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Grace in Goofiness

Grace in Goofiness

This piece was written by Carrie Willard.

My parents have three daughters and a son. We girls were, and are: rule-followers, studious, somewhat-to-highly anxious, bookish. Two of the three of us skipped a grade and became valedictorians of our high school classes, while the other was the salutatorian, and all of us were the kind of students that teachers would leave in charge of the class when they had to step out in the hallway for a moment. My brother, on the other hand, might have been the reason that the teacher had to step out for a moment, most likely to…

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The Individual Sufferer and Preaching like a Bad Kid

The Individual Sufferer and Preaching like a Bad Kid

This one comes to us from our friend, Cody Gainous.

I get tasked with the Sunday morning sermon pretty regularly at the parish I serve, even though I’m only the Youth Minister. I’m always grateful for the invitation, and I’m always humbled by the opportunity. Beloved Father Capon says in his excellent The Foolishness of Preaching that “Good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills, spirituality pills, and morality pills and flush them all down the drain.” Well and good, but a bit intimidating…

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Limping Into the Sun: Frank Lake on the Spiritual Battle of Jacob

Limping Into the Sun: Frank Lake on the Spiritual Battle of Jacob

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and…

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Whole30 and Holiness: Spiritual Cleanliness, Eating Disorders, and Bodily Damages Wrought By Cheetos

Whole30 and Holiness: Spiritual Cleanliness, Eating Disorders, and Bodily Damages Wrought By Cheetos

This one comes to us from Charlotte Donlon. 

My friend Jen is telling me about the Whole30 eating plan. We’re sitting in lounge chairs by the pool on a hot and humid afternoon while our kids are swimming and engaging each other in water gun battles. She rattles off everything that’s not allowed on Whole30: “No sugars or artificial sweeteners. No alcohol. No grains. No legumes including beans, soy, and peanuts. And no dairy.” When our kids come ask us for snacks, she hands out baggies of grapes to her two boys. Her kids are doing it, too. I give my…

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Finding Our Roots: The Miniseries and the Exodus

Finding Our Roots: The Miniseries and the Exodus

This one comes to us from Heather Strong Moore.

“You can’t buy a slave, you’ve got to make a slave.” So says Kunta Kinte’s slave overseer prior to a vicious whipping. This line summarizes much of the struggle depicted in Roots (based on the 1976 novel by Alex Haley and 1977 original miniseries), a new miniseries which follows the Kinte family from West Africa in the mid-1700s through the end of the Civil War in the United States. It follows their fight to remember where this family came from in the face of the horrors of slavery and this vile institution that desired to take…

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Richard Rohr on Why We Kiss the Cross

Richard Rohr on Why We Kiss the Cross

The “performance principle” is a guiding mythology that, according to Richard Rohr, guides the first half of our religious lives. It is the mythology that suggests we are defined, more or less, by our achievement. It is also a mythology that is rooted in and propelled by fear: the expectation of punishment. Our achievements are meant to secure for us a way out of this punishment. In short, we live to prove. I don’t know a better summation of the Law.

What must happen, then, is death. Our first self must die. Thankfully, as Rohr’s meditation illustrates, this is the nature of the cross…

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Condemned By Illness to Passivity

Condemned By Illness to Passivity

This amazing passage from Frank Lake’s Clinical Theology is perhaps the best reading of Mark 2 ever written. As we prepare for the Mental Health Issue, it has much to say about Christ’s office being (quite literally here) at the end of our rope. And that pastoral care–in every facet, from simple friendship to hospital chaplaincy–does not mean giving power to those who are powerless over their afflictions, but instead digging the grave they are too powerless to dig for themselves.

The pastoral dimensions for the healing of the person with schizoid characteristics can be seen in the Gospel record of the healing…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Zechariah Chapter Twelve Verse Ten

This morning’s devotion comes to us from Gil Kracke. 

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn (Zechariah 12:10, NIV)

On the heels of a previous declaration that the Lord alone will be the source of a fearsome and awesome salvation, the prophet continues with this thunderbolt about the “one whom they have pierced.”

tumblr_inline_n9or5km2IH1qkqzlv“And I will pour out a spirit of grace; And I will pour out pleas of mercy.” The Lord is speaking here: the spirit of grace and supplication is given to us—it is never natural to who we are. This givenness always prevails: the work of the Lord within me continues hour-by-hour, moment-by-moment, as I relate to Him in a fundamental position of reception. Without this grace given, my heart is hardened; my judgment remains clouded; my sense of perspective stays skewed. In short, I remain self-interested and self-absorbed.

“When they look on me, on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” This is the remarkable fruit of being given a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy. As I look on the one whom I have pierced, I am also given the right portions of gut-churning remorse and despair.

Why is this important? Because if the spirit of grace is not first given, if the Lord is not this “first mover,” if I am not given the eyes to see—then I look on this “one who was pierced” in an entirely different light. Naturally, I move to blame-shifting and disassociation: It wasn’t me, I had nothing to do with it. Naturally, self-justification reigns: Well, he deserved it; she got what was coming to her; they didn’t leave me any other optionsI had to take care of myself and my family.

The Lord has none of this—He squares each of these directly, and directly God transfers the justice upon Himself. Pouring out grace and mercy, the Lord draws us to see our hands driving the nails of our transgressions, gives us the sobriety to deal with our part in the death. In a flood of guilt, we are yet loved, even by the one we have crucified, resulting in “true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of the Holy Spirit.” We can then join in declaring with fearful wonder, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Hopelessly Devoted: Joel Chapter Two Verses Twenty Five through Twenty Seven

This morning’s devotion comes from the preacher himself, Paul N. Walker. 

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer and the cutter, my great army which I sent among you. (Joel 2:25-27, ESV)

Everything, ultimately, comes from the hand of God: the good, the bad, and the ugly. God is sovereign, which means that He is in control of everything. The bad things in your life have not escaped God’s notice, nor do they fall outside of His sphere of influence. This means that hurt and disease and disaster and death are all under His command and authority.

ewMost of us want to shy away from this biblical view of God. We are loath to attribute anything bad to our good God. We are more likely to say that bad things happen because of sin and the devil. God then swoops into the mess to make things right. It is true that the devil is real and threatens to undo us. It is also true that we reap our own misery because of our sin.

God, however, is not a God on the sidelines, watching our lives unfold and rushing in to help fix what is broken. If God is omnipotent, as we say He is, then He could stop our hands from sinning and save us from our own misery. Satan, like everything and everyone else, is subject to His command. Affirming God’s sovereignty means concluding that God wields both healing and woe for His own good, yet often inscrutable, purpose.

God’s sovereignty is clear to Joel. God refers to the devastating plague of locusts as His “great army which I sent among you.” The destroyers did real and severe damage in Israel, His chosen people; they brought years of loss built on more years of sorrow. Perhaps you have experienced what feels like years wasted in loss or sickness or suffering, or years spent idly or in vain—years you wish you could have back. The good and comforting news is that those years, and all years, come from the hand of God. And the better news is that God does not waste time—neither His time nor yours.

He doesn’t always provide an explanation of why He does what He does. The bad in the world will remain a mystery until the end of the world as we know it. But He does give us a promise we can trust: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten… You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied.” It is His goodness and love that allows us to say in both the triumphs and trials of our lives that God “has dealt wondrously with me” and to thank Him for everything that comes from His hand.

Hopelessly Devoted: Isaiah Chapter Sixty Two Verses One Through Four

This one comes from Bonnie Poon Zahl.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. (Isaiah 62:1-4, ESV)

imageThere’s the old Shakespeare line, “What’s in a name? / That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet). Juliet may not have made much of names, but our names have the tendency to transcend us. In the Bible, significant changes in a person’s life were accompanied by a change in their name: Abram was re-named Abraham—“Father of Nations”—after God declared him to be so (Gen 17:5). Jacob was re-named Israel—“God contended”—after wrestling with God until morning (Gen 32:28). Simon became Peter, the “rock” on which God would build his Church (Mark 3:16). When God re-names people, He creates a new hope, something stretching much further beyond who they’ve known themselves to be. By changing their names, He changes their lives.

Although names seem to possess less inherent meaning today, we still wish to be known as people whose lives mean something. We strive to maximize the positive traits by which we are known and minimize the jeopardizing ones, and sometimes we wish we were someone else altogether. We are not usually completely happy with who we are: we know well what we lack, yet we also lack the means to really change it. It is hard for us to render a new name in any sustainable or significant way.

And yet the old story of a new hope is true for us: “you shall be called a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.” God promises that we will be known by a new name—a name that, in renaming, transforms us. No longer shall we be called “Forsaken,” but “Righteous;” no longer shall we be called “Desolate,” but “Delight of God.” The Lord has and will continue to transform us, and the first step is to call us by something different than what we are; He will name our righteousness into existence.

The Gospel’s Steady Work of Reversal

The Gospel’s Steady Work of Reversal

David Brooks’ most recent op-ed discusses the late career of Ernest Hemingway, how he became in his later years “a prisoner of his own celebrity.” Hemingway was a famous writer by 25 and by middle age he was simply “playing at being Ernest Hemingway.” Of course, this is where most of us might roll our eyes, and say few are so lucky. It’d be nice to a prisoner to your laurels instead of your demons. But when it comes down to it, Brooks isn’t just talking about fame. He is instead talking about works righteousness in a most literal sense: that becoming righteous (or noteworthy,…

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Kierkegaard on the (Lost) Offense of Christianity

Kierkegaard on the (Lost) Offense of Christianity

[T]ake away the possibility of offense, as they have done in Christendom, and the whole of Christianity is direct communication; and then Christianity is done away with, for it has become an easy thing, a superficial something which neither wounds nor heals profoundly enough; it is the false invention of human sympathy which forgets the infinite qualitative difference between God and man.

-Søren Kierkegaard, “The Offence,” Training in Christianity

Kierkegaard handles the problem of the “messianic secret” still, to me, better than almost anyone. That secret is the question of why Jesus, after healing people, often tells them to tell no one….

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