The Chair and the Desk, 4/29/16

“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, 
and his kingdom rules over all.”

-Psalm 103:19

“Such being our chief scene, the date of our story refers to a period towards the end of the reign of Richard I., when his return from his long captivity had become an event rather wished than hoped for by his despairing subjects, who were in the meantime subjected to every species of subordinate oppression.”

-Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe, kindle loc.397

“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There!” for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.'”

-Luke 17:20-21

 

“The time I have spent, and am yet to spend in concealment, is, as I explained to thee at Saint Botolph’s, necessary to give my friends and faithful nobles time to assemble their forces, that when Richard’s return is announced, he should be at the head of such a force as enemies shall tremble to face, and thus subdue the meditated treason, without even unsheathing a sword.”

-Richard in Scott, Ivanhoe, kindle loc. 6929

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

-1 Peter 3:9

Last night my friend Jim and I were talking about the Kingdom of God, how it is somehow here and yet not fulfilled, it is truly established and yet not what it will be. I was glad to read this passage from the Psalms in my morning Bible reading; it reminded me of this truth. Though we do not yet see God enthroned, we will. Though we wonder, “how long, O Lord?”, we can also take solace in knowing that the wait is a gift of God’s patience, allowing many more to repent and believe and follow, even while the sham king seems to sit on the throne.

One day, perhaps when we least expect it, the True King will take back the throne–surprisingly, as the “Lamb who was slain.” On that day, we can be glad we chose his side when the night seemed darkest. We’ll see his wisdom in it all. We’ll rejoice in his kingdom.

The Chair and the Desk, 4/28/16

From the chair:

“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”

-1 Corinthians 11:17-22

I must confess, this passage actually says the opposite of what I assumed it said the first time. Contrary to what I expected, Paul says, “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” Though bleak, that phrase comforts me–perhaps our denominationalism is not beyond Paul’s wildest, worst imagination.

However, it isn’t what he’d want. I don’t think it’s what we want. I’d go as far as to say I don’t think it’s what God wants. I can’t say one way or the other on denominations, but denominationalism–where we are more loyal to our group than to the Church of Jesus Christ–this is a problem. The counter-proposal is delightfully concrete: Communion. Sure, we will have factions at times, because we desire to know who is genuine. Nonetheless, there is a larger crowd than we might think with whom we can remember Jesus, obey the Lord, gather, eat the bread, drink the wine.


From the desk:

“No man has a right to lead such a life of contemplation as to forget in his own ease the service due to his neighbor; nor has any man a right to be so immersed in active life as to neglect the contemplation of God.” 

-Augustine, The City of God, XIX, 19

There’s wisdom here, with at least one word of correction for anybody, two for some of us.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 4/27/16

From the chair:

“Your decrees are very trustworthy; 
holiness befits your house, 
O Lord, forevermore.”

-Psalm 93:5

God’s decrees, God’s desire for our holiness, sometimes these are parts of the Christian faith that are hard to actually get excited about. The psalmist, however, loves these things, and in these short lines makes it clear why: God’s decrees are good because they’re trustworthy. They lead to what God says they lead to. If he says this is the good life, he’s right; he’s God. Furthermore, holiness befits God’s house. God doesn’t ask us to be holy arbitrarily, He asks us–and helps us!–because he wants us to belong, to fit in the family of God. Decrees, holiness, this really is all about God wanting what’s best for us, and what’s best for us is the Lord himself.


From the desk:

“For as much as the Alexandrian theologians may have been engrossed in Greek ideals, the Gospel forced them to abandon the basic notion of Greek philosophy, namely, that in this world of ours man’s ultimate perfection consists in cognitive operations transcending and in a sense divorced from all interhuman relationships. The statements of the Gospel simply were too explicit to permit them without further ado to embrace the extreme intellectualism of the pagans.”

-Nikolaus Lobkowicz, Theory and Practice, p.60


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 4/26/16

From the chair:

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”

-1 Corinthians 10:23-24

Annie’s on a business trip this week, and I find this a helpful personal reminder. When it’s just me, I have a long list of relaxing things that I feel I need to be sure to squeeze in: A superhero TV show Annie doesn’t like, an iPhone game, a fun and light novel, a fun and heavy novel, some cheap and tasty cooking, the list goes on. These things are “lawful,” but are they helpful? Do they build up–specifically, do they build others up? Only indirectly, and only in proportion. I feel I’m still learning the right amount of recreation to recharge my batteries but not leave me uselessly plugged in. Yet, at the end of this term, with one paper left, I’m committed to asking that question anew, figuring out how to really dedicate my time to what is best, to what is helpful, through this paper, through teaching, through our congregation, through all the opportunities God has provided to build up in his people and his name.


From the desk:

“We judge doctors good as doctors, not only on the grounds that they are knowledgeable or get theoretically elegant results—although this is certainly part of their preparation—but on the grounds that they are good at curing, or have made some valuable contribution to future cures…So much, Aristotle, now claims, is true of ethics: if it makes human lives no better, it will be deservedly ignored.” 

-Martha Nussbaum, Therapy of Desire, p.59

I believe that what Nussbaum draws out of Aristotle’s work about medicine and ethics could also be said for medicine and homiletics. We mustn’t forget that our purpose is not good understanding of preaching but good preaching, by real preachers, in the Church. That’s what I’m arguing in this last paper–I wish I could call in some help on tidying up my mind on this one, a la Mrs. Weasley or Cinderella. If I could just talk to someone for 30-40 minutes and then have them write a coherent paper based on it, that would be great.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 4/25/16

From the chair:

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”

-Leviticus 23:22

We often harbor preconceived notions about the Law–Leviticus especially–that it’s at best dry and at worst irrelevant. To accept this idea and stay away robs us of both the beauty of the big picture and the timeliness of verses like this.

There’s a lot behind this verse: Mercy, justice, gratefulness, generosity. For the farmers of the time, God put it in very concrete, everyday terms: Don’t go back over your field a second time, making sure you got every last bit. Let those who have no field come in an take what they need. Leave some inefficiency in your business, lest you profit insensitive to you neighbor.

For those of us who aren’t farmers, we have to do some translation, but there’s still something we must take to heart about the God we are trying to follow. This God seems much more likely to ask us, “Why didn’t you help that extra person?” than “Why didn’t you make that extra dollar?” We’re raised by a culture that asks us the latter question, so it’s worth pausing and asking how deeply committed we are to the extra dollar on our income statements, in our paychecks, in our savings accounts, off our grocery bills. Are we “boxing out” someone smaller in our rush to win that last bit? It may be worth less than we thought, in the end, and that person is probably worth far more than we’ve stopped to realize.


From the desk:

I got some great advice from my friend Daniel Pedersen yesterday. I was explaining how I’m stuck on this paper, and he said, “Rather than reading another 200 pages of secondary sources, try going back and rereading those 5 pages of the primary sources that are super important.” That’s been really helpful today, and if you’re stuck on a paper, I recommend it to you, too! Once we have a clear understanding of the basics, we may be equipped to say something clear about the basics, which could really stand out.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 4/21/16

From the chair:

When I look at the heavens,
   the works of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars
   that you have put in place–
What is man
   that you are mindful of him?
   the son of man
   that you care for him?

-Psalm 8:3-4

I was glad to come across these verses this morning; this psalm is lodged deep in my soul, thanks to the Bible memory days at Bellevue Christian School. Despite the fact that I could memorize this as a child, despite the fact that I’ve heard it many times, I was struck, today, by the fact that the psalmist and I have had virtually the same thought when looking up at the stars. The sky is so big. The universe is so big. I am relatively small, relatively microscopic. Is it really possible that there is a God who cares about little me?

The psalmist declares that he does–“you have crowned him with glory and honor,” he says. It’s the author of Hebrews who finally tells us why and how that can be. It’s because of the one man who came and raised the bar for what a human could really be; in fact, as he did so, he acted on our behalf, he became our representative, in his life, his death, and his resurrection. Jesus Christ is the true man, the true Son of Man, who has been crowned with glory and honor. In him we have the opportunity to again become what we were made to be.


From the desk:

Nothing from the desk today, and nothing tomorrow–we’re taking a weekend trip to DC!


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 4/20/16

From the chair:

“So [Saul] went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and spitted against eh Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.” 

-Acts 9:28-30

“…and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” 

-Acts 11:22b-26

This passage encourages me because the Apostle Paul (still called “Saul” at the time) did not have a straight shot into ministry. For a time (years, we elsewhere are told), he had to go back to his hometown, Tarsus, and wait. Make a living making tents. Prepare. Wait to see if and how God would use him.

This encourages me in seminary (in, I should specify, my 5th of 9 years of seminary), particularly as I wait to focus my full attention on “parish ministry,” pastoring. The season of preparation may feel long. I can’t, and perhaps shouldn’t, really shorten it. All I can do is make sure I am being prepared, that this time is not wasted, so that future days, days I envision, aren’t wasted either.


From the desk:

“Politics is just one way to engage the world and, arguably, not the highest, best, most effective, nor most humane way to do so. This does not mean that Christians shouldn’t “vote their values” or be active in political affairs. It is essential, however, to demythologize politics, to see politics for what it is and what it can and cannot do and not place on it unrealistic expectations.”

-James Davison Hunter, To Change the WorldKindle loc. 3645


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 4/19/16

From the chair:

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, 
  for we have had more than enough of contempt. 
Our soul has had more than enough 
  of the scorn of those who are at ease, 
  of the contempt of the proud. 

-Psalm 123:3-4

Over the years, I’ve learned to ask different questions of the Psalms: Who first prayed this? Why might I pray this? How might Jesus have prayed this? This morning, as I read these verses, I was struck by another question: Who might pray this against me?

A lot of the psalms are to God but about people, like this one: “the who are at ease,” “the proud.” If I’m honest with myself, I am typically at ease. I am often proud. Do I show contempt for others, less at ease, by what I buy or don’t buy, do or don’t do, give or don’t give, say or don’t say? It’s a scary question and one worth asking.


From the desk:

“In fact, it was Christianity, not antiquity, that prepared the ground for the modern notion of progress. For it was Christianity that definitively did away with the notion that the course of history was cyclic, that is, consisted of a virtually infinite series of comparatively brief ages, each of which reiterated the preceding one. Christianity for the first time mad man aware of the fact that history is a unique event which never had occurred before and never would occur again. Moreover, it ascribed to history as a whole (as opposed to the history of a tribe or a nation) a definite directional meaning. There was a prehistorical beginning, the Paradise, and a post historical end, the New Jerusalem; and if one viewed the Fall, not creation or the Paradise, as the beginning, the movement of history quite clearly lead from a corrupt to a perfect state—at least since Christ had come to save man and had promised to return in glory.”

-Nicholas Lobkowicz, Theory and Practice, p.98

This isn’t really the point of the book or what I’m reading for, but it’s something I’ve heard often, find fascinating, and have never seen written down. It intrigues me that perhaps only in Judo-Christian thought to we find a basis for linear history, for progress. It’s so foundational to the way most of us see the world that we barely even notice it’s there; it’s like the water we swim in. Yet, it could be different. Neither creation nor redemption nor the eschaton are necessary elements of a world–they are God’s gracious actions, not only in history but of history.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 4/18/16

From the chair:

“To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud–even your own brothers!” 

-1 Corinthians 6:7-8

It’s hard to know how exactly an individual or family or business can put this into practice. It’s complex. It’s hard to know who really are our own brothers and sisters and who are not. If someone goes to a local church most Sundays but “defrauds” us over and over again (in business, say), then should we could conclude that he or she is part of the Church and we should let this keep happening, or should we conclude that he or she must not be part of the Church and therefore we should…well, Paul doesn’t exactly specify what we should do in that case.

Nonetheless, there’s an ideal here we must not lose sight of. There is a vision of the Kingdom and a new way of life that we can envision and help enact because we already know the coming King. Because God knows what has happened and what to do and what will be best, we know that it is, in principle, better to suffer loss than to let enmity develop in God’s family. At the very least, we can repent for our short tempers and pray for longer ones. We can release our fear of losing and reflect on our assured inheritance. We can set aside our lust for winning and remember that, more importantly, we have been won by Jesus Christ.


From the desk:

“Setting aside time for sermon preparation is a concrete way to demonstrate and practice our love of the Word. Instead of skimming through a passage for a quick hit, we have the time necessary to engage the text, read commentaries, think about the role of the passage in the life of the congregation and look for the leading of the Spirit. If we choose, we can spend time writing a thoughtful and articulate manuscript and then internalize that manuscript for delivery. Having a sermon manuscript or detailed outline completed well before the preaching event also allows us to work on the deliver of the sermon: reading it aloud, playing with gestures and movement, or shortening sentences so they are easy to deliver. Because we have spent time loving the Word and preparing our message, we know the sermon well enough to deliver it with confidence and are actually eager to preach. Our love for the Word becomes evident in the delight we take in preaching it.”

-Mary S. Hulst, A Little Handbook for Preachers, p.21

This passage struck me because Hulst so plainly recognizes that what we think and what we do are intimately related. To a certain extent, if we don’t set aside the time, then we don’t actually think it’s that important. More specifically, we don’t actually think it’s more important than the other things we choose. This is something I’m going to read and think and write about more in my LAST PAPER OF THE YEAR (woohoo!)


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 4/15/16

From the chair:

“But with me, wit is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.”

-1 Corinthians 4:3-4

God has been working on my heart through this verse for years now; I’m sure I’ve commented on it on the blog before. This morning, it occurred to me how appropriate it is to preaching. I have a sermon to write, and I’m a bit stressed that it’s this late in the week, that I need to set aside the other things on my agenda and focus on hearing and somehow expressing the passage from God’s Word. Yet, I don’t need to be weighed down by others’ expectations. I don’t even need to be weighted down by my own expectations.

I need only to take on God’s expectations, which are certainly weightier than the other two, but also come with the God’s unsearchable love for me and the Spirit’s unflagging help. After all, Scripture never suggests that true joy is found in being free from obligation. Rather, we discover the fullness of joy when we learn to whom we really are responsible, when we learn that he already watches us with delight because of Jesus, that his plan for us is already underway, transforming us from one degree of glory to the next, for our joy and his great praise.


From the desk:

“What’s the trouble about this place? Not that people are quarrelsome–that’s only human nature and was always the same even on earth. The trouble is they nave no Needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) just by imagining it. That’s why it never costs any trouble to move to another street or build another hour.e In other words, there’s no proper economic basis for any community life. If they needed real shops, chaps would have to stay near where the real shops were. If they needed real houses they’d have to stay near where builders were.” 

-C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, pp.11-12

If we ever succeeded at becoming completely self-sufficiently, we would be exceedingly lonely. It would be hellish.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.