Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So Many Books!

An Inkling
So many books – so little time!  How do you choose what to read? 
We read for many reasons – entertainment, keeping current, and education being among them.  As Christians, some of our reading is intentionally spiritual.  That is, we engage in the discipline of study to fortify our faith with a growing understanding.  God can certainly use Time magazine or a popular novel to inform us.  But given the “so little time” reality, it makes sense to be intentional about one’s spiritual study.  How do you do that?
I would offer three suggestions.  Start with the Bible.  It is totally unique in its authority, reliability, depth, and relevance.  Find some patterns of daily reading that work for you.  It’s absolutely crucial for Christian formation.
Second, make a plan.  Rather than just picking up the latest best seller – Christian or otherwise – make a list of books or authors that you would like to cover in the next ten years.  It’s fine to read some at random, but again, given “so little time,” it’s well to make a plan.  You’ll be surprised by how many you can cover in ten years.  As you plan, get some counsel on authors who are worthy of your time.  Ask the well-formed Christians you know what authors have shaped them.  Then form your list according to your own passions and hunger to learn.  You’ll read more of what you really want to read than you will read of what you think you ought to read.
Third, give special attention to those authors that you find most deeply nurturing.  It’s well to read broadly, but it’s also well to read several worthy authors deeply.  When you read virtually everything by a single author, you are shaped not just by the topic of a particular book, but by his or her whole frame of thought.  As I survey my shelves I realize that I’ve done this not so much by design, as I have by naturally returning to those authors who most deeply fed me through the years:  Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, John Wimber, C.S. Lewis, John Claypool, and Tom Smail.  Many other authors have shaped me with a book or two, but these are the authors to which I’ve eagerly returned time and again, and thus through whom large parts of my thought patterns have been formed.  Who is that for you?
What a feast of possibilities!  Where will you start?
Happy reading,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Faithing It Together

An Inkling
Once I was leading the Apostles’ Creed in worship, and got lost in the middle somewhere.  Suddenly I was “descending into hell” while everyone else was “rising on the third day!”  And since my voice was the one on the microphone it caused a bit of confusion.  Gratefully the congregation regained its verbal stride and kept right on going.  At the creed’s conclusion I apologized for misleading them, and expressed my gratitude that at least they knew what they believed!
We all have times when we stumble, and not just in the creed, but in our faith and in life itself.  It may be one of those times when an imponderable question gets the best of us – “why would this good person have to suffer?”  Or it may be a time when our feelings have been hurt, or we have allowed our relationship with the Lord to grow cold, or we find God not answering a heart-felt prayer in the way we asked.  The possibilities for stumbling are many.
Thank God for partners in the faith!  When I stutter another speaks clearly; when I stumble another takes hold of my arm and keeps walking, and eventually I regain my stride.  Each of us speaks the creed in the first person singular, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…”  But along side of us another speaks the same creed, and another, and another.  So it’s not just “I believe,” but “we believe.”  Such is the gift of God:  faith to believe, and believers with whom we “faith” our stumbling times.
And now let us affirm our faith…

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Found in Contempt

An Inkling
We’ve all been horrified by the violent outburst in Tucson.  God bless the survivors with healing and the grieving with comfort.
It’s amazing how quickly horror morphed into accusations, as political pontificators blame the violence on their opponents’ strident rhetoric.  However tenuous the connection in any particular instance, it’s hard to argue against a reasoned call to tone down the stridency.  Yet that won’t get to the root of the problem.  At best it treats a symptom, and just for a season.
Jesus went deeper.  You’ll find him diagnosing our malady in Matthew 5:21-22.  You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder,” and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.”  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you say “you fool” you will be liable to the hell of fire. 
As they say, with Jesus the heart of the matter is always a matter of the heart.  And he diagnoses the underlying cause of both verbal and physical violence as a heart condition, namely the contempt we have for each other.  The shooter held Rep. Giffords in contempt, and the various voices now casting blame obviously hold each other in contempt.  And since I was holding both the shooter and the blame casters in contempt, I realized that Jesus’ words had found me in contempt as well.  It must be contagious!
Jesus matches his in-depth diagnosis with an in-depth cure.  He doesn’t just tell us to play nicely.  Rather he took our contempt upon himself, both literally and effectively.  The contempt of the religious leaders and crowds that screamed “crucify him” led to just that – he was crucified.  He thereby bore their contempt (and ours) on the cross.  And therein lies the hope of our cure.  Having found us in contempt he saves us from contempt by taking our contempt upon himself.
Which means that for the first time in a long, long time – since Adam and Eve! – we can actually live without contempt.  But only through Jesus.  Though he finds us in contempt, he doesn’t hold us in contempt.  Indeed he frees us!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

We'll See

An Inkling
Have you heard?  Jesus is returning in 2011.  A radio preacher named Harold Camping and his followers have determined a specific day for the return, May 11, along with a  date for the world’s end, October 21.  So says their website, wecanknow.com.  And just to make sure that the news gets out, they’re buying billboards and issuing press releases.
To which I believe the best answer is, “We’ll see.”  The easy thing to do is mock them, as many already are.  Leno and Letterman will have a comedic feeding frenzy.  The repeated failures of such predictions across the centuries make Camping and crew an easy mark.  Indeed, Mr. Camping predicted 1994 the last time around. 
In addition to the secular snickers, most Christian people are also rolling their eyes, and hope to distance themselves from the contrived biblical interpretations that lead to such calendaring.  That’s understandable.  We try to present our faith with intellectual clarity and credibility.  Thus we draw back from biblical interpretations which lack both, and pray that Christ’s claims will be taken seriously even when many who use his name cannot be.
Back to the best answer to such claims:  “we’ll see.”  That is actually one of the Bible’s clear promises about Christ’s return:  when he returns we’ll see him (Mt. 24:30, etc).  We won’t miss it.  We will see!  The other clear promise (despite the claims of  wecanknow.com) is that we won’t know ahead of time when he is coming (Mt. 24:36, etc).  So when someone claims to know a date, knowing full well that we don’t know the date ourselves, our best answer is, “we’ll see.”
And in the meantime, we will live as those who know that Mr. Camping and company may well have put the day too far off!  What if Jesus comes today?  How will you live for him knowing that he might?  That’s the pursuit which brings both clarity and credibility to our faith.
We’ll see,