2 Corinthians 4

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

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From the Shelf: A Biography

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When I was young, I thought biographies were the lowest of book life forms. I was also convinced that anyone saying otherwise, could only be pretending.

Knowing what I know now, however, I think that it was only the kind of biographies I encountered as a child. They were facts, birth and death, with only a hat tip to the legacy of each individual.

Martin Luther is different. It brings new perspective and historical context to the worn out facts of the Reformer’s life. Metaxas explains the importance of certain decisions Luther made, the why’s behind each battle chosen, and even offers greater understanding into subjects we might scratch our head about – “why did Luther care so much about this?”

This biography also does an excellent job of humanizing Luther. Far from a dry historical figure, we can glimpse into his lively private life and family affairs. In fact, one of my favourite quotes comes from Luther’s reflections on the death of his daughter. He writes:

“The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I love her very much…in the last thousand years God has given to no bishop such great gifts as God has given me (for one should boast of God’s gifts). I am angry with myself that I am unable to rejoice from my heart and be thankful to God, though I do at times sing a little song and give thanks. Whether we live or die, we belong to God.”

My only gripe is that Metaxas seemed too reluctant to criticize Martin Luther. This was especially surprising in chapters on the later years, when Luther could well be critiqued for certain statements, regardless of the time and place. If Luther is real enough to empathize with, than he is real enough to have flaws!

All this aside, Martin Luther is the type of biography that is turning me into a lover of the genre these days.

My Mom and Dad would be proud of me.

A New Week

We have our marching orders for Monday. The whatmusts and wherefores.

We know what we ought to do, but when our feet hit the bedroom floor and our hearts are already muddled up, what can we say into the morning? How do we preach Sunday to the devilish doubts before lunch?

This. This song that we sing in the face of our sinful hearts.

“When Satan tempts me to despair

and tells me of the guilt within”

upward I look and see Him there

who made an end to all my sin

because the sinless Savior died

my sinful soul is counted free

for God the just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me”

~C.L. Bancroft

And praise God that this anthem is ours.

‘Til I Die

We all live here between the now and not yet.  Shadowy lands.

Not one of us is free from the pain and sin of this earth and sky.

And the other side of this, as true or truer, is that our Dear Dying Lamb rose again.

Redeeming love, our theme. Heart rejoicing, hope for the silent grave, saved to sin no more.

So I preach it to myself for another day -that His power to save is enough.

That this is not a life in cotton candy clouds – but Praise Lord Jesus – it is a life shaped, nailed and truly bound up in Good News.

From the Shelf: Christian Living

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If you read any book on marriage, let it be this one.

Completely Christ centered, Gary Thomas doesn’t get caught up in the details. Without idolizing marriage, he is clear that it is a sacred commitment to another and the Lord. In each chapter he focuses on aspects of marriage like individual calling, creating a shared history, pursuing one another, sex, forgiveness, service, prayer and greater awareness of God’s presence.

The Biblical goal of marriage, he points out, is something much bigger than our happiness or comfort. It is a part of the calling we each have – to glorify, serve and grow Holy in the Lord. And when we focus on fulfillment in our Heavenly father, husband, friend, well… I’ll tell you in his words…

“…we will probably also have a happy marriage, but that will come as a blessed by-product of putting everything else in order.”

This is not a “how-to” style book, but it gives the big picture – which was convicting and refreshing to me at the same time.

 

From the Shelf: Current Events

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The first book I read this year was Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. A friend had sent it to me after Christmas, because the author lives and practices law in Alabama. In fact, one of his cases involved an accidental bombing in Dothan, 1977.

The main thread of this book explains the ultimate release of Walter McMillian, a man on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. As Bryan Stevenson works on this case, he uncovers many examples of a dysfunctional justice system. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and Alabama one of the highest in the country. This book outlines through many examples, some of the reasons why.

It was sobering to read the ways in which a zealous system misfires. Stevenson explains the role that politics play in election of judges, or even community pressure to lock someone, anybody, up for a crime. His stories talk about sloppy lawyers, unconcerned in defending the people who cannot pay and the resulting incarceration of innocent people. Stevenson tells stories of children prosecuted as adults receiving life sentences without parole, or those with severe mental disabilities who are imprisoned for life. He talks about all white juries in racially divided communities, perhaps not intentional but certainly unwise in the pursuit of justice. Prisons operating for profit, futile drug laws, the death penalty, the list goes on.

The question for me personally, is not so much if I should care, but how. I love my new home and state, but that doesn’t mean I have to blindly believe it’s the best at everything. Or that I can just assume every person on death row deserves to die. Loving is caring enough when things are terribly wrong and we should care when justice isn’t served. Or even when we should consider meeting justice with mercy.

I’m no opposer of the death penalty and those who pose a risk to society should certainly be restrained. Depravity is real and consequences of sin surround us. However, this book has made me think more deeply at least about my Christian response to the incarcerated, or those at risk to be. I want to be slower in talking about “those” people, the riff-raff, poor people, the ones who don’t look like me or make poor decisions. If I truly believe in the sanctity of life then there are no lines I can draw in the sand and I should certainly care about extending what Christ gives to me, ironically something like the title – just mercy.

*Bonus Read: Hillbilly Elegy*

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I added this to my list on the basis of its title alone.  It’s the memoir and opinion of J.D. Vance. Now a successful lawyer and author, Vance tells his story of growing up in Appalachian dysfunction. He writes in a deeply personal voice that explores the ‘why’ of white, working class poverty. The attitudes, the cycle of abuse and many other factors that contribute to generations of disadvantage.

This was the perfect book to read as counter point to Just Mercy. No one group has the market cornered on sad stories. Together these books have broadened my horizons and compassion for the mission field at home. I think the best way to sum things up is found in Hillbilly Elegy (pg.255). In writing about a boy named Brian who Vance mentors, he says;

“Any chance he has lies with the people around him – his family, me, my kin, the people like us and the broad community of hillbillies. And if that chance is to materialize, we must wake the hell up…I believe we hillbillies are the toughest g*%@ people on this earth. We take an electric saw to the hid of those who insult our mother…But are we tough enough to do what needs to be done to help a kid like Brian? Are we tough enough to build a church that forces kids like me to engage with the world rather than withdraw from it? Are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children?

Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us…These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them.”

If nothing else, food for thought.

 

 

 

 

Making All Things a New Year

Hanging at the front of every end, is beginning.

In the death of pat answers, safety nets and preconceived notions, we have the start of something else.

It’s a plan beyond our best intentions, beauty from ashes, a fresh start in it is finished…we sing…

“the lamb who was for sinners slain, is making all things new”

Death opening to New Life. Shaking ground becomes sure.

Resolutions that might fade into memory by February, instead become mercies new every morning. Safe in the Saviour of every failing.

And despite each pain of this year, the Puritan says…

“Nothing hurts the godly…all things…shall cooperate for their good, that their crosses shall be turned into blessings.”

He is worthy and able to redeem 2017 – dead, buried and resurrected Jesus.

How much more can He benedict the days before us? The very Lord of hope and life.

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