The Lion in my House

Author: mike

Souvenirs of Hell

I ran across a chart recently that demonstrates a significant challenge of modern times. The title, “Everything we eat both causes and prevents cancer,” is laudatory for its clarity.  The…

I ran across a chart recently that demonstrates a significant challenge of modern times. The title, “Everything we eat both causes and prevents cancer,” is laudatory for its clarity. 

The world never quite seems very clear-cut. So, it would be easy to say that everyone’s experience must be different and those differences must then be existential qualifiers. In other words, your road is your own and mine is my own. Truth is not knowable; truth is flexible. “We’re all headed in the same direction.”

This is the familiar argument of smart people against postmodernism: If nothing is true, how can we be dogmatic about anything?

So, the postmoderns seem to have caught on and are filling the gap with their opinions du jour (or maybe that was the plan all along).  In the vacuum left, we’re plugging in new “truths.” New (old) sins and virtues are coming from new (old) places.

All of this seems like an attempt to convince us that reality never gives us a firm “either / or” set of options. And worse, we are convinced that, given enough time and patience, all options can ultimately be embraced.  It isn’t really “either / or” — it can be both, can’t it?  Isn’t this the famous power of “and?”

After enough consideration, we convince ourselves that we never really have to say “no” to anything; evil and good eventually blend together and we don’t need to reject anything.   We want – and are convinced we can have – both.

Racism is a high form of modern sin, unless it is the right kind of racism. Sexism is not to be tolerated, unless it is the kind of sexism that rejects the other sexism.

We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the center.

We live in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two more roads and each of those roads forks into two again. At each fork, we have to make a decision.  “And” isn’t an option.

Our lives are driven by entropy. Life is less like a pool than like a tree. It doesn’t move towards unity, but away from it.

Yet, here we are: with no hope to know where we are headed or how to get there, and no conviction that the road we’re on is right or wrong.

And so, instead of the ripening of truth that helps to differentiate not only Good from Evil, but good from good and evil from evil, we end up with a distinct lack of clarity about what those things (good and evil) really are – and no conviction to dismiss those “souvenirs of Hell” that we’d prefer to keep.  We want Heaven with our favorite parts of Hell in hand.

I thought student loan debt was the biggest issue of this generation.

Choosing the wrong road is part of life. Knowing that it was wrong, turning around and heading back to the last fork helps make things right.

Turning around and changing direction is the solution to get to the right destination; never progressing forward without making a change.

Evil can be undone, but it cannot be developed into good.

All it takes is being lost to realize that not everything is good and not everywhere is Heaven.

Perhaps that’s why so much energy is spent convincing ourselves that we are not, after all, lost.

We are too often wrongly convinced that every road leads Home.

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Biblical Illiteracy and Home Cooked Food

I am not sure when it happened, but here we are again. Christianity Today recently published an article about the unfortunate mislabeling of ‘book studies’ as ‘Bible studies.’ “…Biblical illiteracy…

I am not sure when it happened, but here we are again.

Christianity Today recently published an article about the unfortunate mislabeling of ‘book studies’ as ‘Bible studies.’

“…Biblical illiteracy pervades our churches,” writes author Jen Wilkin, “unintentionally aided by our labeling.”

I have the sinking feeling that our labeling is not the only force generating the unintended consequence of biblical illiteracy. It seems likely that we’re falling for a familiar trap.

Wilkin later quotes Howard Hendricks’ challenge to bible teachers, “Never do for your students what they can do for themselves.”

On the issue of Biblical illiteracy, Hugh Whelchel, writing for the antithetical for Faith, Work & Economics, exposits a 2013 LifeWay Research study on the consumption of the Bible by Protestants outside of a church setting. Roughly equal respondents indicated they read the Bible ‘every day’ and ‘rarely or never’ (both approximately 18%). Whelchel juxtaposes these poles with the overwhelming indication that nearly all (90%) responders “desire to please and honor Jesus in all that [they] do.” The conclusion of the author is that the disconnection between regular bible reading and the desire to properly honor Jesus is a bold indication of the problem of biblical illiteracy.

How can we serve a God we do not know, and we do not know Him because we have not learned who He is — and He desires to be served — through His gift of scripture?

Yet, I am left with a few questions of my own to answer:

What is the proper way to read scripture? The improper way? When we read the scriptures, are we reading them properly? Who can determine the right and wrong ways?
How do we properly interpret passages for our own times and experiences?

Who interprets these passages most properly?
Are we served by yielding the interpretation to an authority? How do we identify ‘safe’ authorities for the interpretation of scripture?

I have some answers to these questions, but not all of them. And I am not entirely confident in the answers I have, which only leads me to more questions.

And so, in a glut of unanswered or partially answered questions, the Bible becomes a kind of magical relic, best left to the hands of an expert with the right pedigree and more training to interpret than a layperson like me.

In a world of experts, we all feel a bit like we’re hacking our way through each day, anyhow. Why leave the interpretation of scripture to chance?

Majoring in Minors

The corporate exposition of the Word of God doesn’t often do much to help the average Joe. I have listened to plenty of sermon series that may spend hours on a mere handful of verses. There is often nothing deep about this kind of ‘deep dive’ into the text; it is often the same shallow pool of self-help behavior modification, emphasizing not the power of the Spirit of God in one’s life, but instead demonstrating the ability of the preacher to find enough tangential examples of a truism he can speak on for 30 minutes.

And this isn’t just the worn out territory of bad preachers. John Piper, arguably one of the most influential and oft-cited preachers of truth in our time, has a sermon series expositing Romans verse by verse that takes 6.4 days of listening to complete. That’s 153.6 hours of preaching!

So much for Peter’s measly 200 words in Solomon’s Colonnade in Acts 3 that grew the church by 5000 men and their families.

And so what are we to make of it?

I can read Romans and give it a fair amount of contemplation, internalizing Paul’s words and applying them to my life in a meaningful way, praying over them and breathing them in, studying the characteristics of our God through the text and in my life, and still have 150 or so hours to spare for Pastor John.

Am I doing something wrong?

The Written Word and the Living Word

The late Dr. Knox Chamblin, Pauline scholar and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, in a survey course covering the Gospel accounts and the book of Acts recorded by the University for posterity, talks of “the Written Word” (that is the Bible) corresponding directly to “the Living Word,” (that is Christ).

And it is that Living Word, and his Paraclete – that is, one made of the same stuff, the Holy Spirit – that transformed a knower of only the Written Word into a Proclaimer of the Living Word. Saul the Persecutor of Christians knew more of the Scripture than most, as he was a learned and trained ‘expert.’ But, it was an encounter with the Living Word on that Damascus Road that made all the difference.

Experts

So what do we make of those who, in history, had little access to the Written Word, but abundant access to the Living Word?

What do we make of those who, even today, have such abundant access to the Written Word, but so little access to the Living Word?

Which of the two – if either – is the expert?

The issue of Biblical Illiteracy is perhaps one side of a problem we don’t want to recognize. Perhaps there is more yeast in our pews than we’d like to admit. Perhaps the issue is the same lukewarm, milquetoast boys yearning merely to be fed that we’ve known throughout history.

On the other side of that coin – and the side that is perhaps the Chicken in this Egg scenario – is the expert pastor and his expert staff designing just the kind of comfortable experience where overeating is expected.

Our churches are more like chain restaurants than family kitchens. The food is too often rather bland and predictable. The wait staff is generally friendly to the customers, but their real relationships are with one another. The customers don’t expect to help cook or serve. They’ll never wash a dish, no matter how backed up things get.

The family kitchen is a much different atmosphere and there is more work to be done when the dishes need washing, the food needs cooking, or the table needs setting, the relationships are different and deeper. When brothers and sisters aren’t present, they are missed and asked about and checked on.

And the food comes from old recipes. The flavors come with memories and are passed down to new generations.

That is family and it is the kind of experience with the Living Word that drove the disciples to connect the dots of scripture from their family history to their family future.

“Never do for your students what they can do for themselves.” Allow church to be a family kitchen. Let us wash dishes. Let us lose track of time. Let us make mistakes. Let us get to know one another. This is how you make bible literacy a topic that matters, because it is a matter of family.

This is how “worker learns to do the good work,” and to be a “worker unashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

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We Are Bad Artists

I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but Christian movies are awful.  They amount to a lot of ham-fisted sermonizing and that’s just not what movies were made to do….

I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but Christian movies are awful.  They amount to a lot of ham-fisted sermonizing and that’s just not what movies were made to do. In fact, ham-fisted sermonizing only slightly works from the pulpit, where it is expected.

We need art.  We need Christian artists – movie-makers, musicians, painters, sculptors, authors. The whole lot of those people who make us think about things eternal and undefinable. We need expel who can make us think of heavenly things without pounding us over the heads with dry bones.

We have a new breed of experts among us, now. New teachers of the law; new interpreters of the scriptures to whom we have yielded much authority.

Heaven forgive us if we ignore our modern prophets. But heaven forgive us, too, if we allow the only prophets who penetrate the noise to deal only in dry, uncharismatic prose.

We need Narnia.

We need The Faerie Queen.

We need A Wrinkle in Time. (Surprised you with that one, didn’t I?)

If you are upset about the subversive nature of Hollywood’s influence, perhaps it is time we open our eyes to see and ears to hear the real artists among us who tell stories that capture our imaginations and point them to God, instead of settling for the heavy-handed drivel we have accepted.

After all, we serve an imaginative God and it is in that image we were created.

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A Return to Writing

I’m not sure why I ever stopped. There was a season when it came through me – perhaps more like bile than magic – and then the season passed. I…

I’m not sure why I ever stopped. There was a season when it came through me – perhaps more like bile than magic – and then the season passed. I still wrote for a while during the Winter that followed such a healthy Spring and Summer, until I just stopped.

The long pause does not feel like I have inhaled and have been holding my breath all this time, ready to release some overcooked and overdue series of thoughts. Instead, it feels a bit like I have not been breathing at all. Nothing has been worked out. Nothing has been sorted. I am picking up an old set of tools, a little worse for wear than when I set them down, and they have been waiting to be put back to task. My hands remember but they are out of shape.

So, if this begins with a sputter, forgive me.

When I wrote “The Solomon Assembly,” I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. In retrospect, I am pleased with the words and the work that went into it. The process of writing daily for so long about Jesus was an effort at intentional reflecting on the growing role of my God in my life. It is a strange to look back at my thoughts on yielding to him and how those times played out in my days. It is strange, too, that I thought as much about the yielding as I did to the man and Spirit and God that, through divine mystery, waited for me to get out of the way. And I see the times I did not yield, and he waited for me then, too.

There is a lion in my house. He waited at the door, patiently waiting for me to invite him inside, and now here he is. He groans, as any lion might, and the deep rumble in his belly is enough to set my nerves on edge and start my heart racing. But, I confess, he has been here for a while now and though his golden hairs are casually woven into every fabric and his tooth and claw marks have scuffed many of the hard surfaces, he is sometimes as easily forgotten as he is frightening.

But he sings a soft song that sounds like the sunrise, or the patter of cold snow falling, and the feeling of a new and unopened present, or a hot bath at bedtime. He is a strong fragrance that lingers in my fingers that moves me when I am absentminded. He sings and he paces the floor and he buries his face in me when I need him and, in turn, I smell his mane and I hold him so tightly that my nerves settle and my decisions are made.

But sometimes, my stomach still turns when I don’t want to look at him. He surprises me like that. After all, he is a lion living in my house.

There are days when he doesn’t look like a lion at all. No golden hair; no sunburnt mop of mane around his heavy shoulders. I see sadness in his eyes; there is no regret, but there is sadness. And wildness.

So, something tells me to write again. Maybe it is the lion; maybe it isn’t. I’m not sure what he has to say or what I could say about him, but he seems to always be there singing and rumbling and pacing and snooping in our dark corners.

This, then, is not how it begins; it is how it continues.

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