difficult beginnings and drying tears

Another PlaceKathy Harrison, in her honest and moving book, Another Place at the Table:

“It comes as no surprise that finding families willing to open their doors to the rigors of foster parenting is so hard. Fostering means knowing about things most of us would prefer to forget. It means recognizing that our best is often not good enough. It means only knowing the difficult beginnings of a story and being forced to imagine the end. It means loving children who will ultimately leave us, then drying our tears and letting ourselves love again.”

What an apt description of the kind of life and the kind of love that the Gospel requires of us, in response to the love God has given to us in Christ. It is not, of course, that the Gospel requires foster parenting for all, or even that it is only those who know the Gospel who can be good foster parents.

But it is true that the Gospel calls us all to a life of the kind of love Harrison describes: to a love that faces the gritty realities of sin (in ourselves and in others) which we would much rather forget; a love that makes demands of us which reveal the absolute inadequacy of our “best” efforts; that leads us out on a difficult beginning, trusting God to control the ending; and that calls us to love when and until our hearts break, and then in the grace God gives, to love, and love, and love again.

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The Game of Christian Education

Martin Luther

Carl Trueman, in his lectures on the Reformation, points out that though Luther said in 1520 that liturgy should be in the vernacular, he didn’t make that change until 5 years later, in 1525.

Why wait 5 years before making a change Luther was convicted was necessary?

Trueman:

“People are disturbed enough by what’s going on. The game of Christian education is to get people to where they need to be. It is not to disturb them, it’s to draw them gently to where they need to be.”

Trueman says that for Luther, the pastor should:

“use the language with which people are familiar, but we fill it with new content, in a new context. If you like, we slowly but surely subvert them…

…You don’t go in and hammer people with the new jargon. What you do is use the language they’ve got, but you slowly and surely transform it into meaning what you want it to mean.”

and he went out, not knowing

and he went out, not knowing (Hebrews 11:8, KJV)

Last night, our group was studying Genesis chapter 12, and the calling of Abraham. Such a remarkable story, the more you think of it. We were struck again by the radical nature of the call – leave everything, and go to the land I’ll show you – and the bold immediacy of Abraham’s response – and Abraham went out. The question, as always, is – how do we account for this?

Often discussions of this text center on the faith of Abraham, and certainly that is a central theme. But what a couple of people pointed out last night is the hope in the story. As one man said, the very act of Abraham going out is an act of incredible hope.

Think of Abraham – 75 years old and childless. We know this is hard for both he and his wife. We must imagine that they had given up all hope of children by this point. We must imagine they have reconciled themselves to their situation and have settled in to life as they knew it, with certain possibilities for their lives no longer even considered.

Indeed, quite apart from Abraham’s own personal circumstances, Thomas Cahill, in his book The Gifts of the Jews, writes that all the ancient cultures surrounding him rejected any hope for change or progress. The world envisioned by the wise ancients before and surrounding Abraham was a closed world, where a man’s fate was fixed, written in the stars and ultimately meaningless. Death rules, nothing can be changed, and the wisest thing we can do is realize this reality and come to peace with things as they are.

And yet: Abraham went out.

Whatever he imagined for his future, it is hard to think that before the call he pictured setting off for new lands, following a new god (who turns out to be THE God), on his way to having descendants as numerous as the stars. Surely he never dreamed of that being in his future.

But then, here comes the call of God. And with it, a whole new view of the present and the future opens before him, out in a new land, following after this new God. And so Abraham went out not knowing, but trusting, and hoping.

Cahill writes:

“Out of ancient humanity, which from the dim beginnings of its consciousness has read its eternal verities in the stars, comes a party traveling by no known compass. Out of the human race, which knows in its bones that all its striving must end in death, comes a leader who says he has been given an impossible promise. Out of moral imagination comes a dream of something new, something better, something yet to happen, something – in the future.”

Into hoplessness, comes the hope-giving call of God.

Die Heretic

EmoEmo Philips:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

Getting the Bible Inside

Eugene Peterson:

“A caveat about the disciplines: I’m uneasy about the word discipline. It’s a useful word, which Richard Foster has brought back into the Protestant vocabulary. But in practice it often encourages people to take charge of their own spirituality. When you practice a discipline, you’re doingsomething. There’s not much relaxation. There’s not much letting go. Some people say to me, “You’re such a disciplined person.” I ran marathons for twenty years, but it wasn’t a discipline. I loved it. I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything. I have the same feeling about reading scripture, prayer, worship.

I was talking just this last week to a retired businessman. He led Bible studies for most of his life, but at some point he realized that he wasn’t getting it inside of him. He went to his pastor for advice, but his pastor couldn’t really help. So on his own, without any direction, he developed a system of lectio divina, almost exactly the way the books tell you how. He compiled huge notebooks of meditation and reflection on scripture. He told me he’d been doing this for ten years, that he’d wake up at five-thirty in the morning and he couldn’t wait to start. It wasn’t a discipline. It simply got inside of him.

Maybe discipline has become a cliché. Maybe there are new ways to talk about it. Maybe we’re right on the edge of that.”

Consoled by intelligence of their prosperity

chrysostom

John Chyrsostom, in his sermon “Excessive Grief at the Death of Friends”:

“Now is it not unreasonable, that, if you should have given your daughter in marriage, and her husband should take her to a distant country and should there enjoy prosperity, you would not think the circumstance a calamity, but the intelligence of their prosperity would console the sorrow occasioned by her absence; and yet here, while it is not a man, nor a fellow servant, but the Lord Himself who has taken your relative, that you should grieve and lament?

And how is it possible, you ask, not to grieve, since I am only a man? Nor do I say that you should not grieve: I do not condemn dejection, but the intensity of it. To be dejected is natural; but to be overcome by dejection is madness, and folly, and unmanly weakness. You may grieve and weep; but give not way to despondency, nor indulge in complaints. Give thanks to God, who has taken your friend, that you have the opportunity of honoring the departed one, and of dismissing him with becoming obsequies. If you sink under depression, you withhold honor from the departed, you displease God who has taken him, and you injure yourself; but if you are grateful, you pay respect to him, you glorify God, and you benefit yourself.

Weep, as wept your Master over Lazarus, observing the just limits of sorrow, which it is not proper to pass.