Sunday, March 31, 2013

Champagne for Breakfast

I wasn’t intending to write another post today, but I came across this quote from N.T. Wright shared over at the Rabbit Room, and I just had to share it.

Champagne for breakfast, anyone??

Many churches now hold Easter vigils, as the Orthodox church has always done, but in many cases they are…too tame by half. Easter is about the wild delight of God’s creative power…we ought to shout Alleluias instead of murmuring them; we should light every candle in the building instead of only some; we should give every man, woman, child, cat, dog, and mouse in the place a candle to hold; we should have a real bonfire; and we should splash water about as we renew our baptismal vows. Every step back from that is a step toward an ethereal or esoteric Easter experience, and the thing about Easter is that it is neither ethereal nor esoteric. It’s about the real Jesus coming out of the real tomb and getting God’s real new creation under way.

But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

…Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

…we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins…

…if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again—well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative…. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.”

(N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope)

Jesus is Alive!

I’m so thankful today that Jesus was raised and vindicated as the Holy One of God, leaving my sins to rot in the grave. Some resolutions in response:

I intend to live the rest of my life leaving all that is broken, false and corrupt in that tomb. It is the only place fitting for all my filth. I don’t have to carry it anymore! Every day (sometimes every minute) there will be more to bring as an offering to God in this place.

I intend to take up this new life, this new self that was purchased at so high a price but comes to me freely. It is my loved, accepted and forgiven self. The with-God life is the only life worth living.

I will take up this new life and walk into the day with my risen Savior, who will never leave me or forsake me.

In putting off the old self and taking up the new, I am being called by the Lord to let go of clarity, control and comfort (another post on these later, perhaps) and embrace trust, intimacy and obedience.

These texts are forming my response, helping me to practice resurrection:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:8-11 ESV)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is,seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col 3:1-4 ESV)

How will you practice resurrection in the days to come?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday

Jesus is in the tomb. The silence is deafening, the darkness blinding. The brutal chaos of Good Friday gives way to the hollow emptiness of Holy Saturday.

I can only imagine what the disciples were going through, what they were thinking. We get a hint from the two disciples on the Emmaus road when they said, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21 ESV).

How could the disciples pray? What would they pray? Who would they pray to? (assuming their view of God would be deeply shaken in these moments) I imagine they’re paralyzed by the pain and the shock of Friday’s events.

It’s important for Christians to remember and enter into this aspect of Easter weekend as well. Too often Good Friday services are contaminated with premature resurrection. Resurrection is out of place and even harmful if it is the kind that avoids death, or the type that has come through means other than suffering and death. Such “resurrection” is not resurrection at all, but pseudo-resurrection. We are too uncomfortable with pain and unanswered questions, so we rush to the “good news” of Sunday without allowing ourselves to dwell in the “bad news” of Friday. Alan Fadling comments,

Maybe there aren’t many Holy Saturday services (as opposed to early Saturday celebrations of Easter in larger Protestant churches) because we want to feel something: pain or pleasure. Holy Saturday is a day when the disciples live not in the sharp pain, but the dull ache of loss. The grave is, obviously, a lifeless place.

On this Holy Saturday, it may help to think about any places in which you feel lifeless. A hope or dream has died. Zest or gusto for life has waned. Perhaps today you can let these places in your life be buried with Him, resting and waiting for the power of God’s Spirit to raise Him (and you) up. Perhaps today can be the dark backdrop against which the bright joy of Easter stands out.

Let us rest in this Sabbath emptiness and allow the darkness and silence to create space for God. When resurrection comes tomorrow (and it shall come) it will find ample space for the flourishing flood of life from God! Bring all your empty and broken places into this holy darkness with the Son of God. If he will not rise, then neither will we. Let us wait with him.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Father’s Cup

At times I found this recording too much to bear, but it is agonizingly beautiful in laying out the narrative of our Lord Jesus as he paid for our sins on this day so long ago.

I challenge you to take the 23 minutes out to listen to this today. Listen, reflect, repent, and turn with all your being toward this Savior in all love and trust. How can we ever doubt his love again? May his grace toward us not be in vain!

The Father’s Cup: A Crucifixion Narrative

Good Friday

Remember that Jesus died today, for you, for all sinners, for love.

What will you do today to remember what Jesus did? What practices will help you enter into it by faith?

"GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD," John writes, "that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." That is to say that God so loved the world that he gave his only son even to this obscene horror; so loved the world that in some ultimately indescribable way and at some ultimately immeasurable cost he gave the world himself. Out of this terrible death, John says, came eternal life not just in the sense of resurrection to life after death but in the sense of life so precious even this side of death that to live it is to stand with one foot already in eternity. To participate in the sacrificial life and death of Jesus Christ is to live already in his kingdom. This is the essence of the Christian message, the heart of the Good News, and it is why the cross has become the chief Christian symbol. A cross of all things — a guillotine, a gallows — but the cross at the same time as the crossroads of eternity and time, as the place where such a mighty heart was broken that the healing power of God himself could flow through it into a sick and broken world. It was for this reason that of all the possible words they could have used to describe the day of his death, the word they settled on was "good." GoodFriday. (Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Clarity vs. Trust

Mitch McVicker reminded me of this story from the life of Mother Teresa when I was having a conversation with him on the weekend after his Louisville concert. It has lodged itself in my imagination and continues to speak to me during Holy week. Here is how Brennan Manning reports the story in his book Ruthless Trust:

When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at "the house of the dying" in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, "And what can I do for you?" Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.

"What do you want me to pray for?" she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: "Pray that I have clarity."

She said firmly, "No, I will not do that." When he asked her why, she said, "Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of."

When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God."

Craving clarity, we attempt to eliminate the risk of trusting God. Fear of the unknown path stretching ahead of us destroys childlike trust in the Father's active goodness and unrestricted love."

If we could free ourselves from the temptation to make faith a mindless assent to a dusty pawnshop of doctrinal beliefs, we would discover with alarm that the essence of biblical faith lies in trusting God. And, as Marcus Borg has noted, "The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged, the second intrinsically brings change." (quote copied from this page)

By God’s grace, I seek to let go of my “need/demand” for clarity and embrace the life of trust, indeed, the kind of ruthless trust that can only come from the ragamuffin heart.

Evelyn Underhill on the Life of God Within Us

In today’s reading in Lent with Evelyn Underhill, I was greatly encouraged by this passage excerpted from The School of Charity:

“All gardeners know the importance of good root development before we force the leaves and flowers. So our life in God should be deeply rooted and grounded before we presume to expect to produce flowers and fruits; otherwise we risk shooting up into one of those lanky plants which can never do without a stick. We are constantly beset by the notion that we ought to perceive ourselves springing up quickly, like the seed on stony ground; show striking signs of spiritual growth. But perhaps we are only required to go on quietly, making root, growing nice and bushy; docile to the great slow rhythm of life. When we see no startling marks of our own religious progress or our usefulness to God, it is well to remember the baby in the stable and the little boy in the streets of Nazareth. The very life was there present, which was to change the whole history of the human race, the rescuing action of God. At that stage there was not much to show for it; yet there is perfect continuity between the stable and the Easter garden, and the thread that unites them is the hidden Will of God. The childish prayer of Nazareth was the right preparation for the awful prayer of the Cross.

So it is that the life of the Spirit is to unfold gently and steadily within us; till at the last the full stature for which God designed us is attained. It is an organic process, a continuous Divine action; not a sudden miracle or a series of jerks. Therefore there should be no struggle, impatience, self-willed effort in our prayer and self-discipline; but rather a great flexibility, a homely ordered life, a gentle acceptance of what comes to us, and a still gentler acceptance of the fact that much we see in others is still out of our own reach. The prayer of the growing spirit should be free, humble, simple; full of confidence and full of initiative too.

The mystics constantly tell us, that the goal of this prayer and of the hidden life which shall itself become more and more of a prayer, is union with God. We meet this phrase often: far too often, for we lose the wholesome sense of its awfulness. What does union with God mean? Not a nice feeling which we enjoy in devout moments. This may or may not be a by-product of union with God; probably not. It can never be its substance. Union with God means such an entire self-giving to the Divine Charity, such identification with its interests, that the whole of our human nature is transformed in God, irradiated by His absolute light, His sanctifying grace. Thus it is woven up into the organ of His creative activity, His redeeming purpose; conformed to the pattern of Christ, heart, soul, mind and strength. Each time this happens, it means that one more creature has achieved its destiny; and each soul in whom the life of the spirit is born, sets out towards that goal.” (p.98-99)

I resonate with this passage because I have noticed that this is the way God works with and through me more often than not. He brings forth fruit in organic ways, using slow rhythmic processes that are for the most part obscured under the surface. Then, all of a sudden, fruit! The glory goes to God, since such growth cannot be tracked to any of my efforts to establish causality. However, in beautiful balance, this does not equal passivity, but a “spirit . . . [that is] free, humble, simple; full of confidence and full of initiative too.”

I am reminded here of Dallas Willard’s principle of indirection, which he defines as “Activities we engage in that are within our power and enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort, because in this way we meet the action of God (grace) with us, and the outcome is humanly inexplicable.” (taken from “Willard Words”)

What do you think?

Monday, March 25, 2013

One Way Love

I watched this video a few weeks back with amazement at the grace shown towards someone completely undeserving – Mel Gibson (just check out the “controversial remarks” section under his Wikipedia page for examples as to why).

In this clip, Robert Downey Jr. uses his current status and glory as the actor playing Iron Man to make the way for a friend to experience grace again, and it is simply beautiful.

Tullian Tchividjian is writing a book titled “One Way Love,” and in a recent excerpt he comments about this beautiful act.

Mel clearly had no idea about what Downey Jr. was planning to do. And Downey Jr’s tone and demeanor make it very clear that he was not putting himself out there under duress—he did it because he wanted to. His ability and desire to show mercy seems almost directly proportional to his personal experience of it, his firsthand knowledge that he is just as much in need of mercy as “the chief of sinners”. His plea, in other words, was rooted in humility about his own sin and gratitude for the love he has been shown, which asserts itself in kind. Belovedness births love. Grace accomplished what no amount of court-ordered, legal remedies ever could: it created a heart that desires to show mercy to the “least of these.”

Read the rest of the excerpt here. I look forward to the book, as I seek to rest in God’s one way love in Jesus.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Charts on the Book of Hebrews: Book Review

I love charts, especially when dealing with topics that are complex or difficult to understand. Though they run the risk of oversimplification and generalization, the advantage gained by clarity makes the tool well worthwhile. They are ideal for classroom instruction, but for individual use as well, providing content in helpful visual forms. This is even more true with the new series of Charts being put out by Kregel Academic. The latest, put together by Herbert Bateman on Hebrews is the topic of this review.

Having purchased many Chart books put out by other publishers, I expected the same general, basic information on the book of Hebrews. I was indeed surprised by the level of depth and expertise involved in Bateman’s charts! Sometimes simple tools are crafted to convey complex information, and this is one of those times.

There are four parts or sections to the book:

  1. Introductory Considerations in Hebrews
  2. Old Testament and Second Temple Influences in Hebrews
  3. Theology in Hebrews
  4. Exegetical Matters in Hebrews

I have always been drawn to the rich and varied theology found in Hebrews, so I am admittedly most drawn to section 3. I will be returning here often, especially in my ongoing studies and reflections on what the book has to say about the New Covenant in Christ.

Two things unique to this volume (and this may be indicative of the entire series, but this is my first and only exposure to it, so I can’t say for sure) is the survey of positions included in various commentaries on Hebrews. For example, the chart on p. 149 identifies the ways that seven different commentators find and categorize the warning passages in Hebrews. This is immensely helpful to anyone studying the issue. Second, the profuse instances of Greek analysis in these charts provides unusual insight into the Greek text of Hebrews. For example, there is a large chart at the end showing all the Greek words unique to Hebrews.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a review copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Buechner on St. John the Apostle

from his work, Peculiar Treasures:

JOHN WAS A POET, and he knew about words. He knew that all men and all women are mysteries known only to themselves until they speak a word that opens up the mystery. He knew that the words people speak have their life in them just as surely as they have their breath in them. He knew that the words people speak have dynamite in them and that a word may be all it takes to set somebody's heart on fire or break it in two. He knew that words break silence and that the word that is spoken is the word that is heard and may even be answered. And at the beginning of his gospel he wrote a poem about the Word that God spoke.

When God speaks, things happen because the words of God aren't just as good as his deeds, they are his deeds. When God speaks his word, John says, creation happens, and when God speaks to his creation, what comes out is not ancient Hebrew or the King James Version or a sentiment suitable for framing in the pastor's study. On the contrary. "The word became flesh," John says (1:14), and that means that when God wanted to say what God is all about and what man is all about and what life is all about, it wasn't a sound that emerged but a man. Jesus was his name. He was dynamite. He was the Word of God.

As this might lead you to expect, the Gospel of John is as different from the other three as night from day. Matthew quotes Scripture, Mark lists miracles, Luke reels off parables, and each has his own special axe to grind too, but the one thing they all did in common was to say something also about the thirty-odd years Jesus lived on this earth, the kinds of things he did and said and what he got for his pains as well as what the world got for his pains too. John, on the other hand, clearly has something else in mind, and if you didn't happen to know, you'd hardly guess that his Jesus and the Jesus of the other three gospels are the same man.

John says nothing about when or where or how he was born. He says nothing about how the baptist baptized him. There's no account of the temptation in John, or the transfiguration, nothing about how he told people to eat bread and drink wine in his memory once in a while, or how he sweated blood in the garden the night they arrested him, or how he was tried before the Sanhedrin as well as before Pilate. There's nothing in John about the terrible moment when he cried out that God had forsaken him at the very time he needed him most. Jesus doesn't tell even a single parable in John. So what then, according to John, does Jesus do? He speaks words. He speaks poems that sound much like John's poems, and the poems are about himself. Even when he works his miracles, you feel he's thinking less about the human needs of the people he's working them for than about something else he's got to say about who he is and what he's there to get done. When he feeds a big, hungry crowd on hardly enough to fill a grocery bag, for instance, he says, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst" (6:35). When he raises his old friend Lazarus from the dead, he says, " I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (11:25-26). " I am the door," he says, "and if any one enters by me, he will be saved" (10:9). " I am the good shepherd" (10:14), "the light of the world" (8:12), "I am the way, the truth, and the life," he says (14:6) and " I and the Father are one" (10:30).

You miss the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, and Luke of course— the one who got mad and tired and took naps in boats. You miss the Jesus who healed people because he felt sorry for them and made jokes about camels squeezing through the eyes of needles and had a soft spot in his heart for easy-going ladies and children who didn't worry about Heaven like the disciples because in a way they were already there. There's nothing he doesn't know in John, nothing he can't do, and when they take him in the end, you feel he could blow them right off the map if he felt like it. Majestic, mystical, aloof almost, the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel walks three feet off the ground, you feel, and you can't help wishing that once in a while he'd come down to earth.

But that's just the point, of course — John's point. It's not the Jesus people knew on earth that he's mainly talking about, and everybody agrees that the story about how he saved the adulteress's skin by saying, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone" (8:7) must have been added by somebody else, it seems so out of place with all the rest. Jesus, for John, is the Jesus he knew in his own heart and the one he believed everybody else could know too if they only kept their hearts open. He is Jesus as the Word that breaks the heart and sets the feet to dancing and stirs tigers in the blood. He is the Jesus John loved not just because he'd healed the sick and fed the hungry but because he'd saved the world. Jesus as the mot juste of God.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sam Storms on Charismatic Renewal

Dr. Sam Storms is one of my favorite authors and teachers, especially in helping me make sense of strong reformed and charismatic elements in my story with God. His book Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist (2005) was wonderful and very challenging. I highly recommend it.

A recent post on his blog got my attention by being very balanced and wise, so I wanted to share it. Let me know what you think.

Charismatic Renewal: 10 Strengths and Weaknesses

[UPDATE: I forgot I had recorded thoughts back in 2010 after I read Convergence, and thought it pertinent to add those to this post. See post #1 and post #2.]

[UPDATE #2: Sam Storms’ follow-up article that is also excellent, “Charismatic Renewal: 10 Steps for the Way Forward.” I couldn’t agree more with his analysis and prescriptions.]

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: A Book Review

A friend of mine (named Brian) can read Scripture in a way that makes you hungry. He reads God’s Word with the similar level of care and passion that a chef labors over every detail of food in a dish, from preparation to presentation, topping it off with a sensual savoring of the results. My friend has since moved away, but I always can hear him in my mind relishing every word coming across his lips. It makes me want to be a better reader of Scripture too.

This is why I jumped at the chance to review Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture by Dr. Jeffrey Arthurs, Professor of Preaching and Communication at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The book is accompanied by a DVD for illustrative purposes.

It only took a few pages for me to be rewarded, as Arthurs borrows his outline from one of my heroes, Eugene Peterson in Eat This Book, who “compares Scripture reading to preparing, serving and eating a meal in community” (p.11). Arthurs adds to this metaphor wisely by unpacking a doctrine of Scripture that helps build the appetite and invite hearers to the table.

Indeed, this book felt like one half doctrine of Scripture and one half public speaking text. I had not considered all that goes into a public reading of any text, let alone the sacred text of Scripture. My favorite chapter was chapter 6, “Adding Some Spice,” which was a chapter on creative methods. I don’t consider myself a creative guy, so I am amazed at all the possibilities that Arthur includes here! Using a group of readers, using lighting, sound and movement to enhance not only the hearing but understanding and application of the text – these wonderful examples are what makes Arthur’s work so strong and valuable.

The accompanying DVD is very helpful in showing exactly what Dr. Arthurs has in mind with the practices he is describing. I found it helpful (albeit a bit boring) to sit through the examples. Nevertheless, I felt it was an important addition to the book, though not essential (which is really the only negative thing I can think to say of this book!). I found myself saying several times the maxim, “Reading is interpretation,” meaning that the reader communicates a particular type of interpretation by the way a text is read and embodied.

Anyone concerned with a high view of Scripture, particularly in the public life of the church, will welcome and seek to implement the wealth of wisdom that Arthurs provides. One can only imagine what growth in breadth and depth could occur in God’s people if they were more mindful and intentional of the practice of Bible reading! As for me and my house, we will be. I still hear the voice of my friend describing God’s grace through Jesus in a New Testament Epistle with the same care and attention that one might describe eating a bowl of fresh strawberries in the heat of summer. All you can say is, “Yum!”

Thanks to Kregel for a complimentary copy of this book, so that I could give an unbiased review.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Grace in Practice

May we be a people who are so dripping with the grace of Jesus that uptight religious people question our salvation, write us nasty letters and start hate campaigns.

May we be a people who get real with God and others; radically real, as in, “man it stinks in here!” real.

May we be the kind of people who are more offended by our attempts to get it right than all the times we get it wrong.

May we be a people who fight for the margin and freedom that only grace can bring. So often we fight to control chaos and brokenness; to protect what we arbitrarily deem as the “orderly Christian life,” and to stem the tide of anything that would seek to threaten it.

Prepare to be threatened and offended! Click here to hear Steve Brown at Liberate 2013 talking about “Grace in Practice.

It’s amazing. I was offended, broken and ravished by the grace of Jesus. I pray you will be too.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Puppy Training and the Kingdom of God

Watching Cesar Millan’s The Very Best of Dog Whisperer on Netflix I was struck in an episode (episode 6) with a situation very similar to our own - a Beagle puppy that doesn’t respect the house rules. Though the puppy was older and more out of control than our Scout (4.5 months old), I could easily see (and shudder!) many similarities in behavior. As Cheri and I reflected on what we can take away and apply to our situation, I was struck by a series of ideas that have much wider consequences for my life and family beyond whether or not a dog does what we want. What is at stake is nothing less than the further establishment of the Kingdom of God on this planet.

Allow me to tease this out, and please feel free to jump in and dialogue with me!

First, I have to remember that Scout watches the way our “pack” works. If it is operating correctly, then she knows her place and is happily involved in puppy business (eating, playing, sleeping, etc.) and not troubled with whether or not she has to lead. If she is unsure about her place in the pack, she becomes insecure, restless and troublesome. Often a change in discipline (either in kind or consistency) brings her quickly back within the boundaries of sanity. This made me reflect on the relationships in our home, the culture or “aroma” of authority and submission that exists for her to observe. What are we communicating? All our pretense is lost on the dog. She sees us as we really are. We cannot expect her to obey our authority if we don’t respect and submit to one another (in a “chain-of-command” way, children to parents, wife to husband, all to Jesus).

The issue of integrity comes up here. If our family unit has integrity, then Scout will pick up on that and realize her place. She will feel safe and cared for, recognizing that we are all pack leaders above her. If, however, there is dissension and unrest among us I have noticed that Scout picks up on that too, beginning to feel insecure and pushing boundaries to test us. I need to remember that the next time I decide to get angry or frustrated in the home.

Secondly, Scout can be a little bundle of chaos, forcefully exposing what we are trusting in (I have alluded to this in previous posts on Scout – see here and here). In a sense, she is a “life lab” of how we handle difficult situations - with prayer and trust, or through greater attempts at control resulting in increased anger and/or frustration? Control is an illusion, only participation is possible. As apprentices to Jesus (thanks to Dallas Willard for many of the categories I’m throwing about here), we are called to bring order to chaos in our spheres of influence. To winsomely bring order to Scout’s life takes more skill and Spirit-strength than our family currently has. We need Jesus. He is the true dog whisperer (sorry, Cesar) - truly the master of all fields of knowledge including this one (Col 2:3).

Thirdly, Cesar talks a lot about what kind of “energy” we bring to our dogs. “Negative” energy erodes any training efforts, communicating confusion to the dog about their place. What Cesar means by this is the need to know our role and assert it in a calm, firm way that is consistent. This is summarized in the maxim: “I am the boss; you are the dog and I am the human, your master.” This makes me think of how apprentices of Jesus should be the best in the world at this! We have access to all the resources of God and his Kingdom in our inner world; we are free in Christ and his kingdom to be centered and joyfully firm. We do not need affirmation from the dog or from their compliance; we have all we need from Christ. Whether or not the dog obeys us, our standing with God in Christ remains firm. This is the ultimate foundation for a calm and assertive presence in the home.

Further, Cesar’s new-age “naturalism” really only works in dog training if he assumes some truths (=steals capital) from the Christian worldview. Only in the Christian worldview (and more broadly, perhaps, a theistic worldview) is there a Creator/creature distinction necessary to train dogs. Cesar has no intellectual warrant to state that he is “lord” over dogs, but the only way to train them is to assume that we are higher creatures with some role of dominion over them. In the Kingdom of God (=reality), humans are made in the image of God, acting as his rulers over this planet and all the life therein. This gives Christians much greater means and resources to train dogs well, at least in theory.

The curse put on creation by God in Genesis 3 means that puppy training will be hard. What is required is a with-God life of participation, trust and surrender. In fact, the very idea of training is at the heart of both our relationship to Scout and our relationship to Jesus, but obviously in different ways. As we train Scout to be a happy and functioning member of our family, Jesus invites us into a much more complex, happy and holy training as his disciples. Training Scout is a very narrow and shallow glimpse of the training we are invited into by God. Nevertheless, it is a glimpse, and can help us learn to train with Jesus.

I’m convinced more than ever that God sent Scout into our home to more fully establish the Kingdom of God here as a little outpost and beachhead of his rule. I need to learn to see her as an invitation from Jesus to be his apprentice, to do things with his strength, to see things with his vision, and to make choices with his intention and desires in my heart.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Language of Blessing: A Book Review

language of blessing pic

Joseph Cavanaugh III is a life coach who has written an interesting book called The Language of Blessing. In his work coaching people in discovering their God-given dreams, gifts and talents he has accumulated many insights into the process that he imparts to the reader. I will offer a few thoughts on the content with personal reflections, and then review strengths and weaknesses to the book.

The three parts of the book are:

  1. What is the Language of Blessing?
  2. The Barriers to Blessing
  3. Learning to Speak the Language of Blessing

God has planted within each of us a creative genius that is unique to us and can only be developed and expressed as we live in our true selves and turn away from what Cavanaugh calls the “cycles of false identity” (p.74ff). Through self-awareness, relational interaction and taking assessments (like Strengths Finder from Gallup) we can learn what our unique gifts and talents are and begin to move in them as we relate to others.

Living falsely (trying to be someone or something we aren’t) and not hearing the blessing from our family of origin are two obstacles that we face in learning our unique contribution to the world.

Personally, I was eager to read this book because I seem to be in a season of returning to questions having to do with my purpose in the world and in the church. Though some of what I encountered was disappointing, I resonated with the author in several key ways. Like the author, I did not receive the “blessing” growing up, and feel like much of my adult life has been spent in search of it. I appreciated the honesty that Cavanaugh displayed in discussing his own story.

Further, his discussion of “false identity” reminded me of the work I have done in going after (with the Spirit’s help) my false selves that prevent me from receiving and giving the love of God.

I also appreciated his discussion on how we as parents can bless our children so that they are free to live out of the scripts given them by God and not a script that we impose on them.

My chief criticism of the book has to do with what felt like the lack of depth in the material. Specifically, I was hoping for a much deeper biblical understanding of blessing in the story of God and how it affects our lives through Christ and his Cross. For example, blessing is a huge theme in the Abrahamic covenant.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV)

This blessing comes to us through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:7-8). How does this redemptive blessing relate to the creational blessing that Cavanaugh talks about? I would have loved to see this teased out and developed.

Further, the “barriers” to blessing section had no discussion of sin (that I can recall), which surely is the greatest obstacle to blessing in both the redemptive and creational realms.

Cavanaugh puts a little too much stock (I think) in the taking of assessments in discovering one’s unique gifting. They are one helpful element, but just one piece of a redemptive relational pie.

Overall, the book is a helpful conversation starter, but not the deep resource I was hoping for.

Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Returning to Trust

A little gem from Henri Nouwen today:

In my own life I well know how hard it is for me to trust that I am loved, and to trust that the intimacy I most crave is there for me. I most often live as if I have to earn love, do something noteworthy, and then perhaps I might get something in return.

This attitude touches the whole question of what is called in the spiritual life, the "first love." Do I really believe that I am loved first, independent of what I do or what I accomplish? This is an important question because as long as I think that what I most need I have to earn, deserve and collect by hard work, I will never get what I most need and desire, which is a love that cannot be earned, but that is freely given.

Thus, my return is my willingness to renounce such thoughts and to choose to live more and more from my true identity as a cherished child of God.

Excerpt from From Fear to Love: Lenten Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, by Henri J.M. Nouwen