Dear John

I have a young friend to whom I would like to say some things. However, this friend, whom I love and esteem very much, doesn’t want to hear anything on the subject at hand, that is, Christianity. So, I thought I’d write “John” a letter here on my blog for three reasons:

1) John doesn’t read my blog, so I could write what I want to say and not offend.
2) I need an outlet for all the pent-up words that I want to say to John.
3) Maybe someone else would be helped or encouraged by what I have to say. (If you see yourself in the descriptions I give of my friend John, then I would imagine that someone who loves you would like to say these words or similar ones to you.)

Dear John,

You are a fine man. You have worked hard and learned much to become an outstanding student and an academic success. You are kind and fun to be around and a good friend. Because you have been given great gifts of intelligence and ability, and because you have put those gifts to good use, you have earned my respect and honor. You have long had my friendship and my love.

You are on the threshold of a new chapter in your life, and you are moving into the next phase of your career with confidence and with humility. All of your friends and family are so very proud of you and of all you have accomplished and of all you plan and dream of for the future.

And yet . . . this one thing you lack: you have left your first love, and your life is built on a foundation of sand. You once professed to follow Jesus Christ as a young adult. Then, later, you said you didn’t believe “any of that Christian stuff” anymore. As far as I know (you don’t like to talk about spiritual things), you now have a vague belief in God, maybe even in Jesus, but you don’t go to church and you avoid any discussion of spiritual truth. You’re a good man, but as far as anyone can see from the outside, you’re not a follower of Jesus. Jesus Christ is not the source of your life and of your direction in life.

Because I love and admire you, this lack makes me very sad. What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? I daresay that you have the potential to go far in either business or academia or any other area of endeavor you choose. You are super smart, and you work hard. But what is it all for? I don’t understand what meaning a life apart from Christ can have. In fact, I don’t mean to make anyone depressed, but apart from Jesus and a life founded and anchored in his work of forgiveness and redemption, nothing really has much significance or meaning for me.

In addition to giving my life and my decisions and my relationships meaning, Jesus Christ is the only one who has the right and the authority to rule over me and over you. We can evade that authority, and I have tried, but either Jesus was and is Lord of all, “very God of God”, or He lied or was self-deluded (Lewis’s famous tri-lemma). And if He is God, if He died for our sins and was resurrected on the third day, if He reigns over heaven and earth, then our petty successes (or failures) don’t really mean too much in the light of His glory and the honor that is due Him. We owe Jesus our very lives and every minute of our time and every ounce of the talents and abilities He has given us. Conversely, the lordship of Jesus is the only thing that gives meaning to our actions and decisions here on this earth. If I am serving Jesus, then it’s all worthwhile. If not, then nothing is worth much.

So, because all of this “Christian stuff” is self-evident and obviously true in my eyes, I don’t understand why you won’t follow Him. Is it because Christians have disappointed you in the past? Are you really going to let someone else’s failure keep you from the One who redeems all of our faults and failures? Is it pride? Are you trapped in your past denial of faith in Him and too proud to admit that He is Lord? Do you still believe that your intelligence, your talent, and your ethical behavior are enough to please God and make a good life for yourself? If so, I believe that you eventually will come to the end of yourself and see that you are not enough, that you need God’s mercy, God’s grace, and the forgiveness to be found only in Christ just as much as the rest of us do.

I don’t mean to sound self-righteous or to give you the impression that I know everything while you are blind. In fact, I have been just as blind to the great mercy of Jesus as you seem to be now, and even today I ignore Him, take His grace for granted, and fail to be the follower that He calls me be. Daily, I must repent and return to my first love, Jesus. Please, someday when you see clearly your desperate need for a Savior and a Guide, come along with me and look to Jesus. And if you outrun me to the foot of the cross and if you prove to more faithful, more Spirit-filled, more loving and kind and Jesus-centered, than I have ever been enabled to become, that will be just fine. I’ll be happy to follow you and try to catch up as you follow Jesus.

I can’t wait for us to join together in running after Him.

What Should I Read Next?

I’ve been listening to the podcast, What Should I Read Next? with Ann Bogel, author of the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. On each podcast, Ms. Bogel interviews a reading guest, asking a few specific questions about the guest’s taste in books, and then recommends three books or authors for the guest’s consideration. I thought I’d try to answer Ms. Bogel’s questions, not because she’s asked me to be a guest on her podcast, but just because it might be an interesting exercise. If any of my readers want to recommend books to me based on my answers to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s questions, or if any of you want to answer the questions, have at it. Spring seems like a fine time for a lively book discussion.

First question: What are three of your favorite books (books that indicate your preferences in books)?

This question is a bit tricky. If I were to name my three favorite books of all time, you would get a wrong impression about the breadth of my reading tastes. My three favorite books of all time are Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. From that list, you would get the impression that I only read huge, weighty tomes about a character’s journey from youth to manhood and from innocence to maturity. Actually, there is some truth in the idea that I like characters that develop over time, grow and mature, and learn important lessons from the other people they meet along the way—and also rich and classic family sagas or books about an entire community. However, I’ve read all of Agatha Christie’s detective novels, not much character development there, and I can enjoy a good suspense novel or some narrative nonfiction, too. So, three favorites that indicate different things about my reading preferences are The Magnificent Century by Thomas B. Costain (narrative history), The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (Christian theological fantasy), and Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (time travel science fiction). Make of that what you will.

Second question: What is one book that you hated?

Only one? This question, were I to answer truthfully, would immediately disqualify me from ever being a guest on Ms. Bogel’s podcast. Her first three guests ALL named Me Before You by Jojo Moyes as one of their three favorite books. I hated that book with a purple passion. If you want to know why I hated it, you can read about it, but (warning!) there are spoilers in my rant on the many ways in which I hated Me Before You. And now I will, instead of naming that book as The One that I hated, break the rules all to pieces and choose two other titles that I also disliked—so much so that I failed to finish either one. And to make the heresy even more egregious, these two are books I have seen many, many other readers designate as favorites, even classics. I pretty much hated Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

Third question: what are you reading now?

This one leaves less room for controversy, so I’ll just answer it straight. The last two books I read were Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah McKenzie and Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria. All I can say about these books is that the first was a good reminder of things I already know but tend to forget, and the biography of Joy Davidman Lewis was thorough and readable, but I opine that the author, Ms. Santamaria, didn’t grow to like her subject very much over the course of her research for the book.

Fourth question: is there anything you would like to change about your reading life? Switch genres? Read more of this or less of that? Change the way you read or the amount?

Honestly, I would like to go back to reading more slowly and carefully—and still read lots and lots of books. I think the internet has changed my reading. I have always read fairly quickly, mostly by skimming through descriptive passages. However, my skimming and my shorter attention span in the past few years have negatively impacted my enjoyment of the books I do read. I would like to read more carefully and more delight-fully. Stop and smell the roses, so to speak. I don’t really think that any particular reading recommendations can fix this problem. I just need to do it.

So, given those questions and those answers, what book(s) would you recommend that I read next? What do you think Mrs. Darcy/Bogel would recommend? Or would she recoil in horror at my lack of respect for Jojo Moyes?

I still loved listening to the podcast, Ms. Bogel.

Celebrate Jesus Through the Year

These two books by Martha Zimmerman are the sources for many of our holiday traditions: the resurrection egg hunt, the covered windows and darkness on Good Friday and on Saturday, our sunrise Easter breakfast, the Emmaus walk, the celebrations of Passover and other Jewish feasts that we have done as a family in years past.

For more ideas of how to celebrate holy-days that are Christ-centered, I highly recommend these books. Coming up is Ascension Day, celebrated on the Thursday that falls forty days after Resurrection Sunday, and also Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Resurrection Day. You can find many, many ideas for celebrating these and other Biblical and Christian holidays in Mrs. Zimmerman’s books.

Emmaus Walk

In her book Celebrating the Christian Year Martha Zimmerman suggests that we use part of the afternoon on Resurrection Sunday for an Emmaus Walk.

On Easter Day, two disciples were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all the things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days:” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” Luke 24:13-35

Take a walk together. Discuss the things the Lord has done. Talk about all that has happened to you this year and about what you’re planning for the rest of the year. Enjoy the company of Jesus as you walk and talk.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20

High Noon by Andrew Peterson

This video was put together by my pastor, using Andrew Peterson’s inspiring music and lyrics and clips from the movie of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe:

Quite an appropriate Resurrection Sunday meditation.

Christ the Lord is Risen Today by Charles Wesley

Lyrics: Charles Wesley, 1739. Written in celebration of the first service of London’s first Wesleyan Chapel. This chapel was known as the Foundry Meeting House because Charles Wesley purchased an old foundry building to house his growing number of converts.

Music: EASTER HYMN, unknown author, first published in 1708.

Theme: For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures . . . I Corinthians 15:3-4.
Black Resurrection

Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say! Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high: Alleluia!
Sing ye heavens, thou earth reply. Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done; Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won: Alleluia!
Lo, our Sun’s eclipse is o’er; Alleluia!
Lo, He sets in blood no more. Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal; Alleluia!
Christ has burst the gates of hell. Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise; Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise. Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King! Alleluia!
Where, O Death is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save; Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!

What though once we perished all, Alleluia!
Partners in our parents’ fall? Alleluia!
Second life we all receive, Alleluia!
In our heavenly Adam live. Alleluia!

Risen with Him, we upward move, Alleluia!
Still we seek the things above, Alleluia!
Still pursue and kiss the Son, Alleluia!
Seated on his Father’s throne. Alleluia!
The Resurrected Jesus Reveals Himself to Mary Near the Tomb

Scarce on earth a thought bestow, Alleluia!
Dead to all we leave below; Alleluia!
Heaven our aim and loved abode, Alleluia!
Hid our life with Christ in God; Alleluia!

Hid till Christ, our Life, appear, Alleluia!
Glorious in His members here; Alleluia!
Joined to Him, we then shall shine, Alleluia!
All immortal, all divine. Alleluia!

Hail the Lord of earth and heaven! Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given! Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now: Alleluia!
Hail, the Resurrection Thou! Alleluia!

King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

The “Alleluia” at the end of each line of the poem was not originally part of the Wesley’s hymn. An unknown editor added that responsive repetition to better fit words to music. Wesley’s original poem also had eleven verses, and I finally found all eleven in this post at Dr. Mark Roberts’ blog.

Resurrection Sunday 2016

Over the past few days, I’ve been republishing some edited posts from Resurrection celebrations of the past twelve years that I’ve been writing this blog. And I’ve written a few new posts to intersperse between and among.

Last year on Resurrection Sunday I wrote about the most important and significant thing in my life—and about what I wish for each of you who read this blog. Today I want to say it again, in different words perhaps, but still the same old, old story because it’s that important: it bears repeating that Jesus is Lord.

I’m just a fifty-eight year old mom. I’ve read a few books, birthed eight children, made a lot of mistakes, told some lies, and discovered one overwhelmingly important Truth: Jesus is Lord.

I don’t know where you are in your journey of faith. Maybe, like me, you know that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to God the Father except through Jesus. Maybe you’ve died to yourself, been
“born again” and dedicated your life to the proposition that Jesus is Lord.

Or maybe you’re just not there (dare I say, yet). Maybe you have doubts about Jesus, doubts about God, fears that admitting the truth of Jesus’s lordship over your life will mean a descent into religiosity or intellectual suicide or fluffy self-delusion. Maybe the very idea of becoming a Christian, following the commands of Jesus as they are set forth in the Bible and asking Him for forgiveness for your mistakes and your brokenness and your sin, is anathema to you. Still, Jesus is Lord.

I don’t know much. Sometimes I think I do, but then events usually conspire to show me that all my great knowledge and intelligence are not enough to even run my own life properly, much less that of anyone else. And I’ll leave those who think they can do it to run for president and presume to become the “leader of the free world.” Maybe God is leading someone to do just that. Goodness knows, somebody’s got to govern the country. But whoever becomes president had better know one thing: Jesus is Lord.

Not only do I not know much, but I can’t even say what I do know very well. I certainly don’t speak with the tongues of men and of angels. If God were waiting on my eloquence to convince a dying world of hurting people to turn to Him, we would all be waiting for a long, long time. All I can really say is: Jesus is Lord.

Today is Resurrection Sunday. Jesus, who died and then rose again, is here in this puny little world, and He is Lord, Lord of the earth, Lord of the stars, Lord of the galaxies and black holes and comets and planets and quarks and quasars and anything else that anyone can imagine, as well as many things we haven’t even begun to conceive. That same Jesus who was crucified between two thieves is also the resurrected Lord, Owner and Director of all things in heaven and on earth. Jesus is Lord.

And that great Lord, mighty and powerful and full of all the immenseness of the universe, is a Lord of Love. He loves me. He loves you. He knows my name and my thoughts and my psychological complexities and everything about me, just as he knows you in all your depths and heights and quirks and qualities. Of all the bigness of everything and all the smallest infinitesimal molecules, Jesus is Lord.

Jesus is Lord, and He loves. The only rational response to that vast and intimate loving knowledge is to fall before Him and worship and give thanks and live in joyful gratitude and praise. Of course, I’m not always rational. Neither are you, probably. I muddle along, forget to pray, forget to seek Him, act as if Jesus’s death and resurrection never even happened, try to figure it all out all by myself instead of asking Him to show me the way. Nevertheless, Jesus is Lord.

This one thing I know: Jesus is Lord. He is risen from the dead, and He is Lord. He loves you and me, and He is Lord. The question remains: what am I going to do about that truth? What are you going to do about it?

My prayer for each of us on the Resurrection Sunday is that we will recognize and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is Lord.

Eucatastrophic Resurrection

Edited and reposted from Resurrection Sunday, 2013.

You know when you’re reading a story, especially a thriller or a mystery and there’s a lovely little (or big) twist at the end that is completely unexpected? It’s not where you thought the story was headed, not how you thought it would end, but it works. The ending or surprising climactic scene is something you never would have predicted, and at the same time it’s just what the story needed to tie or untie all the plot knots and make everything come out just right. The story, factually, and in mood and quality, succeeds.

Well, Jesus’s resurrection is sort of like that unforeseen but perfect ending. If I were the Author (thank God I’m not) of the story of creation, sin and redemption, I wouldn’t have been able to dream up the resurrection, not in a million years. My story, if I had been creative enough to write one at all, would have ended with the crucifixion. Jesus, a good man, lived and taught and died—an innocent sacrifice to the cruelty and blindness of both the Romans and the Jews. It’s a sad story, a tragedy, but perhaps one with a moral to it: we humans are hopelessly lost, and we have a tendency to kill those who tell the truth and demonstrate radical love and self-sacrifice.

'Opening of roadside tomb_0654' photo (c) 2007, James Emery - license: we’ll do better next time, having learned the lesson of Jesus. Probably not.

Jesus is dead at the end of my story. He’s really, truly dead, by the way; this isn’t the sort of story where the hero was only mostly dead but turns out to be revivable. A Roman spear was thrust into his side. His body was sealed in a tomb with a big rock across the entrance, a seal of some kind over the rock, and Roman guards posted outside so that no one could steal the body and pretend to resuscitate it. Jesus’s followers were scattered, demoralized, and discouraged.

And then—the surprise hits me in the face, if I haven’t become inured to the shock from having heard the story so many times. On Sunday some women go to visit Jesus’s tomb, and they meet an angel who tells them that Jesus is not dead. He’s alive!

Whoa, whoa, whoa—wait! You mean the story is that he didn’t really die; he just got badly injured, but he was able to recover and make his way out of the tomb. Or he was a magician with a magic protection coat that made spears and nails seem to pierce him but not really hurt him at all. You mean he became a ghost and appeared to people in a spirit form. Or he was just asleep and looked dead.

Nope, Jesus was dead, and now he’s alive again. Resurrected, as Christians term it.

Could you have predicted that the Author of the human story would have inserted himself into history, allowed himself to suffer and to be killed at the hands of his own creatures, and then . . . come alive again? JRR Tolkien invented the term “eucastrophe”, meaning “a dire situation which is nevertheless salvaged through some unforeseeable turn of events.” (Wikipedia, Eucatastrophe) A resurrection is a really unforeseeable turn of events.

But, and here’s the kicker, the resurrection makes the story work. Without the resurrection, we have a weak, powerless, probably dead god who maybe had good intentions? Without the resurrection of Jesus there is no resurrection, no life after death, for any of us either. Paul said in I Corinthians 5:17, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” If Jesus is not alive, we have no hope of knowing God or having friendship with Him or making any kind of connection. He’s either dead or so distant that we can never get there from here. Without the resurrection, the whole story of human history, including the story of that “good man” Jesus, is essentially meaningless.

When I say story, I mean a True Story. If we are real, actual entities living in a real, fallen world full of real evil, we need a Real, Resurrected Savior who physically not only died but rose from the dead to reign over all things eternally.

And lo and behold, eucatastrophe!(I like that word), in a three-day turn of events I could never have scripted or invented or predicted, Jesus not only died and was buried, but he also rose from the dead and lives eternally. “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

We serve a living, creative God of eucatastrophic artistry and imagination. And we have a Risen Savior because of the story-making ability and sacrifice of that same God.

Hallelujah! Eucatastrophe! (Thanks, Tolkien, and with some intellectual indebtedness to my pastor’s sermon this morning.)

Saturday Review of Books: Easter Weekend

Sorry, folks, I meant to leave an explanatory post telling one and all that The Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon is on hiatus this Saturday in honor of the Resurrection holiday. I’ve posted some Easter reviews and lists and other thoughts for any visitors to peruse, and you’re all invited back next Saturday to participate in the Saturday Review, back on schedule.