The Lion in my House

Category: Church

A Good Student

Much effort is put forth in Evangelical homes and churches instructing today’s youngsters to be tomorrow’s leaders.  We do our very best to inculcate them with the right doses of…

Much effort is put forth in Evangelical homes and churches instructing today’s youngsters to be tomorrow’s leaders.  We do our very best to inculcate them with the right doses of charisma and self-esteem and all that je ne sais quoi jam packed into the leaves in the leadership section of your local bookstore.

It’s not really limited to the youngsters, though.  Men’s “studies,” women’s “studies,” group “studies,” marriage “studies,” family “studies”: all packed with instructions on leadership. It leaves one with the impression that “leading people to Jesus” is pretty complex stuff.  What, then, do we make of it when Jesus tells us that He, Himself, is not a leader, but a follower?  Him to whom “all authority in Heaven and Earth” was given (Matt. 28:18), also tells us that he “…is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing…” (John 5:19)

That doesn’t sound like the kind of leadership we teach, but that’s not what’s on my heart today.

We have an all together different type of problem when it comes to being students. Perhaps we do not explicitly teach counter-intuitives the way we do with the type of “leadership” exhibited in Jesus, though I’m rather certain we aren’t guilt-free in this regard, too.  But, mores than the explicit is the implicit teaching we give about being a student.

Most well-intentioned Christians think they’re good students, if they give it any thought at all.  We tend to think it’s our default position; that since birth we’ve been taught, therefore we must have gotten good at learning.

Most of us consider our preacher to be our primary instructor, and we give him more or less 30 minutes per week to tell us a bit about the most important truths ever pondered in the hearts or heads of any creature ever made since the beginning of time.  But we’d prefer he take a lot of that 30 minutes and pepper it with some personal stories, too, because we’d like to know him a little better.  And hopefully it’s funny, so we stay engaged, of course.

But, I submit to you that there is no entitlement to an education because of the very thing described above: without your own investment, you will learn nothing and thus, cannot be a student.

Being a student requires that you:

  • Prioritize study
  • Show up
  • Exercise Self-discipline

Studying scripture demands of us a medieval thing that doesn’t get much press these days, though the words are perhaps always ringing in our ears.  Scriptural study requires “university.”  That is not to say that studying scripture requires us to go to seminary, though it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you can swing it.

No, it requires “university” in the ways the Medievals thought which formed the word as we use it today.

“University” means “the whole” of the thing.  A study of scripture means we take it in its parts, but we do not ignore the whole.  We do not limit ourselves to that most common and sickly question when left alone, “What does this mean to me?”

The study that starts and ends with the questions, “What does this mean to me?” is no study of the text at all, but a study of one’s self.  And that is useful, but its use is limited. After all, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates, and he was probably right.

The text meant something to the author when he wrote it.  What it meant to the author has been revealed by history and Spirit to have been and to be true and “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, [and] for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16)

The text meant something to the reader who originally read it.  The cultural context, the political context, the personal context: they all meant something and informed the author and his text. Study then, nearly 2000 years removed from these contexts, compels the extra work.   While yet “the Word of God is living and active” and is surely meaningful to me today within my own (strikingly similar) cultural, political, and personal contexts, I’d ask you to seriously consider two important things.

First, consider that “there is nothing new under the sun.”  We moderns have the sick fantasy that we’ve invented heresy, cruelty, and sinfulness.  Or, at least we’ve dug ourselves deeper into new depths of depravity. The truth is more revealing and draws us closer to the real Gospel: we’re a part of a long human misadventure that, since our father Adam, has been marked by self-indulgence and sinfulness.

Second, that is our community.  We belong to a community of the redeemed from the beginning of history.  That great Cloud of witnesses is not made up of übermensch; the ones that never sinned and somehow deserved it.  Salvation is truly personal, but the body of Christ is a community of the eternally saved. To know that first community is to know our own, and that has tremendous value.

“University” means something opposite of what we normally associate with it today.  The word even betrays it, if you’re attuned to that sort of thing.

A study of scripture means that our studious intent is for a single – uni – focus: we are in pursuit of Truth.  We are not pursuing merely “more questions,” or some sort of therapeutic effort alone.  We may yet find more questions and we may yet find therapy in scripture, but we find them in our relentless pursuit of the Truth; a Truth revealed by God to His people first in Eden, through the prophets, and in these final days, in our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  “Uni” means One, and “vers” means “to turn around” and thus it is around this one thing – Truth – that our effort revolves.

Today’s Universities are perhaps best known for their relentless pursuit of “diversity” (of a sort).  But whereas “Uni” means one, “di” means more than one, and that is not our intent.

We seek the One.  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord,” and it is in this great confession that we find, through our study, that we find a great diversity of mankind brought to the bosom of the Lord Himself.

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This is Christmas

“By indirections find directions out.” Polonius Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 1 “Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Success in Circuit lies” Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth,…

“By indirections find directions out.”
Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 1

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies”
Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant”

This runs counter to contemporary thinking. We think that if we can dissect a thing and see it under a microscope, to wrestle it into submission, then we will find out its truth. But, it depends on the nature of the thing we are trying to understand.

Sometimes the best thing is to “stand under” a thing in order to understand it, rather than to stand over it and dominate it.

“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise”

William Blake, “Eternity”

In the modern Evangelical mind, we have forgotten (at great loss to the sharing of the Gospel) an important skill: artistry.

It is revealed most starkly in our horrible books and films. It is revealed painfully in the trite, boring, off-putting drivel on the shelves of the “Christian Living” sections of our bookstores.

We bemoan the commercialism of the age and yet commercialize ourselves to death. Except our products, by comparison, are shoddy and uninspiring. They are the most basic, the simplest and least stimulating, saccharine, textbook material.

The world, so we reason, has turned from the Cross to Science, and we have thus repositioned ourselves to “fight fire with fire.” In so many cases, our own scientists are brought to the battle with well-reasoned, clinical, antiseptic, logical retorts. We should instead learn to fight fire with water. After all, no one believes our scientists anyway.

Or, if that were not bad enough, we give, as an alternative to our dull Science books, these schmaltzy, sorghum devotional books that smear the cracks like peanut butter for the soul. Meanwhile, we get fat, and happy.

There is no sense of the numinous. There is no adventure.

The Bible so many pretend to love is full of treason and betrayal and war and death and blessed salvation. Our art is full of melodrama and perfect endings.

We lack imagination. And this, while it sucks the saturation from our art into dull monotones, belies a deeper, more sinister problem.

In our endeavors to stand up our well-reasoned scientific apologists against the reasoners of the world, we have bought into a sorrowful lie: that reason and imagination are solo endeavors, running parallel paths that never meet and serve wholly separate functions.

Apologetics is usually defined as “a reasoned defense.” The scripture which is at the heart of apologetics speaks directly to this, “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭HCSB‬‬)

But reason can only operate if it is first supplied with materials to reason about. It is imagination’s task to supply those materials. Therefore, apologetics is foundationally an imaginative task. The same natural organ that feeds us something simple, like a purple unicorn, also gives us something complex, like empathy or the mechanism which forms letters on the page and binds the pages into books (which a few of us has ever seen, but we imagine how it works). Or what, when the indicator light on your car flashes on and off and on and off, it must mean. A faulty electrical connection? A signal that a turn is coming? Imagination feeds our reasoning brains and provides meaning to the flashing light and the moral dilemma.

And so, if imagination is the organ of meaning (and meaninglessness), then we can reason truth or falsehood. Before something can be true, it must mean. And that is the work of imagination. Meaning is the antecedent condition of truth and falsehood, and imagination supplies the raw materials for reason.

And woe, we have ignored the imagination. We have allowed it to atrophy because of a lack of faith.

We persevere to preserve the Gospel. But it doesn’t need us, except to the extent that God chooses to use us. And when we fail, the rocks will cry out. We ready ourselves for war, but hand over the most effective tool. We have given up on imagination.

God is full of meaning beyond our grasp and we cannot fit into our cold prose exactly what He means. We lack the imagination.

Christianity is meant to be understood as a story – a true, historical, personal, fantastic story – and not merely cold doctrine. In order to “save” Christianity, we start with cold doctrine and try to squeeze out a story. That’s not at all how this works!

We are so afraid of being misunderstood or espousing something doctrinally incorrect that we sap our stories of the nonsensical, and thus the reality.

After all, the real story of Christ’s birth is fantastic and unexplainable and that is what makes it real. We have no sense of the presence of the transcendent (yes, that is a paradox) and thus we are either too mired in the vulgar or too distant in the logical.

The miracle of Christ is that the logos intersected with the vulgar. Find that in our modern Christian art!

“I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.”

William Wordsworth, “The World is Too Much with Us”

Did you ever consider that we have made the Gospel boring? Have we analyein – analyzed – and loosened it into mere doctrine?

For sure, we underscore that doctrine with a kind of popular subculture full of pithy mockeries of the real world. We are isolationist; we hide in the bright shadows of this subculture and pretend it is fun. It is pleasant, but it isn’t fun.

Many a sermon has rigored against “religion” in favor of relationship. But what is relationship without religion? Without the central figure of Christ to religare – to re-ligature – and tie us back together? We have done much loosening. We need to be sewn back together tightly with the thread of ages.

And what of the imagination of the pagan world that captures our attentions and hearts? What do we make of it?

How many atheists howl at the pagan roots of Christmas? Of Easter? How many pagan gods die and resurrect?

How many Christians, having coldly analyzed the Logos, sleep in fear that it is yet another myth? Merely an amalgam of the myths that went before and now, at the fulcrum of history, cast into a golden calf for ages hence?

They lack imagination.

What a surprise it may come to atheists and believers that the atheist is more practical than he believed, and the Christian more imaginative. After all, the atheist purports to not believe in a supreme objective moral standard which exists outside of us, yet he acts much as if there is. And the Christian is often charged with lacking the imagination to see that his beliefs are the practical result of his parentage, yet it is his imagination that has developed his reason for faith.

The apostle Paul shows us what to make of these fractured lights of pagan mythology and sets the record straight. He gives us the freedom from the dubious place of “protecting the Gospel” and also from the fear of loosing bad doctrine.

In paganism, God expresses himself in an unfocused way through man’s imagination. It was God’s direct expression of Himself in His true myth that brought meaning to man’s dim visions.

When Epimenides wrote of Zeus, he saw through a mirror darkly:

“They fashioned a tomb for thee [O Zeus], O holy and high one-
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.”

And dear Paul, breathing new life into this worn old myth of men, imagined a God who might once have been misunderstood by pagan prophets, but now could be known:

“He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭17:27-28‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

And, of Zeus, Aratus wrote:

“From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last.”

Does this scare you? Does it shake the foundations of your well-reasoned faith?

It shouldn’t. It should, instead, teach you how to tell the world how God, in the fullness of time, revealed the truth, once just a whisper, now on the lips of the Heavenly Host, bathed in glory.

That Tantalusian fruit, strained to touch, has been revealed.

That is Christmas.

That is Christmas.

That is now.

“…Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:17-18‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

All light. Even the fractured light. It all points to God’s revealed truth in Christ.

This is the power of imagination. It is not as cold and heartless as the doctrine that it bears. God loves us in the fullness and richness of stories, and it was that child’s birth that flipped the world on its head and gave us a God in a child, who would, like the old stories, die and rise again.

But this time it’s true.

Unlike the old gods of men, He came to serve and to teach us to serve; to be last, and to teach us to be last; to be humble, even to be misunderstood. And yet, as frail and weak and misunderstood is the Written Word of God, so was the Living Word of God, and still He cannot be conquered.

This is Christmas.

This is Christmas.

This is Christmas.

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Part Two: Belief and the Spider

Rukh was standing before a cage that contained nothing but a small brown spider weaving a modest web across the bars. “Arachne of Lydia,” he told the crowd. “Guaranteed the…

Rukh was standing before a cage that contained nothing but a small brown spider weaving a modest web across the bars. “Arachne of Lydia,” he told the crowd. “Guaranteed the greatest weaver in the world — her fate’s the proof of it. She had the bad luck to defeat the goddess Athena in a weaving contest. Athena was a sore loser, and Arachne is now a spider, creating only for Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival, by special arrangement. Warp of snow and woof of flame, never any two of the same.”

Strut on the loom of iron bars, the web was very simple and almost colorless, except for an occasional rainbow shiver when the spider scuttled out on it to put a thread right. But it drew the onlookers’ eyes as well — back and forth and steadily deeper, until they seemed to be looking down into great rifts in the world, black fissures that widened remorselessly and yet would not fall into pieces as long as Arachn’s web held the world together. The Unicorn shook herself free with a sigh, and saw the real web again. It was very simple, and almost colorless.

“It isn’t like the others,” she said.

“No,” Schmendrick agreed grudgingly. “But, there’s no credit due to Mommy Fortuna for that. You see, the spider believes. She sees those cat’s-cradles herself and thinks them her own work. Belief makes all the difference to magic like Mommy Fortuna’s. Why, if that troop of willing withdrew their wonder, there’d be nothing left of all her witchery but the sound of a spider weeping. And no one would hear it.”

Excerpts from “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle

. . .

So much for the promises of this world. So much investment in the world’s guarantees to result in nothing; empty vanity. But the power seems to be in our belief in them, and this isn’t so far removed from Christ’s promises to believers:

“For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Close enough to promote lies and obfuscate truth. False horns are made of such as this.

But here is the work of faith, and a question for believers and nonbelievers:

If faith has the power to produce a false horn on Unicorns and white mares alike, which is better?

[The crowd] wondered at Arachne’s new web, which was like a fisherman’s net with the dripping moon in it. Each of them took it for a real web, but only the spider believed that it held the real moon.

So much for the love of the crowd. Even if it were the real moon in poor Arachne’s web, hanging tenuously by her silken thread but pulling waves from the tides, would the crowd know any better?

I suppose it depends upon your crowd. For whom does the weaver weave?

Perhaps a danger of the false horn is in its reflection and the cage that comes with it.

Only the spider paid no mind when the Unicorn called softly to her through the open door. Arachne was busy with a web which looked to her as though the Milky Way had begun to fall like snow. The Unicorn whispered, “Weaver, freedom is better, freedom is better,” but the spider fled unhearing up and down her iron loom. She never stopped for a moment, even when the Unicorn cried, “It’s really very attractive, Arachne, but it’s not art.” The new web drifted down the bars like snow.

Have you invested in a false horn? Are you ready to give it up? Are you able?

So they fled across the night together, step by step, the tall man in black and the horned white beast. The magician crept as close to the Unicorn’s light as he dared, for beyond it moved hungry shadows, the shadows of the sounds that the harpy made as she destroyed the little there was to destroy of the Midnight Carnival. But another sound followed them long after these had faded, followed them into morning on a strange road — the tiny, dry sound of a spider weeping.

When the break is made and freedom opens its maw, will you give up on the work you’ve invested in the false horn? Will you leave it behind for something better?

That is the work of faith. The kind that moves mountains.

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Part One: A False Horn on a Real Unicorn

“Spells of seeming,” the unicorn said. “She cannot make things.” “Nor truly change them,” added the magician. “Her shabby skill lies in disguise. And even that knack would be beyond…

“Spells of seeming,” the unicorn said. “She cannot make things.”

“Nor truly change them,” added the magician. “Her shabby skill lies in disguise. And even that knack would be beyond her, if it weren’t for the eagerness of those gulls, those marks, to believe whatever comes easiest. She can’t turn cream into butter, but she can give a lion the semblance of a manticore to eyes that want to see a manticore there—eyes that would take a real manticore for a lion, a dragon for a lizard, and the Midgard Serpent for an earth quake. And a unicorn for a white mare.”

Schmendrick the Magician drew himself up several inches taller than the unicorn would have thought possible. “Fear nothing,” he began grandly. “For all my air of mystery, I have a feeling heart.” But he was interrupted by the approach of Rukh and his followers, grown quieter than the grubby gang who had giggled at the false manticore. The magician fled, calling back softly, “Don’t be afraid, Schmendrick is with you! Do nothing till you hear from me!” His voice drifted to the unicorn, so faint and lonely that she was not sure whether she actually heard it or only felt it brush against her.
It was growing dark. The crowd stood in front of her cage, peering in at her with a strange shyness. Rukh said, “The Unicorn,” and stepped aside.

She heard hearts bounce, tears brewing, and breath going backward, but nobody said a word. By the sorrow and loss and sweetness in their faces she knew that they recognized her, and she accepted their hunger as their homage. She wondered what it must be like to grow old, and to cry.

The show was over. Alone in the moonlight, the old woman Mommy Fortuna glided from cage to cage, resettling locks and prodding her enchantments as a housewife squeezes melons in the market.
Mommy Fortuna turned toward the unicorn’s cage. “Well,” she said in her sweet, smoky voice. “I had you frightened for a little while, didn’t I?” SHe laughed with a sound like snakes hurrying through mud, and strolled closer.

“Whatever your friend the magician may say,” she went on, “I must have some small art after all. Do you really think those gogglers knew you for yourself without any help from me? No, I had to give you an aspect they could understand and a horn they could see. These days it takes a cheap carnival witch to make folk recognize a real unicorn. You’d do much better to stay with me and be false, for in this whole world only your enemy will know you when he sees you.”

Excerpts from “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle

So much of church history is this: to put a false horn on a real Unicorn. That is, to cheapen the majestic with some dimestore garnish.

For all the luster of Rome, our Lord didn’t arrive in a gilded chariot but a squalid feeding trough. Even his mother, for all her humility, was a vessel made glorious by carrying the Lord, but the priestly class decided in their human wisdom that she must be more and for the masses to see her and revere her, the Lord’s presentation wasn’t enough. She was given a crown of her own.

We do much the same in so-called Evangelical circles when we crown the Holy Spirit with fog machines and effects pedals and light shows. We work so hard to make the Word of God relevant to eyes that may never see the real horn, and I’m afraid we may be teaching them instead to fall in love with the false one.

If the time one day comes when we look at the head of Christ and see two crowns – one real and one false – I wonder what we will make of it.

Will we love the false horn more? WIll we commit ourselves to the appearance of Good, like Pharisees worshipping their feeble legalism and immune to the piercing blade of the Law once beneath it?

Our world is full of Mommy Fortunas, spinning their cheap carnival witchery to sell us gospels where there are none, and dunderheaded Rukhs carrying their water.

Do not mistake the false horn on a real Unicorn; the Horn of David does not need to be made beautiful to be true, rather the beauty is in its own absolute truth. And that is more than enough.

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I wish I could take some credit for it, but I can’t. I wish I could say that it was somehow my doing, but the little I did do was…

I wish I could take some credit for it, but I can’t. I wish I could say that it was somehow my doing, but the little I did do was afforded to me by someone else. Even that was — and is — an act of faith, given to me in some portion each day as I apparently need it.

What tender mercy he brings to a household in a womb; the throbbing heartbeat of a God whose justice runs red against the door. His sacrifice; my salvation.

But, there is death. The destroyer of body and soul moves like a sweeping scythe. And some, for reasons I don’t understand, are not saved. Some. Too many. Bitter herbs choked by weeds or never-rooted and trampled by the killing angels. Old wounds.

A different doorpost is covered now in a different blood. A different sacrifice. A different salvation. A different killing spirit that kills even as He resurrects. Death, once feared, is now no threat; a chasing Pharoah and his army, drowned in a curtain of baptism. The watery circumcism that draws His blood has splashed away the old conqueror. Blood and bread to commune with the Almighty.

Bodies are piling up. The stench is bitter and sad. A blood transfusion is needed to stop the spread of the disease, but their skin is thick like crocodile scales. Time tick tocks and tick tocks and crocodiles run from time.

My feet are tired, but not tired enough. The old sores have gotten soft. I commune like a heathen; no sandals on my feet and no staff in my hand. My green pastures are too close to home; too well-worn and too soft; too familiar.

Do you pass by, God of Abraham? Do you seek out new lands and new little boys who live inside old men to follow you to them? Are there many left who seek you in your golden wake? Son-burned faces and high adventure?

What marks do we bear? Are we foreigners in your land? Do we carry the mark of Cain to the lands of Wandering? Are we lost?

Color us with your blood. Color us with faith.

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Christian Superheroes

I am tired of Christian Superheroes. Not the heroes; the feeling they leave. Tired.  Exhausted. Worn out. I’m not sure when or where it all started. I suspect from the…

I am tired of Christian Superheroes.

Not the heroes; the feeling they leave.

Tired.  Exhausted. Worn out.

I’m not sure when or where it all started. I suspect from the beginning of the church. Paul seems to allude to this in his first letter to the Corinthians, where he says, “I thank God that I baptized none of you…so that no one can say you were baptized in my name.” We do love our Christian Superheroes, though. Th ones that make it look easy. The ones whose books and blogs and Facebook pages show the rest of us just how it’s done.

You know them: the radicals that pray fervently, sacrifice everything with joy, plant churches in inner city ghettos, lead prayer breakfasts for missionary heart surgeons, and raise their sons to love Jesus. They’re the ladies who are #blessed, with the sweetest ‘sisters’ instead of mere friends, who mentor new mothers and blog about their non-GMO, organic, low-fat superfood cookies.

They’re Christian Superheroes and they destroy the truth of your salvation (and often, their own). As Paul feared, it strikes me that the “Cross of Christ [is being] emptied of its effect” by this.

For all the beautiful work of sanctification that is worked in us, it is the work of Christ on the Cross that has primacy.

Don’t let Christian Superheroes steal that. Don’t be sold the idea that the work done on the cross wasn’t enough for you and that it can’t be enough for all the lost that are right there in your midst.

Don’t let Christian Superheroes tell you that the cross is out of reach for you.

“Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world  — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus…”



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The Christian Machine

Recently, Christian and blogger Jen Hatmaker blogged for the first time since her controversial positions on the biblical positions on homosexuality. Her return to blogging was to share her heartbreaking…

Recently, Christian and blogger Jen Hatmaker blogged for the first time since her controversial positions on the biblical positions on homosexuality. Her return to blogging was to share her heartbreaking struggles with fellow Christians and what she termed “the Christian Machine,” the Christian sub-sub-culture’sauthoritative figures, corporations, and branding mechanisms. Christians and our marketplaces closed in on Jen Hatmaker and squeezed, and the results were damaging.

This isn’t unique to Ms. Hatmaker or even a person of Ms. Hatmaker’s influence and popularity, of course. Comments on her blog from women of all stripes indicate that the Christian church and its cultural artifacts can destroy the faithful and, more terribly, destroy faith.

I have a few stories of this of my own. They aren’t stories the size of Ms. Hatmaker’s. They don’t involve brand dynamics and a “Christian Machine,” but they do involve deeply damaged relationships and a loss of faith. Personal stories. A pastor who defrauded a Christian financial institution for his daughter’s tuition. A couple who sought to eject my family from church by character assassination because of a misunderstanding. A pastor who claimed theft, but was later to be found in possession of the allegedly stolen item. A pastor who was mentally ill that started the decline of a 100 year old congregation when he played emotional games with church leadership. A pastor who inappropriately gazed at and touched a teenage friend.

Those stories didn’t get international headlines or commentary from the Evangelical ruling class, like Ms. Hatmaker’s did. But, they are just as real, and just as (or even more) damaging.

The same “Christian machine” that builds up can (and does) tear down. It’s made up of people with mixed motives. The same motives that put the teeth in Jesus’ second-greatest command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We love ourselves (often in incomprehensible and bizarre ways) first, and the command is to extend that to our neighbors. And, too often, even when we do it, we do it in incomprehensible and bizarre ways.

We are bad humans, and we build up and tear down.

And that is why we need the Gospel.

The Gospel of Jesus does not ignore our fallenness; it is in direct response to it. Unlike the self-help stylings of the age, the Gospel of Jesus says that we can’t help ourselves and, instead, need Jesus.

But, my own confession is that I am attracted to the machine. I like being built up. I pretend I won’t be torn down. I want to become a brand, to get the attention, and to see my work shared.

So, I need to keep coming back to the Gospel. I need to be dragged back to it, sometimes, kicking and screaming.

But I’ll take it. I’ll take the Gospel and breathe it and meditate on it and build myself on this rock.

I hope you will too.

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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.


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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