Category: Gospel and Culture

The Fundamental Mistake of Questioning God

We think that God is an object about which we have questions. We are curious about God. We make inquiries about God. We read books about God. We get into late-night bull sessions about God. We drop into church from time to time to see what is going on with God. We indulge in an occasional sunset of symphony to cultivate a feeling of reverence for God.

But that is not the reality of our lives with God. Long before we ever got around to asking questions about God, God had been questioning us. Long before we got interested in the subject of God, God subjected us to the most intensive and searching knowledge. Before it ever crossed our minds that God might be important, God singled us out as important. Before we were formed in the womb, God knew us. We are known before we know.

This realization has a practical result: no longer do we run here and there panicked and anxious, searching for the answers to life. Our lives are not puzzles to be figured out. Rather we come to God, who knows us and reveals to us the truth of our lives. The fundamental mistake is to begin with ourselves and not God. God is the center from which all life develops…We enter a world we didn’t create. We grow into a life already provided for us…If we are going to live appropriately, we must be aware that we are living in the middle of a story that was begun and will be concluded by another. And this other is God…

My identity does not begin when I begin to understand myself. There is something previous to what I think about myself and it is what God thinks of me. That means that everything I think and feel is by nature a response, and the one to whom I respond is God.

I never speak the first word. I never make the first move.

~ Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses

What 40 Years of Marriage Can Do for Kids

We piled into the small suv with my brother, Luke, and sister-in-law, Miranda. The “in-law” part feels artificial when you really are family. We pointed the car east, to Aggieland, for a rendezvous with my other brother and sister-in-law, Ben and Megan, and my parents. The Saturday afternoon laid open before us, like an unfurling map, winding our way through conversation, high and low, blind to our surroundings. A few conversational lulls afforded my the opportunity to rehearse my speech. I really wanted these words to count, to land in the heart.

We all converged, from the east and the west, at Madden’s casual gourmet. Open wooden rafters, well-worn wood plank floors, and twenty foot ceilings. Ben, Megan, Mom, and Dad were already there, at the table, waiting for us. After a barrage of hugs and smiles we all sat down to celebrate my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary. Conversation zipped along the runway and we were off, traveling the airways of children, parenting, theology, church, and marriage.

We paused in the gaiety to reflect on the grace flowing from my parents’ four decade commitment. Parental marriages carry incalculable influence. I knew it was photoimpossible to estimate the impact of their mutual, spilling over love, but I had to get some of it out. Growing up, you have no idea how much your parent’s relationship affects you. You take it for granted. Occasionally you will compare or contrast it to others, but very often it is simply the water you swim in. You take in the good and the bad and just keep swimming. Upon reflection, I knew there were things I needed to surface with them.

First, thank you for your fidelity and friendship for forty years. We have watched your marital love and commitment strengthen, through thick and thin, and we have benefited. I have carried the example right into my own marriage. My wife is my best friend. My parents love life. They enjoy European culture, love struggling souls through deep brokenness, and give from a place of generous, mutual love. This love has been tested. We watched them fight as we grew. It wasn’t a plastic marriage with flaws hidden, it was real, deep, and always moving towards the Redeemer. Many people can’t look to their parents as an example of fidelity and friendship, but I can, and I am grateful.

Second, thank you for loving the church as a family when the church was hard to love. Growing up we had some weird and good church experiences, but one thing that is fixed in my memory is that church went beyond the walls, walked beyond the Sunday service, and ate leisurely together. Looking back, I realize that I have a foundation for church as a family from my parents pursuit of people outside of programs, events, groups, and services. They loved their friends. We would drive out into the country and enjoy home-cooking, run the rural fields, go fishing, all on a Sunday afternoon, with the church, with people who were utterly changed by Jesus. My parents could have understandably turned their backs on “the church”; they were hurt, snubbed, misunderstood, but deep down they knew that is all part of being an imperfect family, and that the galvanizing element isn’t mutual love but a singular love, the outpouring of the life and grace of Christ.

Third, thank you for praying this for each of your children for years and years: 

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 4)

Man, did I test that prayer request. We all did in our own ways–struggles with greed, skepticism, and sex. The deceitful siren call wooed us more than once, and I walked pretty far from the truth, from enjoying the love and grace of my Savior more than any other love or grace in this world. But they prayed me through. My parents plead with God that their son would leave the pig sty and come home, and they were there, every single time, running to meet me in the street, arms wide open. I dirtied their clothes in my embrace, and they didn’t even care. They were just happy their lost son had come home, that God the Father had answered their prayer, their son, now a very imperfect but committed disciple, is walking the truth, the truth of the gospel of God’s marvelous grace.

Thank you Mom and Dad, for praying us all into the truth, into Christ. We love you. We carry an intuitive inheritance of marital friendship, fidelity, and more than I realized, a model for loving the church as a family. There are more riches here than we will ever know. We stand on a heap of refined gold, may we follow your generous gift, may each of our children walk in the truth, may the graces cascade even more, from the Father, Son, and Spirit, through our marriages, onto our children, through the church, and out into the world.

Books I’m Reading for Fun

Run with the Horses (Peterson) – a book on character, endurance, and faith through Eugene Peterson’s reflections on the prophet Jeremiah. A favorite quote:

“We have so much more experience in sin than in goodness that a writer has far more imaginative material to work with in presenting a bad character than a good person.”

MaddAddam (Atwood) – I’ve been an avid Atwood fan for years. In addition to good writing, and bits of sic-fi, Atwood always weaves in thick descriptions and philosophical reflection. This book is the third and final volume in the series. My favorite in the series was the first, Oryx and Crake.

Survival of the Prettiest (Etcoff) – a fascinating study of beauty, compiling disturbing statistics on self-improvment beauty, while exploring various answers to the question: “Why do we desire beauty?” Her answer is ultimately shaped by Darwinism. We desire beauty because it ensures procreation. This, of course, does not account for our longing for non-sexual beauty.

The Pastors Justification (Wilson)- an edifying read for any pastor or leader, but perhaps equally important for the church to read in order to understand and help their pastors thrive and serve the church well.

Here are three Quotes I pulled from it.

The Man in the Black Hat (Klosterman) – a curious exploration of what makes a villain evil, and what makes evil bad, through the unorthodox writing and pop culture reflections of Chuck Klosterman

 

Gravity: A Brief Review

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Gravity is so superbly shot you will walk away needing a massage. At times I felt like I was floating, then spinning, but for most of the time just tense. And I do mean just. Tendons strain and muscles tighten under moments of intensity only to release a feeble message. The actors handle the script like pros. Clooney and Bullock were believable, and unbelievable when need be. It’s a classic case of a mile wide and inch deep messaging. So for the wide-ranging exploration of our raison d’ etre, Alfonso Cuaron gets a nod. He covers a lot of space in the human exploration for meaning in life.

Curaon gives us a stunning view of the earth. The sunrise, the silence, and burning urban towers that dot our geography, paint a gorgeous backdrop for the film. In a film about space, the earth takes up an awful amount of space, and I am grateful. These shots endeared me to our remarkable planet, to its beauty and diversity and uniqueness. All this comes to a screeching halt, when Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) collides with a series of obstacles. She runs gamut of coping solutions as she encounters trial after trial. Humor, human connectedness, anger, sorrow, resolve, and spirituality. While searching her soul in a moment of clarity, she remarks “I’ve never prayed. Nobody every taught me to pray.” If that’s not a call for evangelism, I don’t know what is. We get a darting glance at a couple deities–Buddha and Jesus–but Ryan moves quickly past God to her deceased daughter.

Interestingly, she recognizes the need for a mediator to talk to her daughter, presumably because she is with God or in heaven of some sort. Her choice isn’t someone who can bridge the chasm between God and man–the Christ–but her late friend and astronaut, Matt Kowalksi. She asks him to tell her daughter that she loves her, and that she found the red shoe she was looking for under the couch. It is touching, and anyone who has lost a child will be able to identify with the longing to have one last word. Isn’t is curious that her Matt-mediated prayer she mixes the mundane and the profound–a shoe and love? What a great reminder to cherish the mundane moments with our children, to love them in the ordinariness of legos and lost shoes.

Moving on from the past and into the present, Bullock forces her way through each obstacle with tremendous will power. She battles each demon with fierceness of spirit and determination to “have one hell of a ride.” Matt’s voice seems to prod her on to survive, and survive she does. One of the closing shots says it all, a forceful foot in the mud, bearing the weight of her tense and wobbly, gravity-ridden body, she sticks her landing to put two square feet on the ground. I made it. You  can do it. We will survive. However you want to say it, the film is a cinematic beauty, tense thriller, and an ode to the human will to survive. Unfortunately, it is vaporous on why we should will ourselves through this life. There is no fixed truth, no depth of contact with the divine, no summit of human purpose. But to its credit, many of these issues are raised, and in an age of comfort, distraction, and hype, that’s much more than we are used to.