Category Archives: Spiritual Life

GOD, WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING? AN HONEST CONVERSATION

Excerpt from my forthcoming book:

Pascal had much to say about diversions in his classic book, Pensées.  Pascal wrote how diversions can be greatly multiplied if you are wealthy.  More money equals more things to get distracted by.  This is still true today, but there are plenty of things all of us Americans, irrespective of income, can get diverted by.  For example, most of us have computers which can transport us to all kinds of worlds which then can keep us from thinking about the most important matters of life.  We may not feel very rich, but from a global or historical vantage point we are fabulously well off.  Most of us take things like air conditioning, quality water, and consistent electricity for granted.  As Bill Ball told a Sunday school class I was teaching, “Kings of the past would have been thrilled by owning a used Vega car and having unlimited access to petrochemicals.” 

HOW DANTE CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE

Image result for how dante can save

https://www.amazon.com/Dante-Save-Your-Life-Life-Changing/dp/1941393322

Journalist and gadfly, Rod Dreher, loves a good argument. If you read him, as I do, you know he can write and has loads of good things to offer. He pushes boundaries at times, sometimes makes incautious assertions, but you are always forced to think.

This is the second book I’ve read by Dreher. A few months back I read The Benedict Option book. How Dante Can Save Your Life was finished on a flight home late last night. There is much I liked about it.

First, kudos to the publisher for an absolutely stunning design. There’s nothing like real books!

Dreher’s book is full of well-written and insightful observations all while using Dante’s Comedy as his conversation partner.

My only major beef with the book is the Mommie Dearest kind of approach. It’s great to have honesty, but Dreher tells us far too much about the conflicts in his home. At times it felt like a Jerry Springer show in print.

Still, there is much to benefit from in reading How Dante Can Save Your Life.

YALE LOG PART 2

Click on any picture below to enlarge.

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale is one of the world’s best.  Unlike Harvard’s collection, you don’t need to wear white gloves.  Once we were vetted, we were shocked by the freedom they give to scholars.

Here are a few things we looked at.  First, is Jonathan Edwards Bible.  Paper was rare, but Jonathan liked to write…a lot.  You will see that the small sheet has the passage of Scripture and then two blank pages to take notes on what he was reading.  And did he ever take notes!  I did somewhat of a quick count of his handwritten notes on Genesis and each page has about 2500 words!  On a similar size sheet of paper I write about 250 words. 

Jonathan’s wife, Sarah, along with their daughters, made fans.  When the fans were no longer of use, Jonathan would take the delicate scraps and weave them into a book where he could write down sermon notes, etc.

Doreen got choked up when she held Jonathan’s Bible in her hands.  The word that kept coming to my mind was “humbling” as you see the great effort Jonathan exerted to make sense of God’s Word.

Fabric from Sarah’s wedding dress.

Our dear friend, Dr. Dave Mahan, is the director of the Rivendell Institute (www.rivendellinstitute.org) and teaches at Yale Divinity.  Dave set us up with Susan Howe, who is a world-renowned poet.  In 2017, she won the Robert Frost Medal for “distinguished lifetime service to American poetry.”  Susan was a sheer delight to be with.  We spent two terrific hours at her beautiful home in the country.  Susan is candid about not being a Christian, but she is captivated by the beauty and respect for language she finds in Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

I headed over to Yale’s Sterling library and was thrilled to see they have my first book. 

Michael McClymond is Professor of Modern Christianity at St. Louis University.   Doreen met Mike in college some thirty-five years ago!  She had not seen Mike since, but he happened to be at Yale the same time as us.  Mike told us about his various writing projects, one of which he happened to remember quoting my book, The Battle for Hell.  Mike is a wonderful guy, expert on Jonathan Edwards, and graciously offered to be a resource for Doreen with her book on Sarah.

Check out Mike’s work here: https://sites.google.com/a/slu.edu/michael-j-mcclymond/

The great folks at the Overseas Ministries Study Center made our time fun and fruitful.  Many thanks to Dr. Tom Hastings, Pam Huffman, Pam Sola, Michael Racine, Ray Sola, Judy Stebbins, and the ever present help of Chee-Seng and Sharon!

Check them out at www.omsc.org.

I will close with a foodie picture.  This is Nica’s Market (www.nicasmarket.com), a terrific and reasonable place to grab a bite (or many bites!) to eat.  The guy behind me seems skeptical about my choices, but trust me, they were good.

 

CONSISTENCY MATTERS!

From Rabbi Evan Moffic:

Consistency is not just practical. It is sacred. 

In the Talmud—the ancient book of Jewish laws and wisdom—the rabbis debate the most important verse of the Bible. 

One rabbi says it is the Shema. We know that prayer. Jesus quoted it as well. Taken from Deuteronomy 6:4, it reads, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”  

This is a solid answer. Belief in one God is the foundation of the Jewish faith. 

Another rabbi suggests, however, that Leviticus 19:18 is the better choice, Known as the golden rule, it reads, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s hard to argue with this answer. 

Finally, another sage gives a third option. He quotes an obscure verse from the book of Exodus.

“Offer one in the morning and the other at twilight” (Exodus 29:39), he says, referring to the daily sacrifice offered by the priests every morning and every evening in the Jerusalem Temple. 

What a odd choice! It’s like comparing a toaster’s instruction manual to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The third rabbi’s answer doesn’t even seem to be in the same league as the first two. 

Yet, all the other rabbis quickly agreed with this final answer! 

What were they thinking? They recognized, I think, that the little things are the big things.

It’s easy to be righteous every once in a while. It’s easy to say we believe in God…or promise to live by the golden rule. 

It’s another thing to live our values every day. A rainbow is beautiful when it is in the sky. But it is fleeting, soon forgotten. 

The sun, however, rises every morning and sets every evening. Like the motions of the sun, God guides us to make our faith constant and consistent. 

YALE LOG PART 1

Some of you know that we came to Yale so Doreen could begin to do intensive research on Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan.  Most of you know that Doreen’s first book is on the ministries/marriages of Jonathan/Sarah Edwards, George/Elizabeth Whitefield, and John/Molly Wesley.  Doreen’s book is used as a required text by a professor of history and theology at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).  It is gratifying to hear how the students appreciate Doreen’s hard work.  Here is recent picture of Doreen speaking at DTS.

We usually stop in Dallas on our treks back east.  Our wonderfully encouraging friends, Bill and Helen Reeves, welcomed us into their lovely abode on our way to New Haven, CT.

Our first big stop was in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Doreen’s sister and brother-in-law live there.  I was reminded that we were in the Bible belt when I stepped into the restroom of a Christian bookstore.  I guess several biblical truths could work like “Go…and Make Disciples!”

We made it safely to Yale.  Here is Dr. Ken Minkema, the Director of The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale.  We had a terrific and productive time with him. 

I close this log with a few pictures from one of our study locations.  These are from the Yale Divinity library.

A peek out our window…

 

 

 

 

I AM A MYSTERY TO MYSELF! HOW ABOUT YOU?

I resonate with these words:

“Whoever meditates on the mystery of his own life will quickly realize why only God, the searcher of the secrets of the heart, can pass final judgment. We cannot judge what we have no access to. The self is a swirling conflict of fears, impulses, sentiments, interests, allergies, and foibles. It is a metaphysical given for which there is no easy rational explanation. Now if we cannot unveil the mystery of our own motives and affections, how much less can we unveil the mystery in others? That is, as we look into ourselves, we encounter the mystery of our own, the depths of our own selfhood. As we sing things like ‘Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings within and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come.’ And having recognized the mysteries that dwell in the very depths of our own being, how can we treat other people as if they were empty or superficial beings, without the same kind of mystery?”

The rest is here:

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/rayortlund/2017/04/25/edward-john-carnell-1919-1967/

READ (SOME) COMMENTARIES LIKE REGULAR BOOKS

https://www.amazon.com/Message-Jeremiah-Bible-Speaks-Today/dp/0830824391

Commentaries on books of the Bible are not created equally.  You have to be shrewd in what you consult.  The better ones come in all different types from the devotional to the technical. 

My favorite ones are those who combine great care with the text of Scripture, are well-written, and offer many connections to our own time and day.  Right now, I am reading one of these kinds of commentaries: Christopher Wright’s terrific work on Jeremiah.  It is part of The Bible Speaks Today series (InterVarsity Press).  Here is something I pondered today:

“The reign of King Josiah was a time of great religious fervent and national resurgence.  It was all very impressive.  But what was God’s point of view?  According to Jeremiah God sees a people who are a disappointment to God, who are being disloyal to their covenant relationship with God, who are already feeling the shock of disasters that foreshadow worse to come, and who are living in brazen denial and delusion.  It is a frightening mirror to hold up to the people of God in any generation, with stark relevance to our own.”  (Emphasis added)

 

DONE WITH CHURCH

Dones are those who still believe in Jesus, but are finished with church.  Here is one perspective followed by my own reflection on why Dones exist and are growing:

An Alternative Theory on the Dones

I sadly know too many Dones. Several have shared their stories with me. Some were in positions of leadership, even serving as elders. Two frustrations predominated:

Lots of talk in church about what one should do (and how), but precious little about why.

There was not a safe place where any and all questions could be asked. People are left alone to marinate in their own doubts and struggles.