- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest
"Your words are so foolishly and ignorantly composed that I cannot believe you understand them."
The Luther Insult Generator may be found here. Hours of innocent fun for you and your family.
Looks like that church in Seattle we aren’t supposed to talk about is going to close after cutting loose all its satellites. So ends a tragic tale.
Justin Taylor quotes J.I. Packer on how great and necessary reading Calvin's Institutes is for modern believers.
Packer explains that Calvin's magnum opus is one of the great wonders of the world:
Calvin's Institutes (5th edition, 1559) is one of the wonders of the literary world-the world, that is, of writers and writing, of digesting and arranging heaps of diverse materials, of skillful proportioning and gripping presentation; the world . . . of the Idea, the Word, and the Power. . . .
The Institutio is also one of the wonders of the spiritual world-the world of doxology and devotion, of discipleship and discipline, of Word-through-Spirit illumination and transformation of individuals, of the Christ-centered mind and the Christ-honoring heart. . . .
Calvin's Institutio is one of the wonders of the theological world, too-that is, the world of truth, faithfulness, and coherence in the mind regarding God; of combat, regrettable but inescapable, with intellectual insufficiency and error in believers and unbelievers alike; and of vision, valuation, and vindication of God as he presents himself through his Word to our fallen and disordered minds. . . .
Two pastors are celebrating the legacy they see in the Reformation. Tony Carter notes that one principle of the Reformers was universal literacy.
"The will of God is first and foremost a written revelation and if we are going to faithfully seek and understand his will we are going to have to be readers of God's word. Luther's translation of the Bible into the language of the people was key in making sure the Reformation would continue past his generation."
So for people who are reluctant to read well and have been denied education in the past, the Reformers are their champions. They say, "You are the chosen people of the book. Take up God's Holy Word and read it yourself, because in the Word is abundant life no matter your circumstances."
Louis Love talks about the church of his youth buying new hymnals that came with responsive reading, creeds, and a confession. His pastor began incorporating new, doctrine-based elements into their worship, and Love was surprised to learn this new material was from the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833. They were learning from old ministers who had been discipled in Reformation theology.
"Be not ashamed of your faith," he quotes another pastor. "Remember it is the ancient gospel of the martyrs, confessors, reformers, and saints. Above all, it is the truth of God, against which all the gates of Hell cannot prevail."
Philip Duncanson shares a personal story of his discovery of Reformation history as a high-school boy who had yet to surrender to Christ, despite growing up in a Christian home. "It wasn't the courage of Martin Luther to stand up against the powerful Catholic Church that fascinated me, although that was good drama. It was the fact that for the first time I realized that the Christian experience that I thought I had known all my life was actually tied to human history. Imagine that, at 15, Christianity was a concept that I had only tied to my generation, and at best, my parent's generation."
This final book in the Chronicles of Egg trilogy begins as Egg has just been saved from death by hanging by his uncle, the pirate Burn Healy. The first chapter begins with three problems: the ship is sinking, other pirates are out to kill them, and the ship’s crew is giving Egg and his friends murderous looks and muttered threats as they look for a way to get rid of him.
The book just gets better and better from that fine start. There’s a sea battle, so well described that I read every word, instead of skimming the fighting part, as I usually do, to get to the end and find out who won and who lost. Mr. Rodkey writes his characters, especially Egg, and his action scenes with a deft hand, including humor, emotion, and vivid description incorporated into the fast-moving story.
You certainly can’t fault the book for a lack of action or for starting out slowly. The action is relentless and absorbing, and it doesn’t come at the expense of character development. Egg began the series in the book Deadweather and Sunrise as a naive and victimized boy, and in this third book his philosophy of life and his rationale for decision-making are both much more sophisticated. And yet he still has a lot to learn.
The setting is South Pacific islands-ish, perhaps Caribbean, but with mythical islands in an imaginary world. The volcano, the pirates roaming the seas, tropical fruits, religious details, and some of the names (Mata Kalun, Moku, Okalu, etc.) made me think more of the South Pacific. The religion that’s incorporated into the story is particularly interesting to me. Egg’s native friend, Kira, prays to and worships the sun god, Ka. The “settlers” with more British names use the word “Savior” as a sort of swear word or curse (“Oh, Savior’s sake!” and “the Savior as my witness . . .”), but it’s never clear in this book what “savior” they’re talking about. Burn Healy lives by the Pirate Code, a set of rules for an honor culture, that Burn made up himself and had all of his crew sign. He does, that is, until he doesn’t, more on that later.
Egg doesn’t pray to Ka, although he’s glad that Kira does. He hasn’t signed the Code. And he doesn’t seem to have any other religious background or belief. So, Egg is the proverbial seeker, open to truth wherever he can find it, somewhat disillusioned by his recent experiences, but wanting to do what is right and good. So, the search starts with Egg’s Uncle Burn, who has already violated his own Pirate Code by saving Egg’s life, telling him that the world can’t be divided into good and evil, that everyone and everything is “grey”, mostly evil. Egg later decides that the only men on the Blue Sea are “bad and worse.”
But Egg keeps trying to figure out and do what’s right. The Pirate’s Code is not sufficient to inform his actions, but he still wants to be “honorable”. He becomes involved in a project to free the slaves in the silver mines, because slavery is wrong. His uncle tells him, “So are a million other things in this world. You can’t right them all.” Egg persists because he wants to prove himself worthy of the sacrifices others have made in his behalf.
Then, about halfway through the book, Egg and his friends are translating a treasure map with an inscription that comes to the crux of the matter. In part it says: “This we swear as truth: the man who seeks rescue from the gods will die in bitterness. Neither Ka, nor Ma, will save him. The only savior of man is man.”
So, Egg knows he’s on his own, with only his friends to help him, maybe, and yet he carries on. Egg becomes his own savior. He and his friends save the slaves from the silver mine, and they save the people that the the pirates have captured and planned to kill, and he destroys the evil, nefarious villain of the story with a lot of fortitude and a handy trick. Seemingly, the only savior of Egg is Egg himself.
And yet . . . on page 332 Egg is “praying” for his brother Adonis. A figure of speech? Perhaps. But then, as the action winds down, and Egg is almost safe and victorious, but not quite, this interesting thought comes to him:
“I’d seen more than my share of trouble, and when the eruption blotted out the sun, my body finally decided enough was enough, and that it was time to check out for a while and not come back until somebody else had fixed things, or at least swept up some of that ash.”
Finally, at the end of the book, Egg says, “The future felt like a math problem I couldn’t solve.” Maybe, even though this series is over, Egg has even more to learn about Somebody Else who saves and who solves when human efforts are not sufficient.
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 Lord’s prayer is familiar to all of us. Many of us have said it a thousand times or more. I don’t know if you have ever heard a sermon on the Lord’s prayer, or looked at it in a bible study or small group, but there is an incredible amount of richness packed into a few short verses. The sentence that I was reminded of this week was: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Did you realize that there is the underlying assumption express here that God leads us into temptation. Jesus is the speaker, and it parallels his experiences in the early part of his ministry. Perhaps the following was what Jesus was thinking about when he taught this prayer.
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. – Mark 1: 12-13
Michael Spencer once wrote:
The most striking thing about this passage is the verb ekballo used by Mark to indicate how the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. Mark uses this verb 17 times, often in the context of exorcisms. The force of the verb is not captured by the NIV’s “sent”. Better is the NASB “impelled.” We are not to think that Jesus is reluctant to experience this chapter of his life, but to see the strong hand of the Spirit leading Jesus in his ministry. The Spirit of the Lord is truly “upon” him and we read of similar strong directions by the Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments. John’s gospel records many statements of Jesus explaining that he is in the world to do and say exactly what he is directed by the Father. We are not to think of Jesus as a puppet, but we are also not to think of the Holy Spirit as anyone less than the sovereign God! God’s Spirit is the mightiest of powers and we should expect strong leadership of the Holy Spirit in those things that are in the plan and purpose of God.
James 1:13 tells us that no one is tempted by God, but as Job can attest, God can certainly allow tempting to take place. In the case of Jesus, there appears to have been an appointment with temptation orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. James, interestingly enough doesn’t ascribe temptation to the Devil, but to our own lustful desires. Peter, on the other hand, is much more upfront about Satan’s role.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8
I think James and Peter both have a perspective on the big picture. I know that when I am tired, that is not alert and sober minded, I am more easily tempted by food. For those of you who are old enough to remember it, one of the catch phrases of the ’70s was, “The Devil made me do it”, coined and popularized by the late Flip Wilson. I can remember debates and sermons in those years discussing how much blame should be attributed to the Devil, and how much should be attributed to our own sinful desires. (Feel free to continue the debate in the comments below.)
The second part of the phrase also has its own interesting twist. While I learned the Lord’s prayer, I learned the version that included the phrase “deliver us from evil.” Or at least that is what it says in certain translations, not to mention the form used in Catholic and Anglican churches. Most translations now express the second part of the sentence as “deliver us from the evil one”. The Greek is literally “the evil”, leaving us to wonder what Jesus had in mind. Scholars are divided, and we see that expressed in our translations. Most scholars however are of the opinion that it is more that a generic evil that is being referred to here, but rather a reference to Satan himself. This too would parallel Jesus’ experience in the wilderness as the evil he faced was Satan himself. Could he have been talking about some other particular evil, like the persecution that his followers would face? It doesn’t appear to be likely, as Matthew doesn’t use the phrase elsewhere in that manner.
So those were the thoughts that I was ruminating on this week. What do you think? Do you see God playing a role in temptation? Did the Devil make me do it? Or am I responsible for my own actions? Jesus appears to speak of evil personified. Do you agree with that interpretation? How tied together do you see the ideas of personified evil and general evil? As always your thoughts and comments are welcome.
Carl Trueman writes, "If Augustine freed the church from the back-breaking self-martyring piety of Pelagius, Luther freed her from centuries of obfuscating complication. . . Luther saw clearly that the Christian life is actually distinguished not by elaborate complexity but by its beautiful, simple, accessible Christ."
"Librarians have been suggesting books to patrons for literally forever, mostly during actual face-to-face conversations," Jessica Leber states. Can math model do it better, and more importantly, do we want it to?
Brooklyn's public library set up a title recommendation service in which their librarians would read your submission and respond with appropriate books. It took a while at first.
"Wait time aside," Leber says, "when I received my own response two weeks later, I had in hand not five, but six well thought out suggestions of literary science fiction novels I might enjoy (as per my request), all from authors I'd never read before. I felt really good about the list--not because I've actually read the six books yet, but by simply knowing there was a human being involved in creating it. The titles genuinely all seemed like books I might read, and Emily Heath, the librarian who fulfilled my request, had even placed a card catalogue-linked list in my online library account so I could more easily find and borrow them."
The human element is part of what David Swartz misses in bookless libraries. When everything is digital and can only be found through search requests, you may be able to find what you're looking for but not be able to stumble across the extra information you need. (via Prufrock)
Aidan and his best friend, Louis, live in Florida near Cape Canaveral. Aidan’s parents own The Mercury Inn, a seaside hotel, and they are known for their launch parties, where residents of the inn can watch a NASA spacecraft launch from the swimming pool area or even the beach nearby. However, when a possible UFO disrupts the launch, Aidan and Louis discover that space aliens may be actually living at the Mercury Inn!
If you’re a UFO conspiracy theorist, and if the names “Roswell” and “Project Blue Book” and “SETI” mean something to you, then you might enjoy this light story of UFO-mania and space alien visitation. Then again, if you’re a real UFOlogist, you might think this book treats the subject with insufficient gravitas.
At any rate, it’s an easy read, with a couple of twists at the end. Everyone should have a little UFO in their life.
Warning: Rabbit Trail or Side Note
In the meantime, while looking for UFO and space alien pictures, I found various and sundry speculations on what is called the Fermi Paradox (after a discussion that physicist Enrico Fermi had with other scientists back in 1950 at Los Alamos):
-The Sun is a typical star, and relatively young. There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are billions of years older.
-Almost surely, some of these stars will have Earth-like planets. Assuming the Earth is typical, some of these planets may develop intelligent life.
-Some of these civilizations may develop interstellar travel, a technology Earth is investigating even now (such as the 100 Year Starship).
-Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the galaxy can be completely colonized in a few tens of millions of years.
According to this line of thinking, the Earth should already have been colonized, or at least visited. But no convincing evidence of this exists. Furthermore, no confirmed signs of intelligence have yet been spotted in our galaxy or (to the extent it would be detectable) elsewhere in the observable universe. Hence Fermi’s question, “Where is everybody?” ~Wikipedia, Fermi paradox
It’s an interesting question—if one believes in the Darwinian evolution of human beings. I don’t really. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were to find that God created other life forms on other planets, but there’s not an evolutionary necessity for that to be the case. There’s just God expressing His own creative nature.
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.
Whenever we consider the subject of demonology, it is hard to ignore the contributions of C.S. Lewis. In the modern era, few have stimulated the imagination with regard to the spiritual realm as much as the author of The Screwtape Letters. The book, dedicated to his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien, begins with two quotes:
The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn. (Luther)
The devill . . . the prowde spirite . . . cannot endure to be mocked. (Thomas More)
This Lewis proceeds to do in masterful literary fashion. Through witty epistles, he captures the cleverness and wiles of Satan’s agents as well as their ultimate shortsightedness and folly. This series of letters and memos comes from a senior demon (Screwtape) to a younger protege, his nephew Wormwood — a “Junior Tempter” — regarding Wormwood’s assignment to damn the soul of a human being known only as “the Patient.”
A portion of one of the letters pertinent to our discussions this week deals with modern humanity’s view of the existence of spirits and the Devil. Here is Screwtape’s counsel about how to best exploit that.
My Dear Wormwood,
I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics. At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, belief in us, (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force”, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work – the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits” – then the end of the war will be in sight. But in the meantime we must obey our orders. I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.
Since I last posted, I’ve left my apartment (homeless,) retired (jobless,) married and moved to California.
The process of name changes, document changes, new drivers’ license, change of address…and unpacking…is daunting.
but I’m happy.
If I had to grade myself on this year’s garden, I’d give myself a C-minus. Maybe. Certainly the weather was no help. Following on the heels of the bitterly cold and snowy winter of 2013-14, the spring was late and...
The wonderfully Reformed Ligonier Ministries issued a survey through LifeWay Research to identify what points of doctrine Americans believe. As you would imagine, Americans are all over the theological map, but what statements do they believe reflect reality? Will there be people in heaven who have never heard of Jesus Christ? Forty-one percent believe so. Is even the smallest sin worthy of damnation? Only fifty-one percent of self-professed evangelical protestants believe that's true and only ten percent of all respondents agree strongly. Is God unconcerned with my day-to-day decisions? Twenty percent say he is unconcerned. And pertinent to the central question of the Reformation, must someone contribute his own effort to his personal salvation? Seventy-one percent of surveyed Americans agree, fifty-four percent being evangelical protestants.
Dr. R. C. Sproul believes our country is sliding into a new dark ages of spiritual life, and this survey doesn't change his mind. Get all the details on their website, including a great infographic.
Notice the section on worshipping alone. That's one of those points of application that reveal our theological assumptions. Do we need worship the Lord together? Is our salvation essentially individualistic? Does a local church have any spiritual authority over us? Americans appear to have lost an understanding of the purpose of a local church.
Chip (aka Brenda Anderson) isn’t sure how she can possibly stand living with her mean old grandmother in Mount Airy, North Carolina, especially since her daddy, the one who really understood her tomboy ways, has just died. But mom says they can’t afford the house anymore, and she and the three girls have to move in with Grandma.
Just when Chip is hoping for some magic to help her understand her grandma and fit in with her family, she discovers a charm school hidden back in the woods. Miss Vernie, the teacher and proprietor, has two other students, Dana and Karen, and Miss Vernie tells them that they are there to learn whatever it is that they need to learn. She gives each of the girls a charm bracelet and says, “You have to wear the bracelet at all times. That’s how you know when you’ve completed a lesson–when you lose a charm. School ends when you’ve lost all your charms.”
Chip’s older and younger sisters are both excited about entering the Miss Dogwood pageant. But Chip just doesn’t fit in with her beauty pageant-loving family. This theme of “not fitting in” is hammered over and over again throughout the book until I wanted to shake some of the adults, especial Chip’s mom and grandma, into paying attention and affirming Chip for who she was. Chip’s mom is distracted by her grief over the loss of her husband, and Grandma is just spiteful. The combination makes for a long, cruel, dry summer, both weather-wise and emotionally for Chip, who’s trying so hard to fit into her family and get some attention. Chip is finally rewarded for her persistence, but it takes a while.
I did like the idea that the story takes place in Mount Airy, the prototype for Mayberry in the old Andy Griffith Show TV series. But we don’t get to see much of Mount Airy. And the “southernness” of the setting is more stereotypical than enlightening. The story takes place in 1977, and several events tie the plot to that time period. But the 1977 incidents are minor, also not very deeply evocative of the time.
Still, School of Charm is a nice little story with a “hint of magic”, even if the magic is mostly in the eye of the beholder.
Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.
From today’s reading of Luke 18:15-19:48
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” – Luke 19:41-44 (ESV)
Jesus is weeping as he says these words. It reminds me of another recent episode in his earthly ministry, the raising of Lazarus. Jesus wept then too.
But the grief before Lazarus’ tomb was a different type of grief. There have been many debates as to why Jesus wept over Lazarus, because he knew that he was going to raise him up. I think he wept because of the terrible grief of death that his friends were experiencing; I think he wept because death is so unnatural and so against his desires for his people. I think he wept for the love he had for Mary and Martha and Lazarus and also for the unbelief of the people; a people who would not believe even if one were raised from the dead.
Jesus here weeps for Jerusalem. It is a different kind of grief. He weeps because Jerusalem is going to experience a death that is not going to be quickly reversed. The reason Jerusalem is about to die is because she doesn’t know the time of her visitation. The Lord of glory has ridden into her gates and she has not recognized him.
Jesus speaks here of barricades and sieges and stones. He had recently ordered a stone of death to be rolled away to reveal the raised life inside. Here he speaks of stones coming apart, falling, crumbling, dying. In raising Lazarus Jesus had come to a people, to dear friends of his, who knew who was in their midst. They knew the time of their visitation and knew who had the only answer to their grief.
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.” – John 11:21-22 (ESV)
Jerusalem was visited by the same life-giving, life-restoring Lord. She just didn’t know him. If only she had recognized him!
And though this world with devils fill’d
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath will’d
His truth to triumph through us.
• Martin Luther, trans. Frederick Hedge
Brother Martin lived in God’s presence, but they were generally three, for the Devil was seldom absent.
• G.W. Foote
• • •
The world in which Martin Luther lived and led a Reformation was a magical one in which spirits filled the common imagination. The woodcut above by Lucas Cranach (1512), who later did many illustrations on behalf of Reformation causes, pictures a folkloric world of dark woods and the threatening presence of mythic creatures like the werewolf, here seen devouring a peasant woman’s family. Halloween was not a dress-up holiday to them, but an ever-present imaginative reality.
In Heiko A. Oberman’s remarkable study of the Reformer, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, the author contends that we cannot understand the good monk without accepting that he was a man “raised with the devil.” Oberman argues that it was not only his mother, whom Luther’s enemies described as a backwards peasant woman who introduced young Martin to a world full of demons. Indeed, the rumor they spread included the tale that the boy was conceived in a bathhouse through intercourse between his mother and the Devil himself! But belief in spirits and witchcraft and the devil were not simply the superstitions of ignorant peasants. Oberman says even the most erudite humanists of the time maintained such beliefs.
Today, I share with you a quote from Heiko A. Oberman, setting forth Luther’s mindset.
Luther’s world of thought is wholly distorted and apologetically misconstrued if his conception of the Devil is dismissed as a medieval phenomenon and only his faith in Christ retained as relevant or as the only decisive factor. Christ and the Devil were equally real to him: one was the perpetual intercessor for Christianity, the other a menace to mankind till the end. To argue that Luther never overcame the medieval belief in the Devil says far too little; he even intensified it and lent to it additional urgency: Christ and Satan wage a cosmic war for mastery over church and world. No one can evade involvement in this struggle. Even for the believer there is no refuge — neither monastery nor the seclusion of the wilderness offer him a chance for escape. The Devil is the omnipresent threat, and exactly for this reason the faithful need the proper weapons for survival.
There is no way to grasp Luther’s milieu of experience and faith unless one has an acute sense of his view of Christian existence between God and the Devil: without a recognition of Satan’s power, belief in Christ is reduced to an idea about Christ — and Luther’s faith becomes a confused delusion in keeping with the tenor of his time.
Attempts are made to offer excuses for Luther by pointing out that he never doubted the omnipotence of God and thus determined only narrow limits for the Devil’s activities. Luther himself would have been outraged at this view: the omnipotent God is indeed real, but as such hidden from us. Faith reaches not for God hidden but for God revealed, who, incarnate in Christ, laid himself open to the Devil’s fury. At Christmas God divested himself of his omnipotence — the sign given the shepherds was a child “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12) . To Luther Christmas was the central feast: “God for us.” But that directly implies “the Devil against us.” This new belief in the Devil is such an integral part of the Reformation discovery that if the reality of the powers inimical to God is not grasped, the incarnation of Christ, as well as the justification and temptation of the sinner, are reduced to ideas of the mind rather than experiences of faith. That is what Luther’s battle against the Devil meant to convey. Centuries separate Luther from a modern world which has renounced and long since exorcised the Devil, thus finding it hard to see the difference between this kind of religion and medieval witchcraft. But Luther distinguished sharply between faith and superstition. He understood the hellish fears of his time, then discovered in the Scriptures the true thrust and threat of Satan and experienced himself the Devil’s trials and temptations. Consequently he, unlike any theologian before or after him, was able to disperse the fog of witches’ sabbath and sorcery and show the adversary for what he really was: violent toward God, man and the world. To make light of the Devil is to distort faith. “The only way to drive away the Devil is through faith in Christ, by saying: ‘I have been baptized, I am a Christian.”’
It is not a unique, unheard-of thing for the Devil to thump about and haunt houses. In our monastery in Wittenberg I heard him distinctly. For when I began to lecture on the Book of Psalms and I was sitting in the refectory after we had sung matins, studying and writing my notes, the Devil came and thudded three times in the storage chamber [the area behind the stove] as if dragging a bushel away. Finally, as it did not want to stop, I collected my books and went to bed. I still regret to this hour that I did not sit him out, to discover what else the Devil wanted to do. I also heard him once over my chamber in the monastery.
The final passage, with its pointed formulation and its underlying expression of contempt for the Devil, was amazing at the time and is overlooked today: “But when I realized that it was Satan, I rolled over and went back to sleep again.” It is not as a poltergeist that the Devil discloses his true nature, but as the adversary who thwarts the Word of God; only then is he really to be feared. He seeks to capture the conscience, can quote the Scriptures without fault, and is more pious than God — that is satanical.
When I awoke last night, the Devil came and wanted to debate with me; he rebuked and reproached me, arguing that I was a sinner. To this I replied: Tell me something new, Devil! I already know that perfectly well; I have committed many a solid and real sin. Indeed there must be good honest sins — not fabricated and invented ones — for God to forgive for His beloved Son’s sake, who took all my sins upon Him so that now the sins I have committed are no longer mine but belong to Christ. This wonderful gift of God I am not prepared to deny [in my response to the Devil], but want to acknowledge and confess.
Luther’s purpose is not to spread fear but to strengthen the resistance of the faithful. Like Christ, the Devil is omnipresent. He acts and reacts, is drawn and challenged by anything that smacks of Christ and true faith. Here is found a radical deviation from the medieval concept of the Devil, according to which the evil one is drawn by the smell of sin, the sin of worldly concern. In Luther’s view, it is not a life dedicated to secular tasks and worldly business that attracts and is targeted by the Devil. On the contrary, where Christ is present, the adversary is never far away: “When the Devil harasses us, then we know ourselves to be in good shape!”. . .
What can we learn from Luther and his thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and actions regarding the Devil and the spirit world? Are these to be viewed merely as remnants of a bygone age of medieval superstition? Or does he have things to say which can inform and assist us in our lives today?
Happy birthday to the late British novelist Evelyn Waugh, who was not the sweetest man to work around.
John Banville describes him as terribly sad at the end of his life. "As a man, he was quintessentially English-stubborn, class-obsessed, honorable, detached and despairing. And he was unfathomably strange." (via Books, Inq.)
20 lbs (50th percentile)
29 in (50th percentile)
He's filling out his 12 month clothes more and more these days! I am LOVING getting to dress him more like a little toddler/man and less like a little baby...
Bubba, Buster and Stinker.
Oy vey. I miss sleep. He's in the process of cutting a tooth right now and he just got over a cold, so sleep has been very hit or miss the last two weeks. He's still getting 11-12 hours at night, but it's usually broken up into 3-4 hour segments. Naps have been hit or miss as well, but he gets at least one solid 2-3 hour nap a day and one shorter nap.
Anything in site. Last night he tried pancakes, which he seemed to really like. I'm also noticing he has a bit of a sweet tooth (surprise, surprise )
Being on the move. If he could stand/crawl/climb all day without napping I think he would. He is also obsessed with pulling on Junebug's ears and talking to anyone who will listen (like his mama)!
Having his face wiped. I feel like he is perpetually crusty these days! Every time I try to wipe his face or his nose he melts down. He feels the same way about having his fingernail/toenails trimmed, but thankfully I don't have to do that as often!
Walking with assistance, signing "more" occasionally, saying Mama and Dada in context and cutting a second tooth!
One night while he was sick he screamed during bedtime until I came in and cuddled and rocked him. I seriously cannot remember the last time he let me do that (while he was awake) and I loved every second of it!
Sunday night he woke up at 12, 2 and 4... after which I stayed awake because of a 6 AM practice. Then he skipped his morning nap. It. Was. Rough.
- He really loves Junebug! He has started playing and interacting with her more and chasing her around the living room. It's super cute!
- He seems to be pretty close to walking on his own. We are going to be in serious trouble when he figures that out
- I keep getting comments from people (including his MDO teachers) about how chatty he is. He is definitely always talking about something!
Loren Eaton has written a short story for a collective Halloween storytelling event. It's a story of a young girl who discovers she hears and experiences things when she touches the bones of deceased animals. It's a bone-chilling (heh, heh) idea which rings true in sad way. If we didn't have a culture of death in this world, this kind of story would feel completely fantastic.
Bones spoke to Jenny.Read the rest on his blog, I Saw Lightning Fall.
She discovered the gift -- if gift it was -- at the age of five. Her brother, Samuel, had been excavating in the backyard with a red-bladed Ames True Temper shovel. A foot down, he accidentally disturbed the grave of one Fluffymump, a former favorite feline. Some surreptitious digging, a quick bend and snatch, and he whirled, shouting, "Hey, Germy, catch."
Fluffymump's sepia skull landed in Jenny's outstretched hands.
Naturally, she screamed and ran upstairs to her room. Naturally, Jenny's father bent Samuel over his knee and given him three sharp whacks. Naturally, Jenny's mother followed close after to offer consolation and chocolate chip cookies only just taken from the oven. But that was where expectation ended.
Does Tolkien count? I would also hope Flannery O’Connor gets read at some point by Protestants.
And yes, if you’re Protestant and unless you have direct contacts with Orthodox believers or writers in the US/Canada, it’s safe to assume you are unaware there’s a difference. Even after being told the differences, I’m assuming a few might not see much of a distinction.
This story takes place before, during, and after the Pinochet reign of terror in Chile in the 1970’s. Although the dictator’s name is never mentioned and the author takes some liberties with the timeline and with the historical facts, Ms. Agosin, who herself lived in Chile during the Pinochet years, brings to life the anxiety and the courage that emerged in many of those who experienced the “desaparedcidos” and the government repression that took place during Pinochet’s presidency.
Celeste is an eleven year old only child who lives with her parents, her grandmother, and their live-in cook and nanny, Delfina, in Valparaiso, Chile. The book begins by painting a carefree, somewhat sheltered childhood for Celeste, but her pre ants, both doctors, are just beginning to show Celeste the poverty and need that lies below the surface in Chile’s slums where the two physicians practice medicine in a number of free clinics. Then, Celeste begins to notice that things are changing at school and at home as many of her classmates begin to drop to of school and “disappear”. Either their parents have been arrested, or the families are in hiding. No one really knows, and no one wants to be caught talking about the possibilities.
Celeste’s parents also go into hiding, and Celeste herself is sent to Maine to live with her Tia Graciela. The second part of the book, about a year or a year and a half, takes place in Maine as Celeste learns what it means to be a refugee in a foreign land with the help of a loving, but somewhat unusual, aunt who reads tarot cards for a living and lives mostly in seclusion, still getting over an unhappy love affair. Celeste goes to school, learns English, and makes friends.
Then, the government changes again, and Celeste can return to her beloved Chile.However, Celeste’s parents are not able to return home without Celeste’s help. In fact, they seem to have suffered so much that they have become indecisive and unable to function as adults. This part of the novel felt real, but the fact that Celeste takes this kind of abdication in stride was a bit surprising. The story ends with Celeste beginning her own project to help her country heal from the years of oppression and dictatorship.
This book is long, 453 pages, rather fanciful, poetic and even superstitious at times, and it moves slowly. Many readers won’t have the patience for this one, but those who do will be rewarded with a story that introduces children and adult readers to the zeitgeist of a Chile molded by years of government oppression and poverty and repression of free speech and other freedoms that we in the U.S. take for granted.
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.
Note from CM: In 2010, Jeff Dunn solicited responses from our IM writers on the subject of Halloween. We had a great discussion, and I thought it worthy of repeating this week.
• • •
Ok, so that didn’t scare you. Maybe this will. I have five of the six iMonk writers sitting around a table right now, and they all look very scary. And Adam hasn’t even put on his mask yet.
We wanted to have some fun with this roundtable, but also touch on some serious issues. If you are new round these parts, or have forgotten who is who, allow me to introduce to you the greatest group of blog writers on the entire internet. Starting on my right, there is our editorial director, Chaplain Mike. Then there is Lisa Dye, Mike Bell, Damaris Zehner, and Adam Palmer. We excused Joe Spann as he and the Mrs. have a newborn baby that seems to be more important to him than participating in our roundtable.
Snacks today include one of my favorites this time of year: A bowl with salted peanuts and candy corn mixed together. Grab a handful, pop it in your mouth, and you’ll swear you’re eating a PayDay candy bar. We also have some apples, some popcorn, and what’s this? Mulled cider? Now we’re talking!
Lisa Dye: I’ve never viewed Halloween as a Christian holiday. As a kid, I just enjoyed it. I looked forward to it for a variety of reasons – getting more candy than I was allowed to have any other time of year, the opportunity to dress up, the fun of meeting neighbors or going door-to-door with a group of friends and the fact that fall, with its crisp air and beautiful foliage, is my favorite time of year.
It wasn’t until I became a Christian that I began to view Halloween with the seemingly required suspicion, bordering on revulsion, that most churches advocated. So, I reigned in my overt enthusiasm, kept my children’s costumes decidedly unghoulish and visited only immediate neighbors and family for the candy haul. Later on, I read bits and pieces about the history of Halloween and realized that some aspects of it is rooted in Christian tradition. By no means have I made an in-depth study, but generally I think Halloween, as we see it today, is a conglomeration of customs from around the world combining pagan and Christian traditions.
Chaplain Mike: James Jordan’s article on Halloween helped me understand the Christian history and background of the holiday. If we would emphasize these traditions of mocking the devil by dressing up and celebrating his defeat through joy and laughter, it could go a long way toward helping today’s believers grasp a purpose for celebrating it.
But to me, the big change in the U.S. with regard to Christians and Halloween has been the creation of the evangelical subculture in the last forty years. This has paralleled the development of suburban culture, the loss of neighborhoods and communities, and the radical division of America through the culture wars. Churches have been transformed into the spiritual equivalent of walled communities –activity centers where Christians engage in a full program of “ministries” just for them. This keeps them separated from the world that they see as harmful to the life of faith.
LD: If Christians want a stake in the holiday and to be a force for change in how Halloween is viewed and celebrated, we should avoid perpetuating the negative campaign of the last few decades. Whatever is true and good and beautiful will attract and not repel. That we as Christ followers have authority over Satan and his domain is true and good. That the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church and that saints have inherited victory in union with Jesus Christ is something to celebrate.
Mike Bell: I have never really viewed Halloween as a Christian holiday, despite the evidence to the contrary. Growing up we lived in a rural neighbourhood of 100 houses. Halloween was understood to be a fun time to dress up, get candy, and visit with neighbours. We always stayed away from the really scary stuff, and we have encouraged our children in the same way. Incidentally, now living in a city, Halloween is one of the few times we get to interact with our neighbours. Have we abdicated it to the world and should we fight to take it back? Abdication I think is a good word, as I don’t think it is/was a Christian holiday worth fighting for. I am disappointed with how it has been changing from being associated with fun to being associated with evil.
CM: When I grew up in small Midwest America, people were much more integrated into a community. We knew our neighbors and participated with them in a common culture that included holidays like Halloween. In fact, I live in a town that still values community. Our neighborhood has the most robust Halloween and trick-or-treat traditions I have ever seen. We have so many children and families come by that the police direct traffic.
I could go to church on Halloween and miss that; turn my lights out, get in my car and drive to some church, to participate in activities at a family-friendly Christian activity center. But why would I want to do that, when I can light the pumpkins, sit out on the porch, meet and greet my neighbors, smile at their kids’ creative costumes, hand out candy, and enjoy an evening when so many people are out on the sidewalks having fun and feeling part of the community?
Adam Palmer: The only holidays I see as explicitly Christian are Easter and Christmas, and that probably has to do with my non-denominational, evangelical background. I didn’t grow up in any sort of organized denomination, so while I understand that All Souls Day and All Saints Day exist, they are not a point of emphasis for me. To my Bible-belted mind, those are “church” holidays, not “Christian” holidays.
If we’re going to defend Halloween in modern times by trotting out its origin(s), do we then have to nix Christmas because it has the musty smell of pagan ritual in its origin story? That would make the most logical sense, but I don’t think we should do it. It comes down to culture. Our North American culture has decided what Halloween is now. I can have my kids go along with the fun stuff (dressing up! candy! dressing up as candy!) and use the other stuff (scary monsters! blood and guts! haunted houses!) as a means of teaching them about our history and our faith.
Damaris Zehner: I don’t see it as a Christian holiday. If we’re going to redeem lost Christian holidays, I’d vote for All Saints Day anyway. Vaughn Williams’ hymn “For All the Saints” is one of the masterpieces of Christian hymnody and should have a day all to itself. Although Halloween is related to All Saints Day, I don’t think it counts as a legitimate Christian celebration but is more of a superstition, a syncretic reaction to the genuine Christian doctrine of eternal life.
JD: Let’s assume that all of agree that Satan is a real person, or force, or however you want to refer to him. Are demons real as well? Are they active in our world today? Damaris, you look like you are ready to answer that.
DZ: Yes, demons are real. I don’t know specifically how, but I suspect that Satan’s nicknames give us the hint: father of lies and the accuser.
AP: Are demons real? I would have to say yes. Now, I’m not the type of guy who sees demons ’round every corner or thinks that all little boys who can’t sit still need to have a demon cast out of them. I used to be, but not anymore.
However! I spent almost a year living in Uganda, a place where witchcraft is a real thing. Children were regularly abducted to be used in ritual sacrifices. Every night at ten and midnight, when the witch doctors offered those sacrifices, all the dogs in our city would start barking exactly together, and stop together. People sought out witch doctors to cast spells for healing, spells for financial blessing, spells to have some hated person blow a tire on a dangerous stretch of road. This actually happened to a friend of mine.
Having lived in a spiritually heavy country, I have to say that yes, demons are real and have power to affect the lives of human beings.
JD: Wow. I remember one night getting a request for urgent prayer from your wife on Facebook. When I asked her what was going on, she told me about the abductions that occurred almost nightly. You can believe I did some time before God after hearing that.
MB: I believe that demons are real. I feel that we are so engrossed in our affluent North American society, that Satan has not had to worry much about us. We have already sold out to the gods of consumerism and self-indulgence, so that the spiritual realm has very little meaning to us. In other parts of the world where I have lived, or in the poorest neighborhoods of Canada, I have experienced quite a different story.
CM: I believe in a spiritual realm that is present, though mostly invisible to us. Ephesians calls this “the heavenly places,” and affirms that there are “powers,” both good and evil that are active in this realm. I don’t understand much about that realm, and the Bible gives us glimpses that whet our curiosity, but don’t allow us a detailed understanding.
I do know that Jesus has defeated the powers through his death and resurrection. I also know that there is a continuing battle in which believers play a part. I think C.S. Lewis was wise when he said that there are two dangerous approaches when we think about these powers: (1) to say they don’t exist, (2) to give undue attention to them. If for some reason, I would be in a situation of having to deal with one of these powers openly, I would claim Christ’s victory, quote Scripture, and sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
LD: Anyone who reads my posts can discern that I take Scripture fairly literally. That’s not to say I don’t see metaphor and other literary devices in it, but I do believe Satan is real, as are demons. At first, I believed in their existence as a matter of faith. Later, a few experiences solidified my belief, however I don’t think satanic or demonic activity should be blamed every time something bad happens. Bad happenings are part and parcel of living in a fallen world. We all suffer the consequences of our own actions and the actions of others.
The gospels provide examples of how Satan and his demons worked then and, no doubt, work now. Satan is an accuser, deceiver and tempter — a destroyer of men’s souls. Demons possess, oppress and afflict humans and animals with disease, mental illness, outrageous behaviors and may even facilitate accidents or influence people to harm themselves. They speak. They have personality and they sometimes manifest physically. From the book of Daniel, we can see that demons hindered angelic messengers from reaching Daniel. Demonic and angelic activity in unseen dimensions affects circumstances on earth.
JD: Very good points, Lisa. The story in Daniel of how the archangel Michael fought the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” for 21 days always keeps me humble when I think I can command Satan to do this or that, or not do this or that as the case may be. We have all heard preachers who seemingly want to cast demons out of anyone who is slightly ill, or anything that may cause them an inconvenience. When is the right time to cast out demons? How do we know it is a demon and not just the flu?
I would recommend reading them as they really help to clarify the differences. In the first post I gave an example from personal experience about mental illness where I felt that it could be shown that there was no spiritual component. Just to set the record straight, in 46 years in the church I have had just one experience with the demonic. Only one. I am not the type to see a demon behind every bush. But I have had one experience that I think can help us understand how Jesus knew when people needed healing or needed a demon cast out of them. In short, a spiritual issue is spiritually discerned.
AP: Thank the Lord for the Holy Spirit, because He is our informant. Wondering what to do with this person who is acting abnormally? Pray about it. Seek God. He’ll let you know how to proceed. Maybe you need to put on your vomit-proof poncho and get exorcising, or maybe you need to put on your vomit-proof poncho and reach for the antibiotics (I have four kids, one on the way–I know all about vomit-proof ponchos).
JD: Thanks, Adam. No more peanuts and candy corn for me. Lisa?
LD: Knowing when demonic activity is occurring requires discernment and discernment comes from the Holy Spirit. 1 John 4:1, 2 gives instructions for testing spirits to learn their origin. Many years ago when I was suffering a depression, I realized that the ‘self-talk’ I was engaging in was not from me and it wasn’t from the Lord. When I finally tested the spirit behind what I was thinking, I realized I was being influenced by a false spirit. From there I could apply the truth of what God said in his word to refute these things, much as Jesus did during his time of testing in the wilderness. Renewing my mind that way ultimately led to overcoming what could have destroyed me, but it was a long, slow process.
It seems there would be some gifted and more suited to a ministry of exorcism than others, but that doesn’t allow us to abdicate our responsibility to maintain the culture of heaven on earth. If we encounter demonic spirits , we should subdue them and, if necessary, find help in doing it. If we have the person of Jesus Christ alive in us, we have his authority. His Spirit guides us into truth and empowers us.
Jesus also said that some kinds of demonic spirits only come out of people by intercessory prayer and fasting, so that would indicate the believer involving himself in an exorcism needs to be willing to pay a price spiritually. I have heard of a few cases where the process took a long time and was grueling hard work.
DZ: How do we know if it’s a demon or the flu? Wait three to five days, and if symptoms don’t improve, call your . . . Exorcist? I think mostly the family doctor will do. The Catholic church has only twelve certified exorcists in America, while there are hugely more medical doctors. I think that distribution reflects the reality of stubborn demonic possession pretty well.
JD: Chaplain, your thoughts?
CM: I don’t know. What I know is that Jesus cares about the person, no matter the source of the problem, and that the Word and Spirit will minister to him or her regardless. So I pray, and love, and serve.
JD: Excellent. Can’t do any better than that. Next question. The term “spiritual warfare” has been misused to the point I’m not sure what real spiritual warfare should look like today. Where is the war, and do I need to enlist?
CM: You enlisted when Jesus brought you into his family. In our tradition (Lutheran), the baptism liturgy includes renouncing the devil and his works. As to what “spiritual warfare” looks like, I think the Book of Acts pictures it as well as anything. For the most part, it appears to be about proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and the opposition that provokes. It’s not usually about my tummy ache or ingrown toenail. It’s not about politics or the culture war. It’s about spreading light through the darkness, and the darkness fighting its demise.
DZ: The first step of spiritual warfare is to keep your eyes on the Prince of Peace. And the last step, too. I think the phrase “spiritual warfare” is best used to describe the feelings of struggle Christians have as they mature spiritually. Once people try to develop spiritual warfare into a blow-by-blow account of a supernatural Waterloo or Midway, they’re going to descend into silliness, a la Frank Peretti.
AP: Oh, don’t get Jeff going on Peretti. We’ll be here all night listening to how bad of a writer he is.
JD: Just five minutes, Adam?
AP: You asked if we have to enlist in the spiritual war. If you’re a Christian, you’ve enlisted. Man, I’ve fallen into just about every possible ditch when it comes to Christian-ish stuff. I’ve made tons of things the focus of my faith: end times, prosperity, demonology, numerology, healing… you name it. When it comes to spiritual warfare, it’s really easy to start seeing demons influencing everything, but I think that probably gives the devil far too much credit. These days, I prefer to do my best to keep my focus on Jesus and trust that, if I need to give any of that other stuff my attention (say, when a child of mine gets sick inexplicably), he will guide my prayers to that area. Other than that, I’m doing good just getting through the day.
LD: The term ‘spiritual warfare’ is a reference to 2 Corinthians 10:4,5: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” This speaks to the personal experience I wrote about in question three. If there is a primary inroad that Satan or demons have into our lives, it’s through our minds.
A particular stronghold in me that keeps getting rebuilt and torn down and rebuilt is fear. Succumbing to fearful thoughts and the remembrance of past fear-inducing experiences can paralyze me and make me ineffective. If I analyze my thought processes, I can see that stubbornly clinging to beliefs that defy God’s word is pretension setting itself up against the knowledge of God. Wars are won one battle at a time. For me, spiritual warfare is usually dealing with my errant thoughts and taking them captive one at a time. After a long time of relatively fear free living, its something I’m once again encountering. I can’t say I’m having an easier time of it even with all my past experience.
CM: Lisa, thanks for being willing to be vulnerable and share your experiences with us.
JD: Luther, Lewis and others have said the best way to drive the devil away is to laugh at him. Still good advice? (Well, Luther had another method, one that involved burrito abuse…)
LD: Frivolity and flatulence, hmmm Jeff? Well, I’m willing to give those a try.
DZ: Yes, being laughed at is effective against him and good for us.
AP: Yeah, I remember that quote from Thomas More at the beginning of The Screwtape Letters, about “the devil, the prowde spirite, cannot endure to be mocked.” And I do love that book. But I also think of what Lewis wrote in the introduction to “Screwtape proposes a toast,” about how writing it was such an endurance test to him, that it wasn’t a joy, that it was all “dust, grit, thirst, and itch.” And I think that I should really just do my best to focus on Jesus. If I’m going to fall into a ditch, that’s the one to fall into.
Can I tell a story? When we lived in Uganda, we traveled to do some ministry with a short-term missions team, and while we were gone we picked up some bug (I think it was in the passion fruit juice at the hotel–we should’ve known better). Anyway, we were on our way back, and my entire family started getting vomitous and weak. We went to the doctor and started getting on medication, and in the meantime I spoke to the missions team leader on the phone. “Well,” she said, “God must really have something big planned for you guys. Otherwise, why would the devil attack you so hard?”
Now this is not the first time I’ve heard this. I’ve heard it from friends and family. I’ve heard it from my own mouth. Explaining some out-of-the-blue hardship with the words, “God must have something big in store for you.”
But doesn’t this give the devil far more credit than he deserves? Is he omniscient like God? Can he see ahead in my life? Does he know what’s coming up? Is he trying to get all Terminator in my life, to kill the John Connor in me before it grows up to defeat him? I’m not sure, but I think that isn’t the case. I think he’s full of himself, that he’s crafty, and he gets far more of a kick in leading mass groups astray by offering up some slightly twisted faith than he does out of making my family sick.
Maybe I’m wrong. In fact, I’m sure I don’t see the big picture here. Which is why I say again: I’m probably going to fall into a ditch, so I’m going to focus on Jesus and let Him be the ditch I fall into.
CM: Laughter, and the holy hand grenade, “that by it, Thou mayest blow thine enemies to bits. In thy mercy.”
Yes, I really liked James Jordan’s emphasis on mocking the devil and celebrating Christ’s victory over the powers of evil through joy and laughter.
JD: Well, now you know I will have to post that Monty Python clip at the end of this essay. One … Two … Five!
JD: Three! Should Christians avoid watching horror movies, reading Stephen King novels, listening to groups like Marilyn Manson and Slipknot because we might be influenced by Satan? Can a Christian be led astray by Satan if he is truly seeking after the Lord?
DZ: I don’t know if horror movies, etc., influence us satanically, but I am suspicious of our motivations for watching or listening to a lot of those things. Why do we want to see horrible things? Why do we slow down to check out a car accident site? Why do we read gruesome stories in newspapers that have nothing to do with us? I won’t say anything about others’ motivations, but I know that my own in these cases are not godly. The creepy curiosity that I feel is much more like the temptation to participate in juicy gossip than it is pity or concern.
I think we can always be led astray but at the same time we can always trust Jesus to answer us when we call on him.
LD: Paul says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” I think the decision to watch or not to watch, to read or not to read, to listen or not to listen needs to happen on an individual basis. Some people will be disturbed or influenced negatively by doing these things. Others won’t be. The two questions we can answer to help us determine if something is a good choice are, “Will this help me in some way?Â and Is there a chance I’ll be captivated or enslaved by this activity?
I’m looking for a book by Stephen King called On Writing right now because I think he’s good at what he does even if his work isn’t always my taste. As a kid I was enthralled with stories of King Arthur and Merlin — magical things that Christians frowned upon. I can’t see that it hurt me in any way or led me away from pursuing Christ. At the same time, I can’t see any benefit for me in watching, reading or listening to gratuitous horror so I don’t, but I don’t think it should be censored. I’m also aware that my thoughts have changed over the years on lots of different subjects, so there’s always the possibility.
CM: I don’t care for anything that celebrates evil or advocates its practices, so I would avoid things like that. But I agree with Michael Spencer, who said, “Whether they be fairy tales or silly horror movies, the imaginative realm is a reflection of human beings’ ability to create their own worlds, with realities that reflect the depth of nature and the realities of good, evil, hope and redemption.” I would not be a separatist when it comes to literature or other expressions of creativity and imagination, even though they might include elements some would consider objectionable.
AP: The media you consume is a choice you make between you and God, unless you are under your parents’ authority, in which case you should respect them enough to play by their rules. I will say this, though: the moment I start justifying media decisions to myself or to someone else is usually the moment I realize I’m making the wrong decision and shouldn’t be partaking of that particular piece of media. But I’m all for self-monitoring, and it works. My two oldest kids, ages 11 and 9, are good at this. They have been in the midst of reading books they liked and have set them aside because they felt like it wasn’t right for them at that time.
MB: Garbage in, garbage out. I do enjoy scary movies that are not too gruesome, but my wife does not. So I tend not to watch them anymore.
JD: That is the best motive, Mike–making your choice so that it will not influence another in a negative way. Ok, let’s wrap this up with one last question. What are you dressing up as for this year? And what is the best costume you have ever donned for Halloween? (Ok, that was two questions…)
CM: If I were dressing up, I’d love to have the costume Adam Braverman (actor Peter Krause) wore in the most recent episode of the TV show, Parenthood. He wore one of the old “Black Sox” uniforms and went trick-or-treating as Shoeless Joe Jackson. It was sharp.
As a kid I went through a phase when I loved horror movies, subscribed to horror magazines, and built monster models. I decided to be “The Mummy” for Halloween. Only trouble was we had to walk to school, and by the time I got there, I was mostly unwrapped and carrying a bundle of cloth strips. I must have looked a little like Lazarus, post-resuscitation.
JD: I would have liked to have seen that!
DZ: I don’t know that we’ll dress up this year. My favorite Halloween costume was a spur-of-the-moment one. I was in graduate school and went to a party with the rest of the literature department. It was only when I arrived at the apartment where the party was held that I realized it was a costume party. I got a big mixing bowl, put it on my head, and said I was Virginia Woolf. (In A Room of One’s Own, she describes herself as a thought in the cranium of the British Museum’s stately dome.) I realize you had to be there — and you had to have been spending all day and night with literature. Well, THEY liked it . . .
AP: I get it, Damaris. And it kind of scares me that I do get it.
I usually don’t know what I’m dressing up as until hours before I have to wear a costume. The best costume I’ve ever seen was on my friend David, when he wore his normal clothes (black t-shirt, jeans, sneakers) and a fake mustache. “Who are you dressed up as, David?” I asked. His response: “My own evil twin.”
LD: I’m not sure I will dress up. My grown kids have all moved back in state after a few years of living away. My three grandchildren will come dressed for me to see them. Four year old Eva will be a Disney princess. Her twin brother will be Iron Man and two week old Annabelle hasn’t told me what she is planning to wear.
MB: Dressing up is pretty much mandatory where I work. I haven’t figured out my costume this year yet, but last year I went as an aging rockstar.
The best costume I ever donned was a giant pumpkin. A word of warning to all of you. Never try square dancing when dressed as a giant pumpkin. That, however, is a story for another day.
JD: You know, Mike, somehow I believe you that that is not a good idea.
Thanks to each of you for your ideas and insights. Let’s open it up to the iMonks for the topic of our next roundtable. If we don’t get any good ones, we can go with my fallback: Explain to me the meaning of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
Happy Halloween, everyone! As Orson Welles said at the end of the War of the Worlds radio broadcast, “So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and there’s no one there, that was no Martian…it’s Halloween.”
don’t all Reformed types already read Chesterton? :)
Jesse, my hunch is that most Protestants don’t think about the Orthodox at all by and large and those that do consider them distinct from Catholicism since the schism … or maybe I’m just speaking for myself.
Our friend Prof. Gene Edward Veith of Patrick Henry College gives my latest novel the thumbs up:
But although there are a lot of big ideas in this book and a lot of rich theologizing, Death's Doors is just fun to read. It's suspenseful, exciting, and wildly imaginative, both in the author's story telling and in the way it stimulates the reader's imagination. And I'm realizing that all good novels-including Christian novels, classics, and other works that are Good for You-need to have those qualities. And this one does.
Read it all here.
Our church has been reading through "Make Mature Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus," edited by Brandon Smith. In chapter 6 Logan Gentry notes that Jesus' evangelism strategy was to point people to "the better story."
Gentry points out Christ's "you have heard it said, but I say" statements as a means to contrast the world's perspective with the better way of the gospel.
This resonated with me and something I've been working through when it comes to parenting. I've been wanting to develop a way to shepherd our son's heart and not just his behavior. I definitely want a well-behaved kid, mind you, but I also don't want moralism to be an obstacle or distraction to his realizing a need for the gospel.
We have one son, now, and he's only 10 months old, so we still have a LITTLE time to work on this. Recently though, I was challenging myself to point him to a better way rather than just a "because I said so" approach. I want my son to know that I have his best interest in mind when I correct him. I want him to recognize that his heart is not whole apart from Jesus.
So I've tried recently, instead of just saying "no" or "stop" to adding "you don't need that" or "that will hurt you" as a further explanation of why I'm disciplining him. It's a small step in a huge journey, but I can only hope that I can point him to the better way found only in the gospel of Christ.
Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson could not pursue her line of questioning on many interesting stories because her sources in The White House or her own bosses at CBS were interested in advocating their side, not revealing the truth. Attkisson says this and more in her new book, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington.
The New York Post gives us many details:
"Many in the media," Attkisson writes, "are wrestling with their own souls: They know that ObamaCare is in serious trouble, but they're conflicted about reporting that. Some worry that the news coverage will hurt a cause that they personally believe in. They're all too eager to dismiss damaging documentary evidence while embracing, sometimes unquestioningly, the Obama administration's ever-evolving and unproven explanations."She says she asked by Katie Couric about a possible interview with Attorney General Eric Holder on the Fast and Furious scandal. Attkisson, who had done many reports on that subject, said it should be a relevant interview, but after that weekend (without a Couric interview on air) the network began cancelling her stories, saying she had reported everything already. Attkisson wonders if Holder ordered CBS to stop talking about it.
One of her bosses had a rule that conservative analysts must always be labeled conservatives, but liberal analysts were simply "analysts." "And if a conservative analyst's opinion really rubbed the supervisor the wrong way," says Attkisson, "she might rewrite the script to label him a 'right-wing' analyst."
She also believes the Obama administration had someone hack her laptop to listen to her and plant classified documents on her hard drive, possibly intending to use them to prosecute her as needed.
I'm familiar with three of the people you see in this trailer, and I'm confident in the quality of their work. On that basis I'm sure this is worthy watching with a small group. It asks what our salvation is for and offers compelling answers.
Joshua Rogers, writing for Focus on the Family, says, "I suppose the most remarkable thing was how the series helped me fall in love with the Gospel in a way that I hadn't since that awesome spaceship-themed Vacation Bible School at Calvary Baptist Church when I was in fifth grade." He means that in the best way possible and gets the director to answer some questions on his objectives.
Andy Crouch says, "It is designed to help the church reclaim our true calling: to live out our salvation, in the words its title borrows from the Orthodox writer Alexander Schmemann, "for the life of the world." ...Schmemann's breathtaking sacramental view of ordinary life is here, as are Kuyper's distinctive spheres" (subscription required).
Learn more about For the Life of the World here.
Churches with what we call high liturgy have suffered bad press from many believers who find it easier to point their faithlessness in their congregations than in their own, low liturgy churches. They accept the bad idea that creeds are lifeless and only spontaneity is of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, they have missed their own rich Christian history, which can be rediscovered in the catechisms and confessions of the holy catholic (universal) church. To those who are unfamiliar with these writings, let me give you the first two questions from the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the written teachings to emerge from the Reformation.
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.
The second question sets up the rest of the catechism, and the first question--isn't it glorious?
It’s been a pleasure this summer to reread the whole series of “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Although the books are written at a grade-school level, they vividly capture the simple joys and hardships of American pioneer life...
Two platypuses walk into a bar . . . A couple of platypi . . . Sergeant Joe Friday and his partner . . . Platypus Number One, Detective Corey O’Malley and his partner, Rookie Detective Rick Zengo . . . Platypus Police Squad Headquarters, 7:40 A.M.
Obviously, I’m not sure how to start this post about the second book in the series, The Platypus Police Squad. First of all, I’m not sure why the detectives are platypuses, except that platypuses–and ostriches and mongooses, by the way–are sort of funny. Supposed to be sort of funny. Detective Corey O’Malley, the older, more experienced, somewhat jaded and cynical of this detective pair is supposed to be humorous, too. And his freshman, newbie partner Detective Rick Zengo has a funny name.
However, the platypuses could just as well have been flamingos or alpacas or armadillos or even humans as far as the story goes. Well, “platypus” and “police” do both start with “p”, so the title has alliteration going for it. The book reads like an episode of the old TV series Dragnet, stretched to a couple hundred pages, with O’Malley as Sergeant Joe Friday and Zengo as his sidekick, Bill Gannon. And the only funny parts are the illustrations of . . . hard-boiled platypus detectives.
I really don’t think even kids who have never encountered Dragnet or its successors, police procedural dramas, are going to be riveted by this pedestrian and predictable story. I wanted to like it, but nothing drew me in and nothing made me want to stay once I got there. It wasn’t bad, just, dare I say, boring. Now, if I mosey over to Amazon and find out that this series is a bestseller with thousands of positive reviews and kid fans, just call me jaded. And cynical.
All we want are the facts, m’am. Just the facts.
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.
As October 31st looms, it’s time for true confessions.
I grew up among Southern Baptist fundamentalist Baptists. The KJV-only, women can’t wear pants, twenty verses of “Just As I Am,” Jerry Falwell, Jack Chick, twice a year revival kind of fundamentalist Baptists.
We were serious about things like beer. By sheer quantity of attention in sermons, drinking beer was the most evil act one could describe. We were serious about movies, cards, and something called “mixed bathing,” which normal people would call “swimming.”
We were serious about the Bible, Sunday School, suits and ties, and walking the aisle to get saved.
And we were big time into Halloween.
No, that’s not a typo. I said we were big time into Halloween.
From the late sixties into the early seventies, the churches I attended and worked for — all fundamentalist Baptists — were all over Halloween like ants on jam. It was a major social activity time in every youth group I was part of from elementary school through high school graduation in 1974.
We had haunted houses. Haunted hikes. Scary movies. (All the old Vincent Price duds.) As a youth minister in the mid to late seventies and early eighties, I created some haunted houses in church education buildings that would win stagecraft awards.
The kids loved it. The parents loved it. The pastors approved. The church paid for it!
No, this wasn’t “Judgment House” or “Hell House” or whatever else evangelicals have done with a similar skill set today. It was fun. Simple, old-fashioned, fun. No one tried to fly a broom or talk to the dead. Everyone tried to have fun. Innocent play in the name of an American custom.
And then, things changed.
Mike Warnke convinced evangelicals that participating in Halloween was worshiping the devil. Later, when we learned that Warnke may have been one of the most skillful of evangelical con-artists, lying about his entire Satanic high priest schtick, the faithful still believed his stories.
Evangelical media began to latch onto Halloween as some form of Satanism or witchcraft, and good Christians were warned that nothing made the other team happier than all those kids going door to door collecting M&Ms.
Evangelical parents decided that their own harmless and fun Halloween experiences were a fluke, and if their kid dressed up as a vampire, he’d probably try to become one. If there was a pumpkin on the porch, you were inviting demons into your home, just like it says in Hezekiah.
A general fear of the occult, manifesting itself in Satanic ritual abuse mythology, crept into evangelicalism and took a deep hold on many churches.
Occult ministries exploited these fears, and ministries like Bob Larson found it was profitable and powerful to make rock music, drug use, occult worship and Halloween one big package.
Today, if you want to split your church, divide your singles group, get a fight started with parents or see the youth minister fired, just find some way to have an old-fashioned Halloween event in your church.
In the ministry where I serve, we can’t have fall festivals. Putting out a pumpkin is risky. Any costume other than dressing up like Billy Graham is taboo.
Halloween experts have proliferated in evangelicalism. Where did these people learn all this stuff? Oh yes, The Onion. That’s right.
Does it bother me? You bet it does. It bothers me that we fall for such lame, ridiculous manipulators as the crowd that made all of those Halloweens past into satanic events.
It bothers me that any lie, exaggeration or fiction will find thousands of eager believers to pass it along.
It bothers me that the Biblical message about Satan would be co-opted by the fear-mongering and manipulation of the hucksters. (Read The Screwtape Letters for some real Satanism.)
It bothers me that such a wonderful part of my childhood and of American life has been turned into an example of evangelical paranoia and gullibility. We ruined something good, and everyone knows it but us.
I know all about the sophisticated responses thoughtful Christians have about Reformation day and All Saints Day. That’s fine, but it’s not the same. I just want my grandkids to be able to dress up in cute outfits and trick or treat without the local church designating them for exorcism.
Shame on those of us “evangelicals” who allowed Halloween to be taken away from families and many communities, all because we prefer to believe that life is a Frank Paretti novel.
Boo. I hope I scared you.
I generally don't read books featuring dogs (except for Dean Koontz books, where you can't avoid them), for the same reason I don't own a dog. It's because I love dogs dearly, and firmly believe that no master (certainly including me) has ever been worthy of his canine pet. I'm not sure I can bear the purity of a dog's love.
Which made Robert Crais' novel Suspect difficult in places. That's not to say I didn't like it. But if you aren't an actual dog hater, this one will break your heart - in a good way.
Scott James is a Los Angeles cop who's gotten derailed on his career path to SWAT. He was shot and severely injured in an ambush where his female partner was killed. After months of recovery and rehab, he's ready to return to work - pretending he's in better shape than he is. He's not fit enough for SWAT anymore, so he's switching to the K-9 squad.
At the end of his training he meets Maggie, a German Shepherd who was formerly a bomb sniffing dog in Afghanistan. She lost her partner and was wounded too, and is hostile to anyone who's not "pack." But something in her touches Scott, and he gets permission to try her as his partner. They're both on probation, they both have PTSD, and they're not entirely ready for service.
Scott starts digging into the ambush where his partner was killed, and begins to suspect police involvement and a cover-up. Keeping his head down while trying to camouflage his own (and his dog's) physical shortcomings, he walks a dangerous path. But the man has a Best Friend.
Exciting, gripping, and deeply moving, Suspect is a tremendously entertaining read. Crais has taken a risk in writing a stand-alone not related to his Cole and Pike novels, but he succeeds completely. Highly recommended, with the usual cautions for adult themes and language.
From today’s reading of Matthew 20-21
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. – Matthew 21:42-46 (ESV)
As I read this passage and the surrounding context, it dawns on me that the religious leaders in opposition to Jesus really don’t have anything approaching a rational motive for having him killed. Their motives are fueled by the most base human emotions: fear, jealousy, protectionism, and political calculation.
I can’t stand in judgment of them, however, because so much of what I do is powered by that same fuel. Sometimes to fix something you need to break it first. I need to be broken.
The chief priests and Pharisees are doing what is natural. They are protecting their kingdom. Give almost any one of us a kingdom, no matter how tiny, and we’ll marshal all our forces in protection of it. This is human nature, the fallen human nature whose stranglehold Jesus came to break.
Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone. He holds everything together. But this central fact of creation is missed by so many. The chief priests and Pharisees missed it, and rejected the Stone of Help, the Stone that when struck produces living water.
The path they chose instead is a path many of us choose daily, driven by our own blinding hypocrisy and fear that the tiny kingdom we think so precious is going to be shaken up by this uncouth (in our eyes) Galilean.
Who does he think he is?
The Chief Cornerstone! That’s who.
Jesus presents us with two choices. Fall and be broken, or stand in our own pride and hypocrisy and be crushed. Both are painful, but those who fall upon the mercy of the Lord, though broken, are built back up into a temple of praise and worship to Him.
I need to be broken! Even as a follower of Jesus I daily see, more and more clearly, that so much of what I do is for the protection of my little kingdoms. Petty jealousies, paralyzing fears, a continual reaching out to shift the spotlight back onto me. With such a jumbled up, backwards set of priorities, if any fruit is produced it’s completely by accident and always by the grace of God.
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.
Dear Lord, have mercy upon me, and break me to be rebuilt and restored into the destiny that you have for me: to be just like you.
You can take the boy out of evangelicalism, but you can’t take the evangelical out of the boy.
I’m coming to terms these days with the fact that I’m a spiritual mongrel, and one of the strong components of my spiritual makeup is my evangelical heritage (in the modern sense of the word — the revivalistic tradition). Though I call myself a “post-evangelical,” that designation refers to my relationship with American “evangelicalism,” the conservative evangelical culture which has risen to public prominence in the U.S. in the past 45 years or so.
We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating and it helps me to write it out as I reflect on getting reconnected this weekend with an important part of my evangelical experience.
Last night we had a meeting in our home, an open house for a friend from India who has been working for India Youth for Christ for twenty years. This was his first trip to the U.S., though we have been together in India in the past. We first met him in 2000, when we went on a mission trip to Mysore in south India. Through many intense experiences of ministry and conversation and prayer together, we formed a deep bond. We met each other again in 2007 in Bangalore and saw some of the fruit of our prayers and labors together in his family’s life and in the IYFC ministry. Yesterday we learned that he will be taking a high position in the organization, opening up new possibilities for further developing our relationship with him and IYFC in the future.
Now, there is no organization more identified with the evangelical movement than Youth for Christ. Billy Graham himself was the first staff member of Youth for Christ USA. YFC is synonymous with post-war evangelical parachurch missions and, along with other youth-oriented ministries in those days, YFC is largely responsible for making possible what Thomas Bergler called The Juvenilization of American Christianity. You know: Pop worship music. Falling in love with Jesus. Mission trips. Dressing casually for church. Spiritual searching and church hopping. An emphasis on discipleship in terms of “practical Christianity.” “Relevance” and seeker-sensitive outreach. Christianity as a “relationship” rather than a “religion.”
In short, most of the stuff, “post-evangelicals” like me now criticize.
However, India YFC serves in a vastly different setting. Although their focus is on youth evangelism, discipleship, and training, they have a much different relationship with the culture and the Christian churches throughout India than parachurch groups have had in the U.S. For example, our friend told us that IYFC encourages 99% of the young people who come to them from churches to stay in their own congregations and traditions for the ongoing sustenance of their faith. Many of the churches in India tend to be conservative and traditional in their worship and ministry, and he said part of their discipleship work involves counseling youth who wonder what to do when they contrast their enthusiastic youth meetings with the “dull” churches they come from. In other words, IYFC is not about changing church culture, it is about reaching youth with the Gospel and helping them integrate into the churches.
In short, there are a lot of evangelicals in India, but there is no “evangelicalism” as we know it in the U.S.
And the need that India YFC is trying to meet is vast. The number of Indians under the age of 24 is twice the entire population of the United States! About 600 million young people need to hear the Gospel there.
As a group, Christians represent a small minority of India’s vast throngs. Though it is the country’s third largest religion, with 24 million followers, that is only 2.3% of India’s population. This minority status causes believers to have a much different relationship to their neighbors and society than we U.S. Christians have. For example, our friend is a first-generation Christian. His father was a Hindu, his mother a nominal Catholic. Most of his relatives will have nothing to do with him now, and his father even told him he had considered killing his son for many years because of the shame he had brought on the family.
When our friend decided to go to Bible college and into ministry, he chose a life of relative poverty and obscurity. Soon, in the new position he will be taking, a large portion of his time and energy will be devoted to raising funds for staff around the country who live on about $100-150 per month, and are worried most months about getting that.
Though they use contemporary music and seek to relate to youth through language and means that are attractive to them, IYFC is still vastly more conservative than standard U.S. youth ministries. Many of the meetings we participated in over the years involved large groups of young people sitting quietly in rows, listening to presentations and preaching. When our friend described the “camps” they conduct to our group last night, it sounded like what we would call a study retreat or conference. The atmosphere of IYFC work reminds me a great deal of my early experiences as a teen caught up in the Jesus movement, with a focus on singing relatively simple choruses, learning the Bible, and being challenged with clear Christian guidelines about how to follow Jesus in our relationships and vocations. It’s low cost, low-tech, and more about communicating the fact that Jesus loves young people and gives new life than about putting on a show.
I can say without reservation that our trips to India over the years have transformed me as a person and follower of Jesus more than any other single influence in my life except for being married and having children — and I have been blessed beyond measure with rich influences.
Our relationship with India YFC, the trips we’ve taken, and the relationships we’ve formed have been nowhere near perfect, and we have had to struggle and work through problems in this context just as we have in every other area of our life and ministry. But from my perspective, what I’ve seen in these brothers and sisters is true evangelical faith of the Jesus-shaped variety. Resurrection life by grace through faith in Jesus. An emphasis on loving God and others through simple devotion and humble, sacrificial service that grows out of that new life.
If that’s “evangelical,” count me in. I hope it will always be a part of who I am.
With the crisp fall weather, I've been in the mood for baking my own sweets. I tried out these carrot zucchini bars after discovering a couple of zukes on my plant. I substituted extra nuts for the raisins --- Ken...
1154: Henry II becomes King of England. Henry was married to the much older (nine to eleven years older) Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had been previously married to the King of France, Louis VII, until she managed to get her marriage annulled. Henry himself was nineteen years when he married Eleanor and only twenty-one when he became King of England. Henry and Eleanor had eight children, thereby creating much opportunity for future confusion and conflict regarding the throne of England. (I also have eight children, but no throne for them to fight over; therefore, I hope to see no internecine conflict among my progeny.)
Movies/drama featuring Henry II: Becket, The Lion in Winter, Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot.
When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman
Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman
Devil’s Brood by Sharon Kay Penman
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg
1400: Geoffrey Chaucer (birthday unknown) died on October 25, 1400. His Canterbury Tales begins with the words:
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tender croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So Priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages …
You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first. John Adams in a letter to Abigail Adams, April 28, 1776.
1854: The Battle of Balaklava during the Crimean War and the Charge of the Light Brigade. Tennyson wrote his famous poem about the charge after reading a newspaper report.
1881: Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain.
1952: Engineer Husband was born in Buda, Texas. Happy Birthday, my love.
I’m so tired of the ranting that’s going on in cyberspace these days it’s scary.
That’s right. I’ve had it with all the attention being given to that pastor in Seattle who resigned last week, and then showed up at a big conference where he talked about being a victim. Just seeing him sitting next to Steven Furtick was about all I could take.
And I don’t care to keep discussion going on and on about the subpoenaed sermons in Houston, even if one pundit called it a “secular jihad” and then, in the next breath, said, “We should not overreact” to this. Ya think?
And then there’s that couple who run a wedding mill, performing 1,400 weddings a year, because, well of course they believe in traditional Christian marriage™ (shouldn’t all believers get married in one of those cheesy little chapels by the side of the road?). Well, you may have heard they are getting in trouble for refusing to marry a gay couple, because, well of course they believe in traditional Christian marriage™ and are sworn to uphold the highest moral standards — but then again, they run a wedding mill!
Anyway, I don’t want to talk about any of that. It’s too depressing and annoying.
Instead, let’s look forward to an annual EVENT here at Internet Monk: Halloween is just around the corner. We’ll have our annual Michael Spencer Halloween rant next week, but since this is the last Saturday Ramblings before the fateful night, we’ll wend our way through forbidden corridors in the haunted monastery today, searching out clues and rambling through secret passageways to discover answers to life’s great mysteries. You know, like awesome arachnids, tasteless Halloween costumes, why petting a dog can lead to death threats, and nuns who sing about some very un-nunly things.
Before we begin rambling through the scary and spooky side of cyberspace this morning, here’s an update with good news from our friend and partner Jeff Dunn:
Hi guys. I thought I would share with you the good news I got yesterday. I went for a follow-up CT scan on my lungs on Monday, and saw the doc yesterday to get the report. NO CANCER! That is the good (great!) news.
I do, however, still show signs of the infection in my left lung that I’ve been dealing with for five or six weeks now, but it is getting better. Just not as fast as I would want. I’m probably breathing with 3/4ths of a lung now instead of 1/2 a lung I had a week or so ago, and no lung to speak of when this all started. I asked about the pain in my chest, and the doc said, “Well, this infection has made you have to work a lot harder to breath, and that has really ticked your chest off.” I guess that is medical jargon for “just deal with it.”
Anyway, the good news is I will most likely recover from this at some point, and there is no need for any more CT scans. I wanted to thank each of you for praying for me during these last few weeks. It has not been fun, I can tell you that.
Jeff wrote me again yesterday and said, “Be sure to tell the iMonks that I so appreciate all of their prayers and encouraging words. That helped me more than they can know.”
That’s so good it’s scary.
Pictures of the world’s largest spider have been making the rounds on social media and the news sites. I include it today mainly to scare the spit out of my wife, who has had me kill every spider who ever had the misfortune of startling her in our almost 36 years of marriage.
Live Science reports that the South American Goliath “birdeater” spider (Theraphosa blondi) has a leg span that can reach up to a foot, or about the size of “a child’s forearm,” with a body the size of “a large fist.” And the spider can weigh about as much as a young puppy.
If any of these get in my house, I’m gonna have to find a bigger shoe.
The Atlantic has determined that the “Ebola” costume is the worst Halloween costume of 2014. BrandsOnSale.com offers this Ebola suit, which comes with a face shield, breathing mask, safety goggles and blue latex gloves, but boots are not included. The costume’s web page calls the Ebola outfit the most “viral” costume of the year and say the wearer is “sure to be prepared if any outbreak happens” (though the company warns that it is not a real protective outfit).
Most “viral” costume of the year. Ha!
One guy whose store doesn’t carry the costume suggested instead that one might dress up as an Ebola victim, complete with gory details he’d be happy to design for you from their stock of make up and gag products. “Gag” is right. What is wrong with people?
If that doesn’t sound inappropriate enough for you, BrandsOnSale offers other costumes sure to induce groans and winces. How about a Joan Rivers wig? Or perhaps you’d like to dress your child up as a baby cigarette or a pot leaf?
I want to comment, but I got nothin’.
Syed Azmi Alhabashi, for some reason, decided to introduce himself and other Malaysian Muslims to the joys of petting dogs by holding an event called, “I Want to Touch a Dog.” It drew more than a thousand people to Central Park in Kuala Lampur. Many Muslims consider dogs to be ritually unclean, and one purpose for the event was for Muslims to learn what they should do after touching a canine. And so, one Muslim scholar demonstrated how followers of the faith should ritually cleanse their hands after touching dogs, a process that involves washing six times with clean water and once with dirt.
Well, call the scribes and the Pharisees (or the imams in this case). Senior Muslim clerics raised a stink, an investigation was launched, and Mr. Alhabashi has become the target of death threats and accusations of apostasy. Rumors have been circulating, claiming that he is secretly Christian, Shia or Jewish and trying to corrupt Malaysia’s majority-Sunni Muslims.
Most of us read those Bible accounts of rules about “clean” vs. “unclean” and cannot relate in the least. These people are still living in that world every day.
Thanks to alert iMonk Steve who told us about Carla Rivera’s story in the LA Times about campus groups in California State Universities. Chapters of InterVarsity and some other Christian groups were stripped of recognition at California State University campuses this fall because they refused to sign a non-discrimination policy requiring clubs and organizations to open their memberships and leadership to all students.
This so-called “all-comers” policy is not directed specifically at Christian groups. Rivera notes that Democratic clubs must open membership and leadership to Republicans and those supporting other parties, ethnic groups must allow people from other ethnicities to join and lead, and so on. If a particular group refuses to sign the non-discrimination policy, they can still meet, but not with any of the government-funded benefits of a university sponsored organization.
With regard to religious organizations, Rivera quotes leaders of Jewish and Muslim groups who have gone along with the policy and said it hasn’t been an issue for them. And she notes, “Even with the open-leadership requirement, campus organizations can set rules that reflect their core missions: They can require a potential officer to show a deep knowledge of the Bible or, in the case of the guitar club, a certain level of musical ability.” However, many of the Christian groups insist that requiring their leaders to be Christians is an essential part of the Bible’s teaching and their identity and mission and that they should be allowed to maintain that condition.
Sister Cristina Scuccia, Italy’s “singing nun,” became famous after winning a TV talent show. As a devout Catholic she wanted to use her gifts and celebrity status to testify to her faith through a music video. All well and good. I’m not sure she chose the right song, however. Sister Cristina decided to cover Madonna’s Like a Virgin. She said she was trying to “redeem” the song for Jesus. But, um, I’m not sure that one’s redeemable, Sis.
If that’s not crazy enough for you, here’s a link to Sister Cristina’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
Not quite sure what to say, but Sister’s stuck in the 80’s.
Enjoy Halloween. And be safe.
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.
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.”
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?
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.