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Friday, September 29, 2017

Gilead - book review

“This whole town looks like whatever hope becomes after it has begun to weary a little, then weary a little more.  But hope deferred is still hope.”

Robinson’s story is brilliantly told in the second person in same vein as Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” or Coates’ “Between the World and Me.”  Of course the tone is much different.  Where Baldwin’s narrator burns with righteous fury, Robinson’s John Ames grows restless in his placid life.  And where Baldwin foresees “the fire next time,” Ames insists that there is hope, even in a sleepy Iowa town worth leaving behind.

My ministerial career has been markedly different than Ames’ as has my life been different.  Geography, family history, type of church – all different, and yet I, a 47-year-old father in a biracial family, find it very easy to relate to him, a septuagenarian with a wife half his age.   I can even imagine myself being him.  This is, for me, Robinson’s genius.

All Christians should read this story.  There are no propositions in it.  There’s no “theological stance.”  Don’t expect a tour de force of evangelism or craftily woven statement of doctrine.  It’s story.  And yet, Christians will find God in this book pages as sure as they find themselves in its pages.  

Monday, September 25, 2017

By Grace we have been Saved (Ephesians 2:5, 8)

            I have little tricks that I use when I am talking with people.  I use this in preaching too.  It’s not sinister or disingenuous, but it is intentional.  Whether in a one-on-one conversation, or in a sermon, I will say something to try to get you to like me, or at least trust me.  If I know I am about to give a message that will rile people up, raise someone’s hackles, maybe anger someone, then I at least want to gain credibility.
            I played high school football and rode the bench for a year in college.
            I was in the military, the National Guard.
            I am from the south; moved to Roanoke, VA in 1982.
            I am from the Midwest; lived in Michigan before moving to Roanoke at age 12 in 1982.
            I spent a summer working in a factory.
            I spent a summer working landscaping.
            I have traveled the world.
            I have a mixed-race family.
            I read Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn.

            None of that is much of a big deal to anyone really, but if I think it will help me gain credibility, I weave it into conversations or into my presentation.  I want you to hear my accomplishments and my experiences.  I want you to think it is worth your time and your mental energy to listen to what I have to say.  I am trying to relate to you.  I hope you’ll find me relatable.  And at a deeper level, I hope you’ll find me worthy. 
            I am not unique in this.  People want to be liked.  People want to be respected.  You do.  I do.  People want to be welcomed and to belong.  You may use different methods to achieve this than I do, but I suspect you do it.  And achieve is the word, especially in the American cultural landscape.    
The spirit of the American way of thinking, our cultural ethos, highly values the self-made person, the rugged individualist.  Stand on your own two feet.  If you’re going through tough times, pull yourself up by your bootstraps
In the movie Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller lay dying, knowing he had given his life in combat to save Private Ryan.  His dying words to Ryan are “You earn it.”  In other words, you better darn well live a life that was worth the sacrifice that was made for you. 
Can we a take a second to acknowledge the absurdity of this?  How can John Ryan live well enough to account for the entire squad of army rangers who died trying to save him?  What measurement determines whether a life is well-lived or not? 
In my own life, how foolish is it for me to recite my life resume in hopes that I’ll be worthy of your attention, your respect, and maybe even your friendship.  Such futility.  I say I played football, the other guy was named to the all-state team.  I come with my National Guard experience, the other guy was regular army special forces.  I causally mention that I read War and Peace, the other guy read it and actually understood it.  There is always someone smarter, someone taller, someone with a better physique, someone with a better education, someone who did cooler things in life, someone who achieved more, or has more than you and me.  Always. 
Trying to earn respect and affection and friendship is futile.  It is a complete waste of time.  Furthermore, the harder we work to prove ourselves worthy and good, the further we move away from the foundation of the Gospel.  I do not condemn all competition.  My sons are both playing sports.  I want them to try to be the best, the fastest runner in Cross Country, the hardest hitter in football.  Maybe you work in a competitive industry and part of your success is being a leader in attracting new customers.    
That’s fine.  Be competitive.  Try your hardest in whatever you’re doing in work and in life.  But, as followers of Jesus, we have to listen to what the word of God says about our value.  Upon hearing the Gospel story, we have to adjust how we value other people in light of how Jesus values us. 

We’re going to spend the next couple of months thinking about our church family as a household. Beeson Divinity School professor Sydney Park writes, “The house of God is not a physical construction, but a living organism composed of people who are now members through Christ’s sacrifice.”[i]
When you think of us as “members,” imagine your fingers and your toes and how connected these digits are to your body.  When we imagine church as the household of God, we see ourselves connected to each other in that way.  Cut off my finger, and something is missing.  Cut me off from you and you from me, each one of us from each other, and we feel it.  That’s the kind of intimacy and interconnectedness we want in our church. 
For me to be the pastor of this kind of tight-knit family, the shepherd of this community of self-giving love, I have to move away from constantly trying to win you over by reciting my life resume.  I can share about football and the army and school and Michigan and Virginia.  But my sharing should not be an effort to impress.  It should come out of my willingness to share my story.  You give me the gift of showing interest in my story.  And you give me another gift: you share your story with me.  We share our lives with each other. 
We move away from attempts to be found worthy, and instead reach for grace and generosity.  It is essential that we are honest about our weaknesses, wounds, and vulnerability.  We all have scars.  I don’t need to bleed all over the stage every Sunday, but it would be dishonest for me to stand up and pretend I am perfect and have it all together.  For us to be Christ to each other in this household of God, we have to recognize each other as wounded healers.[ii]
When we do that then we’ll be ready to embrace what I am quite certain is God’s call on this church.  This church is called to be the household of God.  That means whenever we gather, we answer this question: what must we do to help people feel at home here, in the household of God?  What changes must we make to help feel like they are at home here?
We’re not dealing with those questions today.  Today, we face the futile search for worthiness.  Today we openly admit that we aren’t going to impress each other, that we can’t, and we shouldn’t try.  Instead, we love each other exactly as we are.  No matter how messy or broken, we give each other the love of Christ.  Change comes for each person because when one meets Christ, change is inevitable.  He makes us new creations, but that is at God’s initiative.  Our starting point is love.
In Ephesians 1 and 2, note what is said about Jesus. 
He is Lord (1:3) – master of everything, master everywhere.  He’s not a lord, he’s The Lord.
He is Christ (1:3), the anointed one of God, sent to save God’s people from sin, death and destruction.  When Jesus came, we discovered the wonder that he saved Israel, but not only Israel.  All who come in repentance to the Jewish Messiah are saved.
He is eternal.  Verse 4 – “[The Father God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  “In Christ” is the key phrase.  God was at work in Christ before the foundation of the world.  Our lives only make sense when we understand them in Christ.
He is the means of our adoption as children of God, he is God’s means of grace, he is God’s beloved, and he is the vessel of redemption (1:4-7). 
Jesus is flush with grace; verse 7 God lavished grace upon us.  That means the best things in our lives, the realities that give us life are gifts we did not earn, but rather blessings God gives freely and extravagantly. 
He is the revealer of mysteries, the reconciler of all things, and the enabler of life (1:7, 9; 2:5).
Ephesians 2:6 says we are raised up with him.  Jesus rose from the grave, defeated death, and takes us with him.  Death is next after this life, but it’s not last.  Each one of us who is in Christ has resurrection ahead, after death. 
When Ephesians says in chapter 2, verse 9, that we are made for good works, that also happens as we are in Christ.

All the good we experience comes about because of who God is and we know who God is because we know God in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the embodiment of God’s gift, giving us salvation, that which we do not deserve and have not earned.  In Christ, our sins are washed away, we are made new, given joy now, a meaningful life now, and promised eternal life with God after resurrection.
This is summed up in chapter 2 verse 5 – “by grace we have been saved.”  And then so we don’t miss the point, it is repeated in verse 8.  We are saved by grace through faith.  It is not our own doing.  It is the gift of God, not a result of our efforts.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are what he has made us.”
This is a core Christian confession, but we rarely stop to recognize just how hard this confession is to accept.  We Americans are individualistic in our thinking and merit-driven when we talk about value.  You assess another person’s worth based your evaluation of their worthiness.  I do it.  It’s an American thing and it is the antithesis, the opposite of how it works in the Kingdom of God.
For us to be the household of God, we must pray for release from this kind of individualistic, merit-based thinking.  We need to spend a long time asking God to free us from this and to guide us into grace.  We need to see the world and to see one another through the eyes of grace. 
Our default is to revert to assessing worthiness.  Do you deserve for me to give you respect?  Have I earned the right for you to give me your time and your attention?  That’s where we go automatically. 
The change comes when we are able to live in the grace God’s lavished on us and then that grace spills out from us onto those around us.  And we will begin existing as the true household of God when collectively we are characterized by grace.  When people come among us and they know they are welcomed and loved and they meet God here, then that will be the fruit, the evidence that we are a graced community. 
The reflection questions for this morning are “what do you have that you’ve earned,” and “what do you have that has come as a gift?”  Look over the attributes of Jesus mentioned in Ephesians 1 & 2.  Especially remember 2:5 & 8.  “By grace we have been saved.”  Imagine how life looks when it flows out of the gift of new life God has given.  We don’t see and interact with the world based on an achievement mindset.  Rather, we wake up every day basking the radiant light of the joy-filled grace God has poured into us.  And from there we step into the world.  When we do it that way, what does life look like?

[i] M. Sydney Park (2012) in Honoring the Generations, M.Sydney Park, Soong-Chan Rah, and Al Tizon, editors, Judson Press (Valley Forge, PA), p.3.
[ii] Peter T. Cha and Greg J. Yee (2012), Honoring the Generation, p.89.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Story of Your Life ...

Yes, I know it is September 19, 2017.  However, today, I am working on Ephesians for this Sunday at HillSong Church.  I came across this message from January 2011.  Usually, I am sort of annoyed by my old manuscripts.  But I thought this one wasn't bad and I had not previously posted it.  So here it is.

The Story of Your Life in 2011 (Ephesians 1:3-14)
Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
January 2, 2011


I am holding the story of your year.  This is the life of   fill in your name  , 2011.  It is December 31, 2011.  What’s on these pages?  Something new?  Did you do something you’ve never done before, and is it recorded here in the story of your life in 2011?
Who did you meet?  Who is the person unknown to you on January 1 2011 that becomes a central figure in your life on December 31, 2011? 
What places did you go?  On December 31, 2010, I was able to say I visited Kearney, Nebraska.  I couldn’t say that before 2010.  On December 31, 2011, as you review your year, what places did you go?  What stories will you tell about the places that you went?
What did you learn?  As you read the story of your life, 2011, what do you know now, now that it is December 31, 2011, that you did not know before this year?

Ah, the story of the year that was, 2011; in your book, what’s on these pages?  This is what is so exciting about the beginning of a new year.  Nothing in this book has been written yet.  We can imagine how we will fill these pages, but it is not December 31, 2011, it is January 2.  All we have is imagination … and planning … and prayer. 
I know some don’t think this way.  You live in the moment.  The turning of the page from one year to the next is not all that significant.  It’s too abstract and too philosophical.  You’re more wired to deal with the moment, getting through this day, this week. 
Others are might imagine the year to come, but not optimistically.  You don’t ask who will I meet, but who will I lose?  You’re not wondering what might be, but rather, what might go wrong? 
If you are an “in-the-moment” person, that’s OK.  God made you that way and dreamers like me need practical minded people like you to keep us grounded.  If you are a “prepare-for-the-worst” type, that’s good too.  God helps optimists like me who think all is well prepare for when things are not so well by bringing folks like you into our lives. 
Optimists, dreamers, pragmatists, and planners – all are needed; each one is created in the image of God.  Each has something to offer in the kingdom of God.  This morning as we step into a new year, we will look at how each of us contributes to life and to our life together as a community of faith.  Even if it is not your normal way of thinking, I invite you, just this morning, to join me in imagining, but not exactly you might think.
As we do imagine together, I want to borrow a line that will help us.  It’s from the book The Purpose Driven Life.  It’s the very first sentence of the book.  “It’s not about you.”  Or me.  Planners who are prepared for the next catastrophe, life is not about your worrying, helpful as it often is.  Pragmatists who live for today and deal with today, life is not about your intense and I might add very admirable focus.  My fellow dreamers and optimists, life is not about our fantasies of what might be and how good it can be.  What then, is life about?  If it’s not about me and not about you, what is it?  What’s the story and how are we supposed to live? 
Of the numerous scriptures that richly answer these questions, I am drawn to the opening verses of Ephesians which we just read.  This is written to people who are Christ followers.  I acknowledge that many here may not be followers of Jesus.  You’re checking the Christian scene out and exploring faith and visiting a church, and that’s awesome.  We love it that you are here.  Listen to what this Bible passage promises for people who have given themselves completely to Jesus and surrendered to his rule in life.
It says God the Father has promised “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (v.3).  Heavenly places are not far off lands to be enjoyed in a distant future by the soul some unknown duration of time after death.  They’re much closer and accessible for the person of faith.  The Apostle Paul was called to the third heaven even as he did missionary work in ancient Greece and ancient Turkey, places like Galatia and Thessolonica.  I have in the depths of my being in moments of extreme spiritual intimacy with God felt the fullness of the blessings in these heavenly places. 
With these blessings that we have when we are in Christ, we are adopted as children of God.  This will be more of my focus next week, what does it mean to be a child of God in the world?  For now I simply state that the New Testament clearly promises that all who put their trust in Jesus and give their lives to Jesus are sons and daughters of God Almighty, and Ephesians 1:5 is one of many passages that state this reality. 
Verse 6 and 7 speak of God’s grace and the forgiveness we are given.  Everything we have in Jesus is a gift.  Our sins – and we all commit them – separate us from God, but in Jesus Christ, we have complete forgiveness.  That which separates us has been removed, and it says in verse 11 we have an inheritance.  Our Father God is bequeathing to us an eternal home where there is no pain or worry and there is unending joy.
Along with that, and here we get to the meat of the matter, all who are in Christ are destined for a specific way of living.  What’s life all about? It’s not about me.  It’s not about you.  We see in Ephesians 1 we are destined to live for the praise of God’s glory (v.11a, 12b).
            It’s possible that I just lost half the room, maybe 2/3.  You just checked out and will come back next week to see I have anything interesting offer because what I just said is too churchy, too removed from real life.  To be fair to me, I am spouting my personal philosophy.  I am quoting from Ephesians 1.  To tune out what I am saying to tune out the Bible.  But that doesn’t matter.  To say that life is all about the praise of God’s glory feels unreal; it’s abstract; it’s ethereal. 
When I am washing the pots after we have had soup for dinner, I am not living for the praise of God’s glory.  I am trying to get the pot clean, and I am grumbling because the stuff is stuck on there and won’t come off.  I wasn’t grumbling when I ate the soup.  That meal hit the spot on a cold winter’s night.  But as happy as I was to eat it, I am suddenly a crab having to clean it up.  That stuff about God’s glory doesn’t apply. 
You’re about an hour away from leaving work for the day, and the boss says he needs you to stay two extra hours.  What can you do?  You need the job.  God’s glory?  You’ve got to trudge through another two hours.  You’re too tired and too distracted to be dreaming about praising God. 
Her boyfriend just left.  She thought this evening was going to end with him on one knee, presenting a diamond ring.  She was not expecting “I think we should take a break, maybe see other people for a while.”  God’s glory?  Praise?  She’s heartbroken.  She’s not emotionally in a place where she can live out the words of Ephesians 1.  She needs the promises of those Heavenly blessings, but she just can’t live for the sake of praising God, not right now. 
No, to say that life is all about living for God and to say that each of us should make that our driving ambition in 2011 is just unrealistic and unreachable.
But, what if …?  I know, I am a dreamer.  But what if we looked at each of the places of life – home (where we eat good food and have good times but also complain and sometimes fight with those we love), and work (where we make money but also give the greatest amount of waking hours and maybe give a bit of our souls), and relationships (where we cannot predict how they will go because they involve other people) – what if we look at the places of life differently? What if instead of combing the scriptures to find a verse to get me through the day, I submit myself to the scripture no matter how the day is going? 
I open up my self, my spirit, that I may be filled with the Holy Spirit so that I am ready for my day be it the worst of the year or the best.
I constantly meet with other believers in my church family and in my small group because God nourishes me through those people.
The Bible, the Spirit, the Community – I am continually filled in these places, so my life can be a testament of praise and in the world I can live in a way that points people to Jesus.

It’s December 31st 2011, and this is story of God having been at work in the world specifically seen in your life and mine.  It’s the story of someone who has discovered that life is about the relationship with God and the deeper one goes with God, the more one sees Jesus, lives a life that raises praise in church and in the daily world, and the more one lives in those Heavenly blessings. 
Take the three examples: home life, I am washing the soup pot, but I am living as one who wants to praise God with my life.  It doesn’t make the goop at the bottom come off any easier.  The change is in me.  I’ve opened myself to God’s grace, so my mind is on how grateful I am for the soup, for the wife who prepared it, for my kids who ate with me.  Maybe they fought all the way through dinner.  But I have gratitude because of God at work in me and my focus on Him.  Parenting isn’t easier and dirty pots are still dirty.  But I am different because of my relationship with God.  Because I am different, the whole scene is different.
You are tired and not happy about having to work two extra hours.  What’s different?  Starting 2011, you determined that this would not be a story about your job.  2011 is about you seeking God and God speaking through your life.  The drama plays out at your job and affects your approach to that job and your response to that boss.  You work hard and encourage your coworkers even when it’s tough to do so.  The title of this story is not “Dave the Insurance Adjuster.”  This story is called, “The God of the Universe at work in Dave’s life.”
She wanted him to propose and instead he dumped her.  She’s very, very sad.  But that is not the end of the story.  It’s not the story at all.  It might be a chapter in it, and maybe a long and dark chapter.  But the story is of a young woman seeking God, living in such a way that her life points to God and points others around her to the grace and forgiveness and love of Jesus.  She knows as a daughter of God she has a divine inheritance and she knows as one who walks in intimate relationship with God, the blessings are hers today.  Even when she is sad, she will pray, she will obey, and she will praise.  Even if it feels like she’s forcing herself.  Praise can be a spiritual discipline.  Praise is not about her own emotional state or how well things are going in life.  Praise is about God.  No matter what comes, her life will point to God. 
I can pray “God, please speak to me.  As I spend time washing this pot, a mundane activity, let this be a time I am thankful for the food I enjoyed that came from this pot.  And let me hear your voice.” 
You can pray, “Oh Lord, help me through these final hours of work.  I am tired and I want to go home, but I am thankful for this job.  Help me have a good attitude and reflect the love of Christ.” 
She can pray, “God, I am so lost right now. I need help.  I want to be married and I thought he was the one.  I don’t know where to turn so I am turning to you.”
It is good and right and Biblical to pray in all circumstances.  The examples I have shared vary from being of little importance (doing the dishes) to things that matter very, very much (like relationships and engagements).  You can think of more extreme examples.  In the little and the big, the insignificant and the highly important, our stories in 2011 can be about God because in everything we turn to Him and live in such a way that people see us and see God in us.

In His book The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons tells about the taxi stand at La Guardia airport in New York City.  He flies into New York often and has been to the taxi stand many times.  He always notices, if it is the right time of day, a group men in turbans.  They are at a part of the sidewalk that doesn’t have a loot of foot traffic.  They have their prayer mats, and they are kneeling facing east.  Their heads are on the ground. 
Lyons admires the dedication of these Muslims.  He writes, “Even though I don’t fully get it, and even though I’ve never felt the need to pray like this in public, I respect their countercultural commitment.  The odd and the curious practice of seeing a man put his face on a rug in the middle of a parking lot makes a statement.  It says, ‘I’m serious about my faith.  I’ve committed to expressing it and I don’t care what anyone else thinks.  I’ve found a better way to live’” (p.179)!
The Apostle Paul asserts in Ephesians 1 that life in Christ is the better way to live.  In Christ, our lives, the disappointments, the frustrations, the normal and boring, and the high and exciting times all point to Jesus.  It happens because we know life is all about Him.  We turn to Him in everything.  Through the Bible, through prayer and the Holy Spirit, and through the community of faith, we live in Christ.
December 31, 2011, may another take the book, the story of our lives over the course of the year.  May they read it and say, Oh wow!  This person knows Jesus and because of his life or her life, I want to know Jesus.  In Christ, we live the better story.  Many 2011 be a year we live in Christ.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Don't waste your Time Searching for Benno von Archimboldi: Book Review of 2666

One of the ways I expand my imagination is reading literature.  I read widely, all kinds of things, much of it not Christian. I find that God excites my imagination, but like a muscle the imagination must be stretched.  The stronger, more flexible my imagination is, the more capable I am of seeing God at work in the world and appreciating and joining in on the work God is doing.  So, for the sake of growing my thinking cells and building my capacity for imagination I read.  Writing a book review helps me process what I've read.  
The book I review here, "2666," is not a Christian story.  And, it is an R-rated novel.  I decided to follow it through until the end, but I don't really recommend it.  If you are thinking about reading this or other works by Roberto Bolano, remember, it's typically R-rated literature and does not promote Christianity.  

Here's my review of "2666" by Roberto Bolano:

Giles Harvey writes an article in the New Yorker online ( giving an overview of the workd of Chilean author Roberto Bolano.  I had trouble trusting Harvey's review because he lists "Nazi Literature in the Americas" as one of his top for suggestions for "navigating the Bolano labyrinth."  "Nazi Literature" is, he writes,  "every bit as fun as it sounds."  That's true.  It sounds miserable and it is.  I only read it (parts of it) because he recommended it as a way into the Bolano oeuvre.   That book is nothing more than a way into glum tedium.

However, for me, Harvey redeems himself at the end of his article on Bolano.  He writes, "Avoid '2666' for as long as possible, and for heaven's sake, don't start with it."  I laughed upon reading that sentence, because at that point, I was 10% percent into my first encounter with Bolano - "2666."  I kept at it, but per Harvey's advice, I picked up "Nazi Literature" and also "Last Evenings on Earth."  I will eventually read "Savage Detectives" and "By Night in Chile" as he suggests, but later.

I need a break from Bolano.

Harvey wrote of "2666."   Harvey says, "The book is a desert of negative space across which the panting reader will search in vain for the traditional pleasures of the novel.  ... The result is neither horror nor sympathy.  It is exhaustion."  He's right.  I cannot say I wasn't warned.  Harvey said, "Don't start with 2666."  I did.  He said it lacks all the traditional pleasures of the novel.  It does.

"2666" is almost 900 pages long, and Bolano could have accomplished his goals in maybe 400-500 pages.  Also, when he introduced interesting characters, he could let us know a little something about them later on instead of spending hundreds pages helping us get to know them only to have them drop unexpectedly out of the book with no explanation and no return.  He pulls the rug out like this over and over, throughout the book.

At the end of this novel, all I feel is unsatisfied.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Freedom from Stone Laws

            I have enjoyed Sabbatical for the past months.  In 7 days, I return to my work as a church pastor.  I will sit with people over cups of coffee or lunch at Mexican restaurants.  In the same conversation, I will listen as they share their fears that the Tar Heels aren’t going to have a good season and their fears that their young adult children aren’t going to live good lives.  I will talk with our administrative assistant and our associate pastors about the daily details of life in the church.  I will get that email that the surgery has been scheduled, and then I will meet the family at the hospital at 6AM, and together we will pray.  We will pray that all will go well and she will be fine.  And as I leave the hospital, I will pray that my presence there helped with the anxiety, even just a little.
            And sermons.  I will be back to the work of studying scripture and studying our congregation and studying our culture and world, and all that study will merge on the interstate highway of ideas.  After merging, one focused idea will exit the off ramp that leads to the next Sunday’s message.  Yes, I am ready and very excited about returning to the flowing motion of sermon writing and worship planning.
            To all of this, I am ready to return.  Who am I, the man returning to this life?  I’ve written in previous posts that I want to learn to be gentle.  I want to be known as a person who gives graces.  I pray that I can grow into gentleness.  I pray that I can live grace-filled and be extravagantly generous in giving grace.
            What obstacles overshadow my efforts?  There are many, but one stands out from my time of personal Bible reading.  I’ve been making my way slowly through 2 Corinthians.  In chapter 3, Paul contrasts the old covenant[i] and the new.  Now, as an aside, I caution Christians not to be dismissive of the Law of Moses (see Exodus-Deuteronomy, books 2 through of the OT).  We must not see the coming of Jesus as rendering that scripture as obsolete.  Jesus fulfills that Old Testament word of God.  Jesus does not negate it.  Gospel is found in the Law, but we see the law through the light of Jesus.
            When Paul writes about the old covenant, the discerning reader has to be very attentive.  In 2 Corinthians 3 he says, “The Old Covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.  The old way, with its laws etched in stone, led to death” (see verses 6 & 7).  Ends in death.  In order for sins to be atoned, an animal sacrifice was required.  Something had to die.  In the new covenant, something comes after death – resurrection: first Jesus, then us.  The new covenant leads to eternal life.
            Etched in stone.  That can be taken literally.  Moses ascended the mountain and came down with laws that were inflexible – etched in stone tablets.  But living out that fixed law requires a dynamic relationship with God because questions arise.  What if someone is in a situation where he has to “bear false witness” (tell a lie) to prevent a murder?  Is he breaking the law if in doing it he prevents another of the commands from being broken?
            The new covenant it written on our hearts (Romans 2:29).  Our very inclinations, motivations, and impulses are guided by the Spirit – the Spirit of the same God who gave the law that was originally etched in stone.  There is continuity from the tablets Moses held to the way of God the Holy Spirit who is active in our daily lives.  However, we must live on the far side of history, the post-resurrection side, where we live responsively.  Our lives are a dance in which the Holy Spirit is the leader and we the follower, the responsive dance partner. 
            What’s obstructed my path to gentleness and grace are the laws etched in stone: laws I have etched in the rigidity of my expectations.  In some ways, this has been my own personal bugaboo for my entire life.  I expect things to go a certain way (in relationships, in ministry, in sports).  Then life turns our differently than I expected.  The girl breaks up with me, my kids do the opposite of what I say, the church doesn’t like my new idea, my team loses.  And I am disappointed, angered, and defeated.  My poor children bear the brunt of this when I get angry at them for not being who I expect them to be instead of loving who they are.  If I can just learn to be gentle with them and give them (and my wife too) grace, lots and lots of grace, I will change as a person.  I will become a “graced” person.  Or more accurately, I will begin living in the graced identity Christ has already given.
            One of my favorite Christian role models, Tony Dungy, writes, “Your real influence [as a Christian] comes from the foundation of your character.”[ii]  I want God’s grace to be the foundation of my character.  That Rob Tennant, man.  That guy is full of grace.  When people talk about me, that’s what I hope they will say.  This is the “greater glory” under the “new way,” which makes us “right with God” (Apostle Paul – 2 Corinthians 3:8, 9).  
            I am not there yet.  I know from the ways I have harangued my 15-year-old the last few days, I am not even close.  But because God is so grace-filled, God’s grace for me is never exhausted.  I fail and then, with tail tucked between my legs, come repentantly to God.  My sin is before me and I have to sit with it a while, but the Holy Spirit showers grace and forgiveness down on me, and cleansed, I try again. 
            My life rhythm is about to change.  I’ll return to the world of church work.  I come back with goals and hopes and dreams, but the big story, for me, is the prayer that I will follow the Spirit and walk alongside the Law (old covenant) down the path that leads to life in Christ (new covenant).  The further down that path I walk, the more people will see newness in me.  My life will emit the fragrance of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). 
            To walk that path, I have to do what I have struggled to do my entire life.  I will need to turn my expectations over to God.  I need to be freed from the stone laws I have set over myself, the unyielding determination that things will turn out the way I think they should.  I need freedom from the yoke with which I burden myself.  One of the songs we sing at church has this line in it.  “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.”  That’s 2 Corinthians 3:17.  In the next verse says, “The Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.”
            As I get ready for the world of church work, I yearn for freedom the stone laws, freedom to live in the dynamic of the Spirit. 

[i] I use “old covenant,” “Law of Moses,” and Old Testament interchangeably in this post because each phrase represents the content that we find in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy, and I read these texts from a Christian/New Testament perspective. Thus, I also use “new covenant,” “Christian,” and New Testament interchangeably. 
[ii] T. Dungy and Nathan Whittaker (2011).  The Uncommon Life Daily Challenge, Tyndale-Momentum (Carol Stream, IL), September 8 entry.  This book uses calendar dates, not page numbers.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Boris Pasternak

My introduction to Boris Pasternak came when I read "The Adolescence of Zhenya Luvers" in an anthology of Russian novellas. That was several years ago. Then, roaming the stacks in the Chapel Hill Public Library, I came across "Selected Poems."

The forward by his son Yevgeny Pasternak invites the English reader to love Boris Pasternak through the work of translators Jon Stallworthy and Peter France. After reading the forward, I felt, "OK, it's alright for me to appreciate Pasternak even though I don't read Russian.

The introduction by Stallworthy and France is a brief biography of Pasternak, leading me to want to read more about this great author and thinker who grew up in Soviet Russia but was never bound by the constricting character of communism. Reading their English renditions of his brilliant poetry has me now thirsting for more of Pasternak. If I weren't neck-deep in several other books, I would begin "Dr. Zhivago" tonight. 

As it is, I am deeply moved by the poems of Pasternak I have read. I still struggle with poetry as a genre (and probably always will), but Pasternak makes the struggle worth the effort.