- C.S. Lewis
We were made to exist within time, to age as we progress through the years allotted to us. As we age, we experience tremendous sorrows—the sorrows of weakness, weariness, reaping, mortality, and fear. But we do not experience only sorrows. We experience joys as well. Some of these extend to believer and unbeliever alike, but God reserves the choicest of his joys for those who live for his glory.
(Have you read parts one and two of this series about aging? You can find them here: Aging Gracefully and Greater Age Brings Greater Sorrow. After today I will move to other things for a few days before resuming and completing this series next week.)
The surging sorrows that come with aging stem from longer exposure to our depravity, to the depravity of others, and to the woeful consequences of sin in this world. The cascading joys stem from longer exposure to God’s means of grace, to his Spirit working through his Word, and to his inner work of renewal. Without Christ we cannot know any of these higher joys, but in Christ we can anticipate, experience, and enjoy them all.
We have looked at five sorrows that come with aging and increase with aging. Now we turn to five joys to see that greater age brings greater joy.
The Joy of Wisdom
As we age, we experience the joy of wisdom. One of the Bible’s repeated principles is the association of youth with foolishness and of age with wisdom. Job says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12). The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to “give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth,” to exhort young people to renounce their in-born folly and embrace wisdom (Proverbs 1:4). This wisdom is far more than a knowledge of how to navigate life and fulfill its responsibilities. True biblical wisdom is putting off the practical atheism that lives within us and putting on the way of thinking that flows from the mind and heart of God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7a).
As we age in Christ, we learn more of the Bible, and it takes deeper root in our lives. As the years march on, as we commit ourselves to God’s means of grace, the Holy Spirit progressively renews our minds and transforms us from within (Romans 12:1-2). Wisdom grows. Wisdom is like coffee, not Kool-Aid. We can add a packet of Kool-Aid to water, give it a quick stir, and it is ready. But coffee needs to sit, it needs to percolate, it needs time to draw out the flavor. Wisdom takes time. It takes years of meditation, years of God’s Word percolating into our minds, transforming the way we live and think. Wisdom’s full flavor is experienced late in life, not early. As we age, we experience the steadily increasing joy of steadily increasing wisdom.
The Joy of Godliness
Closely connected to the joy of wisdom is the joy of godliness. Proverbs 16:31 says: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Age is associated with godliness and greater age with greater godliness. Godliness brings nearness to God, relational intimacy with him. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” says James (James 4:8). The passing of time gives us occasion to read and apply more of God’s Word. Each passing year gives more time for the Spirit to impress the the truth we’ve learned on our hearts and continue his inward work of restoration. Each day gives us another opportunity to take hold of the Spirit’s power in putting sin to death and coming alive to righteousness. As the years pass, we hear more sermons, we enjoy more Christian fellowship, we participate in the Lord’s Supper again and again. God works through it all, through each of these ordinary means, to draw us to closer, deeper relationship with himself. As time marches on, the depraved get more depraved while the godly get more godly.
Paul found joy in this and contrasted a fading body with a surging soul. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). What a joy! As Christians, we experience God’s day-by-day renewal, and it continues and increases as we age. Financial interest compounds, so that small, steady deposits over a lifetime lead to the wealth needed for a comfortable retirement. Godliness also compounds, so that small, steady gains over sin and small, steady acts of righteousness lead to a great treasury of godliness in old age. As we look to the future, we will be godlier than we are today, godlier than we ever dared imagine. We continue to become like Christ until the day we see the face of Christ.
The Joy of Respect
With aging we also experience the joy of respect, the right to be respected by those who are younger. Leviticus 19:32 lays out this principle: “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man.” The Bible demands that the young give honor and respect to the elderly. Respect for the aged is closely aligned with respect for God, since God has ordained that the old should lead the young, that their wisdom should influence and restrain youthful folly.
This respect is not meant to be displayed only in words and attitudes (“honor the face of an old man”), but also in actions (“stand up before the gray head”). The young are to take an interest in the elderly, to assist them, visit them, include them, befriend them, seek them for their wisdom. Even while contemporary Western culture disparages age and celebrates youth, young Christians are to honor the old. The old are to accept the honor and to embrace both the privilege and the responsibility that comes with it. Those who have attained years are worthy of honor. Those who have attained wisdom and godliness through the years are worthy of double honor.
The Joy of Reaping
Then there is the joy of reaping. We have already looked in this series to the book of Galatians to see that those who live a corrupt life will reap the ugly consequences, even on this side of the grave. There is sorrow in reaping, but there is joy, too. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8). Even in this life, we get to experience the benefits of living to the glory of God. This is the wisdom, the respect, and the godliness that come with aging in Christ. Those who sow good seed begin to harvest even now, and to harvest in greater measure as life goes by. But there’s more.
As we age, we begin to experience new joys, joys that we cannot experience apart from aging. Some reap the precious harvest of children and grandchildren who know and love the Lord. Proverbs 17:6 declares, “Children’s children are a crown to the aged.” Some reap the reward of faithful service. When Paul writes to Timothy to discuss the proper ordering of the local church, he instructs him to honor widows who have served the church well, to care for them as a return for all the ways they cared for others (1 Timothy 5:1-16). The same is expected of children toward their parents—“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God” (1 Timothy 5:4). As we progress in life, we begin to experience the beautiful consequences of a life lived in God’s way to God’s glory.
The Joy of Mortality
Then, finally, there is the joy of mortality. We know that death’s approach brings sorrow, but it also brings joy. We might think of Simeon, the old man who met baby Jesus at the temple. “He took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation’” (Luke 2:28-30). After a lifetime of serving God, dear old Simeon could depart in peace and confidence because he had seen Christ. He knew his Savior, he looked forward to death, he looked forward to eternal peace, eternal reward.
The Apostle Paul regarded death as joy, not sorrow. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). In fact, he was eager to die (“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better”), though he was also willing to remain to serve God’s people (“But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account”). With the confidence of knowing Christ, he could proclaim: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Aging brings greater awareness of death’s inevitable approach. But for the Christian, death has lost its sting, its terror. Death is the gateway to being more alive than we have ever been, the doorway to Christ himself. Every day we age in Christ, we grow one day closer to seeing Christ, to embracing Christ, to enjoying his presence forever. What joy!
Aging is associated with sorrows, but it is also associated with joys. The Bible promises that for those who age in Christ, there are benefits stored up in this life and the life to come. There is the joy of wisdom, of godliness, of respect, of reaping, and of mortality. God is faithful to provide what he has promised.
As we age, our physical strength will diminish. Yet even as physical strength fails, spiritual strength surges. Time, the enemy of the body, is a friend to the soul. When we are young we are physically strong and spiritually weak, but when we are old we are spiritually strong and physically weak. With so great a reward ahead, the challenge is clear: If we are to live the most meaningful lives, lives that glorify God, we must age in Christ. Aging in Christ will not remove the sorrows, but it will add the joys.
As we continue, we need to ask these questions: How do we deal well with the inevitable sorrows, so that they do not drive us to bitterness, drunkenness, or the other foul vices that overtake so many as they age? How can we experience the fullness of these joys? We combat the sorrows and enhance the joys by embracing the God-given responsibilities that come with greater age and putting on more and more of the character he commends. We turn there next.
Today’s Kindle deals include a couple of worthwhile deals.
This week’s deal from Westminster Books is the Living Word Bible Studies series. They are helpful guides to various books of the Bible.
Please do! Not only do your leaders need your prayer, but it’s your responsibility to pray for them. Christina Fox explains why and how.
Melissa Edgington says this well: “a huge part of living the Christian life is just doing the things that friends do.”
Hezekiah Harshit Singh writes about one of the amazing realities of his church in Lucknow, India. As it happens, I’ve visited his church and seen it with my own eyes.
Speaking of India (where I saw Compassion in action), this is very sad: “We want to be honest with you, there is very little hope.” So wrote Compassion International to its 130,000 sponsors of Indian children this past Friday.
You’ll need to do some on-the-fly replacement of “evolved to” to “created to,” but you’ll enjoy this article on the incredible abundance of fish living in the so-called “twilight zone” deep beneath the ocean’s surface. “Until relatively recently, some believed that domestic chickens were the most abundant vertebrates on the planet with numbers estimated at around 24 billion. In fact, this figure is dwarfed by some fish in the twilight zone.”
Barry York does a great job of breaking down the differences between teaching and preaching.
This Day in 1951. 66 years ago today missionary Amy Carmichael died. During her time in India, Carmichael rescued many children from temple prostitution and wrote over 35 books. *
Steve Hays offers 7 big reasons he isn’t (and can’t be) Roman Catholic.
Tish Hedger writes about the grave danger of entertaining Satan’s lies. “When the father of lies has come to tempt me, instead of immediately banishing him with truth, I have often invited him in, asked him to sit on my couch and engaged in chats with him to hear his perspective.”
You’ve probably heard people tell of all the medical benefits of marijuana. Well, an analysis of 10,000 studies finds out it’s mostly bunk. Be sure to read far enough to see the list of known risks and to do the comparison.
I don’t want to model my life after a “There but for the grace of God go I” kind of person. I want to model my life after a man who battles hard against every appearance and manifestation of sin. I want to model my life after a man who receives and revels in the grace of God and then exerts every effort in actively, tenaciously putting sin to death. I want to model my life after the kind of man who can humbly say, “That sin is unthinkable to me.”
One of the clearest examples of the extent of our pride is how quickly it infiltrates even our attempts to ‘be humble.'” —Hannah Anderson
I heard from another pastor recently whose exit from his church went sideways. He and his wife believed the Lord had called them to step down from their current position and serve in another location, and after several years of (by all accounts) successful ministry, he believed he was resigning on good terms. He knew his news would be a surprise to his congregation, but he was not prepared for the depth of hurt feelings and anger his departure would stir up. And what should have been a bittersweet parting of ways turned into a sad limping away.
His story isn’t rare. And it’s quite a fascinating – if depressing – phenomenon. I’ve heard from more than a few ministers who’ve resigned on good terms – no moral failings, no being forced out, no ethical impropriety, no significant ministerial failure or exacerbating conflict in the church – and yet found themselves surprised and hurt by their congregation’s handling of their exit. We sometimes expect pastors leaving under bad terms to leave a bad taste in the church’s mouth, but we don’t really think about what can go wrong when an otherwise good pastor leaves under otherwise good circumstances.
If you’ve got a good pastor, now is the time to think about this. He may not leave any time soon (or ever!), but preparing your heart now for a statistically common reality can help prevent plenty of heartaches in the future – for you and for them. Here are some things the church ought to do if and when their pastor resigns under good circumstances:
1. Love his family well.
Some of the worst treatment I’ve heard of hasn’t necessarily been toward a departing pastor but toward the departing pastor’s wife. Please remember that throughout his ministry, she has often carried more weight than you’re aware of. She knows of his ministry struggles but also his personal pains and heartaches. Transitions like these are rarely easy on families – wrestling through decisions, fear of uprooting, fear of hurting people’s feelings, the nervousness of stepping out in faith, stress of preparations for the actual moving.
Some churches “make it easy” on pastor’s families in the wrong way! They make the next destination seem more welcome than it previously did purely by souring on the pastor and his family. Some ministry wives in the midst of transition suffer the silent treatment from friends or other churchfolks, or even gossip or slander. Realize that the pastor’s family is probably sad to leave too but doing their best to follow God’s call. Speak kindly to his wife, ask how you can help her, “talk her up” to others in the congregation, or otherwise pray for her cheer and success in the days ahead. Be encouraging to their children and ask them questions about what they’re looking forward to in the move. They may not officially be your pastoral family any more, but don’t abandon them or treat them like damaged goods.
2. Celebrate the successes you’ve enjoyed together.
A few pastors I’ve talked to who’ve left under good circumstances have endured going away parties that felt more like funerals. What a miserable send-off that is to a brother in Christ who loved you well and served your church faithfully. If you’re throwing a party for him and his family, actually celebrate the ministry milestones you’ve witnessed together during his tenure.
One of the best send-offs I ever got was when I left one student ministry position to take another. On my last Wednesday night with the youth group I was departing, they sat me on a stool on the stage and held an “affirmation time.” What was great about that moment is that I was actually struggling with whether I’d made any kind of difference or accomplished anything in my short time in that position, but a few students I never would have expected stood up to mention a time I’d encouraged them or helped them get through particular struggles. One student in our youth group, a particularly sullen fellow, stood up to say that he felt like I was one of the only leaders who understood him. And all along I thought this kid in particular didn’t like me! I would have never known about that if the opportunity wasn’t given to share.
I know it’s sad to see a beloved pastor go, but you actually don’t serve him well if you mope around and treat him with passive-aggressive disapproval. Of course, you don’t want to seem too happy he’s leaving! But affirm that his time with you was not wasted, that his ministry made a difference in your life and the life of the church. If you can’t open up the floor for personal affirmations, have another leader or two recount some of the initiatives your pastor led that helped the church grow, have a few key leaders share stories of your pastor’s faithfulness, etc.
My friend Ray once told me that pastors exiting a church on good terms ought to take a humble victory lap. How can you arrange that for your pastor friend?
3. Ask him to help you prepare for his successor.
No, if you can help it, he probably shouldn’t be on the search team! But think about it: nobody knows what it’s like to serve in that role like he does. Why not ask him to make a list for you of challenges and expectations particular to your church and your community? If he is indeed leaving under good circumstances, invite him to leave a letter for the next pastor encouraging him and giving him the “lay of the land,” similar to the way outgoing presidents leave notes for their succesors.
Ask your pastor what particular strengths or gifts he feels he lacked and his successor should have that would make his tenure just as successful or more successful than his own. If you have a good pastor who is leaving, he still cares about your church and wants you to continue to grow and flourish in the gospel. Lean into that. Simply ignoring his counsel for your ensuing search process would be foolish.
4. Watch out for the control freaks.
In many churches there exists a person or two (or three or four or five…) who really like to run things. If their interests haven’t aligned with your pastor’s, it is usually only the growth of the church and the success of his leadership that will keep them in check. (If he wasn’t leading well or the church wasn’t growing, they probably run things already.) But if your pastor has enjoyed a growing ministry, these folks tend to exist almost like a sleeper cell waiting for activation. When he resigns, they may see their opportunity to “get their church back.”
Look out for the gossips, the dividers, the nitpickers, the naysayers, the grumblers – basically all the kinds of negative people Paul and the other apostles warned their churches about – who will seek to fill the “power vacuum” they perceive left by your departing pastor. Remember that it doesn’t really take a majority of people to divide a church; you just need a motivated minority. And they will always confess good intentions, expressing quite sincerely they mean to get right what they say your pastor got wrong. But if the control freaks exploit your pastor’s resignation for their own need to steer the ship, you not only discourage your pastor, you endanger your church after he’s gone.
5. Don’t write him off.
Don’t unfriend him on social media. Don’t never speak to him again. Don’t act as if he no longer serves any use to you simply because he isn’t your pastor. If he had some positive impact on your spiritual walk, let him know! And pray for him. It is difficult to pray for a man and feel sinfully angry or disappointed in him at the same time. In a few months after his departure, reach out to ask how he and his family are doing. Keep him on your Christmas card list. Say “hey” on his birthday. Pray for his future ministry, that it would flourish and succeed too. Wish his new church well and pray for their joy in the Lord, as well as your own.
We’re all in this together, after all, and it is the kingdom that ultimately matters, over and above the increase or decline of any church or the coming and going of any pastor.
Last week, the most influential professor in my life died. John Sailhamer, my Hebrew and OT prof at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School throughout the 1980’s, succumbed to Parkinson’s and Lewy Body dementia, and went into the care of the God who loved him and called him to the work of understanding and teaching the Scriptures.
I dedicate this week on Internet Monk to him. I will share some of the biggest lessons he taught me about the Bible and studying the Bible, particularly the book of Genesis and the canon of the Hebrew Bible.
• • •
At the heart of Dr. John Sailhamer’s life and teaching was a relentless focus on the text of the Bible. This single-minded attention in method helped me learned to appreciate the literary artistry of the scriptures and the “world” into which the Bible invites us.
He helped me understand that all “history” is interpretation. With regard to the Hebrew Bible’s historical narratives, he showed me that the author’s (or final editor’s) intention in selecting material, arranging it, and creating verbal links to other texts within the OT canon has created certain perspectives which are commended to us as God’s Word, God’s story, a divinely inspired point of view on the history of Israel.
The goal of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) is to find the author’s intent in his verbal meaning. One must seek to understand the words and sentences the author uses. We do that by understanding his words within the context of the grammar of biblical Hebrew, or a good translation, and the literary shape of the whole of the Pentateuch (verbal meaning). Our clues to the author’s big idea are to be sought in those things about which the author most often writes and which seem important to him. Ultimately, we discover the meaning of a book such as the Pentateuch by reading it and asking the right questions. Behind our quest for the (human) author’s intent is the conviction that the divine intention of Scripture (mens dei) is to be found in the human author’s intent (mens auctoris).
As noted above, the exegetical warrant form my understanding is the message of the Bible, and the Pentateuch in particular, is to be found in a fourfold linkage of perspectives at four textually based levels: verbal, narrative technique, narrative world, thematic structure. An exegetically warranted interpretation of a biblical text such as the Pentateuch must be grounded in each of these levels of narrative.
• The Meaning of the Pentateuch, p. 610
In this way did Dr. Sailhamer encourage me and all his students to “meditate on the Torah of the Lord day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes along these lines from Dr. John Sailhamer:
The Pentateuch may be compared to a Rembrandt painting of real persons or events. We do not understand a Rembrandt painting by taking a photograph of the “thing” that Rembrandt painted and comparing it with the painting itself. That may help us understand the “thing” that Rembrandt painted, his subject matter, but it will not help us understand the painting itself. To understand Rembrandt’s painting, we must look at it and see its colors, shapes and textures. In the same way, to understand the Pentateuch, one must look at its colors, contours and textures.
• The Meaning of the Pentateuch, p. 19
He was truly an artist of biblical interpretation, who appreciated and passed on his love and delight in the artistry of Hebrew Bible to his students and friends.
I wish I could also capture and express to you the enormous grace, humility, and humor by which he did so.
He was a beloved teacher, a prime mover encouraging me to a deep love for the scriptures and, though I had little idea of it at the time, a guide leading to my post-evangelical journey, which I am still on because of the Bible, not in spite of it.
May he rest in God’s care until we all come to the good land God has prepared for us.
• • •
Photo by Ghatamos at Flickr. Creative Commons License
I seem to have stirred up a very small tempest with my review yesterday. The author of the book I reviewed (who seems to be a splendid guy) linked to my review on Facebook, and his fans went into a minuscule feeding frenzy. A couple of them even commented here. One concluded that because I believe that “truth is one,” I must be opposed to freedom of religion. This is a common misconception, especially among liberals. They assume that, like them, we on our side wish to criminalize all ideas we disagree with.
Easy mistake to make, in the hall of mirrors that is the modern world.
I wanted to re-state and elaborate on what I wrote last night. I have two arguments, each of which involves a Great Rejection.
I reject the idea of connecting religious truth to race or ethnicity in any way (except for the special calling of the Jews, a unique case and not exactly a privilege). If truth is different depending on the color of your skin, then the races will never be reconciled, because people of one race are essentially different – at their very core – from people of all other races. If truth depends on race, segregated churches are a good thing.
Christianity has rejected this idea from its very beginnings (read Acts 10).
It would seem to follow from this argument that I’m accusing my opponents of being racists. I actually think that very unlikely. They are almost certainly not racists. They are either a) unthinking, or b) relativist.
Most modern people don’t actually think their ideas through. They absorb, from TV, movies, and web sites, what the culture tells them to think, and they think that (to the extent that they think at all). Especially if it feels good. The idea of ethnic religion – when applied to minorities – feels broadminded and multicultural. So they adopt it, without worrying about the implications.
Others consider the issue of truth irrelevant. They believe that there are many truths. Your truth may not be my truth, and therefore black or red truth can be different from white truth. Everybody’s truth is equally good. And if the truths contradict one another, well, you just say that because you’re Eurocentric (“white truth” is considered slightly less true than the others).
I have always rejected the view that ultimate truth is relative. I will continue to reject it, God willing, until the day I die.
Welcome to Final Call, a brief, hand-picked selection of news, articles, videos, and curiosities from the Internet and beyond.
Marks of a Moral Revolution
We all know that sexual mores have been changing over the past years and decades. But is it right to consider this a full-out moral revolution? In Reinventing Liberal Christianity, Theo Hobson describes the three marks of a revolution. Read them and decide for yourself if this is, indeed, a moral revolution.
- What was universally condemned is now celebrated.
- What was universally celebrated is now condemned.
- Those who refuse to celebrate are condemned.
That rings true, doesn’t it?
Q:Should we as Christians use the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend?” I’m on the fence, having concerns on one side with how the world views girlfriend-boyfriend relationships and the connotations in terms of physical and emotional intimacy. But on the other hand, I feel I would lose clarity or even alienate others by not using them.
A: I don’t see this as an issue of should, since that word indicates a kind of moral duty or obligation. It seems to indicate that one of the available options must be wrong. But I don’t think that’s the case. I find “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” trite or silly terms, especially when referring of older people (There’s something awfully strange about a person in her forties or fifties introducing her boyfriend). Yet at this point these are the culturally-accepted terms, and we’ve got few useful alternatives. Until there are better ones to choose from, I think we’re stuck with them. We may wish for better terms, but there’s no sin or shame in using them for now.
Tooth and Claw
Alfred Lord Tennyson famously told us that nature is red in tooth and claw. If you watch nature documentaries you will learn that this is true. Here are kangaroos proving the point:
But then here are hares giving it their best shot and just looking hilarious (and kind of cute) doing it:
I trust you’ll enjoy this excerpt from J.R. Miller’s Every-day Religion. The phrase “conscientious grumblers,” a play on “conscientious objectors,” is brilliant! You’ve probably met one or two of them.
There are those who take to gloom as a bat to darkness, or as a vulture to carrion! They would rather nurse a misery than cherish a joy. They always find the dark side of everything, if there is a dark side to be found. They appear to be conscientious grumblers, as if it were their duty to extract some essence of misery from every circumstance. The weather is either too cold or too hot; too wet or too dry. They never find anything to their taste. Nothing escapes their criticism. They find fault with the food on the table, with the bed in which they lie, with the railroad-train or steamboat on which they travel, with the government and its officials, with merchant and workman—in a word, with the world at large and in detail.
They are chronic grumblers. Instead of being content in the state in which they are they have learned to be discontented, no matter how happy their lot! If they had been placed in the Garden of Eden they would have discovered something with which to find fault! Their wretched habit empties life of all possible joy and turns every cup to gall.
On the other hand, there are rare people who always take cheerful views of life. They look at the bright side. They find some joy and beauty everywhere. If the sky is covered with clouds, they will point out to you the splendor of some great cloud-bank piled up like mountains of glory. When the storm rages, instead of fears and complaints they find an exquisite pleasure in contemplating its grandeur and majesty. In the most faulty picture they see some bit of beauty which charms them. In the most disagreeable person they discover some kindly trait or some bud of promise. In the most disheartening circumstances, they find something for which to be thankful, some gleam of cheer breaking in through the thick gloom.
When a ray of sunlight streamed through a crack in the shutter, and made a bright patch on the floor in the darkened room, the little dog rose from his dark corner, and went and lay down in the one sunny spot; and these cheerful people live in the same philosophical way. If there is one beam of cheer or hope anywhere in their lot they will find it! They have a genius for happiness. They always make the best out of circumstances. They are happy as travelers. They are contented as boarders. Their good nature never fails. They take a cheerful view of every perplexity. Even in sorrow, their faces are illumined, and songs come from the chambers where they weep. Such people have a wondrous ministry in this world. They are like apple trees when covered with blossoms, pouring a sweet fragrance all around them.
Pubs and snooker clubs are being pushed out of many British towns in favor of coffeeshops and various fast food joints, showing changing social patterns the country’s young people.
Professor Ken Roberts told the BBC “older people tend to spend their money on holidays, top restaurants or big events like theatre weekends to London, whereas younger people were more likely to go out in the evenings and also have cheap meals out.”
Some suggest pubs need to improve their daytime offerings in order to draw new customers. Perhaps they could offer a new coffee from Jack Daniel’s that’s been infused with whiskey. It’s non-alcoholic, but it doesn’t taste like it. I’m not going anywhere near a drink like that, but British university students may love it.
In his invaluable book The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani reproduces a conversation between economist James Gilmore (author of The Experience Economy) and Leadership Journal staffers Marshall Shelley (MS), Eric Reed (ER), and Kevin Miller (KM) that gets to the problematic heart of some evangelical churches’ drive toward producing a “worship experience.” I excerpted it in The Prodigal Church, and thought it might be of interest to blog readers:
MS: So how does all this “experience providing” apply to the church?
Gilmore: It doesn’t. When the church gets into the business of staging experiences, that quickly becomes idolatry.
MS: I’m stunned. So you don’t encourage churches to use your elements of marketable experiences to create attractive experiences for their attenders?
Gilmore: No. The organized church should never try to stage a God experience.
KM: When people come to church, don’t they expect an experience of some kind? Consumers approach the worship service with the same mindset as they do a purchase.
Gilmore: Increasingly you find people talking about the worship experience rather than the worship service. That reflects what’s happening in the outside world. I’m dismayed to see churches abandon the means of grace that God ordains simply to conform to the patterns of the world.
KM: So what happens in church? Are people getting a service, because they’re helped to do something they couldn’t do on their own, that is, get closer to God? Or are they getting an experience, the encounter with God through worship?
Gilmore: The word “getting” is, I think, the problem with contemporary Christianity. God is the audience of worship. What you get is, quite frankly, irrelevant as a starting point.
ER: But people, especially unchurched people, don’t perceive it that way. They’re expecting some return.
Gilmore: They come that way at first: “Give me, feed me, make me feel good.” But they should be led to say, “Hey, this is not about me, God. Worship is to glorify you.”
KM: But if my mission is to reach a consumerist culture — if I’m going to get a hearing for my message — then I’m going to have to provide something that the consumer considers of value.
Gilmore: That is the argument. But the only thing of value the church has to offer is the gospel. I believe that one result of the emerging Experience Economy will be a longing for authenticity. To the extent that the church stages worldly experiences, it will lose its effectiveness.
– Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2009), 72-73.
This book, published in 1955, is one of the Landmark History series from Random House. The publisher had a policy of hiring the best writers, award winning authors and experts in history and in particular historical eras and events, to write these books, and it shows. J. Frank Dobie was a journalist and a rancher and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin for many years. He was instrumental in saving the Texas Longhorn from extinction. He wrote over twenty books about the history, folklore, and traditions of Texas. If anyone was qualified to write a Landmark history book about the history of the cattle, cowboys, and trail drives of Texas, it was Mr. Dobie.
And Up the Trail from Texas is certainly a well-written, exciting nonfiction compilation of the stories of various cowmen, trail bosses, and cowboys that Mr. Dobie interviewed personally, along with information about the real life of a trail driving cowboy and the logistics and work of a trail drive from Texas to the northern cattle markets in Kansas or Nebraska or Montana. Read about drouths, blizzards, lightning, and floods, encounters with the Comanche and other Indians, and about the jobs the cowboys were expected to perform. Dobie’s writing especially shine when he is recounting the stories that the cowmen told him, many of them recalling in old age their youthful exploits and adventures on the cattle trail.
I remember when I was a kid of a girl watching Clint Eastwood as drover Rowdy Yates in the early 1960’s TV series, Rawhide. I think the writers of Rawhide must have read Mr. Dobie’s books, especially this one. If I were teaching a unit on the cowboys and trail drives of the 1860’s, I’d read a couple chapters of Up the Trail from Texas to my students each day until we finished the book, and then I’d let them watch a few episodes of Rawhide.
Keep movin’, movin’, movin’,
Though they’re disapprovin’,
Keep them dogies movin’, rawhide.
Don’t try to understand ’em,
Just rope ’em, throw, and brand ’em.
Soon we’ll be livin’ high and wide.
My heart’s calculatin’,
My true love will be waitin’,
Be waitin’ at the end of my ride.
Move ’em on, head ’em up,
Head ’em up, move ’em on,
Move ’em on, head ’em up, rawhide!
Head ’em out, ride ’em in,
Ride ’em in, let ’em out,
Cut ’em out, ride ’em in, rawhide!
At the end of each episode, trail boss Gil Favor would call out, “Head’em up! Move’em out!”
Our only experience of aging is within this sinful world. We don’t know what aging would have looked like if this world had remained unsullied by sin. We do know, however, that aging would have still occurred. Before God created people, God created time. So God created people to exist within time and pass through it. Thus, babies would have grown to be children and children would have matured into adulthood. Perhaps the benefits that come with aging would have continued ad infinitum without any of the negative effects we see and experience. We just don’t know.
(Did you read part one of this series? You can find it here: Aging Gracefully.)
What we do know is that in a world like this one, aging has a strong association with pain and sorrow. Though aging is not without its benefits, it is known first for its sorrows. We experience this sorrow because greater age brings greater exposure to sin and its consequences. As we pass through time, we see more and more of the sin that lies within our hearts. As we accumulate years of experience, we also accumulate a deeper knowledge of the sin that inhabits other people’s hearts and comes out through their words and actions. With every day, with every year, we see and experience in greater measure the consequences of sin in the world around us—death, destruction, disaster. It adds up to a great weight of sorrow.
This sorrow is universal. Even Christians experience sorrow in aging. They, too, find that greater age brings greater sorrow. It comes in many forms. Here are five of them.
The Sorrow of Weakness
As we age, we experience the sorrow of weakness. Of course, as we first begin to age, we grow stronger. As we pass from infancy into childhood and from childhood into adulthood, our bodies grow and strengthen. From his vantage point in old age, Solomon says, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 11:9a). He goes so far as to say, “The glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29).
But that strength does not last long, does it? There are a few years of growth followed by many years of decline, a few years of strength followed by many years of weakness. For men and women alike, physical strength peaks in their 20s or 30s before settling into a long decline. Muscle mass, bone density, metabolism, and even the senses begin to deteriorate. Most athletes retire by 37 or 38 years old, when they still have more than half their lives to live. They simply can’t keep up anymore.
One of the most sorrowful passages in all of the Bible talks about the sorrow of weakness.
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low—they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails… (Ecclesiastes 12:1-5a)
This is a poetic description of the body weakening and failing. Eyes dimming, hands shaking, feet shuffling, back bending, teeth missing, voice trembling. It is a pathetic contrast with the strength and vigor of youth. And the decline of our bodies only grows steeper with age. There is sorrow in seeing our bodies weaken and decay.
The Sorrow of Weariness
Added to the sorrow of weakness is the sorrow of weariness. Old Solomon knew this sorrow as well, for in Ecclesiastes 1:8 he exclaims: “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” A long hike brings deep fatigue; a long life brings deep weariness. How could it do anything else in a world so stained by sin and its consequences? The longer we live, the more of this weariness we experience, and this weariness presses down on our bodies, our minds, our souls.
A pastor once visited our church and told of the trials he and his congregation had been enduring. Most recently and most painfully, his dear friends had lost their unborn child. They had just one opportunity to carry a child and for eight-and-a-half months, the pregnancy had progressed normally. The day was fast approaching! Then, only two weeks from full-term, the child had died and been stillborn. What tragedy. What sorrow. Standing before us that day he said, “I hate this world right now. All it has done is break my heart. None of us want to stay here. All this world does is fool you and fail you. It over-promises and under-delivers.” He was expressing the weariness of living in this sinful, painful world—a world of death, destruction, and decay, a world that provides so little purpose and meaning to our suffering. Greater age leads to greater sorrow. It leads to the sorrow of weariness.
The Sorrow of Reaping
There is also the sorrow of reaping. Reaping is a farming term that refers to gathering a crop. What the farmer plants in spring he harvests in autumn. He reaps what he first sows. Galatians 6:7-8a warns, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption.” Ultimately and most significantly, this reaping happens after the final judgment when God “will render to each one according to his works” (Romans 2:6). But this reaping begins now, even for believers, for sowing and reaping are spiritual principles in both life and death.
Sowing to the flesh involves pursuing sin as well as failing to do good. It involves deepening in depravity as well as failing to grow in righteousness. It involves the natural consequences for our sin. The man who sows adultery reaps a wrecked marriage, he who sows fraud reaps imprisonment. The woman who sows discord reaps loneliness, she who sows self-gratification reaps addiction. On and on it goes. As more life is lived and more sin is sown, more corruption is reaped. Much sin that is sown in youth lies dormant in the soil until at last, it bursts forth and is reaped in old age. The farmer who sows weeds in the spring can’t be surprised when the autumn comes and all he has to harvest is weeds; the person who sows a lifetime of sin can’t be surprised when the autumn of his life comes and all he has to harvest is sin. “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”
The Sorrow of Mortality
Then, compounding all of this sorrow, comes the sorrow of mortality: the knowledge of death’s sure approach. As we have already seen, Ecclesiastes 12 speaks of the body’s decline, but it also speaks of its inevitable end: “Man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets—before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:5b-8). Solomon gives us a picture of a flaxen rope holding a clay pitcher, a means to draw up nourishment and refreshment. Over time, the rope wears with age and use. Strand by strand, it begins to fray. And then, it succumbs to the inevitable. The rope breaks, and the pitcher falls to the depths, smashing into pieces. That is the frailty of life and the inevitability of death.
Part of the sorrow of aging is the sorrow of knowing that we are closer to death now than we were before. We are one day closer to death than a day ago, one moment closer to death than a moment ago. That time has passed and we can never have it back. Dreams we had will go unfulfilled, missions we wanted to accomplish will go undone. Friends we’ve loved have gone on before and we both feel and mourn their absence. That’s the reality of life in this world, a world in which we all pass through time until we come to the end of our time.
The Sorrow of Fear
Finally, there is the sorrow of fear. With weakness, weariness, reaping, and the inevitability of death’s approach comes fear. It could not be any other way. In Psalm 71, King David voices some of this fear. Looking ahead to old age, he prays, “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (Psalm 71:9). He is expressing some of the fear that comes with age, fear that as he gets old he will find himself alone, without an ally, without anyone to care for him through his final days.
As bodies fade and minds diminish, fear increases. Of course it does. This world is scary enough when we are strong and able. How much scarier, then, when we are weak and vulnerable, when we are dependent upon others for our care, our sustenance, our protection. There is a reason so many people prey upon the elderly, which is why the elderly need our special care and protection. Age is fraught with many perils and together they lead to the sorrow of fear.
Five Sorrows, One Hope
Here, then, are five sorrows that come with aging, even to Christians: the sorrow of weakness, the sorrow of weariness, the sorrow of reaping, the sorrow of mortality, and the sorrow of fear. All five of these sorrows would be absent in a perfect, sinless world. All five of them are present and universal in a world like this. All five come with aging and only increase as time goes on.
When we look at aging this way we see that death is the crescendo of a million sorrows. We are dying from the moment we are born. As soon as we begin to move through time, we are moving toward the end of our time.
If these sorrows are inevitable, how can we prepare ourselves? How can we face them well without succumbing to despair, perversion, drunkenness, bitterness, or a hundred other vices? We need to arm ourselves with character that will strengthen and sustain us. We need to embrace the joys and the responsibilities that come with aging. But we can only do this if we first know Christ.
Christ’s life began with the very heights of joy, and it ended with sorrows so deep that he is rightly called the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). As he lived, he experienced weakness and weariness, fear and the inevitability of death’s approach. And though he was unpolluted by sin, perfect in every thought, word, and deed, still he reaped the fearful consequences of sin—our sin. For on the cross he took our sin upon himself, suffering its full torment, paying its full price. But he rose. He rose! And now he offers forgiveness and life to all who will put their faith in him. Those who believe in Christ have hope that outlasts life and outlasts death. They have the sure hope of resurrection, of life renewed, life restored, life eternal. They are empowered by his grace to endure the sorrows, experience the joys, and embrace the responsibilities that come with aging.
I want to close with a word of encouragement to those who have a discouraging awareness of the sorrow of reaping or who are living in dread of it. Perhaps you came to Christ late in life after so much damage had already been done. Perhaps you came to Christ early but spent many years in apathy or disobedience. You need to know that God’s grace is sufficient to redeem your failures. Because of his grace, none of us experience all the reaping we could. Because of his grace, none of us have to fear even a moment of this life or the life to come. Yes, there may still be consequences for your sin. But even this will not be purposeless. Even this will be found to have been used by God for his good purposes. Take heart. “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14).
Next time we will see that, even though greater age brings greater sorrow, it also brings greater joy.
Today’s Kindle deals include only 4 titles, but each of them is well worth a good look.
Sam Storms: “We all hear a great deal about Christian sanctification, but what precisely is it, and how does it work? Today we look at ten things about this crucial biblical truth.”
“So what do you do when you feel dead on the inside? What do you say to your loved ones when they feel this way? I’ve found that people who reflect on the following 10 diagnostic questions find the life and energy they’ve been missing more quickly and deeply than those that don’t. The way you answer these questions will determine what steps you need to take next.”
Here’s a beautifully shot video of a young girl in Western Mongolia.
Phillip Jensen mourns his grandson. “I prayed that God would take my three score and ten years in place of his less than one score. But it doesn’t work like that. There is only one who can die for others and he has already done it on the cross two thousand years ago. Nathan knew that and continued to testify to that truth throughout his remaining months.”
This Day in 1977. 40 years ago today the Supreme Court of India ruled that the work of Christian evangelists was a threat to the “freedom of conscience” guaranteed to all citizens of India. *
Where do we go from here? “Fifty years later, at the beginning of a new year, many of us are asking the same question as Dr. King. Our country seems divided and polarized in 2017, engulfed in hostility, violence and rage. And unfortunately, our churches have not pressed against the spirit of the age, but have too often succumbed to it.”
This weekend Logos will have all their Mobile Ed videos for free! “That’s over 7,000 videos, and more than 1,500 hours of content—everything from family-friendly, Bible-focused animated videos for your kids, to biographies, documentaries, lectures from today’s top scholars, and more!”
There are ways Christians can inadvertently act like Mormons. Here are a few of them.
I have a theory about the way different groups of Christians understand the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Prayer is verbalized dependence on God. —Tony Payne
We watched two of the movies on my Friday Night Film Club list this past week, one on Thursday night and the other on Friday. And in both cases the person who chose the movie wasn’t there to watch it. Oh, well, the rest of us enjoyed the movies.
Engineer Husband and I went to see The King’s Speech when it first came out in theaters. It meshed well to watch it again this week after I had just finished watching season one of The Crown, about the first several years of the reign of Elizabeth II, George VI’s daughter and heir. In both The Crown and The King’s Speech, David (aka Edward, Duke of Windsor), the abdicating king and George’s older brother, comes across as a despicable and selfish brat. Maybe he really was. I’m not sure how much happiness he gained by giving up the crown for the sake of his love for the twice divorced Wallis Simpson, but then again he probably wouldn’t have been too happy as king either. George VI and Elizabeth II aren’t exactly portrayed as “happy”, but definitely satisfied with their fulfillment of what they each perceive as their duty to the nation. Anyway, I can recommend both The King’s Speech and the Netflix series The Crown. Much food for thought.
Sully, also based on a true story, was a thought-provoking movie, too. It’s a a 2016 drama, directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Todd Komarnicki, based on the autobiography Highest Duty by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow. Sullenberger, aka Sully, is the pilot who landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River after a bird strike took out both of the plane’s engines in mid-flight. This heroic landing and the rescue of all 155 passengers and crew on board happened almost exactly eight years ago on January 15, 2009.
Tom Hanks plays Sully, and as usual, he does an excellent job of making us forget about Tom Hanks and think instead about the pilot and his ability to make a split-second decision that will either save or cost the lives of all the people on board the airplane. Inevitably, I wondered whether I could function as well in a crisis as Sully and his co-pilot did, not a crisis in flying a plane, of course, since I don’t know how, but some other life-threatening crisis where I had to make a life-or-death decision. I just don’t know. How can one train for such a thing?
If I were to choose one of these two movies over the other to recommend to you, I’d choose Sully, I suppose. Although The King’s Speech is fascinating in a historical sense and as a story of one man overcoming adversity, the “overcoming” involves some misplaced and over-dramatized Freudian analysis of George’s childhood that probably had very little to do with curing his stuttering. But then again, maybe he did stutter because they made him switch from being left-handed to right-handed or because his nanny disliked and mistreated him. Who knows?
Sully is a more straightforward hero story certainly with an obstacle to overcome, namely the investigation after the emergency landing by National Transportation Safety Board, but all’s well that ends well. And as the characters in the movie point out in 2009, “it’s been a while since New York had news this good. Especially with an airplane in it.” After a year like 2016, it’s good to watch a movie about someone competent but humble, and even heroic coming out of New York.
This Friday’s movie will be Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man with Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, and Anthony Quayle. Watch it with us if you’d like to join in.
I hate it when I encounter a writer who’s good in himself, and even gracious in his attitudes, but still feel obligated to turn from his work for ideological reasons. So let’s get it out of the way at the beginning. Henry Kisor is a fine writer, and Season’s Revenge is a pretty good rural mystery. My reason for stopping after the first book in his Steve Martinez series is that I’m an ideologue, and I prefer to stay away from books written from certain points of view. To the extent that you find my attitude narrow-minded, you are likely to like Kisor’s books. In that case, I heartily recommend them to you.
Steve Martinez is a sheriff’s deputy in fictional Porcupine County, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In spite of his name, he’s Lakota Sioux by heritage, and was raised by white evangelical Christians, who died while he was young. He ended up in Porcupine County, with which he had no previous ties, more or less by chance. In other words, he feels somewhat disconnected in the world.
One day in early winter the richest man in the county is found dead in his camping tent, mauled by a bear. The coroner’s verdict is heart attack, caused by shock. But Steve is skeptical. Why did this man, an accomplished outdoorsman, commit a rookie error like eating breakfast in his tent, where bacon grease could spill and lure a bear in?
Over the weeks following the death, Steve begins a private, off the record investigation of his own. What are the victim’s secrets? Who might have reason to hate him? Is someone training bears to kill? At the same time as he’s sleuthing, Steve also begins a romance with an attractive local widow, which raises the stakes in the story and adds human interest.
The writing is crisp and good. Season’s Revenge is a promising first novel in a series likely to only get better (my only plot quibble was a twist that I saw coming a mile away). Steve Martinez is an appealing, very human protagonist.
My problem is with the treatment of religion in the book. I hasten to say that author Kisor does not insult my religion, evangelical Christianity. To the contrary, he takes some pains to portray evangelicals as generally decent and generous people.
I was troubled instead by Steve’s own spiritual quest. He has rejected his parents’ Christianity, and through the course of the book he is drawn more and more to the spirituality of his ancestral tribe, of which he knows very little. He even has a couple visions.
I am no enemy of ethnicity, as anyone who reads this blog knows. I’m about as ethnic as you can be without (I deeply hope) being an actual racist. But I’m repelled by the idea of ethnic religion. I do not care for the efforts of some of my fellow Scandinavians to cultivate a “native” Scandinavian spirituality, based on Old Norse mythology. In the same way, I disapprove of other groups adopting “ancestral” religions, based not on objective truth but on “blood.”
As a Christian, I believe that truth is one. To say that there’s one truth for people of one color, and another truth for people of another color, is (it seems to me) the profoundest kind of racism. It denies common humanity; it denies that we are all brothers under the skin.
So thanks, Henry Kisor, for a pretty good mystery novel. But I won’t be back for more.
Cautions for language and sexual situations.
This sponsored post was prepared by Zondervan.
You’ve heard many Bible stories hundreds of times, but how many behind-the-scenes details are you missing? Sometimes a little context is all you need to discover the rich meaning behind the stories of Scripture.
The Bible was originally written to an ancient people removed from us by thousands of years and thousands of miles. The Scriptures include subtle culturally based nuances, undertones, and references to ancient events, literature and customs that were intuitively understood by those who first heard the Scriptures read. For us to hear the Scriptures as they did, we need a window into their world.
The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, with notes from Dr. John H. Walton (Wheaton College) in the Old Testament and Dr. Craig S. Keener (Asbury Theological Seminary) in the New Testament, brings to life the ancient world of Scripture for modern readers.
Every day, we are all building the house we will live in when old age comes. Some of us are building a beautiful palace. Some are building a dark prison. What are you building?
Perhaps you are building a house that will prove beautiful and comfortable through the long winter of your old age. You are decorating it tastefully, filling it with ornaments designed to bring pleasure and comfort in the days to come—deeds of gratitude and grace, acts of generosity and selfless love. On every wall, you are hanging pictures that are as meaningful as they are beautiful—warm friendships in Christ, mentoring and discipling relationships, children and grandchildren who know and love the Lord. They look down upon you to comfort, to cheer, to encourage. You have stockpiled supplies of godliness and grace to ensure you will be full and fed, faithful in the days of weariness. You have gathered great stores of God’s Word to fuel the fire, to keep it blazing brightly through the long winter days and nights. You have prepared a comfortable bed where you can lie and rest. As you draw your last breaths, you will be able to look from your bed to see those ornaments, those paintings, that lifetime of precious treasure, and you will know: You have lived a meaningful life.
Or perhaps you are building yourself a house that will prove little more than a cold, gloomy prison through the long winter of your old age. You are decorating it with ugliness and kitsch—meaningless achievements, evil deeds, self-righteous works. You are covering the walls with grotesque pictures—harmful friendships, broken relationships, children and grandchildren who are wanton and rebellious. They look down upon you to haunt you, to condemn you, to fill you with fear and sorrow. You have stocked sparse supplies to feed upon in the days of weariness, leaving you to chew on bitterness, regret, and a thousand empty vices. You have gathered little of God’s Word to fuel the fire, so it will burn low and extinguish, leaving you cold and miserable. You have prepared a bed of thorns where you will lie and desperately try to rest. As you draw your last breaths, you will look from your painful bed to see those awful ornaments, those dark paintings, that lifetime of piled regret, and you will know: You have wasted your life.
Which house are you building? Are you building a palace or a prison? Are you building a place of joy, comfort, and security, or a place of grief, sorrow and peril? Every day you are laying the bricks to your home. From childhood you have been decorating it. With each passing day you add new ornaments and you stock—or don’t stock—it for days to come. And as the winter of your life approaches, you will take up residence in the house you have built. So I ask again, which house are you building?(*)
A Deep Fear, a Deep Longing
There are certain behaviors I have been conditioned to fear since childhood. I saw people act in certain ways, I saw the consequences of their actions, and I decided that I would never do those things. I decided I would not be like those people.
As a child I saw the abuse of alcohol. I saw full-out drunkenness in all its ugliness, all its shame. I saw it in people I loved, people in my extended family. I saw how they behaved, I saw how others treated them, I saw how their reputations crumbled. Even as a child and a teen, I found myself so wary of alcohol that it never was attractive to me. Even today I don’t drink, and it’s not because I have a biblical case against alcohol. It’s that I’m just not interested. I never have been.
Since childhood, I have also been conditioned to fear aging poorly. I saw elderly people who behaved shamefully, who displayed so little of the dignity that ought to be associated with age. I saw old women who were embittered, who seemed to have no real point or purpose to their lives. I saw old men who were drunks, who were perverts, who were full of resentment toward God. Of course, I saw positive examples as well, dear old men and women who loved one another, who loved Jesus more than anything, who exemplified godliness and grace. Some of them I knew and some I met in their books or their biographies. I developed a fear of aging poorly and a deep longing to age well.
When I was still young I resolved that I would age with grace. I would not be a dirty old man, an embittered old man, a drunken old man, a purposeless old man. I determined that in old age I would be dignified and godly, I would exemplify character and purposeful living to the end. Even then, I understood that this resolution would need to shape my entire life. I could not live a dissolute life and expect God to grant me a gift of godliness on my 65th birthday. I could not live an apathetic or lukewarm life and expect a purposeful, meaningful old age. If I wanted to be godly then, I’d need to learn to be godly now. If I wanted to live those days with purpose, I would first need to live these days with purpose. For these reasons and many more, the subject of aging is especially precious to me.
Aging and Old Age
It is important to distinguish here between aging and old age. While old age is the position, aging is the process—the process of hard-fought, small investments made over time that determine our final position. My aim in this article and a few to follow is to bring attention to aging: the universal and lifelong reality that from the moment of birth we are growing older, that from our first breath we are progressing toward our last breath, that our every decision is culminating into the old man or old woman we’ll be. Aging is the dash on the tombstone, the little line that in its progress from left to right, from the joy of birth to the sorrow of death, encapsulates a whole life. Aging comes with many sorrows and many joys, and in between them are the responsibilities we can choose to embrace or ignore.
I have written this with many tears—tears enough to surprise me and to show how deeply I feel this subject, how much it has been a track playing in the background of my life, how much it remains a deep desire. These are tears of sorrow for wasted opportunities, tears of joy for evidences of undeserved grace, tears of hope that God will grant my prayers. For there are few longings in my heart deeper than this: that God would let me live a godly, purposeful, dignified old age.
Through a few articles, I mean to explore what the Bible says about aging. Ultimately, I want to encourage both you and me to age gracefully, to age wisely, to age resolutely to the glory of God.
* Inspired by Week-day Religion by J.R. Miller.
Today’s Kindle deals include several titles from Crossway on the subject of family. There’s also a good little Watts biography in there.
Confirmation bias is a powerful force and one that can play a surprisingly prominent role in your life.
Writing for WORLD, Cal Thomas reflects on “the astounding arrogance, superiority, and hypocrisy of Hollywood’s elite.”
I’ve recently begun reading (and enjoying) Chris Cagle’s Retirement Stewardship blog. He discusses personal finance leading to a “good” retirement.
I once watched a documentary about this amazing service in Mumbai that takes lunches from homes to offices. “A 2010 study by the Harvard Business School graded it ‘Six Sigma’, which means the dabbawalas make fewer than 3.4 mistakes per million transactions. With deliveries to and from roughly 200,000 customers each day that translates to little more than 400 delayed or missing dabbas in a year.”
This Day in 1815. 202 years ago today reformer Henry Thornton died in William Willberforce’s house. Thornton was a banker and parliamentarian and was a key figure behind the anti-slavery group Clapham Sect. *
Justin Taylor: “If Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Had a Dream’ speech (August 28, 1963) was the visionary sermon of the Civil Rights Movement, his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ was its epistolatory defense.” He provides a kind of reading guide for it. Meanwhile, Kevin DeYoung shares his pastoral prayer from yesterday.
Seth Godin: “Why do people buy lottery tickets? It’s certainly not based on any rational analysis of financial risk or reward. So, why do something that almost never seems to work? Because it actually works every single time.”
Randy Alcorn offers wisdom on when (and when not) to share Romans 8:28.
Satan has a not-so-great and not-so-wonderful plan for your church. And it involves you.
Only the death of sin leads to a life of freedom. —Sinclair Ferguson
"lunes linkage" is a collection of links, articles, etc. (anything) I've found interesting and might want to come back to.
The article is good and worth reading, but this line stuck out at me:
Creation isn’t right. The physical world has been “subjected to futility,” to frustration. It doesn’t work properly. It’s out of joint. It has been subjected to this frustration by God. The Bible’s wider narrative explains this. God cursed the ground as a judgment on human sin (Gen. 3:17). In other words, the world isn’t right as both a consequence and a demonstration of the fact that we’re not right.
Or maybe just a blanket
This will be a good choice when I have spun all the alpaca fiber into yarn.
This piece will be easy and fast to knit, and it is just the sort of thing I like to curl up in when it's chilly, either indoors or out.
According to National Review, the impact on American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands was devastating. After only three of the ten scheduled minimum-wage increases after 2006, American Samoa’s overall employment dropped 30 percent — a 58 percent crash in for the critically important tuna-canning industry. Real GDP fell by 10 percent.
But that was much better than their Northern Mariana Islands neighbors, where employment had plunged by 35 percent, and real per capita GDP off by 23 percent.
That's all for now (Tuesday)
“The material world is not just a display of our technology and culture, it is part of us. We invented it, we made it, and in turn it makes us who we are.” Introduction to Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik
Last night I went to a lecture at a local university with Eldest Daughter. The title of the lecture was “Modernity and the Rise of the Technological Society,” and the featured speaker told us, among other things, that our technology and the type of thought required to make and maintain it were changing us into humans with an incapacity to think deeply about the technology and its effects on us. Or something like that. What I got out of Dr. Hanby’s (the speaker’s) remarks was that he believes that we are being shaped and blinded or limited in our thinking by the very technology that we made to serve us and free us. We think that our technological society has made us more free, but we don’t really know what freedom is anymore, and we are too caught up in technological innovation to even be able to think about what true freedom might look like.
Anyway, this morning at the library I found this book that I had requested on the hold shelf. I’m only reading the introduction, but Mr. Miodownik seems to be saying something similar to what Dr. Michael Hanby, the speaker last night, was saying. Only, it looks as if perhaps Mr. Miodownik might think that all these “materials” and “technology” are changing us for the better–that it’s OK that technology has become to some extent our master rather than our servant. I’ll be back after I read the book to let you know what I think.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish the book before I had to return it to the library, and I’m still not sure what I think about technology changing us for the better or for the worse. What do you think?
"Chocolate Ice Cream Cone" is one of the earliest songs I remember my dad singing. Kenny Roberts was on a local television show when I was very little, but my dad sang this song a lot.
Dad wasn't good a yodeling, but he made up for it with love.
He sang a lot of songs that I remember...and will remember
“People don’t read enough. This bodes ill, not just for the present, but for the future.” ~Abraham Kuyper in 1879
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.
The last few months of 2016 left many people feeling as if the year itself was an active agent of evil, and the sooner we kicked it to the curb, the better. I felt a little of that, too, although...
Neuroblastoma. Cancer. These are scary words for grown-ups and for children. Counting Thyme is a story about how a five year old brother’s cancer affects a family and changes the members of the family and eventually how those changes make them stronger and more bonded. (Of course, a crisis can tear a family apart, but in this story, in spite of realistic and ongoing struggles and misunderstandings, the family members grow in love and empathy for one another.)
Eleven year old Thyme, the main character, is deeply concerned for her little brother, Val, who is undergoing treatment for neuroblastoma, nerve cancer. She would give almost anything for him to get well again, but she doesn’t really understand why her family has to move from California to New York City for Val to get well. Thyme’s parents are well meaning, but totally absorbed in supporting and caring for Val, and they don’t want to tell Thyme and her older sister Coriander (yes, cute names) too much about what is happening with Val so that the girls won’t worry too much. Of course, Thyme and Cori do worry a lot, and each girl has to find a way to deal with the move and with all the tension at home as they acclimate to a new city and to new schools.
There is a pre-teen “romance” in the book, but it’s handled tastefully and innocently. Thyme has a crush on a boy in her new school, and the two children get to know each other and eventually become friends. One innocent peck on the cheek and some blushing and gushy feelings make up the rest of the relationship, but if that’s too much for your middle grade reader, you’ll want to skip this one.
If you do skip it, sad to say, you’ll miss out on a slow, heartfelt story about adjusting to harsh realities and learning to give and receive love and concern from your family even when times are hard. The family interactions are very real and tender, and so are the friendships that Thyme had to leave behind and the ones she forms in her new city. Thyme herself is something of an introvert, self-contained, but confident and empathetic, especially when it comes to helping cheer or distract Val when he’s having a bad day. And Val is the cutest little cancer patient I’ve ever met, maybe a little too good to be true, but so likable and sweet.
William Peter Blatty, who wrote The Exorcist in 1971, has passed away at age 89. He wrote the novel in response to news accounts his classmates discussed while attending Georgetown University. A Lutheran family in 1949 said their teenaged son could be possessed. His symptoms were–supernatural: flying objects, moving sheets, and messages in rashes on his skin. Blatty’s story based on this account has been called the scariest story ever, at least its film adaptation has.
Ted Gioia points this out in his review of the book, which he read last year along with many other horror classics:
This is perhaps all the more surprising given the large dose of theology in Blatty’s conception of his story. Much of the tale revolves around a crisis of faith. There’s little actual bloodshed in The Exorcist, and—in place of the typical arsenal of the slasher films that flourished in the aftermath of The Exorcist—the weapons at play here are little more than holy water, a crucifix and some lines in Latin. The horror is mostly existential…but perhaps all the more unnerving for that very reason.
In 2015, Washingtonian ran a biographic article on Blatty. Here’s a great, little story from his post-college years.
To pay the bills, he worked as a flack for the University of Southern California. Meanwhile, he soothed his acting jones by posing as Prince Xeer, the make-believe black-sheep son of King Saud. The nearly yearlong caper was facilitated by former Hoya classmate turned FBI agent Frank Hanrahan, who would explain to Sunset Strip nightclub owners that he’d been “saddled by the State Department with the task of being ‘this pain-in-the-ass Prince’s’ guide and bodyguard while he ‘cooled down’ from some grave but unspoken problem back home,” Blatty writes in his memoir.
The gambit fooled stars like Zsa Zsa Gabor and led to another stereotype-skewering article in the Saturday Evening Post. There was also a ghostwriting gig for “Dear Abby,” Abigail Van Buren, on a book for young adults. In his memoir, he writes that the result, Dear Teen-Ager, earned a Mother of the Year Award from the Los Angeles Times for its “matronly wit and wisdom,” even though it was mostly concocted by a chain-smoking Blatty during a break from USC.
Gertie deserves a place alongside Clementine and Ramona Quimby as one of the spunkiest and most adventuresome of girl characters in middle grade fiction. She comes across as a little immature for her ten years of age, but if she’s a bit sheltered and innocent, it just means that her aunt and her father have done an excellent job of raising her after her mother deserted the family.
Gertie Reece Foy is always on a mission, but her mission for fifth grade is to be the greatest fifth grader ever so that her mother, whom Gertie has never even met, will be impressed and wish that she had paid more attention to Gertie Foy. Gertie’s two best friends, Jean the Jean-ius and Junior, help, mostly, and hinder her on her mission. And Mary Sue Spivey, the new girl from Los Angeles, is the fly in the ointment, so to speak. Can Gertie be the best when Mary Sue so easily steals the popularity (not to mention Gertie’s seat!) that Gertie longs for?
One thing about Gertie Reece Foy: she never, ever gives up. And reading about exactly how Gertie doesn’t give up, how she keeps pursuing her mission, despite environmental concerns about her daddy’s oil rig job and Mary Sue’s conniving, is a delight and a wonder. Gertie certainly does “give’em h—“, just as her great-aunt tells her to every morning as Gertie leaves for school.
Call it conscience, if you will; all I know is that it’s a sadness for which I’m profoundly grateful, no less than if my sight had been restored to me after years of blindness. What overtook me yesterday was a longing to be the person I once was.
Conrad Hirst, titular hero of Kevin Wignall’s Who Is Conrad Hirst?, is a professional hit man. He works (or so he thinks) for a German crime boss. Years ago he stumbled into the profession after a devastating personal loss and time spent as a mercenary. He has been good at his job because he felt nothing, and because he displayed so little personality that people tended to overlook him.
But now he’s had a shock. “I saw myself in a mirror,” is how he describes it. He wants out. He wants to stop being this person.
His exit strategy seems clear. Because of the compartmentalized nature of the organization he works for, only four men know who he is – all of them bad men. He’ll just kill them and walk away with a clean slate.
Of course it’s not that easy. He soon discovers that he isn’t working for the people he thinks he’s working for, and a whole lot more people know about him than he guessed. He keeps on the move, improvising as he goes, trying to figure out who his real boss is and to eliminate him. As he goes, he makes an effort to overcome the bad habit he’s acquired – killing inconvenient people. When most of us slip in our efforts to end a bad habit, the results aren’t that devastating. When Conrad slips, people die.
The moral contradictions of being a professional killer are boldly explored in Who Is Conrad Hirst? What is a hero? What is a villain? There are truly distressing moments – lots of them – when we bounce back and forth between sympathizing with Conrad, and hoping someone will just kill him and put him and everybody else out of his misery.
Who Is Conrad Hirst? is a fascinating, troubling book, like all Kevin Wignall’s work. I salute the author’s focus on questions of human choice and moral reformation, though I think he gives more credit to human nature (unassisted by divine grace) than it deserves.
Also, there’s a very neat twist at the end.
Highly recommended, with cautions for violence, language, and extremely shocking situations.
In addition to reading historical fiction and biographies, I’d like to read some of the classics that were “making waves” in the late eighteenth century/early nineteenth century. These are more difficult for me to get through, but also potentially more rewarding.
A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton by Jonathan Edwards. (1737)
Hymns and Sacred Songs by Charles and John Wesley (1739).
A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. (1746)
The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards. (1749)
A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards (contained in John Piper’s book, God’s Passion for His Glory.)
Common Sense (1776) by Thomas Paine.
Evelina by Fanny Burney.
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.(1787)
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake. (1790)
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft.
Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge (1798).
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. (re-read, written before 1796, published in 1811)
I slipped up - at some point I changed the header pick and never told about it.
Two-and a half years ago, on our honeymoon, we took a walk in a slot canyon somewhere in Utah. We walked along the stream, mostly looking up at the amazing artwork that God created.
I looked down and saw this rock.
I 'm a geology nut, and this rock, layers upon layers.
Layers, lifting up, slanted toward the next, layers on top, covering and protecting.
How old are these rocks? God knows...and scientists think they do.
Inger said something under her breath in Swedish, something affectionate, brought on by the sight of the old man. And Dan understood the sentiment even if he hadn’t understood or even heard the words properly, because it was reassuring after a day like they’d had, to be reminded that there were good things in the world, and good people, simple food cooked well, strangers sharing their kindness indiscriminately. Dan had been outside that virtuous circle himself for most of his adult life, but he was grateful to be inside it now.
In northern Sweden, a lumber truck crashes into a passenger bus. Only one person survives, a teenage girl. A fellow passenger, a stranger, had thrown himself on top of her to save her life.
That’s how A Death in Sweden starts. Dan Hendricks, an Englishman but a former CIA operative, now makes his living as a sort of bounty hunter for various employers, some governments, some less legitimate. Doing a job in Madrid, he gets word that several of his colleagues are dead. Shortly after, he and a friend barely escape a hit squad. It becomes clear that someone powerful is liquidating a particular group of intelligence freelancers. Dan’s old boss asks him to go to Sweden to investigate Jacques Fillon, the man who saved the girl’s life on the bus. Jacques Fillon was not his real name, and his boss thinks he is the key to the motivation for the vendetta.
Dan goes to the town, where a Swedish agent, Inger Bengtsson, joins the investigation. As they pry into Fillon’s secrets (fending off more than one assassination attempt as they do), they grow closer to each other. This is something Dan wasn’t prepared for, having cut himself off from ordinary human life for far too long.
As in his other novels, Kevin Wignall trains a spotlight on an aspect of intelligence work that is generally passed over lightly in spy novels – the morality of killing. Again he paints a portrait of men who have reached moments of clarity, who have had to reevaluate not only their professions, but their very approaches to life. Again he contrasts profound human feeling and relationships with the kind of injury a professional killer must do to his own soul. Choice is at the center.
Another very satisfying, though often harrowing, novel by Kevin Wignall. Recommended, if you can handle the violence, language, and adult themes. Like all Wignall’s books, it’s not for the faint of heart.
I came of age at the beginning of the information revolution. I got a degree in computer science in 1984, was on my first set of networked computers in 1990, and first experienced the web a few years after that. I remember when it was uncommon to have an email and almost unheard of for average folks to have anything approaching a “web presence”.
A few years ago I read something by Isaac Asimov in which he predicted the Internet. He envisioned it as a great repository of knowledge where learned people all over the world would share information and truth and knowledge would flourish.
I’m not saying that hasn’t happened, certainly. But what Asimov didn’t predict is that liars, attention whores and knaves would also flood the Internet with their stories and outrages. In other words, he didn’t consider the human condition.
This brings us to today. It’s getting increasingly harder to separate the truth from lies.
We are awash in propaganda.
Descriptions are from Goodreads.
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. “About nine children who live on a mysterious island. On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.” (May)
The Problem Children by Natalie Lloyd. “Seven strange siblings, all born on a different day of the week, and the neighbors who keep trying to tear their family apart.”
Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart. “Jonathan Grisby is the newest arrival at the Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys — an ancient, crumbling fortress of gray stone rising up from the ocean. It is dark, damp, and dismal. And it is just the place Jonathan figures he deserves. Because Jonathan has done something terrible. And he’s willing to accept whatever punishment he has coming.” (January)
Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy. “Set in the spice-filled markets and curtain-drawn homes of 1991 Iraq and told through the eyes of 12-year-old Ali, a boy preoccupied by real-life dictators and video game villains, this book offers a glimpse into the everyday realities of growing up under the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.” (Spring)
The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli. “Cammie O’Reilly is the warden’s daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she’s also living in a prison of grief and anger about the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. And prison has made her mad.” (January)
Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberley Willis Holt. “Twelve-year-old Stevie’s world changes drastically when her parents are tragically killed and she is forced to live with her estranged grandfather at his run-down motel.” (March)
The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff. “Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie s parents got divorced, the day they decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly between them. It was the day Winnie s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew and grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.” (May)
The Song of Glory and Ghost (Outlaws of Time #2) by N.D. Wilson. (April)
Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai. “13-year-old Nadia and her family flee Aleppo, Syria, for Turkey in the wake of the Arab Spring.” (Fall)
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin. (January)
The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston. “For ten-year-old Cadence Jolly, birthdays are a constant reminder of all that has changed since her mother skipped town with dreams of becoming a star. Cadence inherited that musical soul, she can’t deny it, but otherwise she couldn’t be more different – she’s as shy as can be. When Cadence’s singing ability comes to the attention of her entire church family, she must decide what to do.” (January)
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla. “Life has been unraveling since Charlie’s war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan. And when Dad gets sent across country for medical treatment, Charlie must reluctantly travel to meet him. With his boy-crazy sister, unruly twin brothers, and a mysterious new family friend at the wheel, the journey looks anything but smooth.” (January)
Each of these sounds intriguing in its own way: an island, community-building, road trip, Middle Eastern settings, a church community(!), and nonfiction about a sports hero who was also Native American. Do any of these upcoming middle grade titles sound good to you?
"I'm not going back" is a refrain at our house, and we have reasons...we usually make up a number (reason #848) but I just lost count.
And I'm not going back.
My daddy died last week and I know that he's with Jesus. I heard another refrain: If you want to see Jesus, you need to be holy.
Here's the thing - if you're holy enough to get yourself into heaven - raise your hand.
I'm not holy enough - far, far from it. To paraphrase Mark Driscoll - this kind of teaching leads to either pride or despair. Pride (I got this) or despair (I can't do this.)
When Dad got to heaven, I know that he lived his life in faith in Christ. He never pointed at his works; he pointed to Jesus and the cross.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28 ESV)
What is "law?" Law (simple explanation) is God's character codified. In the law, we learn God's character, and His standard for holiness. God is perfect and His law is perfect.
We are not and we cannot be, this side of the grave.
Since we are not perfect, how do we see Jesus? How are we justified?
We are justified by faith, and not by works.
Yes, sanctification is a thing and for a person who is justified by faith, that faith will be evidenced by sanctification.
I asked a Sunday School student - do you do your chores because you are part of your family? Or do you do your chores in order to become part of your family?
Do we obey the law because we belong to Christ? Or do we obey the law in order to belong to Christ?
The difference is worth an eternity.
In the midst of my umpteenth re-reading of C. S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity, I came across this passage and found it holding new resonance. Apply what Lewis is explicating below to any of the following:
- Church conflict
- Relational jealousy
- Sharing of news stories that confirms our suspicions about people on the other end of the political or cultural spectrum
- The language that is used in clickbait links, soundbite videos, mocking memes, and exposé blog posts. We don’t say someone is “critiqued” or their ideas “debunked;” we say they were “destroyed,” “owned,” and so on. We use the language of humiliation or violence.
Here’s how you know if you hate something someone has done or if you actually hate that person.
The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
How about you? Is your hatred fed by confirmation bias? Do you dismiss correction of your critique because the corrections don’t fit your narrative?
Do you love to hate somebody? Do you hope for their failure and inwardly delight when it comes? Do you have the slightest inkling that your desire for justice has bled into desire for vengeance?
And if so: do you find any of that commensurate with loving your neighbor?
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
— 1 Corinthians 13:7
I’m reading the various streams about the new Trump/Russia allegations. I’ve learned a few things recently.
1. If something is unverified, do your best to ignore it. It may be partially true, very doubtful it’s all the way true. Wait for verification.
2. If the tasty bit of scandal is about your “enemy”, work even harder to stand down. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love the truth. Steer miles clear of propaganda. Bless those who persecute you.
Working hard to practice the above.
What do you say when you imagine yourself the only author in the world to write a certain kind of novel, and then find yourself reading a novel of a very similar kind, in a very similar style?
If you’re me, you breathe a sigh of relief. Because it means you’re not the only one who sees a need for such a book.
I don’t mean to suggest (let me hasten to add) that I think Jordan M. Poss, author of No Snakes in Iceland (he could have found a better title, I think) borrowed from my work in any way. I think he’d have handled some things differently if he’d read my books. But this is a Christian fantasy story of Vikings, told from an outsider’s point of view, written in a style that leans heavily on Old English vocabulary in order to convey a flavor of the time and the original language.
Edgar, the hero of No Snakes in Iceland, is an Englishman, a poet and a chronicler, formerly in the service of the king of England. Following a personal tragedy he went slightly mad, and the archbishop of Canterbury bade him go abroad somewhere where his enemies dwell, to learn to forgive them. So now he’s living in a missionary monastery in Iceland (a fictional institution; I’m pretty sure no monasteries existed there at that point). When a distant chieftain asks his abbot to come to his home to “kill a ghost,” the abbot pleads his age and sends Edgar instead, along with a pair of monks.
There Edgar engages, mostly against his will, with a variety of Icelanders, chieftains, common folk, and slaves, and faces the challenge of an Icelandic ghost – the Norse kind who walks by night in a physical body, grown to giant size, kills livestock and people, and rides houses like horses. Gradually he learns to respect and even like these people, as he tries to find a way to do the seemingly impossible.
It’s a good book. I liked it a lot. The author has clearly done a respectable amount of research, though I can point to a number of minor inaccuracies – he has a thrall carrying a sword, he thinks there were towns in Iceland in the Viking age, he makes wine more common than it was, etc., etc. But the overall effect is admirable. He excels in descriptions of nature and the conveyance of atmosphere. And the Christian passages are handled well, generally the chief challenge for the Christian novelist.
So I recommend No Snakes in Iceland highly. If you liked my Erling novels, I think you’ll like this one. Cautions for a very small amount of coarse language.
Gallup says a majority of Americans are still reading.
The research group says over a third of Americans are heavy readers, meaning they read more than eleven books in a year, and about half of Americans read at least one but not more than ten books in a year. Only sixteen percent say they did not read a book last year, which is a percentage that hasn’t changed significantly since 1990.
Three-fourth of all readers surveyed said they read printed books most often. That’s far more printed books than they apparently expected to be reading, according to this Book Boon survey from 2013 showing over fifty-seven percent of US readers thought they would be reading mostly eBooks by now.
Maybe great shops around the corner like Blue Willow Bookshop encourage us to keep reading printed books.
I don’t know if we do anything better than other bookstores but I doubt any of them has ever changed out a customer’s vacuum cleaner bag for them. When the Oreck store across the street closed, we had a customer come in distraught because she didn’t know how to change the bag. We have an Oreck so a staffer went out to her car, brought it in, and we changed it. Now that is customer service! We like to think of ourselves as the neighbourhood bookshop with a citywide reach. We do tons of events throughout Houston. We are most proud of our three festivals: Bookworm Bookfest (for picture book and emerging readers), Tweens Read, and TeenBookCon. It’s our mission to connect families to reading.
A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson.
Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter.
The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds.
Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley.
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor. My favorite middle grade realistic fiction book of 2016.
For those who care about such things, I thought I’d share some of my upcoming speaking dates. If you’re in any of these areas and able to attend, would be great to meet you.
January 27-28 – Ready Conference. Kansas City, MO. I’ll be speaking at this student conference hosted at Midwestern Seminary along with Trip Lee, Owen Strachan, and John Mark Yeats.
February 3-5 – Salt Company Spring Conference. Des Moines, IA. Really excited to be the speaker at this event for the booming college campus ministry connected to Cornerstone Church.
February 9-10 – RightNow Media Conference. Orlando, FL. Join me, Eric Mason, Larry Osborne, and more for this promising event.
March 7-9 – Lancaster Bible College. Lancaster, PA. This will be my fifth year preaching a week of chapel services at LBC. Love these folks!
April 3 – The Pastor and The Gospel. Indianapolis, IN. Join me, Matt Carter, H.B. Charles, Anthony Moore, Russell Moore, and Owen Strachan for this For The Church pre-conference dinner event at the The Gospel Coalition. Just $10 gets you dinner and some cool talks.
April 2-5 – The Gospel Coalition National Conference. Indianapolis, IN. I’ll be delivering a breakout session titled “Why the Gospel’s Exclusivity is Compelling” during Round 3 of workshops on April 4.
So...we're starting this book club thing...and the first book is Athanasius' "On the Incarnation of the Word." The questions in this post are "pre-book" questions and will hopefully stay in our minds.
Q. Who wrote the book?
St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria
Q. To whom was it written?
"Incarnation" was written to Christians who were being influenced by various heresies undermining the understanding of the life and death of Jesus.
Q. When was it written?
Q. Where was it written?
Q. Why was it written?
The book explains why God chose to approach his fallen people in human form and defends the incarnation of Christ against the derision of 4th century non-believers
Why would one's view of creation influence one's view of incarnation?
All things were created by and through the Word. The Word created man, the Word became Man; because He because one of us, those who walked with Him gave testimony about Him
Why is Christ's incarnation necessary anyway?
When we were separated from God by our sin, our very nature changed from one of perfection to one that is permeated by sin.
Equally, why are his death and resurrection necessary?
Only the perfect could satisfy the Perfect. Jesus’ death was the payment for sin, and His resurrection was proof that the Father accepted the payment.
Should the death of Christ be seen as a triumph? Why or why not?
Absolutely. When Adam sinned, the very nature of mankind was changed and without hope of reconciliation.
Because Christ died and was raised from the dead, we who are in Christ have hope for eternity.
My dad died a week ago today. Because Jesus died, I know I will see him again. Right now, my dad is reunited with his mom and dad, and his sister that he knew, and is getting to know his brothers and sisters who died before he was born.
That is a triumph.
If Adam had not sinned, would God the Son have become incarnate? Why or why not?
I don't believe Jesus would have walked on earth to save us, if we didn't need saving.
Has Jesus achieved anything since his incarnation that is not directly related to dealing with the consequences of sin? (You might like to take a look at Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:5-8.
Jesus holds the universe together by the word of his power.
“Jesus died with his arms outstretched, showing his desire to draw all men to himself.” What do you think of this kind of exegesis? (THESE ARE NOT ON TheCity)
Jesus died with His arms outstretched because that fulfilled a prophesy that He would die on a tree (cross.)
I think this is not exegesis at all, rather it is eisogesis -
Exegesis takes what is in the text and allows us to determine what it means, and so it steers our beliefs.
Eisogesis starts with what we believe, and allows us to read into the text what we want it to mean, steering what we think is in the text.
‘Nothing happened. I just decided to change.’ He said no more, and yet he wanted to warn her that it wasn’t that easy – something he and Bruno Brodsky and her own father all would have testified to. Once in, there was always a route out; staying out was where the difficulty lay.
Another novel by Kevin Wignall. Again I was impressed, but in a somewhat different way. The Hunter’s Prayer is equally well executed, but it’s much darker than The Traitor’s Story. It contains, I must warn you, one of the most shocking scenes I’ve ever encountered in a work of fiction.
Ella Hatto is an American college student, on vacation in a small Tuscan town with her boyfriend, when they are suddenly attacked by hit men. Just as suddenly a rescuer appears, an efficient killer who dispatches the assassins and spirits Ella and her friend away in a taxi cab. This is the end of Ella’s old life. From now on, everything will be different for her. At the beginning she gets some support and advice from Lucas, her rescuer, a man who is trying to overcome his social isolation, to break out of a lifetime of separation from humanity. “You don’t get it, do you?” he says at one point. “See, I am the bad guy.”
Then their paths separate and they take very different roads. One road culminates in the truly awful moment I warned you about. Another leads to a kind of redemption. If it weren’t for the redemption angle, I’d probably have panned this novel as just too nihilistic. But it works in the end, in a somber way.
I recommend The Hunter’s Prayer, with cautions. Not only for language and the other usual stuff, but for the shock. I’m finding Kevin Wignall’s books profoundly moral – but the morality isn’t precisely Christian.
Now that Donald Trump was criticized (not by name) by Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes last night for mocking a disabled reporter, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: More and more of his supporters are hardening their stance, claiming that he did not and would not do what it certainly appears that he did.
In our post-truth society, there is no getting through to the true believers. For example, I could point out this Washington Post article. But, of course, we all know the MSM is nothing but lies, right?
Snopes also suggests he did.
Of course, you can find lots of websites, many transparently pro-Trump, that say he didn’t mock the reporter’s disability.
I know we’re all guilty of confirmation bias. Do I know 100% for sure that he did? No. But after observing Trump, his petty cruelties and outrageous behavior, for way longer than I wish I had to, I’m pretty sure he did.
But it doesn’t and won’t matter. It’s hardly worth digging into to find the truth. People will see what they want to see.
Last week, we sang this at my dad's funeral, and we will sing it at my mom's funeral...remember...When We All Get to Heaven
my brother-in-law (Michael) reminded us that those who are in Christ will see each other again, "here, there, or in the air."
1. Sing the wondrous love of Jesus;
sing his mercy and his grace.
In the mansions bright and blessed
he'll prepare for us a place.
When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
we'll sing and shout the victory!
2. While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
clouds will overspread the sky;
but when traveling days are over,
not a shadow, not a sigh.
When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
we'll sing and shout the victory!
3. Let us then be true and faithful,
trusting, serving every day;
just one glimpse of him in glory
will the toils of life repay.
When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
we'll sing and shout the victory!
4. Onward to the prize before us!
Soon his beauty we'll behold;
soon the pearly gates will open;
we shall tread the streets of gold.
When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
we'll sing and shout the victory!
Friday night we watched the first movie of the year for my family’s 2017 Friday Night Film Club (FNFC). The feature presentation was a 1948 John Ford western, The Three Godfathers, starring John Wayne. A film reviewer for World Magazine named this as one of his favorite Christmas movies, so I thought we’s give it a try. Brown Bear Daughter tried, but she only made it through about three-fourths of the movie. I think she missed the best part. She said that she doesn’t like westerns and that this one in particular was “boring.” I found it a bit hokey and both over and under-acted at times, but essentially solid with some good and memorable scenes. The movie included lots of Biblical allusions and emphasized Christian themes of redemption, mercy, and restorative justice.
The basic plot is that a trio of bank robbers from Texas are on the run from the local sheriff and his posse in Arizona when they encounter a dying mother who asks them to be joint godfathers to her newborn infant. The three desperadoes try to care for the baby after the mother dies, and they also continue to run from justice–across desert, mountains, and salt flats, an unmerciful and unrelentingly harsh terrain that tries both their endurance and their souls.
In a movie with such a plot made nowadays the three outlaws would be both worse and better than they are in The Three Godfathers. They would probably be more violent and more blood-stained in any modern movie, and at the same time, they might be portrayed as modern-day Robin Hoods who deserve to get away with their ill-gotten gains. In this story, the three thieves are plain old bank robbers, dishonest and out to take what they can get, but they only escape with a small bag of cash while shooting off their guns into the air. They definitely pay for their sins. One of the three robbers, “the kid”, is shot in the shoulder, and he has an especially hard time making it through the desert.
Nevertheless, caring for the baby awakens the outlaws to their responsibilities to God and to their fellowmen, and they end up following instructions from the Bible and sacrificing themselves for the child. I thought it was a good movie, especially the last part, the part my daughter missed, where everything comes to a head in a dramatic rescue played to perfection by The Duke himself.
The movie was filmed in Death Valley, California, although the setting is supposed to be Arizona. The story is loosely analogous to the story of the wise men in the Bible who traveled across country to find and worship the baby Jesus. If you happen to watch it, let me know what you think.
This coming Friday’s movie for our Friday Night Movie Club will be The King’s Speech (2010), the story of Bertie, or King George VI of Great Britain and his ascension to the British throne.
Monday. What to do with these Mondays of ours?
If you’re a pastor or ministry leader, I know that Mondays for you can be a mixed bag. You may be still glowing from yesterday’s victories—high attendance, vibrant worship, the well-preached sermon and ensuing compliments. Or you might be still smarting from yesterday’s wounds—struggling ministry, sluggish praise, the feeling of not quite delivering that hoped-for homiletical fire. Maybe you’ve heard one complaint too many, too much grumbling. The loyal opposition continues to gossip and nitpick. Maybe your wife or kids are unhappy. Maybe you don’t know how to ask the church’s “powers that be” to help you afford to pay your bills. Or maybe you’re just in a funk, feeling like you’re spinning your wheels and not sure why what you’re doing matters.
Pastors, there is hope for you. The Lord of our God is unrelentingly for you. His affection for you and his approval of you are in no way contingent on you “hitting one out of the park.” His thoughts about you are not shaped by your ministry achievements or lack thereof. He has not gathered his Trinitarian self into the heavenly war room to troubleshoot you.
No, God is not a fan of yours. He’s not a fan of yours, because fans are fickle and turn on you when they get disappointed. Fans tie their feelings to performance. God is not a fan. He’s a friend. You can’t disappoint him, because you can’t surprise him. He sees your bad sermons coming. He has numbered all your days, including your days of feeling a little “off,” before the foundation of the world. He is not put off by your critics, and he is not puffed up by your yes-men. He is the great I AM: he is that he is. And he approves of you eternally by the blood of Christ applied to the doorpost of your heart—and to the doorpost of your ministry.
So there is water for you today, whether you push through on these difficult Mondays in the quiet of your study or the busyness of the visitation route or whether you take these Mondays off to recuperate at home. There is water for you at every moment, living water flowing freely from the pierced bosom of Christ. It is water to satisfy your thirsty soul, water to heal your ministry wounds, water to cool your heels, water to cheer your “Monday face.” Don’t look for it anywhere but in Jesus.
Monday. What a great day to come tired and burdened to Jesus and let him help you.
Dad, here's to you.
My Dad, Thomas David Brown, died last Monday, January 2, 2017. He was born on January 25, 1935 and in February, my mom and dad would have been married for 58 years.
There's still a lot of processing going on. Memories shared.
A lot of back story - last August my mom fell and broke her leg very badly. She's had several surgeries, and has been in several hospitals - she was in "Hills and Dales" in Cass City, MI. (I mention their name because the nurses are very wonderful!)
Dad took a really bad turn for the worst with his heart and lung conditions, and we spend Thanksgiving dinner at the hospital with Mom. So Phil and I, and my kids, were able to spend Thanksgiving dinner with both of my parents for my Dad's last Thanksgiving dinner in this life.
I spent some good quality time with Dad before the rest of my family got to Sandusky, Michigan. And I knew that he was ready to go see Jesus. He made no secret that he didn't want to live like that.
After Christmas, my mom was released to an assisted living home (on Thursday.) My dad was released from a different hospital to the same home, in the same apartment with Mom on Saturday. They were able to spend Saturday, Sunday and on Monday morning he was gone.
He wanted to be with my mom.
I think we were ready to let him go, but we weren't ready for him to go. Are we ever?
I was going to commit to blogging from the very first of the year, but missed the whole first week because I was with my family saying "bye and I love you" to my Dad.
And still longing to hear him say, just one more time, "Love you back."
I intend to blog more this year. Even now, I just feel a little more put together; my head, heart and spirit a bit more straight. I have a few interesting projects in mind, including for my head, my heart and my spirit.
We laid it all out
We made plans
We adjusted plans
We prayed again
Our youngest is going to get the ball rolling and take care of what he has to take care of.
God is good. We’re believing the decision has been led by him and so I’m not going to worry about it anymore. It is done.
Determined to move forward on the new path intentionally, with courage, and to do whatever tasks fall to me.
Years ago Chris and I were involved in a battle in the culture war with the Lakewood School District school board. Lakewood is a very small district located between Arlington and Marysville, Washington. The problem was that the school board was about to approve an AIDS/HIV curriculum written by the state of Washington in which the students were instructed, not only how to have safe sex with a person of the opposite sex, but also how to have safe homosexual sex. The Evangelical parents and the Mormon parents banded together as cobelligerents to convince the school board not to adopt the curriculum. The two faiths may not have the same theology but we were in agreement on the damage that such a curriculum could do to our children.
Now we have faiths of different theologies who have become cobelligerents to fight the heresy of the "prosperity gospel." Paula White is about to pray at Donald Trump's presidential inauguration. Below you will find a link to a Breakpoint commentary where John Stonestreet and Ed Stetzer explain why this is harmful. Click on the link to listen.
By the way--the parents did not win. We moved to another school district.
What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
I don’t know what to do. I’m coming out of my skin right now because so much of me wants to do something, anything. Oddly, most of what I want to do would be a distraction from the decision/problem/heartache/fear we’re looking at. Because about that, there’s not a lot I can do other than offer advice and love and push down, down, down the fear that I feel.
I want to create. I want to dig in. I want to make a difference, to play music, to construct something. I want to push back on the strange feeling of being twenty five in my head and fifty three in my body. I want to do ministry, and to give ministry away, all at the same time.
I passionately want everyone in my family to flourish and thrive. I’m pushing back on the feeling of the unknown, of ticking through every second of twenty seven years of parenting looking, searching, scouring for the reason that not everyone is. It has to be my fault. It’s always the father. But I don’t know the root cause. Maybe I’m blind to it because blindness to obvious things is the root cause.
I know that the future is all we have. I know, I know, usually we say “all we have is the present” but that lasts an infinitesimal slice of time and inexorably leads to the immediate future of the next tenth of a second and all the daisy-chained ticks afterwards. The present doesn’t stand alone – it’s the tail that wags the future’s dog. Choose Carefully.
I am stuck in the not knowing. I’m fighting against fear and the background noise of despair and learning patience in my old, tired, weary soul because while I believe the promise, with all my heart, that all things will one day become as they were intended to be, I know that we are often compelled to wait years or lifetimes for that one day. I’m tired.
I’m writing this because I have to. I’m writing it publicly (not that this will be read, but because it can be read) rather than in a closed journal, because I need to risk.
Lord Jesus I need you. I need my distracted mind calmed. I need to know if it’s OK to just go to bed and pull the covers over my head and rest tonight or do I need to take action? The future has a million different paths. I know the fork we’re standing before only looks dire because of the events of this summer and the awful scourge of this sickness that I hate with the fire of a million suns that has attacked my family. Was I not supposed to protect my family? But how can I fight against an attacker that I can’t see, who always, always sneaks up on me by surprise?
Do I know I would choose the right path?
I don’t know. I’m covered, buried in Not Knowing.
What would have been a simple decision in May now doesn’t look so simple. I don’t know. And it ultimately – if my words are to be believed and I’m to stand true to them – isn’t my decision. And maybe both paths have their merits and ultimately this will be no big deal. If I described the situation to you, you probably would think so. But that’s not how it feels. Perhaps being held over the edge of the cliff so recently has me afraid of heights of any kind.
But listen: God is sovereign.
Lord, this is what you meant when you said we needed to have faith. Faith isn’t believing the Bible to be true, though that’s a good foundational starting point. Faith is believing, leaping, trusting, falling, burrowing into the YOU that your true word speaks of.
It is resting in the not knowing,
knowing that you know.