This weekend I released Of Lampposts and Lions—my 20 track, 80 minute concept album based on C.S. Lewis’ books, The Chronicles of Narnia. If you’re familiar with all 7 books, I think you’ll enjoy the story being told. If not, I hope you’ll enjoy the music anyways as it’s quite a blend of genres. You can download it for donation or for free on NoiseTrade.
Occasionally a book comes along that changes your life and you just can’t stop talking about it. It’s not super common. Often you’ll read through a ton of books and only a select few will impact your life in this way. That being said, here’s my list of those few.
1. Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne
When I learned in a college class one day that Jesus spent most of his time talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, I was confused. Why did he talk so much about the afterlife? Or did I not really understand what Heaven was? When Shane Claiborne’s book, Jesus for President came out, I immediately bought it due to the fact that (A) I loved Shane Claiborne and (B) every page was graphically designed the whole way through. I didn’t really know what to expect from this book, but as I made my way through it I began to realize that it was dripping with the understanding of what Heaven was. It was a place that existed here and now, had its own backwards ways of life, and even its own politics that ran very much contrary to our own. It caused me to think differently about how I needed to live my life and I actually became a different person in many ways after reading it, which is something just about no book ever does to its readers. If you want to live the Christian life out as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, there is no book I could recommend more for you to read.
2. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
I remember hearing about how popular this book was when I was a kid, but being a bit of a hipster, I guess I didn’t want to read it since everyone already knew about it or something. Many years later I saw the movie Ragamuffin, in which an actor portrayed Brennan Manning in a few short scenes. I didn’t know if the lines the actor said were pulled straight from Brennan’s books or just based on him, but I knew I wanted to read his books after hearing those lines delivered—some of them nearly brought me to tears. Some time later I busted out The Ragamuffin Gospel, and came in contact with God’s love more clearly than I ever had before. No book had ever been more convincing that God loved me even in my brokenness. No book had ever been more convincing that I had to love other people—all other people even in their brokenness. Some of the greatest quotes I’ve ever read are found in this book. Love is pretty much what ever Brennan Manning book is about and they’re all great, but I would start here.
3. C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces
We all rave about C.S. Lewis and rightfully so. The man is a genius. I don’t know where to begin to tell you to read as most of his work is eye-opening, so I’ll recommend one of my favorites from him. I thought when I bought his Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, that I may just be buying into a publisher’s attempt at milking Lewis for all he’s worth by throwing all of his extra material into a book, but I found that wasn’t the case. Lewis’ essays are wonderful to read and they get into all sorts of topics (even aliens!). They’re also often succinct, so you get a concentration of his wisdom in each essay quicker than you might find in some of his books. It’s a long read, but it’s worth it. Though if you’re looking for fiction, his Chronicles of Narnia series have become some of my favorite fiction. #AslanGivesMeShivers
Out of the 66 books in the Bible, there are two books in particular I think are weird to find there: the Songs of Solomon and Ruth. It’s pretty obvious why Songs of Solomon is weird (it gets a little steamy), but don’t worry, it’s Ruth that I want to focus on today. Before the book of Ruth we have books devoted to our origin story, our laws, and our wars, but Ruth departs from all of that to teach us seemingly little about theology. Her book is more or less a short, random, overlooked love story.
This 4 chapter book begins with Ruth losing her husband and committing her life to her mother-in-law who also lost everyone dear to her. Ruth was from a different people and culture than her mother-in-law so it must have been a bit terrifying to follow her mother-in-law when she decided to return home to her own people in Bethlehem, but Ruth was committed to her, so she did it anyways.
While they were in Bethlehem, Ruth met a guy named Boaz. He let her freely take any food she wanted from his farm and made sure all the guys in his workforce left her alone. He protected her and took care of her and when mealtime came around he gave her more to eat than she needed, though she hardly knew who he was.
But he knew who she was, because he was a relative of Ruth’s mother-in-law. He had heard of how Ruth had committed herself to her mother-in-law instead of her own parents and how she had chosen the discomfort of being with her mother-in-law’s people rather than her own people.
And he was impressed.
Ruth and Boaz moved pretty quick. In chapter two they met and in chapter three Ruth gave a proposal of sorts through a bunch of interesting and confusing cultural practices, which you can all check out later if you want (don’t worry, it’s a short book). Whatever exactly it is that truly happened in chapter three, Boaz feels blessed by it and by chapter 4 they’re married.
So what’s the point of this book? Maybe to show us how God loved Ruth the Moabite, a woman from a people group outside of his own chosen Israel. Or maybe it was to tell us more about King David’s back story seeing as how Ruth ended up being David’s great, great grandmother. Or maybe it was so we’d know that not all mother-in-laws are evil—I don’t know!
But I do find it interesting that the Bible pauses for love. It pauses to tell us the stories not just of our heroes, but also of their love interests. Sure, many of these stories evolve into soap operas of sorts, but in this case, we find an incredibly short book breaking from stories of our origins, wars, and laws to tell us the seemingly unimportant story of how one little lady on the outside married a farmer on the inside—showing us that things like marriage and love matter.
Jesus himself (who was also a descendant of Ruth) talks about the importance of marriage. Even though he never married, he understood that it was a HUGE deal. He explained that in marriage we “are no longer two but one flesh” and that what “God has joined together, man shouldn’t separate.” He went on to explain that divorce was made by man, not by God—making it clear that not only does God care about our marriages, but that he takes them more seriously than humans do. He cares about your marriage whether your dating life was 3 chapters long or 6 years long.
Why does He care? Because He knows every hair on your head! I love my wife and my children immensely, but I don’t have the slightest idea how many hairs are on their heads! A God who is that meticulous about something so minuscule and unimportant as hair, of course cares about your marriage! That’s a huge part of your life! From today on out you’re two lives are fused as one and you need to know that God cares about it. He cares more than you do, which will be important to remember on some days.
He is a God who is constantly creating life, and he’s still doing it today in our marriages. It’s like our physical birth from our parents and our spiritual birth from salvation in Christ being melded together into some new kind of physical, spiritual, marital rebirth. Cherish it, just as God Himself cherishes it for you. For love is God and God is love and you dwell with God when you love each other.
Allow me to leave you with a scene from the movie Stardust. If you’ve seen it, you may recall in this movie that there’s a star that falls to the earth and becomes a human. Her name is Yvaine. After going on some adventures with a boy named Tristan she begins to wax poetic about love. Speaking from her prior perspective as a star looking at the earth she says:
“I know a lot about love. I’ve seen it, centuries and centuries of it, and it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable. All those wars. Pain, lies, hate—It made me want to turn away and never look down again. But when I see the way that mankind loves—You could search to the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything more beautiful. So yes, I know that love is unconditional. But I also know that it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable and strangely easy to mistake for loathing, and—what I’m trying to say, Tristan is—I think I love you. Is this love, Tristan? I never imagined I’d know it for myself. My heart—It feels like my chest can barely contain it. Like it’s trying to escape because it doesn’t belong to me any more. It belongs to you…. Just your heart, in exchange for mine.”
I encourage you to make the same exchange. Your heart for theirs. Their heart for yours. If both of you are always about each other, consistently handing your hearts to one another rather than keeping it to yourself, your marriage will be filled with the love that God has for you, for He showed us that love for one another is found in humility and service to one another—freely handing us his heart if we wanted it even in times when we didn’t deserve it. We could just take the free gift of his heart in exchange for our own.
I think one of the most precious moments in my life is when my daughter Jericho looks at me and says, “Dada!?” Turning to her, I say back “Jericho!” “Dada!?” she replies. “Jericho!” I return.
This often goes on for awhile—I think because she’s tried it with the “Cat!” and he doesn’t really engage in the conversation.
Of course I’ve had similar moments with my son Beckett which were equally as precious, so I’m really just reliving the experience right now with Jericho. Yesterday Beckett joined the conversation.
There’s something about a child having almost no vocabulary at all, looking you in the eye and shouting “Dada!?” over and over again. They call out your identity and you do the same back to them.
I am Dada. She is Jericho. And every affirmation comes with a playful intonation that says, “I love you very much.”
That’s how it can be with our Heavenly Father. All of the names Jesus could have chosen to identify God as, and he chose “Father” which was occasionally used in metaphors in the Old Testament. He chose Father over his most sacred name (used 6,800 times) or the second most popular name for “God” (used 2,500 times). Thats a bigger deal than we think. As Brennan Manning points out in, The Furious Longing of God:
Jesus is saying that we may address the infinite, transcendent, almighty God with the intimacy, familiarity, and unshaken trust that a sixteen-month-old baby has sitting on his father’s lap—da, da, daddy. (44)
And so we see the cycle continue in its own divine way.
GOD & ME: BECKETT!!!
Few things warm my heart like Jericho calling out for me. And with God being a perfect Father, you know our cries for him do the same. He gives good gifts to his children (Mt 7:11) and “loves like a hurricane.”
Many of us have heard the horror stories of church splits. Many of us have experienced them ourselves. Often something goes awry between pastors and one starts an uprising against the other. These church splits are born out of gossip and jealousy, raised in bitterness and eventually split by Satan.
It’s an old technique of the devil’s and it dates all the way back to Numbers 16. It’s there that a group of 250 well-known Israelites come together to usurp Moses’ leadership position. He may be the “head pastor,” but many of these usurpers are from the tribe of Levi and are therefore set apart to be the priests that take care of the ministry of the Tabernacle—that is God’s holy, sacred space among His people.
“We’re all holy!” they say. “God is among all of us. So what makes you so much more important? Why do you get to be in charge? Do you even know what you’re doing? Because last we checked, we were lost in the wilderness!”
You can see everything that has led up to this point seeping out of their speech. The gossip, the jealousy and the bitterness. They have even invoked God’s name and used spiritual logic to justify their point.
Somehow God is always of our opinion, isn’t He? He always seems to be a part of our own personal uprising. Perhaps that’s why some churches are torn apart so easily. We invoke God’s name and in doing so make ourselves to be a god. “Follow me because God is on my side. This other guy obviously doesn’t get it.”
I’ve done it. I’ve attended churches and felt like I had to offer my 2 cents in the other direction of whatever the pastor said for no reason other than to have someone think my thoughts were important. We especially love to do it to the worship band. Oh, I wouldn’t have played this song. I can’t believe they let them on the stage. He’s so flat today. They’re so loud. I can’t believe they’re wearing those clothes. I can’t believe they’re playing so many hymns. I can’t believe they’re not playing any hymns. I can’t believe they played just the right number of hymns. I could do all of this better than they could.
It’s in these small places that our uprising and bitterness begins. To some extent we’re probably all guilty of the seed of a church split. Water it enough and it’ll eventually take over. It grows very quickly.
The story found in Numbers 16 doesn’t end well for the mob. In the same way, church splits never end well for the church. It destroys our witness and abuses Jesus’ bride, leaving her blemished and beat up, trying to get back up on her feet.
Let’s check our pride at the door pastors. This is God’s church, not ours. And despite the fact that it’s our job to take care of His church, in the end He’s actually more concerned about her than we are. And He does not care to see her heartbroken.
Theology is important. Some people want to say it’s not important because they think “true freedom” can’t be found if you try to comprehend God. They expect that we are to make God out of our experiences.
But that’s not how it works.
Typically, their denial of theology comes from some past experience they had with a church, pastor, or person who turned doctrine into an idol. But just like with all things, there’s a balance. Theology should always be coupled with zeal and experience, it shouldn’t be just one or the other.
Why? Because solely living out of zeal and experience is dangerous. If God is simply a God of your experience, you will no doubt craft an idol of Him in your image. You’ll file all of your own personal conceptions and misconceptions of who He is into the same place.
Take the story of Jephthah for example (Judges 11). He leads God’s people into battle against an enemy and makes a promise to God in doing so: “You let me win this battle and I’ll sacrifice the first thing that comes out of my house when I get home.”
Now sacrifices were pretty custom for the time. He was most likely trying to one-up a normal sacrifice to honor God for a victory. Rather than just sacrifice any given farm animal, he would sacrifice one of great meaning to him—like a dog or a cat—something from inside the house.
But if you know the story, what comes out of the house is not a dog or a cat—it’s his daughter. His only child comes bursting out the front door dancing with tambourines in hand. She’s celebrating her father’s victory, for he has won the battle.
This of course is where most of us say, “Oh, sorry God, you know that’s not what I meant.” But in this case bad theology leads to a stupid God-dishonoring decision.
Jephthah must have looked at the world around him and saw false gods like Molech (whom people sacrificed their children to by burning them) and thought to himself, I will have to make the same great child sacrifice to my God—DESPITE the fact that His God HATES child sacrifice and expressly forbids it (Deut 12:31; 18:9-12)!
But when experience is your theology…
And so Jephthah holds a bad promise higher than his God. He exalts bad theology and apparently doesn’t even ask a priest somewhere about God’s laws on the matter.
Run child, get far away from here—for your father’s bad theology is out to kill you. He’s bowed down before Molech without even noticing it.
Of course, if you know the story, she doesn’t run away. For she too has bought into this idea that it would be honorable and pleasing for her to be sacrificed, despite the fact that God illustrated with Abraham that He is a different from the false gods and would never have anyone follow through on this custom (Gen 22).
Bad theology is dangerous. And it still kills, even today.
One of the biggest flaws with we humans is how quickly we judge others. It doesn’t take very long. In fact, one study says you decide if someone is trustworthy or not within 1000 milliseconds. Before you know their story (or even their name for that matter) you have already looked at their face and judged their character. That’s unfortunate for people like me who (as I’ve been told) have a “resting angry face.”
This kind of judgment destroys our relationships pretty quick. I’ve been in scenarios where I can’t properly talk to people because they have perceived me in one way and refuse to see me in any other. Even if I express a legitimate concern with loving and kind words, they somehow come across condemningly when filtered through their eyes. Likewise, I’ve done the same thing to others. Something they do throws me off and now I can’t seem to remove everything they do down the road from that one experience.
We give people one chance, and then it’s over. And often, we don’t even approach them about the original thing they did that upset us, so it just festers and makes them look like a monster.
There’s a story in Joshua 22 that demonstrates this pretty well. Three different tribes of God’s people have just been assigned the land that they will live in and once they move in, they build an altar. When all of Israel hears about this, they’re offended. The only altar to God is in the tabernacle, what are they doing building another one? Is it to another false god? Have they turned away?
You can imagine how quickly the rumors spread between the thousands of people found in the other tribes. Without approaching these 3 tribes to ask why they built it, they instead gathered together to prepare for war. They then approach them and list off a bunch of accusations before they’ve even given them a chance to speak.
It almost sounds ridiculous, though we do the same thing, don’t we?
Now their concern was fair. People at the time turned to false gods often and the altar in the tabernacle was the only place Israel was to make sacrifice, so if they were violating the rules, it needed to be addressed. But did they really need to prepare for war first?
It ends up that the real story was understandable. The land that these 3 tribes had been assigned to was divided from the rest of Israel by the Jordan river. Their fear was that their children would be told down the road that they weren’t really a part of God’s people because they were geographically separated from the rest. So the altar was there to be a memorial of sorts to the fact that they too, were a part of God’s people and to protect their children from ever thinking otherwise. They were never going to use the altar to make any sacrifice—it was just a visual reminder to all of Israel.
After hearing the explanation, everyone was good with it. But sometimes, our hearts are too hard to listen and nothing can get through to us and everything someone does is filtered through our anger or hatred towards them. Who are those people in your life? How can you begin to undo that in your mind? Jesus tells us to fix those relationships and to do it quick:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV)
I know a pastor who tried this before everyone tithed once. Guess where one of the longest lines was? Right in front of him. Probably not too uncommon for us pastors.
Pursue love and let the hatred go.