finding the motherlode

– mining for a vein of truth in the stuff that matters –

Category: culture

post-holiday

It was a lovely white Christmas. Home fires to keep warm by and snow falling in all the right places. But a few days into the New Year and I’m taking it wide. If I wanted to, I could get up in arms over a few things. Clutter. Delay. Waste. And there’s so much more. All very annoying.

But where’s the glory?

Take postmodernism. It’s a behemoth — a very present sociocultural threat — but especially to those who reject the gospel and refuse to submit to God’s sovereign rule. When the scrim is pulled back, the shimmer is gone. The Great Oz is shown for what he is: a puny old man destined to die every year in reruns. A cynic’s dream.

Here’s the shake:

Postmodernism is trite. Well, yes, it can be intimidating for all its fancy terminology — the intelligence of Man come to town to assault those who live coram Deo. A champion bully, an affront to the One true omnipotent God. We may stand agape, but from the vantage point of eternity, postmodernism is a nuisance and a bother brought down to size — a mere plaything left in the mulch pile of the devil’s playground. One day, among the proverbial massive landfill, it too will be found caked with dust, bashed in, deflated. On that Day, every hand will be empty and no man will boast of what they didn’t know, atheists and agnostics alike.

Instead, all will know and bow down.

Meantime, there’s a war on, don’t you know? A collision of kingdoms, an ideological battle that will prove with utter finality which is the enduring kingdom. But for now, distinctions will continue to be made: between those who bend the knee and those who do not, between those who stand ready and those who sit complacent, between those who know Him and those who do not.

“But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: 

‘ The Lord knows those who are His,’ and,

‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’ “

— 2 Timothy 2:19 (ESV)

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So, while there’s still time, deal with the clutter, the delay, the waste. Hasten the day of the Lord.

 

public domain

In light of the heartbreaking news of the Dec. 14, 2012 mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., I offer this *post. My first consideration was to say nothing, but the urgency of the hour compels me to share what is burning in my heart. Soli Deo Gloria.   

*Updated on 12/13/2013.

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Inherent to true north is it provides knowledge of more than just one direction, but it’s the only one you really need to know if you’re lost.

It’s the same for the times in which we live. Having a Biblical grid and a sure course to follow in this postmodern, post-truth, post-trauma era is as much a moral imperative as it’s ever been.

But the usual signposts are either missing or they’re wrong. Something else is happening. 

Children in America are dying. Tender lambs. Young innocents are being taken out by deranged, cold-blooded murderers on an otherwise sunny school day. Media bears the responsibility of getting the facts straight before it becomes breaking news, but tragedy of such proportions demands answers beyond the necessary gathered analytical data. Names and numbers are helpful, but they do not heal.

And the children that did not die, the ones who survived, have grown up and are now doing the killing, Adam Lanza or Dylann Roof style or dying themselves by suicide, opioid overdose, gang violence, or the slow, lonely demise that stems from a kind of disenfranchisement that comes from emotional isolation and/or surviving on the streets. To others, extremist ideologies seem the best option to counter what has been to them a failed system.

Therein lies the burden to understand why. 

grief (2)

Grief

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When society suffers unspeakable ills on a conveyor belt continuum, it’s prescient to know its not random and won’t magically go away. Nor is it the “cycle of life and death” and “better days are coming.” Anecdotal band-aids wear off before they stick. Ecclesiastes comforts when it reads, “Nothing is new under the sun,” but it is not immediately helpful the moment blood gets smeared on walls and spatters onto floors of theaters, malls, and classrooms. No meaningful words exist at the moment of death. It is the final word. We must pay attention. Do something. Death has come up into our windows, been delivered to our doorstep as the life dims from our eyes when we look on the carnage streaming from the eerie blue light of our electronic devices.

Grief is now public domain.

Meantime, the strong offer much-needed calm with consoling hugs and maybe not beyond a few words, “Here, have some water.” Opportunists and strategists aim to strike at their political targets to further their agendas. But shouldn’t we be post-debate by now? Guns or no guns, beds are empty tonight. Photos from happier times are all that’s left, and cherished memories will always have a way of haunting. They’ll have to do…even if they don’t.

Death is not a friend. It’s the last enemy.

It’s reasonable to ask questions.

Why?

How did it get so bad?

What’s happening?

The times call for something greater. Counter-intuitive. Silence and reflection is an appropriate place to start. May it lead to groans. Let the fear and anxiety lead to the heaving weight of deep repentance. Acknowledge your pain and cry out. This is how to begin to return to the ancient paths where one learns to bow the knee and, once there, to bow lower still. Rend the heart, rend the mind. Die to self. Live for Christ. It’s not a once-off.

Live there.

Children are dying. They’ve been dying a long time, long before yesterday’s shedding of blood and the shedding of blood before that. For decades, blood has run freely upon the pelvic floors of millions of women, trickling down the rubber-gloves of the salaried white coats. Smokestacks testify to their evil deeds. The brigade of the conscientious rally to expose them and intervene to help the pregnant mother. God has heard the screams of both while men faint for what judgment is coming upon the earth. The sirens have been sounding for a long time. Rebellion. Disorder. Disregard for Divine authority. We are now post-alarm. If you hear Leviticus’s message: the life of the flesh is in the blood, listen to Malachi’s prophetic cry:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

Malachi 4:5-6 (ESV)

Death in the streets leads to cities on fire. The long, hot summer of 2020 was full of anger, demand, rights, mayhem and destruction. Lives were upended, businesses looted and scourged, more people died. The property damage estimates to be in the billion dollar range. On January 6, 2021, first week into the New Year, a different kind of uprising was had. A persistent political contestation over a presidential election filled with rhetorical slogans and inciteful language and posturing turned into retaliatory chants as a swarming band of U.S. citizens marched to the U.S. Capitol, caught up in a mixture of political ideology and an over-realized eschatology. Surreal images of flag-waving and flag wearing men and women, some masked, others had on gas masks, Q-T-shirts, face paint and Viking horns, zip tie vests and combat gear. However they came, they came by climbing the walls, storming the steps, pounding through glass windows with metal pipes, stampeding under arched doorways until a few hundred found their way inside the U.S. Capitol, meandering, taking pictures with their cell phones, while others, nefarious in their mission, found their way into rooms and the Senate Gallery. A gallows was erected outside. “Hang Mike Pence” was a hashtag come to life. All while our Republican and Democratic elected officials were conducting business by certifying Electoral votes on behalf of the 2020 general election.

Lawlessness and delusion go hand in hand. But those who broke the law will be prosecuted to the full of extent of the law. Sorry, we’re all out of vegan dinners.

It is not an alternative fact that there is a plague going on in the world and the death count is nearing 400,000 in the U.S. alone to date. But Americans are under siege in more than one way. From generation to generation, sin gives birth to death. There is only one solution to that problem. Salvation is of the Lord. Children need fathers who will bow the knee to find strength to carry their sons into adulthood. There is no other way.

Believing there is a holy God,  divine authority begins with admitting your wretched condition of spiritual depravity, confessing your need for a loving Savior who is full of mercy and grace, and surrendering to His will. This is only the beginning of God’s divine order, and it is full of God’s blessing. But the redefinition and subsequent obliteration of the family does not. These weighty realities are ours to face if we’re to engage this broken world and turn over this bowl of rotten fruit where maggots lay their eggs.

This is America’s death culture upon which the masses feast among the ruins. We are bearing the revelatory fruit of a fatherless generation.

May we bow the knee, then bow lower still. Find true north.

Perhaps we may heal.

session eight: the one-eyed monster, and why I don’t let him in

“I’m not too high-minded for television, I really just don’t like it.”

-Barbara Kingsolver

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ENOUGH ALREADY HAS BEEN WRITTEN about the evil schemes fueling the television industry. There is no shortage of studies and stats to show that our culture has been rapidly careening on a downward trajectory. Tune in to prime time and you’ll need look no further. A gore and carnage fest at the ready. A regular free-for-all.

And although I’d rather ponder the exotic coloration of a macaw in Seeing Scarlet or pontificate on why I both agree and disagree with Kingsolver’s final essay, God’s Wife’s Measuring Spoons (you’ll just have to read it yourself), I’m compelled to end our Small Wonder discussion on the theme of television as found in The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don’t Let Him In. 

Why? 

Because, along with Kingsolver, I really don’t like television either. Instead, I’m passionate about the preservation of the mind. Besides, nobody in their right mind actually likes monsters, except of course if it’s green, at least 20 feet tall, and lives safely behind the screen or runs through the pages of a story book and who gets gobbled up in the end. That kind of monster is fun, and bears no lasting threat.

But the kind of monster Kingsolver names in The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don’t Let Him In is amorphous, a changeling, a trickster. TV — it keeps reinventing itself. And as much as it’s referred to as a box, a thing, a tube, and a telly, it’s also equally known as the devil’s mouthpiece, an idiot, a sewer, and a vast wasteland. The thing gets around. It’s grown up with us and we’ve grown up around it.  Now that we’ve been lulled to sleep by its charms, not only do we believe it necessary but we find it comforting to have a screen in front of us at all times — to tell us what to do, think, eat, drink, and how to live, feel, and what to wear. Or not. 

As Kingsolver states:

“The advantages of raising kids without commercial TV seem obvious, and yet I know plenty of parents who express dismay as their children demand sugar-frosted sugar for breakfast, then expensive brand-name clothing, then the right to dress up as hookers not for Halloween but for school. Hello? Anyone who feels powerless against the screaming voice of materialistic youth culture should remember that power comes out of those two little holes in the wall. The plug is detachable. Human young are not born with the knowledge that wearing somebody’s name in huge letters on a T-shirt is a thrilling privilege for which they should pay eighty dollars. It takes years of careful instruction to arrive at that piece of logic.” (p. 134)

Meantime, our culture rocks and reels like a drunkard over what a single channel may produce on a given day. Bloodlust is upon the people — if only for a season or until the next new series. Voyeurism abounds in our living rooms, but one click makes it all go away, so it’s not hurting anyone. Oh, how we’ve been dumbed down. Even if nobody ever exactly believed in something called a “wardrobe malfunction.”

At the very least, Kingsolver sees the writing on the wall enough to decry television’s wasting influence. But what she doesn’t address is the trickster part — and how in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan’s predictive observations dating back to the 50’s about twentieth century media culture have now come to fruition.  Indeed, “the medium is the message.”

The issue goes far beyond how many people are getting shot up with blanks or how much ketchup is used and whether or not we should let Johnny see. Our death culture is far more sinister than fake blood.

Screens “R” Us. From television to laptop, DVD player to iPad, we’ve been channeled and changed by the prowess of a mastermind: this, our hell-bent media culture.

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A BIBLICAL LENS:

The topic of TV can land one atop mounds of food for thought to which all the popcorn in the world would not equal. There’s the good stuff and the bad stuff and then there is the very bad stuff. Beyond that, there exists the unmentionable. Surely the sheer ever-increasing amount of channels has had some bearing on this ratio. I mean, The Carol Burnett Show from the ’70s gave us some really good laughs, thanks to her sidekicks, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. Even so, long before there was television, the Psalmist wrote, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” Ancient paths are new again. We really do have a choice.

Now, let’s have some fun. Time to think outside the box. In this vast wasteland of electronic suffering, I will play roving reporter and ask a few questions:

How do you choose to be entertained? Informed? Instructed? Influenced?

Or are you even choosing at all?

Perhaps you’re letting television (and other various forms of media) make all the choices and have been allowing it to nibble on your mind, if not suck up your time.

At the most basic level, we were made to think, live consciously, and walk upright for the better part of the day. TV is not only a one-eyed monster, it’s a trickster, and can transform into an invisible phantom that will eat our brains if we’re not awake and watchful.

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A warm thanks to all who have read along for all or some portion of our Small Wonder discussion. It’s my hope that you’ve benefited  in some way from these sessions. Maybe you’ve gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for common grace, developed a keener sense of some of the issues all around us, or have caught a burden for your neighbor’s soul. More than anything, I pray a window has been opened from which you can look out of and upon the world with a more redemptive eye:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

-Matthew 6: 22-23

Many special thanks to my dear friends and sisters in Christ, Becky Pliego, Melissa Jackson, and Diana Lovegrove, for your generosity by kindly offering your time and talent in contributing to this project.

Soli Deo Gloria.

session one: small wonder

CHOOSING 8 OUT OF twenty-three essays isn’t easy. And if they happen to be written by Barbara Kingsolver, it’s like selecting from a Jacques Torres dessert menu. Très difficile. But beginning somewhere is how anything gets started, and since Small Wonder (HarperCollins 2002) is the kind of book that can be read back to front no matter, consider this a friendly push into the secular tide even as we dive deep into the gospel, cresting the waves of Biblical thought.

For those just arriving, please read the introduction here to better understand the faith-based premise for this discussion challenge.

Today and every Thursday through October 25, we’ll be discussing one of Kingsolver’s pieces while looking through a Biblical lens at her take on life, genuine concerns, and impassioned insights. Our goal is not to provide exhaustive Biblical commentary but to stir our minds to pure thinking and learn to discern with a redemptive eye, resting in the fact that Truth is perfect — we are not.

So glad you’ve decided to join us. Welcome!

SESSIONS

September 6- Small Wonder 

September 13- Saying Grace

September 20- What Good is a Story? with Becky Pliego

September 27-Lily’s Chickens

October 4-Letter to a Daughter at Thirteen with Melissa Jackson

October 11- Letter to My Mother

October 18- Household Words with Diana Lovegrove

October 25- The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don’t Let Him In (Conclusion) 

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SESSION ONE: small wonder

I’ve never been to the Lorestan Province in Iran, but the story as retold by Barbara Kingsolver about a missing 16-month-old boy brought me to the mouth of one of its caves, where he was found encircled in the arms of a bear, safe and fed.

Why a lactating female bear became the boy’s wet nurse explains part of the equation. But to understand why it didn’t tear the baby limb from limb takes faith. What’s more, the event took place in the obscure dark, in the mountains, halfway around the world — just days after America’s skies were exploding and raining down scraps of metal, dust, and fuselage — and people. A disparity of global extremes.

That Kingsolver was riveted by the events of 9/11 is more than understandable — shock and awe were universally suffered by nearly all. So much death in the name of ideology was a hard pill to swallow, one many still can’t get down all the way. Then comes along this highly improbable story. Research verified it as true.

What to call it? An act of grace? A miracle? Yes. What to do with it? Give tribute to Allah? No. But that she did shouldn’t cause us to shut down, lest we be guilty of the worst kind of fundamentalism. The weightier matter for the Christian is to beg for wisdom in how to respond to someone dangling from a tightwire of hope and despair. Find the lead straight into their heart. Tell them of the one true God.

Folk tales convey a broader cultural parallel; make us smile. But obscure, amazing news reports cause our jaw to drop. Should they occur in the wake of terror and disaster, even an atheist may be compelled to look up. Or set someone to wonder hard and long. A whole different kind of shock and awe, the kind that tempers the soul, summons hope.

Sometimes, timing is everything. This was one of those times, as Kingsolver wrote, “the lion could lie down with the lamb.”

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A BIBLICAL LENS:  

  The many times the author refers to “God” in this essay can’t be missed. But we must make distinctions. When an unbeliever acknowledges a transcendent Being at work in the world in a pluralistic sense, it’s a Christian’s obligation to make the most of the opportunity, use it to Christ’s advantage. Note how Paul preaches to the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Acts 17:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” 

-Acts 17:22-23 ESV

From there, he plots the course of redemptive history by first describing God as Creator of heaven and earth, the Giver of life and breath to all men. He even quotes some of their own poets. He then recounts God’s work based on the covenantal promises. Finally, he declares God’s ultimate redemptive plan as revealed in Christ Jesus. From a polytheistic platform at the Areopagus, Paul posits the gospel by means of common grace to proclaim God’s saving grace.

As for Kingsolver paying tribute to Allah for the miracle, I hazard to think she was, out of respect to the story’s origin, trying to be gracious in a politically correct way. Regardless, God isn’t threatened by man’s darkness, nor should we be. He determines both sight and blindness, who sees and who cannot. When a person ascribes to deity but not specifically Christ, it’s a matter of what Paul explains in Romans 1, what theologians call general revelation. Understanding this doctrine should serve to heighten our sense of obligation to preach the gospel to all men.

Back to the boy and the bear and the aftermath of 9/11. We know that Providence deems circumstances both bitter and sweet. We also know that all things serve Him. When a real-life parable of such magnanimity forces hope out of hiding, it helps us accept tragedy and heal, offering, as Kingsolver said, “the possibility of taking heart.”

I’m grateful Kingsolver perceived the power and mystery infused in this survival story and had the largesse to write about it. It’s inspiring, humbling — the boy and the bear, yes, but also how she unwittingly brags on the God of hope and wonder. As she said, “God is in the details.”

Yes, yes He is.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. 

-Romans 11:36

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Next Thursday: Saying Grace

-Please share comments, quotes, Scriptures, or views below-

zeitgeist

The only thing more dangerous than the spirit of the age is being unaware that you’re caught up in it. Like Times Square after New Year’s in the rain, America today is full of the aftereffects of a party gone bad, but many are too intoxicated to notice. To the level of distraction and amusement we’ve stooped, we have sunk to new lows and the mood is dark. Sobriety only comes at a price the morning after. Thumbing through TIME magazine (Monday, Jan. 16, 2012) the other day, an article caught my eye — 10 Questions for Chris Kyle, a candid interview with former US Navy SEAL sniper turned author who earned three Silver Stars in Iraq for expert marksmanship with the deadliest record in American military history. The lines between his brow and the edge in his words:You live in a dreamworld,” both pointed to something truer than my comfort zone was used to. One question the interviewer asked was why he could kill a woman with a grenade in her hand but not a little boy in Nasiriyah with an RPG in his. “That day I could not kill a child,” was his reply. Something higher than a top brass command to kill informed Chris Kyle the day he let that boy go free. A reminder of how rules not of this world play into the hands of a Sovereign God. No dreamworld there.

Meanwhile, atop our lime-treated soil on this slightly tilting planet, our isms keep us busy clicking away online and picking from shelves of well-stocked stores, feeding off pig slop on TV and allowing our app-hungry devices to consume us while we treat our pets better than our neighbors. We’re split right down the middle — an angry couch of fiction readers, softer than marshmallows, living in the land of Diversion with two fists raised in the air. National pride faces its own dichotomy amid pleas for someone to rescue us from moral decay without having the collective conscience to uphold the standards necessary to recover them.

Zeitgeist.

The spirit of the age has swooped down like a giant bird to carry off in its bill this suffering generation, convincing us that we’re fighting for a just cause — namely, our rights.

The spirit of the age has swooped down like a giant bird to carry off in its bill this suffering generation, convincing us that we’re fighting for a just cause — namely, our rights. Look around. Every institution is under siege. Marriage is in the hopper, getting redefined. The term “family” can mean anything you need it to mean. Parents can choose their baby’s sex beforehand and children can decide their gender afterward. Our churches are in crisis, schools need policing, leaders from every sector are dropping like flies for doing unspeakable things. And the economy sustains a head wound that won’t heal while backpacks set up as portable living rooms in the public square. Ideological ire is everywhere. Around the globe, protest and unrest have become a way of life.

For the Christian, things are dicier than ever. While intolerance is a sitting duck, tolerance is a ticket to hell. The Word of God is Truth, but if discernment isn’t rooted in faith working by love, entitlement is a silent creeper and soon your judgments will subtly begin and end with you. The fog of spiritual battle can be thick, may even cause temporary blindness. Things are getting harder and harder to separate and figure out. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? Remember what Jesus said to Pilate when asked if He was King of the Jews?  He answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Soothing words. Terra firma. Rules not of this world. Still, the clanging of cymbals can be attention-getting loud. Knowledge abounds while Truth declines, Anti-Semitism rises as judgment falls, and walking circumspectly may mean keeping quiet when everything in you wants to scream. You may have knowledge, zeal, and confidence, but they will mean very little if you do not have Christ. Tumult in the city, tumult in the Church — one thing is clear: The Zeitgeist is a very big killer bird.

    The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven;

his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

-Psalm 11:4 (ESV)

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For further meditation Psalm 11 2 Timothy 3:1-7 Isaiah 11:2-4 Isaiah 24 Author’s Note:  Reference in this blog post to TIME magazine does not constitute its endorsement or recommendation by the author nor is the article meant to be a political commentary on war or exploit the horrors of war. Use of said article is strictly anecdotal. Retired Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was called “Al-Shaitan Ramad” (The Devil of Rahmadi) among insurgents and is known as “the legend” among his SEAL brothers. He now lives in Mid-Texas with his wife and two children and considers himself to be a better husband and father than he ever was a killer. 

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PostscriptOn February 2, 2013, Chris Kyle was shot and killed, along with veteran companion, Chad Littlefield, at the Rough Creek Shooting Range in Erath County, Texas. 

pragmatic jalinda

“Granted, the mirror has only one crack and it’s in the corner, but I still could not live with this imperfection.
I also could not throw away a perfectly good mirror,
so there had to be a clever way to save it.”

-Jalinda

If you don’t know what a pragmatist is, then most likely you are one. To some extent, we all are. And if there’s one thing pragmatists the world over have in common, it’s the desire to make something work.

You know the drill. Bigger is better. More is more. Plugging up holes and putting out fires. Git-r-done. Pragmatism is so much more than this, really, but this is what it looks like wearing a baseball cap.

To be fair, resourcefulness can be a virtue, but only up to a point. Overripe apples are great for making a tasty batch of applesauce, but there is a terminal ill no amount of human cure can remedy. Big sin, little sin, sin is sin, and the blackest of sin does not respond to a coat of paint. Or tail feathers. Morals do not save. No one is good. There is no hiding from the eye of Him to Whom we must give account.

To those who think they can accomplish spiritual goals by natural means, think again. As the prophet says:

“What will you do in the end?”

-Jeremiah 5:31

We live in a moment on the timeline when the crack in the glass has not only widened but also lengthened and multiplied. Where anarchy is a song and nihilism is broadcast from T-shirts worn by children too young to drive. Where meaninglessness is served with toast points among the elite, promoted as fine art. Knowledge abounds, but truth falters in the streets. Justice? Feed the poor, but please, no talk about offending a holy God, lest it bother someone. We’re a fractured generation living in the midst of horrible consequence. The land of Sin, a banished country.

What to say to those who want out?

First, I’d tell them Christianity is not a quick fix. Then I’d say something like this:

There is an eternal God Who dwells in unapproachable light,¹ and He sits on an eternal throne in heaven, arrayed in majesty. He is the Everlasting Father, Creator of the universe, Who, from the beginning, has ordained all that is seen and unseen. He is the Provider of creatures both great and small, of them that fly above the earth and of those that crawl upon and under the earth and they that swim in the ocean deep. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, the One and Only, He sustains every atom of matter by His powerful word.² Not a jot or tittle goes unobserved from His all-seeing eye. And He is not weak, as though He needed anything. In fact, in Him we live and move and have our being.³ He knows that we are but dust, yet He does not treat us as our sins deserve.

How can this be?

What kind of God would allow so much evil?

Why does He frustrate feeble, sincere men in their attempts to succeed? 

Why so much difficulty?

No, sir. Christianity is not for me.

Yes, this God insults man’s intelligence, diminishes his strength, thwarts his purposes and catches the wise in their craftiness.

Why?

Christianity is not a quick fix, nor is it a method or a movement. I daresay, it is not even a religion, as if it were a decision based upon human will or ancestry. Neither is it escapism, a subculture, counterculture or an alternative lifestyle.

Beyond description, Christianity is a word that escapes the eloquence of man. Though admirable attempts have been made by many, I won’t try. But this I will say: It’s not a 12-step program, a Get Out of Jail Free card or a 7-step plan to a happier you.

Christianity is a Man. And unto this Man there must be an abandonment of all other trusts.

Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the response of God to the problem of sin, the exact satisfaction of God’s wrath and the only hope for mankind’s abject ruin, total inability and plight of eternal condemnation. He is the very expression of God’s glory and kindness and unto Whom the only right response is to believe in Him by forsaking your idols, confessing and repenting from your sin and being converted, that you might find refreshing in Him.⁴

In Christ, a glorious new birth awaits.

There is some of the pragmatist in all of us, I’m convinced, and only through the well-trained, Spirit-filled Christian mind are we able to begin to break free from its grip.

-Tim Challies

God doesn’t need permission from His creation to act. He does not depend on anyone or anything and He does not yield His glory to another, for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. His purposes are set high above the heavens, made manifest on the earth below upon the ever-unfolding plotline of history. And we are but His lowly subjects, whether we believe in Him or not. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Lord of Jalinda, pragmatists all.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

-Acts 4:12

1. 1 Timothy 6:16
2. Hebrews 1:3
3. Acts 17:24-28
4. Acts 3:19

yesterday’s perfection

“Fads come and go, but trends live longer.”

– Newell Turner, Editor in Chief, House Beautiful, Dec/Jan 2011

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It’s all about STYLE.

At least that’s what they told me. And I’ve lived long enough to know how an ever-changing forecast of what’s in and what’s out influences our choices on many levels. Did you know that hot pink is considered a neutral? Well, it is. They said so. Goes with any color. Feel free to buy the pillow now.

Designers issue warrants against fads, render edicts for what’s on trend, and guarantee joy, peace, and freedom by the time you finish the third application of epoxy after using their $30 stippler brush. The amount of money spent in search of the holy grail with just the right patina doesn’t factor, as long as it’s not fake verdigris from a can. That’s so 20 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong. I love good design. Point out an arch and I’m in Rome. Put some fuzzy peaches in a respectful blue bowl (any shade) and I’m happy. Leather, wood, marble, a touch of brass. Silver and bronze, too. Natural beauty is the raw element of good design — shape, color, texture, and a drop of wonder — gives it strength. And certain quality lends that element of perfection, lest we forget.

Let’s talk placement. How and where a thing goes will adjust a person’s sensibilities, may even slough off that winter malaise: Here, not there. This, not that. Yes? No. A little to the left. OK, there. Good. Like having an editor living inside your head, hacking away at the excess, adding to what is sparse, leaving behind what works, that five peaches are better than four. Same with flowers. Odd, never even. Right there. Keep it. Perfect. Get the camera.

But if there be any grit to one’s theology, it will inform even this kind of stuff.

__________________________

In the ’70s, mine was a mother who not only acquired amber glass grapes, an orange butterfly chair and a Rococo mirror, but she also knew what to do with them. As she did with the hot pink ostrich feather boa, which matched the hot pink Qiana criss-cross halter gown she made for a cruise to the Caribbean. Her closet provided more excitement than a funhouse. The Spanish gaucho outfit — the hat alone held more grandeur than our small town could bear — but her penchant for quality surpassed her flair for fashion, so she got away with it. Matching the grey leather gloves with the silver-studded grey suede pumps and hosiery took skill and a few hours spent at the accessory counter at Monkey Ward, but the dusty lavender felt cloche was an instant wonder that made the plum wool suit sing. She knew color — undertones and overtones of every shade and hue.

A domestic maven, she could spread a table like no other. Fresh flowers to celebrate all four seasons; red, white, and blue on the fourth of July, candles and gourds in November, anenomes come March. Her private stash of dinnerware regaled each holiday and minor occasion, including gigantic clamshells and brown oval restaurant dishes when the whim struck for stuffed clams or au gratin. (Her frittered squash blossoms never made it to the plate.) Everything I learned about taste, tilt, mood, line, scale, bias, and nap I learned from her — furniture, fabric, clothing, hats, coats, handbags, linens, drapes, pillows, bathing suits, boots, and shoes. Lamps and candles, too. Taught me to first eyeball things, then measure afterwards, just to be sure. Her city ways even showed up at the farm stand, where buying a jar of local honey and a dozen ears of corn could’ve brought out the paparazzi. Someone should’ve taken her picture. But style can’t be bought or sold, and there was a reason they named her “Hollywood” in the nursing home.

In her 50’s, she admitted it was all a fading glory, even the patent leather stilettos, that silver glitter eyeshadow and those chandelier earrings that swept long against her black turtleneck silk crêpe cocktail dress. For the first half of my life I lived inside her world, her magazines, her jewelry box. I bought the lie, too. A scam of the highest order. Thankfully, we both crawled out in time. Time enough to close the lid on the need for MORE.

hot pink

“To all perfection I see a limit;
but your commands are boundless.”

−Psalm 119:96

___________________________

That’s why fads and trends don’t cut it for me. Covetousness mars the whole bolt. But I don’t wage war by dressing in burlap, whittling sticks from a broom while sitting barefoot on my front porch. I’m learning to be content. Use what I have, reinvent the rest. Life as improv. Why? Because I know myself. I need to keep a check on my appetite for nice things. Don’t ask me how I got here, I’m just grateful for the grace. Joy, peace, and freedom do not come from a 1,500-thread-count, expensive wall art, or good lighting — and I really like nice lighting. The world of design is an endless cave of diamonds; there’s always another one to mine.

Sure, the gloss of perfection exists, but mostly for the camera. If we zoom out, we might get in touch with our depravity— learn how our lust for more is the cleanest of enticements and unlearn our proclivity to want and waste. Designers and decorators spend way too much time, energy, and money doting on the small stuff, luring us to crave what it is we don’t have and what our eyes never have enough of seeing. But they can never give us what we need. 

Tomorrow may find us laughing at today’s fads. But trends? Well, one day, they will be so yesterday.

__________________________

 

Chapter Two: Good News for Losers

“We don’t like to think of ourselves as losers, especially in America.”

— Michael Horton

WEEK 2 

Maybe it’s me, but I had to read this chapter very s-l-o-w-l-y before I grasped his overarching point. Perhaps the up close and personal approach to chapter one is what threw me off — because this chapter is the BIG picture, like looking through a wide-angle lens. But I think I got his point(s). In a nutshell: Americans are happy in denial, everyone wants their best life now and go to heaven, but only if they don’t have to suffer and die beforehand…or some variation on that theme. Let’s give it a shot.

SUMMARY 

One of Horton’s literary strengths is his ability to cut down to size whole paradigms in less than a few pages. In the chapter, “Good News for Losers,” he helps us understand how things have evolved both culturally and in the Church.  He shows how Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy of the individual’s “will to power” has held great sway — from the rise of Nazism to its silent creep into the modern Church. The sweeping effects of this man-centered “superman” ideology is seen en masse, most notably among those who believe their felt needs are foremost. This exaltation of man, otherwise dubbed as a “theology of glory,” pervades our Western thinking on every level. What’s most alarming is how widely it is embraced among evangelicals. Whether expressed through a methodology of worship, indulgent lifestyle, or our national craze of “staying forever young,” this phenomenon of “[f]eeling good has emerged as not only a national priority but a religious obsession for Christians and non-Christians alike.”

By bringing us back to the truth of Scripture, Horton erects a platform to display the “theology of the cross” — the true centerpiece for our faith. He goes on to show that, in all its “weakness,” the cross of Christ is the very power of God, not only saving us from the power of sin, death, hell and the grave, but also enabling us to embrace the reality of suffering in our lives:

“Just where the highest and holiest victim of truly undeserved suffering cries out,

‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’

victory over sin and death is taking place.
This is the foolishness and weakness that trump the wisdom and power of the ages!” (p. 28)

Meantime, as the world works ever harder at “winning,” going to ever greater lengths to deny the reality of pain, suffering, and death, its bondage to fear is greater still, disguised in multimillion-dollar industries designed for self-preoccupation and pleasure. But not so for the Christian. “Heaven is not here, it’s There”¹ — we’re not home yet. This is why, by God’s grace, we can accept our wrinkles, count loss as gain, and render troubles as light and momentary, knowing that they’re achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. Why we can look death square in the face and feel no sting — the stinger has been removed. Good news for losers, indeed.

1. Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart

MY TAKE

When I became a Christian more than 30 years ago, I received the full gospel message of Christ and Him crucified. I’m grateful for the strong Biblical foundation that was laid early on. I was a world-loser and a world-forsaker — I had run away with the gold! But as time tells both sides of a story, I’ve seen the spiritual landscape change and erode.

Sadly, many Christians today have received only just enough truth to know that Jesus died for them, but they stumble in the dark for not knowing much else. A blight has been upon the Church for decades, a famine for Truth has ensued — a time when hungry souls eat whatever is given them. Little wonder why a “theology of glory” runs rampant in churches today, usurping the authority of Scripture and delivering a neutered gospel. Even less wonder why people lack the power to overcome sin; they don’t understand the fundamental truths of Scripture. So when a holy spokesman like Horton comes around blowing the whistle on a counterfeit gospel, I listen. Why? First, to make sure that there’s no stain of a “theology of glory” found in me. And to be ready to give an answer to those without, because the gold I hold is a “theology of the cross” only found at the foot of the cross, the place where sound doctrine was first nailed down. The place where I learned what it meant to lose all…that I might gain Him.

WORTH REPEATING

“I do not think that a Biblical sense of human sin and the need for redemption outside ourselves requires national pessimism, but a religion of human goodness will never sustain a people in times of disaster and threat.” (p. 25)

“…just keep it happy.”

“Today we have conveniently removed death, and with it the communion of the saints, and relegated it to nondescript secular cemeteries with euphemistic names like “Forest Lawn.” ” (p. 32)

“The goal of life is not to be happy, but to be holy; not to make ourselves acceptable to ourselves and others, but to be made acceptable to God by God; not to be gathered together with all of the successful people in the prime of our life, but to be gathered unto our fathers and mothers in the faith.” (p. 35)

GROUP CHAT

So, where did you land in this chapter? What did you like or dislike? Reflect on? Agree or disagree with?

Please share your thoughts, insights, questions, or favorite excerpts in ftm’s comment section. Of course, if you’d rather simply listen, that’s fine, too.

Things to know:

  • If your comment is in response to one of the chapter questions in the back of the book, please make a brief note. For example, if you’re answering question 3 of Chapter 2, a quick “Q#3” will cue readers as to what you’re talking about.
  •  If you’re offering a view contrary to that of the author’s or that of another commenter, please offer Scriptural reasoning. Our goal is to edify the group by holding to Biblical integrity throughout the six-week discussion.
  • Feel free to post a link to your own site if you left a comment there.

FOR NEXT WEEK

Read Chapters 3 & 4:  “Suffering on Purpose” and “Is Your God Big Enough”

Bonus: “Good News for All,” James Smith, 1860

-Thanks for coming-

♦  ♦  ♦

Let’s meet again next Wednesday, May 18

the marital cup

Still Life with Lemon, Oranges, and Glass of Wine

— Willem Kalf

____________

Like handblown glass, delicate in construction but strong in substance, the marriage covenant is a cup that holds the vintage of years gone by, blessed and preserved by God.

While love is as strong as death, marriage is fragile if only for the fact that two fallen people, a man and a woman brought together as one, commit to an exclusive bond for the rest of their days, come what may. Knowing that a covenant designed by God has His backing brings much-needed assurance.

But no marriage is unlike the first, where the culprit of sin creeps in to take its toll. The effects of Adam and Eve’s fall were felt at close range — firstborn son murdered the second-born, with God presiding as Witness and Judge. I imagine that as parents, partners, and lovers, they fell into each other’s arms that night searching for consolation from an unbearable wound, aware that bitter herbs change the taste of things.

What keeps a marriage? Sustains it through life’s trials, cares, disappointments, and woes? Certainly not the froth left over from an elaborate wedding ceremony. As exciting and wonderful the fanfare, wedding attire, rich foods, lavish gifts, and honeymoon can be, eventually helium dissipates, styles change, china breaks and pictures fade. Something stronger is needed when storm clouds gather.

Apart from inviting family and friends to witness the ceremony and share in the festivities, what compels a man and a woman to stand before a crowd and declare that they will stay together, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part?”

The nearness of God.

But our culture trends toward having the greater focus be on the wedding event — the more outlandish the better — a raucous party with all the trappings. Whether staged in a desert, bride and groom suspended from bungee cords, or videotaped underwater, it’s all but forgotten that when vows are exchanged, God is the unseen Officiate. Even Christians need reminding of this. In a day when selfishness and “freedom of choice” permeates our thinking on every level, we’re not immune to being lured away, abandoning all reason for the sake of pleasure and the pursuit of happiness.

Vows are best framed in solemnity. As comforting and wonderful as marriage can be, it’s both a sacrifice and a crucible, less often a pleasure dome. Without strong Biblical encouragement, we can be tempted to subtly diminish the gift God has sewn into the fabric of society, designed to remind us of the mystery between Christ and the Church:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother
and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
This mystery is profound,
and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

-Ephesians 5:31-32 (ESV)

Ultimately, marriage is on display for the glory of God. It’s not about happiness as much as it’s about holiness as He works through life’s circumstances to mold and shape us, conforming us into His image if we will surrender to His dealings. He’s the third strand in the cord, providing strength, proving faithful as a very present help when things appear to be fraying. He sees every sacrifice, gesture, trial, hardship, sorrow, annoyance, hurt, fear, desire, joy, hope and dream. And He collects every tear in His bottle, stores them up in remembrance, watching over the covenant made in His Name.

So lift up your marital cup to the Lord. Reflect through the glass on His faithfulness and the memories made, even the ones that stretched you in every direction, and ask yourself, “By Whose authority?” Then bow lower still.  Bless the partner of your youth, recount your vows, bless and enjoy one another. Understand that God is just as near today as when He presided over you when you stood together upon the altar before a future unknown.

And remember that the cup belongs to Him. He’s the expert viticulturist, Who patiently perfects the bouquet of a fortified wine over time. Let Him refresh your cup, fill it anew, pour out a blessing.

Savor the long finish. He reserves the best for last.

Shalom.

____________________________

Details on Still Life with Lemon, Oranges and Glass of Wine

The middle axis of this painting is formed by a römer wine glass with an elaborate stem. Placed in front of a dark niche, it is partly lit by the small amount of light that shines on it. The light is also refracted by the transparent glass and the wine itself. On the marble table there are three bergamot or Seville oranges and a lemon. Jutting out over the table’s edge, a knife with a polished agate handle protrudes through the bright yellow lemon peel, and the porous strip of skin, peeled off in one piece, curls around like a festoon, forming a decorative counterpart to the narrow pointed orange leaves. Showing sweet and sour citrus fruits together in this way, the artist symbolically admonishes the viewer (who can be seen looking in at the window, in the reflection on the glass) to be temperate and to add lemon and orange juice to wine, as they were considered to have medicinal, humoral, and physiological properties.

keeping watch

Through the smoke curls of his cigar, I would watch my father as he sat at the table after dinner, musing aloud in the afterglow to whoever would listen. He was funny, sardonic, and, on occasion, extraordinarily pensive. But when he said, “In 50 years, what you will have is an amoral society,” I heard the voice of a broadcaster. He emphasized amoral by clarifying that he did not mean immoral. He’d squint as though he could see into the future, like he knew that what he saw in his mind’s eye was going to happen.

He was only off by 10 years. Some things make headway sooner than we can predict.

Now, his words are the substance of my daily bread. And reason why I’ve been taking up precious minutes of my 15-year-old’s summer to study with him the book of Ecclesiastes. Getting at the big questions, searching as though we’re Solomon. Better to grapple now — before he asks — or might never bother to ask. Life’s coming at him fast and hard, he’s realizing there are no easy answers. I’m both mother and midwife, helping him find the face of Him in Whom all questions are put to rest.

So I roll up my sleeves, not willing to let a surrogate take my place.

Much of the Christian subculture offers its own ideas for evangelizing teens. Park ’em in front of a Wii and train ’em with enough pizza to keep ’em comin’ while the proclamation of the gospel suffers in silence against the din of the latest YouTube video. Then tell them God loves ’em, you love ’em and that they can all go home now.

Truth be told, teens are being amused to death and the majority of youth pastors need evangelizing themselves. I’m not willing to yield my flesh and blood to someone who, spiritually speaking, has no proven driving record. There are too many blind curves and not a lot of guard rails to adulthood. Parents are given a charge by God to train up their children, and that amounts to so much more than peering at the clock when they come tiptoeing through the door at midnight. Too many parents abdicated their authority to the powers that be a long time ago. Meanwhile, our nation’s youth are largely lost, like silent refugees standing on the side of the road, afraid to ask for directions, let alone know where to find food.

Back to amorality. My father was right. His words warned long before I knew the meaning of the word. Now, the urgency is mine to secure for my son a Biblical response to the world he’s inheriting. He sees its fractures. He dares acknowledge they’re acute, but I refuse to strive in vain against the tide that vies to pull him under. I recognize that my efforts alone are weak and powerless. Instead, I’m making it my business to serve him Truth from a steady hand, taking pains to rightly divide the Word for this reason only: His soul is at stake. But it’s the gospel that saves. I can only offer my hands to the One who will either bless or curse what I do or do not do. My obligation is plain. I’m mother to the next generation.

So I toil away in obscurity, looking through the haze of  my own smoke curls, the missionary prayers of a mother whose sole desire is to bear fruit to God. The future is in His hands, but the times and seasons are for me to watch.

candlelight

__________________________

Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king
who no longer knows how to take warning.

– Ecclesiastes 4:13