- C.S. Lewis
Oh, my. I have read and enjoyed several novels by Pearl S. Buck, but this 1970 novel set in in India wasn’t one of them. I did read about 4/5 of the story before I skipped to the ending and put myself out of my own misery.
The book presented such a cliched view of India, of Americans, of British, of priests, of men and women, of sex and sexuality. The entire book was hard to read, not because it was philosophically difficult, but because it wasn’t—but tried to be. Prince Jagat, the male protagonist, is a man of the “new India”, full of ideas about how he will fit his life into the changes that have come about since the ending of the British Raj. And yet he expects his wife and his daughter to passively respond to his every whim and demand. And for the most part, they do.
Other cliches and stereotypes include the bluff, good-hearted American Bert Osgood; the mysterious and beautiful American lady Brooke Westley (really, Westley because she’s a Westerner, get it?); the rebellious daughter Veera who eventually gives in with a pout; the ghostlike Moti, Jagat’s wife, who glides about in her traditional sari, drinking tea and mumbling wise proverbs; Father Francis, the priest who has sublimated his sexuality in doing good works among the poor; and of course, beautiful, mysterious, esoteric India itself. Common Indians are “poor but happy”, uneducated, stuck in the past, unwilling to give up customs and religious practices that are damaging to their own well-being, but at the same time essential to their Indian heritage. They are stuck between the past and modernity, and no Westerner can truly fathom the depths of the history and heritage that have made the Indian culture what it is. Ah, it is a mystery.
300+ pages of Eastern mysticism combined with agnosticism, adultery and religious speculation is just too much. The end: “Believing and unbelieving, he gave a great sigh. ‘I do not know,’ he said, and believing and unbelieving, he went his way.”
At the 2018 G3 Conference I spoke on “Discipleship in Diversity.” I told of how we, at Grace Fellowship Church, have learned to be a church that is united in a context of great diversity. I concluded the message with a video of some of the people of Grace Fellowship Church reading Revelation 5 in many different languages. I hope you enjoy it.
(Yesterday on the blog: Seven Thoughts on the Billy Graham / Mike Pence Rule)
“Leadership is often very humbling, and leadership is most dangerous when it ceases to be.” It is good and wise for every leader to consider the importance of humility.
“Take a step back for a moment and imagine that you were born without arms. You have to do everyday tasks with your feet. You write with your feet. You eat with your feet. You put gas in your car by lying down on the ground to lift the nozzle with your feet. You pay for a gallon of milk at the grocery store by carrying it to the checkout line with your teeth and then taking your debit card out of your shoe and swiping it through the credit card machine with your toes. That’s my life.”
“Mark Zuckerberg announced Friday that Facebook will begin surveying users about which news sources they trust, in an effort to rank publications on ‘trustworthiness.’ This rating will help determine media companies’ placement in the News Feed, thereby materially changing the traffic that their stories receive.” Needless to say, some have raised questions and concerns.
This video helpfully (and alarmingly) shows why you should probably stick to the speed limits.
You know, the tragedy of churches like this is that they always think they are doing something original rather than something that has been attempted and failed a million times over. The latest example of this is in my hometown, Toronto.
“Morrissey famously sang, ‘shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to’. Less famously, my Dad once opined that whilst ‘confidence is a good trait; shyness never did anything for anyone’. I think I probably agree with both sentiments, more or less.”
This guy went in trying to shoplift something from the new AmazonGo stores, and found it really isn’t that easy. Is this the future of shopping?
“When it comes to the truth of the Bible, our world has found plenty of reasons to reject it. We are bombarded with a dizzying variety of objections. So much so, that the average believer is quickly overwhelmed. It’s a bit like being in a fight with multiple opponents at the same time.” Michael Kruger quickly and helpfully breaks them down.
Here we have five responsibilities that come to us by virtue of aging—the responsibilities of maturity, involvement, example, mentoring, and watchfulness.
Legalistic remorse says, “I broke God’s rules,” while real repentance says, “I broke God’s heart.” — Tim Keller
A new book in a beloved series is like a reunion with old friends. If there are no big surprises, who cares? It’s the little surprises that make it delightful.
In his latest Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novel, The Wanted, Elvis’s new client is Devon Cole, an ordinary single mother who’s deeply worried about her teenaged son Tyson. Tyson was always shy and awkward, so she was happy when he made friends in his new school. But now he’s started to wear clothing he can’t afford, and he’s sporting a Rolex wristwatch she’s pretty sure is the real McCoy. She also found a large amount of cash in his room.
Making the usual inquiries, Elvis is surprised to get pulled up short by the police. They’re seeking a gang of burglars who are hitting upscale homes, and they want to know what Elvis knows. But neither Elvis nor the police realize that young Tyson is already the most wanted person in LA – wanted by a couple of ruthless, psychopathic hit men who will not hesitate to torture and kill anyone they think possesses information that will lead them to the thieves. The whole thing could be sensibly handled through cooperating with the police, but Elvis soon learns that Tyson – and his loopy, thrill-seeking new girlfriend – have no interest in being sensible. Elvis will need all his own skills, plus the deadly skills of his taciturn, dangerous partner Joe Pike – to get the kids out of this mess alive.
The plot of The Wanted is pretty much what you’d expect, but that’s beside the point. As with every Robert Crais novel, the pleasure here is the small surprises, hidden within the living, many-faceted characters. Nobody here is made of cardboard – even the two stone killers have intriguing interior lives.
I highly recommend The Wanted. Cautions for language, violence, and adult situations.
This week the blog has been sponsored by The Master’s University.
We should be reminded that as we read the Bible this year, we don’t just want to read it through, we want to read it well. When we come to a text where we wonder, “How is this useful?” don’t just skim over it. That’ll only reinforce our wrong conception that the Bible isn’t that profitable. Rather, connect the dots. See how the biblical writers alluded to earlier revelation and how the passage we are reading contributes to that theology. The solution is not to skip over passages but to get deeper into them. That’s because the biblical writers are theologians and all that they wrote is theological.
Doing this will make our quiet times more compelling. Figuring out cross references, context, and how all the details of a text build upon the theology of the previous revelation is like solving a puzzle. It keeps our minds occupied with God’s Word. And as we figure things out, it makes us more curious to see what else there is to learn and how everything plays out. All of this will make us go back to read the Bible more, wrestle with the text more, and meditate on it more —the very things we want to do.
Doing this will also make our quiet times more profitable. As we start to learn how everything in the Bible is theological, we see the wisdom of God in how He wrote His Word. Even more, we see how every detail and facet of Scripture announce the complex majesty and beauty of the God of the Word. With that, our lives will never be the same again.
So may we this year not only read the Bible through but well. That kind of time in the Word is truly devotional.
Adapted from Dr. Abner Chou’s article on “Getting Theology from the Text.” Read the article in its entirety by CLICKING HERE.
Dr. Chou is one of the world-class professors at The Master’s University and regularly teaches in the Online, Master’s of Arts in Biblical Studies program.
The Master’s University Online offers Undergraduate and Graduate programs in Bible, Business, and Education, as well as High School Dual Credit opportunities.
Phone: 877-302- 3337
The Master’s University Online – Earn your degree. Advance your career. Without Compromise.
Aye, Robot is the latest in a short series of Starship Grifters book. It’s the second of three, the prequel, Out of the Soylent Planet, being published after its release. A few dialogue lines refer to previous events and none of the main characters need reintroduction, but it stands on its own.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” snapped Rex. “What’s my name?”
“Rex Nihilio,” I said.
“And what’s my occupation?”
“You’re the self-described ‘greatest wheeler-dealer in the galaxy.'”
“Correct,” said Rex. “It sounds better if you leave off the ‘self-described,’ though. What’s your name?”
“Which stands for what?”
“Self-Arresting near Sentient Heuristic Android.”
Sasha, the narrator of the story, tells us the space grifter Rex Nihilio is reckless enough to need someone to hold him back (or get in his way) so he doesn’t get killed while off on a wild hair. That’s where she comes in. She begins by wondering about loss of memory, because she realizes nether she nor Rex can recall details of their actions from minutes before the conversation above. Plus Rex is acting generously, completely out of character for him.
They quickly fall into trouble through Rex’s new behavior patterns and just as quickly go from fryer to fire as something very big watches them from the shadows. As their adventure continues, they run afowl common criminals, Space Apostles, and the Malarchian government’s worst law-enforcer, Heinous Vlaak.
The story leans more light-hearted crime novel than full-throated comic. Most of the comedy comes in funny names and misused words. Nothing dark. Gullible stooges get their just desserts. It’s all good. I enjoyed it. One of my children did too, but a younger one didn’t get it.
Also included in this book is the novella, “The Yanthus Prime Job,” another light-hearted crime story with one of the characters we meet in the main story. It raises questions about how we treat those we deem unimportant.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles. It’s a surprise, even to himself, when in Wichita Falls Captain Jefferson Kidd agrees to deliver ten year old Johanna Leonberger to her relatives near Fredericksburg. Johanna has been a captive of the Kiowa for four years, and now the girl has been recovered. But, unfortunately for her, Johanna still believes she is Kiowa, but the Indians don’t want her back and the only choice Johanna has is whether or not to go quietly to her unremembered relatives’ home in German country.
The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. A lovely novel about enduring suffering and finding one’s place in the world.
Safely Home by Randy Alcorn. American businessman Ben Fielding discovers the truth about the persecuted church in China when he goes to visit his former college roommate, Li Quan.
The Glorious Cause by Jeff Shaara. A fictionalized history of the American revolution as seen through the eyes of George Washington, Nathaniel Green, Benedict Arnold, the Marquis de Lafayette, British Generals William Howe and Henry Clinton and Charles Cornwallis.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Dr. Annick Swenson is working, in the heart of the Amazon jungle, on a fertility drug that will revolutionize the world, if it can be brought to market. The trouble is that Dr. Swenson can’t be bothered to communicate with the pharmaceutical company that is sponsoring her work and that hopes to make a fortune by selling her discovery. The company has already sent one person down to Brazil to find out what’s going on, Anders Eckman. But he’s disappeared, reported dead. Now, they want Dr. Marina Singh, a researcher who worked with Eckman, to go to Brazil, find out exactly what happened to her friend and colleague Anders Eckman, and bring back a firm timetable for the completion of research on the fertility drug.
Frederica by Georgette Heyer. Solid Regency romance with strong characters and witty and slangy repartee. I liked the romantic leads quite a bit, and I even felt sympathy for the ingenue parts, played by Frederica’s sister Charis and her crush.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. World War I veteran Tom Sherburne, returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a small, isolated island off the coast of western Australia. He marries a local girl, Isabel, and although the marriage is happy, the isolation of the lighthouse leads Isabel to make a fateful decision.
Kindred by Octavia Butler. Dana, a twentieth century black woman, is transported back in time to the early nineteenth century in a slave state where she is forced to decide again and again whether she should do something to save the life of a young white slaveowner, Rufus.
Demelza by Winston Graham. This second book in the Poldark series ends with death, destruction, and loss. From its hope filled beginning with the birth of a child for Ross and Demelza Poldark to the end when all is dark with only a hint of light in the last line of the novel, the story is an engaging look at late 18th century Cornwall and its politics, characters and social customs.
Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham. The third book in the Poldark saga.
I have often wondered how Billy Graham feels about having a rule named after him. And it’s not just any rule either, but one that has generated all kinds of controversy both within the church and outside of it. Having a name synonymous with marital faithfulness must be a joy; having a name synonymous with charges of puritanical prudishness must be a burden. I wonder if he’s been happy enough to hand it off to Mike Pence and let him carry the load for a while. (Definition: The Billy Graham/Mike Pence Rule establishes that a man will not put himself in situations in which he is alone with a woman who is not his wife.)
The Billy Graham/Mike Pence Rule bubbles up on a regular basis as a discussion that usually seems to generate considerably more heat than light. To be frank, I don’t much care how unbelievers feel about it, but do care quite a lot about how Christians feel about it. Even more so, I care how they feel about those who do or do not hold to it. What follows are some of my thoughts on the Rule.
First, we all acknowledge there are appropriate and inappropriate ways for men and women to relate when one or both are married to someone else. The question is not whether unmarried men and women will establish boundaries different from those they establish with people of the same sex, but where and how. Few would say it’s wrong for a man and woman to consider one another friends even if they are each married to other people; few would recommend they travel together as, say, two male or two female friends can. We all establish our own boundaries even if we never name or formalize them. Some hold to the Rule because they fear time alone with a member of the opposite sex may lead to sexual temptation and, ultimately, adultery; some have no fear of committing grave sin but still hold to it out of a desire to avoid the appearance of scandal.
Second, Romans 14:4 (and, indeed, the rest of that chapter) sheds important light on this matter. The Billy Graham Rule is not a universal law mandated by the Bible, but a personal rule mandated by conscience. It is not a biblical law but an attempt to flesh out a biblical principle (sexual purity and/or being seen as above reproach). Many will follow the Rule according to their best understanding of how to ensure they are honoring God. In so doing they will be heeding their conscience, and right here Romans 14:4 asks, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” If someone believes they ought to follow the Rule or one much like it, we must not only affirm their right to do so, but also the rightness of them doing so. We cannot and must not pass judgment on them or belittle them in any way. In fact, we need to be far more willing to lend support than cast judgment.
Third, no one owes anyone else an explanation for why they do or do not hold to the Rule (except, perhaps, one spouse to another and/or an elder to his fellow elders). Again, “It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” Both flaunting adherence to a law and flaunting freedom from it are sinful and unloving toward others.
Fourth, part of the reason we need to be so careful in passing judgment and holding others to our standard is that the church is made up of many people from many ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds. It is myopic to speak universally across such diversity. A Christian man sitting in a café sipping coffee with a woman who is not his wife may be doing something unremarkable according to the customs of one culture but utterly scandalous according to another. A man who is recently saved out of a lifestyle of extreme promiscuity may be unwisely putting himself in the way of too much temptation. A husband needs to account for the fears, struggles, or temptations of his wife (and a wife of her husband) and for that reason may hold to the Rule out of love even if he or she experiences no struggle or temptation. There are many, many reasons people may hold to the Rule or one like it and those are exactly and precisely none of your business.
Fifth, the Rule may matter more today than ever before for reasons related to modern technologies and ideologies. On the technology front, everyone carries a camera and a broadcasting device with them at all times. At any time, any person can snap a photo and immediately make it available to the world. An Instagram snapshot can make a very innocent situation appear decidedly suspicious. On the ideological front, we have shifted from the presumption of innocence to the presumption of guilt, not in the legal system but in the court of popular judgment. Thus, it does not take proof of adultery to find someone guilty and imperil his or her reputation, but a mere photograph accompanied by a suggestive question or accusation. This comes into play especially for pastors and elders who are qualified to the office only if they are deemed above reproach.
Sixth, extremely rigid adherence to the Rule may be unhelpful or even sinful if it interferes with an opportunity to show love to a person in need. Legitimate and helpful rules can tip into sinful legalism if they are so rigid they convince us we cannot offer assistance to someone who may be among “the least of these.” Think, by way of example, of how the Pharisees used man-made Sabbath laws as a reason to condemn Jesus for carrying out acts of mercy. The Rule may also be unhelpful or sinful when it generates suspicion toward people of the opposite sex feel as if they are the problem. A man may begin to distrust the women around him like each one is a seductress who means to ruin his life, marriage, and ministry.
Seventh, rules have a sneaky way of becoming a person’s hope for purity. Establishing personal boundaries may be wise, but abiding by a rule cannot be confused with growing in sanctification. A Christian doesn’t prove the inner work of the Holy Spirit by so bounding himself with rules that he cannot act out sinfully, but when his desire to sin has been replaced by a desire to do what honors and glorifies God. Rules have their place, but they must never be separated from a prayerful determination to put sin to death.
Do I hold to the Rule? Kind of. I have genuine friendships with women, but don’t invite them to meet up for a coffee “just because” or travel with me to a conference like I do with their husbands. On the other hand, I’m perfectly comfortable having a business-related lunch or coffee with a woman who works for or with me. I’ve sometimes willingly “bent” the rule in situations in which rigidly adhering to it would have removed an opportunity to express love or care for a person.
The long and short of it is that there is great freedom within the Christian life to hold or not to hold to the Billy Graham slash Mike Pence Rule. In this, as in so many other areas, “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
Today’s Kindle deals include quite a selection of books written by and for women.
(Yesterday on the blog: Headlines & Happenings (Jordan Peterson, #MeToo, The “Sickening Danger” of Homeschooling)
“To most American Christians, this practice may sound crazy. But African Christians will explain that they are simply following the ways of Jesus, who many times spent the whole night in prayer (Luke 6:12). Sure, it takes discipline, but it’s a great way to grow in godliness and faithfulness. So, they argue, why shouldn’t we follow Jesus’ example?” It’s a valid question, isn’t it?
You may have heard how the Canadian government is withholding a subsidized summer jobs program from organizations that will not vow their support for abortion. This article explains. “The Canada Summer Jobs program is usually one of the best parts of an MP’s job: they get to proudly go around their riding announcing grants to small businesses, non-profits and public sector organizations that subsidize the wages of summer students. But this year the program has sparked a huge controversy over whether the government is violating religious freedom by requiring all applicants to sign an ‘attestation’ that includes respect for reproductive rights — in other words, access to abortions.”
This is pretty amazing, though I wish it was more explicit with what you’re actually seeing each time. “See the world of ordinary organic objects magnified up to 1000x, to reveal beautiful and unique landscape structures, never before seen like this. Using a custom motion control device, microscope and 4k video, we bring a microscopic world to life.”
This article tells about modern-day missionaries who continue to carry out the hardest ministries and who continue to suffer for it.
“McDonald’s first started the Monopoly promotion in 1987, and its premise was simple: attach Monopoly pieces to food cartons and cups, with each piece signifying a Monopoly property or a small prize. One out of every four pieces would be a small prize, such as a medium fry or soda, and a very few of the prizes would be significantly more valuable, such as a car or, with the proper pieces, cash – up to $1 million.” But then it all went awry.
Young Writers might be interested in this book, The Young Writer’s Guidebook written by Brett Harris.
“Death might frighten us because it’s unknown—but it doesn’t have to. If we think about death often, and realize that to live is Christ and to die truly is gain, then we can live lives full of wisdom and godliness. We get to live for Christ today, and we gain him even more if we die tomorrow.”
A good funeral allows God to speak through his Word, so he can tell those who attend about the hope he offers through his Son.
Christian giving is to be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation. —John Stott
As one week gives way to another, I attempt to provide a roundup of the themes that were prominent among Christian readers and writers in the week that was. This week people were discussing Cathy Newman’s embarrassingly terrible interview of Jordan Peterson, the #MeToo movement inside and outside of Christian circles, and the supposedly “sickening danger” of homeschooling.
Jordan Peterson: Hero?
The internet was buzzing after Jordan Peterson’s interview with Cathy Newman. The interview (which includes a handful of “damns” and “hells”) is well worth watching in its entirety. Peterson is not a Christian (in an interview linked below he was asked, “Are you a Christian? Do you believe in God?” to which he replied, “I think the proper response to that is No, but I’m afraid He might exist.”). However, he has clearly been deeply shaped by Christianity and, for that reason among others, has been able to stick his head up above so much of the fray today, and speak with remarkable clarity. In a strange way, many Christians find that he speaks for them. Here’s the infamous interview:
Newman has clearly misunderstood Peterson’s position, his intellect, and his ability to respond to her ideological attacks. Rod Dreher said, “The interview ought to be shown in journalism classes as an example of what happens when a journalist believes that ideological ardor substitutes for reason, and that contempt for her interview subject should rightly override professionalism.” In Jordan Peterson and Powerful Men, Alastair Roberts offered some very insightful analysis. “Within society today, men are increasingly taught that their power is toxic and problematic, that they need to step back to let women advance. The sort of male spaces in which men develop and play to their strengths are closed down and the sexes integrated. The suggestion that the male sex rather needs to step up and play to its strengths, and not just function as meek, compliant, and deferential allies to women, is one that instinctively appalls many. ‘Powerful man’ is seldom heard as anything but a pejorative expression.” And again, “Newman seems to be expecting to deal with another man-child who is acting out against the matriarchal forces in society, some puerile provocateur like Milo Yiannopoulos, perhaps. Encountering a manly adult male instead, she seems to be wrong-footed. By the end, she appears to be charmed by Peterson, despite herself.” It’s hard to overstate how important and insightful Roberts’ article is.
Writing for The Spectator, Douglas Murray said, “Whatever else anybody might think of him, Professor Peterson is a man of remarkable learning and experience, and does not appear to have arrived at any of his views by the now common means of ‘I reckon’. Yet Newman, who approaches the interview with the trademark sourness she employs for everyone she expects to disagree with, treats this is just another chance to burnish her own social justice credentials and expose her guest as a bigot. Big mistake.” Stephen Kneale quoted some of it and pointed out, like Rod Dreher, that this interview is a “clear example of how much modern discourse tends to run” and, in that way, and important bit of viewing for Christians. Be sure to also watch and read this interview with Christie Blatchford of the National Post and this article that discussed some of the ideology Peterson is battling against. This one from The Spectator grapples with Peterson’s unexpected star power and what makes him such a popular figure, especially among young men.
Peterson’s new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos releases next week and is sure to generate a lot more discussion and controversy.
Christians continue to discuss the #MeToo phenomenon that has swept the world over the past couple of months. The recent (sexually explicit) exposé of Aziz Ansari may have proven one step too far for the movement and has generated a strong backlash from many varied quarters, from liberal feminists to conservative Christians. Writing for First Things, Samuel James wrote about what the sexual revolution has actually accomplished. “The sexual revolution has a well-known masculine bias. Though feminists have won real battles, the outcome of the war has never been in doubt. Unmooring sexuality from the home, from marriage, and from religion has benefitted nobody more than lecherous, grasping men.” Specifically about Ansari he said, “At the heart of the #MeToo moment in American culture is the dawning awareness of just how unfair revolutionary sex can be. This isn’t only about raising awareness of violent acts of rape or assault, though it certainly is about that. The architects of #MeToo see the movement as a referendum on something much bigger. This is why, for example, Aziz Ansari has been publicly humiliated amidst allegations that read a lot like sour grapes.”
In last week’s wrap-up I highlighted the recent news about pastor Andy Savage and his admission that he had been involved in a “sexual incident” with a girl when he was a youth pastor. Abby Perry compared this situation to one in the world of entertainment and said, “The Church Needs a Masterclass in How to Apologize for Sexual Assault.” While I affirm what she says about Christians and churches apologizing for sexual assault, I do think we can add this: Whether in churches or Hollywood, many people craft only and exactly the apology they need to maintain their position. I do not mean to pass judgment on the sincerity of either of the apologies she describes, but it’s beyond dispute that many people apologize with the help of PR specialists. This may be especially prevalent in the world of politics and entertainment, but it’s well-established that many people within Christian circles now also turn to PR help when they’ve been caught or exposed.
The “Sickening Danger” of Homeschooling
This week brought the horrifying news of David and Louisa Turpin who had kept their 13 children captive in chains within their home. It soon became known that the family had registered a home school and, in that way, kept their tortured and malnourished children out of the public eye. This prompted Damon Linker to write in The Week of The Sickening Danger of Home-schooling. He said there must be increased government oversight of homeschools, including “annual checks by a state government employee, empowered to look for signs of abuse and evidence that kids are actually being educated, would seem to be a minimum required by a commonsense concern for the well-being of the children involved. Sure, the home-school lobbyists will object. But then they will find themselves in the awkward position of defending the right of the Turpins to torture their kids undetected.”
Alan Jacobs responded with a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder: “Excellent idea! But why stop there? Spousal abuse is surely a greater blight on our society than child abuse by homeschoolers, so I make this proposal: In households of married people, annual checks by a state government employee, empowered to look for signs of abuse by one spouse of another, would seem to be a minimum required by a commonsense concern for the well-being of the adults involved. Sure, some pro-marriage lobbyists will object. But then they will find themselves in the awkward position of defending the right of men to beat their wives undetected.” He went on to tell why he and his wife chose to homeschool their son. Rod Dreher (who, though Orthodox, has a strong voice among evangelicals) also told why he and his wife homeschool. “In my family’s case, we did it not because we wanted to shield our precious babies from the Heathenous Public Schools, but because we really did (and do) believe that we can do a better job teaching them what we believe they need to know. We have never lived in a state that doesn’t care what you teach kids. Our kids have had to take state assessment tests every year, and they’ve always done very, very well. I think that’s a reasonable expectation from the state, frankly.” He also poignantly described some of his negative experiences with public schools as a child.
Though my family does not homeschool, I agree entirely with Jacobs’ conclusion: “Recommendations like Damon’s exemplify plain, straightforward bigotry against religious conservatives.” Speaking personally, I find it difficult to see given the current cultural climate (especially in Canada) how homeschooling will continue to remain legal in 10 or 20 years.
Today’s Kindle deals includes A Practical Guide to Culture which is well worth checking out. There’s also a MacArthur collection in there.
Yesterday on the blog: On Being Thought Well of By Outsiders)
“On the morning of August 9, 2017, I was digging holes as usual when a guard ordered me to stop, ushered me inside and told me to gather my things. I scooped up my Bible and a few papers, including one of the hymns I’d composed, and they shoved me in a car. Thirty minutes later, I was pulled into a tiny conference room of a Pyongyang hotel. On one side of a long table was a line of people I assumed were Canadians.”
Jared Wilson: “One of our perennial problems is that we mistake the behavioral tidiness and normalcy of our everyday routines for spiritual tidiness and normalcy. But this is a trap all too common in modern life. We have compartmentalized our spirituality.”
Hint: It’s not because he was pining away in loneliness. In fact, it really wasn’t about him at all.
Murray Campbell writes, “I love taking Claude (family greyhound) for an early morning walk through the streets of Parkdale and Mentone, and to listen to the Bible as we go. Today in the Psalms, I was struck by Psalm 8:2, which says, ‘Through the praise of children and infants, you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.'”
It’s surprisingly stirring to read a positive account of having a large family. Warning: There are a couple OMG’s in the article.
This is an interview between Greg Koukl and “author and apologist Nancy Pearcey on her new book, Love Thy Body, discussing how our secular culture fragments the human person by denying the value and meaning of the body, leading to a cultural divide on numerous social issues.”
“Every preacher has his flaws, and eventually the congregation will see them. That’s why visiting preachers often seem much better than our own pastor. It’s because we don’t know them and their flaws in the same way as we know our own pastor. But…”
Flashback: The Most Difficult Time To Lead
The most difficult time to lead is when you have forfeited the respect of those who are meant to follow you, when your confidence, and theirs, is shattered. But this is also the most important time to lead.
Gathered worship is our weekly celebration of victory that the war is won, that our enemy’s head is crushed, and that our future is secure in our returning and conquering king. —Burk Parsons
The two previous books by N.H. Senzai that I read, Shooting Kabul and Saving Kabul Corner, were both about Afghan immigrants to the United States, and they were both good, informative reads. Escape From Aleppo is set in Syria, mostly in 2013, as the protagonist, Nadia, becomes separated from her family and is caught between government troops, rebel brigades, and ISIS fighters, as she tries to flee to Turkey for safety and to find her family.
The story is a little heavy on the “informative” side, probably necessarily so considering the ignorance of most Americans in regard to Syrian history and politics. Nevertheless, I enjoy learning about history and current events through the medium of fiction, and Escape From Aleppo tells a good tale of life and the struggle for survival in a war-torn country.
Fourteen year old Nadia, even as she is escaping the bombs and snipers of Aleppo, remembers her twelfth birthday, December 17, 2010, which happened to coincide with the beginning of the “Arab Spring” insurrections and demonstrations, all ignited by a young man’s suicide in Tunisia. The civil unrest and rebellion against “authoritarian regimes” moves to Syria in 2011, and to Aleppo where Nadia lives in 2012. All of this history is covered in the book by means of interspersed flashback chapters that interrupt the flow of the narrative about Nadia’s journey to safety at the Turkish border through war-torn Aleppo and through the Syrian countryside. However, I’m not sure how the background information could have been conveyed in any other way, and I did learn a lot about recent Syrian history and government, and a little about more ancient Syrian history.
The story includes some mystery; who is the mysterious old man with the donkey who agrees to help Nadia reach the Turkish border? And there’s quite a bit of suspense and adventure. Of course, since it takes place in the middle of a war, there’s violence and tragedy, but none of the descriptions is too horribly graphic. Nadia is the central and most fully realized character in the book, and readers will identify with her fight to grow up quickly, be brave, and take charge of her life and her journey.
I haven’t yet posted any links to Prof. Jackson Crawford’s videos. I have not viewed as much of his stuff as I probably should have, but what I’ve seen impresses me very much. In this short one he tells us how the Vikings pronounced a number of names of gods and mythological characters. If you’re wondering whether I pronounce them that way, no, I confess I don’t. But it’s good to learn.
Have a good weekend.
I was offered a free copy of Robert Kroese’s The Dream of the Iron Dragon, and I figured it’s a space opera with Vikings, I’ll give it a shot. I found it an entertaining read.
It’s the 23rd Century, and earth is no longer habitable. An alien enemy called the Cho-ta’an destroyed the planet, and now humanity survives on a handful of scattered earth-like worlds, grimly awaiting the day when the technologically superior Cho-ta’an will finish the job.
The Andrea Luhman is a small scouting ship, sent out to hunt for new habitable planets. They are not prepared for a mysterious message, sent from an unlikely ally who offers them a doomsday weapon that could turn the whole war around.
Soon they are racing home, pursued by a Cho-ta’an ship. A desperate maneuver sends them back in time, to earth in the 9th Century, and they crash-land in Norway.
King Harald Fairhair is at that point consolidating his unification of the country. The space people soon find themselves caught up in the resistance, using their rapidly diminishing weapons and ammunition, plus their technological knowledge, to help a chieftain in his campaign to avenge himself on Harald.
The Dream of the Iron Dragon is pretty good. I’m not personally a big fan of space opera, but I judge this pretty much the kind of optimistic military sci fi story Baen Books fans would welcome. As for the Viking elements, they could be worse. There were some errors – especially toward the end – but author Kroese has clearly done some serious research, and he manages to craft a plausible Viking world.
First of a trilogy. Recommended, with cautions for language and violence.
This week: For the Houstonians, 13 things you did during the icepocalypse.
- Reorganized my Tupperware.
- Watched so many YouTube videos.
- Watched about 60% of Get Out.
- Burned some CDs that I owe people.
- Ate a lot of toast.
- Got out and went for a walk and got the mail.
- Drank a lot of coffee.
- Got a lot of text messages from my supervisor re: work being closed.
- Continued to read Tom Hanks’s new book.
- Caught up on my podcasts.
- Caught up on my Bible reading plan.
- Got out and went to Target.
- Caught up on sleep (woot woot).
It reached 27 degrees today where I live, and that feels pretty good after the cold stretch. Yesterday I was able to wear my Mad Bomber hat with the ear flaps up, and today I was able to switch to a flat cap with ear flaps. The sun doesn’t go down till about a minute after 5:00, which means I can at least begin my homeward commute with the car lights off, sparing my battery a little work. (I’m thoughtful like that.)
I’ve been listening to a bit of Glenn Beck in the mornings recently. I’m not a big fan of his, but I had to stop listening to his competitor on the other talk network, Mike Gallagher. Mike is a very nice guy, I’m sure, but I’ve grown more and more to suspect that he isn’t terribly bright. He thinks with his heart, which annoys me. It’s like a conservative operating with a liberal’s equipment. What made him dead to me, though, was a day some time before Christmas, when a listener called in to his show to repeat the canard that goes, “Well, you know, Abraham Lincoln owned slaves.”
[For the record, in case it comes up, Abraham Lincoln never owned a slave. Not one. Nor did his father, who was an abolitionist. Lincoln’s wife’s family owned slaves, it’s true, but the Lincolns never did. I’ll reconsider the argument if the person making it is willing to take responsibility for all his own in-laws’ actions.]
But Mike Gallagher, with his national microphone and a staff of assistants, didn’t bother to refute the assertion. He just said, “Well, Lincoln had a lot of problems in relation to black people.” Then when angry listeners (like me) called in to complain, he just said, “I didn’t say he owned slaves.”
In my opinion, all conservative talk show hosts are morally obligated to let no one ever get away with saying Lincoln owned slaves. That obligation is right up there with shooting down the “Bush blew up the Twin Towers” theory.
Anyway, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, I listened to a piece of Glenn Beck’s program. He was talking to a science fiction writer about the concept of Artificial Intelligence. They were agreed that humanity is in grave danger, in the fairly near future, of being surpassed and perhaps enslaved by something like androids. The Singularity, it’s called – the day when machines become smarter than humans.
Let me go out on a limb and say it – I am not worried about the Singularity.
I speak, of course, not as a person well-informed on artificial intelligence, or computer programming, or cognitive science. I speak as an old man who’s heard the boy cry “Wolf!” too many times.
All my life, dogmatic materialists have been threatening me with the end of Christianity. “Soon,” they say, “any day now – we’ll crack the central mysteries of the universe and answer all the important questions, and there will be no more need for religion.”
A popular example was the prediction that “We’ll soon be able to create life in the laboratory, proving that life began purely by chance in the primordial soup.” I’ve grown old, and that experiment still hasn’t succeeded, as far as I know. Turns out life is more complex than they expected.
There was the famous gorilla experiment, where they taught gorillas to “speak” in sign language. “This,” they told us, “will soon prove that rational sentience is not confined to human beings. The great apes have it too, but they haven’t been able to communicate with us until now.” Years later, I happened on a short article, buried somewhere in the back pages of some publication, which admitted that the experiment had failed. Gorillas aren’t really mute human beings with lots of back hair. Their communications weren’t as meaningful as the experimenters hoped and claimed. And the laboratory gorillas themselves lived sad lives, suspended between two alien worlds.
In short, my observation is that what I’ll call “Sciencists” (as opposed to genuine scientists, who do invaluable service to mankind) are forever proclaiming that they’ll soon possess the key to some great, ultimate mystery, but the key turns out to just open a door to a chamber with a further locked door.
The universe, I believe, is irreducibly complex. It’s like the Tardis – bigger on the inside than on the outside. The further you drill down, the more complicated everything gets.
The scientist J. B. S. Haldane disliked C. S. Lewis, and famously wrote a scathing review of That Hideous Strength. But he was not without wisdom, and I’m very fond of one of his quotations, from his book Possible Worlds and Other Papers – “My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
There speaks a genuine scientific mind.
What Do People Do All Day turns 50 this year. Author Richard Scarry (1919-1994) has sold well over 100 million books by sticking to what The Independent calls “his limitation. Having hit on a formula that worked so well he did little more than tinker with it throughout a long and highly profitable creative career.” When your readers and their parents beat your books up with love, why would you shift gears to draw maps for the army or some such?
“Half his books are storybooks,” his son, Richard Scarry, Jr., who writes under the name Huck Scarry, told the NY Times in 1994, “and half are educational books, but the educational books always try to get across whatever educational information they have to tell in an amusing and lighthearted way.”
Productivity experts and uber-awesome moms extol the virtues of waking up early. The quiet, peaceful mornings. The crisp, cool air. The relaxed cup of coffee over Bible reading.
I’ve been experimenting with waking up early again. It’s been, oh, twenty years since I’ve had consistent early mornings.
I remember why. Anytime I wake up early, the little kids do to. And cranky.
I’m going back to bed.
In the two years Hart spent at the facility, the library’s inventory grew from 600 books to more than 15,000. When prisoners weren’t after books on deboning animals, they sought out titles on crocheting, affordable living in tiny homes, and what Hart calls “street lit,” a genre of memoirs from reformed criminals. The Japanese graphic novel Naruto was popular; so was the Christian-driven Left Behind series, about the people who remain following the Rapture.
The prison library is a set commonly seen in movies. It offers a lot of opportunities for secret conversations, the transfer of contraband items, and sending messages in code. If you’re curious what it’s like to serve the information needs of real-world incarcerated offenders, here’s an article on the subject from Atlas Obscura.
It’s interesting that they bring up the subject of “banned books.” I expect the American Library Association is working hard to get prisoners access to bomb-making manuals. You can’t deny people their constitutional rights, just because they’ve forfeited their constitutional rights, after all. Stop discriminating against the morally creative!
‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.’
Much has been written in Tolkien scholarship about the influence World War I had on the composition of The Lord of the Rings. That influence is certainly discernable in The Two Towers, which I recently completed re-reading. It’s been a few days since I finished it, so I’ve probably forgotten some of what I thought while reading, but I’ll try to offer a few crumbs from the feast for your perusal.
When I first read of the World War I connection, I had some trouble understanding it. The corpses in the Dead Marshes, people said, were reminiscent of the corpses in No Man’s Land, between the trenches. The journey was like trench warfare… somehow.
I understood it a little better, I think, in this reading. Frodo’s and Sam’s journey is in some psychological ways like the experience of a long war. Sam is a perfect epitome of the “common” soldier whom so many men of Tolkien’s class learned to appreciate, as never before, in the shared experience of combat. C. S. Lewis writes affectingly of his experience with his own sergeant, technically his subordinate, who taught him enough war-craft to stay alive in the early stages, and finally gave his own life (inadvertently) for Lewis through standing between him and the exploding shell that would have killed him.
Consider being a soldier in World War I. There had never been a war like it before. Throughout history, warriors and soldiers had generally enjoyed a pretty fair chance of surviving and going home, outside of suicide missions and massacres – and if they did get killed it was more likely to be due to disease or accident than to enemy action. World War I was the first really mechanized war (no doubt that contributed to Tolkien’s hatred of industrialization), where thousands upon thousands of healthy young men were ordered into something like a meat grinder. Soldiers of that war had to reconcile themselves to a high probability of death, just as Frodo and Sam trudged on simply because they’d promised to try, “without hope.” An experience like that makes a man a rough-and-ready existentialist, forced to live in the moment and do the best with it, thinking no further ahead.
Another, un-associated thing that stuck me was the varying descriptions of Gollum. When Gollum is described from a distance, he always looks black to people. But up close he’s always described as very white. This confused me on my first reading, and still confused me.
Was there a purpose in this? It occurred to me (and I may well be thinking through my hat) that the black Gollum may have been an earlier vision, and that Tolkien may have changed him to white at a later stage, but not consistently. Could it be that he was concerned about the appearance of racism? Tolkien spent his earliest years in South Africa, and Gollum’s obsequious manner of speech, contrasting with his treachery behind the hobbits’ backs, may have been based on the behavior of some (justifiably resentful) African servants.
There’s also a story (I read it somewhere) that Tolkien was briefly kidnapped by Africans while he was a baby. Could that memory (subconscious, of course, as I believe he was too young to remember) have inspired Merry’s and Pippin’s transportation to Orthanc, carried by Orcs?
(This is going up later than I expected, oops.)
Well! Hello. Tomorrow is my 33rd birthday. Like I told some friends tonight at dinner, once I turned 30, every birthday since then has just been like…eh, the number changed, that’s cool, I guess. When I turn 40 I think I’ll make a bigger deal of that, but right now? Eh. I’ll eat some ice cream and move on with my life.
I do always wonder what my birth parents do when my birthday rolls around. Do they even remember that it’s my birthday? Do they pause sometime in their day and wonder how I’m doing? Who knows. I hope they’re doing well. One day I hope I can tell them in person that my life has been pretty good, and that I’m thankful to them for it.
Tomorrow on the day proper I’m going to church and a baby shower, and then I think I’ll treat myself to a movie and a fancy drink at the Alamo Drafthouse out in Katy. I think this year is going to be good.
Anyway! Here are the links:
- What it took to get dressed as a woman in 18th-century England.
- Have y’all ever messed around with Google Arts & Culture? Google puts together online collections of art and virtual tours of cultural centers, and it’s a fun rabbit hole to go down.
- Somebody synched up their marble run with Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” and it’s amazing (but also makes one wonder how they found the time).
- Have you ever seen someone perform on a Cyr wheel? I saw someone use one on So You Think You Can Dance ages ago and I’m kind of obsessed with them. This performance is especially lovely.
- The title of this video explains itself: 5 Songs You’ve Never Heard That You’ve Heard 1000 Times.
Good night, y’all. Have a good rest of your weekend.
This week: 13 things you’ve paid for this month.
- A pound of coffee.
- An excellent sandwich from Local Foods (the turkey confit, for you Houston folk).
- Tolls (boo).
- The migas plate at Tacos A Go-Go (yum).
- My dad’s birthday present (which I still haven’t given him, and his birthday was 8 days ago, oops).
- The flat enchiladas at Lupe Tortilla for my friend Rob’s birthday dinner.
- Half-gallon of (light unsweetened original Silk soy) milk.
- Kitchen sponges.
- Shampoo (trying a new one–so far, so good, and it smells nice at that. It’s a Garnier something or other).
- A kind of late Christmas dinner at Dish Society with my friends (still during Christmastide, though, so it counts).
- $20 worth of stocks (I use an app called Stash that automatically buys $10 of stocks for me every week–it’s quite handy and I don’t really have to think about it).
“”Yes,” said the countess when the brightness these young people had brought into the room had vanished; and as if answering a question no one had put but which was always in her mind, “and how much suffering, how much anxiety one has had to go through that we might rejoice in them now! And yet really the anxiety is greater now than the joy. One is always, always anxious! Especially just at this age, so dangerous both for girls and boys.””
— Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (aff)
Happy Epiphany! (Also: 20+C+M+B+18.) Today in the church calendar we celebrate Jesus being visited by the Magi, and thus also that the Jewish Messiah also came to save us Gentiles and pagans, a fact this near-thoroughly Gentile woman very much appreciates. And we also celebrate all the ways that Jesus shows up and shows off His glory in unexpected places, culminating in His transfiguration the Sunday before Lent. How is God showing up in your life these days? Just something to ponder today.
I am currently sitting on my floor watching YouTube videos and eating noodles. In a minute I need to take out my trash and go get the oil changed in my car, so all in all a pretty low-key Saturday. I may come home and watch a movie and eat some more of these noodles and do some laundry so I actually have clean clothes to wear to work next week, or I may just blow off responsibility entirely and go walk around Target and spend money on stuff I don’t need. Or something. Who knows. This is the only Saturday this month I don’t have anything on my calendar, so I intend to enjoy it fully and introvertedly.
Anyway, here are the links–not many this week, as I haven’t really been reading a whole lot online:
- Speaking of Epiphany, Wesley Hill has a lovely post about it–and Star Wars–on Mockingbird.
- “I felt like your guardian,” she said. “You totally were,” he said. The spouses of two authors of books about dying fell in love.
- I went down the rabbit hole of flowers and their meanings. (Seriously, it’s a whole thing.) Wikipedia has a handy table if you feel like flirting with and/or disappointing someone with plants. (There’s also one for the Japanese meanings.)
- The new Bruno Mars single is straight out of the early ’90s and I love it.
- This doggo took herself sledding and it is adorable.
Have a nice rest of your weekend!
This week: 13 movies that are either currently in theaters or are coming out this year that you want to go see.
- Black Panther
- Isle of Dogs
- Lady Bird (I have heard nothing but great things about this)
- The Shape of Water
- A Wrinkle In Time
- Ocean’s 8
- Ready Player One
- Ralph Breaks the Internet
- Call Me By Your Name
- The Florida Project
- The Greatest Showman (I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I’m still curious)
Every December 31 I publish a list of everything I read that year, for my own record keeping, sure, but also because I love sharing books. Being a professional book person, I’m always really stoked to connect people with new reads. So feel free to dig around and ask me about books you’re curious about, but also feel free to ignore all this nerdery and carry on with your day.
On with the show!
PART 1: THE LIST
If there’s an asterisk in front of it, it means that I’ve read it before.
January 11: Jan Karon, Home to Holly Springs
January 17: Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love as a Celibate Gay Christian
February 4: Tim Keller, Making Sense of God
February 11: Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary
March 1: Alice Walker, The Color Purple
March 6: Jesmyn Ward et al., The Fire This Time
March 9: Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist
March 14: James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
March 17: Carl Hiaasen, Bad Monkey
March 24: Guy Delisle, Pyongyang
*March 30: Leif Enger, Peace Like a River
March 30: Anthony Volaro, Leah L. White, et al., The Library Innovation Toolkit
April 17: Noelle Stevenson et al., Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
April 20: Tom Rob Smith, The Farm
April 25: Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns
April 25: Noelle Stevenson et al., Lumberjanes, Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max
May 3: James Dashner, The Death Cure
May 17: Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club
May 21: W. David O. Taylor et al., For the Beauty of the Church
May 25: Meg Gardiner, Phantom Instinct
*June 3: Dorothy Sayers, Whose Body?
June 7: Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower
June 8: Brit Bennett, The Mothers
June 9: Dorothy Sayers, Clouds of Witness
June 15: Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons
June 15: Louise Penny, How the Light Gets In
June 16: Dorothy Sayers, Unnatural Death
June 22: Sara Pennypacker, Pax
June 30: Louise Penny, Still Life
July 1: Alyssa Cole, An Extraordinary Union
July 7: Renee Ahdieh, The Wrath and the Dawn
July 16: Donald S. Whitney, Praying the Bible
July 18: Nnedi Okorafor, Binti
July 26: Joanne Fluke, Apple Turnover Murder
July 26: Louise Erdrich, Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country
July 26: Dorothy Sayers, Lord Peter Views the Body
August 5: Nnedi Okorafor, Binti: Home
August 9: Jennifer Van Allen & Pamela Nisevich Bede, Runner’s World Run to Lose
August 18: Jan Karon, In the Company of Others
August 19: Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad
August 23: April Smith, Home Sweet Home
August 23: Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting
August 29: Mike Cosper, Recapturing the Wonder
September 6: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
September 8: Renee Ahdieh, The Rose and the Dagger
September 19: Laura Lippman, Wilde Lake
September 22: Sandra Maria Van Opstal, The Next Worship
September 28: Dorothy Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
October 5: Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
October 6: Paulette Jiles, News of the World
October 14: Louise Penny, A Fatal Grace
October 19: John Green, Turtles All the Way Down
*October 21: Tim Keller, Preaching
October 24: Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison
October 26: Paul Doiron, The Poacher’s Son
November 9: Dorothy Sayers, Have His Carcase
November 20: Joseph Finder, Guilty Minds
November 21: Dorothy Sayers, Hangman’s Holiday
*November 21: Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath
*December 5: James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom
December 6: Dorothy Sayers, Murder Must Advertise
December 10: Dorothy Sayers, The Nine Tailors
December 12: Attica Locke, Bluebird, Bluebird
December 18: Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You
December 23: W.B. Sprague, Lectures on Revivals
December 28: Margaret Maron, Christmas Mourning
December 28: Sally and Sarah Clarkson, The Lifegiving Home
PART 2: The Statistics
total read: 68
graphic novels/memoirs: 3
library books: 59
books written or edited by women: 44
books written or edited by people of color: 18
most read author: Dorothy Sayers, with 10
PART 3: The Top 10
These are my favorite books that aren’t re-reads from this year.
Liturgy of the Ordinary
The Warmth of Other Suns
Recapturing the Wonder
The Underground Railroad
For the Beauty of the Church
Turtles All the Way Down
Murder Must Advertise
The Color Purple
The thing life is fullest of is the thing we find hardest to believe in. New beginnings. The incredible gift of a fresh start. Every new year. Every new day. Every new life.
What wonderful gifts!
And when we spoil things, and life goes all wrong, we feel dismayed, because we find it so hard to see that we can start again.
God lets us share it too, you know. Only God can give life, it’s true—make a new baby or a new year—but he gives us the power to give each other a new beginning, to forgive each other and make a fresh start when things go wrong.
- Penelope Wilcock, The Hawk and the Dove (aff)
Hello hello! It’s the last Saturday of 2017. I’m chilling out with a cup of coffee and a podcast. The weather is cold and crisp and we’re supposed to bring in the new year with some freezing temperatures(!), which has the indoors looking a little more welcoming at the moment.
How was everybody’s Christmas? Mine was very low-key–just went over to my parents’ place and hung out and ate the annual Christmas tacos. My dad added enchiladas to the mix this year for the heck of it and they were really good, I thought. I got some books and a DVD player like it’s 2005, but hey, I work for a place with free DVDs, and Netflix and Amazon Prime still don’t have everything.
I missed last week for this, so a couple of the links are Christmasy, but Christmastide lasts until January 5, so it’s fine. Anyway, here you go:
- Beaker, Animal, and the Swedish Chef do Carol of the Bells.
- Jesus probably wasn’t born in a stable, and other things we’ve gotten wrong about the Christmas story.
- Linda Holmes at NPR does a list of 50 wonderful things at the end of the year, and this year’s list is, well, pretty wonderful.
- I had to go look up “automegalogolex” after reading this XKCD, but it’s true, Christmas has become pretty meta.
- I keep seeing these cookies all over the place online and I think I need to make some.
- Broadway actor Daniel Breaker tells The Strategist some of the tools of his trade. I might steal some of these to keep myself from getting sick this winter.
See y’all in 2018! (Well. One more post tomorrow.)
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
Once upon a time, I tweeted: “At our church we want our music to be as good as it can be without having people come to our church because of it.” Some of the responses were rather telling. Some folks, as folks’re prone to do, apparently read what I didn’t write and asked me why I want to promote bad music and why I’m against people finding music attractive. For the record, I’m not a fan of bad music (in lyric or tune or style), and I’m not against people being attracted to music (and the arts in general).
Taking a step back, though, I find the leap to hear what I didn’t say indicative of the fundamental problem. It happens whenever I decry pragmatism and I’m asked why I advocate impracticality. But pragmatism and practicality aren’t the same thing. And neither is the attractional paradigm of “doing church” identical to wanting an attractive church. It is only thought so in environments where the medium has become the message (apologies to Marshall McLuhan). Those who’ve grown up in or cut their ministry teeth on the attractional movement often cannot see the ecclesiological dis-ease around them.
At its inception, the attractional church (or “seeker church,” as it used to be called) was about getting as many people as possible inside the doors to then hear the good news of Jesus Christ. In my youth ministry days, we used all manner of traditionally adolescent enticements--pizza, silly games, loud music--but the “big church” services in the attractional paradigm uses grown-up versions of these enticements, ostensibly to contextualize the message. If we were dubious people--wink, wink--we might call this approach to ministry “the ol’ bait and switch”: get ‘em inside with cool stuff, then share the gospel with the captive audience.
But something distressing happened. As if to unwittingly prove the dictum that what you win people with is what you win them to, increasingly, the gospel of Christ’s finished work became relegated to the end of a service, almost an addendum to to the real focal points of the goings-on, and then it frequently became pushed to the end of an entire message series, eventually became saved just for special occasions, and ultimately has been replaced altogether by the shiny legalism of moralistic therapeutic deism.
Eventually the attractional church became all bait, no switch. The approach of today’s attractional church is like the Trojan Rabbit of Monty Python‘s Arthurian nincompoops--smuggled inside the castle walls with nobody inside.
As a result so many inside the system, shepherded under this system and joined to it, can’t distinguish between attractive and attractional, practical and pragmatic. When we lose the centrality of the gospel, we lose the ability to think straight.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
The hallmark of the Reformational tradition is perhaps this tenet of the Five Solas--sola fide, which means "faith alone." This is the article upon which, Luther said, the church stands or falls. We are saved by God's grace alone received by us through our faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9).
Now, just as sola Scriptura does not mean that Scripture is the only authority in a Christian's life (just the ultimate and only infallible authority), sola fide does not mean that all Christians need to be saved is some disembodied intellectual assent. This is the controversial point that James is making in the second chapter of his epistle. The way many Reformed scholars and preachers have put it is this: We are justified by our faith alone, but not by faith that is alone. It is impossible, then, to have faith and not have works corresponding to that faith. That would be nonsensical. Faith, then, would not be faith. Yet we are not justified by our works, but by our faith, which is evidenced by our works.
While we can often make this distinction pertaining to definitive justification, however, it can be a difficult thing to maintain this distinction throughout the Christian life. When Martin Luther recalled Habakkuk 2:4--"The righteous shall live by his faith"--he was not just bringing to mind the new life experienced at conversion but the new life experienced day to day thereafter. When an unsaved person, by God's grace, exercises faith in Jesus Christ alone, he suddenly lives by faith. And when a saved person, by God's grace, exercises faith each day in Jesus Christ alone, he is living by faith.
Sola fide is not just for justification, but also for the reaffirmation of our justification in the ongoing work of sanctification. It is not as though what has begun by faith is now continued by works (Gal. 3:3). Here is a gem from Spurgeon:
Oh that we might always live so that the Lord might see in all our actions that they spring from faith. Then shall our actions as well as ourselves be always accepted of him by Christ Jesus, for the Lord has plainly declared, "the just shall live by faith; but if any man draws back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him"--that is, draws back from faith and runs in the way of sense and feeling. Having begun by faith we are to live by faith. We are not to find life in the Gospel and then nourish it by the Law. We are not to begin in the Spirit and then seek to be made perfect by the flesh, or by confidence in man--we must continue to walk by the simple faith which rests only upon God, for this is the true spirit of a Christian. (Charles Spurgeon, "The Hiding of Moses by Faith”, sermon delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle)
But what is faith? If it is not mere intellectual assent--which the demons exercise but not to their salvation (James 2:19)--how can we define it? The author of Hebrews defines faith this way: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
Faith is convicted trust, not vague belief. Faith is a placing of hopes in such a way that hope gets redefined. In the Scriptures, "hope" does not have the connotation of "I hope such and such will happen," as if there is some chance it may not. No, in the Scriptures, "hope" is an assured trust. Our hope is Christ, and this hope will prove true; it will not put us to shame (Rom. 5:5).
Another simple way of illustrating faith is by the empty hand. That is what faith is: an empty hand with which to receive Christ and his riches. Or an empty vessel in which to be filled by the Spirit through trust in Christ. The reason why these illustrations are helpful is because they necessitate the emptying of our hands of all else.
Primate specialists study the way chimps reason through desire and logic by placing food outside of a hole in a barrier that is too large for their fists to pass through. The chimps are able to slip their open hand through, but once they grab the food, they cannot bring it back to themselves. Frustration ensues. The chimps cannot figure out that to get their hand back; they have to unclench their fist and drop the object of their desire.
We can be much like chimps this way. We will always be shackled until we release the idols we so desirously clutch. And then, with that free open hand, we receive a treasure incomparable.
This is an important perspective for pastoral ministry, because we pastors far too easily succumb to trust in the idols of our churches or in our own power and giftedness. I find myself wielding my well-preached sermon or my successful counseling session or my high attendance like badges of merit, not realizing the demonic bondage these things can keep me in when my faith is put in them.
Pastors, let us commit to "Walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).
(This is a slightly edited excerpt from The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry)
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
There are some parts of the Bible that sound great until I realize I don't understand them much at all. Ephesians 5:18 is a prime example. Paul writes, "And don't get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit."
The "don't get drunk" stuff I totally understand. Tell me not to do something, and I can usually handle it. But it's that other part. "Be filled by the Spirit." That's a command of a different kind. It tells me to do something--which is great--but what exactly I'm supposed to do, I have no idea. How do I go about "being filled"? Doesn't the Spirit fill? How can I be something the Spirit does? It sounds as though Paul is telling me to get active about being passive.
And in a way, he is.
When I began pressing into what commandments like "be filled" mean, I began to look at the spiritual disciplines from a different perspective. I grew up in the church, and the exhortations to keep a quiet time were well-worn in my mind. I knew what I was supposed to do. What I couldn't figure out is how to get the devotional time to feel less like something on my to-do list. How is it that I might actually do it, for lack of a better word, naturally?
I firmly believe every Christian should set apart a special time each day in which to spend with God in prayer and Bible reading. But when I do my due diligence in the quiet time, I end up reading things like "Pray constantly" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and "I have treasured Your word in my heart" (Psalm 119:11). These don't sound like quiet time. If anything, they sound like a quiet life.
Isn't this really what we want? To live out our faith in such a way that spending time with God isn't a checklist item but somehow the quality of our every waking minute? Wouldn't we want to feel like the so-called spiritual disciplines are ways of being, and not just things we do?
I think we are more familiar with the idea of "being filled" than we realize. We're already engaging in active passivity all the time.
Where you spend your time shapes you
Where we live and how we live there, shapes us. The things we occupy our mind with, the things we entertain ourselves with, the things we worry over--all of this is already directing our minds and therefore informing our hearts. And I think that is the same sort of active passivity Paul appeals to in that confusing part of Ephesians 5:18.
Think, for instance, about your neighborhood, the community you live in, and the daily routines you engage in there that on one level are "to do's" but on another have become pretty automatic. Whether we realize it or not, the values of our surrounding environments shape us. They slyly dictate how we think, how we act, how we feel. And they also affect how we follow Jesus. (Or don't follow him.)
But Jesus reframes the concept of environment for us. He takes the same concept and applies it to the Christian's union with him. He says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me" (John 15:5).
Jesus brings to mind the fact that the believer is situated in him. (See also Colossians 3:3 and Galatians 3:27.) A Christian is a person who is "in Christ." When we actively work to remind ourselves of this, the gradual result will be a more natural--which is to say, supernatural--inclination to pray, meditate on God's Word, fast, evangelize, and so on.
Most of us certainly make time for God when we feel we have the time. The problem is God owns all of life, and worshiping God means we must revolve around him, not he us. God shouldn't be confined to his own compartment in our schedule. Jesus does not abide in his assigned time slot; we abide in him.
In a way, this is a passive thing. We didn't get "in Christ" by our works. He saved us by his grace; we received him by faith. The Holy Spirit has indwelled the believer, and therefore the fruit that results from the life of one abiding in Christ is fruit of the Spirit, not of the flesh.
But this is also an active thing. We are told to "be filled." So what do we do?
Focusing on the right work
What we are talking about here is the process of formation: allowing ourselves to be formed a certain way. Most of us have already done great at being formed by the consumer culture we're immersed in. We have adapted quite well to the rhythms of a self-centered lifestyle. Sometimes we even adapt our religious activity to that lifestyle. But to cultivate spiritual formation means to find ways to immerse ourselves in the work of the Spirit, to re-sync ourselves to the gospel.
So this is the primary purpose of a quiet time: not to primarily focus on the things to do, but to primarily focus on the reality that the work is done. Spiritual formation will take off with much more energy and much more joy when we are centering first on the finished work of Christ in our quiet times and only secondarily on the ongoing work of obedience.
How quiet can a quiet time be if we're spending it worrying about all the things we have to do for God? This is why I had such trouble keeping consistent devotions as a young man. I felt coerced first of all into keeping the quiet time in order to be a good Christian, and then I spent those quiet times studying more about how I ought to be a good Christian, and the whole time of quiet reflection became a huge spiritual burden. I never felt like I quite measured up.
And of course, on my own, I don't measure up at all. But "in Christ," I do. So when I started meditating primarily on Jesus and his work and less on myself, something counterintuitive happened: I actually wanted to spend more time with God, and I started thinking more about God and his Word, and I started living out my faith more authentically because it felt more joyous, lively, delightful, and even natural.
Striving to rest
As "be filled by the Spirit" indicates, and as Jesus's command to abide implies, there is an intentionality and active participation on our part involved. But the difference provided by a gospel-centered approach to spiritual disciplines is in both the relief and also the energy the good news brings.
As an example, imagine if Paul had simply written in Philippians 2:12: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." To stop there provides a solid instruction, but there's not much good news in it. But Paul didn't end the thought there. He doesn't just say, "Get to work." He writes in verse 13, "For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out his good purpose." Now that is good news!
The activity of "being filled by the Spirit" is like sailing. There are roughly 60 working parts on a sailboat. There's plenty of work to do when sailing. You can break a sweat. You have to stay attentive. Plenty of approaches to spiritual formation stop here. They amount to teaching us how to row our own boat. Some put us in a sailboat, but have us blowing deep breaths into the sail. Consequently, many of us exhaust ourselves on the way to nowhere.
But there are two things you can't control in sailing, and they make all the difference in the world. No amount of hard work will control the tide or bring the wind. You can hoist the sail, but only the wind can make a sailboat go.
So it is not as if there is no work to do. But there's a reason Jesus says, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). The work we busy ourselves with is meant to remind us the work of salvation is done. And when we focus on Christ and his gospel, we will be transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18). When we intentionally and diligently focus on the finished work of Christ, we find the work of the Christian life becomes less duty and more delight.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
I had the great privilege of preaching on “The Minister’s Legacy” from 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 at this year’s For The Church National Conference held at Midwestern Seminary. I share the video of my message below in the hopes it may interest some.
All of the conference’s plenary talks — from Matt Chandler, Ray Ortlund, H.B. Charles, Jason Allen, Owen Strachan, and Matt Carter — can be accessed here.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
Sermon illustrations. They can make or break your message. Or so we’re told. In the days of my youth, I did some time serving as a freelance pastoral research assistant, and I remember the high premium put on “killer illustrations.” One client I worked for only wanted sermon illustrations, pages and pages of them, no exegesis, no reference excerpts. I think over the course of several months, having filed numerous research briefs full of newspaper clippings, movie anecdotes, literary references, assorted fragments of pop culture detritus, and even some original creative stories, he eventually used one illustration that came from the briefs.
We all know a good illustration when we hear one in a sermon. But I’m gonna go out on a (sturdy) limb here and suggest that sermon illustrations these days are way overrated.
Yep, I said it. I think too much emphasis is put on illustrations in how we train preachers and in too many actual sermons. You shouldn’t trust your illustration to do what only God’s Word can. And that’s where many of us often go wrong with illustrations. Here is more on that thought, and some other wrong ways preachers often use illustrations in their sermons:
1. The illustrations are too long.
If you’re going to eat up valuable real estate in your sermon time, you’ve got to make it really count. But some sermons rely too much on long set-ups or overly present creative themes that end up obscuring the biblical message. This is a problem, assuming what you want people to focus on most is the biblical message. Some preachers really pride themselves in being storytellers or artists, and that’s great--but quit the ministry and go be a storyteller or artist. That will glorify God too. But at least then there’s no mistaking the point of the message. Some illustrations go on so long, and some topic themes are so pervasive, any Bible verses that show up in the sermon really only serve to support the illustration, when by definition it’s supposed to be the other way around.
2. The illustrations are too numerous.
I heard a message once that began with a five-minute story from the preacher’s childhood, segued into an ancedote from the life of Leonardo DaVinci, then transitioned into a series of quotes from ancient philosophers (where Jesus appeared alongside Socrates and Aristotle, like they’re all part of the same toga mafia), and stumbled into a heavy-handed object illustration complete with big props on the stage. This guy forgot what he was there to do, which ostensibly was preach. The result of all these illustrations was distracting and, actually, counter-productive, because at some point, the law of diminishing illustration returns kicked in, and each successive illustration diminished the effectiveness of the ones before it.
When you use too many illustrations, when your sermon is so full of illustrations or the time you spend on them is greater than the time you spend proclaiming and explaining the text, they stop being illustrations and become your text. Preachers who overuse illustrations are communicating that they don’t actually trust the Bible--which is inspired by the Holy Spirit--to be interesting, provocative, and powerful.
3. The illustrations are too clunky.
You know these when you hear them. It seems as though the preacher prepared his sermon using some kind of template, plopping something from an illustration book or website every time he saw “Insert Illustration Here.” Or his pop culture references are old, but not historic old (red meat for the Reformed crowd) or vintage old (ironic winks from the hipsters) but “lame” old, “out of touch” old. Maybe the stories are sappy or cheesy or hokey. Or maybe there’s no decent transition from the illustration into the body of the sermon.
I’ve heard some guys tell a cutesy-story or badly land a bad joke and then pause, as if waiting for audience reaction, ending the silence with a “But anyway . . .” That’s a sure sign of someone who put a lot of trust in the illustration and no thought into how it would actually fit into the tissue of the message. Remember, if the weight of power is put on your illustrations instead of the biblical text, the clunky illustration makes a clunky sermon.
4. The illustrations are too self-referential.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: when using yourself as an example, be self-deprecating. Make it confessional, not exaltational. In other words, use your personal illustrations to show us not how great you are, but what you’ve got wrong, how you messed up, where you’re deficient. It doesn’t have to be a serious example; it can be a funny one. But self-referential illustrations that talk the preacher up too often violate 2 Corinthians 4:5--”For what we proclaim is not ourselves . . .”
This same rule applies somewhat to the use of wives and children in illustrations. Everyone appreciates a good “the pastor is a normal guy with a normal family” type story, and most preachers know not to criticize or point out flaws in their wives and kids in sermons. But if you reference your wife and kids (even positively) too much, over time it can have the same effect as the self-congratulating illustration--it casts a vision of your family as the church’s moral exemplar, which is not good for your family or the church, and also only serves to by extension exalt yourself. Use family illustrations sparingly, and when using personal illustrations, go the route of self-deprecation.
Look, I know that good illustrations can often be difficult to come up with. I struggle with them too. But let’s be as careful with how we use them, neither putting too much or too little weight on them, lest we obscure the biblical purpose of preaching. The hearts of people are not won to Christ by our well-spun stories or images but the Spirit working through the Word of God. Our illustrations are meant to adorn the gospel, not help it. The gospel doesn’t need any help.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
I happened to be in Las Vegas this weekend during the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. I was actually sitting outside of my hotel (also a casino, as nearly all hotels are in that city) enjoying the cool desert night when my scrolling through Twitter alerted me to what was happening. It was an eerie feeling, especially given the rampant rumors when the news was just getting out. Reports of multiple gunmen in multiple casinos made me uneasy, despite my safe distance about 10 minutes from the Las Vegas strip. I made my way up to my room to watch the news and to pray.
The church where I was speaking last weekend is pastored by some great men, including a fellow who serves as a chaplain in the police department. He was up all Sunday night visiting the hospitals. Pray for these folks and their churches; there are some good ministries that have been seeking to bring the message of Christ to this broken city for quite a while. And tragedies as enormous as these murders often prompt otherwise-ambivalent souls to lean into the message of hope found in the gospel. Perhaps the murderer’s unintended consequence may be desperate souls saved.
I find it difficult to articulate anything immediately applicable to this tragedy. Though I was in the city, I was not close enough to have witnessed it. I am not close enough to be a part of the ongoing ministry efforts in the wake. I rode home on a plane Monday morning with some fairly shell-shocked people, including a couple of women who were at the concert, who did witness the carnage, and who were still trembling, tear-streaked faces held up to phones connected to loved ones while in the gate area before boarding. I don’t have it in me to offer a hot-take or one more emotional re-run about gun control or terrorism or even a sincere inspirational devotion.
So I’ll offer a different kind of re-run. Five years ago, a young man murdered 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut, including 20 kindergarteners. Like many of you, I wrestled with the horror and the spiritual gravity of this event. For the first time ever, I interrupted my regularly scheduled Sunday sermon (at Middletown Church in Vermont) and early that Sunday morning I was to preach, I sketched out an outline I am sharing below. It was my heart that morning--and this morning--about what I think God is saying when these sorts of evils occur.
What Is God saying?
At least five things.
1. “The world is broken, and evil is real.”
Even the most hardened atheist and subscriber to moral relativism must struggle labeling these murders as anything but evil. Any waffling about the reality of moral absolutes is vanquished by sins like this. Normal, sober-minded people should have no problem calling it a violation of the moral code, of human rights, of human dignity.
People who commit such heinous crimes may have social, emotional, or psychological problems, but we should have no problem whatsoever labeling these acts as evil. God certainly says they are. “Thou shalt not murder” has no caveats or exclusionary fine print. Motive does not matter. The taking of innocent life is a crime against not just them, but God himself.
The sooner we face this reality, the sooner we can get to the real solution.
2. “I know what it feels like. I weep with you.”
John 11:35 - "Jesus wept.”
God is not ambivalent about, nor is he unfamiliar with human atrocities. He knows what it's like to grieve. He knows what it's like to hurt. He knows what it's like to feel abandoned--"My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"
Jesus knows what it's like to be killed while innocent. And the Father knows what it's like to have a Son die.
Exodus 2:25 "God saw the people of Israel--and God knew."
3. “I am just.”
God says, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" not because there is no vengeance to be had. It belongs to him, and he will bring it. He "will by no means clear the guilty." Those with innocent blood on their hands, even if they were to take their own lives to escape human justice, only face an eternity of torment from a holy God. Those who deny or denigrate the idea of hell must reckon with the injustice of God posed by murderers like these who may unrepentantly escape the punishment for their sins.
4. “Repent and believe.”
In Luke 13, Pilate’s murdering of Galileans is brought up to Jesus, and he takes the prospect down a surprising path. He mentions also the falling of the Tower of Siloam, an accidental tragedy that took many lives. In both cases, he says, we ought to reflect on the shortness and the sheer mortality of our lives and leverage this sobriety into a turn to God in faith. "Unless you repent,” he says, “you will all likewise perish."
Tragedies like this remind us that life is precious but also that time is precious. Which one of you, after hearing of the murders at the Sandy Hook school, couldn't wait to get to your kids and hug their necks? Why? Because suddenly you were reminded to make much of your time. You were reminded not to waste your time.
None of us is promised tomorrow. Or even our next breath. We have to get this sorted now, this very moment.
5. “Be not afraid.”
For the believer in Christ, especially, we are to weep with those who weep and grieve the evil in the world, but we are not to be shaken to despair by events like these. We are not called to give up the reality that God is real, God is here, and God is putting all things in subjection under the feet of Jesus.
Paul tells the timid Timothy, "God has not given us a spirit of fear." Why? Because he knows that greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.
We will weep with those who weep, we will bring comfort to those who mourn, but we will take courage because we know that sin and death are not the end of the story. We know that death's days are numbered. We know that those who mourn will be comforted, because Christ has triumphed over sin at the cross, and he has triumphed over death in his resurrection, and so he has given his word that he will have the final word.
No one is promised tomorrow, but the Christian is promised eternity. And this above all is why we must fix our eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. This is why we may get discouraged, but we should not get discombobulated.
And it is why the American Church will not be distracted or dissuaded from the gospel. It is the only hope for a world that feels hopeless, and it is the blessed hope for a world that is wasting away. Cute inspirational aphorisms cannot even begin to account for or answer to tragedies like mass murder. Only the gospel of the supremacy of Christ can do such a thing.
We are celebrating October 31, 2017 as the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg church. The Reformation, of course, was not sparked by that action, but it is symbolic of what the Lord was doing in the hearts and minds of His people.
I encourage you to use this month and the upcoming year to delve into history and the foundations of our faith. I’ll be sharing some resources that have been beneficial to me, and would love to hear what you’ve enjoyed as well.
5 Minutes in Church History Podcast (especially the October 2017 daily series)
Here We Stand (Heroes of the Reformation)
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him. If we say, ‘We have fellowship with him,’ and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” -- 1 John 1:5-9
The same light that exposes us heals us.
We get a picture of this in those early pages of the Bible, right after the fall. As Adam and Eve are called to account, do you remember what the LORD does? They had covered themselves in fig leaves--just like we do. And he covers them instead with something else: “The LORD God made clothing from skins for the man and his wife, and he clothed them.”
They had brought death into the world, and he's showing them that only death will cover them now. And this is perhaps the first foreshadow of Christ's sacrifice for us, shedding his blood that covers us from all unrighteousness. They came into the light, were exposed, despite their own coverings, and God covered them with a sacrifice. “If we walk in the light,” John writes, “as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
We have to understand just how much this sacrifice has purchased! Christ’s shed blood has delivered us from the domain of darkness. His blood speaks the better word of justice accomplished. His blood declares pardon for us, cleansing for us, and--as John Calvin helpfully reminds us in his commentary on 1 John--this cleansing pardon is "gratuitous and perpetual."
Christian, you are never not covered by the blood of Jesus. So: If his blood has covered your sin, why are you still walking in fear and hiding?
You know, the one place I finally felt "at home" I got eventually got chewed up in and spit out of. I've had a pretty good life, but I've also got some pretty good reasons to keep entirely myself and never let you or anyone else in. That would be the safest and--to some extent--most understandable way for me to live my life.
And yet here comes my Savior, who ought not to be embarrassed by anything, who has no sin. And while I'm piling up as many fig leaves as I think it might take to impress you and distract you, Jesus is exposing himself to all the hurt, all the pain, all the weakness, all the condemnation that I am desperately trying to avoid. You cannot be any more exposed than Christ was on the cross. And he went there. For us.
And here is what else John means by "the light"--he means a vision of the glory of God, the radiance of his loveliness exemplified in his cross and resurrection and ascension. The illuminating vision that captivates sinners desperate for salvation. In the early verses of his Gospel, John writes:
In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it . . . The true light that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
Shortly thereafter he records John the Baptist crying out in his Gospel, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Or, as Isaiah says, "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."
You can't even see clearly when you're hiding! But when you're found? Suddenly we see.
Paul uses this same vision talk in Colossians 3, when he says, "If you've been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." And then he says --in what's become one of my all-time favorite Bible verses, Colossians 3:3--"For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."
Oh, to be hidden with Christ in God! See, the gospel isn't trying to expose us to shame us. The good news is that Christ was exposed for us that we can confess without fear and find our refuge in him. If we are hidden with Christ in God, we have nothing left to hide! It may cost us a little something, but the reward for walking in the light far surpasses keeping whatever it is we're trying to protect.
One of my favorite scenes from Lewis’s Narnia stories comes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Eustace Scrubb--who is about as cuddly a personality as his name would suggest--finds himself in a scaly predicament. Eustace comes across a great treasure; overcome with greed he begins to imagine all the comforts of life he could enjoy with this treasure. He goes into "hoarding" mode. Eventually he falls asleep and when he wakes up, he discovers he's become a dragon. Why a dragon? Because dragons are hoarders. They protect their secret fortunes at all costs. And they also physically represent this kind of protection, right? Heavy, scaly skin. They are covered in fleshy armor.
Eustace doesn’t quite understand how he's gotten into this situation but he becomes afraid. The gold bracelet he was wearing constricts his dragon arm and it hurts--just like our secrets will eventually--and he realizes that as a dragon he's been cut off from humanity--just our like our hiding will do to us eventually. And then Aslan comes. And Aslan leads Eustace the dragon to a garden where there's a well, and Eustace just knows if he can get into the water in the well, he will be healed. But he can't get in the way he is.
"Then the lion said--but I don't know if it spoke--You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. "The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know--if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy--oh but it is such fun to see it coming away." "Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off-just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt-and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly--looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me-I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on--and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. . . ."
Walking in the light may sting a little, but it is far preferable to life in the dark. And on top of that, it is the only way to healing.
“If we walk in the light, his blood cleanses us.” You know, Jesus only deals with us on the playing field of reality. So come to him as a sinner. You cannot hide from God's gospel anyway. Come as a real person to the family God's gospel has made. We must not hide from each other. Come and be cleansed by his blood and hidden forever in the safety of Christ himself.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
All sin is idolatry because every sin is an exercise in trust of something or someone other than the one true God to satisfy, fulfill, or bless. It is not difficult to see how violations of commandments two through ten are automatic violations of commandment one. This truth reveals that the hottest "worship war" going is the one taking place daily in the sanctuary of our own hearts. But we must wage this war, because none of us is a bystander to idol worship.
In Isaiah 44:12-17, we find a powerful and revelatory description of just how easy it is to slip into idolatry. We see in the passage that ironsmiths are simply working their tools over the coals, fashioning them with their hammers. Carpenters measure out cuts and notches. Artists capture the physical form in sketches and sculpture. Men chop down trees to build houses, then they plant more trees to replace them. They build fire, bake bread. Ah, look at what we've created.
The transition is seamless from everyday, workaday living to "he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it" (v. 15). Of the same fire he has used for warmth and cooking, the workman says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" (v. 17).
The move is subtle. The switch from ordinary human achievement to blasphemy requires no explanation. It flat-out happens. Isaiah 44:12-17 demonstrates that there is only one step to becoming an idolater, and it is simply to mind your own business.
The implication for our churches is huge. On Sundays, our sanctuaries fill with people seeking worship, and not one person comes in set to neutral. We must take great care, then, not to assume that even in our religious environments, where we put the Scriptures under so many noses, that it is Jesus the exalted Christ who is being worshiped.
Every weekend in churches everywhere, music is performed to the glory of human skill and artistry. Once upon a time, I sat through a little ditty in a church service in which the congregation was led to sing, "I can change the world with these two hands," and the question struck me like a lightning bolt: "Who exactly am I worshiping right now?"
Likewise, every weekend men and women file into church buildings in order to exult in the rhetorical skill of their preacher, to admire him and think of their church as his church, not Christ's church. Many of us file in each week to enjoy the conspicuous spiritual exercises of our brethren. We worship the worship experience; we tithe with expectation of return from heaven's slot machine; we dress to impress; and we serve and lead to compensate for the inadequacies in our hearts that only Christ can fill. Every weekend, hundreds of preachers extol a therapeutic gospel from the pages of the same Bible where the real gospel lies. We Reformed are not exempt, as too often our affections are poured totally into doctrine with only vague admiration reserved for doctrine's Author.
A church will become idolatrous in a heartbeat because it's already there. So we cannot set our worship on autopilot. We cannot mistake the appearance of busy religiosity for worship in spirit and truth. We see in Exodus 32:5 that even the worshipers of the golden calf ascribed their worship to the covenant Lord Yahweh.
The gospel imperative, then, is to return again and again to the gospel indicative. Our first duty is "gospel obedience" (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17), which is to stand at attention to Christ upon the gospel's "ten hut." Our hearts and minds flow through the rut of idolatry, but the deliberate proclamation of Jesus at every possible turn will force us off our idolatrous course. Martin Luther advises us:
I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.
Tim Keller elaborates: "So Luther says that even after you are converted by the gospel your heart will go back to operating on other principles unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel-mode."
The proclamation of the good news of Jesus and the extolling of his eternal excellencies is always an interruption, always a disruption. It alone will bring the sword of division between where even our religious hearts are set and where they ought to be. For this reason, we cannot go about minding our own business any more. We must mind God's (Col. 3:1-4).
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
Here is one of the simpler but more beautiful pictures we receive in the account of Noah and the great flood. It is the first sign of the re-starting of God’s creative process. The land emerges out of the waters in an echo of the creation event, where God separated the land from the water. It is a “reboot,” if you will. And a foreshadow. It is a foreshadow of the day still to come--future from us--when Christ will return and judge the living and the dead, and the wicked will be condemned (Luke 17:25-27). But God will remember his children who have trusted in his Son and who have been declared righteous by their trust. And his plan isn’t simply to evacuate them off the cursed earth into heaven but to bring a flood of heaven, a flood of glory, to the earth and restore it. He will vanquish the curse. The flood of sin will be dried up, and peace and justice will reign. And so will we. In a restored creation.
We need to remember this gospel hope of a restored body and a restored creation through the work of Christ. We need to remember it every day because life is not easy. And God keeps calling us into difficult circumstances, into times of suffering and hardship.
When we go through something difficult, that is typically when we begin to question whether God is actually good, whether he’s actually remembered us, whether he even cares, if we’re even saved!
But we have to remember his character and his designs--that he is love and that he is gracious and that his plan for us is to deliver us from evil and death--we have to remember this especially when we are most tempted to doubt it!
Sometimes, like Noah in those latter stages, we look around and see only the raging torrent. No horizon. Simply the gray seas meeting the gray skies. And we feel lost, adrift, hopelessly tossed about on the endless current of murky chaos. We are looking for a big sign, perhaps, a big deliverance. In the meantime, however, we get a glimpse. Something to look at that doesn’t at first strike us as much to look at.
The dove with the leaf in her mouth is a pretty image. As it flies over the flooded earth with just this tiny shred of evidence of something new bursting forth, we have also a reminder of God’s holiness, of his power. The image of the dove is one of hope but also a reminder of curse. We see in the entirety of the story of Noah’s flood, in fact, that--as C. S. Lewis says of Aslan in the Narnia stories--”he is not safe, but he is good.”
Like God did Noah, he may call us into a long obedience in a dark direction. He calls us to give up our lives and abandon ourselves to his sovereignty. But to run from the fearful God is to run into a terrible disaster of eternal proportions. I am always moved by this from The Silver Chair:
Anyway, [Jill] had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the lion.
“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
The image of the dove with the olive leaf in her mouth is now an iconic religious image. It reminds us of God’s holiness and his power and his purity. But in doing so, it also becomes a picture of salvation. Of hope. Of restoration. Noah saw it, and he knew the waters were subsiding.
When the flood waters come up around us, then, whatever they might be, we ought to be remembering God’s creative purpose. So often we have our eyes set on the wrong things--or at least, the lesser things. We suffer, and we want simply to feel better, which is not a bad thing to want! But do we want more than that to be sanctified? Do we say to God, “Nevertheless, not my will be done, but yours”? Fearing the flood God calls us to, do we seek other streams that don’t even exist?
When we think of the things we hope for, that we even trust God for, we are typically setting our sights pretty low, even when we think we are waiting on a miracle. A financial break. The right job. Success. Comfort. When all along God is calling us to remember not his material blessings but his creative purpose--specifically in his Son.
The dove with the leaf in her mouth, like the ark itself, is a shadow cast by the cross of Christ, where we see definitively that God is not safe, but he is good! That the judgment and wrath he must pour out for guilty sinners can make sinners clean, make them righteous, make them forgiven and justified and eternally free. That’s what we look to in times of terror, in times of hardship, in all times! If you think God has forgotten you, look to the cross. As Augustine says, “If you are ever tempted to hold yourself cheap, value yourself by the price which was paid for you.”
The cross stands as eternal proof that God loves sinners. It stands as eternal proof that no matter how deep the waters get, even if they drown us--our condemnation has been taken by Christ and removed forever.
In 2 Chronicles 20, the great armies of the Moabites and the Ammonites are marching in battle toward the children of Israel, quickly descending to lay waste to God’s people and destroy them and all they hold dear. And it says King Jehosophat was afraid. And the people of God all gathered together to figure out what they were going to do. Because their enemies were quickly rising against them, like a flood they could not escape from. And King Jehosophat stands in the middle of the assembled cities and offers this desperate, faithful prayer:
“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. 7 Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, 9 ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ 10 And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy— 11 behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. . . . (vv.6-12)
And then he adds at the end:
“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v.12)
We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you. I’m thinking that is a prayer Noah could have Amen‘d heartily. Maybe you could too.
If overwhelmed, look to the cross. The vision comes back to you like the dove with an olive leaf in her mouth. The waters that threaten you have subsided, conquered by their Master. You see the wrath is over, and the blessings have begun.
We caught some tadpoles a couple of weeks ago from a much-neglected swimming pool. I thought they wouldn’t last more than a day or so.
But it has been two weeks and the four little tadpoles are still here and growing! We watched a couple of videos and have been feeding them. They are getting so big we had to put them in to two jars.
I caught H2 feeding them this afternoon. A5 and I have been watching them, but I didn’t realize she was observing them, too.
Prior to our packout from Ukraine more than two years ago, I organized and labeled plastic bins with all the books we were keeping.
I asked the movers to keep them organized how I had them and fill the extra space with packing paper or pillows. I requested that they be wrapped in packing paper and then taped, to further protect the contents and not have nasty sticky residue on the storage boxes when we unpacked.
When we moved, I saw the boxes wrapped and taped as I requested.
Unpacking in Nassau, I discovered that actually everything I so carefully organized had been dumped in to cardboard boxes. Miscellaneous stuff had been instead packed in the plastic containers.
My careful organizing and sorting was all for naught.
Our new post had zero bookshelves. When we finally were able to find bookshelves to purchase, we unboxed only the most vital books.
The rest have been on the landing by the stairs for the past two years…
They have been a resentful reminder that sometimes my efforts are so easily undone.
I’m tackling it today… I’m under no illusion that I’ll finish it any time soon. My goal is to uncover enough of my special books to start Kindergarten (!) With A5 after Labor Day.
And hopefully, I’ll have them sorted and labelled again before our move next summer.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (aff)
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
– Mark 9:2-8
One of the interesting musings about the appearance of Elijah and Moses at Christ's transfiguration involves the curiosity of their bodily presences in heaven. Elijah, as we know, didn't die but was taken up by God into heaven on chariots of fire. The death of Moses is more curious, as we are told that the Lord himself buried Moses and nobody knew where his grave was (Deuteronomy 34). That he died is not really in dispute — that seems clear enough from the text — but that his body was "handled" by God, that it was mysteriously hidden, and that it strangely turns up again in Jude 1:9, where we are told Michael and Satan are arguing over it, makes for very heady speculation.
What Elijah, Moses, and Jesus are talking about is not recorded. This lends credibility to the scene as an historical event. (You might expect a fabricated scene to include some fabricated dialogue between the three.) It is likely that the disciples couldn't hear.
Peter, as he is wont to do, cannot not do anything. He proposes a set of three tabernacles, one for each of their heavenly presences. He wants to make himself useful, and he is thinking theologically. A good Jew wants to be a good host to a manifestation of God's glory.
But Peter doesn't yet understand that Jesus is the tabernacle. That his incarnation is in fact the glory of God tabernacling with his people: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt" — (literally, tabernacled) — "among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
The last verse of the Transfiguration scene (Mark 9:8) is very important. Moses and Elijah in effect disappear. And only Jesus is left. As Moses and Elijah are representative of "the Law and the Prophets," who individually and collectively have all pointed to Jesus, this moment in the transfiguration event is emblematic of Christ as summation of all the Old Testament expectation. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He is the embodiment of the transition from old covenant to new.
Jesus is himself the manifestation of God's law perfectly done, the lone worker of perfect righteousness. He is holiness personified. And Jesus is himself the manifestation of God's prophetic vision ecstatically, powerfully, miraculously cast, the prophet who is the prophecy. Jesus is himself the promised land, the chariot of fire, the ultimate and only doorway into heaven. Jesus is the end-all, be-all.
All of the Old Testament "heroes" are surpassed by him; he subsumes them in his brilliance, as he is infinitely greater than they. He is the Passover lamb, the manna in the wilderness, the brazen serpent of Moses held aloft to heal all who will behold him.
He is the great high priest, surpassing all priests.
He is the good shepherd, surpassing all shepherds.
He is the great judge, surpassing all judges.
He is the king of kings, surpassing all kings.
He is the lord of lords, surpassing all earthly masters.
He is the bridegroom, surpassing all husbands.
He is the Rabbi Christ, surpassing all preachers.
He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, surpassing all the best of everybody ever.
And thus it is now as it was then, that we should only see Jesus. Let us pray to the Father as the Greeks said to Philip, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus" (John 12:21).
What do we see when we see Jesus in his glory?
From the transfiguration event, we see that Jesus doesn't just reflect glory — it emanates from him.
Secondly, we see that his righteousness, bleached whiter than any man could manage, surpasses the law and prophets, and certainly surpasses the Pharisees and scribes. Therefore, if we would have the righteousness to be taken to heaven, only owning Jesus' will do.
And thirdly, we see that in eclipsing Moses and Elijah, Jesus proves himself not simply as their replacement but as their better.
Jesus is better.
Jesus is better than the law (Hebrews 7:22). He "has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6). In Galatians 3:19-20 we learn that while the law's implementation required multiple intermediaries involved in a complex array of logistically difficult working parts, "God is one"--meaning, God saves us by himself. God saves us from himself, through himself, to himself, by himself, for himself. "The gospel," writes William Cooper, "so much exceeds in glory, that it eclipses the glory of the legal, as the stars disappear when the sun ariseth, and goeth forth in his strength."
That the law could be fulfilled, what a miracle!
The law is good but Jesus is better. The law is good because it is from God and it is good for what God meant it to do. It is good the way a correct diagnosis is good. But while the law is good like a diagnosis is good, Jesus is better than the law like a cure is better than the diagnosis.
The miracle of the transfiguration, then, while historical is also symbolic of the miracle of God's forgiveness of sins, removal of the burden of the law, and imputation of Christ's righteousness to sinners.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
I hyper-extended my left knee playing pickup basketball 21 years ago. At that time it was the worst pain I’d ever experienced. (I have since had a kidney stone, and let me tell you: I’ll take the knee.) One moment I was guarding my man, and in the next, somehow he was jumping into my left leg. I heard a loud crack, followed by an intense pain that sent me crumbling to the concrete. I thought I’d broken a bone. Couldn’t walk for a couple of days. It was stiff for a few weeks. I was young and stupid, so I didn’t see a doctor.
Some time went by, and it didn’t bother me too much over the next few years. But I also exercised less and less. Ten years ago I got serious about losing weight and managed to shave off 50 pounds. The running was on a treadmill, so it wasn’t as high-impact, but my left knee often ached more than I liked.
Two years ago I was running and re-injured it. Went to a doctor. They did a scan. Told me to wear a brace.
I hate my left knee.
I turn 42 this year, but my left knee is 84. I know when rain is coming, because it starts to throb. It’s scary how real a phenomenon that is. When I fly, I always pick an aisle seat on the right side of the plane, so I can stretch my left leg out. My left knee starts hurting when I can’t extend it after a while.
My left knee disobeys my youthful ambitions to thoughtlessly play again. It mournfully reminds me whenever I momentarily forget--jumping rope with the little girls in Honduras, crouching down again and again to examine lower bookshelves at Barnes & Noble, sleeping on it the wrong way--”Hey, man: you’re broken.”
My left knee is why I can’t play basketball with any real zeal any more. My left knee is why I walk every evening instead of run. My left knee is a constant, moaning reminder that I am getting old and falling apart. My left knee sends out a regular signal in Morse code that death is creeping up on me.
My left knee is a reminder that I am groaning for redemption. I am slowly wasting away, giving way to the real me, the one made in the likeness of my Redeemer, strong knees and all. And on that day I finally see his face, my knee won’t hurt any more. And I won’t care any more, or think about it to care. I’ll run tirelessly, leap fearlessly, even school you on the basketball court.
Until then, though, my left knee is a reminder that death is coming, but also that, charmingly enough, so is an eternal lease on life.
One day this knee will bow before its Maker. And all will be well.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
-- 2 Corinthians 4:16
I have six kids. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people ask me for mothering advice.
Advice. I bristle at that word. As if I know your family better than you do.
Yet I am willing to share where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and how we’ve failed or succeeded along the way.
You are just the right mother for your children. They are the just right children for you.
I’m still knee-deep in laundry and playdates and diapers and driving lessons. I don’t have all the answers. But I am willing to encourage you, right where you are, with the children God has put in your life.
With anything I share, I want to emphasize that God made you the mother of your children. You are just the right mother for the little ones God has entrusted to you. They are the just right children for you. No one can love and know your children like you do.
I hope that you are surrounded by people who are encouraging and supportive. I want to be part of that chorus of encouragement in the middle of the nitty-gritty challenges and joys.
Yet the end of the day, God put your children in your family as part of His plan. You love her and will nurture them. Somehow in His infinite goodness, even when you make mistakes (and even sin against them!), He is using that as your children grow in to the people God created them to be.
When I give advice, please hear it as from a friend who wants to encourage you, and trusts you are you make decisions for your family.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
The Normal Pastor Conference is this coming Monday and Tuesday (Aug. 7-8) at Grace Church in Orlando, Florida. I’ve already heard from many of you who are planning to come, but those of you on the fence, please know that registration online will remain open until we’re full, and unless we fill, we will even receive walk-ups.
PLUS, if you’re a resident of the Orlando area, I have a huge help for you with registration cost. Leave a comment with your email address* and I will hook you up!
Don’t miss out. We’re going to enjoy:
- A great time of worship in song and fellowship
– Free books from our sponsors
– A free lunch on Tuesday
– And 6 great talks from our speakers: Zack Eswine, John Onwuchekwa, Joe Thorn, Erik Raymond, Won Kwak, and myself.
* I will not publish your comment, so your email won’t be exposed. And I will not use it for anything but to send you a conference discount code you’ll be happy about.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
It is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means--as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means. There may be a miracle among its antecedent causes, or there may not. The apostles employed miracles, simply as a means by which they arrested attention to their message, and established its Divine authority. But the miracle was not the revival. The miracle was one thing; the revival that followed it was quite another thing. The revivals in the apostles’ days were connected with miracles, but they were not miracles.
I said that a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means.
Those are the words of Charles Finney from his Lectures on Revivals of Religion.
I say that Finney is dead wrong. Dangerously wrong.
But Finney’s words here serve as the philosophical precursor to countless church growth strategies today and the prevailing church growth framework in general. As a sort of churched version of “If you build it, they will come,” this approach to the expectation of revival renders the supernatural natural and the providential pragmatic. Finney and his many modern spinoffs conflate the work of the preacher with the work of the Word. They confuse the minister’s required work with the Lord’s free prerogative. It is God who says, “I will cause breath to enter you” (Ezek. 37:5), and that, when he does, “You shall know that I am the LORD” (v. 6). When the result is worship of God, the credit does not go to the leader but to God. The entire leadership enterprise, the entire purpose of revival, is the knowing of God and the enjoying of his sovereign lordship.
By way of contrast to Finney, enter the wisdom of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
A revival is a miracle. It is a miraculous, exceptional phenomenon. It is the hand of the Lord, and it is mighty. A revival, in other words, is something that can only be explained as the direct action and intervention of God. It was God alone who could divide the Red Sea. It was God alone who could divide the waters of the river of Jordan. These were miracles. Hence the reminder of God’s unique action of the mighty acts of God. And revivals belong to that category. . . . These events belong to the order of things that men cannot produce. Men can produce evangelistic campaigns, but they cannot and never have produced a revival. (Revival, 1987)
This knowledge ought both to humble us and also to embolden us.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
I don’t know of any church leader who wants visitors to their services to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. And yet it still surprises me that many churches still don’t think through some of the ways, both obvious and subtle, that work against making visitors feel “at home” with the congregation. If you’re a church leader who cares about the experience of hospitality for those who visit your church services, I hope you will work through the following questions with eyes open to the impression your church may be leaving visitors.
1. Do you have visible, prominent, clear, and helpful signage?
This is one of the most basic additions to enhance the visitor experience in your church, yet it is one that continues to be lacking in many church facilities I visit. I’ve grown up in the church and have been in a lot of church buildings throughout my life and in my ministry travels, and I still find it difficult to navigate what ought to be familiar church architecture. I can’t imagine how those unfamiliar with familiar church layouts may feel.
-- Where’s your front door?
At some church complexes, usually large churches built between the 1950s and 1980s, or churches that have experienced numerous building additions, it can be difficult to even determine where the entrance is. I have walked around entire buildings trying to enter through locked door after locked door simply trying to get in through a series of identical entryways. Your church complex should have clear signage indicating where visitors should park, where people should enter, and what they should do next.
-- Where do I go?
Once inside the building, I often have trouble determinig where to go for my class or worship service. Most churches, thankfully, have easily visible sanctuaries, but if yours is hard to find, please provide signs directing the way. Also helpful at point of entry to the building are signs for parents directing them to nursery or childcare or to classrooms for Sunday school or Bible study. As an introvert, I am more inclined to look for this information on a sign rather than ask a stranger (who may not know the information anyway), so your commitment to provide clear signage to help me navigate your building is helpful.
2. Do you have greeters who are both welcoming and informed?
The first part (welcoming) sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes friendly people can also be easily distracted people, and I’ve walked past greeters who are holding the door open but engaged in distracted conversation with their fellow greeter opposite them. I’m glad the greeters are having a good time, but not acknowledging my family’s presence is tantamount to not being there at all. Thankfully, most greeters manage to actually greet most of the time.
The part where more greeting ministries fall short is having knowledgable people at the point positions of hospitality. Last year my family visited a church where we were greeted warmly by a friendly and enthusiastic lady. So far, so good. But when we asked questions about Sunday school placement, she was at a loss. She wasn’t quite sure what classes were available and ended up guessing about where my wife and I belonged. We weren’t particularly offended when she led us to the 50s-60s Sunday school class, but some other visitors probably would be. She was also not sure where the youth class met. Make sure your greeters aren’t just friendly but helpful.
3. Do you make visitors feel conspicuous in the worship service?
Stop it. Seriously. Please stop. Some visitors don’t care and will actually appreciate the attention. But many of them will not. This will be a net loss for you.
Make a clear and vocal welcome to visitors, perhaps point them to an informational card
I grew up in a church that asked visitors to wear red badges that said VISITOR on them. We stopped doing this once we figured out that nobody wanted to wear them, that our efforts at hospitality only served to make guests feel conspicuous and ogled. There are thankfully fewer and fewer churches putting guests on the spot in their services, but still more need to get there. I visited another church last year that asked visitors to fill out a card so the church could have a record of their visit--yes, good--and then asked visitors to hold those cards up in the air so ushers could come by and get them from them--no, no, no. This is obviously not as bad as making these people stand up and introduce themselves or wear badges identifying themselves as different, but it’s still an opportunity for discomfort for many folks who wish to blend in while visiting your service.
4. Do you welcome your guests at all?
Yes, the worship gathering is primarily for the covenanting members of your local fellowship, but only a rude family fails to warmly welcome guests. Help visitors to feel at home at least with a good greeting from the pulpit or stage. Here’s what a good visitor greeting ought to include:
-- An acknowledgment by the announcement-giver (or a pastor, if possible) of the guest’s presence with a thank you for visiting and an invitation to let them know if they can serve the guest in any way.
-- A directing to the info card or other means of noting visit, with the request of placing info card in offering plate or other receptacle. Better yet, give guests the option of placing an info card in an offering plate or taking it to an info table--or other point of contact--in the church lobby or foyer to exchange for a gift. This is a great way to both ensure you have a record of someone’s visit and also practice hospitality by providing guests a small token of your appreciation. I have seen numerous churches do this really well and have received coffee mugs with the church logo on them, bags of coffee, books, pens, small gift cards, cookies and treats, and so on.
-- A request that visitors refrain from giving. At my church in Vermont, I used to say as part of our welcome to visitors, “Please be our guest today and do not feel compelled to give during our offering time, which is an act of worship intended for our members and regular attenders.” I had one member once say he thought this was not a good idea since we may have guests who want to give. I decided to stick with this request, and since I began this statement, our giving actually went up. Go figure.
5. Do you appropriately follow up with visitors?
We recently had some friends visiting with us from out of town. They attended worship with us at Liberty Baptist Church and filled out the information card. Even though our friends listed their out-of-town address and our church follow-up team could rightly deduce that these visitors weren’t likely to be looking for a new church in our area, they sent them a card anyway. My friend remarked how special and loved they felt, especially since the card was completed by a childcare worker mentioning their visiting sons by name and what a joy it was to serve them. In terms of “return on investment,” there really was nothing in it for this volunteer at LBC, except to know that she, and by extension, our church had warmly welcomed a guest.
If you receive info cards from guests that include contact details, a personal touch in follow up beats a form letter or email any day. Maybe your fellowship can assemble a team of hospitality-minded folks to cover this responsibility. Hand-written notes and cards are unique specimens in our day and, I think, can go a longer way than the impersonality of emails or texts.
On the other hand, many folks are likely to be put off by what is often deemed over-personal contact in follow-up, so it is probably best to avoid phone calls or, even worse, pop-in visits. Your community and its cultural temperament for such things may be different, but in most places today, the unannounced drop-by visit is seen as an unwelcome intrusion. Send a hand-written card or note thanking your guests for their visit, inviting them to visit again, and requesting that they share any prayer needs, questions, or opportunities for service with you.
These five questions may seem like no-brainers for you, but they are still a good checklist to work through, perhaps with your team, as sometimes leaders assume a clarity that more insight can reveal isn’t quite so clear!
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
I’ll tell you why I hope Bigfoot exists --and why, in a way, I hope he is never discovered. Because it excites me to think that there are creatures out there God has made for his own enjoyment and to enhance the wonder of life on the earth.
I like to think about those creepy fanged fishies deep in the Mariana Trench, swimming around in the murky darkness of the oceanic fathoms, their dangling bioluminescence their only lantern into the future. Most of them we will never see--at least, not on this side of the new earth, where we don’t have the lung capacity or the mechanical capacity to withstand the pressure of such depths. There are species down there we have zero clue about. I think of exotic fish in clear pools of water in the darkness of undiscovered caves deep in the jungles that human feet will never enter. In the thickest centers of the wildest forests, there are species of insects and birds yet undetected.
And maybe there are Bigfoots in the North American woods. I mean, we didn’t know about the mountain gorilla until 1902! Can you believe that? An actual large primate we didn’t know anything about until the 20th century?
I believe that God made all things for his own glory. Anything that was made, he made and made for ultimately for that end--to reflect the wondrous creativity and power and love and God-ness of himself. And this is why there are some things we just don’t know about. If we could know everything, we’d be God. So I think God keeps a lot of things to himself. The answers to a lot of our “why” questions, for instance. And maybe, just maybe, giant frolicking sea monsters and fields of space flowers on some unreachable planet and big upright primates only detectable by the blurriest of camera lenses.
God has bathed this world in wonder in such a way that mere examination can’t do it justice. Noted atheist scientist and TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted, “I wonder who was the first person to see a bird soaring high above & think it a good idea to capture it and lock it in a cage.” Some wiseacre replied, “A scientist.”
Science can help us see the wonder, but it can’t quite figure out how to help us wonder at the wonder. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.”
And this is why I hope we never catch Bigfoot: If we did, the fun would be gone. The mystery would vanish--poof, with a whimper. We’d lose the wonder. He’d be skinned, flayed, vivisected. We’d have his brain in a jar at the Smithsonian. And we’d lose another increment in that feeling that there’s another world just around the corner. It’s better, for now, not to know.
I like that God keeps some things just to himself. It reminds me that he’s God and I’m not. It reminds me that this world he’s created is revealing his glory, not mine. This is part of the reason, I suppose, that when God responds to Job’s inquiries with an epic journey up the dizzying heights of divine sovereignty, he includes some stuff about sea monsters.
I like that God teases us with these mysteries. So long as the mystery of Christ has been revealed (Eph. 3), and we have all that we need to be saved and to work out that salvation, I am totally cool with these little misty visions haunting the created order, always one step ahead of us, peeking around trees, leaving mushy footprints, stray hairs, sketchy images. They help me delight in God’s delight. They help me remember this world is wondrous, and it belongs to the God who spoke the cosmos into being without breaking a sweat.
His eye is on the Sasquatch, you know. Even if ours are not.
Originally published at For The Church.