26 July 2017

Anniversary Poem # 3

Seven thousand, three hundred five
days since we said "yes" for life
we stood before God
and all who looked on
committing to be man and wife.

Anniversary Poem # 2

Summer morning's joy:
warm embrace and radiant
she is heaven's queen. 

Anniversary Poem #1

Twenty years ago, I married my bride. Not one day have I questioned that choice. In celebration, I have written a few poems to her that I will share throughout the day. Here is the first.

Nineteen years and one,
     we've only just begun.
Eighteen years and two,
     since we said "I do."
Seventeen years and three,
     since you married me.
Sixteen years and four,
     You I still I adore.
Fifteen years and five,
     our love remains alive.
Fourteen years and six,
     our bond is firmly fixed.
Thirteen years and seven,
     God's love has been our leaven.
Twelve years and eight,
     since that magical date.
Eleven years and nine,
     since you said "you're mine."
Ten years and ten,
     I'd do it all over again.
Nine years and eleven,
     life with you is heaven.
Eight years and twelve,
     with you I gladly dwell.
Seven years and thirteen,
     your'e my regal queen.
Six years and fourteen,
     on one another we lean.
Five years and fifteen,
     we've lived in this godly scene.
Four years and sixteen,
     with us nothing comes between.
Three years and seventeen,
     it's astounding where we've been.
Two years and eighteen,
     we've kept our marriage bed serene.
One year and nineteen,
     such bliss unforeseen.
Zero years and twenty,
     we've had love aplenty.

21 July 2017

Growing in Christlikeness--a book list.

A few days ago, I texted my friend Mark--a fellow bibliophile--and I said to him, "Today's mental gymnastics have to do with coming up with a list of books [outside of the Bible] that would help one grow in Christlikeness. If you had 12 books, say one per month, what would you include? Thinking about it, I would want enough breadth to cover a variety of topics, but enough depth to promote growth."

Mark was the first to construct his list, which he sent with the clarification that these are in no particular order:

1) Inside Out--Larry Crabb
2) Ragamuffin Gospel--Brennan Manning
3) Abba's Child--Brennan Manning
4) Sacred Romance--Brent Curtis and John Eldridge
5) Transforming Grace--Jerry Bridges
6) The Last Addiction--Sharon Hersh
7) Brokenness--Nancy Leigh DeMoss
8) So, You Want to be Like Christ?--Chuck Swindoll
9) Descending into Greatness--Bill Hybels
10) The Life You Always Wanted--John Ortberg
11) Knowing God--JI Packer
12) Disciplines of a Godly Man--Kent Hughes

He must have also had some conversation at home, because his insightful wife Peggy added three more:
1) Soul Talk--Larry Crabb
2) Crucial Conversations--Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny
3) Emotionally Healthy Spirituality--Pete Scazzero

I've read half of these books and they are an excellent list. In fact, Ortberg's book is one of my favorites.

After realizing Mark decided to actually put a list together, I realized that I probably needed to as well. I looked through my Goodreads profile where I have logged over 600 books since late 2011.

Here was my list, also in no particular order.

1) Confessions--St Augustine
2) Renovation of the Heart--Dallas Willard
3) Conformed to His Image--Ken Boa
4) Soul Keeping--John Ortberg
5) A Different Kind of Happiness--Larry Crabb
6) Life Together--Dietrich Bonhoeffer
7) A Long Obedience in the Same Direction--Eugene Peterson
8) True Spirituality--Francis Schaeffer
9) A Loving Life--Paul Miller
10) Practice Resurrection--Eugene Peterson
11) Abba's Child--Brennan Manning
12) The Letters of John Newton

I was a bit surprised about how little we overlapped; indeed, only one book.

Readers, I am curious what you would include? What did Mark, Peggy, and I miss?


18 July 2017

Book Review: Spiritual Maturity

I first encountered J. Oswald Sanders when a good friend of mine recommended the book Enjoying Intimacy with God. It seemed to have a rather profound effect upon him. I read it as well, and was able to see where the effect came from. When I encountered the three book series from Moody by Sanders--including Spiritual Maturity, Spiritual Discipleship, and Spiritual Leadership--I was eager to jump in. 

The first one that I ordered was Spiritual Maturity: Practices of Spiritual Growth for Every Believer, which was first published in 1962. The book is divided into 21 chapters, with seven each devoted to maturity in The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Each of the chapters is deeply biblical and also makes use of spiritual wisdom from individuals throughout the history of the church. As an aspiring poet, I particularly enjoyed his inclusion of both his own rhymes as well as those of others, such as George Hebert. 

Although they were all excellent, two chapters in particular stood out as exceptional. Chapter 6, entitled "the moral antipathy of God" dealt quite effectively with the pervasive issue of pride. Also chapter 11, "Christ's ideal of character" examined the blessed life through the eyes of the beatitudes. Chapter 11 contained one of the sentences that may be amongst the most glorious sentences outside of the Bible I've read: "Many Christians bring unnecessary opprobrium upon themselves and the cause of Christ by their aggressive tactlessness" (Page 138). 

One final thought. Though I typically prefer hardbacks, the construction of this little volume is exceptional. There are two color pages throughout, bright clean paper, and a sturdy cover. 

I suspect this book I will revisit, and certainly chapters 6 and 11. I also think that for most believers, it would be a worthwhile resource as well. 


I received a free copy of this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for my review. I was not required to give a positive review. The opinions presented here on my own.

15 July 2017

Books & Crannies

In my favorite fictional book series, the Wingfeather Saga, there is a character who is very much my kindred spirit--Oskar N. Reteep. Oskar is a bumbling, balding, overweight lover of books. Indeed, his slogan is "appreciator of the strange, neat, and / or yummy." He is the owner of Books and Crannies, a bookstore in Glipwood Township, a store which contains many strange and usual things.

In updating my library with new shelves and a new layout (I think we are now at 24 shelves in a 20 x 24 room), my children and I have been excitedly pondering how we could add some storybook charisma. Together, we have brainstormed many ideas about what to include, but we are drawn most Narnia, Middle Earth, Hogwarts, and Aerwiar. We faced the question how to incorporate bits from each of these tales and yesterday, I settled on Books and Crannies.

Because Reteep is a bookstore owner and an "appreciator of the strange, neat, and/or tasty," Books & Crannies seems to be the perfect setting for collecting the unusual. Also, because Reteep is willing to look far and wide in search of the interesting, it would not be surprising that he might have obtained things from other lands. Also, we know from ND Wilson's contribution to the Wingfeather Tales, Andrew Peterson is not opposed to story crossover. However, if you are new to Wingfeather, start with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

And so my library is on the way. Books are re-shelved, though I need to make sure they are in proper order. There are many things I yet want to do, but for now, its a start. Some additions will be small, but nonetheless fun. Others will involve a Herculean search--I continue to look for a hardcover edition of Pembrick's Creaturepedia.

Here are a few updated pictures.

Of course, I made a sign for Books and Crannies--it is just missing a Zouzab. 

We still have a sitting area. 

I also have a sitting area.
The shelf on the right of the chair is commentaries
and Bible dictionaries.

The fiction section, which once seemed so full, has room to grow.

I tried to get most of the non-fiction in one shot. 

This is just for decoration--books from Middle Earth, Narnia, Aerwiar, and Hogwarts

Notice the "publisher marks" 

I love The Annieriad. 

Those familiar with these stories will recognize the titles. 

Sitting on the carpet

Laying on the floor

More shelves on the sitting side. 

14 July 2017

A Kingdom Prayer

O Lord,
Redeemer and Sustainer,
I commend this day to you.
You are higher than the heavens
yet, by your Spirit, you dwell
with me and in me.

You are glorious above all created things.
Turn my eyes from all that gleams and glitters
to your throne
where true satisfaction is found.

Let me live today in the truth
of your indwelling Spirit,
an ambassador of your kingdom
wherever my feet land.

Sustain me today.
Give me what is needful for worshiping you fully,
but not so much that my eyes turn from you.

The world you created is beautiful
but has been tainted by sin;
keep me from desiring counterfeit treasures
that promise satisfaction
but provide nothing.

When evil surrounds me,
hold me fast and usher me away
back into the safety of your embrace.

Forgive me when I fail you.
May your mercy be an ever flowing stream,
washing out my self-inflicted wounds
and teach me to live
with abundant patience, grace, mercy, and forgiveness
toward those who have sinned against me.

Everything belongs to you.
May everything I do and say and think and feel
bring glory to you.

02 July 2017

marred

Brokenness, sin, and suffering
fill the world
     and my heart.
I look around
     and see sin's scars
     harming God's image bearers
     masterpieces marred
sharp edged debris
     remnants of creation's disintegration
     slice deeply
     coupled with self-inflicted
     wanton sin
breaking beauty.

The blood of Christ
     ...alone
can heal the injuries of the suffering
     and the self-inflicted
     wounds of sin
      restoring once again to wholeness
      his beauty planted within.

Poems and Prayers

Poems and prayers breathe the same air. They leave the oppressive smog of a closed mind and ascend into the rarefied air of the heavens. Each value words, sometimes even when they are inexpressible, which happens so often in prayer. But even in those times when we are mute, struck dumb by circumstance, we have the Word himself, by his Spirit, who intercedes for us. It seems we try to live life using the Bible as an instruction manual rather than a picture God's larger story.

Father, expand my senses
so that I might experience more of you.
Expand my mind
that I might know more of you,
expand my hear that I might love you more,
expand my awareness
that I might see your providence in all things.

Consider the Birds

I awake once again, 
the sounds of birds  
greeting the morning.  

For them, every day  
is the Lord's day.  
They make no distinction  
between Sunday  
and any other day,  
worshipping continuously.  

I expect birds will be in heaven,  
but here on earth,  
they teach us about  
the presence of God.  

If we attend to them,  
they instruct us in worship.  
Robins and sparrows  
teach us songs of joyous praise.  
Doves sing lament psalms.  

What would life be like 
If Christians took their cues 
From the birds? 

-July 2017

29 June 2017

Thoughts on the 3rd commandment

When I was growing up, I believed that the third commandment, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain" (Exodus 20:7) principally had something to do with swearing. You know, saying bad words. There were a couple of them that specifically included the words "God" or "Jesus" that I was pretty sure broke the commandment, but some others were murkier. I knew the F-word was bad and probably took God's name in vain but felt a little less clear about some of the others. What did I know? In hindsight, that was a pretty incomplete understanding of the third commandment.

Taking the Lord's name in vain refers to claiming God's name in support on a dishonest vow as well as not treating His name reverently or respectfully. According to the ESV Study Bible notes, "Yahweh is warning Israel against using His name as if it were disconnected from His person, presence, and power."

When I read the Bible, I try to approach each passage with an eye toward how it relates to relationships, both vertical and horizontal (e.g., a relational hermeneutic). When I think of the implications of taking God's name in vain relationally, I think about how we speak of God's name and its implications for relationships.

I have been wondering, what if one of the ways we take the Lord's name in vain has to do with how Christians speak about one another? Too often, our words about other believers fail to honor God. We speak poorly about others who bear the name of Christ when they disappoint us or even when they disagree with us. We tear down rather than build up. We reject biblical principles for relationship while still claiming Christ as Savior. I wonder, if Christ can save us from God's justice by his grace, can he not also save our relationships? If he is able to reconcile us to himself, can he not also reconcile us to one another?

As Christians, let us not take Christ's name in vain in our relationships. Let us believe that he has the power to heal broken relationships, and especially with those who are brothers and sisters in Jesus. Let us practice other-centeredness, always with an eye toward forgiveness, just as we have been forgiven.

Speak evil of no one
avoid quarreling 
be gentle
show perfect courtesy toward all people.
Titus 3:2

28 June 2017

Book Review: The Curious Christian

Some books I read exceed my expectations. I thought Barnabas Piper's The Curious Christian (2017) looked interesting, so I added it to my Amazon wish list. It must have struck my son as interesting as well because he bought it for me for Father's Day. I was in no hurry to read it, thinking I would get to it at some point, though eight days later, it's done.

As I said, it exceeded my expectations.

Piper writes about what I believe is an underappreciated virtue, perhaps especially among Christians. If we are honest with ourselves, we are often an uncurious bunch. Whether from fear or dogmatism or pride, we lack curiosity about God, ourselves, others, and creation. Without intending to do so, many of us live what Augustine called incurvatus in se, lives "curved in on ourselves." Curiosity opens our posture, tilting back our heads and looking up and out with wonder, unblocking our eyes and ears to drink deeply from God's good creation. Perhaps since last summer, when my eldest daughter and I took the course Writing from Your Roots--and maybe longer--I have been been on a personal pilgrimage to live with a deeper sense of wonder and awe, though it involves intention.

If you spend any time with my wife or me, you will likely hear one of use the term sacred curiosity, something I picked up from Larry Crabb. Sacred curiosity involves showing interest in another's story and asking questions with a desire simply to learn more about that person. As both Crabb and Piper suggest, curiosity is often lacking.

I appreciated many things about this book and it likely will enter the rotation of books I read again. One thing I was glad he wrote was that curiosity does not exclude conviction. On page 119, he wrote "I don't need to give up on my beliefs about Jesus in order to listen graciously. Rather, my beliefs about Jesus should be the very reason I listen graciously. I don't need to ignore Scripture to be curious about what other people believe. In fact, Scripture gives me security in my curiosity."

As a recently appointed pastor, one of my desires for those I serve is that they would learn to actually see God's beauty, in His Word and in His world. Christians often (rightly) focus on truth and morality, but beauty is too frequently neglected; however, a two-legged stool doesn't stand well. We need truth, goodness, and beauty and curiosity provides us with an important tool.

Above my desk, I have a fading yellow Post-It note that reads:

Stop.
Look.
Listen. 

Those three words are a good beginning, and Piper's book may get us a little further down the way, but ultimately, no book or blog post will foster curiosity; we simply need to begin.

Nota Bene:

  • If you want to foster curiosity, read some poetry. Don't think of poetry with disdain. Poets are among our most curious citizens. Perhaps start with Mary Oliver. 
  • I would strongly recommend Christian McEwan's excellent book World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down for an additional relevant read.
  • Somewhat fortuitously, I suppose, a week ago, I wrote a poem entitled: All Life is a Poem, which I believe gets at some of what Piper writes about. I would love it if you'd read it and if it makes you curious, click on "poetry" on the right side of the blog page, and you will find several more. 

26 June 2017

Actually

The world is full 
of fork-tongued Christians 
speaking beauty and grace 
from one side 
bitterness and strife  
from the other.  

We want to be seen as righteous 
or authentic 
or holy 
or transparent 
...you pick the word. 

And so we don the mask  
that communicates the image 
we wish to portray 
and we accent our speech 
to give Academy Award-winning performances. 

But even in Oscar's gleam 
our triumphant performances  
are still just acting,  
and not our actual selves.  

Unscripted lives  
lived off-stage  
in creation's transcendent drama, filled with  
vibrant hues and murky shadow, 
darkness and light, 
pleasure and pain, 
comfort and suffering, 
reveal the actual colors of our hearts.  

We speak of love, but act with disdain; 
We speak of forgiveness, but reject reconciliation; 
We speak of limitless grace, but withhold it from the undeserving; 
We speak of community, but exclude those who have actually failed us. 

'Tis risky to confront the bard, but I'm afraid 
all the world's not a stage 
and we are not merely players,  
but men and women  
of actual flesh and blood 
...and brokenness 
living in a Kingdom 
marred by the fall 
but being restored by 
its Creator and King. 

What true Kingdom living requires 
is not thespians 
but actual citizens; 
not masked actors,  
but actual selves; 
not tongues that speak of love 
but actually loving people 
and especially those most disdainful; 
not tongues that speak of forgiveness 
but actually forgiving people 
as often as it takes 
and especially those who have hurt us most deeply; 
not tongues that speak of limitless grace 
but actually demonstrating grace 
not stingily, but effusively 
and especially to the most graceless; 
not tongues that speak of authentic community 
but actual community 
not excluding those sinners and Pharisees  
and especially those who most disappoint us. 

Actual life is not a screenplay 
resolving at two hours and ten, 
but enduring drama 
filled with comedy and tragedy, 
joy and hurt, 
confusion and disappointment. 

There will come a day  
when all tensions shall resolve 
and all trials are dismissed 
when we will actually live 
"happily ever after," 
but until that day 
let us seek to live  
not for the best actor award 
but with actual gospel genuineness 
spurring one another on  
to actual love 
and actual good deeds.