Remembering Your History

Illustration: Over recent days I was able to take to the trails again. I took different routes this time, steeper ones. The views always more than repay the efforts needed to make the climbs. The flora differs on the rocky ascents. Laurel fills the saddles. Rock outcroppings serve as handholds on the spurs. Felled trees from the winds lay in abundance. I strung up my hammock at a good spot, unzipped my ruck, retrieved a Gatorade and a book. Today was a sample from one of my enduring favorites: Flannery O’Connor. She had a sharp tongue, a sharper pencil, and a mind aflame with the things of God. And because all things exist under the sovereignty of God, she wrote about a lot of things–some pretty, some grisly.

I looked down towards the direction I’d ascended the last few miles. Still breathing heavily, pulling on the Gatorade, the wind against my sweaty face felt good. When I looked back at various times, several passages came to mind. One of them was an enduring favorite from the pen of Moses when he wrote to Israel in Deuteronomy 7:

Wisdom from God: For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. (Dt 7:6-11)

Context: Moses was reminding the people that God’s people are chosen by God and chosen for holy purposes. It was not that they were special in and of themselves. Far from it. They were not special. It was simply God’s sovereign grace towards them. He chose them, not vice versa. And Moses the mediator was reminding these people that God is faithful, that He keeps his covenants and promises, and that He repays. God is not fickle. He is not a fair-weather friend. No, He is unchanging, holy, and faithful.

Connection and Encouragement: Today my wife and I celebrate 20 years of marriage. I am certainly nothing special but I do know this: I would not be where I am without the grace of God towards me, without the patience of God towards me, and without the faithfulness and patience of my wife towards me. She keeps the train of our lives on the tracks while I get to do what I love.

When I looked back down the trails, I could see the granite outcroppings, streams I had crossed, massive trees above and below, and I looked down, and then up, and then out and across at the display before me. I tried to recall the passage from Deuteronomy from memory. God calls His people not to forget Him, not to become smug, not to be proud–but to be faithful, humble, and to work hard at what He has commanded us to do. He gave me a good thing when He brought her to me (Pr 18:22) and it is my joy to provide the best I can. I’m remembering my history while on the trail this week, and I am glad it has been, by God’s grace, with my CJ. It is important to remember our history and the faithfulness of the Lord, and the faithful ones He puts in our lives.

Jesus, His Temptations, & You

Years ago when I became an Army chaplain I was asked to speak at a conference. The text of Scripture assigned to me was Luke 4:1-12. It is one of the places in the New Testament that records how Jesus, the last Adam, was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness. Over the course of 40 days Jesus was tempted by Satan–to turn stones into bread, to usurp God’s authority and glory, and to test God by leaping from the pinnacle of the temple. Satan’s goal was to elicit failure from Jesus, the last Adam. Surely Jesus, God incarnate, would fail, just like the first Adam/man did in the Garden of Eden. But it was not to be Satan’s way or Satan’s day.

First, why is the Hebrew name Adam significant? It means “man.” Adam was the first man. He was the federal head of the human race. He was charged by God to steward creation (Gen 2:15), to obey the Creator (Gen 2:16), and to hold fast to his wife Eve (Gen 2:24). But of course, the first Adam failed (Gen 3:6). He and Eve sinned against God, the One to whom they owed everything. They had only one stipulation: obey the Lord. But they didn’t. They, like all of us, rebelled. Then they tried to hide their sin (Gen 3:8). They sewed fig leaves together to hide their nakedness (Gen 3:7). Human shame entered the cosmos.

When I opened my Bible and read the passage from Luke to my peers, many appeared to have some knowledge and understanding of the passage’s significance. But I don’t know if they connected it to the failures of the first Adam. The first Adam failed the obedience test. He failed to lead his bride perfectly. But through the chosen, promised offspring, God determined to show mercy to us rebels by raising up One who would obey perfectly. The sin bloodline would be broken via Mary being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, the last Adam, would accomplish what the first Adam failed at.

Second, God promised to bring the One who would bruise/crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). One would come who would lead His bride (the Christian church) perfectly by purifying them with His blood and clothing her in His garments.

This promised One, the last Adam, Christ Himself, denied satisfying Himself with Satan’s offer of stones become bread, and of men’s applause rather than God’s commendation, and of presuming upon God’s patience.

Christ, the last Adam, was tempted, but passed the temptations. Provided we repent and turn to God in the gospel of Christ, God does not abandon the human race in the last Adam. God satisfied His own demands for righteousness through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the last Adam.

And for all those who are in the last Adam, they need not try to flee the presence of God by sewing fig leaves to cover their shame. Because the last Adam has taken their shame. He has become the curse for their sin (Gal 3:13). He bore the wrath they deserved. They are no longer exiles from the kingdom but sons and daughters of God.

Even the Sparrow Finds a Home

Getting ready to set out on several miles of hiking. 70 degrees Fahrenheit currently and partly cloudy. A slight breeze. The above picture is from a friend of mine from Sunday school class. The others on this blog are from him, too. (He gave me permission to share his pictures.) We both love unaltered pictures of creation. He traveled to Florida with his family recently and these pictures are from that trip.

In Psalm 8, David wrote, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens” (Ps 8:1). I have read this psalm many, many times but it is interesting how David accomplishes several things in just this one verse. First, he heralds that God is the Author of creation. He calls Him, “O LORD, our Lord” (Ps 8:1a) in his opening poetic salvo of praise. It is God’s majesty being declared in the earth by way of creation. In other words, God is not hiding. God has painted the world in explosions of poetic color to say, “I am the Artist. This spectacular creation reflects aspects of Me. Worship Me. Seek Me. Find Me.” And David rightly addresses Him as the Lord. The posture is of David’s humility and God’s exaltation. And God was going to take the humble shepherd-boy and raise him to be a king, a foreshadowing of the God-man Himself, Christ the Lord.

Second, David says in the second section of verse one, “You have set your glory above the heavens” (Ps 8:1b). In other words, God is not the creation. His glory is “above the heavens.” It’s a poetic way of saying God is transcendent. He is separate from it and more glorious than what He has made. Creation is good but is not to be worshiped. Worship is for the Creator. That is the designed order of things.

The second picture reminds me of how our days are numbered. It appears to be of the sun setting. Children, too, in the bottom right of the photo seem to know, too, that God speaks through His creation. This is not a random, accidental universe where all is material. Poetry exists because writers recognize that beauty exists. Beauty exists because God, the Beautiful One, exists, and He is calling creatures He loves to simply recognize these obvious truths and to worship Him properly. The sun is setting on our days, though.

As I depart for the creeks and hills and valleys in a few moments, the leaves on the hardwood trees here are already changing colors and falling. The floors of the forests are filled with leaves from oaks and hickories and maples. The colors range from yellow and gold to bronze, burgundy, red, violet, maroon, and more. They never get old to me. They fall, decay, replenish the soil. The deer stick their black nostrils into the leaves, scrape back leaves and limbs, and munch acorns and briers that lurk below–all in poetic design. I simply watch and recognize and record what the Author has written in His world. And it leads to praise.

Darkness falls now. Clouds roll over the sea. The winds toss the waves. The smell of salt and brine. The sounds of the night creatures begin their thrum. And I know that the canvas is not an accident, that we are beloved and created to worship the Author of the canvas, the One who said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen 8:22). And I know it is again time to lace up the boots, pack the water bottles, put on the rucksack, have my camera and pencil and paper. So that I don’t forget. So that I remember why David’s poetic posture was what it was, why David wrote, and why he was so moved.

Making an Impact?

One of my favorite zingers from the pen of C.S. Lewis is this one: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.” Like much that issued from Lewis’ pen, that is profound.

The idea, of course, is that unless you understand your story has ultimate value because it is grounded within the larger God-story unfolding, your particular story is negligible. But because God exists, because He has revealed His story, individual stories therefore have significance, overarching significance as they unfold within history.

I read Michael Reeves’ engaging and brief (less than 200 pages) The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation this week. I went through a whole Sharpie highlighter in reading this book; it was that packed with lasting impacts.

When I read it (holding the Lewis quote in mind), I relearned of men and women whose impact ripples even today, 500 years and more after the Reformation. Their ministries endure because they discovered their stories within the larger cosmic story of what God was doing and aligned themselves with God’s revealed will.

John Wycliffe: I read again of John Wycliffe in England in the 1300s. The Roman Catholic church had descended into utter apostasy. Two popes, Clement VII and Boniface VIII, were elected by populations with divided allegiances. Politics and papistry, corruption and compromise. The seeds of the Protestant Reformation continued to take root.

And God was doing something. He was raising up men like John Wycliffe in England. After Roman Catholicism suffered another humiliation in the Great Schism, Christians knew the corruption could not stand. When two popes were inaugurated in 1378, Wycliffe heralded that it was the Bible, not popes, that was authoritative. The papacy was a human invention shot through with sin (Reeves 2009, 29). God used Wycliffe to encourage the saints. God changed England and Europe through the courage and biblical fidelity of John Wycliffe. Gifted in languages, Wycliffe translated Scripture into the language of the people. And they devoured the Word of God. Literacy in no small way saved England and eventually Europe from Romanism and its myriad idolatries.

Martin Luther: In Wittenberg, Germany the Augustinian monk Martin Luther pored over the Scriptures, submissive to what the Bible taught about justification, about how people could ever be made right with God. Was it through praying to saints? Was it through confessing to a human priest? Was it through indulgences and giving money? Was it through attending a mass wherein the human priest purported to literally change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus? Again and again, day in and day out, did Roman Catholic priests have this ability? What was Calvary for if these priests offered Jesus again and again as a sacrifice via the mass? And the superstitions within Roman Catholicism pricked Luther’s conscience. Reeves writes of Roman Catholicism’s spiritual darkness:

. . . the castle church had nine aisles proudly displaying more than 19,000 relics. There you could see a wisp of straw from Christ’s crib, a strand of his beard, a nail from the cross, a piece of bread from the Last Supper, a twig from Moses’ burning bush, a few of Mary’s hairs and some bits of her clothing, as well as innumerable teeth and bones from celebrated saints. Veneration of each piece was worth an indulgence of 100 days (with a bonus one for each aisle), meaning the pious visitor could tot up more than 1,900,000 days off purgatory (Reeves 2009, 40-41).

Reeves writes of Luther:

Here Luther saw for the first time truly good news of a kind and generous God who gives sinners the gift of his own righteousness. The Christian life, then, could not be about the sinner’s struggle to achieve his own, paltry human righteousness; it was about accepting God’s own, perfect divine righteousness. Here now was a God who does not want our goodness but our trust. All the struggles and all the anxiety could be replaced with massive confidence and simple faith, receiving the gift (Reeves 2009, 48).

Thomas Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley: When Bloody Mary was having Protestants murdered during her reign, three of the most impactful martyrs were Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer in 1555. When Ridley and Latimer were burned at the stake by Roman Catholic Bloody Mary’s forces, Latimer, “aged about eighty, was the first to die, shouting through the flames: ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.'” (Reeves 2009, 138).

Encouragement: Lewis’ wisdom is made clear when we reflect upon the courageous, clear, faithful men and women through the ages who discovered their stories within the overarching story of God. They impacted their generations and countless subsequent generations. “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next,” Lewis penned. Lewis has been dead for almost 60 years now and yet he speaks. The Reformers still speak. And may the Lord be pleased to raise up courageous, clear, faithful men and women again to speak to this generation. Be encouraged. Read Reeves’ book. Learn from the past. Remember the Lord. Be of good courage.

Two Options

Context and Options: In Mark 5 of the New Testament, Mark recorded when Jesus performed miracles and also the ways in which people reacted. People’s reactions revealed a lot about their views of Jesus. We either recognize His deity and flee to Him as the Lord incarnate or we hate Him and rejoice in His murder. Below is the episode in Mark:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:1-20)

The Responses of the Demon-possessed Man Who Was Delivered and Born Again: 1) Christ is Lord; 2) Proclaim that truth

  1. “Jesus, Son of the Most High God.” That was the man’s verbal response when he recognized that Jesus was/is God incarnate (Mark 5:7).
  2. Proclaim the truth. The man, after being delivered of demonic possession by Jesus, begged Jesus to let him remain with Him (Mark 5:18): “As he [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.” Jesus’ response to the man’s pleading? “And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

The Response of Unbelievers:

When the witnesses saw what had happened, what do you think their response was? Human nature was the same then as now:

And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. (Mark 5:16-17)

They hated the truth of Christ. That is the nature of unbelief. It is hostile to truth. It is not neutral or apathetic. It is a visceral gut reaction and disgust for God and His power of everything–demons, human machinations, and evil.

Encouragement: The demonstration of God’s grace towards sinners is overwhelming. For those who repent and believe upon Christ, they are delivered, redeemed, and restored. They are humbled. They are filled with a new joy to proclaim the truth that Christ is Lord. Just like the man who was delivered from demonic possession, reborn men and women are changed; they want to share the good news.

And the song remains the same for unbelievers, too. They still hate Christ, hate His works in history, hate the fact that He has come, lived a perfect substitutionary life, died a perfect substitutionary death, been raised bodily, has established the church, and that the true church continues to prevail against the gates of hell. And the fact that He will come again should both spur believers on to proclaim and live the truth, but also remind us that our days are numbered, and that faithfulness is all. Two options, the ways in which we respond to Christ, and two vastly different outcomes. Be of good courage. Christ is Lord.

Aiming at Narnia because of Aslan

I’m reading through Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia again. If you have not read the seven books comprising the Chronicles, they hinge upon whether or not the physical is all there is. Four siblings enter through a wardrobe into the “more real” world of Narnia–of satyrs, beavers, foxes, centaurs, and of course the King, Aslan.

And Aslan changes everything. Aslan has the power of life and death, has the power over the grave. Aslan makes all the difference.

Of course there are wicked witches, too, who interrupt Aslan’s design for periods, turning beauty into wintry landscapes and freezing life into deadly stillness. But Aslan changes everything. Why? Because He has the power of life and death, has the power over the grave. Aslan makes all the difference.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Susan asks (still trying to get her mind around the majesty of Aslan), “But what does it all mean?” And Aslan’s response?

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that where a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards” (C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, p. 185).

And Lucy’s response? “Oh, you’re real, you’re real! Oh, Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses” (C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, p. 185).

Because Aslan changes everything.

The visible is not all there is. Invisible spiritual forces are at work, too, in London, England; in Madison, Wisconsin; in Dallas, Texas; in Tokyo, Japan; in Los Angeles, California; in your zip code; and in Narnia. Why?

Because Aslan changes everything.

Because Aslan is real, what we do matters.

How we respond to Aslan matters.

Aslan, remember, is on the move.

Slavery is Necessary

Clarification: If you have read past the title, perhaps you will read farther still. No, this has nothing to do with racism, or historical revisionism, or trying to guilt anyone into feeling shame for her skin tone. This is a gut check for people who think they are Christians. And it is for people who are Christians. And it’s for people who are open to Jesus’ teaching about discipleship. And it’s for the pagans who could not care less.  

Context: Matthew records a conversation that Jesus had with the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in Matthew 20. The context was that of a mother asking Jesus if her sons could have places of prominence in God’s kingdom:

     She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand    

     and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you

     are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22)

The disciples, and the mother of James and John, all had a superficial understanding of what it meant to be a Christ-follower. They were concerned about their prominence. They wanted recognition. They longed for the world’s applause. They longed to please men. 

Jesus’ rebuke stung:

     “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones

      exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be

      great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you

      must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,

      and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Connections to today: I don’t know anyone who does not like to be commended. We seem designed to crave approval—from parents, friends, peers, supervisors, our spouse (if applicable), etc. But Jesus was teaching His people about what it means to be a doulos (a slave). In our sinfulness, we tend to crave approval from the wrong sources. We tend to try to please men instead of laboring to please the Lord, the One whose approval is most important.

He inverted the humanistic understanding of greatness. The Christian is the one who is over himself. He is crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). His life is to be consumed with the redemption wrought by Christ. His ministry is to be Christ-exalting, not self-exalting. 

I think this is particularly difficult in our day when the temptations are to call attention to ourselves. Follow me; see pictures of me; let me show you my spiritual resume, etc. Even the disciples had to learn why slavery is necessary. Why? Because Jesus is Lord, not me. Because Jesus is the Savior, not me. Because Jesus accomplished redemption for His people, not me. Jesus is the hinge of history, not me. 

Even Jesus, the God-Man came “not to be served but to serve” (Mt 20:28a). Jesus rebuked those He loved, telling them, “It shall not be so among you.” Want to be first? Be a slave. It’s not an option for the believer. To be great in the Christian life is to be small in this life. Want to be exalted in the kingdom of God? Serve faithfully and humbly now. Christian slaves are to be like their Master. Ultimately—in the end—we will reap if we do not give up (Gal 6:9).

Jesus’ clarity of expression was unparalleled. “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:11-12).

The Accused, the Accuser, & the Faithful High Priest

Setting: Heaven as seen in a vision by the Old Testament prophet Zechariah (see chapter 3). Joshua is a high priest. As a high priest, he represents particular people. But the high priest has filthy garments: “Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments” (Zechariah 3:3).

Author: Zechariah, prophet and priest in the 520s B.C.

Characters:

  1. Joshua: the high priest who needs forgiveness for his own sin as well as forgiveness for all those he represents
  2. Satan: the accuser
  3. The angel of the LORD
  4. God

The Accusations:

Joshua is filthy. His “robes” are rags of unrighteousness. He is helpless before God. He cannot atone for his own sins, much less the sins of others. Sullied. Unable. Disqualified. Satan is pictured in the vision as the accuser: “Then he [God] showed me [Zechariah] Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zechariah 3:1).

The Heart of the Problem:

How can a sinner, even a human high priest like Joshua, who is himself a sinner, obtain forgiveness for his sin? How can those he represents obtain forgiveness? How can we in filthy rags obtain robes of righteousness? How can the dirty become clean? How can the diseased be healed? How can guilt be atoned for?

The Answer:

“And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.” (Zechariah 3:1-5)

And then in verse 8, God promises–once again–His gospel: “behold, I will bring my servant the Branch.” The Branch of David is Jesus, the Christ. He is the only sufficient faithful high priest. God does through Himself in the gospel what human intercessors could never do–atone for sin.

To Whom All the Promises Point:

When Jesus was delivered up to be crucified, even wicked Pilate acknowledged Jesus’s sinlessness: “Take him [Jesus] yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him” (John 19:6).

Paul makes crystal clear in Colossians 2 that it is Jesus’s work alone that is able to redeem sinners. Only Christ’s robes of righteousness are clean and those He clothes:

“And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:13-15).

And then the crescendo of Christ’s perfect work from the letter of Hebrews:

“For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” (Hebrews 7:26-28)

Encouragement for Christians & a Call to the Lost:

For those clothed in the robes of Christ, you are (by definition) in Christ. That means Satan’s accusations are vanquished. Why? Because you have been clothed with the righteousness of Jesus. Jesus is your faithful high priest.

But for those who remain in their own garments, you remain rightly accused and justly condemned. No efforts you make to be your own high priest, or any other effort/idol, will do anything but ensure your condemnation.

The gospel in Christianity is unique among all worldviews, dear reader: It demonstrates that God has done what we neither would nor could do–namely, atone for our sin: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3).

Learning from Failure …

I love southern literary fiction. Ann Patchett’s novels, somewhat new to me, satisfy as fully as some of my enduring favorites. I just completed reading Taft this week. It’s the story of Levon Taft, a father who has failed to raise perfect children.

He works himself to a frazzle; he provides to the best of his abilities. But his children, Carl and Fay, stray. Carl falls into drugs and dissolves into tragedy after tragedy. Fay flees to Memphis from the hills of east TN. She goes to work in a bar. She is veiled, evasive, and filled with appetites for a world she is too naive to understand as seventeen-year-old and, near the end of the narrative, an eighteen-year-old girl.

Then there’s the first-person narrator of the novel, John Nickel, the bar manager and former drummer, whose wife (Marion) left him, and took their son, Franklin. John, too, like Levon Taft, is a failed father. But John Nickel, in his way too, works hard–real hard–to provide, to sweep up the shards of his life, as well as the lives of others intersecting with his life.

Patchett’s Taft is a book about wounded men doing the best they can with what they have. They hold a lot of pain in, and they often make poor choices, but they–in the end–love. Is their love salvific? No. But is it still in some way redemptive? Yes, in a sense within the arch of the storyline.

This is a well-written, tender love story about men and dads who have blown it but persevere, aiming to sweep up the glass from a shattered world.

They love like tough, wounded warriors who are trying to be better than they are.