Preaching and Pottering

harry-potter-booksSo I finally did it.  I mentioned the Harry Potter books in a sermon this morning.  And, beyond that, I gladly acknowledged that I have read them and am currently rereading them.  And, even beyond that, I (again, gladly) read them to our kids as they were growing up.  Yup, I said it.  And it was high time I did.

Why?  Well, the best way I know to express this is to allow Jerram Barrs to speak to it.  Jerram is the Professor of Christian Studies and Contemporary Culture at Covenant Theological Seminary.  He is also the Resident Scholar of the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute in St. Louis, MO.  I could go on and on about his wisdom, humility, and gospel winsomeness.  But I think you can see all that in this video clip.  I encourage you to watch and consider it with great care –  https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2015/03/08/why-jerram-barrs-read-harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-six-times-in-six-months/

If what Jerram says so well in that clip intrigues you, you might also enjoy listening to this presentation – http://www.bethinking.org/culture/jk-rowling-and-harry-potter .  There’s a helpful outline as well.

I’d say more.  But I need to get to Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station and catch the Hogwarts Express.

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Valentine’s Day – Whimsical Post (with Some Wisdom Thrown in)

I am in no way taking the credit (or the blame) for the piece posted below.  I do recall coming across this amusing list of “Biblical ways to find a wife” from some years ago.  But I found it reposted with some wise reflections related to the matter.

Here it is – http://www.wscal.edu/blog/16-ways-to-find-a-wife-according-to-the-bible.

searching-for-a-wife-sticker

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What If I Saw Things the Way God Does?

That’s not a bad question with which to start.  If I could only know and took to heart how the living God saw things (and sees them now), it would transform what I esteem and value.  It would upend what I pursue and protect.

Well, I’m not left to wonder.  None of us are.  For He has made it abundantly clear in the Scriptures.  Consider just a few words from Psalm 139.  Verses 13 and 14 read, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”nilsson_rm_photo_of_20_week_fetus

The whole psalm speaks to the intimacy between David and the Lord.  The repetition of the word “know” (vv.1, 2, 4, 6, 14, 23) sets the tone – not of knowledge factual but relational.  The section just quoted stresses God’s care from the moment of our conception.  And even before that.

So, knowing how God sees us, how then should translate into how I should see?  At least into three areas.

First, the life issue.  Every person, no matter their gender, race, capabilities, or stage of development, bears His image.  From beginning to end, we are precious in the Creator’s sight.  And He has made this clear.  As Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop noted in their classic work, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?:

If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity. There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special. Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography (and its particular kinds of violence as evidenced in sadomasochism), the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us.

So the first thing has to do with the life issue.  But the second has to do with our relational struggles.  How do we see the person that has insulted, betrayed, or just plain irritated us?  What would be the Psalm 139 implications for repentance, confession, and forgiveness?  Surely, we have to begin at the beginning, with the inherent worth of the other person.  C. S. Lewis put it this way in The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

So, beyond the life issue, Psalm 139 has repercussions for our relational struggles.  We cannot just dismiss people.  We cannot denigrate them.  No matter who they are or what they have done.

But there’s one more category and that has to do with our self understanding.  What if I believed that the words of Psalm 139 were true of how God sees…me?  If I keep reading past vv.13-14, I see things about my very frame being made and fashioned, intricately woven and crafted.  My days have been planned and written, formed and settled.

I was reminded of this while listening to Ellie Holcomb’s new CD, Red Sea Road, and the “Wonderfully Made” track:

What if I saw me the way that you see me

What if I believed it was true

What if I traded this shame and self-hatred

For a chance at believing you

There is wonder to be had not just as we look out upon the human race, not just at one another, but as we look into the mirror.

So, what if you and I saw things the way God does?

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The Providence of the Irish (Part 2)

Hope Walks Blog

Patrick was uniquely suited for communicating the timeless universal message of the gospel to this particular time and place.  And the Irish were particularly suited for the saving of Western Civilization and, even more importantly, one could say Christianity as well.  Keep in mind what else was happening at this time.  The Roman Empire was crumbling.  External pressures were mounting.  Internal rot was worsening.  The barbarian hordes were sweeping down like a plague of locusts, destroying everything in their path.  By the end of the 5th century, all the great libraries established by the reigns of Augustus on down through Constantine had vanished. 

Now enter, stage left, the Irish and their new found love of learning, literacy, books, and copying.  And copy they did – Plato, Virgil, Cicero, and especially the Bible.  Countless manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin were preserved all out on this little island the Romans…

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The Providence of the Irish (Part 1)

Hope Walks Blog

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th is near.  Now for many of us, the mentioning of St. Patrick brings the question, “Isn’t he the guy on the Lucky Charms box?” 

And, along with that, the mentioning of St. Patrick’s Day prompts memories of being pinched for not wearing green or befuddlement over the appeal of green beer.  But, believe it or not, there’s a whole lot more to the man and his day than we realize.  And it ought to prompt any discerning Christian to wonder and praise of the Lord of His-story.

The story of Patrick and his adopted land is a story of God’s providence – His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.  I say “adopted land” because Patrick was not Irish by birth.  He was born around 390 A.D. in Roman Britain.  As a teenager…

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Mary’s Song (And How It Can Be Ours)

The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli 1503And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55 ESV)

Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement was absolutely beautiful – yielding to the Lord’s purposes for her, trusting Him to carry them out, depending on Him at each step – it’s a beautiful response.  Especially when you consider what the Lord’s purposes would demand of her – giving up any plans she had for herself, giving herself over to the shame and the derision she would face as an unwed mother in that culture.  I don’t think we appreciate what this meant for her.  And I’m not sure she really knew either – at least not fully at that point.

It doesn’t seem to be until when she pays Elizabeth a visit that it all begins to really come together.  And this makes sense.  It was only natural for her to want to seek the counsel of an older, trusted woman – especially one who was going through a similar experience (after all, there couldn’t have been but so many women around carrying miracle babies!).  And after hearing Elizabeth’s words, it’s as though the significance of it all breaks over her, as though the angel’s message began to take shape.

And so she sings what could only be called a “glorious song.”  It’s a song filled with joy, confidence, wonder, praise – worship – again coming though in the midst of difficult circumstances.  And what we need to see is how this song in her circumstances points us to worship even in ours – such that as we take this to heart, we too can then sing such a song ourselves.  Look with me at what we see here.

Mary sings of God’s character (vv.49-50).  Think of the wondrous things she is communicating here and how that lifts her up into song.  She sings of a God who is “mighty” and who does “great things.”  But Mary goes on to describe not only the power of God but His holiness as well (v.49). To speak of someone’s “name” was to speak of their person.  That is to say, if God’s “name” is “holy,” then it means God is holy.  He is separate from and exalted above all creation.  He is radically different, completely “other.”  His ways are not our ways.  Which is so important when we consider the next thing she speaks of – not only God’s power and holiness but His mercy as well, His compassion and kindness extended to those in misery or affliction (v.50) – us.

We need to keep these three things balanced together – the power, the holiness, and the mercy.  To speak only of God’s power is not enough.  Hitler had power.  Pol Pot had power.  Stalin had power.  To rejoice that there is an all-powerful Ruler will not give us any cause to rejoice unless we know something of His character.  To speak only of God’s mercy is not enough.  Ask any parent with a sick child powerless to help them.  We need the power and the mercy wedded together.  And that’s what we have here – a holy mercy exercised with the greatest of power.

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work. (Psalm 62:11-12 ESV)

That’s what gave Mary a song in the midst of the difficulties she faced.  She was moving into uncharted waters and what little she knew of those waters looked choppy.  In the midst of that, in the throes of that, she needed to know that while it seemed her whole world was completely changing there were some things that were not changing at all – God’s holy mercy exercised with the greatest of power.  No matter how bewildering things appeared, she could have clarity there.  And she did.  It calmed her.  It steeled her.  It flamed within her.  And that allowed her – no, even more – it impelled her to sing.

The same can be true for us.  When we find ourselves facing uncharted and choppy waters the things that Mary sang of here, the things that grounded her can ground us as well.  And even enable us to sing.

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Suggestions for Advent Reading

beautiful-winter-sunriseAdvent means waiting, waiting for the coming of the Christ.  Through the course of Church History, this waiting has meant a longing with a reference to the past (the Incarnation), the present (His Spirit), the future (His return).  The Advent season is often marked by special traditions (wreaths and candles) and readings.  It’s the readings I have in mind for this post.

Here is a list of books I’ve found helpful through the years in my devotional reading for the weeks leading up to Christmas.

God is in the Manger (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) – The editors have selected excerpts from Bonhoeffer’s letters and Christmas sermons.  Given that much of this was written while he was in prison, it lends towards a sharp edge in the “waiting” of Advent.  It also carries the reader into the observation of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Nancy Guthrie) – The editor, Nancy Guthrie, has created a collection of Advent readings by drawing upon the works and sermons of classic theologians (e.g., Augustine, Luther, Whitefield, Spurgeon) as well as contemporary authors (e.g., Piper, Schaeffer, Sproul, Tada).  The result is a rich sampling of texts and reflections focusing in the wonder of Immanuel.

Behold the Lamb of God (Russ Ramsey) – Ramsey is currently a PCA pastor here in the Nashville Presbytery and a friend of Andrew Peterson.  Inspired by Peterson’s wonderful Christmas album, “Behold the Lamb of God” (and the tour by that same name), the book traces the promise of the Redeemer from beginning to end.  Each day’s selection focuses on one key event or period, showing how the Bible is really the one story of the Savior, Jesus.

The Greatest Gift (Ann Voskamp) – Ann Voskamp is well-known for her One Thousand Gifts.  Written in that same contemplative style, this devotional traces through the lineage of Jesus, encouraging the reader to celebrate the season by marking it day-by-day with a Jesse Tree and its symbolic ornaments.

Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel:  Ancient Sermons and Hymns for Contemporary Christian Inspiration (John Witvliet and David Vroege) – Another collection from years gone by, the editors give the reader an opportunity to listen in to meditations from some of the giants of the Christian faith – Augustine, Jerome, Bernard of Clairvaux, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, and several others.  Which allows us to have some of our modern Western preconceptions challenged.

Any of these would be good; all of which would enrich your library.

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