A Brief Reccomendation: The Jesus Storybook Bible

My wife, daughter, and I have read bible stories and prayed together as a nightly routine for a few years now. For most of that time we have read and re-read a children’s illustrated bible that, while it wasn’t perfect, it did the job, so to speak.

For my daughter’s birthday in June we bought her a new children’s bible and it has blown me away at how good it is night after night (we typically read one story per night) from the manner of storytelling to the fantastic illustrations. As a whole, the bible does a great job of focusing the readers attention on Jesus from old testament stories through the back cover.

I highly recommend anyone who has children to purchase this book and read it daily with your child. Your child will benefit and you will likely better understand and appreciate the overall purpose of God and your relationship with Him.

The following link is to the author’s page which features links to various reviews and on-line retailers: http://sallylloyd-jones.com/JSBB.html

The Hunter, The Scientist, & The Bible Belt Preacher

Like backwoods hunters in season
We scour the scrolls looking for the best place to lay traps
Cover the rusted, steel teeth with leaves and rotting wood

Conspire to grab God by the ankle and contain Him
So that we can run off and let loose in a wild orgy on the other side of the hill
Knock aside consideration of context with the barrell of a 12-gauge syntax

Hold fast to our cognitively concrete interpretation
At the expense of abundant life steeped in the infinite
We shed our clothes and drunkenly stumble into the backseat with Lucifer

Humanity has merely opened the cover of God’s cookbook
Yet we claim that we wrote it

There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christan hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.
-Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, Faith No More, and A Midlife Crisis

I decided this morning (or was it last night?) that I was going to write about the prospects of entering that phase of life typically known as “midlife.” I guess I’ve actually got a few years, but, for some reason, it seemed like a worthwhile topic to explore. So, I sat down at the computer and, just for poops and giggles, typed “midlife crisis” into Google and perused the top few results.

What jumped out first was the video for Faith No More’s “Midlife Crisis” from their 1992 album ANGEL DUST. The result was an hour-plus spent waxing nostalgic watching old Faith No More videos. Now that I’ve torn myself away from the net long enough to reflect and record a few thoughts, I can see that, while I may not quite be at the typical age for the onset of a midlife crisis, I do possess at least one characteristic, at the age of thirty-two, that confirm me as a possible candidate: the tendency to get lost in celebrating past illusions and futile interests.

I do believe that the inability to let the past go can be a significant hinderance to embracing what the future has to offer which, irrefutably, has more potential for present and future peace of mind than does the past. What follows is an excerpt, from MERE CHRISTIANITY, by C.S. Lewis, that illustrates my point, but, within the context of relationships:
People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change – not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and become a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.

This is, I think, on little part of what Christ meant by saying that a think will not really livequiterartifically, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillustioned unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go – let it die away – go on through that period of death into the interest and happiness that follow – and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them old man for the rest of your life. It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth, at the very age when new horizons out to be appearing and new doors opening all around them. It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy.

Temporary fascination reminiscing about the music and mindset of my youth this evening pales in comparison to the authentic and priceless joy that I experienced earlier this evening watching an old Disney moving while seated on the living room floor with my wife, five-year-old daughter and eight-month-old son (who spent much of the time exploring his newfound ability to move himself around on the floor by pushing and pulling with his arms).

As time passes I’m learning that the only things that offer any real, long-lasting satisfaction are those times, activities, and efforts that are focused in celebration of others and my connection and fellowship with them.

Hopefully this realisation will reside prominently in my mind as the next few years of my life unfold. The truth is that a life lived being focused on personal interests at the cost of others is really not a life lived at all. This is consistent with a lesson that keeps getting reinforced more and more in my mind due to various circumstances: sin is self. Selfishness separates me from God and separation from God is death.

I don’t think that it is any coincidence that what I’m learning, at this point, fits so well with the characteristics that Jesus instructed His followers to develop: high honor for God, love of others being on an equal level with love of self, and sacrificing one’s own life for the sake of a friend.

Let my midlife-crisis-avoiding mantra be: out with the old and in with the new. Amen.

In The Words of Emily Dickinson

The bustle in a house

The morning after death

Is solemnest of industries

Enacted upon earth, –

The sweeping up the heart

And putting love away

We shall not want to use again

Until eternity.

Momentous Life

*This entry was originally posted 1/19/08. My great Aunt Norma, whose advice was featured in this entry, passed away this morning at the age of 97.

I was in the middle of my first year of teaching fourth grade at a rural North Carolina school when I had my first “wintry mix” driving experience. I grew up and learned to drive in upstate New York and didn’t think it would be much of a challenge to navigate through the milder winter weather of a state six-hundred miles south. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was a different game altogether in North Carolina. In NY snow plows, salt, and cinder trucks were just part of the scenery during the winter time. In North Carolina they are rare, to say the least. Because the roads are not pretreated and then maintained steadily throughout a winter storm in North Carolina, they, like their northern counterparts, can be pretty slick, too. Nothing too terrible happened, really, but, it sent a chill through my bones when, while driving relatively slow, I attempted a right turn only to find that, because of the slick road conditions, my car was in no mood to actually make the turn and it just continued straight past. It wasn’t until several yards after the place that I was supposed to turn, that my car’s momentum finally slowed enough for me to change course. Too much momentum in the wrong direction can lead to a loss of control.
So, I guess the question is, am I headed in the right direction and, if not, what direction should I be headed in?

I’ve been maintaining contact with my ninety-something year old great-aunt* for several years now by writing letters. She’s a wonderful, retired teacher who is sharp as a tack and full of wit. In one recent letter to her, I asked her for some words of wisdom or advice. My thought was that somebody of her age and experience might just have a good idea of what works in life. In her response she reminded me that I had asked for advice and told me, “You will find it in the bible.” She then listed the following verses:

Proverbs 2:6
For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 3:5, 6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Because, as a Christian, I believe that the bible is the Word of God, knowledge and understanding can be found in it. I should place my full focus and trust in the knowledge and understanding that I find in scripture and I should live my life for Him. Only then will I be able to life a successful life. Will my success be indicated by a loaded bank account? Probably not, but, because it will be built on the wisdom and understanding of He that is the original source of wisdom and understanding, it will last forever and never fail me.

I’m not talking about the supposed wisdom that comes from a wealth and prosperity preacher on television or that of a auto mechanic, an underpaid fifth grade teacher, or a personal trainer at the gym. I’m talking about the wisdom that comes from the infinite, omniscient source of all wisdom who came down to suffer in the bowels of human existence, being born in a barn and laid in a cow troth and crucified on cross beams with nails piercing his limbs. I’m talking about the source of patient, unconditional love who extends His grace and hope to all who are willing to accept it.

As I grow older I am also growing in my ability to recognize, in the rear-view mirror, where I’ve made my biggest mistakes in life and what led to them. It is through this reflection that I’ve found that the only way to slow the momentum that carried me in the wrong direction is to let Jesus reorient my path and direct my future walk. Once I realized that I am loved by Him, my Abba, like the love between daddy and son, I began to experience a new level of peace and understanding. But, its continuance, the momentum necessary to maintain this perspective, is found only in remembering daily where I’ve been and where I need to focus from moment to moment: on His plan for my life. Through daily reading of scripture and prayer in which I ask Him to help me reflect his character, instead of my own, to those around me, I grow in His direction and in peace of mind. It is a realization that, even though I stumble on a daily basis, there is also grace, forgiveness, and renewal on a daily basis that maintains my momentum in the right direction.

A Posture of Transparency

A friend of mine is a police officer and, due to odd circumstances, I happened to be present as he spoke with two men who claimed to be victims of an armed robbery. The interesting part of their story is that they claimed to have been robbed by someone that they owed money to for marijuana. Both of the men were rather large in stature and I knew, based on past conversation, that at least one of them had a long history with the local police department for various reasons and that both of them have served significant jail time.

Throughout the course of the discussion, both men alternately got up from the steps they were seated on and paced around in the corner of the parking lot where the discussion was taking place. As an observer I noticed that each time one of them got up, my friend adjusted his posture in relation to their positions and movement. When discussing this later he noted that he was intentionally moving in a manner to keep the gun he had on his side positioned away from the men he was questioning.

Nothing abnormal happened during or as a result of the interaction between the two men and my friend, but, based on the potential risk of a situation in which the character and intentions of those involved were not clear, a defensive and alert posture on the part of the police officer was justified for his protection.

As a Christian, I’ve developed an authentic appreciation for people who interact with me in a sincere, authentic, and transparent manner. Likewise, I have grown to recognize the value of transparency as a meaningful virtue to strive for in my own life. Ultimately I would love to be completely free from the multiple postures, poses, and masks that I don depending on the situation. The person that I present to students when I’m at school is different from the person that I present to my long-time friends when I visit my hometown. The man that I embody as a father to my daughter is different from the man that I am when I yell at the driver in front of me for going to slow.

Unfortunately, the part of me that seems apt to come to the surface in any given situation is the one who, due to stress or anxiety, sacrifices adherence to the main laws that Jesus mandated (love God above all and others as yourself) by lashing out with a terse comment or scolding.

It is this volatile, ever-shifting balance of emotions, desires, focus, and personal impostors that rule my daily life and the impressions that others have of me. It is only when, by some grace of God, that I actually commit myself to, showing up in quiet open-eared prayer in the dark and when all is silent. Then, in humble repentance, I rest and, for just a few moments in the course of a day that is spent continually adjusting my posture to adapt to circumstances, I become transparent. It is only during those moments were all of who I am synchronizes into one and, while God knows who I am at all times, I become reminded of who I am regardless of the circumstances that cause me to assume various postures throughout a day.

My prayer today and for the foreseeable future will be to find balance between my personal responsibility to function in the various roles that I have taken on in life (e.g., father, husband, teacher, friend), protecting the interest of those who depend on me, and a sincere and humble transparency that allows others to see not only my need for God’s direction, but, also true acceptance of His grace.

“Most of man’s psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked…We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.”
C.S. Lewis

Brain Tissue

It feels like demons treading daintily on the tissue of my brain again. The truth about who I really am is that I sometimes doubt. My peace is rarely serene, but, instead a safety net spread below a troupe of frantic acrobats trying to keep from screwing up the act and putting their job in jeopardy. My flesh and my appetite for so many things ungodly restrain my momentum to a stumbling, fatigued pace. The truth is that while I can understand the variables involved intellectually, my emotions, my fears, and my groundless desires sabotage my own feet as I walk along a path that is seemingly blanketed by fog.

On the other hand, scripture does indicate that God is greatest when we are at our weakest. Author Brennan Manning warns against placing too much weight in our own abilities to accurately assess our own spiritual progress. Because the truth, I guess, is that there is nothing to progress to. I cannot will myself to right. I cannot save myself.

So, I can realize God’s grace at a surface level, but, it isn’t resonating with me at this moment. I am still left with demon foot prints on my brain tissue.