“See how he loved him!”

Christians believe that Jesus is completely God and completely human. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Sometimes we forget his humanity and can be overly focused on his deity. But in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel according to John, we see that Jesus had a friend named Lazarus.  

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are an adult trio of siblings who live in a village in Palestine called Bethany. And when Lazarus gets sick, the sisters send word to Jesus saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” No further specification. No name drop. Jesus knows who they’re talking about. Lazarus is the one whom Jesus loves. Does that mean that Jesus didn’t love everybody? Of course not! But Jesus has a special love for Lazarus because Lazarus is his friend.  

Shockingly, Jesus doesn’t go immediately to heal him, however. He waits two days to leave because he loves Lazarus and his sisters (see v6). Then he tells his disciples that “our friend” Lazarus has fallen asleep (meaning, he is dead). And Jesus and the disciples go back into the territory of Judea, where Bethany is, and the disciples think this is a suicide mission because the religious leaders are looking everywhere for Jesus, to arrest and/or kill him.  

Martha meets Jesus when they enter Bethany and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v21). Rather than correcting this, he starts to talk about the hope of the resurrection. Christianity, like the Jewish soil it grew out of, believes in the resurrection of the dead. The dead will not stay dead. Death does not have the final word. Everything sad will come untrue, as Tolkien has Samwise hope for in The Return of the King. And Jesus says not only is there a final day of the resurrection, but that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that belief in him will produce life, even if death comes (v25-26).  

Then Mary joins them and says the same thing Martha did (which must’ve stung a little bit): “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You could’ve stopped your friend from dying, Jesus. You could’ve spared this family pain! Why didn’t you?  

Jesus is overwhelmed by all the sorrow and grief and v33 says that he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Jesus, the God-man, 100% divine, is on the verge of breaking down because his friend, whom he loved, is dead. And when he sees the tomb where Lazarus is buried, he loses it. 

Verse 33: “Jesus wept.”  

In just six verses, Jesus will resurrect Lazarus. He will undo death in a preview of his own resurrection and a picture of the hope of everyone who believes in Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life. So why did Jesus cry for Lazarus? Jesus knew what he was going to do. Jesus knew he was going to have his friend back. He knew he was about to give Mary and Martha their brother back. So why weep over something that is going to be fixed in a few moments? 

He cried because his friend had died. Lazarus was not one of his disciples. Jesus didn’t have any obligation to teach him or care for him as a traveling rabbi with his student. But he had committed himself to Lazarus in love. He had glued his soul to his friend like David and Jonathan, like Ruth and Naomi. And when Lazarus died, a little bit of Christ’s humanity died with him. Emotionally, Jesus was wrecked by this and it’s entirely right that he was. That’s what a loving friendship does.  

Even in sight of the coming hope, Jesus wept. The Resurrection and the Life wept over the death of his friend. Jesus had entrusted his heart to Lazarus. He had made himself vulnerable when he chose to love his friend. And this opened him up to pain. 

C.S. Lewis talks about this sort of process: 

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 

To love is to be vulnerable. And Christ become more vulnerable than anyone could when he went to the cross for his friends. “Greater love has no one that this- that he lay down his life for his friends.” That’s what Jesus says in John 15:13. And that’s what Christ has done for us. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, the proverb says, and no other wounds are more sure to be trusted in than those inflicted on Christ for our sake.  

Christ’s wounds displayed his love for us. If he had not died for us, we would’ve come to absolute ruin in hell. But he makes us his friends when we place our faith in his death and resurrection on our behalf. And we imitate Jesus’ model of friendship by making ourselves vulnerable, even to pain, when we love our friends (even unto death). 

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Thanksgiving When Your Backyard is on Fire

25mph winds brought down power lines in our backyard yesterday. One line sliced through a dead tree near our yard like a lightsaber, bringing flaming wood down into the yard. Leaves that the winds has collected against the fence were the perfect kindling.

My wife (who is much better in a crisis than I am) called me from work to inform me about these goings on before calling 911. I rushed home from work to find first responders calming going about the business of containing the fire (which was actively spreading to the neighbor’s property.

Our dog had been sniffing around the first downed power line before Joanna saw the situation and called her in. An officer later told me that line had enough voltage to vaporize on contact. In other words, we could’ve easily lost our pup, but we didn’t. Something to be thankful for.

Joanna just happened to be off from work and home with our son when she saw the lines coming down. If she hadn’t been there to call emergency services, who knows how quickly the fire would’ve spread in the high winds. No one was hurt and our home didn’t burn. Something to be thankful for.

As a result of the downed lines, we lost power to the house. My in-laws took us in while my dad and brother took turns taking care of the dog while we were away. And I’m told we have power again. Family is something to be thankful for.

As a nice cherry on top, my parents gave me my late Grandmom’s typewriter and I am loving it. Grace to be thankful for.

Not every year brings something as dramatic as a fire on Thanksgiving eve. But every morning does bring new mercies, should we have eyes to see them. Wishing you and yours a very happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Stealing Into Another’s Soul

What Do We Do With This?

In the Old Testament, David and Jonathan had a type of relationship that we moderns don’t quite know what to do with. A passionate friendship that surpasses the love of women? Surely there must be some sort of suppressed romance between the lines. But such an interpretation tells us more about ourselves than it does the characters in the narrative. What would it mean for our culture (in which men are so starved for touch and embrace) to come to grips with the possibility of male friendship that was deeply and chastely satisfying?

I’m not sure we would know what to do with it. We certainly don’t know what to do with it when we see it on the page or the screen. It’s exhausting watching Hollywood fumble around with something as deep and necessary as male friendship, dressing it up as eros beyond recognition. Both David and Jonathan married women. They burned for the opposite sex and their love for one another was of a stronger stuff than what they had in bed with their wives. And the amazing thing is that it was completely devoid of romance with one another.

So what are we to make of the Bible’s unblushing appreciation of a man’s love for his friend? It is not the Bible that is backwards and regressive. Rather, it seems that it is we that need to update our view of friendship. Compared to the honest and unflinching approach to human relationships, we have categorized everyone as a potential resource. A male friend is a “bro” or a wingman, a means to an end. When guys can transcend this template of machismo and find a kindred spirit in another mind, that is when the possibility of covenant friendship becomes real.

Men’s Men

It’s refreshing to me that the biblical archtypes of male friendship (David and Jonathan) are also quintessentially men. They are kingly warriors and hunters with the shared heart of a poet. Aristotle famously defined friendship as one soul inhabiting two bodies. Living centuries before the philosopher, we see these two great men embodying that ideal. What does that mean for us today? What, if anything, can we learn from the friendship of this prince and this future king?

Masculinity is compassionate. When Jonathan dies, David laments in 2 Samuel 1 that his love for Jonathan was “extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.” That is a depth of feeling to which few males can attest, and yet the Bible includes it at the very beginning of a book. It is held up as exemplary manhood. Perhaps we’ve only recently lost this ease of familiarity, but there’s hope we can find it again.

Masculinity is loyal. Their friendship was a brotherhood. It exceeded the family ties of clan and kin. It was such a powerful bond that Jonathan kept David alive, even in the face of the wrath of his own father, King Saul.

Masculinity is brave. To be loyal in their capacities and in their context, with death as a very real danger, required a steeled resolve to hold onto that friendship regardless of consequences. Friendship in the face of death is friendship with the weight of truth behind it. Fair-weather friends do not usually risk their own blood for one another.

A Monk’s Evaluation

Aelred of Rievaulx was a 12th century English monk who literally wrote the book on spiritual friendship. In the last of Aeldred’s dialogues on friendship, he discusses the outline of its progression. Friendship (like that of Jonathan and David) rests upon the foundation of God’s love. It begins, he says, with “he whom reason urges should be loved because of the excellence of his virtue steals into the soul of another by the mildness of his character and the charm of a praiseworthy life.”

Storing aside the lovely phrase “charm of a praiseworthy life”, let’s move on. Aelred then says that spiritual friendship passes through four stages:

  1. Choice (“electio”)
  2. Testing (“probatio”)
  3. Admission (“admissio”)
  4. The greatest agreement in things divine and human, with a certain love and goodwill.

But, the monk cautions, not all are likely to become “the companion of your soul, to whose spirit you join and attach yours, and so associate yourself that you wish to become one instead of two, since he is one to whom you entrust yourself as to another self, from whom you hide nothing, from whom you fear nothing.”

This has to be possible for more than just two Bronze Age warriors and a Celtic monk. Men charmed by the praiseworthy lives of other men, from whom they have nothing to hide or fear? I think it can be recaptured. And perhaps it begins with a bit of courage on our part. The courage to be charmed by a praiseworthy life is a good starting point.

Ruth and Naomi

Only the Lonely

Loneliness is an American epidemic. Just a couple of weeks ago, Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times wrote about this. According to his research, a fourth of Americans live alone. That means that almost 82,000,000 people are lonely. That staggers me. Loneliness can be a factor in failing health and early death. Several countries are trying to fix the problem. Britain even has a minister for loneliness to offer societal alternatives to feeling alone.

Anecdotally, I know this is a problem in the American evangelical church as well. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve recommended or given away Vaughan Roberts’ little book. And, I’m happy to say, the Bible actually has some wonderful examples of deep and abiding friendships. Perhaps, if these stories were imitated, the Church could begin to model something helpful to the culture. The picture of friendship in Scripture shows me that it is at least possible.

I want to spend some time on this blog talking about friendship, both in the Bible and in the careful meditations of Christians over the last 2,000 years. Christianity has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to resources that can combat loneliness. I’d like to explore a fraction of them and see if this can be of help.

A Tale of Woe

The book of Ruth might be one of the greatest love stories ever told, but it’s not a romantic love story. Or, at least, it’s not mainly a romantic love story. It begins with and is sustained by the love between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law. 

A man from Bethlehem leaves his homeland of Judah because there’s a famine. He takes his wife, Naomi, and his two sons and they seek refugee status within the land of Moab. The narrator tells us that Ruth was written “in the days when the judges ruled,” referring to the book of Judges. At that point in Israel’s history, there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. And in those days, Moab was a constant threat to Israel.  

While Naomi and her husband are in Moab, the husband dies. Naomi’s two sons take Moabite wives and then, a decade later, both of her two sons die. This family is acquainted with grief. One of the wives, Orpah, goes back to her people, but Ruth, the wife of Naomi’s other son, decides to stays with Naomi. She goes back to Bethlehem with her and commits to love her mother-in-law unconditionally.  

The rest of the story is a beautiful story about Boaz, the man who redeems (buys) their land and marries Ruth to keep both Ruth and Naomi from coming to utter ruin. But take some time to read Ruth 1:6-18

Stuck on You

In verse 14, notice that Ruth “clung” to Naomi. It’s the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:24 to describe a man “clinging” to his wife or in Prov.18:24, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend that clings or sticks closer than a brother.” It’s to be voluntarily glued together in love. This is super glue friendship.  

By gluing herself to Naomi, Ruth also glued herself to God. “Your God shall be my God.” This almost looks like wedding vows! One writer called this a “wedded friendship.” But it’s committed, God-honoring friendship. And it’s deeper than most relationships we come across today that parade as “friendship.” 

Ruth was voluntarily committing to Naomi across ethnic lines, cultural boundaries, religious differences, and clan ties. There’s no real reason for Ruth to stay with Naomi. There’s nothing in it for her. There’s no obligation. We can’t really blame Orpah for heading back home to what’s familiar. It  was reasonable for her to go back to your biological mother and your home culture. But Ruth commits in love and friendship to her vulnerable mother-in-law and stays with her.  

A Christmas Friendship

Before we leave this amazing commitment between Ruth and Naomi, look at the last chapter of Ruth. In 4:18-22, we read about Ruth’s son, Obed. Obed was King David’s granddad. Ruth was David’s great-grandmom. And 27 generations after David, who was born? Jesus Christ, lying in a manger. 

Ruth was a foreigner, someone who had nothing to do with the God of Israel, and now she’s forever enshrined in the genealogy and ancestry of Jesus Christ. Why? She glued herself to Naomi. As one scholar said, “Here, friendship is seen as the means by which the Davidic line is established.”  

At the risk of overstating what is admittedly not the main point of the text,  you never know how God is going to use the friendships that you have. The Messiah of the world obviously isn’t going to be the byproduct of your friendships because that already happened, but God has shown over and over through the course of history that he delights in using friendships to change the world, sometimes centuries downstream.  

One last note: what was Ruth doing when she was clinging to Naomi in 1:14? She was weeping with her. Orpah kissed her, showing respect and affection. But Ruth clung to her and they wept. Friend-love is a call to weep with those who weep, to enter into the suffering of another person, to bear another’s burdens. When they hurt, you hurt. That is the natural, emotional reaction of true friendship. Friendship, on the Christian understanding, is all about giving up yourself for the sake of others, dying to yourself so that you might put the interests of others ahead of your own.  

That’s what Christ did for us, after all.

The Beekeeper

I was a beekeeper once. The technical term is apiarist, but we answer to beekeeper as well. I set up my starter hive in the backyard by the creek. It was far enough from the house, but the dog had to learn a few tough lessons. Keep Benadryl on hand.

I landed on Italian honeybees for my first hives. They’re like fuzzy little cows. Very docile and calm. Great producers. A “nuc” colony, I felt, was a good choice to start off. A nucleus colony is four to five frames of brood and bees, plus an actively laying queen. I suggest you buy from a local source. It’s less stressful on the bees with respect to traveling.

Probably the best part about beekeeping was the clothing. You get to dress like a very low-budget astronaut. You always wear the veil. Always. You’re dealing with up to 60,000 of those little girls. You just don’t want to risk it. Gloves and pants that you can tuck in are also essential.

Beekeeping was tough. There’s a lot of hard work before you can see a return that makes it all worth it. And if you’re in the suburbs, there’s only so much expansion you can enjoy before you run into zoning laws and other nonsense.

But all in all, I enjoyed it. Even if it was only in my imagination as I considered it for twenty-four hours. I had a blast conquering my crippling fear of flying insects that sting through the power of fantasy and thought experiment. Nothing’s actually changed, of course. Maybe some day, when I’m old and grey and my nerve endings have numbed, I’ll take it up for real. But for now, I’ll enjoy my honey sans its producers and run like a frightened rabbit if one of them gets too close.

Armed With Steele

Andrew Peterson (whose new book on creativity is out and amazing) has spoken about art as a blending together of honesty, beauty, and truth. If you put together honesty and truth without much thought for beauty, you get most of what passes for Christian music on the radio. If you have honesty and beauty, but no clear expression of the truth, you get something like Coldplay or Brian Fallon. When you get all three, you get someone like Rich Mullins. But when, Peterson says, when you have truth and beauty, but no honesty, the result is most hymns.

Now, on principle, I suppose I would’t disagree too much. But two of my favorite hymnists break that rule. Perhaps they are the Rich Mullins (Mullinses?) of hymnody: William Cowper (pronounced “cooper”) and Anne Steele.

 “Dear Refuge of my weary soul, 
On thee, when sorrows rise, 
On thee, when waves of trouble roll, 
My fainting hope relies. 
But O! when gloomy doubts prevail, 
I fear to call thee mine; 
The springs of comfort seem to fail, 
And all my hopes decline.”

That’s a hymn by Anne Steele. Sandra McCracken has popularized it, but Kevin Twit of Indelible Grace has really been at the forefront of bringing her poetry back into the conversation (let alone adding incredible music to her words). You can read about her life here. But the lines of her hymns have been such honey and moonlight for me because they combine honesty, beauty, and truth in a way that speaks to the wreck that I am.

How oft, alas, this wretched heart
Has wandered from the Lord,
How oft my roving thoughts depart,
Forgetful of his word!
Yet sovereign mercy calls, “Return!”
Dear Lord, and may I come?
My vile ingratitude I mourn;
O take the wanderer home.

That’s a Tuesday for me. My prayers are usually some inelegant, muttered version of “O take the wanderer home.” I wander often. My heart is a rover. And yet the unstoppable love that keeps me from going off the cliff calls me back. Even in my “vile ingratitude,” he calls me back because I am his.

She knows what it’s like to have a fainting hope and to breathe sorrows. She teaches me to ask of God, “Unveil thy beauties to my sight that I might love thee more.” I hope you can find her on Spotify or Pandora or wherever you get your earfood.

If you’re walking through this world, it’s nice to be armed with Steele.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

Last night, I had the worst dream about you.
You decided I wasn't worth the pain.
And like a ship that couldn't wreck, I tried 
To strain against the waves of black and blue.
I just remember screaming through the rain
As you crept back into the tomb and died.
And as your lungs stopped moving, I sunk down
Beneath a freezing sea. But there were none
Now left to lend a saving hand, to drown
The fear. No Spirit to leave death undone.And so we lay there, you, under the ground,And me, under the ocean's depth around
My head. And the salt of my tears became
The sea. We'll have to re-brand and rename.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…”

I wrote this sonnet today. It’s in iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme:

ABC ABC DEDE FF GG

The lopsided structure of the 14 lines gives it a disorienting feel with rhymes you would expect. That’s intentional to the subject. I’ve always been fascinating by Paul’s playing of the “what if” game in 1 Corinthians 15. If Christ is still dead, then we need to not call this Christianity. In fact, we’re the most pathetic bunch if the tomb still holds his bones. To me, that’s a nightmare. But I thought the passage was worth paraphrasing in order to remind myself of the importance of the empty tomb.

How Andy Davis Taught Me to Memorize Scripture

Spiritual Lighter Fluid

In the struggle to follow after Jesus, there are lots of ways you can put kindling around your heart and trust that the Spirit will spark a flame deep within. We call them spiritual disciplines or the ordinary means of grace. If prayer and the intake of Scripture are the primary fuel for the Christian soul, the memorization of Scripture is like the lighter fluid.

Why not add a little lighter fluid?

Dallas Willard puts it like this: 

“Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization.”1 

Coming from a different tradition, Chuck Swindoll says, 

“I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.”2 

And I think the Scriptures bear witness to the value of memorization.

Well Versed

Psalm 51:6 

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. 

After his sin with Bathsheba, David acknowledged that such inward truth is antithetical to outward sin and would’ve helped in his temptation. 

Psalm 119:11 

Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You. 

The crucial word there is “treasure.” This is more than memorization. The devil has Scripture memorized. This is treasuring. This is to have it and to love it. And if you love it, you will abide by it. 

The Jews who did not believe in Jesus did not believe in him because they did not have the Father’s word abiding in them (John 5:38).  

John 5:37-40 

37 And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. 38 You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. 

John 15:1-7:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

What does it mean to abide? The translated Greek word shows up in some form eleven times here. We get the English word “permanent” from it. It means to continue to believe in Jesus but it goes much deeper than that. It describes a continual union with Jesus. Jesus is saying “step into union with me”, “be apart of me and stay that way”. 

Why is memorization important? If you don’t you can’t do anything. You can’t bear fruit. And if you can’t bear fruit, what happens? You prove yourself to have never been a Christian and you get tossed like firewood. 

So, according to John 15, how do you abide in Christ? 

“If my word abides in you…” 

Now, at the outset, let’s be clear. I’m not merely talking about memorizing the Bible as the secret key to greater intimacy with God. Why not? 

  1. Satan memorizes Scripture. I assume he didn’t pull out his English Standard Version in the wilderness when he tempted Jesus (Matt.4). 
  1. The word of God abiding in a person is linked to that person’s belief in Jesus. John 5:38- Jesus is talking to Jews (people who had memorized the whole Pentateuch (in some cases the whole OT). And he says to them, “God’s word doesn’t abide in you because you don’t believe in me”. So belief in Jesus is unavoidably linked having the word of Christ dwell in you richly. 

Scripture memorization is a means to a person. It’s more than just retaining information. It is a way to keep yourself abiding in Christ. And it’s linked to prayer in John 15. “Ask whatever you wish” is not a magic formula. It’s a logical outcome from having Christ’s word abide in your heart. 

Jesus is not saying, “have my word dwelling in you with permanence and let it continually take root in you so that you can ask God for a sweet car or good grades or a nice marriage or a good job”. He’s not a genie. And besides, if Christ’s word abides in you, pretty toys won’t be your main desire anyway. 

Having His Word in you shapes your wishes and changes your desires and influences what you really want at the core level. And when his word abides, it takes root. After it takes root, it produces fruit. Scripture needs to be internalized. 

The Method 

So, how is this best accomplished? 

Andy Davis has written an excellent little booklet available online about how you actually memorize Scripture. His principles are as follows: 

  • Memorize big portions- minimize tendency to proof text (context is king). Shoot for an entire book. Not too long and not too short. Start with one around 90-160 verses long. Make it something that will minister to you. 
  • Survey the terrain:  
  • Count the number of verses in the entire book.  
  • Divide that number by the number of verses you will memorize per week. This is how many weeks the book should take you.  
  • Look at a calendar and determine a tentative finish date.  
  • Add a couple weeks so you don’t feel too much pressure.  
  • Repetition is the key. Memorize with your eyes. Read each new verse ten times, covering each word as though photographing it with your eyes.  
  • Say it out loud, emphasizing different words as you go. Memorize with your ears. 
  • Memorize with the verse numbers! This will help keep you from getting lost and missing verses after reciting large portions. 

Davis’ example: 

Day one: Read Ephesians 1:1 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.  

Day two: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:1 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:2 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.  

Day three: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:2 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verses next, altogether: Recite Ephesians 1:1-2 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:3 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.  

After you’ve finished the entire book, recite the entire book for 100 consecutive days. Ephesians takes 15 minutes to recite out loud. You can do this wherever. It won’t affect your busy schedule. Then recite it every Monday for the rest of your life. If you start to make little mistakes, take a Monday and read the book through by sight to correct those.  

Give it a try.

This is something I’m trying to implement this month. I’m preaching on Psalm 113 on the first day of Advent at our church and would love to have that psalm memorized. And if I fail, I certainly haven’t wasted my time. And I’ll at least have little bits of the psalm lodged into my mind and heart like holy shrapnel. What are you going to memorize?

The Art of Bog Slogging

I’ve had the privilege of having a couple different conversations in the last month about depression. Sometimes I get sad and it doesn’t go away. But I’m also trying to follow Jesus as one of his disciples. I think I can hold these two truths in tension. It’s certainly possible.

I call them “tailspins”. Something can set them up or nothing can happen at all. But when they come (as one did this week), there is this horrible desire to simply soak in it. Maybe it’s just my temperament, but I love it when there’s something big to feel, even if it’s hopelessness. And so there’s an odd temptation to just revel in the darkness. But I don’t think that’s right. Paul Maxwell has been very helpful here in fighting against depression from the perspective of cognitive behavioral theory.

With the people I’ve spoken with recently, the question has been more one of spiritual progress. Or perhaps spiritual regression? It’s at least a question of maintenance. If depression is a bog, then how do we slog? How can we keep dancing through the darkness? How do we tread water when every urge says “give up and sink”? Here’s what I’ve found works for me.

Tell Yourself What You Believe

I have found that reciting the Apostles’ Creed helps. For centuries, Christians have been telling themselves what they believe even when they don’t believe it, perhaps even so that they could believe it.

This is not a way to sweep depression or doubt under the rug. This is how I strangle those hobgoblins to death each day. When I say “I believe,” it functions as a verb and as a command. And I believe the Spirit uses something as simple and ordinary as this to strengthen my failing faith.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Eugene Peterson’s famous description of discipleship is apt. Some people say that the Christian life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I have no doubt that is true for some people. For me, it is more like an uphill crawl through barbed wire while getting shot at.

That’s why I pray the Daily Office as I can, when I can. This was Thomas Cranmer’s attempt to get an entire country of people reading the same Bible passages together. I value it especially for the sheer amount of Psalms it pours into you. There are lots of places to start using it online. The point is to be able to read lots of Scripture everyday because “the voices in your mind are anything but kind,” to quote Andrew Peterson. It’s the Protestant answer to the question of how one “prays without ceasing” (1 Thess.5:16).

Our Father

It’s sad how many evangelicals view the Lord’s Prayer as some piece of biblical trivia to memorize or, worse yet, as a rote and mechanical ritual that has been ruined by the smells-and-bells high church crowd.

I even heard a substitute Sunday School teacher for me once refer to it as “the Disciples’ Prayer.” I almost threw up. This is how Jesus spoke to his Father and, remarkably, this is how he invites his brothers and sisters to speak to their adopted Father as well (Mt.6:9-13; Lk.11:2-4).

The Lord’s Prayer functions as simply as a prayer to pray that puts you fully in line with the heart of Christ. It can also serve as a pattern of prayer, as we paraphrase the various parts of it. The Church has historically gotten endless mileage out of this one way of speaking to God and it has been of limitless help to me in the middle of the night, no matter the hour of the day.

Slog On

Keep going. Whatever trauma has wrap itself around your legs, keep going. Even if your progress is inches and you find yourself going backwards some days. Whatever dryness has settled into your heart, keep going.

You cannot bottle the wind and demand that the Holy Spirit suddenly strike lightning in your life. But you can cover your soul with kindling and all of this spiritual fuel and trust that the Lord uses ordinary means of grace to build his Church.

Keep going. Dawn is coming. Slog on.

How to Not Spend Money Like a Fool

Let’s Talk About What We Feel Weird Talking About: Our Luxury

Spending money is the American way of life. Saving and giving might not be, but Americans have been known to drop a trillion dollars on things we don’t actually need. Of course, consumer spending is a huge chunk of the economy and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Spending is something we do and it helps keep this country afloat. But you can spend money foolishly or you can use it wisely.

With respect to money, we are simply holding on to what God has given us. My favorite book on stewardship is Randy Alcorn’s little book on managing God’s money (even if I don’t agree with all of his strategies). And that’s an essential starting point. You are holding on to your wealth as a caretaker. 
And you are most certainly wealthy or you belong to a wealthy family. But what are you going to do with that wealth?

Saving and giving are essential concepts to understand and implement, but even if we don’t all do those things, we all spend money. Does the Bible say anything about how we should spend our money? Not surprisingly, it does. It equips us with very tactical wisdom to show us how to spend well and spend wisely.

The Proverbial Dollar

The book of Proverbs has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to money wisdom. Embedded in the overall pattern of save-spend-give there is the two part step of pursuing righteousness first and then enjoying wealth as gift from God. Proverbs 14:24 says, “The crown of the wise is their wealth, but folly of fools brings folly.” If you are wise, you likely will have wealth. And that wealth is a crown. It functions as a visible indicator of your wisdom. This crown is to be seen so that others might see the allure of wisdom. If we wear ourselves out to get riches, we miss the point entirely. It has wings and will fly away anyway (Prov.23:4-5). The point is not to have it. The point is to use it (saving, give, spend). And the way you spend your wealth can function as a beacon for fools that you are wise in how you go about your business as a consumer. 

There’s a difference between spending and squandering. Proverbs 23:19-21 indicate that we ought not squander our money simply on temporary physical excess:

19 Hear, my son, and be wise,  and direct your heart in the way.20 Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat,21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.

Likewise, Proverbs 29:3 (He who loves wisdom makes his father glad, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.) says we ought not squander money on temporary sexual pleasures. Again, God seems to be anti-squandering, not anti-spending.

“Whatever Your Appetite Craves”

In perhaps the most revealing text about how God views his people and their relationship to money, Deuteronomy 14:24-26 reads, 

24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25 then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 

In describing the tithe, God tells Israel that when he blesses them, they give back in worship. But if it takes too much effort to take the tithe to the place of worship, they could sell it and spend the money for whatever they desired. Strong drink, oxen, whatever. “Whatever your appetite craves.” That’s how the Bible describes discretionary spending. But even this is not squander because notice that it is enjoyed “before the Lord” and that there is rejoicing in his presence. It is spending with an eye toward heaven, knowing that he has blessed and so we enjoy spending a portion of our wealth before the Lord.

“The Rich in This Present Age”

 At the end of 1 Timothy, Paul describes two different types of wealthy people: those who want to get rich (1 Tim.1:6-10) and those who happen to be rich (1 Tim.6:17-19) for whatever reason. For those who desire to become rich, the apostle gives a warning. With that desire comes temptation that can easily lead to ruin and destruction. For those who are wealthy, he gives a responsibility:

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Spend your money. But do good. Be wealthy in good works. Maybe spend some of that lovely green on an amenity for those who have few. Perhaps bless someone with a book. Buy someone a coffee. And enjoy it there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.