, you will be saved?

How big is your asterisk?

 

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
The Rock

layersThere was something about THIS rock that caught my eye.

the layer that separates the flat layers from the tilted layers, the pebbles in the water...

This was taken in Utah on our honeymoon, walking through a "slot canyon" - the swooping of the canyon walls.  I don't make a secret that I lean "old earth creationist" - but no matter the age of the earth I am sure of this.

God is everlasting.  God created.