- Dorothy Sayers
Fr. Alexander Schmemann, especially For the Life of the World.
(“Catholic” includes “Orthodox”, right?)
Question: Other than Merton, who is a Catholic writer every protestant or evangelical should read?
Gold is for the mistress–silver for the maid–
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.
“Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
“But Iron–Cold Iron–is the master of them all.”
~”Cold Iron” by Rudyard Kipling
Grave Images is a nice, scary sort of story for reading in the crisp days (or evenings) of October as we approach Halloween. Twelve year old Bernie’s (short for Bernadette) family owns a grave monument company and they live, of course, next door to the cemetery. When a strange drifter, Mr. Abbott Stein, comes to town, and Bernie’s dad hires him to makes etchings for gravestones, Bernie is full of plans to use the new man’s artistic abilities to help her do something to pull her mother out of the depression that she’s been in ever since the death of Bernie’s baby brother, Thomas.
However, things don’t quite work out the way Bernie has imagined. There’s a touch of middle school romance, very chaste, and more than a bit of murder, mayhem, and horror, including a ghost. Grave Images is not a comedy, and it’s not for younger readers who might be frightened by death and general creepiness.
This was a short middle grade book, only 198 pages, and I would recommend it to readers who want something short but shivery to get them in the mood for Halloween. The book doesn’t glorify the occult, and it does have a good but understated message about the dangers of bitterness, jealousy, and covetousness. If you’re not opposed to ghost stories (think Edgar Allan Poe or Henry James, but for children), then Grave Images will be a spine-chilling treat.
Some of my favorite ghost stories, old and new:
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.
Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
The Summer of Katya by Trevanian.
The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston.
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce.
The Saracen Lamp by Ruth M. Arthur.
Ghost in the Noonday Sun by Sid Fleischman.
The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., #1) by Jonathan Stroud.
The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co., #2) by Jonathan Stroud.
And what are your favorite ghost stories?
Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.
Canada, or at least its institutions were attacked this week. In two separate incidents two soldiers were killed. One of them Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was from my home town and was a friend of a friend. Although my son didn’t know him, they did have a number of mutual friends.
My facebook feed is filled with thought and comments (mostly good) by friends who have been affected by this tragedy. One commented that 10/22 has become Canada’s 9/11. It is the date on which we were attacked within our own country. Another commented that both attackers were known to have a history of mental illness, and that maybe the debate should not be about Canadian security, but about the lack of treatment for mental illness in Canada.
There will be an inevitable over reaction to this over the next days, weeks, months, and possibly years. As for me, I am filled with great sadness over this and similar events.
My grandfather served in the military. So did my father. I have as well, in sister units to the unit of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. I don’t see a military solution. Instead, I long for the return of the Prince of Peace to put an end to all war.
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo leaves behind a young son. I pray for him and for all others who are grieving at this time.
Here's an essay of author Walter M. Miller and his classic apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz. "Along with Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles," "A Canticle for Leibowitz" was one of the first novels to escape from the science-fiction ghetto and become a staple of high-school reading lists."
Within the cathedral of post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature, there ought to be a small sanctum reserved for books produced out of the author's personal experience with cataclysmic events. Other works that fit into this niche include Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five," which was inspired by the writer having witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, and "The Forever War," Joe Haldeman's 1974 novel, which drew directly on his tour of duty in Vietnam.(via Books, Inq.)
Swiss retailer Migros is apologizing profusely over distributing coffee creamers with images of Hitler and Mussolini on the lids. The creamers were designed to resemble cigar bands with the likenesses of many different people, including the two dictators. The company responsible for the designs doesn't see a problem with. Why should it matter if Hitler's face appears on a coffee creamer lid? they said. But Migros said it is an "inexcusable blunder" that should never have been delivered.
If I received one of these as a customer in a restaurant, I'd laugh it off and wonder if I was being poisoned, but if I was a businessman responsible for selling them, I think I'd fire someone.
Casey Cep wrote, "Marilynne Robinson is one of the great religious novelists, not only of our age, but any age. Reading her new novel Lila, one wonders how critics could worry that American fiction has lost its faith, though such worries make one think there might well have been wedding guests at Cana who complained about the shortage of water after witnessing the miracle with wine." (via Alan Jacobs)
C. S. Lewis wrote, "When grave persons express their fear that England is relapsing into Paganism, I am tempted to reply, `Would that she were.'" Because pagans have been shown to be convertible to Christianity, but post-Christians have shown more resistance. Pagans appeal to gods who cannot hear them and suffer for it. Post-Christians still benefit from the God they rejected and believe they have earned all they receive. Lewis wished we could find our spiritual poverty again so that we would see the riches to be found in Christ Jesus.
Today Englishman Bob Davey has taken up saving an abandoned church in Norfolk from local pagans. After cleaning up the church, he worked over the graveyard. "But even after he had driven the Devil from the door, still his acolytes returned. On every Witches' Sabbath - special dates in the Pagan calendar - Mr Davey spent the night camped out in the church, on guard duty." It can get ugly.
Meanwhile, "The Church of England is trying to recruit pagans and spiritual believers as part of a drive to retain congregation numbers."
A sequel to Chainani’s first novel, The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes takes Agatha and Sophie back to the fairy tale world that they worked so hard to escape in the first book. Only this time the questions and dichotomies are multiplying in a dizzying way:
Is Sophie reformed, or is she evil?
Is Agatha good, or is she betraying her friend?
Are princes the real heroes of all the fairy tales?
Are girls the true heroines?
Can a witch become a princess?
Can a prince become an evil slob?
Can Agatha trust Sophie?
Can Sophie trust Agatha?
Can Agatha trust her prince?
Should Agatha kiss Prince Tedros or slay him?
Can girls trust boys? Can girls defeat boys?
Can boys live without girls? Can girls live without boys?
Can boys become girls? Can girls become boys?
How are boys and girls different?
Can male friendships be as close as female friendships?
Is the truest love friendship or romance?
Does a girl have to choose between female friendship and the love of her prince?
If so, which should she choose?
Can there really be a “happily ever after” for everyone?
Is there an ending where no one gets hurt?
What is the right ending?
What is the the true ending?
I’m about three-fourths of the way through Chainani’s version of the fairyland War between the Sexes, and it’s giving me moral and emotional whiplash. I like books that make me think and keep me guessing, but I guess I also like resolution. I can’t see how this book can come to a satisfying resolution, no matter what the author and the characters do with it because the central goal of the author seems to to keep everything in balance, no advantage to either side in any conflict. I’ll return later to let you know how it all came out.
It ended with a sharp division between Good and Evil, but I don’t think this book is one that anyone is going to be very happy about. Mr. Chainani plunked his plot and characters right down in the middle of the culture wars and the gender wars and the battle between good and evil. And somehow the two, good and evil, male and female, are supposed to coexist in infinite tension, with neither good nor evil winning out and with neither male nor female taking the lead, and with neither same-sex friendship nor male/female romance becoming the primary relationship in any person’s life. Gender roles are bent in this book, but never broken, which won’t make either “side” cheer. True love’s kiss wins the day, but not really. It’s a very unsatisfying, post-modern, irresolute kind of ending—or perhaps a non-ending. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another book in the series to make a trilogy, but I also wouldn’t recommend reading it unless you like
Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.
He sits across the table from me as we enjoy our biscuits and gravy. A good ol’ boy, a true Hoosier. He had been a pretty good baseball player when he first met her. But he was rough around the edges and she thought him uncouth. He didn’t know how to eat properly, she said. Still somehow, they fell in love, and she took him in and converted him into a presentable-enough gentleman.
Not that he ever became a white collar guy. He worked for a trucking company his whole life. He tells me he learned a cuss word or three on the job. Now that she is gone, he’s been talking to her and the Lord about that, to see if he could get some help cleaning up his language. A few other things needed forgiving too, though he doesn’t tell me what. He does make a point to say that this time, he wants to say grace before we eat (last time, we got to talking and forgot).
She had been the picture of dignity. Always took care of herself and looked good. She was what they used to call a real “lady.” Talented too. Worked in an executive’s office and kept it running. Played the organ in church and had fine taste in music. Made sure the two of them worked hard and kept a spotless home, a well-groomed lawn and gardens.
But with all her natural strength and grace, she was never snobbish. She too was an Midwest girl, rooted and grounded in the common sense soil of the heartland. She married a ballplayer, a blue-collar guy, linked her life to his and they became inseparable partners. He loved classic cars and they traveled all around the country putting on car shows and hanging out with gearheads. She became an avid sports fan and cheered as loudly and fanatically as he did when they went to games their teams were playing. They traveled around together and camped with the family and went to the casinos and enjoyed a life as regular and down-to-earth as could be.
He and I are having breakfast because now she’s gone. He finds it hard to eat at home without her. After nearly sixty years of sharing every day together, he’s experiencing “alone” for the first time.
“What do you have going today?” I ask him.
He laughs. “Just you,” he says.
So we eat our biscuits and gravy, drink our coffee, and talk about whether the Hoosiers are going to have a good basketball season this year. I console him about the Dodgers, his favorite baseball team, losing in the playoffs. Our banter is mostly sports talk, but I also ask after his children, their families, and he shares bits and pieces of the dramas that are taking place in their lives. They live in other states, but call him every day. He tells me about going to the doctor and other errands he’s been running. A story or two from the past sneaks out every now and again.
At various points in our conversation, things get quiet, and when they do he always comes back to her.
“You know, I talk to her. Every day. That’s not crazy, is it?”
“I’m spending a lot of time working out in the yard. The house is too quiet without her there.”
“I used to cook for her when she worked, and I got pretty good. So I cooked for her when she got sick, but you know, the last while there she just couldn’t eat. I couldn’t either. I’ve lost 30 pounds you know.”
He mentions the funeral service at least a half dozen times. I officiated it, and he can’t say “thank you” enough. He talks about how after they went to make arrangements the first time, she changed her mind and said she didn’t like the casket they picked out. But then she got too sick to go back, so the kids eventually picked out one they knew she’d like, and damn the cost. He tells me about people he wished could have been there at the service, but he remembers the flowers they sent, the cards they wrote, the phone calls they made. It’s clear that day made a real impression on him. It’s etched on his mind like some farewell scene in a movie. He’s been out to the grave a few times, but he doesn’t say much about it.
Somehow, we clear our plates and it’s time to go, me to my work, him to . . . what? I don’t know, and he may not either. The server brings our check and we fight over who’s going to pay, but he grabs it.
“You don’t have to do this with me if you’re too busy,” he says.
“No, I enjoy it. I’ll call you next week,” I reply.
“That would be great. You know, breakfast, lunch, a cup of coffee. I’m free now for most anything.”
“You know I’m praying for you, right?”
“Yeah, I need that.”
“And keep talking to her, okay? She’s not far away.”
“Okay. Thanks. Call me next week?”
“Call you next week.”
Here's a strong example of Jimmy Fallon's great interviewing technique. He's talking with Bradley Cooper about The Elephant Man, a play Cooper says inspired him to become an actor. Watch and learn, friends.
This just in. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has begun to build a center to house it's a extensive collection of documents from the great preacher Charles H. Spurgeon and offer space for lectures and study. They're calling it the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching.
A 1959 essay on creativity by Issac Asimov, that has not been published, has been released by a friend at MIT. In it, Asimov talks about the origin of the theory of evolution, which he says was devised by two men independently, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.
A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.He goes on to say a team hoping to develop great new ideas needs to become comfortable with each other and inspire each other to look forward. (via Prufrock)
Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)
From today’s reading of Matthew 19, Mark 10
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10: 15-16 (ESV)
. . .
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. – Mark 10:21-22 (ESV)
. . .
But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” – Mark 10:31 (ESV)
. . .
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45 (ESV)
. . .
And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. – Mark 10:51-52 (ESV)
Jesus overturns our sense of what makes sense, doesn’t he? The natural self want to grow out of the powerlessness of childhood into the power of well-integrated adulthood. The natural self pursues possessions as a divine right. The natural self see a lot of good in being first in line (who doesn’t love that?). Boss or servant? Which seems more appealing?
Jesus keeps repeating this theme, because we need to have it repeated: pursue dependency on God and simplicity in spirit. Pursue generosity versus things. Pursue service rather than lordship.
Jesus always, always lived what he taught. Though he was God, he did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2). He lived a life marked by absolute dependency upon God. He left heaven and all its riches to become the riches of God toward us. He gave himself to the poor. He associated with and befriended the “lasts” and “leasts”, the ones, like the beggar, blind Bartimaeus, that no one else had time for. They weren’t nuisances to Jesus.
I love the last part of the passage quoted above: And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
Jesus said “go your way”. No-longer-blind Bartimaeus saw his way very clearly; following Jesus. What other way could he choose but to follow the Master who willingly made himself Servant and lavished upon him the riches, the healing, the love of his Father?
An army of sea monkeys. A boy villain named Stacey de Lacey. A nearsighted mermaid. Rambling Isles that walk/swim around the ocean. Sarcastic seaweed. A talking albatross named Mr. Culpepper. And a beach optician. Not in that order.
The author of this stew of ridiculous is the same Phillip Reeve who wrote a dark Arthurian saga called Here Lies Arthur and won the Carnegie Medal for it in 2008. Oliver and the Seawigs is not dark, not Arthurian, and not a saga—and contrary to the series title (yes, there’s a series of at least two books so far), not very possible. But then again, who cares about possible when you’re reading something that reads as if it were an exercise in six impossible things before breakfast?
Ten year old Oliver Crisp is the son of explorers who met on the top of Mount Everest. They’re finally ready to settle down in a house by the sea, having explored all there is to explore, but when they arrive at their house of dreams (for Oliver who’s tired of exploring), there are some new islands in Deepwater Bay just off the coast. Oliver’s parents are compelled by their exploring nature to go explore, but then it’s Oliver who must rescue them when they don’t return in time for supper.
Only 193 pages with lots of pictures, this rollicking adventure would be just the thing to suggest to the third or fourth grader with a silly sense of humor (or one who needs some silly in his life). The next book in the series, Cakes in Space, features Astra and some scary-looking cakes. In a spaceship.
Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.
The skies today in central Indiana were as wild as any I’ve ever seen.
Such contrasts! Here and there, brilliant patches of naked blue broke through a pervasive chaos in the firmament, suggesting some paradise beyond the swirling fury. White, black, and every shade of gray between percolated across heaven’s dome. There was no discernible pattern, just helter skelter as far as the eye could see. A mythic battle ensued overhead all day long while we mere mortals trudged along below.
Where my day was typical for a hospice chaplain.
It started in the hospital, with a visit to a man just admitted to end of life care. I walked into a dark room, filled with family — a daughter, son, grandchildren, great grandchildren. I introduced myself and sat down to talk. The patient was non-responsive, the daughter looked beaten down, and the grandchildren were preoccupied with eating their biscuits and gravy breakfasts. In recent months, the family had lost a grandmother, an aunt, and a mother. Now dad was dying. When I expressed sympathy for their losses, the daughter squinted her eyes and recoiled as though a cold wind had gusted and slapped her in the face.
I did my best to let them know I was available as a friend. What did they hear, I wonder?
As I was starting to leave the hospital, I received a call that another of our patients there had just died. I turned around and went to a different unit. There, two adult daughters were weeping and consoling each other over the loss of their mother, who had just passed after a weeks-long family vigil at the bedside. I asked permission to join them and sat down. This was listening time, and that’s pretty much what I did for awhile. What could I say? I did praise them for keeping faithful company with their mom during her last days, but this was their time to talk.
The visit ended up lasting a couple of hours. I moved in and out of the room, checking on them, giving them some space, doing a few small tasks on their behalf, touching base with the staff, and mostly just waiting. One daughter remarked how quiet it had become in the room, how little there was to do now. Other family members eventually arrived and we gathered around the deathbed where I commended them all into God’s care.
Then I moved on, and they walked out to face the turbulent skies.
On the way to my next visit, the sun began shining brightly, and as I drove through the city I was surrounded by resplendent trees under wide swaths of azure. The dear lady I went to see in her home has the most beautiful white hair, and as she sat in front of the window, the rays shone through and it sparkled like a million tiny diamonds. This woman, in her 90’s, always dresses to the nines whenever members of her care team visit. She loves to entertain, tell stories, and make us laugh. Sometimes she sits with three cats on her lap and one on the back of her chair, looking every bit like the queen of paradise, with her fancy sweaters, glimmering jewelry, and flashing, smiling eyes. I always kneel before her and pray at the end of my visit.
God save the queen.
When I left her home to drive to my next stop, I noticed that the battle in the sky had intensified. The gods had marshaled their forces, the trumpet had sounded and all over heaven the lines were advancing with swords and shields drawn. No peace in sight. With each turn of the steering wheel, another vista of cosmic warfare. Maybe I should take shelter. But I can’t look away.
My day ended with a few mundane activities: a meeting, a cancelled visit, a stop back at the hospital where I found a patient alone and asleep and decided not to disturb him. Time to go home.
All the way to my house I thought about just how fine the line is between ordinary and extraordinary.
Nothing could be more common than what I do. Travel. Greet. Sit. Listen. Converse. Pray. Repeat.
But it all happens under a roiling sky, a cosmic battle, Job’s whirlwind.
Today I saw it. I really saw it.
Sometimes I wonder how any of us makes it home alive.
In the late 1990′s / early 2000′s our Men’s group was studying the Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper book. During the discussion about sexual purity/lust, all the men in the group admitted to an ongoing struggle against lust. Even our oldest class member, in his late 70′s admitted to still struggling with lustful thoughts. Lust continues to affect even Christian men.
Janie Cheaney talks about war in the context of Andrew Peterson's fourth book in The Wingfeather Saga. Do Christian novelists simplify and glorify it? "While most wars are wasteful and pointless, some are not. And ugly and terrifying as it is, battle seems to have an almost primeval appeal, especially to men. It's as if they are called to find out what's in them: savagery or heroism, unspeakable cruelty or self-sacrifice, the best or the worst."
It's a strong desire to live for something large. Perhaps that's how we currently express the eternity God has set in our hearts "yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). That yearning for glory easily yields to the lust of our pride, making our desire to live for something big subservient to a desire to live a self-directed life, and in doing so we end up fighting over selfish things or for unwise causes. Lars' latest novel, Death's Doors, deals with this in that there's a real battle over life and death raging around the characters, but their perspectives are too self-centered to see it for a while.
Chris, I’m having a really hard time with the picture you paint of a super fine line between modesty and shame. I simply cannot find a way to convince myself that this is a difficult balance to walk. And frankly you seem to be describing an anti-fundie/RHE blogosphere created tempest when in fact reality is as simple as sipping tea.
First off, I imagine it is true that there are some groups where female modesty and chastity is so over-taught, that a few females feel shame about their bodies. I can grant you that this probably exists in certain fundie groups.
However, what I observe is a much more simple reality.
- Our culture is sex-saturated.
- Boys and girls need to hear about the beauty of sex in marriage and dangers and sinfulness of sex outside of marriage.
- Boys need to be taught to control themselves.
- Girls need to be taught about the importance of modesty and the reality of how males respond to physical cues from females.
- College girls need to know that going to parties and drinking heavily is ridiculously unwise. And that your dress choice at such parties is also part of being wise in social gatherings. (this opens up a different, but related, topic…)
My daughter and wife have not found this to be difficult. My daughter is careful about modesty and dresses appropriately—albeit sometimes complaining about the limited options. And sometimes telling my wife to make a better choice for herself! And my wife has spent some time helping her understand how males respond to the way she dresses and why that makes her choices even more important.
The other fundie issue you mentioned, alcohol, seems much more filled with shades of grey, as one tries to balance freedom in Christ with potentially frightening side-effects and social ramifications.
Let’s just all hope that none of our daughters end up on a wrecking ball.
Wait, wait. Who said that we should be shaming women for their shape? We should be shaming them for their dress, which is something entirely under their control.
Anyway, The Lost Planet opens with our amnesiac hero recovering from a nasty head wound. He doesn’t know where he is or who he is. However, a somewhat damaged memory chip embedded under his scalp (ouch!) indicates that his name might be “Chase Garrety”. The only thing he remembers, sort of, is a message: “Guide the star.” What does it mean? Who is he really? And is someone trying to kill him?
What in this book reminded me of Star Wars?
*a robot helper/guardian.
*lots of alien species with odd non-humanoid bodies from several different planets.
*travel on a rickety old space ship with a less than trustworthy pilot.
*space smugglers and arms dealers.
*a “who am I” and “who are my parents” mystery.
*a vaporized planet.
*a motley crew of frenemies thrown together by misadventure and running for their lives.
*a “federation” made up of many planets (but that’s more Star Trek, isn’t it?).
On the other hand, Lost Planet is not just a Star Wars knock-off. It’s different enough that fans of that sort of story might very well enjoy it, especially middle grade readers who are looking for science fiction/fantasy with “no kissing” parts. No romance, lots of action, and inter-planetary adventure make this novel just the right read for—well, whom does that description bring to your mind?
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.
(1) If as JesseB says, shame in this area is truly a dichotomy, then shouldn’t the shame be on the men for their lust, rather than on the women for being the shape that God made them?
(2) I can’t help but think that this discussion is colored by the fact that we’re all a bunch of middle-aged men who, if statistics bear out, have all struggled with visual temptation for much of our lives.
Oh and $650K + $200K housing allowance? And “nobody needs to know” it? Lord have mercy.
Everyone has a novel in them, they say. And those works of art or escapism should be published for everyone to read. Apparently, millions and millions of books are being published in the US every year. A small percentage of those books are novels (or fiction novels, as some call them). A very small percentage of the novels published over the last three or four years have depicted the world in chaos as Harry Potter and his friends discover they have been left behind in a uniquely British rapture.
A little under 200,000 people profess to be writers in the US. The rest are too ashamed to admit it. The latter are mostly the ones who participate in library-sponsored parties for NaNoWriMo writers, where anyone can gather with other strangers for a few hours to scribble or type at the first of at least 50,000 words. They will be hear great advice, like this from Chris Baty:
- Jot down the names of your characters to stop a Mike becoming Matt or Mick as you write.
- Eat peppermints: a Nasa-funded study showed the peppermint plant increased alertness by 30 per cent.
- Go outdoors with a newspaper, a pen and a notebook. Close your eyes. When you open them spot 'Your Person' and write down everything about them. Close your eyes. Open your paper on a random page and let your finger choose a spot. Open your eyes. The thing you're pointing to has a link to the person you just collected. Work it into your next chapter.
Many will say, "Just get it written." They may insist, "The story must get out of you." But let these stats depress you. And while you're thinking over your plans for next month's exercise, ask yourself whether your story is worth pursuing.
"Nine times out of ten, your idea is really quite mediocre and has been done before, actually a number of times and in a number of different ways," Laurie Scheer states, but you haven't read those stories. You're just invested in your own. What still lies before you is the biggest challenge for all writers today: whether you want to write or to have written.
Go ahead and write 50,000 words next month, and if you love it enough to keep at it, then keep writing. Words are awesome. If you don't love it, maybe you can organize that library party into a community lacrosse team.
From today’s reading of Luke 17:11 – 18:14
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
The natural human condition, in our fallen state, is one of competition and comparison. The sin of comparison and self-exaltation is a sin that is easy to miss or dismiss in our culture, but it is among the most deadly sins. We live in a society that runs on the fuel of covetousness. Just watch a few minutes of TV and you’ll see what I mean. Every ad screams at you about what you don’t have, what you need that you didn’t know you needed, or what they have that you must have, and that you must not rest until you have it. At the time of this writing there is a Sprint commercial making the rounds that literally features women screaming about getting an iPhone 6 (really, that’s about the extent of the commercial . . . women screaming).
Did you catch the deadly mistake made by the Pharisee above? “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”. An entire prayer, comparing himself to other men. I’m sure the Pharisee would beat me in external holiness. I have no doubt that he was honest, that he was just, faithful to his wife, generous, etc. He was a good guy.
The problem of the Pharisee is one of comparison; the path of least resistance in our natural fallen state is to compare ourselves to others. That’s easy. The comparison that our souls run from in terror is the comparison to God. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” is an exercise in missing the point. Plus it is untrue. This man is like other men; a sinner desperately in need of a Savior. All the external holiness in the world is mere window dressing around the cracked and dirty panes of our lives.
The tax collector chose wisely. His prayer is one of comparison also, but it is a comparison between who he is and who God is. He agrees with God that he is a sinner and appeals to the throne of Mercy.
Turning our eyes upon Jesus results in the abolition of all the silly ideas of topping our fellow men and women in righteousness. That is a game we may “win” in the eyes of the world but that we will ultimately lose when engulfed in the holiness of God. Looking to Jesus will overwhelm us with our need for him, because the more we see him as he is, the more we see our own desperate state. And that is the path toward fulfilling the destiny he has for his children: to become like Jesus.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 (ESV)
I love history because I love romance (by which I mean, not novels by Barbara Cartland, but romantic adventure - swashbuckling and gunplay in long-lost times and distant places). I picked up The Brothers Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf, by William C. Davis, to get some of the facts behind the legend of Jean Laffite and his brother Pierre. I knew what I was getting into, and was already aware of their sordid side, so I read it with interest.
Most of us know the Laffites as "the pirates who helped Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans." And they did that, though they weren't quite as noble as the movies make it seem. They were operating a smuggling operation out of Barataria Island, taking advantage of political instability and the difficulties the US government had enforcing its laws in the newly extended territories of the Louisiana Purchase. When the British fleet sailed in, they seem to have tried to play both sides against the middle (a recurring theme in their story), but the Americans got their hands on them first, so they helped them.
Like most criminals, they never actually got very rich, although they tried to live like it. They seem to have been rather courtly with their (white) prisoners, but at bottom their reality was pretty ignoble. They violated America's ban on importing slaves through a clever manipulation of the law, first importing the miserable captives illegally, then turning them in as contraband and collecting the reward (Jim Bowie partnered with them in this scam). They were also "filibusters," a term which originally referred to adventurers, mostly Americans, who set up bogus "revolutionary republics" in Spanish America and then issued letters of marque giving their acts of piracy a cloak of legality. But the Laffites added a characteristic twist of their own - they informed on their fellow filibusters to the Spanish, for pay.
There's little heroism to find in this story, but what it does offer is a fascinating look into a formative but little-known era of American history. The book is very long, but half of it is footnotes.
From today’s reading of John 11
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” – John 11:17-27 (ESV)
I once went to an evening session at my church featuring a guest speaker who had fashioned an entire study around the basic idea “Mary good. Martha bad”. His talk included a humorous and surly rendition of Martha’s “rebuke” to Jesus: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Throughout his talk he repeated this refrain, “Jesus doesn’t have favorites, but he does have intimates.”
In other words, be Mary, not Martha. This sentiment is based on Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha in Luke 10:41-42; I get it. What I don’t get is how anyone can read John 11 and come away with a negative opinion of Martha.
The beauty of God’s word is that it is written about real people, not paper cut-outs. In this passage, Martha and Mary are both the same. They are both distressed and grieving, and both believe that if Jesus had just come sooner their brother would not have died. When Jesus finally arrives, only Martha goes to him.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
This is not a statement of rebuke. It is a statement of faith. Yes, Martha’s has a more “get-er-done” personality than Mary. Mary is a more contemplative person, Martha tends to practicalities. In Luke 10 Mary chose the better way, seated at the feet of the Master. But keep reading.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
This is what is known as “hitting it out of the park”. It is a statement of faith from someone who knows Jesus, loves him and is loved by him.
I’ll never make fun of or be critical of Martha. Ever. (On a side note, there’s John 11:16 for those of you who think your faith is stronger than Thomas’s).
These people knew and loved Jesus, were known and loved by him, and were changed. The raising of Lazarus from the dead is only the more dramatic and physical sign and wonder demonstrating what Jesus, our compassionate Savior, does for everyone whom he calls.
From today’s reading of Luke 16 – 17:10
And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” – Luke 16:27-31 (ESV)
This is from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
At first blush there’s a tendency to agree with the rich man who is in torment in hades. Surely sending Lazarus to his brothers to warn them would work? But there’s a truth, often repeated in scripture, regarding seeing and hearing, that bears upon this. It is expressed, for example, in the calling of Isaiah:
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
- Isaiah 6:8-10 (ESV)
In our fallenness, we can often hear without hearing, and see without really seeing. If we would but see what God has placed before our eyes, and hear his words, and understand, we would be healed. But the hardness of hearts and the distractions in life and just an inborn force-field to spiritual input leaves us deaf and blind.
This is one reason Jesus healed the blind and deaf during his earthly ministry; to demonstrate the blindness and deafness of those who physically see and hear just fine but who completely miss him.
There is the cry of the agnostic heart: “God, show yourself, and I’ll believe!” To this the Lord responds, “no you won’t.” If we ignore his Word, skeptically deny his work, and continue shutting our ears and covering our eyes to an entire universe declaring his glory, it is doubtful that there’s any great miracle that will sway us. We were designed to see and hear clearly, but we are fallen and broken and our eyes and ears are in need of the healing touch of the Lord. Thank God that Jesus still touches blind eyes and deaf ears and opens us up to the light and music of salvation in him.
According to Michael J. Kruger's review of Professor Peter Enns' new book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, the Bible doesn't tell us anywhere near what we might think it does. Kruger says he always notes the cover endorsements on a new book, and some gave him pause.
But perhaps most illuminating was the inside flap, where the publisher describes the book's purpose: "In The Bible Tells Me So, Enns wants to do for the Bible what Rob Bell did for hell in Love Wins."In the end, Kruger says Enns' book wants it both ways. Discover God in the pages of Scripture while understanding most of what's written there is imaginary and contradictory. Repent and believe in Christ on the cross, but the Bible's morality is untenable and inapplicable to you.
Not until after I read the book in its entirety did I realize how accurate this comparison actually is. Of course, Bell's book (also published by HarperOne) challenged a core historical tenet of the Christian faith, namely the belief that hell is real and people actually will go there. Christianity has just been wrong, Bell argues, and we finally need to be set free from the fear and oppression such a belief causes. Bell positions himself as the liberator of countless Christians who have suffered far too long under such a barbaric belief system.
Likewise, Enns is pushing back against another core historical tenet of the Christian faith: our belief about Scripture-what it is and what it does. The Bible isn't doing what we think it's doing, he argues. It doesn't provide basically reliable historical accounts (instead, it's often filled with myth and rewritten stories). It doesn't provide consistent theological instruction (about, say, the character of God). And it doesn't provide clear teaching about how to live (ethics, morality, Christian living). Although Christians have generally always believed these things about Scripture, Enns contends that scholars now know they simply aren't true. And when Christians try to hold onto such beliefs, it only leads to fear, stress, anxiety, and infighting. Like Bell, Enns is positioned as a liberator able to set believers free from a Bible that just doesn't work the way they want it to.
Mike Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has a new book on the stories we tell and our longing for truth. Here are some quotes of his ideas carried in Christianity Today.
"When people, against their better judgment, find themselves hooked on a show, we can trace the line back to find the hook in their imagination."
"Our most perfect creations-our efforts at playing God- always stumble into the inherent problem of human weakness, creation's unpredictability, and the impending threat of evil."
"If we believe the Bible to be true, we must admit that there is more to this world than we perceive. Powers and persons that we can't see or comprehend are at work, but somehow we intuit them. That intuition works itself out in our imaginations, and we tell stories that try to explain what we feel and comfort us from fear of the shadows."
One of his chapters is entitled "Honey Boo Boo and the Weight of Glory." That's probably worth the price of the book alone.
From today’s reading of Luke 14-15
One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things. – Luke 14:1-6 (ESV)
Scenes like this happen quite a few times in the gospels. There is consternation among the religious leaders because Jesus keeps breaking their sabbath laws. Specifically, he keeps healing people on the sabbath.
They’ve never really dealt with someone like Jesus. They know that what he’s doing is wrong, according to the traditions and fence laws that they have built through the centuries in interpreting “you shall do no work on the sabbath”. But they can’t really say why. As Jesus points out to them, in different circumstances, with someone they care about more like a son or an ox, they would do the exact same thing.
It’s a problem of love. In Jesus they are confronted with a love they don’t understand. For their entire lives, the blind, the lame, the deaf, those who have dropsy or a flow of blood or withered hands were simply living examples of how God punishes sin. Yet here is a man who is willing to take political and religious heat from them, to jeopardize both his own standing and even his own physical safety on behalf of those on the outs who in the past have always stayed on the outs; lame, blind, deaf, withered, bleeding. Here is a man who can’t even wait one day to heal them.
As the passage above states, “they were watching him carefully”. But they were not really seeing. They were missing everything.
Here's an amazing in-the-moment video of an actual writer working his craft!
Aaron Belz offers this snapshot of Marilynne Robinson's America, that land where the least of us can become great by the Lord's grace:
As unpopular as it is, the Calvinist/Puritan doctrine of total depravity shares ground with the philosophes' and founding fathers' view of humans. Read Candide, a violent satire full of rape, bestiality, and murder designed to supplant European aristocratic classism with individualism and equality. Though Voltaire loathed organized religion and outright rejected Calvinism, he depicted the human race in a Pauline way, each misguided soul awaiting a humble revelation of its own worth. And remember that it was Thomas Hobbes, also a philosophe, who famously described human life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."(via Prufrock)
One of our favorite authors, P.G. Wodehouse, was born on this day in 1881. In honor of the day, we link to McSweeney's for a bit of Plum parody from Rhian Jones in "P. G. Wodehouse's American Psycho."
I had, on the morning in question, breakfasted as usual on the old bran muffin and decaffeinated herbal tea before completing a thousand physical jerks and setting off downtown to Pierce & Pierce. Whilst performing my ablutions I'd gained the fleeting impression of there being something distinctly odd about my reflection, as if I wasn't quite there, but I put it down to the previous evening's indulgences at the club and paid it no mind.
Beneath the old six-button double-breasted tailcoat, I was sporting shoes by Susan Warren Bennis Edwards and some frankly tremendous trousers, which allowed me to feel inordinately pleased with myself. This happy state of affairs had of course as much likelihood of lasting as the early grace enjoyed by Milton's Satan. I realised as much upon entering the meeting room, where I beheld my chums engaged in conversation with Paul Owen, a chap whose company I must admit I struggle at the best of times to tolerate.
From today’s reading of Luke 12 – 13
And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9 (ESV)
It’s important when reading parables to do one’s best to decide who the various characters represent. Jesus states in John 15 that his Father is the vinedresser, and I believe the same holds for this parable.
The Vinedresser is, by the way, very, very good at what he does. You get the sense that last sentence, “Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down”, is rhetorical. You can almost hear the unspoken follow-up statement: “But trust me, after I get done with it, it will bear fruit. Because if I can’t make the vine bear fruit, no one can.”
Oh, the patience, the skill, the love of the Vinedresser! And pity, in a way, the poor fruit tree. It does not see the axe set to its roots, and so it may not understand the depth of the Vinedresser’s love as he begins the painful digging, pruning, and manure-ing.
Take heart, good tree. You were made for more than standing complacent and fruitless in the garden of God’s Kingdom. The Vinedresser believes in you when others may see a worthless tree that’s just in the way, sucking up resources. He believes in you because you are his and he knows the plan he has for you. His plan is for you to be just like Jesus. He is committed, ferociously committed and relentless in that goal. In coming to Jesus this is what you have let yourself in for. You will endure what may seem to be merciless pruning, the cutting off of everything about you that doesn’t look like Jesus. There will be painful digging, as your hard foundations are scraped away and good, nutritious, moist and rich soil is brought in to fill the holes and set your roots firm.
And, yes, you are in for some manure. This is how he feeds you and makes you strong. Take heart, because the result of all this will be that you will bear fruit!
That’s what you were made for.
The Vinedresser is very, very good at what he does!
From today’s reading of Luke 10-11, John 10:22-42
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:27-30 (ESV)
My sheep hear my voice
I know them
They follow me
Straightforward truth from the great Shepherd about his sheep. I like to make things complicated, but these good news promises from Jesus are understandable to the simple, to children. He knows me. If I know him I hear his voice and follow him.
Who else would I want to follow? It’s amazing how often in my actions and thoughts I answer that question insanely, substituting something else for Jesus. May it never be! Our Shepherd is strong. He is the giver of eternal life, the holder and protector of his sheep. No one will snatch us out of his hand. No one is able to!
I can’t add anything to that, but can only wonder at it, in thankfulness and awe.
From today’s reading of John 9-10:21
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. – John 9:35-41 (ESV)
There are so many things to love about the events recorded in John 9. The chapter begins with the disciples engaging Jesus in a theological debate about a man born blind; was it the man’s sin, or his parents’ sin, that caused the blindness?
This is a picture of us: they were more interested in the theological ramifications of another man’s misfortune than in the other man. They were also, by the way, completely wrong in their theological conclusions. Good theology is, of course, very important. Their theology of sin and cause/effect wasn’t good theology. It was very bad theology. And as Erwin McManus has pointed out, the man was born blind not deaf, so he had to endure their detached theological musings.
Jesus heals him, and a scandal is born. The man was healed on the Sabbath! In a fascinating exchange that exposes both the religious leader’s arrogant obtuseness and the healed man’s growing sense of frustration leading to justifiable sarcasm and near mockery of them, he is cast out.
This brings us to the passage quoted above. It is interesting to note that most likely the man has not yet seen Jesus, who healed him. Jesus anointed his eyes and told him to go wash in the pool and when he washed he was healed but probably no longer in Jesus’ vicinity.
This adds special poignancy to Jesus encounter with the now-seeing man:
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”
You have seen him! I picture the smile playing on Jesus lips as he says these words. The man had never before in his life heard the words “you have seen” directed at him.
Jesus has come into the world to bring the low high and the high low, to bring sight to the blind and blindness to those who think they see just fine.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. – Matthew 5:8
About 30 inches
We're starting the transition into 12 month clothes. He's still in 9 month pants for the most part, but with his cloth diapers the 12 month stuff fits pretty well
Buster, Bubba, Booger and Crankster (a new addition during vacation).
We're currently trying to get back on track after our vacation last week. He's doing pretty well, especially where naps are concerned! At night he's typically sleeping from 8:30 PM to 7:00 or 8:00 AM with two feedings over the course of the night. Sometime during the next month I'm going to try to drop ALL nighttime feedings... wish me luck!
At this point he's tried pretty much everything that I can think of (that he's allowed to eat). He really prefers to feed himself these days, so I'm having to get creative on finger foods that are nutritious and yummy. Cherrios are a current favorite, as well as vanilla yogurt whenever I sneak him a bite.
Torturing Junebug, pulling up on EVERYTHING, being held by Mama, being tickled by Dada, chewing on straws, riding in his stroller and crawling on his hands and knees (no more army crawling)!
Missing naps, not being able to feed himself, having his face wiped and having his snot sucked. Coincidentally, these are all things I also hate
Crawling on his hands and knees, pulling up on EVERYTHING, finally cutting his first tooth and clapping (it's SUPER CUTE, y'all)! It's been a big month developmentally!
This month has been full of great moments, but finally seeing that first tooth make it's grand debut was definitely one we've been anticipating a long time! It was also pretty precious to see him playing with Macy and Grace for the first time
Traveling with Deacon this last vacation was pretty tough. For some reason he decided he HATED car rides, so we spent a lot of time shhh-ing him and singing songs to calm him down. It will definitely be a little while before Deacon gets to go on anymore vacations...
- Overall he is still such a JOYFUL baby! Vacationing was hard on him, but ever since we got back he has been all smiles, giggles and baby talk. He is such a joy to parent.
- We're starting to get a better sense of his personality these days. Besides being easy going and joyful, he is also mischievous and a little too smart for his own good!
- He has started to say "Mama" and "Dada" pretty regularly, but not usually in the right context. We figured out that "dadadadada" is the noise he makes when he's in a good mood and is feeling talkative and "mamamamama" is the noise he makes when he's tired and/or whiny. I'm trying my best to switch those two so I can get some of those joyful jabbers
- These last few weeks have turned him into a bit of a Mama's boy. While I know this is only a season, I am definitely embracing all the cuddles, sloppy kisses and gummy smiles I can get!
I took my first vocational ministry position the summer I graduated high school (1994), becoming the youth minister for Zion Chinese Baptist Church. (You read that right.) In the twenty years since, I’ve heard a lot of good words on ministry and ministry life, and while a lot has been good, a few choice bits of wisdom have stuck with me since I heard them and have proven truer and truer over the years. Here are just five.
1. “The core you start with isn’t the core you finish with.” – Bill Hybels
Hybels did not say this to me personally, but he said it in a workshop at the 1996 Willow Creek Church Leadership Conference. I don’t know why it stuck with me then — I was a youth pastor at a Willow model church, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of church planting or anything then. I’ve sifted out a lot I’ve heard from the church growth guys, but this one I’ve kept and it’s pretty true, in a variety of ways. I’ve had guys I was close with, been on leadership teams and in the trenches with, decide the whole “living a Christian life thing” wasn’t for them. You’re biggest fans can turn into your biggest critics, and often do. Mainly because they are your biggest fans because there’s some kind of idolatry they’re getting out of you, seeing you as a functional savior in some way. And then you disappoint them and BOOM: it’s all over. But even if nobody turns on you or falls out with you, the longer you go in ministry, you see the seasons of life and the growth of a church or ministry takes the rose-colored glasses off of “doing ministry” with the same people forever. Some people get to do that. Most don’t. The core you start with is not the core you finish with.
2. “You must renounce comfort as the chief value of your life.” – Mike Ayers
Mike was my first pastoral mentor, the guy whose ministry actually kept my wife and I sane and in ministry after I’d had a bad experience at a previous church that almost made me give up church altogether. He was the first guy to really take me under his wing and trust me and empower me and take me seriously, even as a young punk. I served as a youth minister at his church and learned a lot, especially about loving the lost and building relationships. Mike and his family have been through a lot themselves, so when I heard him say this line in a sermon, I knew it came from a place of authenticity. It stuck with me. And it’s exceptionally important for all Christians, including pastors, who can get too comfortable with praise and growth and too despondent with criticism and conflict.
3. “Whatever your elders are, your church will become.” – Ray Ortlund
It’s no news to regular readers that Ray is my Yoda. I don’t remember the context of him saying this, but I remember him saying it and I took it to heart. When we went about establishing elders at Middletown, I remembered this sound word of wisdom. So I looked not just for guys who met the biblical requirements for eldership, as high a bar as that is, I also tried to get guys with different personality types and outlooks and perspectives on theological non-essentials. But I also became a stickler for the biblical qualifications that many churches seem to gloss over — long-temperedness, gentleness, good public reputations, etc. If my church is going to be come like the leadership that is modeled for them, I wanted conformity on the biblical qualifications and orthodoxy but high maturity and as much diversity as possible otherwise.
4. “Don’t say something about someone you won’t say to them.” – Andy Stanley
I heard this in a Stanley teaching series called “Life Rules,” which with only a few caveats I recommend. I’ve used it numerous times. As with Hybels, I don’t resonate with a whole lot Stanley says, but this word of advice has stuck with me and I’ve used it with great fruitfulness. In Christian community and in pastoral ministry, the opportunities for gossip and other relational sins are practically infinite. I am a great sinner who screws up a lot, but I’ve tried to maintain this rule for how I talk about people. If I have a problem with someone, I either swallow it or I take it to them. If I’m not willing or able to do that, I certainly can’t talk about it with others. There’s so much crooked speech in the church, it’s ridiculous. Stanley’s advice is good for keeping the lines straight and the accounts current.
5. “You don’t just wipe away the web; you’ve got to crush the spider.” – Steven Taylor
Pastor Steve was one of my pastors when I was a kid. I think I was in the ninth grade when he said this in a sermon at Sandia Baptist Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I confess I have forgotten a lot of what he preached, but this line hooked into my brain and got me. For a kid with a tender conscience and struggling with lust, my eyes were opened to how I ought to approach the war on the flesh. Pastor Steve said you don’t just wipe away the effects of sin; you’ve got to be “extreme,” go to the source of temptation. In my adolescent way of thinking at the time, I went home and took the TV set out of my room. Since then, I’ve been able to apply this principle to even deeper actions of spiritual warfare, looking to the idolatrous roots of my behavioral sins as often as I can. But the advice is still good. Don’t just wipe away the web; crush the spider.
From today’s reading of John 7-8
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. – John 7:37-39 (ESV)
The last day of the feast – the great day! – Jesus stands and delivers the great invitation. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
Does anyone not thirst? In our fallenness we are a thirsty people. To my shame, I often foolishly run after all sorts of things that aren’t Jesus to fulfill my thirst. Yet Jesus is the only one who can quench it. Jesus gives me the Spirit, making alive the dead and the dry in me, satisfying the thirst that is endemic to fallen humanity, the thirst arising from long, long years as orphans, away from the garden, away from our Father.
Jesus says something here that, if you peer into it, is quite curious. “Let him come to me and drink” is followed by this promise, for whoever drinks: “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
We rarely think about what happens after we drink. I’m thirsty, I drink a glass of water, and I’m no longer thirsty. So far so good, but drinking that glass of water does not make me a source of water. Yet drinking of Jesus is an in and out phenomenon. We drink, and are filled, and overflow in rivers (not trickles – rivers!) of living water.
Such is the Spirit. The Spirit knows nothing of temporary, solitary satisfaction. He is about filling beyond the brim, overflow, multiplication, abundance! Hold out a thimble and prepare to be drenched with gallons! Cracked ground becomes dark, rich fertile soil. Fruit emerges from the once-hopeless vine, green shoots push up from the soil. A parched, shriveled heart becomes full, healthy, beating out the rhythms of life in the Spirit. The Lord of life who can bring water out of a rock turns each of his followers into a spring of rivers. When we’re drinking deeply of the Spirit, strike us and more water will pour out. The invitation to the thirsty is daily called out from those flowing with this river of life – come and drink!
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3 (ESV)
Yesterday morning I undertook the difficult task of resigning the pastorate of Middletown Springs Community Church. The last five years have been a tremendous joy to me and my family, and making that announcement was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
I shared with my congregation that the sense of discontent I’d been feeling for more than a year had become gradually clearer and clearer to me as a matter of personal deficiency. This is always hard to admit. When I first began feeling overwhelmed, overburdened, over-tired, I simply assumed we were in a difficult ministry season. And we were. We still are. Our church has been through some tremendous suffering over the last couple of years, and with the growth we’ve experienced, new challenges and a higher pace of ministry with heavier demands have compounded the intense sorrow we’ve all been walking through.
But I eventually realized the problem was much deeper than that. It wasn’t entirely out there. It was in here. The truth is that I reached my capacity in leading the church well. I’d come to believe that I’d brought the church as far as my gifts would allow. Now, nobody else was saying that. But I knew it was true. And I didn’t know what to do with it.
I am not one to run. Especially since things have been going so well on the growth front. We have more than tripled in attendance the last five years, but even more importantly, we have seen an increase in souls saved by Christ and baptized, in young families and mature leaders moving to our area to join us on mission, and in forward-thinking vision, culminating largely in our efforts to plant a church in downtown Rutland, Vermont. So there’s nothing to run from, really. Nobody’s mad at me. There’s no conflict pushing me out or great sin disqualifying me. There’s just me. There’s just me realizing, “I don’t think I’m the right guy for what comes next.” It’s as if God has led me to the brink of the promised land and said, “You can’t go in.”
And while I was praying that God would change his mind — or just show me how to manage in the meantime — Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary called me. I was not looking to leave Vermont. I was not sending out resumes. I had been offered jobs before and have always flatly said “no” without thinking. But this time, I listened. I needed to. And the call was no less visionary, no less mission-minded, no less gospel-centered than my call to Middletown Springs. When I learned more about the seminary’s plan to engage, equip, and encourage local church pastors, something stirred in me. Something clicked in place, as if the tricky combination in my heart had finally landed on that last digit. I see clearly that a door has opened to a new season of serving the church with more intensity and a greater fit.
In March, we will be moving to Kansas City so that I may serve full-time at Midwestern Seminary and College as the Managing Editor of Resources and Director of Communications. There I will be leading a team of creatives and writers passionate about telling Midwestern’s story and developing ministry resources for the church. I am thrilled about this transition, because I share Midwestern’s love for the pastors who love their churches. They are the faithful, patient, unsung heroes in our day, and I am excited to serve them — as well as the young men who are becoming them.
I will continue to write and travel, speak and preach. We will seek out a local church to call home, a place to worship together as a family and to serve as the Lord leads, to be fed as I have fed. Lord willing, after some time, I would love to submit to some smaller role as shepherd according to my capacity. I do believe that is God’s calling on my life. At this time, he is asking me to answer it in contributing to the growing ministry of Midwestern. (We will be releasing some major projects in the months ahead, so stay tuned.) If my work has blessed you in any way over the last few years, I ask that you’d pray for my wife and daughters, for me, and for the seminary, that through this work God’s Son would be made more visible in the world and trusted as saving and satisfying.
And please pray for my church. Like my family, they are deeply saddened about this parting. Many in the congregation are shocked, confused. And as we all process this bittersweet transition together, I am planning over the next five months to continue pointing them to Christ with all the energy God works within me. Middletown Springs Community Church is unlike any church I’ve ever been privileged to call family. It has been an exceeding joy to be their shepherd for this relatively short time. They are, in the good sense, as Paul says, “my boast.” I will miss them terribly, because I love them with my guts. And because they have loved me and my family in the same way.
But they will be better than great after I’ve left. I am not taking the gospel with me! It is too hidden in their hearts. And I leave them, by God’s grace, spiritually healthier and more fixed on Christ’s finished work than I found them. I envy the man who has the honor to hold their hands and point them to Christ next. He will not be worthy of them. But he will be more worthy than me, which is what they need. And I’m grateful and honored that they have asked me to lead the process in finding that man.
When I finished my announcement yesterday morning, I began my planned exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. It’s important stuff. Sometimes I am a planter, other times a waterer, but all the time I am “not anything” (v.7). Middletown Church is “God’s field, God’s building” (v.9). I am learning with my flock and through them, by the Spirit’s power, how to point them to Jesus and get myself the heck out of the way. I hope God always grants me the grace to do that.
Christ the Lord is everything.
From today’s reading of Matthew 18
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:5-6 (ESV)
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” – Matthew 18:12-14 (ESV)
Jesus is relentless love.
He stands against church growth strategies that treat people like numbers. When someone falls away, he pursues them and calls us to do the same. The idea of leaving ninety-nine to pursue one doesn’t make mathematical sense to us, but it makes sense to him. Oh to fully grasp the beautiful, redemptive mathematics of Heaven.
I can hardly put into words the impact this passage has on me. I have failed to pursue the one so often. I have passively sat back when observing others making the same mistake, rather than speaking exhortation to them and offering to run alongside with them in the pursuit of our lost sheep. I have given up on people, content to remain with the ninety-nine, then the ninety-eight, then the ninety-seven . . .
Without even trying I can think of a dozen young people who desperately need to be reclaimed. In light of that, I can’t really do justice to the scripture quoted above with lame words in a blog post and belated lamentations.
I do know this: it is difficult, frustrating, lonely work to search for the one, to try to bring them back when they themselves would rather be lost. That’s one reason so few of us do it. But it is the will of the Father that none of these little ones should perish. Jesus is relentless love.
May my love be relentless too. Enough said and amen.
I am my mother’s daughter
In all the ways that matter
Not the eyes and the mouth
But all the history
In the demons that have fought her
And the angels in her laughter
In the rains that headed south
Through all her misery
Well, they are mine and locked away inside my chest of hope
Tied together with a coil of exhausted rope
In the morning I will open all my drawers to find the keys
To break this chain of sorrow from me
She’s been beaten like a boxer
By the folks who said they loved her
Not by will or intent
But by passivity
In the ruins of her father
And the settling of her mother
All her joy has been spent
By her infinity
It’s a prodigal and potent way to slowly learn to breathe
While you’re drowning in a life that will not let you grieve
In the evening I will lie awake in wooliness and wonder
What could break that chain of sorrow from her
And pride is a difficult habit to break
But in the end it’ll only just take
All the life right out of life
All the hope right out of sorrow
And happiness is a hard memory to make
When your love is nothing but hypothesis and dream
I am a shattered mirror
I am an iron hammer
I crack with the weight
Of what I cannot fix
And caught in all the furor
Of my self-righteous manner
My city’s open gate
Turned into broken bricks
And a city on a hill can be full of lonely ghosts
So I turn my bleeding ears to listen for the Lord of hosts
In the darkest depths of night will I find someone to trust
Who could break this chain of sorrow from us
“[G]entleness is essential to Christian living. It is not an add-on. It is . . . one of the few indisputable evidences of the Holy Spirit alive and well within someone. Gentleness is not just for some Christians, those wired in a certain way. It cannot merely be an inherent character trait, a result of personality or genetic predisposition, because it is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Looked at another way, nowhere in the New Testament’s lists of spiritual gifts is gentleness identified as one such gift. It is not a gift of the Spirit for a few. It is the fruit of the Spirit for all. To be gentle is to become who we were meant to be; that is, to return to who we once were, in Eden.”
– Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway), 91.
After the shameful way Abram comes off in Genesis 12 — going into self-protection mode, trying to control the situation, putting his wife in danger by passing her off as his sister — he certainly comes off brilliantly in Genesis 13. Perhaps newly chastened, he is ready in this moment to trust in God’s sovereignty.
Something has been going on between Abram and his nephew Lot. They’ve both got lots of land but apparently it’s not big enough for the both of them. Some kind of conflict has arisen in the mix of their parallel prosperity. But Abram seeks the better way; he’s realized what is happening. Their “stuff” is coming between them and he does something remarkable:
Abram says to Lot: “Hey, take your pick. Whatever you want, you can have. Take whatever looks good to you, and I’ll take the rest, whatever’s leftover. If you want east, I’ll take west. If you want west, I’ll take east. No big whoop.”
What’s Abram doing? He’s giving Lot first choice, but really he’s giving God first choice. He’s abandoning himself to God’s sovereignty. “God, take me wherever you want. I’ve tried doing this my own way; I’ve tried controlling things. I’ve tried manipulating the situation; I’ve tried getting everything. And I know this is an offense against you.” So he goes back to the first altar, reaffirms his commitment, cries out to God and says, “Take me where you will.”
This means giving Lot first dibs and taking the scraps. And then look at what God does:
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”
Abram gave up and God gave him everything!
He said “I’ll take east, or I’ll take west. Whichever.” And God says, “How about — ALL OF IT?”
This is another dynamic we see throughout all of Scripture.
Mark 10:31 “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Matthew 23:12 “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
1 Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,”
And probably the two most applicable to this passage:
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Matt. 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Abram meekly said “Whatever you want,” and God gave him the earth. It’s like, he gave up his seat on the bus, and God gave him the keys.
When we’re going around stuffing ourselves with every pleasure and desire we can get our hands on, it’s because ultimately we’re looking for God. And so none of it satisfies. But when we finally turn our gaze to God and say “I only want you” — we get him.
But isn’t this where we run into trouble? Because we can’t quite get ourselves empty, can we? I mean, can you pray for five minutes without thinking of that funny thing you saw on Facebook? Can you read your Bible for very long without getting distracted about that deadline at work?
Abram looks great right here. But we’re only three chapters away from his trying to manipulate the situation and control the covenant with his own scheming all over again!
It’s impossible for us to empty ourselves because we’re constantly so full of ourselves.
None of us can give up everything. Before Christ, we are sinners — dead and full of utter need. But even after Christ has justified us, until he comes back to vanquish sin finally and fully, we still wrestle with our sin. We are sinner-saints. So some days we’re the Abram of Genesis 13 but most days we’re the Abram of Genesis 12.
If we’re looking at this principle that to give up everything gains everything and emptying is the way to exalting, we are on the right track but we can never arrive in and of ourselves. In ourselves, we never quite give up everything. In ourselves, we will never truly become empty.
And now we see just how much we need Jesus. We need the Jesus who loves us in our Genesis 13 moments and our Genesis 12 moments. We need the Jesus whose favor rests on us purely by the grace of his Father and the power of his Spirit – not because of anything we’ve done or not done – purely by his sovereign pleasure. We need the Jesus who can sort through our mixed motives, who can heal our deepest wounds, who can free us from our strongest prisons, who can rescue us from our deepest graves, the ones we dig ourselves.
Only Jesus has truly given up everything in order to gain everything. Only Jesus has truly emptied himself (Phil. 2:6-11). And in his emptying, comes his exalting. In his emptying and exalting, comes our own.
So there was a time that Jesus was in the midst of the wilderness, and he was hungry and weary and the devil took him by the shoulder and showed him the vast multitudes of glorious cities in the valley below and said to him, “Look, Jesus, there doesn’t need to be conflict between us. There’s plenty for everyone. Look east and west. Look at all the beautiful riches out there just waiting for you. Why don’t you take your pick? You can have it all.”
And where Abram said to Lot, “there’s plenty of room for both of us,” Jesus instead turns to Satan and says, “You know, there’s not enough room in this world for both of us. So you’re going to have to leave.”
And I picture Satan beginning to tremble. Suddenly that vast desert didn’t seem so big. Suddenly he felt invisible walls closing in around him. Suddenly he realized the tables had turned. Jesus was not his prey; he was Jesus’!
No, the Son of God says to that ancient enemy and to sin itself, “The cosmos is not big enough for both of us, because I am filling all things. I am the omnipotent God, and my glory will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. So evil’s days are numbered.”
So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord
— Genesis 13:18
I’ve been quoting this, and since it’s now PAGES back, I want it posted here so I can find it quickly:
To the Progressive Socialist Totalitarian Left, Christianity is a threat to the primacy of the State. The Totalitarian Left believes the Authority of the State must be absolute, because the left can control all the apparatuses of the State and impose their moral beliefs on the population. For example, the belief that unborn children can be sacrificed in the name of personal convenience and the sick and elderly can be sacrificed to save the State money. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that there is a Higher Moral Authority than the State; and that the conscience of the individual… not the Collective Will as embodied in the State and its organs.
It isn’t necessarily because of Gay Marriage, per se, but Gay Marriage is a cudgel that the left can use against Christianity; forcing Christians to bow to the State (e.g. being forced to participate in gay weddings as bakers, photographers, and florists). The ultimate goal is to eradicate Christianity and its tenet that each individual has a conscience and a moral imperative.
Win a T-shirt and book from 20 Schemes:
There is one thing that the churches experiencing historic revival have in common: they seemed overrun with the sense of the glory of God. They preached the gospel and the response was, as some describe, that “glory came down.”
Now that’s not something you can schedule. You can’t advertise it on the church signboard: “Every Sunday: Glory comes down.” But it is something we can aim for, yearn for, cast a vision for, desire, crave, proclaim. You can’t program the glory, but you can plead for it.
See, nobody ever said, “We changed our music style and revival broke out.”
Nobody ever said, “We moved from Sunday School classes to small groups and the glory of God came down.”
Nobody ever said, “You would not believe the repenting unto holiness that happened when our pastor started preaching shorter sermons.”
(I’m just sayin’.)
No, all those things and more can be good things. Done for the right reasons, those can be very good moves to make, but the glory of God is best heard in the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s where the glory-aimed church is going to camp out.
We all talk a big game about the glory of God, but it is a rare church that takes God’s glory seriously as the purpose of everything.
I preached on the servant-hearted harmony and burden-bearing of Romans 15 to my church last Sunday, and one point I stressed is that we aren’t to strive for these things in order to become an impressive church. The exhortations of Paul in Romans 15:1-5 are there so “that together,” verse 6 reads, “you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I cast the vision over to Ephesians 1. Why has he blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places? Why has he chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him? Why has he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will? Ephesians 1:6: “For the praise of his glorious grace.”
I took them to 1 Peter 2:9. Why did he make us a chosen race? Why did he make us a royal priesthood? Why did he makes us a holy nation? Why did he call us a people for his own possession? “That we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Over and over again, from Old Testament through New, we learn the foundational truth echoed by the Westminster divines, that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We make realized the 5th of the Reformational solas: Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone be the glory.”
A gospel-centered church makes that not just a spiritual slogan but her spiritual blood. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the nicest church in town. That’d be nice. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the most popular church in town. That’d be cool. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the smartest church in town. That’d be okay.
No, a gospel-centered church doesn’t aim to be the anything-est church in town because it’s not comparing itself to other churches, but to the holiness of God, which will shrink the church down to size in its own estimation and make her hunger for the holiness that only comes from the riches of Christ in the gospel. A gospel-centered church aims to be a gospel-proclaiming church in town. Because that would be glorious.
A gospel-centered church is okay with its own decreasing — in reputation, in acclaim, in legacy, even in (gasp) numbers, but especially in self-regard — so long as it serves the increasing of the sense of the glory of God.
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7
No, Victoria Osteen is not exactly right when she says we ought to do good for ourselves instead of for God, but neither is she totally wrong. She’s derailed and in the ditch, but the right track is in eyesight.
Osteen is not totally wrong, because walking with God is a — let the reader understand — happy thing. It’s a different kind of happy, to be sure. But it’s a happy thing nonetheless. Not happy-go-lucky. Not happy in moments or gifts. But happy in the Sovereign, in the Giver. George Whitefield preaches:
“As it is an honorable, so it is a pleasing thing, to walk with God. The wisest of men has told us, that ‘wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace’. And I remember pious Mr. Henry, when he was about to expire, said to a friend, ‘You have heard many men’s dying words, and these are mine: A life spent in communion with God, is the pleasantest life in the world’. I am sure I can set to my seal that this is true. Indeed, I have been listed under Jesus’ banner only for a few years; but I have enjoyed more solid pleasure in one moment’s communion with my god, than I should or could have enjoyed in the ways of sin, though I had continued to have gone on in them for thousands of years. And may I not appeal to all you that fear and walk with God, for the truth of this? Has not one day in the Lord’s courts been better to you than a thousand? In keeping God’s commandments, have you not found a present, and very great reward? Has not his word been sweeter to you than the honey or the honeycomb? O what have you felt, when, Jacob-like, you have been wrestling with your God? Has not Jesus often met you when meditating in the fields, and been made known to you over and over again in breaking of bread? Has not the Holy Ghost frequently shed the divine love abroad in your hearts abundantly, and filled you with joy unspeakable, even joy that is full of glory? I know you will answer all these questions in the affirmative, and freely acknowledge the yoke of Christ to be easy, and his burden light; or (to use the words of one of our collects), ‘His service is perfect freedom’. And what need we then any further motive to excite us to walk with God?” (Whitefield, Walking with God)
The gospel cannot puff us up. It cannot make us prideful. It cannot make us selfish. It cannot make us arrogant. It cannot make us rude. It cannot make us gossipy. It cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, and it stands to reason, the less we would see those things antithetical to it.
You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear.
It works out this way individually. The most gracious people you and I know are people who have had an experience of grace and fixate on grace. The least gracious people we know are people who may know about grace academically, “theologically,” but don’t seem the least bit changed by it and really have a fixation on the law. They have an inordinate fixation on who did what wrong and what they deserve.
The same dynamic takes place in churches. Where grace and law are taught academically but law is “felt” as the operating system of the church, you will likely have a stifling, gossipy, burdensome environment. Where grace and law are taught theologically but grace is felt as the operating system of the church, you will see people begin to flourish, breathe. (You’ll also attract more sinners, which is where religious people start getting a little antsy.)
But the message of grace made preeminent will generate an atmosphere of grace.
This is why the harmony with each other of Romans 15:5 is “in accord with Jesus Christ.” It’s not predicated on having a bunch of stuff in common. It’s not predicated on common race or social class. It’s not predicated on a common special interest or political cause. It’s not predicated on all being theology nerds, liking the same authors, being Reformed or Arminian or somewhere in between. It’s not predicated on all being Republicans or Democrats. It’s not predicated on all being for social justice. It’s not predicated on all being homeschoolers or public schoolers. It’s not predicated on music styles or preaching styles or anything like that. All of that sort of commonality produces a very fragile harmony.
It is instead predicated on our common Savior, Jesus Christ, compared to whom we are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and from whom we have all received grace upon grace. It’s impossible to bask in the glorious grace of Jesus Christ and at the same time toot your own horn. So the more that we together focus on the gospel of Jesus, the more together we will walk in accordance with him and therefore in harmony with one another. “Gospel doctrine,” our friend Ray Ortlund says, “creates a gospel culture.”
“I really do have love to give! I just don’t know where to put it!” –Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, played by William H. Macy, Magnolia
I used to think that I was
An empty jar
With my face turned upward
To wait for the sweetest wine
To fill me up and quench my thirst
But now I know
That I have been filled up
With water and carried to the desert
To give life to thirsty travelers
On their way to another country
And they will pour me out
Into cups and troughs
But they will keep dipping me
Into the coolest wells
They will wrap me up
So I will not break
And little did I know
That these were wandering princes
And high-born ladies
That this poor clay jar
Has the privilege to love
(This is a response to and a ruminating upon this article. I recommend it highly.)