11.12.12

Life to the Full

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." 
- Jesus, John 10:10

Many times have I reflected on these words. Many times have I heard them, and their theme, expounded upon. It seems you can't read a "christian living" book (what a term for a sub-genre... oh, how I could rant here...), or one of its modern cognates, without at least a word, more likely a chapter, to say nothing of entire books, on this subject. I suppose this reflects the fact that we all desire 'life to the full.' We mostly don't know what it is we are asking for, but we are very sure we want it. 

Where I begin to despair is when these authors, or speakers (let us not forget the faults of preachers and pastors, of which I am one, in this same subject!), having spoken of the promise, and our desire for it, turn to what we should do. I picture that lonely pilgrim Christian, standing in the fields, looking this way and that yet not moving, for he knew not which way to go. And for him, in his story, Evangelist comes along and sets him on the right way.  Yet how many readers and hearers, in recent times, having been brought to the point of longing are then misled?

For what I have found singularly lacking in many Christian prescriptions for fullness of life is the necessity of death. Jesus tells us why he came: to give life. He has also told us how this is achieved: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." 

You wish to find life to the full? There is your road. Death. And I hear these words in the background: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." - Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14

Recently a friend asked me how, having accepted God's call to ministry (that is a story for another time), I was able to continue and overcome such distractions as the desire for wealth, romance, security, and their ilk. I hasten to say that I am often overcome rather than overcoming. However, in asking this question he didn't mean the momentary weaknesses and lapses to sin which we all experience. He meant in general, as a trend and pattern. 

I thought for a moment, and then I said "You're not going to like my answer." 

Allow me to share with you that answer. 

Before responding to God's call I chased my own dreams. Part of the process of me coming back to God was the death of those dreams. I wrote that I would follow God even if I ended up destitute and alone on the street (or, I suppose, dead in a gutter). Part of this, the mode of expression at least, was the naive bravado of youth; yet it did express my heart. And so my dreams were crucified. It is too light to say that I gave up on them; I did not simply turn in another direction, or find new dreams. I died. A part of me was gone, and not nicely. Do not imagine that this was as if I had chosen to let go of them as one might let go a balloon. Rather, I suddenly found myself holding on to rotting meat, these dreams of mine, for the Lord had opened my eyes, and that rotting meat had been part of me.

It was after that when I began to receive life from Jesus. 

And so, friend, I ask: Do you wish to find life to the full? Do you wish to pursue God through hardship and distraction and defeat? Then die. Don't just fail. Don't just let go or lighten up or learn to have no fear (all four of which I have heard earnestly pushed upon eager Christians). For here is the truth: You cannot recover from your failure. It took, and takes, the resurrection to lift you up. You cannot release yourself from your bondage. It took, and takes, the blood of Christ to loose your chains. You cannot lighten your own load. Yet there is one, gentle and humble in heart, who has offered you his yoke and rest. And you cannot conquer fear. But perfect love can, and perfect love came, and continues to come, to each one of us if we will only receive Him. His name is Jesus Christ - He is the way, the truth, and the life.  

Take up your cross and follow him.  

4.12.12

"Blaze Like the Stars..."

"This doctrine of equality is essential to conversation; so much may be admitted by anyone who knows what conversation is. Once arguing at a table in a tavern the most famous man on earth would wish to be obscure, so that his brilliant remarks might blaze like the stars on the background of his obscurity. To anything worth calling a man nothing can be conceived more cold or cheerless than to be king of your company."
- G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World

I am not the most famous, nor brilliant, of men, but I have to say that I completely agree with Chesterton. It is an occasion for utmost satisfaction when, in the company of those who do not know me (read: most people), that very fact makes the truth shine all the brighter. 

I think about this in terms of ministry and am put in mind of John the Baptist's words: "He must become greater; I must become less." I desire for people to take note of my sermons because they are true and good and point towards Christ, not because I am the one speaking. I also want to be a shepherd as Jesus spoke of, whose sheep follow because they know my voice. Yet, even here I do not want anyone following my voice specifically, but only my voice insofar as they recognize in it the voice of Christ. I believe we can only say "Follow me" if we can also say, in all sincerity and truthfulness, "as I follow Christ." We are never trailblazers, only followers, and if others follow us (making us "leaders" in modern parlance) then may they do so only because they recognize that we are on the narrow path of life. 

As I think through this, I realize that here we can see a great danger in modern life. The danger of being followed and heard because of our name rather than the name of Christ, for our rhetoric rather than the Spirit speaking through us. It is this danger which makes me increasingly and ever wary of Christian celebrities. We live in a world where some are famous for being famous, and nothing stops this from happening to those in church. It is too easy to accept a counterfeit, it is too easy to be one. 

May whatever light I shine be the light of the truth of Christ. May whatever life I give be the life of Jesus our Lord. 

16.11.12

"Effective Bible Teaching" by James C. Wilhoit and Leland Ryken




James C. Wilhoit, Leland Ryken. Effective Bible Teaching. 2nd Edition. Baker Academic, 2012.

The bible is not an entirely easy book, to say the least. Much of it is odd, difficult, and strange. So, how does one go about effectively understanding and communicating Scripture? This is precisely what Wilhoit and Ryken seek to aid the reader in doing. They do this in three parts: what is effective teaching? How do we teach the bible? and how do we understand the bible we teach? In basic outline, this is a combination instruction manual which gives you the basics of inductive bible study as well as principles for biblical interpretation.

What you will find here is a sound book. It is not presented in a particularly stirring way; much of it is quite dry. It is also quite true. It is a good place to start. I will still be recommending How to Read the Bible for All it's Worth to those who want to read scripture well. It's not that Effective Bible Teaching is wrong, or even poor, it just doesn't give you as much to work with due to the divided focus. That said, this will join the list of books I give to those seriously interested in understanding and teaching scripture better.

Conclusion: Recommended. 4 Stars. I wish I could recommend amazing books on how to teach the bible, but I can't. In the meantime this is a solid beginning.







"Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications (http://www.grafmartin.com) and Baker Academic in exchange for an honest review."

8.11.12

Feeling the Psalms


I do not know where it is writ that I must bow to feeling, but often my own melancholy sends me off and reeling. 

I start my day, or come to church, in no mood for joy or celebration And soon enough I find myself encased with irritation. 

Yes, those dark clouds quite easily set the pace and smother out the light, But I thank the Lord that he has given me a tool to set me right. 

David sat amidst the sheep, composing songs of glory And within them he placed all feelings, hope to pain to worry. 

Now I find, to my delight, that upon their reading My feelings bow to His and my darkness starts receding. 

Once again light sets the tone and I do remember That God is king and leads the way though my sins still linger. 

Now the worship, or the day, can be a place of peace, As I seek out God Almighty and let my strivings cease.  

I do not know where it is writ that I must bow to feeling, but the Psalms clearly declare the only way of healing:

"O come , let us worship and bow down : let us kneel before the LORD our maker . For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand."

18.10.12

"Turning Points" by Mark Noll



Mark A. Noll. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (3rd Edition). Baker Academic, 2012. 356 pgs. 

How do you compress two thousand years of religious history into one textbook? Many have tried and I have, unfortunately, suffered through their attempts (thanks to seminary). You could do a poor overview of as much as possible, cramming in dates and details until the student's head explodes. You could attempt to do justice to major themes while covertly focusing all attention on your favorite moment or person (Martin Luther anyone?). Personally, I don't think there is a good solution. But, if I had to pick one, I would choose Turning Points

In this book Noll delves deeply into thirteen turning points in Christian history. Obviously there is some subjectivity in which points one chooses (in the introduction Noll lists ten options he considered but left out, just to give us an idea of how complex this process is) but despite this the approach has huge advantages. It allows for some in depth exploration of the complexity and humanity of events in history. It successfully gives pictures of the church at a broad range of times and places throughout history. It does focus on the more important instances, even if one can disagree about whether or not these are the 'most important.' And, perhaps most importantly, it is interesting reading!

Clearly I have already moved from summary to opinion. I enjoyed this book. I wish it had been assigned to me in Church History classes. Noll has, as usual, written an engaging and thought provoking book. And where does he conclude his tour of historical turning points in Christianity? With a paragraph well worth pondering and remembering:

"The church survives by the mercy of God, not because of the wisdom, purity, or consistent faithfulness of Christians. Nevertheless, many moments of unusual faithfulness can be found in the Christian past, both recent and ancient. It is important to note, however, that even when such moments turned out to make a dramatic difference for later history, they almost always resulted form gratitude to God rather than from a desire to influence the future. Authentic Christian faith has taken many shapes and can be expected to assume still other shapes in the future. Finally, the promise of Jesus to be with his followers 'always, to the very end of the age' (Matt. 28:20) provides not only a framework for studying the history of Christianity but also a fitting description of what Christian faith is at its most essential level."

Conclusion: 5 stars. Recommended. Even if you're not studying a history course in seminary, this book is a great place to learn more about our past. 

17.10.12

"If" by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

5.10.12

The Measure of Our Success by Shawn Lovejoy



Shawn Lovejoy. The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors. Baker Books, 2012. 184 pgs. 

In this plea Shawn Lovejoy takes aim at the all to common problem of pastoral burnout and failure. In his own words: "Why are so many pastors and ministry leaders falling? Why are they so vulnerable? Why are they so unfulfilled? Lonely? Insecure? Discouraged? Depressed? Burned out? Why are so many not seeing the fruit they hoped to see? What is wrong with pastors?"  The answer? Many pastors are aiming at the wrong thing. Pastors seek to do great things for God instead of being a great man with God. Pastors seek numbers instead of fruit, busy-ness instead of wholeness, approval instead of holiness, and fame instead of faithfulness. Chasing the wrong things kills us. 

It is a sad thing that this book needed to be written, but I do believe it did. The real message, condensed in the way I would want to say it to other pastors, is quite simple: You are not Jesus! Along the way to saying this, Lovejoy makes many interesting side-trips; telling us about his resignation from Leadership (Jesus leads!), what to do when you feel like quitting (turn to Jesus), and so on. I felt distinctly blase as I read this book; I'm not sure if that was the book or me. I suspect it is because the same points have been made far better elsewhere (hello Mr. Eugene Peterson...). 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally recommended (kind of sort of not really almost? sorry for that; a reflection of my ambivalence I suppose). If the first paragraph struck you as addressing a super important issue, then great, start out with this book if you want or move straight to people like Eugene Peterson and Henri Nouwen. 


Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker in exchange for an honest review.

28.9.12

Chesterton on Marriage

"I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed as odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion's) a vulgar anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind. The aesthetes touched the last insane limits of language in their eulogy on lovely things. The thistledown made them weep; a burnished beetle brought them to their knees. Yet their emotion never impressed me for an instant, for this reason, that it never occurred to them to pay for their pleasure in any sort of symbolic sacrifice. Men (I felt) might fast forty days for the sake of hearing a blackbird sing. Men might go through fire to find a cowslip. Yet these lovers of beauty could not even keep sober for the blackbird. They would not go through common Christian marriage by way of recompense to the cowslip. Surely one might pay for extraordinary joy in ordinary morals."
- G.K. Chetserton, Orthodoxy

Chesterton is not here focused on marriage. It is, instead, one ethical instance offered as an illustration of his ethics of elfland. The larger point he makes is that we take much for granted, pretend to understand more than we do, and in so doing we lose much that is essential: joy, surprise, wonder, and the ability to submit to the wild in-sensibilities of life. Marriage, it seems to me, is the perfect example. I pray that I will never lose this sense of wonder over the gift of one amazing woman in my life. 

27.9.12

Chesterton on Humility

"Humility was largely meant as a restraint upon the arrogance and infinity of the appetites of man. He was always outstripping his mercies with his own newly invented needs. His very power of enjoyment destroyed half his joys. By asking for pleasure, he lost his chief pleasures; for the chief pleasure is surprise. Hence it became evident that if a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small. Even the haughty visions, the tall cities, and the toppling pinnacles are the creations of humility. Giants that tread down forests like grass are the creations of humility. Towers that vanish upwards above the loneliest start the creations of humility. For towers are not tall unless we look up at them; and giants are not giants unless they are larger than we. All this gigantesque imagination, which is, perhaps, the mightiest of the pleasures of man, is at bottom entirely humble. It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything - even pride. 

But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert - himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new skeptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether."


Every year I make a point of reading one, or several, of G.K. Chesterton's books. Every year, I am surprised anew. Chesterton's words on humility, from "Orthodoxy" are well worth pondering. 

It should be noted that Chesterton speaks of humility in the specific context of belief. Humility, as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing notes, is the true knowledge and experience of yourself as you are. Chesterton asserts the same in the context of knowing that we are, if anything, doubtful and therefore we ought to doubt ourselves. 

19.9.12

"The Lesson of the Moth" by Don Marquis

The Lesson of the Moth

I was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt I asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty 
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us 
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while 
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings 
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before I could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself 
on a patent cigar lighter
I do not agree with him
myself I would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time I wish
there was something I wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself
- Don Marquis

8.9.12

"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn



Alexander Solzhenitsyn. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Signet, 1972. 142 pgs. 

I don't know how I made it this long without reading Solzhenitsyn. Somehow. Earlier this year a good friend pointed me to his Nobel prize speech, which is well worth reading. That same friend then lent me this book, which I finally got around to reading. In summary this book is one day in the life of a man sentenced to ten years in a Siberian labor camp. 

The book opens as Ivan wakes up and, being slower than normal, is called forward by a guard to receive his punishment. Ivan experiences a minor victory in that his punishment is merely to mop the guardroom floor. Barely 10 pages into the book and the (no doubt realistic) picture Solzhenitsyn paints of a Siberian labor camp is bleak. No matter how Ivan felt, I was struck again and again by just how terrible this all was. His victories were small highlights which lit the extent of tragedy to my eyes.. As I neared the end of the book and Ivan worked his way into receiving a second bowl of 'soup,' a final victory for his day, I rejoiced with him. Think about the transition I, as the reader, went through in those 140 pages. That is the skill and quality of Solzhenitsyn's writing. 

Conclusion: 5 Stars. Highly recommended. Well worth your time.  


7.9.12

2012.09.07 Worth Visiting

War and Nookd - funny and scary

Of Flying Cars - a long but very interesting look at where we stand now in terms of technology, economics, bureaucracy, and politics.

When are we going to grow up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity - more than enough to think about here.

Please RT  - "soon, if not yet already, it will seem pretentious, elitist, and old-fashioned to write anything, anywhere, with patience and care."

Happyism: The Creepy New Economics of Pleasure  - thoughtful and hilarious.

Thoughts on Penal Substitution - very good

The Trouble with Atheists: A Defence of Faith - So good, I want to read the book :)

Impatience as Digital Virtue - great questions to consider!

The New Furby Review: Absolute Horror - Made me laugh out loud and made me think. 

6.9.12

Looking Foolish

I am a Christian. I am a pastor. I have often experienced the awkward moment in the conversation after someone I have just met asks me what I do for a living... and I answer. Most of the time this is followed by a long pause while the other person visibly tries to sort out what to say next. Have they cursed in our exchange so far? Should this bother them? Do you have a bone to pick with religion, faith, or Christianity? Should they pick it with me? Am I judging them? Should they adjust their behavior accordingly? And on and on. 

There are many objections to Christianity and to faith. Once and a while they come out. More often than not the awkward pause is followed by an embarrassing fizzle as the conversation grinds to a halt. 

I am keenly aware of the point Francis Spufford makes, that the most painful message about Christianity our society gives us that we are embarrassing. This makes sense. I am caught in the embarrassing predicament described well by Simon Tugwell:

"...anyone who, like me, finds himself unaccountably thrown in the deep end, splashing and struggling and hoping that it will turn out to be 'swim' rather than 'sing,' though sometimes rather suspecting that it is going to be 'sink.' Should he find the time to stop and think about it, he will be embarrassingly aware that to a spectator safe on dry ground, his antics will look utterly clownish and unintelligible, but there is nothing that can be done about that. We can only hope that our very foolishness and helplessness draw the God of mercy to our assistance."

Nothing can be done I suppose. But those of you watching from dry ground should know that my own struggle to stay afloat doesn't mean I'm trying to pull you down, with judgement or argument. And I'm sorry if I sometimes try to help in ways you believe are unnecessary. It's just that my position you look like your sinking too. 


5.9.12

August Reflections

Back at the beginning of August this was me:

I'm so excited to be blogging again! Lots to do and good times ahead!

Then I woke up today and realized it was September already:

September already? I hardly blogged at all!
Yeah... a month gone in the twinkling of an eye. And all of 2 blog posts to show for it. What can I say? I've been busy!

So, I make no promises about September, but I still live in hope. Maybe you do to, or maybe you've given up on this blog. Don't worry, I understand. 

Until next time... :) 

16.8.12

"Viral" by Leonard Sweet



Leonard Sweet, Viral. Waterbrook Press, 2012. 240 pgs. 

"The Gospel is nothing without relationship. And no one gets it like the google generation." So begins the copy for Viral by Leonard Sweet. What follows, once you get into the book, is 4 chapters distinguishing the "Google generation" from the "Gutenberg generation." Once Sweet has set up this division, he proceeds to examine Twitter, Google, iPhones, and Facebook and how each of these lends itself to relationship and, thus, the gospel. Sweet concludes by saying that we need to be able to deal with both cultures with love and hospitality. 

I have enjoyed some of Sweet's books in the past. I did not enjoy this. The problems with this book are numerous. Sweet acknowledges, in the final pages of his book, that he has "grievously simplified the two cultures" of 'googler' and 'gutenberger.' He is almost right. I would go so far as to say that he has invented these two cultures. People, at least the people I know, do not divide along these lines much at all. What you get, then, is a shallow analysis of a non-existent phenomenon based on exaggerated pop-cultural cliches. Unfortunately, most of the chapters follow suit. The "analysis" (if you can call it that) of each pop trend is also entirely based on stereotyping. Sweet's conclusion is, of course, absolutely true: we do need to embrace people regardless of their culture. Of course, when the entire book has failed to get below the surface it is not difficult to find a general Christian principle with which to conclude. 

Conclusion: 1 Star. Not Recommended. You won't find anything worth your time here. 

1.8.12

Faith's Freedom: Technologically Obscured Other

"The problem is that our technological capability has created a world of physical and social systems that, in the most concrete sense, eliminate the otherness of creation. Those living in industrialized, computerized lands rarely if ever encounter the world as other, but only a hominized world that is precisely constructed according to human reason and will. 

...Society can eliminate otherness by its coercive power, shaping members into smooth conformity; or by its censoring power, suppressing difference in thought or belief or action; or by its segregating power, placing those who are different or deviant into safe compartments. 

But a lie is no less a lie because it is often repeated, stated loudly, or written in stone and circuit. The person who experiences electricity only by flipping a switch or monitoring a generator may grow confused about power and who controls what. The person who encounters lightning in an open field is not confused. Bouncing a healthy baby on my knee, I can think that my life is simply a series of problems to solve. Staring into the ravaged eyes of my raped daughter, I must know that life is a mystery that must be suffered. Even in our closed-circuit world, God can grace us with otherness and call us to a project larger than our own. And even in this hermetic, homogenized, hominoid world, we can respond with the fundamental choice of denial or acceptance, closure or openness, sin or faith."

- Luke Timothy Johnson, Faith's Freedom

I'm not sure what to think here. This is one of the more thought provoking books I've read in a while,and I am really enjoying it. I understand that through technological control we live in a world less 'other' than ever before, in the sense Johnson is talking about, and I resonate with a lot of what Johnson has to say. But that line about babies and daughters hits hard, and it quickly reminds me why I, and most everyone else, regularly prefers to live in a controlled, technological, homogeneous world.  On the other hand, maybe Bultmann was more right than he knew.

And We're Back!

After an unannounced 1 month + hiatus, I'm back!

If your curious, our church planned a missions trip to a closed country involving teaching English, and so I was both super-busy with planning and then out of the country for several weeks. When I got back, I had a bazillion emails to respond to, as well as normal work to do. In the face of these events, this blog suddenly falls even lower than normal on my list of priorities. 

But I have books waiting to be reviewed and other things waiting to be said, so I just couldn't stay away forever :) 

I hope that makes you happy!

21.6.12

Emotions in the Christian life - Simon Tugwell

Chapter 5 of "Prayer in Practice," which is entitled 'Feelings in Prayer,' is perhaps the best piece of writing on the subject of emotions in the Christian life that I have read. 

Tugwell begins by noting just how unreliable feelings are: "I may feel inspired without being inspired; I may feel marvelous... but that may be caused simply by a good dinner and an insensitive conscience. Conversely, I may feel awful, but 'if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart." He points out that in our era of "romantic fundamentalism of experience, which will believe only what I can feel on my pulse" that we must realize that we can be seriously deceived about our own experience. Yet, we cannot fall into unending doubt and so we begin by realizing feelings are not infallible and then getting to know ourselves, our feelings, and the ways in which our feelings may 'misfire', well enough that we can discern when to trust. 

Tugwell lists four ways in which feelings can misfire:

1. They may bounce like a bad cheque. That is, there may be nothing behind them. So we may feel charitable without living out the virtue of charity and allow the feeling to be a substitute for reality. 

2. They may be artificial or contrived. We may feel something, and feel it very strongly, despite it not being 'real.' The perfect example is the group high or happiness; everyone else in the room is jumping and shouting and singing, this is contagious, and so I join in. 

3. They may be distorted. We prefer to view things simply, to make them plain and clear, but real emotions come as part of complex reactions to complex life. It is tempting to ignore ambiguity for the sake of ease of understanding and in so doing distort how we see our own feelings. 

4. They may be absent. We may feel we should have felt something, but did not, and so either convince ourselves that we did. 

With this in mind Tugwell explains that feelings, by themselves, are not very helpful. However, as part of a whole context of our person they are not only necessary but good. And God will use them, sending us times of consolation and joy, wooing us with a more intimate presence, or filling our hearts with a fire and a passion from His Spirit. These are good graces from God, but "we must not try to stockpile good feelings. It is of the nature of feelings that they come and go, and usually not when you want them to. We must not try to perpetuate feelings, however elevated they seem to be. We must not try to recapture them when they have gone. We must accept them when they are there and, if they are helpful and good, then, other things beings equal, we should accept them with joy and gratefulness; if they are negative and unhelpful, we must find the bets way to get through them with a minimum of damage. But either way, we must be a fish, and not get swamped by them."

And it is in the midst of this, adds Tugwell, that knowing ourselves is so crucial. 

Tugwell's conclusion?

"And so we should seek, not so much dramatic feelings, as the simple 'feeling' of God. It is rather like learning to recognize the footsteps of someone you know well. Or it is like learning to recognize the style of a painter. Familiarity with his ways will enable us more and more to recognize certain patters, certain configurations, certain little details, as signs of his artistry. If we love him at all, then to recognize him will carry with a certain excitement and joy. But in itself it is a very simple recognition of sheer factuality. It is not a sense of 'I like this' but just of 'there it is.' This quiet sense... is a tremendous asset in the Christian life. It will enable us, underneath whatever storms of emotion may be raging, to rest tranquil in humility and peace. then our emotional response will be rooted, it will proceed from the depths." 
- Simon Tugwell, Prayer in Practice. 

14.6.12

Simon Tugwell: "Thoughts are a bit like spoilt children..."

Speaking on meditative, repetitive, prayer:

"Of course, it is unlikely that we shall actually find ourselves totally devoid of thoughts! But in this kind of prayer the thoughts simply do not matter. Ignore them, and just get on with saying the prayer. Let them chatter away, accept them in the same way that you can accept any other kind of disturbance, without anxiety, without trying to suppress it, without even latching on to the desire to suppress it or even to the thought 'I am being disturbed'. Just let it be. As likely as not, without any deliberate intention on your part, you will actually find yourself chasing the first thought with a second one, such as 'I must stop this - I'm not supposed to be thinking.' That easily leads to an infinite regression, one thought trying to catch another. there is no need to take any notice of any of them! Thoughts are a bit like spoilt children trying to attract attention to themselves. If you ignore them, refusing to be distracted by them, then sooner or later they will get bored and go away."

Simon Tugwell, Prayer in Practice

12.6.12

"Surfing for God" by Michael Cusick



Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle. Thomas Nelson, 2012. 224 pgs. 

Pornography is a plague of epidemic proportions among men right now. I seriously doubt I need to share with you any of the statistics. But you should know that it is not the widespread nature of this problem which made me request this book to review. No, two other reasons rose to the fore: 1. I am a youth pastor and so continually walking beside, praying with, and counseling young men who struggle with addictions to pornography. 2. I, myself, went through an addiction to pornography. At the time, the only book people gave me on the subject was Every Young Man's Battle. That was a fine book, in it's own way, but not all that helpful in dealing with sexual addiction in the age of internet abundance. By the grace of God I was set free without a better book on the subject, but that has not kept me from continually watching for such books.  This is one of those books. 

The theme quotation for Surfing for God, behind the subtitle and included at the beginning of the book, is this: "Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is knocking for God." - G. K. Chesterton. Cusick, a set free sexual addict himself, walks the reader through the truth of what is going on behind sexual addiction, the lies of pornography, and a path to healing. He asks questions that point the reader to a quest for self-understanding and submission to God. He does so because he understands what so many other approaches to sexual addiction and pornography get wrong: the addiction is a symptom of a much deeper and more central problem. It is a symptom of brokenness that only God can heal and of desires that only God can meet. Finally, he encourages us to find proper ways of taking care of our souls. 

I think that my opinion of this book can best be summed up by my saying the following: This is now my go to book on the subject of addiction to pornography. Cusick is insightful, honest, and helpful in speaking to men who are in the midst of these things. To be clear, this is not a book about the social issues which surround sexual addiction. Nor is it a book which I believe will be much help to female readers except, perhaps, in enabling them to better understand men. But, for what it is, I have yet to read better. 

Conclusion: 5 Stars. Recommended. Given the number of men caught in this snare (statistically, it is pretty much guaranteed that you know someone who needs this kind of help) it is well worth reading a book such as this. If you are in the midst of this struggle or are walking with someone who is, then the same is doubly true. 


Disclosure: This book was given to me by Thomas Nelson for review, through the website booksneeze.com. 

1.6.12

May Reflections


Top Post from May

Life Change - Pretty good considering it went up yesterday. Just some thoughts on 'changing lives.'


Three Most Visited Posts in May

1. We're Sinking - I like this post :) 
2.  Heaven and Hell - How long will this last? At least it regularly comes in 2nd now. 
3. Life Change - See above. 


Yes, it is now officially June. Can you believe? Me neither... 

31.5.12

Life Change

Sometimes I wish I could manufacture life change. I day-dream of a formula, or a series of well-timed maneuvers, or a set of input points, and think that it would be nice if you just hit these things hard enough, threw enough energy, or talent, or money in their direction that things would happen.

........................................

You see, I'm a results kind of person. I take great pleasure in seeing the positive results of my efforts. They don't need to be quantifiable, but they need to be visible, at least to me. I don't care if others know, I don't care if I'm appreciated, but I do care if I have made a difference. And in 'my line of work' that means life change towards Christ. Or at least, it does to me. I suppose other pastors may use other measuring rods; whatever. But even if I were not a pastor, those would be the results I sought more than anything else. 

Unfortunately, there is a subtle and dangerous form of idolatry at work here. I am privileged to labor in the Kingdom of God. I am privileged to be a part of Jesus' work in the hearts of His children. And while this is a calling I gladly embrace, it is not a job my talent, or energy, or resources (money or otherwise) can accomplish. I will till and water where, when, and as God calls, but He will cause growth. 

Yet even as I know this truth I find it difficult to work in submission; I would rather work in control. 

And then I catch a glimpse of what we would be like if life change really could be manufactured. 

I go to a conference and see what happens when one gives oneself over to the pursuit of manufactured life change. Substance giving way to style as the reaction becomes the goal. Depth replaced by popular appeal as engagement becomes the end. 

Or

I see an advertisement and realize that the ability to manufacture would be a terribly misused power. Freedom giving way to marketing as life change becomes a tool. Individuals replaced by ideal users as target market dynamics become a physical reality. 

And then I mourn. I mourn over the fact that while life change cannot be manufactured it can be faked. It can be pushed so hard that some, in desperation they hardly recognize, attempt to sell what cannot be bought and are inevitably disappointed with the results and left bereft, having giving up much to gain nothing. 

And then I worship. I worship over the fact that the Spirit of God still comes among us, like the wind, like a fire, to accomplish the often unremarked miracle of true change in the hearts of even those who have nothing left to hope for, let alone sell, giving fullness in place of brokenness. 

........................................

May you know the only source of true life: Jesus Christ. May you come to understand that all you hope for is but a vague shadow of the reality that he holds. 







10.5.12

2012.05.10 Worth Visiting

The Critic Revisits the Monsters - Wonderfully insightful essay on the fantasy genre in our time.

Caine's Arcade - Just plain fun.

Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? - "We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information." That quote should make you want to read this article. 

Understanding Amazon's Strategy - Frightening... too much to keep track of and I like my kindle... but still. 

Shift HappensExamining Kuhn's "Structures of Scientific revolutions." The last paragraph is stunning. 

A/B Testing - Do you wonder if this has ever happened to you? I do. 

The Worlds Most Important Story - More to think about.

TED Video: How Small is an Atom? - - fun, entertaining, mind-boggling... it's like the high school science class I wish I had. 

TED Video: Reinventing Fire; a 50 year plan for Energy - - if this is really doable are we doing it?

4.5.12

Discipleship: A Word from Darrell Johnson

"Our No. 1 'job' in discipleship and ministry is to so live in Christ that we live and serve out of the fullness of Christ. Our No. 2 'job' is to do everything we can to make No. 1 possible. Our No. 3 'job' is not to do the things which hold us back from No. 2 and No. 1."
- Darrell Johnson, Speaking at the 2012 Regent Pastors Conference 'Overflow'

Response: This weeks pastors conference has been good in many ways. Above all, I have been reminded of the true nature of my position as pastor and the priorities which come with it. If this is not number one in my life and conduct then all else will fall apart. 

1.5.12

April Reflections

" You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." - What I want

Top 3 Posts from April
1. "Daddy, Be a Monster..." - With a resounding lead for traffic this month, we have a brief reflection on playing with my daughter and experiencing heaven. 
2. Prayer: A Word I Need to Hear - Also with higher than average traffic, and a strong second place, a brief reflection and response to some words from Timothy Jones. 
3. Forgiveness: A Hard Word From Luther - Third place goes to a good quote. 

Three Most Visited Posts in April
1.  "Daddy, Be a Monster..." - It has been a long time since my top most "googled" posts have been knocked off the top. Clearly I need to write more about Hannah :) 
2. Heaven and Hell - ... but some things don't change...
3. We're Sinking - Indeed...


April has been a hard month. For some time now I have been doing my best to exercise discernment in what to prioritize and what to let go. Now, I feel like things are slipping even when I don't want them to. I suppose what is really happening is that I am getting closer to the top of my list, in terms of what I just can't do, and the more that I can't do the less that I like it.

I know, that is rather cryptic. Oh well. 

In the meantime this supports me: "... and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority." Col. 2:10

26.4.12

Prayer: A Word I Need to Heed

"I try to remember that words do not matter to God as much as many of us suppose. They carry less weight than we think. 
Our culture seems infatuated by words. By the millions they stream from our radios, televisions, newspapers, internet sites, and yes, books. Drive through any metropolitan area, with its billboards, neon ads, and bannered signs, and you get the strange sensation of driving through a phone book or huge dictionary. Words seem essential. But much that is profound can happen in their absence. 
...
Rather than defining prayer as something solely expressed in words, I see it more fundamentally as being present to God. Sometimes words are eminently appropriate. Sometimes they get in the way. Often they simply don't matter. The important thing is to stand before God without our constant chatter, ready to be in heartfelt relationship with him. Where our whole selves are engaged in relationship with God, there prayer will be, even if words are not used."
- Timothy Jones, The Art of Prayer. pg. 23-24


My response: 
Words matter a great deal to me. Words are tools which enable understanding, communication, manipulation, transformation, and more. Reflecting on this I realize that words are, by and large, my specialty. I have no particular skills with my hands or my body and I lack technical expertise of every kind. As a child I told my parents that I wanted to be a politician, because they get paid to talk. Today I am a pastor, and though this vocation, this calling, is much more than 'getting paid to talk' it frequently relies on the proper use of language. And yet Jones is right; when it comes to prayer words fall away. My 'specialty' has, if I am honest, a way of coming between myself and God. It is humbling to see that I often come to God with ostensibly empty hands, never realizing that I grasp tightly to control through my mastery of language. It is freeing to see that this is utterly unnecessary. God does not need my words for understanding or transformation, and all the words in the world will not allow me to understand God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen. 




O Lord, the scripture says 'there is a time for silence and a time for speech.' Savior, teach me the silence of humility, the silence of wisdom, the silence of love, the silence of perfection, the silence that speaks without words, the silence of faith. Lord, teach me to silence my own heart that I may listen to hte gentle movement of the Holy Spirit within me and sense the depths which are of God.
- Frankfurt Prayer (quoted in The Art of Prayer pg. 44)

20.4.12

Forgiveness: A Good Word from Volf

"Both our transformation and the imputation of Christ's righteousness depend on union with Christ. And so does forgiveness, the fact that God doesn't count our sins against us. Because we are one, Christ's life is our life. Because we are one, Christ's qualities are our qualities. Because we are one, we have died in Christ's death, and our sins are no loner ours but are 'swallowed up' by Christ.
...
God gives, faith receives. And because God gives even before the hands of faith open to receive, faith never goes away empty-handed. To have faith is to have christ and, with Christ, a new life and forgiveness of sins."
- Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge. 151, 153


19.4.12

The 'Therapeutic' and the 'Psalm-ic'

Today I read:

"The contemporary climate is therapeutic, not religious. People today hunger not for personal salvation, let alone for the restoration of an earlier golden age, but for the feeling, the momentary illusion, of personal well-being, health, and psychic security."

So wrote Christopher Lasch in his 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism. It has, perhaps, never been more true than now in 2012.(1)

Today I also read: 
...
The length of our days is seventy years-- or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Relent, O LORD! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.

...
         - Psalm 90:10-15 (2)  
Having read both I simply cannot imagine how they might coincide in a single person. It seems utterly impossible that one should pray Psalm 90, requesting God to make them glad for the days in exactly the same sentence as they acknowledge that those days are an affliction and a trouble, and yet also bow to the therapeutic mindset of our age.  One cannot seek the joy of the Lord and also the worlds promises of 'happiness and well-being,' defined as they are in the world. They are contradictory.

Still, how many Christians fall prey to the way of the world in just this area? 






(1) For the record: I read this in The Way of the (Modern) World by Craig Gay, pg. 182
(2) For the record: I read the whole Psalm; you should to :)
(3) For the record: The phrase "for the record" in reference to a blog which will undoubtedly be soon lost to the mists of time seems pretentious in the extreme. In the words of my son Ethan: "I like it." 
  

17.4.12

"It's 3AM and I can't sleep..."

It's 3am and I can't sleep. I'm all alone. There's no one to call at this hour.

And so, rising slowly and allowing blankets to slip to the floor, I head for my computer. With a half-desperate sigh I log on to my Facebook account. I hope for some activity, some contact with other people. 

Nothing.

I post a status update and wait. Click. Refresh. Click. Refresh. Nothing. 


My brain side-slips reality and I imagine, for the briefest of moments, a different life. 

I imagine being constantly tired but unable to sleep. The heaviness of my eyes growing with each passing moment but nary a moment of sleep. I imagine sitting for hours, days, and weeks with abundant tools of communication at my disposal but having no one to talk to. My lonely desperation growing with each passing moment but nary a moment of human contact. 

Gripped by this image there is only one option. I turn the computer off and go to bed. And as I drift off  I wonder...

I can't help thinking that this imagined life, in some small way, intersects with hell. 






13.4.12

"Daddy, be a monster..."

"Daddy, be a monster." Asks Hannah, my 3 year old daughter.

And so, dropping to all fours, with a savage glint in my eye and a feral grin on my face, I let out a roar. In response Hannah shrieks with delight and runs to her room where she dives under the blankets and waits for the "Daddy Monster." 


I roar down the hallway, crawling slowly so as to amplify the suspense, and, upon reaching her room, say in a deep and growling voice: "Where is my dinner?" 

When I finally catch Hannah she giggles and laughs and after a brief tickle I let her go so that we can repeat the process in the other direction. 

This delight in the face of a 'monster' is possibly precisely because this monster is the 'daddy monster.' 

If only all of the monsters we faced were loved ones in disguise. If only all of the monsters, upon catching us, wanted noting more than to see us laugh and then released us to run again, shrieking with delight, for another round of fun. 

I can't help thinking that this wish, in some small way, intersects with heaven. 

12.4.12

Forgiveness: A Hard Word From Luther

"Those who follow Christ grieve more over the sin of their offenders than over the loss or offense to themselves. And they do this that they may recall those offenders from their sin rather than avenge the wrongs they themselves have suffered. Therefore they put off the form of their own righteousness and put on the form of those others, praying for their persecutors, blessing those who curse, doing good to the evil-doers, preparing to pay the penalty and make satisfaction for their very enemies that they may be saved. This is the gospel and the example of Christ."
- Martin Luther (Quoted by Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, pg. 161-162)

4.4.12

2012.04.04 Worth Visiting

Forget Self-Improvement - A good word about goals.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's Nobel Prize Speech - Nobel prize speech given by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn; amazing.

TED Video: The Earth is Full - The earth is full. Literally. Our current economy is unsustainable.

Letter: A Brave New World - Huxley's own take on why "A Brave New World" is more likely than "1984"

Neurons V Free Will - problems in neuroscience?

The $8-Billion Dollar IPod - hilarious video looking at 'copyright math' and the flaws therein.

Culture After the Credit Crunch - Thought provoking look at our reactions to recent financial crisis.

What Isn't for Sale? - Hidden costs in a society where everyone is for sale?

Havel's Specter - reflection on the political and poetic wisdom of Vaclev Havel

The Right Habits - small habits leading to victory

3.4.12

March Reflections

He is Risen! Or so we will declare very soon :) 

Top 3 Posts from March
1. Child Soldiers and Hunger Games - A few thoughts on the recent blockbuster movie and the tragedy of child soldiers. 
2. Children Are Waiting - A word about the Christian duty to care for orphans. 
3. Rediscovering Sin: Pusillanimity - The title kind of says it: I learned about a sin I had never considered before. 

3 Most Visited Posts in March
1. We're Sinking - My reaction to Josh McDowell's "Truth Matters" campaign is quickly becoming my most popular post ever. 
2. Heaven and Hell - But this one keeps hanging on. 
3. Child Soldiers and Hunger Games - It's nice to see a post on both of these lists; it seems to happen only rarely as Google searches continue to dominate my traffic ratios. 


A few key events dominated the last month in my life. The keen observer may have noticed that I was posting at a rate of 1 a day for the first week of March. Then I said nothing for two weeks. Simply put, life got very busy when one of the pastors at our church stepped out of ministry. That was event one. The second event was that Ethan, my son, had surgery. 
My Boy and My Wife

Nothing too serious (removing a cyst above his left eye), but what parent doesn't have a mini-heart attack when his child goes under the knife? Exactly. He has, however, recovered extremely well. Just today, in fact, we spent nearly 2 hours waiting at the doctors office so that the doctor could spend 30 seconds looking at his eye and declaring him well. 

May April be much more peaceful, and uneventful, than March! 

29.3.12

Blog Tour: "Your Church is Too Safe" by mark Buchanan



Mark Buchanan. Your Church is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down. Zondervan, 2012. 240 pgs. 

Mark Buchanan believes there is a visible gap between life in Jesus and the life we live, between the Church of Jesus and the churches we have. In his own words, "What happened? When did we start making it our priority to be safe instead of dangerous, nice instead of holy, cautious instead of bold, self absorbed instead of counting everything loss in order to be found in Christ?" This, then, is a book for those who wish the church looked more like the kingdom of God. 

What follows, then, are 18 chapters of pleas, stories, examples, and explanations of what it means to be the true church of Jesus Christ. Buchanan shares with us how Christ makes all things new, how Christ calls us to trust and work for healing and reconciliation and forgiveness and love, and how this will get us into trouble. 

A friend of mine commented that this book could be a bit of a jump over the shark tank (I didn't get the reference the first time he used it either; just google 'jump the shark thank'). I'm not sure about the marketing side of things, but as far as content goes this book is definitely not a grasp at success from the edge of failure. No, this book was quite good. It is filled with mature insight and wisdom, compelling biblical exegesis (of the pastoral, not academic, type), and a vision of what the church could be that ought to get any pastors heart beating faster. It may be that I feel particularly strong about this because the book lines up very well with some of the things I have been learning lately and many of the ideas we have been moving towards in our church, but either way I would definitely recommend this book. 

If I must critique then I will say this: the book lacks a clear line of thought or organization. I was always interested in what I was reading but I didn't always know how it connected or where Buchanan was going. 

Conclusion: 5 Stars. Recommended. This is a book worth reading, especially if your a pastor. 


Thanks to http://engagingchurchblog.com for allowing me to be part of this blog tour and providing the book for review. 

24.3.12

The Readers New Beginning: Heartbreaking Purple Tigers


Upon finishing my post-malazan period of readers mourning I took a moment to reflect on my reading over the past months. I reviewed my readers log (stardate 2178...) and realized that "The Malazan Universe" had entirely occupied the fiction portion of my reading for upwards of 6 months. In itself this was unsurprising; thirteen 1000+ page fiction books should take that long to read given how much time I devote to reading fiction. However, I also realized that I needed to now read something utterly different. Science fiction and Fantasy would have to be laid aside, at least for a time. 

But what else could I read? In the world of non-fiction, I have a seemingly never ending pile of books waiting on my desks, and an even longer list waiting on Amazon. In the world of fiction, not so much. And so I began to look at top lists: Pulitzer prizes, New York Times Best Sellers, etc. It didn't take long for me to come up with half a dozen books to start with and this list happily coincided with my trip to Portland, wherein lies the famed Powell's bookstore. To my delight, Powell's lives up to the hype. 

I am now three books in to my renewed reading list of fiction. 


A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was witty and humorous and more pretentious than even the title led me to believe. I enjoyed it. 

Purple Hibiscus was moving and deep and peopled with powerfully real characters that drive the story far beyond its technical 'young adult/Teen' classification. More than worth the time; I will be reading more of Adichie. 

The Tiger's Wife was engrossing and a delight to read. It blended lived responses to war with  village mythology and folklore in a way that captivated me from start to finish. I hope that Tea Obreht writes more. 

Having finished these three books I have realized my goal: I am fictionally refreshed. By the time one reaches the end of over 15000 pages in one universe there is not only a sense of loss that the great epic is finished, there is also a sense of worn-ness, as if a specific part of this reader had been greatly depleted. I am grateful that these books are refilling that readers well, and that I am again drinking of fictional well of joy that comes with good art.  

I am looking forward to the rest of my carefully selected and odd (for me) novels.

21.3.12

Child Soldiers and Hunger Games

It has been hard, but I have resisted posting any response to the whole Kony2012 debacle. 

If nothing else, it made me take notice. With so many people making the point that raising awareness about child soldiers and world problems is a good thing, no matter what else we think of the video or InvisibleChildren, I decided that I should actually raise my awareness. That is to say, do something other than watch a 30 minute video which is mostly mistaken or lying. I bought, and read, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children by Romeo Dallaire (who founded the Child Soldiers Initiative; a much better way to get involved and help stop this serious problem). 

I know that I am still in the process of understanding all that Dallaire shares in his book. It broke my heart to learn what is going on in our world, what some children go through. And then something happened. 

The day I finished reading this book I saw a preview for "The Hunger Games." My first thought was 'I'm probably going to have to see that.' You see, I'm a youth pastor. One of my commitments as a youth pastor is to do my best to understand, appreciate, and critique youth culture. That means I listen to strange music, watch odd TV shows, read unusual books, and take in some interesting movies. Things like Glee, the Twilight Series, and the Hunger Games (which I read through last year). 

Later that night, as I lay in bed, it came to me that the book and the preview were related. They are about children, teenagers, being forced to kill. I suddenly realized that I was utterly wrong. I would not be seeing the Hunger Games; not now, maybe not ever. 

When I read the books I had enjoyed the first one (the second and third... not so much). I found it entertaining, if shallow. Collins captures well the "youtube" attitude of some people in a world where others are constantly watching. She does not capture at all how violence affects the psyche of the young, what being forced to kill does to people, or the devastation this would wrought in the lives of those involved. In fact, the entire series is so highly glamorized as to be utterly unreal (the precursor to Hunger Games, Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, is brutal rather than glamorized, and delves partially into what this kind of situation does). 

I started to wonder if The Hunger Games is only entertaining when one is ignorant of the truth of child soldiers. I knew, for myself, that I would not be able to watch it or read it again. If I did it would be with the images and descriptions given to me by Dallaire flashing through my mind. It would be while marveling at the fatuousness of what was before me and grieving the reality of what was not. 

And so I made a decision. I will not be seeing this movie. Instead, I have donated the money I would have spent seeing it ($20) to the Child Soldiers Initiative. I would urge you to do the same. The Hunger Games is guaranteed to be a blockbuster and still seeing it is not going to improve your life even a little. By missing it, however, you might improve the lives of a child somewhere.

7.3.12

Which of you, if his son asks for...

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?..."

And which of you, if his son asks for a pocketknife, will give it to him without first showing him how to use it safely?

If you know me in person your probably know that I usually have a pocketknife with me. In fact, if I have my jacket I will have a small multi-tool as well. I use them all the time and am often glad I have them. Thus, I fully intend for my children to have them as well (when they reach the appropriate age, of course). But I would be remiss, as a father, if I were to one day just hand my child a knife with nary a word of instruction or caution. Knives are tools. They are incredibly useful. Though they seem less and less necessary in our technological age I do think that the ability to properly use a knife is still an important skill to have. However, knives are also dangerous. They are dangerous if approached wrongly (as a weapon) or casually (as simple and safe). 

I plan, when the day comes, to start my children with small pocket knives; mini-swiss army type knives. I plan to walk alongside of them as they learn safety and use rules. I plan to make sure they know that you should always keep your knife sharp and you should always cut away from yourself. Though I am not perfect I plan to be a good father. 

How much more so our Father in Heaven? Have you ever considered that the Lord desires to answer your prayers, or gift you in ways that you cannot imagine, but you are simply not ready? That more training and preparation must occur before you can receive rightly that which the Lord has for you? This is but one of the reasons it is so important to listen in prayer as well as speak. How else can the Lord speak to you of how He wishes to shape you and change you for His purposes? This is but one of the reasons it is so important to reflect on your days and weeks past as well as simply live and plan into the future. How else can you discern and recognize the hand of God preparing you and shaping you through His providence and plan? 

I have heard it said that when you pray God may answer with a 'yes' or a 'no' or a 'not yet.' Of course this is a simplification; contained within each of those answers are varieties nigh on the infinite. One of them is "yes, but not until you are ready." 

Let us not forget that the Lord God is our good father who knows how to give good gifts and our good father who prepares us for the proper use of those gifts. Let us not fail to listen for His response, submit to His guidance, and watch for His hand. And let us remember that His grace extends far beyond our mistakes and far beyond our readiness.