29 April 2017

Book Review: The Jubilee

I've not written many book reviews in recent months--certainly not on pace with the number of books that I have read. But I would be a poor friend if I didn't tell you about this one.

I wish I could tell you where I encountered the poetry of John Blase, but I cannot. What I can tell you is that someone, for now unnamed, shared his poem "Actually, Scratch That." Though I do not remember the giver of this gift, I am grateful because Blase's poem captivated me. A quick Amazon search showed a book of his poetry, The Jubilee: Poems (Bright Coppers Press, 2017). I immediately ordered his book having no knowledge of the book, or its author, based on 14 short lines.

Blase's poetry did not disappoint. Good poets have eyes and ears tuned to creation's details. As Blase wrote, "the poet notices the world's curves." They are gifted in teaching their readers to take notice.  Blase certainly accomplished that in The Jubilee. At several points, I needed to stop and ponder what he wrote, not due to complexity, but because he fosters a creational awareness so well.

An unfortunate truth is that many people avoid poetry, finding it confusing, boring, or perhaps overly sentimental. As a poetry lover, I am never sure where to direct those who might have a spark of interest in poetry. Mary Oliver is certainly good and so is Wendell Berry, yet if I am to be honest, this might well be the first book I recommend now. It is both accessible and fosters sacred wonder.

I will look forward to more and if they never arrive, I shall cherish these.

If love is for real
and not just a word 
then show me.
I know you're frightened. 
I am too. 
But that is the feeling
imperfect people
always have as they
row closer to home. 

27 April 2017

Thank God for Slow Growth

Parents fear
strangling thorns
that threaten to choke
the life out
of their tender shoots

They fear 
world-worn paths
that seek to 
and corrupt
their seed

Yet they foolishly
cast their tender buds 
upon the rocks
and pray for rapid growth
of unrooted sprouts

Slowness disappoints

Thank God
for slow growth
and deep roots 

-Mark 4:3-8

25 April 2017

Breathe the Lord's prayer

Our Father
Who art in heaven
hallowed be Thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
on earth, as it is in heaven
give us this day 
our daily bread
and forgive us our debts
as we forgive our debtors
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for Thine is the kingdom
and the power
and the glory
forever and ever amen

Recently, I have been reading about prayer, listening to teachings about prayer, meditating on prayer, and, perhaps surprisingly, actually praying. I have been listening to a series of lectures by one of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson, entitled Jesus and Prayer. Naturally, he spends quite a lot of time discussing what we know to be Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). Many of us learned the Lord's prayer from an early age, or at least a version similar to the above, but I wonder how many have given thought beyond recitation. Specifically, what did Jesus teach his disciples to pray?

Our Father--Jesus encourages us to begin our prayers with "Our Father." There is much richness even in these two words. "Our" reminds us that when we pray, it is not just an individualistic endeavor. Our voices, even when we pray alone, join with all of the saints. We are members of a body. Yet our relationships are not just horizontal (saint to saint), but vertical (us to God and God to us). Jesus used the word "Father" to teach us that when we pray, it is not a formal address to a Master, Sovereign Ruler, or all powerful Creator. It is that, but it is more. When Jesus taught to pray to the "Father," he was highlighting the intimacy and connection we have with God. We are a part of his family. We belong.

In heaven--Because so many of us think of heaven as somewhere "out there", somewhere inaccessible, we think that God too is inaccessible. I don't think Jesus meant that. When Matthew writes about heaven, he is writing about the kingdom of God. Heaven is where God dwells and God, by His Spirit, dwells with His people.

Hallowed be Your name--Hallowed is not a word we use very often in modern parlance. To be hallowed means to be treated reverentially and with honor. Jesus was telling his disciples to pray in a way that does not dishonor God, but also to live in a way that God is treated reverentially and honorably. He was teaching them to pray, "Father, may Your people make much of Your name."

Your kingdom come--Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of God. A lot. God's kingdom is where His will is accomplished, where God rules and prevails. Jesus is teaching them to pray for God's will and God's rule to invade everywhere.

Your will be done--This is directly connected with prayer for God's kingdom. It is a request to see God's desires to happen. It raises the question, can God's will be thwarted? Ultimately, no. Yet teaches us to pray that we would enact God's will, God's plans in all of creation.

On earth as it is in heaven--In God's kingdom, shalom rules. Yet, brokenness still affects the world and the people who live in it. Jesus teaches us to pray that creation would increasingly reflect the characteristics of God's kingdom and God's glory.

Give us this day our daily bread--It is a request to give us what we need for the day, not for yesterday or tomorrow, but for today. But for today.  This phrase recognizes our ongoing dependence upon God's grace for all things, physical and spiritual.

Forgive us our debts--We are sinners, desperately in need of God's forgiveness. Jesus teaches his followers to go to the place where forgiveness and mercy are freely given, God's throne. None of us has lived a sin-free day. Each day, we accumulate debt, yet each day, God stands ready to forgive.

As we forgive our debtors--Yet Jesus reminds us that although God forgives sinners (vertical relationship), his followers are also to forgive one another (horizontal relationship). We must be cautious about presuming upon God's forgiveness when we refuse to forgive another (see verses 14-15). Forgiveness is a high and holy calling and it can be difficult and painful, but it is not optional for the believer.

Lead us not into temptation--Jesus teaches us to pray that God will keep us from unbearable temptations from the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is a request for God's protection.

But deliver us from evil--BUT...when we find ourselves captured by evil--our own or another's--God can and will deliver us.

If we have put our faith in Christ, it is our hope and prayer that we grow in Christlikeness. We desire that God's shalom will increase while evil retreats. We pray that the effects of the fall become less and less upon God's creation, broken relationships, and human hearts.

This is not a one time prayer; it must become our breath.

18 April 2017

How does a poem work?

How does a poem work? It works with the reader. The reader and the poem complement each other. Like a man and a woman, they complete each other. The poem hints, suggests, implies--while the reader takes the hint, fills the suggestion with her own real experience, turns an implication into an open emotion and brings to life what had only lurked on the invited page.

The poem invites the reader to uncover her own truth by telling her but a half truth, the other half of which is hers to find. That's the difficulty and the reward of poetry: it demands so much of the reader. It is not merely imparting information or knowledge. Rather, it wants the reader to fill its tiny frame with her self. But then it gives back to the reader that self, awakened and aware.

-Walt Wangerin Jr, Whole Prayer

17 April 2017

Poem: Rugged Theology

A beautiful script
     upon the page
     a calligrapher's delicate hand
The words themselves
     tell truth
     and love
     and goodness
The insight and the ink
     drawn together
     in flawless form
But it is just gallery beauty
     safely cordoned off
     from indelicate hands
     Look, but do not touch
     Admire, but do not use
     lest the paper become torn
     and the ink smudged
Then this priceless treasure
     becomes worthless
     crumpled, and cast aside

Too often, our theology is like that...
     good on paper but ultimately
     a fine vellum
     useless for anything
     except a showpiece
We need a rugged theology
     leather perhaps, but not parchment
     one that withstands
     the scuffles
     and bruises
     of a rough and tumble world
     each scar enhancing its beauty

Book Review: Martin Luther in his own words

Martin Luther was undoubtedly one of the most influential theologians in history. An exceptional communicator who was also committed to upholding God's word, he sought to expose the church's abuses. In combination with a restless people and the advent of the printing press, Luther's challenges started a fire that took the world by storm. When Protestantism traces its roots, Luther is undoubtedly a progenitor. In other words, it is not just Lutheranism that traces its roots to Luther, but Protestantism in general.

Despite his profound influence upon Western History generally and church history in particular, I suspect few casual readers have read him, which is unfortunate. Luther was a keen thinker and worth the effort to read. When I tell people that one of my must read books is Luther's Commentary on the Galatians, I am met with glazed eyes that ask, "why would anyone read a commentary for pleasure?"

Perhaps the greatest service that Kilcrease and Lutzer offer to the church in their new book Martin Luther in His Own Words (Baker, 2017) is a sampling of Luther. Those who are new to wine often benefit from attending a sampling; in the same way, those new to Luther also benefit from a sampling.

The authors give us 12 chapters under the heading of the five solas--sola fide, sola gratia, sola scriptura, solus christus, and soli deo gloria. For those unfamiliar with these Latin reformation terms, they mean this: faith alone, grace alone, scripture alone, Christ alone, and to the glory of God alone. Under each heading, Kilcrease offers the reader 2 or 3 chapters pulled directly from Luther and offers them a helpful introduction. Sections from a number of Luther's works were included including: his commentary on Galatians, the larger catechism, and Bondage of the Will to name a few.

In an ideal world, this book will serve as an aperitif for more Luther. If this book stimulates the appetites of even 5% of its readers for his Galatians commentary, it will be an amazing success. Even if it doesn't, however, readers will come to know a man of profound biblical wisdom and insight.

I received a review copy of this book from the Baker Books Blogger program in exchange for a review. I was not required to provide a positive review and the impressions given here are my own.

14 April 2017

A Good Friday Prayer: The Precious Blood

Blessed Lord Jesus,
Before thy cross I kneel and see
     the heinousness of my sin,
     my iniquity that caused thee to be
     'made a curse',
     the evil that excites the severity
     of divine wrath.
Show me the enormity of my guilt by
     the crown of thorns,
     the pierced hands and feet,
     the bruised body,
     the dying cries.
Thy blood is the blood of incarnate God,
     its worth infinite, its value beyond all thought.
Infinite must be the evil and guilt
     that demanded such a price.
Sin is my malady, my monster, my foe, my viper,
     born in my birth,
     alive in my life,
     strong in my character,
     dominating my faculties,
     following me as a shadow,
     intermingling with my every thought,
     my chain that holds me captive in the
     empire of my soul.
Sinner that I am, why should the sun give me light,
     the air supply breath,
     the earth bear my tread,
     its fruits nourish me,
     its creatures subserve my ends?
Yet thy compassions yearn over me,
     thy heart hastens to rescue me,
     thy love endured my curse,
     thy mercy bore my deserved stripes.
Let me walk humbly in the lowest depths
     of humiliation,
     bathed in thy blood,
     tender of conscience,
     triumphing gloriously as an heir of salvation.
-Valley of Vision

07 April 2017

Union with Christ

Miracle of miracles
     I am in Christ
wholly secure
    in Holy God's eyes.

Miracle of miracles
     Christ is in me
giving me strength
     to become who I can be.

Miracle of miracles
     union with Christ
an oft unknown doctrine
     essential for life. 

04 April 2017

The essence of prayer

Ten million prayers
hover and fly
begging attention
and so I try

to focus my thoughts
to talk with my Lord
but they bounce so fast
it seems I get bored

with each thought that enters
seeking my prayer
they clamor for notice
and then they are

gone in a flash
replaced by another
I reached out to grasp it
but then wonder whether

something more urgent
seeks prayerful release
I chase that thought too
but God whispers "Peace

be still from your frenzy
relax in my presence
time spent with me
that is prayer's essence.