Who’s Your Favorite Theologian?…Hopefully, Jesus

On Tuesday I sat in a worn, green, boxy and slightly sticky chair on the main floor of the library, reading “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” for PR 601. With sun beams dancing through the window, I was captured by one of my chief influences, speaking on my favorite topics (God, glory, and preaching). In the second half, an exposition of Jonathan Edwards’ life, he expressed his appreciation for one tidbit of advice he received in seminary:

When I was in seminary, a wise professor told me that, in addition to the Bible, I ought to choose one great theologian and apply myself throughout life to understanding and mastering his thought–to sink at least one shaft deep into reality rather than always dabbling on the surface of things. I might, in time, be able to “converse” with this theologian as a kind of peer, and know at least one system with which to bring other ideas into fruitful dialogue. It was good advice.*

This got me thinking. Who would I want to take a 2-year stroll with? Dr. Arthurs, or Dr. Gibson? As much as I look forward to their instruction, they probably don’t fit the scope that’s being recommended here. Barth? I have, indeed, been intrigued by this neo-orthodox character I hear more and more about…but no, studying Barth at Gordon Conwell is like telling everyone how amazing Inception was. Perhaps Whitefield, the great American preacher–I could read his books by his bones, half an hour away! Or Chrysostum! Hadn’t Stott called golden-mouthed man, the greatest preacher among the patristics?

I puzzled over this for the last 24 hours, when a thought finally hit me. It was still the wrong thought, but it was in the same species as the right one. Paul! I should become conversant with the Apostle Paul! Or…John! Or…

Then it hit me: Jesus.

IMG_2063Please don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying anything about Piper, or his mentor, or his advice. Having heard and read the man, I know that “in addition to the Bible” is no obligatory concession for Him, but it is for me. If there’s any thinker or teacher who I want to know, love, and quote to the point of embarrassment it’s Jesus, but I don’t. His philosophy has been right there, on the nightstand, this whole time. His life contains deeps unseen and unfathomable heights. Furthermore, he is the risen one, the living Lord, whose Spirit I truly can stroll with. I love Jesus as my Savior, but I have neglected him as my Teacher.

To those with a thousand questions: This is not to hold up Biblical theology over systematic theology. This is not to assert a canon within the canon. This is not to discount the value of theology, theologians, or anyone’s dear, dead theologian. It is only to say: Maybe not yet, or, at least, not yet for me. Do you know Jesus well enough to justify a theological elective? I, for one, don’t.

I do intend to spend the rest of my life seeking and following Jesus, but I think I need to dedicate the next few months to knowing him in a special  way. God gets all my devotional-reading-time, but it’s time for me to devote some study-reading-time (sorry, Paul Copan) and fun-reading-time (sorry, Emily Dickinson) examining and enjoying Jesus. His teaching, life, and work are the one subject I refuse to leave seminary without.

 

*Piper, John. The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker. 65.

Learning How to Read at 24

No one wants to dig the same hole twice. Yes, we sometimes read as an alternative to Netflix or Sportscenter, for a combination of escape and entertainment, but other books (eg. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contment), occasions (eg. a report or book club), or roles (eg. writer or preacher) inspire–or require–archeological reading. After all that sifting, sorting and storing, why cast the jewels back into the pit, knowing that forgetfulness will soon refill the hole?

Excited readers should learn to highlight, annotate, and glean from their books to read more effectively. Bored students should acquire the same skills to read more efficiently. Preachers, professors, writers, and the like should practice these academic disciplines to capture quotes more habitually, minimize rereading, and synthesize their sources.

In the past couple years, I’ve discovered several priceless tools for capturing ideas from books (hereafter: Reading Hacks). They’re largely missing in the classroom because they were unavailable when today’s professors were forming their own study habits, but these tools are to me like the advent of cars; they allow me to either go further or the same distance faster.

At this point, I employ either 1, 3, and 4 or 2, 3, and 4 (below) with almost every book I read, whether I want to set aside 50 passages for a report or one perfect piece of dialogue from a novel.

1. Reading Hack #1: Kindle Highlights

I first started reading books on Kindle because A) I could covertly read Chesterton in the back of my Microeconomics class with the Kindle for Mac app, and B) most of the best books on Kindle are free. My Kindling was ratcheted up when Annie’s parents got me an iPad for graduation, and a Kindle Fire last year for Christmas. However, I continued to ride the fence, equally drawn by the feel of paper books and the convenience of ebooks, until I learned that Kindle books are also more functional.

Photo Aug 28, 10 18 08 AMOne feature sets Kindle apart: highlights. At first, this seemed like a novelty, an attempt to imitate some readers’ habits. I rarely highlighted my books, anyway–when was I going to pull a book off the shelf and thumb through it all over again? That’s what Google is for. That all changed when I discovered kindle.amazon.com. When you visit this unheralded site and login with your Amazon id, every one of your highlights and notes is laid out before you, even if you’ve been reading the book on your phone, tablet, reader, and laptop. You can copy and paste. You can go directly to the page in your book and read it in context (when paired with the Kindle for Mac or Kindle for PC app). You can even combine this page with Reading Hack #3 to create a searchable database of everything you’ve ever highlighted.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 10.01.07 AM

Highlighting a passage is a matter of seconds, but that small investment every so often means all your passages, with locations, are now there for you when you need them. I’m encouraging you to create your own personal database here; think of highlighting as making deposits in your scholastic IRA.

For college students, its hard to buy books that you can’t loan out or sell back, but think of it this way: You’re paying thousands of dollars for the class. If buying a better book for a few extra dollars helps you learn more in less time, it will quickly pay for itself. This is particularly true if your grades are good enough that an incremental increase may mean scholarships or bad enough that an incremental decrease may mean paying for it all over again.

Tips for using Kindle highlights:

  • Amazon hasn’t created an easy way to highlight passages across pages. The best work around is to increase and decrease the font size until you have your whole passage on one page, that you can highlight (eg. increase the font to push the start of your passage to the next page, then swipe to the next page and decrease the size of the font until the whole passage is on that page).
  • I try to highlight longer passages that include the context, so that I can understand it when its listed on its own in “Your Highlights.” 
  • It’s rarely worth writing yourself a note to say, “I really like this!” (clearly, you highlighted it), but the “note” function is useful when you highlight a quote. Just select the passage, select “note,” write “Augustine, Confessions” or whatever bibliographic material you want to include. Kindle will automatically highlight the passage you have selected.
  • The kindle.amazon.com interface is a bit cumbersome. The best way to see your highlights of a recent book is to select “My Highlights” from the options at the top and scroll down until you see the book you’re interested in. For a book you haven’t opened in a while, go to “Your Books,” click the title of the book, then click the “View Your Notes & Highlights” button across from “Shared Notes & Highlights.” Note: It will only show 10 highlights at a time, so you’ll need to keep scrolling down and clicking “load more notes and highlights” until that option is replaced with, “no more notes and highlights.”

2. Reading Hack #2: Cut Sticky Notes

Photo Aug 28, 12 17 50 PMSometimes a book is unavailable on Kindle, so cheap on Half.com that you can’t justify an ebook, or so great that you have to feel it in your hands and display it on your bookshelf. Never fear. Cutting sticky notes may not seem like much of a hack, but it’s allowed me to start incorporating print books into my illustration files and writing system.

Reading 1.0 was reading. Reading 2.0 was reading, and stopping to type up essential quotes mid-book to streamline my paper writing process at the end. Reading 3.0 is reading, flagging particular passages with a cut sticky note, and going back to type them up after I’ve finished the book. Eight reasons I would encourage you to do the same:

i. Compared to 1.0, you’ll be able to use these gems for the rest of your life (if you pair this with Reading Hack #3).
ii. Compared to 1.0, paper writing will be far smoother.
iii. Compared to 1.0, you’re forced to pay attention to what you’re reading, but not to store it all in your brain.
iv. Compared to 2.0, your reading doesn’t get sidetracked whenever it starts getting good.
v. Compared to 2.0, you don’t spend all the time typing initially important passages until you finish and understand how important it actually is.
vi. Compared to 2.0, you’ll finish the book (and walk into the next class) with a better sense of the whole book, not just the last couple chapters.
vii. Compared to underlining and highlighting, it’s easy to find all you passages, even with the book closed.
viii. Compared to underlining and highlighting, you haven’t devalued your book for resale.

You may balk at the idea of going back through a book, just after finishing it. Yet, like the last part of Creme Brûlée, this final–and relatively short–step will likely make the whole book worthwhile. You’ve already spent hours reading the book, take 5, 10, or 30 minutes to go back through the book and capture what you’ve found.

Furthermore, if you’re preparing to write a paper, you’re going to have to type up all these passages anyway. Doing it as you read would make the reading take longer; doing it as you write would make the writing take longer. Read, then glean, then write, and you’ll end up with a better paper in less time.

You can make flag-sized sticky notes by pulling up the top several notes on a standard sticky note pad, making a few layers of mostly-cut quarter sheets with three snips, and tearing them as you go. Or you can buy little Post-it flags for $3.27.

Tips for using cut sticky notes:

  • Use Reading Hack #3. Type those puppies straight into Evernote. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Stick profusely.
  • Don’t type profusely. Once you’ve finished the book, don’t feel obligated to type something out just because you flagged it. If it ends up being a minor point, just say something like, “Shows how peace-making requires meekness (p.134).” If it ends up being unimportant, ignore it.
  • If you wife gets annoyed with the sound of tiny post-it notes ripping in the night, buy the pre-cut Post Its. 

3. Reading Hack #3: Evernote

Evernote makes hacks 1 and 2 worthwhile. There’s really no reason to have a shelf full of books with sticky notes coming out the side or a bunch of highlights on Amazon’s poorly designed server. Import those passages into Evernote and all of a sudden you have a permanent, searchable record of everything you’ve ever highlighted. If you’ve used Kindle highlights or typed up your sticky-noted passages, this is only going to take another 5 minutes, which is like highway robbery considering how useful your Evernote notes will become.

Evernote is a free, cloud-based platform, best-suited to text and a few pictures. For those raised (or trained) on Windows/Office or OSX/iWork, think of it as a separate (smaller, handier) universe from your files and word processors. It’s its own, basic filing system and word processor in one. It’s not good for storing movies, creating pretty posters, or listening to music. It’s good for storing text (with a few pictures attached to that text). You’re going to create a big, searchable database of things you’ve read, heard, or seen, so when you search “compassion,” you’ll find:

  • YScreen Shot 2013-08-28 at 11.02.06 AMour notes from a class 2 years ago, specifically the part where your professor gave a definition of compassion.
  • An article on social justice you skimmed last fall. You sent the whole thing to your database using Evernote webclipper.Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 11.02.28 AM
  • A picture you took on a mission trip. You uploaded it straight from your phone into Evernote, and typed a few key words alongside it.
  • An anecdote from last month, when your friend sat with you in the middle of a difficult season. You saved it, wanting to praise her example when appropriate in the future.
  • Your highlighted passages from Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life by Robert Lupton.
  • A relevant passage from Satisy Your Soul by Bruce Demarest.

Since Evernote creates a separate, small, cloud-based universe meant specifically for text and a few pictures, it’s A) easy to input your data and B) easy to search your data. It’s really good at one thing: Hosting your own private database.

 

How to import Kindle books:

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 11.16.56 AM1a) Download Evernote on all your devices (or your computer for now, but you will soon have it on all your devices).

1b) In Evernote, create a notebook (think of it as a “folder” in an operating system) called “Books.”

–switching to Kindle–

2a) Once you’ve finished a book on Kindle, highlighting throughout, get on your computer and visit kindle.amazon.com.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 11.23.02 AM2b) Click on “Your Highlights” along the top.

2c) Simply highlight a whole book’s worth, from the title to the end of the last highlighted passage, and press ctrl+c.

–switching to Evernote–

3a) In Evernote, create a new note in Books.

3b) Paste all the the information in.

3c) Give it a title (I use the format: “Manalive – G.K. Chesteron).

3d) Now, here’s the key: Take a few minutes to go through the quotes and add keywords. Given Evernote’s search function, the formal tagging system is a waste of time. If you’d like this passage to pop up when you search for “fear,” but it doesn’t include the word fear, just type “fear” above or below it.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 11.27.09 AMHow to import printed (and now sticky-noted) books:

1a) Create a new note in Evernote.

1b) Give it a title.

1c) Type away. You can do it. 

1d) Now, here’s the key: Take a few minutes to go through the quotes and add keywords. Given Evernote’s search function, the formal tagging system is a waste of time. If you’d like this passage to pop up when you search for “fear,” but it doesn’t include the word fear, just type “fear” above or below it.

Tips for Evernote:

  • Use keywords that you’ll actually search for. 
  • Learn how to use webclipper.
  • Commit. It seems like a lot of time at first, but two years from now (or if you ever start blogging), you will be so glad you got started when you did.
  • Include a good citation in each book note so that you can insert it into a paper without every having to find the actual book.

4. Reading Hack #4: Pre-Footnoted Outlines

My final reading tool is actually more of a writing tool. I often enjoy writing, but regularly lose momentum because of cumbersome citation. Of course, good footnotes and a good bibliography are ethical essentials and help your more curious readers, so we wouldn’t want to do a poor job either. That’s why, with reading 3.0, I cite before I write. If you’ve used any of the tips above you’re within inches of writing better and faster. Here’s my outlining system that I invite you to share:

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 11.40.50 AM

A. Come up with 2-4 points, with “Introduction” and “Conclusion” before and after (oftentimes provided by the professor).
B. Under each point, add 2-4 sub points.
C. Go through all the passages you’ve gleaned and put them in below specific sub-points. This is when you footnote! You can use the “footnote” button in word, or use the Kindle shortcut below.
D. Once your outline is filled with your pre-footnoted quotes, open up a blank document.
E. Write the body of your paper. Whenever you get to a quote, copy and paste the entire quote, with superscripted footnote number, from your notes document to your paper document (or paraphrase the quote in your paper document and then copy just the superscripted footnote number from your notes document). The footnote itself will come with it, renumbering itself in the new document.
F. Write your introduction and conclusion.
G. Make sure to double check your footnotes for appropriate uses of Ibid, etc.

Tips for Pre-Footnoted Outlines:

  • When you copy directly out of Kindle for Mac (and presumably Kindle for PC), it will automatically add a footnote. Sadly, kindle.amazon.com does not do this, but it does let you “Read more at location 549,” opening the app and sending you to that page. Do this at least once to get all the bibliographic information. Past that, you can add “Ibid, [page/loc number].”
  • Some Kindle books have real page numbers (tied to a print edition), some do not. I’ve never run into problems using Kindle location numbers in my citations. However, if you know the book has real page numbers and you need them, they won’t be displayed at kindle.amazon.com. Go to the location in the ebook using the aforementioned links.

None of these tips are revolutionary on their own, nor am I the world’s foremost student, but the combination of all four has certainly made me a better one. I hope these tools are useful for students, educators, writers, and readers alike. Let me know if anything is unclear or particularly helpful. Happy reading.

On John, Who’s Faster Than Me

John Hundley on a trip to Kenya, where he hopes to minister in the future. Facebook.

As we pumped up our tires and prepared to take off for the beach, I noticed John’s bike was considerably more worn than mine. The paint on the frame had chipped and the mismatched handlebar tape had clearly been replaced more than once. Fifteen minutes in our ride, I was straining to keep him from disappearing around a bend, sure that he had put all the wear on his machine himself.

On our return trip, having neither fallen, nor fallen too far behind, nor perished, I realized cycling with John could be really good for me. Back in Bellevue, commuting to Crossroads, I’d been challenged at first, but gradually settled into a comfortable pace. When Annie and I would go for a bike ride on the weekends, I felt accomplished because I had a faster frame, dorkier pants, and had gotten used to riding every day on the way to work. Riding with John, on the other hand, unmasked this fable. The next time he invited me, I could go along, but I would have to push myself. I could choose to stay home, but I couldn’t reassume my self-satisfaction.

Time with others who are more advanced than us inspires growth and sober self-estimation. If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, think of the first time you were dropped into a group of native speakers. If we just want to enjoy our immature ability, then we can continue to insulate ourselves from real ability–when I cooked “jambalaya” in college, I intentionally stayed away from the real thing, because I liked the rice/sausage/shrimp explosion I was making, even though it likely bore little resemblance to the actual creole dish–but when actual growth matters, when delusions won’t cut it, we should surround ourselves with others who are further along.

Have you grown complacent in your spiritual growth, content to keep up with yourself? In Hebrews 12:1-3, God commands us to recognize the “cloud of witnesses” and to look at Jesus. If we try to keep up with that crowd, we’ll quickly be pushed to grow and faced with a truer estimation of ourselves. Here are a few ways I’ve recently tried to follow these witnesses and the Witness made flesh:

1. To surround ourselves with “so great a cloud of witnesses,” Annie and I are looking for a discipleship group. As much as we enjoy preaching, prayer, music, missions, etc. in the churches we visit, we are seeking and praying for a small group that will know us well enough to see our true state and know God well enough to prod us toward righteousness. Just this morning, over breakfast, we were dreaming of a group that would help us make godly decisions with our money. Friends, we must not settle for theological discussion groups; we need Christians operating on one another’s lives with the scalpel of God’s word.

2. To surround myself with “so great a cloud of witnesses,” I am starting a Christian biography. Every time I start reading the account of a great man or woman who has gone before, I wonder why I ever stopped. We may not be able to travel to Christian heroes around the planet today, but with a few dollars and a few hours, we can learn from the greats throughout history. In Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Martyn Lloyd-Jones commends Christian biography to assess our “hunger for righteousness,” the key to receiving righteousness.* In the past couple years, I’ve read three commendable Christian biographies. For a historical account of Martin Luther’s incredible fervor, find a copy of Bainton’s Here I Stand. For short biographies of 26 diverse, inspiring men and women, find Foster and Beebe’s Longing for God. Finally, I started Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy at the beach yesterday; I was immediately gripped and my mother-in-law, Kristina, told me it only gets better. Find it.

3. To look to “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” we’re making sure we examine the Word of God in the word of God. Many times, my Scripture reading has become obligatory, moralistic, or its simply stopped. Though all the Bible is valuable and edifying, cover to cover and word by word, we sometimes need to turn to the incarnate Word of God revealed in the written word of God. As much as I’ve enjoyed reading through the Bible this year and soaking in the broad themes of God’s story, I’ve been reinvigorated by our Sermon the Mount time over breakfast this month. If you want Jesus to be your pace setter, you can’t beat what Jesus has to say about following Jesus.

Perhaps you know other ways to follow faster brothers and sisters, and especially our older brother, Jesus. However you go about it, don’t be wooed by the ease or comfort of winning a one-man race! We need  faithfulness and fruitfulness to strive after, so that we too may “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and…run with endurance the race that is set before us.”**

* Lloyd-Jones writes: “How can we tell whether we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness? That is the vital thing; that is all we have to be concerned about. I suggest the way to discover the answer is to study the Scriptures, as, for example, Hebrews xi, because there we have some great and glorious examples of people who did hunger and thirst after righteousness and were filled. Go through the whole of the Bible and you will discover the meaning of this, especially in the New Testament itself. Then you can supplement scriptural biography by reading about some of the great saints who have adorned the Church of Christ. There is ample literature concerning this matter. Read the Confessions of St. Augustine, or the lives of Luther, of Calvin, and of John Knox. Read the lives of some of the outstanding Puritans and the great Pascal. Read the lives of those mighty men of God of 200 years ago in the evangelical awakening, for example the first volume of John Wesley’s journal, or the astounding biography of George Whitefield.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Kindle Locations 1239-1245). Kindle Edition.

**Hebrews 12:1.

I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know…What a Marsh Is

Marsh Near Great Neck. Photo Credit: Alex KatoRounding a bend in the road, I instantly knew two things: First, this was a marsh. Second, I hadn’t actually known what a marsh is. I’d known the word and the constituent parts (mud, grasses, water), I’d seen them in movies. I thought I knew exactly what a marsh is, but in reality I knew about as much as an entry in an elementary school encyclopedia. My nostrils had not smelled the smell (presumably due to the dead Syndarin Elves); my eyes had had not seen the full-color sight. Before my bike pedals could complete a turn, I knew and I knew that I had not known.

IMG_2028Half a mile down the road, my assumption was confirmed. In case you can’t make out the sign, there are over 17,000 acres of marshland in New England and 2/3 of the fish and shellfish in the ocean somehow depend (I’m assuming if not directly, indirectly) on them at some point in their lives. You may laugh, first of all, because you think you know what a marsh is. If that’s the case, come next August and I’ll take you on this bike ride. Moreover, you may scoff because all I’ve only discovered some smelly terrain. In a sense, you’re right; the thrill has waned 16 hours later.

However, my unknowing unawareness reminds me of a conversation I had with a student. Walking through the church building, we discussed strategies for faithfulness at a new school. “But what if you do mess up?” I asked, a dozen different ways. No matter how I phrased it, this earnest, life-long, intelligent youth group kid could not produce, from his own heart, “grace.” There were strategies for accountability, Bible study, personal holiness, spiritual disciplines, and more, but there was no conviction that there is mercy and forgiveness in Jesus.

I share that story because I was the exact same way. I was, in many ways (including the literal sense), the poster boy for our youth group. I genuinely wanted to understand, obey, and contribute, but it wasn’t until the day that God’s favor and my actions were divorced in my mind that I could say, with Job, “I had heard of you by the hearing f the ear, but now my eye sees you.”

I wonder, do you truly know grace?

If not, don’t think you’re the first. Paul entreats the Galatians:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (3:1)…Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Have begun by the Spirit, are you now perfected by the flesh? (3:2-3)…You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace (5:4)…But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God (6:14-16).

Too often, we think of grace like a big, stretchy net under our moral trapeze, for conversions, outliers, and other people, but that is not nearly all that God intends grace to be in our lives. Grace is more free, complete, and daily than we usually believe. Maybe you don’t know if you know grace–consider these questions:

1. Do you believe that, because of Jesus, God is not angry with you anymore, nor will he be (Romans 5:9)?

2. Do you believe that if you died today, with all your projects unfinished, God would count you as righteous because of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21)?

3. Do you believe that Jesus enjoys working in you to make up for the fact that you neither do nor want to do what you should (Philippians 2:13)? 

4. Do you believe that God is not waiting to see whether you “pan out” or prove to be a good investment, but because of his own goodness chose you for adoption before you remotely deserved to come anywhere near his family (Ephesians 1:5-6)?

5. Do you believe that God chose to make you alive when you were dead, that forgiveness and restoration are not rewards for believing, but gifts given to a corpse along with life (Ephesians 2:4-7)

If you have never truly beheld these truths or have let them fall by the wayside, repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Queue This Up: Feisty Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn boards a train in Vladivostok, Mikhail Evstafiev, 1994. License

Another whirlwind author-romance swept me off my feet on Tuesday. I was minding my own business, reading a book for class, when a quote jumped off the page: “[Writers and artists] can vanquish the lie…One word of truth outweighs the whole world. And on such a fantastic breach of the law of conservation of mass and energy are based my own activities and my appeal to the writers of the world.”*

Solzhenitsyn? I tried to remember his name coming up in conversation over the last few years, faintly recalling philosophy majors with bears. I headed to Google, referred to wikipedia, puzzled over an incomplete bibliography, and finally found myself in the basement of Goddard Library, stooped over a dusty periodical from 1985.

I quickly fell for the exiled, Russian Orthodox author and Nobel Laureate, reading about his family’s earnest simplicity and intensity. The biographer, Edward E. Ericson Jr., suggested Solzhenitsyn’s Templeton acceptance speech as a brief primer on his philosophy and vision for the world. I was arrested, as I hope you are, by the opening lines:

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.**

If you have time for a good read today, I recommend sitting down with the rest of the speech. In it, Solzhenitsyn grieves over 20th century Russia and berates the Western world for voluntarily choosing the same depravity that was forced on his countrymen.

“The free people of the West could reasonably have been expected to realize that they are beset by numerous freely nurtured falsehoods,” he asserts, “and not to allow lies to be foisted upon them so easily. All attempts to find a way out of the plight of today’s world are fruitless unless we redirect our consciousness, in repentance, to the Creator of all: without this, no exit will be illumined, and we shall seek it in vain.”

*Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. Nobel Prize Speech, 1970. Quoted in: Stott, John R. W. (1994-01-01). Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (p. 105). Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

**Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. Templeton Speech, 1983. Translator: A. Klimoff. Available at: http://www.roca.org/OA/36/36h.htm

When Obedience Trumps Strategy

Sadly, “evangelism vs. compassion” is one of the title fights in the American church right now. In one corner, evangelical doctrine extends to the Nth degree, concluding that the most efficient way to enact the global Christian mission is to save everyone first and make them be nice to each other second. In the other

Continue reading “When Obedience Trumps Strategy”

Is “Good Luck” Stunting Your Theology?

Photo Credit: Jonathunder. License.

Do you remember the last word or phrase you instantly regretted? As soon as you said it, you wished you wouldn’t have. In the words of John Mayer, “How could I forget mama said, ‘Think before speaking’?” Last Friday, in a mixed and somewhat unfamiliar crowd, I released the Jeff Keuss-ism, “revenge porn,” my stomach sinking as it fluttered around the room. Given time to explain, I would have stuck with the label for the Denzel Washington movie we were discussing–it employs gratuitous vengeance for entertainment, similar to the way pornography uses sexuality–but instead, I was left regretting my choice of words until I finally, fitfully, fell asleep around 11:30.

If we were to step back and listen to ourselves, we would discover that Continue reading “Is “Good Luck” Stunting Your Theology?”

The Crown

The Crown

Splitting tender scalp from skull
long spikes forced down to make their full
effect. What was alive this morning,
pulled and wrapped round without warning,
the branch created for protection,
men twisted, plotting insurrection.
They bound the King and claimed his breath,
He gave it, wearing crown of death.

They missed the cast of Heav’n, involved;
Christ triumphed, torn, but spirit resolved!
Death’s vine incinerated,
the Victor’s now venerated.
This all for their sake, who wove the crown,
who spit and scorned, who pressed it down,
one defeated, pain and strife,
the other won, the crown of life.

© Alex Kato and faithfulandfruitful, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alex Kato with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

We Need Paul Petersons

Matt Schulte, Paul Peterson, and Phil Peterson (left to right). Photo Credit: Matt Schulte

My friend, Paul, is always the first one to like my status on Facebook. It doesn’t matter whether I’m posting about Scripture, the Crossroads youth group, a delicious meal, or the Seahawks (although I suspect the last part is because half of our team is hand-me-downs from Paul’s favorite team, the Vikings). At first, I thought that Paul’s quick trigger finger indicated his passion for social media, but I’ve since learned that it’s really showing his passion for people.

Paul and I first met at a Crossroads junior high summer camp. I was a bit surprised that my boss’s brother wanted to spend his vacation time (and his short time in the Northwest) wrangling a bunch of pre-teens, but we all came to find out that Paul wasn’t just tagging along. Though he wasn’t part of our year-round team, Paul quickly became essential to our team. He befriended a lonely, homesick kid who no one else truly noticed or patiently pursued. Instead of trying to be the coolest leader or the center of attention, he kept a look out for others in need and changed one student’s week (summer? year? life?) because of it.

The second time we met, Paul greeted me as a friend. Many of us hesitate to show our brotherly affection for acquaintances, worried that it will not be reciprocated or that we will discover we have been forgotten, but Paul was not afraid to have missed me. He made me feel remembered, known, and thus valued.

Even from halfway across the country (moving from Seattle to Boston didn’t really bring us any closer to Minnesota), Paul feeds our friendship with positive encouragement every day, liking my status. Some people “like” out of laziness or to show that they’re “in the know.” Because Paul is my friend, I know it’s not that way with him. Countless times, I honestly opened up online and Paul (digitally) smiled back, I notice, I’m listening, I care. 

We need more Paul Peterson’s. We need more men and women who embody the Apostle’s command: “Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” We need more people who do less to cultivate what others think of them and more to cultive what others think of themselves.

So consider:

1. When you walk into a room, do you ask yourself, “Who would it most benefit me to gravitate towards?” or “Who could I most benefit by gravitating towards?”

2. When you interact in a public setting–perhaps a group conversation or online–do you guard what you say to keep from embarrassing yourself or guard what you say to keep from hurting others?

3. When others are praiseworthy, are you cautiously stingy with your encouragement, or do you selflessly build others up?

Queue This Up: Keller on Green Faith

Photo Credit: Marcus Quiqmire

Have a drive or run ahead of you today? Queue up this thought-provoking audio to make good use of the time. 

I listened to Keller’s November, 2008 sermon, “Can Faith Be Green?” as I drove to Staples last night for some printer paper. Even though I was only halfway through the message by the time I got to the store, I ended up getting the 100% post-consumer recycled paper, so you know it’s good. Seriously, though, this sermon is worth a listen if you:

  • Question whether Christians have any reason to care about the environment
  • (Or) Have a feeling Christians should care about the environment, but can’t verbalize why
  • (Or) Have ever wondered why God bothered to say “don’t muzzle an ox as it treads out the grain”
  • (Or) Would be encouraged by a couple American Christians who are attempting to radically care for the environment in Jesus’ name

This is one of Keller’s monthly free podcasts and you can stream or download it here. You can also access it and other Keller sermons on the Redeemer Pres App.