It was pretty early on in our marriage-before kids anyway-when we got into a bit of a kerfuffle at church. There’s something extra terrible about getting into a kerfuffle at church, especially when you’re the pastor and your job is to stand up and declare the eternal glories of Christ. I’m sure it was hard for my wife as she played the piano accompaniment to hymns celebrating our good and gracious God. So there I was, about to ascend the sacred desk and preach, but on my mind was the space between my wife and I. I told myself that we could discuss the conflict after church, but I wasn’t buying it. So I asked the church to have a minute or two of silent prayer before someone came up and led us in a congregational prayer, and I grabbed my wife’s hand and we went to the fellowship hall to take care of the gap. I’m neither the smartest nor the most sanctified husband I know, but I’m thankful for this episode early in our marriage because it taught me the blessing of not allowing a gap between us.
Gaps can come in a variety of ways, but the commonality between all of them is that there is a sense of distance between husband and wife. Misaligned goals can cause a gap. Hurt feelings can cause a gap. Sexual abstinence can cause a gap. Distance is distance, and distance is dangerous. When God created mankind and joined together man and woman in the covenant of marriage, a central aspect of that union is that the husband will cleave to his wife and they will be one flesh. No gap. No space. No distance.
My understanding is that to cleave has something to do with being bonded tightly together, and the result of this is that two become one. The lines of distinction between individuals blurs in the eye of the beholders. The “one flesh” aspect of marriage is the result of cleaving. Husbands and wives are not room-mates with benefits. They are joined in such a way that in their own minds and in the minds of others, it is difficult to think of one without thinking of both.
In my personal as well as pastoral experience, gaps are usually small conflicts, hurts, miscommunications, etc… that are simply not dealt with immediately or well. These types of things are bound to happen as sinners live in proximity to one another, even though not all gaps start as a result of a particular sin.
When we have gaps, things get in the gaps. Except the “things” that get in the gaps are usually other people. Infidelity often starts with gaps. Maybe some well meaning person of the opposite sex notices the gap and sympathizes and just wants to help you, and then the gap between husband and wife widens while the gap between sympathetic listener and married man/woman shrinks. Or maybe the seductive adulteress of Proverbs probes and quickly identifies the gap. Or it could be an overtly sexual man looking for a conquest and exploits the gap.
Or maybe the thing that gets into the gap really is a thing, like pornography. Or a different thing, like online gambling. These aren’t bizarre and unlikely scenarios; these are things that I have come across during my brief sojourn. Married folks without any gaps don’t have a lot of time for such things, because they are too busy keeping out the gaps.
So as a man who is both a pastor and a businessman, my encouragement to you is to address the gaps between you and your spouse immediately. Don’t leave the house with distance between you. Don’t go to work until it has been addressed. Don’t preach, teach, or counsel until you close the distance. You may have to delay the full-blown conversation (in my opening example, we were not able to work through all of the conflict in that brief time before I had to preach), but you can assure one another of your love, your commitment, and your plan to work through the whole thing at the soonest reasonable opportunity. Distance is not your friend. Gaps are the enemy.
I didn’t expect to be a girl dad right out of the gate. My wife and I both presumed our first child would be a boy, and maybe our second and third, and then we’d get around to having a girl. We obviously know nothing. I love being a father to my girls, and as a father I have certain hopes and desires for them that seem counter cultural these days.
What I want for my daughters is to want to be mothers. I don’t just want them to want to have a kid or two at some point, but I want them to see motherhood as the normal, natural, and blessed outcome of a woman’s life as she lives for God. Other outcomes are possible, but motherhood is the normal and desirous expectation.
And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
In one sense, I don’t care if my daughters go to college. (For that matter, college is becoming less a priority for me as a parent in general). I don’t care if they have careers or professional achievements. This doesn’t mean that I think their only utility is to be some kind of baby hatchery. I expect that my daughters will be wise, compassionate, competent, and skilled people whom the labor force will try to woo. But I hope that they choose to lavish their wisdom, love, and talents upon their family, their church, and their community instead of on a corporation.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed
I want their babies to be the product of a loving covenantal marriage. I want them to want a man who can measure up to me. Maybe that’s prideful, but if I thought I was doing a terrible job as a man I would strive to do better. I want to set the bar high for them. I want them to choose a man who can lead them and their future children. A man who expends his energy and muscles on earning a living and caring for his family and improving his community, so that when he sits down-exhausted from his labors-she can bring him a cold beverage (and maybe a rockin’ sandwich) that expresses her gratitude and respect. In turn, he wakes up to lavish his love on her again the next day until no one can tell anymore where the cycle of respect and love stops and starts.
Her husband also, and he praiseth her.
My perception is that motherhood is not considered a high and noble calling by the culture of expressive individualism in which we find ourselves. Motherhood must be selfless or it becomes poisonous. Women who want a baby to accessorize their lifestyle are comic parodies of Eve. This perception is supported by the evidence of a society that is having fewer and fewer children, targeting girls with a barrage of “you can be anything you want to be, especially if what you want to be in in the STEM fields”, and loses its mind at the thought of not being allowed to abort its babies should they be inconvenient.
So I want my daughters to want motherhood to be at the center of their being. Should they be barren, I want them to be like Mother Dimble who managed to embody motherhood without being a mother. Should the Lord bless them with children, I want them to want to raise their own babies. I don’t want them to have a child and then find the shortest route back to the work force. And after they raise their baby, I want them to want to have another baby.
Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
1 Timothy 2:15
And I want all of this because I love my daughters and think they have a high and noble calling that comes not from the world, but from the heavens. That calling is to nurture life and enrich our world. This is not the easy way out. This is a calling to live the crucified life as much as any other calling, and perhaps more so.
Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also
A calling that will require the grace and strength of God to fulfill. A calling that will shape and form their very souls. A worth while calling.
With Roe vs Wade back in the news, here is a list of biblical passages that Christians should consider as they think about the unborn.
Part 1 – The Value of the Life of the Unborn
The fundamental value of all human life (as opposed to the life of a cow or a caterpillar) lies in the biblical revelation that mankind (male and female) are made in the image of God.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
The circumstantial differences between people, such as their position within the social hierarchy, are not pertinent to value since both are made in the image of God.
Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?
The stages of development in the womb are part of the work of God in fashioning humanity. It is impossible to make distinctions on the value of the unborn based on their development as the entire process is orchestrated by God.
For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
The unborn already have God given purposes for their life.
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
Part 2 – The Calling to Motherhood
Fruitfulness in progeny is a purpose and blessing from God.
And God blessed them (Adam and Eve), saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
And I will make thee (Israel) exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
Motherhood is the normative calling for women.
And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed
Part 3 – Response to the Social Injustice of Abortion
The midwives in Egypt refused to commit infanticide.
But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.
The Israelites were forbidden from offering their children to Molech
And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians are to seek the good of the most vulnerable
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
The Biblical teaching on the value of the unborn is clear, as is the responsibility to the most vulnerable in society. These vulnerable ones include the unborn as well as mothers in distress. Just as Christians cared for exposed babies in the Roman Empire by establishing orphanages, homeless children in Europe by establishing Sunday Schools, slaves in the Western world by promoting abolition, so we find Christians in the 21st century funding and supporting pregnancy care centers, adopting, fostering, and caring for babies.
Today I would like to make the case that sanctification, the process of growing and maturing into Christ-likeness, is most fruitful when the efforts of the public and the personal are complimentary. The need for 2 different approaches in these settings is due to pacing, and I’ll flesh that out below. In Scripture, we find the public services of the church described in the pastoral epistles where we are told how to conduct ourselves in the house of God, while the personal is emphasized in the “one anothers” of NT Church life.
First, we need to establish progressive sanctification as the norm for the Christian experience. This in itself is somewhat counter-cultural even within the broader evangelical culture. We preach the gospel to a world impacted by consumerism, emotivism, and the gospel of the therapeutic. Into that culture we preach a gospel whose fruit is the mortification of sin, the crucifixion of the self, and the humbling of the individual for the sake of the glory of God and love of others. In other words, everything about the gospel is counter-intuitive to a race of people who love themselves more than anything and to a generation that has created a world in which that self-love is lauded instead of critiqued. Nevertheless, this is the task of the Church: to make disciples.
Secondly, we need to understand that growing in Christ-likeness really is a process which, while involving various crisis moments, requires time. After investing an afternoon and some money into reseeding my lawn, I have daily scoured the ground for signs of new growth. My initial impatience at the speed of growth is slowly giving way to the satisfaction of seeing the blades emerging. It just took more time than I wanted. Growing up into the fullness of the stature of Christ takes more time than we would like, both in ourselves and in others. It often involves more effort than we would have anticipated and costs more than we budgeted for.
Let’s not pretend that our culture is more wicked and vile than, say, the first century Roman culture from which many Gentile believers were saved. However, the present culture has shaped people in such a way that discipleship seems to take a little longer than the culture of 50 years ago. Here are a couple of examples.
It’s a common joke among my tribe that “back in the day”, when you got saved that on your way out of the baptistry you were handed a Sunday School book and told to be at church the next week at 9:30 because you would be teaching the 3rd grade class. I have met multiple folks (in their later years) who told this story. It’s hard to imagine that happening today. Faithful church attendance continues to decline, and what would have been considered poor attendance fifty years ago is now considered faithful. This makes discipleship challenging.
Another example would be the attitude of the culture towards truth versus feelings. The battle over free speech vs hate speech is really a clash between a world-view that values truth and a world-view that values feelings. Feeling oriented people (which we all are to some extent, but is certainly more pronounced today than in the past) struggle with being told to do something that is unpleasant or to give up something that is loved. Preaching against sin is now considered hate speech by many.
We are called to make disciples of those who are influenced by a culture that appears to be further removed from virtue and truth than the culture of fifty years ago. But we are not to despair: the Cretans were liars, evil, lazy, and gluttons, and out of that group the gospel was going to yield such fruit that they would have their own elders in the church. I want to make the case that we are aided in our efforts by having both a public effort and a personal effort.
The Public Effort
The public effort is the weekly gathering of God’s people. It would be a terrible mistake to accommodate the structure and tone of this meeting to the culture. This refusal is in itself jarring because the demand of the culture is that everything accommodate itself to the happiness of the individual. The weekly gathering of the Church should be the most counter-cultural experience of the week, challenging the individual at a variety of levels.
Consider how little time is allotted in most worship services for prayer or for Scripture reading. Is this not a capitulation to the demand to be entertained and excited? Consider how carefully texts are trimmed and rephrased and even ignored so as not to offend the tender sensibilities of the listeners. Is this not an obeisance to the feelings of those listening? The public service should shape the people in order to please God, rather than letting the people shape the public service to please themselves.
I am not saying that church services should be intentionally boring, but they should definitely leave unsatisfied the fleshly desire to be coddled. The Word must come from God and go forth to form the people. If ever the demands of the people form the word, it will cease to be a Word from God. The passion that fills the church must be a Spirit driven passion to know God through His Word and rejoice in the Son, who brings us to God. And since these are Spirit given desires, they will not be present in the unconverted.
Those who have been conformed to the spirit of the age should find the public service of the church challenging. It should challenge our desire to be the center of attention. It should challenge our idolatry of self, pleasure, and all of our many fe-e-e-elings. It should challenge our conceit that our opinion matters. The public service of the church is a foretaste of maturity. It is a display of the Godward life. It is a manifestation of the community of Christ that has taken up its cross to follow Jesus. It is a weekly foretaste of the finish line. And as such, it will be too much for many to handle.
The Personal Effort
Which is why personal effort is so important. By personal I mean the one to one (or small group) discipling, parenting, mentoring, and various other one-another acts of the community of Christ that happen between the public services. It is essential that the public service of the church relentlessly set the bar high and proclaim without apology the offensive gospel of Jesus. But in between those public services, it is of immense service to engage individuals on a personal level.
One way that personal effort is useful is that it can rejoice in the incremental. When I preach from the pulpit, it is my job to preach the ideal, who is Christ. In doing so, I endeavor to preach above my own sanctification. But when I engage with folks on a personal level, it is easier to drill down into the specifics of life and find the next step rather than focus on the finish line.
Another way that personal ministry is necessary is that it can engage in dialogue and debate. Sermons have a heraldic quality that is diminished by interruption and dialogue (although an appropriate place may be found for these at other times). The text is read and expounded and then the hearers are exhorted. The personal allows for questions, clarifications, explorations of applications, challenges, and other types of dialogue which is useful to learning. A sermon moves on whether the listener understands, but at a personal level the pace of instruction can be modified.
Another way that personal ministry is useful is by communicating that truth is being spoken in love. By investing time and energy into individuals, we are automatically communicating something of our love for them. The conversations we have in personal settings tend to make our care and concern for others more obvious than a public sermon can. It also forms a natural kind of accountability.
The disclaimer to all of this is that taken woodenly, we could clearly find exceptions in these points. Sometimes public sermons do communicate love and encourage incremental change. Sometimes personal conversations come across as unloving and harsh. But I think there is enough general distinction to be helpful.
In my mind, this is a matter of pace. Disciples need both a finish line to which they can aspire as well as “in the moment” instruction. Public services set the pace of the entire community, but at various times and in various ways individuals will need help keeping that pace. Without that personal help, they will being to feel out of sync with the rest of the body and a sense of distance will set in. This may be chalked up to personal failure leading to guilt, or it may result in a judgmental spirit and anger towards the rest of the body. In either case the result is that the platoon loses a soldier. Without the public services, the body lacks direction. Without personal attention, the individuals lack the care they need to remain healthy in the body. This is the complimentary nature of the public and the personal aspects of discipleship.
This post is inspired by George Gilder’s brilliant prologue to Wealth and Poverty, and as I am only a couple of chapters into the book I cannot comment on it as a whole. But the prologue is noteworthy not only for for its defense of capitalism, but for its verve. Is that still a word? It should be, because that’s the spirit of the prologue. He may be wrong, but if he is wrong he is wrong with panache. If his outfit is a fashion disaster, it is not for lack of color and embroidery. You may dislike his ruffles, but you cannot but admire his boldness in wearing them. If you don’t like the number his orchestra is playing, you must concede that it is not for lack of trumpets.
One of the relatively shocking approaches that Gilder takes is to defend capitalism not as a “best among worst” options nor as an approach to mitigate the general awfulness of humanity in the economic realm, but as intrinsically good and generous. Gilder is impatient with those who see the history of capitalism as a series of robber barons out to increase their own wealth at the expense of others, and he upbraids modern (and modern-ish) proponents with acquiescing to that historical perception.
If the argument goes “capitalism really was a terrible state of affairs involving slavery and oppression and the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer, but it somehow yielded us a 21st century system that really isn’t half bad” then we can say that there is nothing essentially better about capitalism than any other system of economics. At the battlefront of the terrible clash between capitalism and socialism, Gilder accuses the generals of motivating their men with a pathetic patriotism that amounts to “Men, it’s true that our country has been pretty terrible, but it’s not so bad right now so you should really try to put up a good fight.”
This is actually reminiscent of the evolutionary model of biological life. In evolution, given enough time something can come from nothing and then turn into everything. But that process (the past) must necessarily involve a massive amount of awfulness. Sure, what we wound up with is pretty darn functional: an ecosystem filled with symbiotic relationships, a humanity with a consciousness and rationality, etc… And because what we wound up with is pretty darn good, there’s no sense worrying about all the mountains of suffering and death that Evolution’s aborted offspring had to endure to get us to this point. If we buy into Evolution (as a macro-explanation for the existence and diversity of biological life) then we accept that Death is the mechanism from which Life comes. In the same way, if we go along with the story of capitalism as a story of self serving greed, then we accept that the mechanism for Prosperity is Greed. Gilder says that this is wrong and that greed is actually the death of capitalism.
What is so compelling about Gilder’s take is that you don’t have to be any kind of economic expert to understand in your bones that he is right, just as you don’t have to be a biologist (who alone can discern the mystical differences between male and female) to reject evolution. Evolution is manifestly backwards: life must precede death. The story of capitalism, as told by its opponents as well as its half-hearted defenders, is manifestly backwards: generosity must produce wealth. According to Gilder, that is what lies at the heart of capitalism.
It is everything that Youtube Premium is not. Namely, it is not digital. Everything about my favorite Christmas present is finite. There is romance in the 22 minutes per side restriction of a 33 that cannot compare to the endless supply of music stored up in well cooled server stations, waiting to be called upon to deliver an un-curtailed buffet of entertainment. Music that lives in “the cloud” is as close as your phone, yet aloof as the moon. It is everywhere, but it is also nowhere.
Vinyl is tactile. It is geographic. It is bound to a place where a disc of plastic meets an unwieldy turntable. It is everything that the younger siblings of the I-phone cannot understand and yet, as a human, instinctively long for. It is the joy of a child who finds greater delight in the meshed gears of a pocket watch than in the magic of numeric pixels on a screen.
An undeniable shiver of delight accompanies the drop of the needle into the grooves of the record. Yes, even a feeling of conquest if the finger of man has moved the needle to drop precisely at a sharper chasm marking the beginning of a different track. Or perhaps the needle will descend down the outer rim, spitting and crackling like a man tumbling down an embankment into some new terrain.
Digital music comes to us sterilized, as if it has been prepped for surgery. Like a thief who is careful to leave no evidence of his presence behind. Vinyl comes to us touched, bent, handled, loved, discarded, and discovered, much like people. The warp of the material knocks the orbit slightly off balance, resulting in a subtle vertical rise and drop like a wave. Does the Creator feel this satisfaction when He gazes at the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit as it changes every one hundred thousand years? Occam’s Razor is for problems, not for pleasure.
It is the limitation of the tactile that enthralls. Our digital age demands the abolition of all boundaries, which means that our digital age demands the abolition of Man. As our digital footprints extend perpetually, we leave no paths for others to follow. As we reach to touch foreign frontiers, we lose our grasp on our families, our friends, and our neighbors. No painting may truly be admired if the canvas is infinite. No song appreciated if it goes on forever. Endless choice has only led to endless anxiety. And boredom. Only boring people are bored.
The re-discovery of vinyl is the epiphany that we are embodied. An epiphany that has been subsumed by suffering, disease, war, mortality, and frustration. To live free of our embodiment is the longed for Utopia of a race held captive to death and deprivation. Like all man-made Utopia’s, the price is often humanity itself. We may live forever in splendor if we are willing to surrender that which makes us human.
This dilemma can only be resolved by the infinite becoming finite. Love, joy, peace, and glory must be Incarnate before they can be appreciated. The vastness of God would drive us mad while His absence would render us meaningless. The hands that scoop out the oceans and fling the stars into dancing galaxies must be riven with nails before we can appreciate them. The Mind behind the cosmos must speak in parables, aphorisms, hyperbole, and sermonic melody before we can hear Him. Love must bleed before we can comprehend it. Touch it. Embrace it.
Over the last couple of years as ministry has changed for many churches, I find myself occasionally talking to a friend or colleague who left pastoral ministry and has found himself looking for employment in the secular world. Job interviews inevitably get around to asking about employment history, experience, and skill sets. How does a man who has pastored for twenty years explain his experience and skill set? In secular terms, he has played the role of CEO, CFO, HR, Facility Supervisor, Complaint Department, Office Manager, and “Environmental Service Technician”. In other words, the pastor wears a lot of hats.
Apart from larger churches where roles are carefully defined, most pastors are comfortable being flexible in their responsibilities and responding to needs as they arise. Despite this necessity, wise pastors define themselves by their spiritual role in the church. They see themselves as shepherds of the flock, as heralds of the gospel, as teachers of the eternal truth of God, and as evangelists. While the pastor may every once in a while have to don his accountant visor, or his “van is broke down again” overalls, or his “time to get the plunger out” gloves, he knows these are secondary responsibilities.
The pastor’s perception of his role in the church is foundational to the execution of his responsibilities before the Lord. Some pastors get their priorities mixed up. Some pastors lose sight of their calling. But in twenty years of pastoral ministry, I have learned there are 2 hats that I must never don. There are two ways that I am tempted to view myself that are simply devastating to my effectiveness as a minister of God.
The Martyr’s Halo
The martyr’s halo is what I like to wear when I feel like no one loves God quite as much as I do, or no one sacrifices quite as much as I sacrifice, or no one appreciates sufficiently the level of service that they receive from my hand. Just writing those words is shameful because they are all thoughts that I have entertained over the years. Is there anything more self righteous than putting on the face of one who is bravely enduring the stripes of ministry simply for the sake of drawing more attention to one’s own deeds? Flow those phylacteries. Trumpet those tears. Drop the silver coins of your service from far above the offering plate so they might ring louder when they land.
There are certainly martyrs in Christianity, but legitimate martyrs are joyful. They gladly watch their property plundered and they sing praises in the prison cell and they count it a blessing to be able to suffer as their Lord suffered. But you, dear pastor, who labored hard over your message only to receive not one compliment, are not a martyr. Refuse to be one. Especially when the the devil whispers those delicious morsels in your ear, “If they only knew how much you did for the Lord…”
The Hero’s Hood
Conversely, the pastor must also never think that he is the hero of the story. Perhaps yours is not the ministry of martyrdom, but the ministry of a grateful and growing people who receive the Word with gladness and constantly express appreciation for the blessing you are. How tempting it is to see yourself as the hero of the story! The pastor is uniquely positioned to be present when God works wonders and is often the very instrument for good in God’s hand. Being an instrument is not to be confused with being the One who wields it.
Perhaps the tempting thought for this tendency sounds something like, “You could be the one to turn this around!” or “Think about the opportunities you’ll have when everyone sees what you did with this ministry!” Rushing back into my mind are all those introductions for speakers at Bible College that went like, “When Pastor Awesome first came to Lowly Baptist Church, they were meeting in a cardboard box on the fire escape of a condemned building, but after fifteen years they are now running six hundred, have a 12-acre facility built on top of a gold mine, and have changed the name to Synergy!” I joke, of course. But from Bible Colleges to book publishing to tweet counting to conference speakers, it’s easy for our hearts to get caught up in becoming a hero instead of pointing to the Hero.
Hang Up Your Hat
The solution for both false identities is to make sure that our service for the Lord never exceeds our gratitude to the Lord. The sobriquet of hero or martyr quickly fades when we live in awe of the grace that we have received. When your evaluation of what you do for the Lord exceeds your understanding of what God has done for you in Christ, you are nearing the tempter’s snare. So the next time you find yourself marching with plunger in hand to the rescue of the plumbing pipes, sigh not for the tragedy of your life. The next time a thankful believer testifies of how your sermon changed her life, puff not up with pride but instead, remind yourself that God once used an ass to speak, a rock to water a nation, birds to feed a prophet, and blood to wash away the sins of even the proudest sinner.
It was probably 1991 and one of my refuges during a year back in my birth country was American cartoons; cartoons like Talespin. In a way I envy my children who at ages 8 and below are able to navigate multiple streaming services to find the show they want. At age 11, I felt like the manager of television programming was a capricious god who delighted in thwarting my viewing desires, so it was a heady feeling of Herculean conquest when I managed to locate a show I wanted to watch.
It was Baloo who taught me the priority of Ontology over Epistemology, but I wouldn’t have known those terms at the time. The plot of the episode (Sheepskin Run, episode 51) was that Baloo needed to go back and get his grade school diploma so that he could attend his class reunion and see his buddies. After failing the final exam by one question, he realizes that he has been marked wrong regarding whether or not certain flora grew in the mountains. Baloo realizes that he has physically seen this species growing in the mountains and so he takes his professor on a death defying airplane ride to show him an actual plant growing where the professor though it could not, and in light of this reality the professor corrects the test and Baloo earns his degree.
This is the old way of thinking. This is science as I understand. This is biblical. The world and everything in it have a nature and our job is to discover and nurture that nature so that it might be fruitful. The sacred writings call this “dominion”. There is a reality which was spoken into existence by God; it is the endeavor of man to search out that reality and better understand it, though his understanding will be limited and, thanks to sin, twisted.
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.
What modern man seems to want is the opposite. Man wants to invent in his mind and then force the world to conform. In the Renaissance this was called magic, and in the 21st century it is called science. My suspicion is that this is what is behind the drive towards a “virtual existence”, where there are no limits at all. Modern man cannot give an answer in words to the most basic questions that our ancestors knew in their souls because modern man refuses to acknowledge that we were created with a nature that, while flexible, is nevertheless fixed. If this episode of Tailspin were to be written today, I wonder if the professor would rather deny reality rather than change his mind.
For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality, and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique.
CS Lewis, the Abolition of Man
Perhaps our refusal to accept that created things have a nature also lies at the heart of our failure to exercise dominion: we break the world around us, and ourselves, because we attempt to impose upon it that which its shoulders are unable to bear. If man exists to serve God and care for His creation, then it follows that abandoning this grand purpose will result in frustration, anger, bitterness, and anxiety. The childlike joy of discovery is largely missing today, even from the world of science, where discovery and laughter have been divorced.
The veneer of intellectual plausibility for all of this is provided by evolution, in which anything can turn into anything given enough time. If what we see now used to be something else, then modern man can feel confident that given enough time and effort, he can turn it into something else completely in the future. In the hands of modern man, dominion looks cruel and without compassion: the created world is his slave to be disposed of at his will. Our physical bodies are sacrificed upon the altar of our will.
The world we live in is organic but also established. Mankind will always be mankind, even if he enters the Metaverse. Men will always be men and women will always be women, regardless of surgeries and hormone blockers. Individuals and even entire generations may get drunk on the wine of some new philosophy and seek out marriages of 3 or 4, but like a rubber band that can only stretch so far, society will return back to the beautiful number of 2. Let all who rage at the heavens despair in this, and let all who bow to heaven’s will rejoice.
It was a year ago that we went in for our first specialist visit to discover the extent of our unborn daughter’s heart condition. Katie was somewhere around 21 weeks and we had just celebrated Christmas. We laid our little girl to rest on March 19, and two weeks ago we were finally able to get her monument set. Here are a few haphazard but sincere thoughts regarding the last year.
We still love the little girl God gave us. We have no memories with her to treasure, no pictures outside of ultrasounds and echocardiograms save the ones taken at the hospital after she was delivered. So it is just raw love anchored in a future hope. We talk about her in heaven and the kids bring her up all the time. It’s amazing to me how real she is to them, even though they never got to meet her. But if Penny were our only child, I would still consider myself a father for the love I have for her.
The Lord alone is a refuge for the day of calamity. Truth led us and Compassion kept us. We were never outside the love and power of our God for a second, so even in that terrible tomb of a hospital room we were safe. Money could not have sustained us. Friends could not have kept us. Only a God who Himself had conquered the sting of death was enough.
Suffering is everywhere. We know so many who this year have lost children through miscarriages. We know so many who have suffered in other ways that are foreign to us. None of us can plant our flag on the island of suffering and claim it for our own. We all live in this sin cursed world and the lie of unique suffering makes fools of those who believe it.
Loss is debilitating. After Penny passed, writing was hard. It had been my- our- way of processing our emotions and sharing our burden with our friends and family. But then it just became hard to write. Or preach. Or go to work. Nothing seemed worth writing about after Penny.
Parents never give up hope. Whether addictions or relationships or health, a parent is usually the last one to give up. We talked to so many doctors and cardiologists and specialists and almost all of them (there was one exception I can think of) tried to convince us that Penny would pass away. And we tried to convince them that she wouldn’t. Does it matter that they were right? Not a bit. I appreciate that they wanted us to be emotionally prepared for her passing, but we wanted them to be medically prepared for her survival. It’s a parent’s job to believe all things, because that’s what love does.
Continuing to live life is not a betrayal of the dead. Laughing at a joke is not a sin. Enjoying a good meal is not a transgression. Playing with my other children is not evil. The people around us do not have to apologize for celebrating births and birthdays. We cannot hold the world hostage to our grief.
The wise build their house to withstand storms. I’ve been very thankful over the last year for our marriage, which has been a source of comfort instead of anxiety. It would have been difficult to repair a relationship while walking through this valley. Deal with problems early and don’t let anything come between you. If you wait to repair your ship until the storm is lashing the harbor it is going to be much harder. Not impossible, but harder.
Everything I learned in Sunday School is true. Well, maybe not quite everything, but the parts that came from the Bible were all true. God is faithful. Trust in the Lord with all your might. Jesus saves. I know it’s a season of society where many are abandoning the faith, but I cannot fathom what they are abandoning it for. “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” (Ps 12:6). God has been faithful and true to His Word.
So here we are, a year later, perched on the edge of the calendar year. The same and yet different. Grieving and yet joyful. Tired but ready for the next thing. And thankful for all your prayers, all your comfort, and all of your love.
It has to be the most unrealistic illustration ever. No one who has been present when a child is born thinks that on any such occasion since the dawn of time would the sudden presence of shepherds bring about joy. Why not throw in a few foreign dignitaries for fun? Nevertheless, this was the last page of the children’s Christmas story that I found myself reading last night.
The actual events of that night were distinct enough without any mythical additions. Perhaps “bizarre” is not quite reverent enough. “Surreal”? Mary and Joseph were caught up in events that spanned the empire and even beyond, for the Creator of the Cosmos was coming as a baby. As if that weren’t enough, it must have seemed to them that events were conspiring to make this birth as difficult as possible. There was no planning the delivery. No nursery awaiting his arrival. No days of rest leading up to the labor of labor. In fact, no decisions were left to Mary and Joseph, leaving them destitute of control. They were only left with faith that this was all happening as it was meant to happen.
Faith is entirely reasonable. I believe this with all my heart. An unreasonable faith is a faith in something that is unreasonable. God – the divine Logos – is wholly Reasonable. The dichotomy of faith and reason is a modern deception. In past ages, those who denied God, or at minimum a god, were the fools. But as we bask in the dying light of the Enlightenment, it is the faith-filled who are derided.
Believing in God is not a leap into the void of darkness; it is a step into the light. Faith is not a desertion of the corporeal for the ephemeral; it is an embrace of the substantial against the claims of reflections. Trust in God gains us Truth over mere “facts”, which are so malleable in the hands of fallen man.
But lately I have been thinking about unreasoning faith, which is different than an unreasonable faith. Can faith remain reasonable while the one expressing the faith is unreasoning? I have come to hope so. There have been too many nights where reason has deserted me. Too many days of being stripped to the core. Too many times when my inner man is reeling like a drunkard.
Even then, I think Reason is present. It is only completely absent in the place of outer darkness. But in these times of sorrow and sickness, Reason paints less in the sharp lines of charcoal and more in the hues of watercolor. These are the moments when Reason is more of a warmth than a syllogism. These are the times when we run unreasoning into the hands of our heavenly Father and trust that – despite all appearances to the contrary – what He has spoken in the light is still true in the dark.
That Bethlehem night was glorious, though Mary and Joseph could not apprehend it. The plan of the ages was coming to pass, though Mary and Joseph could not perceive it. The words of the angel were coming true before their very eyes, although it looked different than what they had anticipated. And so Mary and Joseph simply trusted. They must have wondered, “Can this be right?” And yet they trusted.
Your faith is no less reasonable when Reason seems to have deserted you. In loss, in sickness, in exhaustion and burnout, you can and should still trust, though you may not be able to reason your way to it. It is no less reasonable for your lack of reason. You are simply trusting out of a place where the distinctions between intelligence and affection and desire are beginning to blur. You are trusting like a child. Nothing is more sweet to Heaven than a child-like faith.