Some Thoughts On The King’s Speech

1. Never has a movie had such catharsis for me. My stuttering and stammering problem has never been as bad as his was. But I know that frustration intimately.

2. I can think of no major motion picture with better acting.

3. He could speak without stuttering while music was playing. I can preach or speak to any number of people and never stutter or stammer. But if you ask me to do announcements, I’m in terrible shape.

4. Now, we have two great movies with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

5. I’m not foolish enough to think those who have never had a speech impediment cannot glean much from this film. But they cannot understand how powerful this story is for those of us who often feel trapped in the inability to form the words which are bursting to escape.

6. The subplots of marriage and friendship and sibling rivalry and class and leadership are genius.

7. The set and script and story are like a holy trinity of beauty.

8. I cried so much the girl next to me was probably wondering what my problem was.

9. The same struggles inhabit the hearts and minds… and mouths of royalty and the rest of us.

10. I left feeling speechless. Literally.

Truth and Love and How We Do Theological Disagreement

I still have not read Rob Bell’s new book. But I’ve read a few reviews of those who have. And it looks like he may in fact hold to some form of Universalism. (Update: I am in the middle of Love Wins and am no longer sure I would call his position Universalism. It is more like Lewis’ picture in The Last Battle.)

This is neither fascinating nor worrying for me. I am not worried he will lead too many people astray. Heck, I kinda assume that most of the people he pastored were believing in some type of Universalism anyway. I mean, this is nothing new…young hipsters having trouble with ‘eternal torment’ and all. It is troubling to think about.

What  fascinates and bothers me the most is how we talk about these things. And when I say ‘we’ I mean ‘me’ also.

I do believe it is loving in and of itself to talk about hell and warn people of God’s wrath against sin. And I agree, any lack of desire to be faithful in this as a pastor is derived from my own sin wanting to play nicely with the cultural milieu I find myself in. Maybe there are some people like talking a lot about Hell and how people are going there. Certainly there are. But we may also need to be careful of the tendency to downplay that element of the story. So I agree, hell is part of the gospel story and should not be mitigated.

But how we tell the story is also significant.

In a recent interview on MSNBC, Tim Keller alludes to this. Conservatives – theologically speaking – have a reputation for caring about the truth. Liberals on the other hand have a reputation for caring about kindness. Keller says Jesus does an attractive job of being both – the embodiment of speaking truth and being kind.

Usually the reply to such a statement is for someone to say, “It is loving and kind to be truthful with people about _______” Sure. But there is a reason why Paul called his people to speak the truth in love. Obviously there was the possibility of speaking the truth and not doing so in a loving way. The fact that this has to be pointed out – by Paul and by someone today – tells us something. It tells us we may be the kind of people who are prone to have truth so uppermost in our affections that we forget to be loving.

It makes sense that men and women of the faith would react to error with truth. But how many, when error raises it’s ugly head, see an opportunity to display lovingkindness to the world? I mean, if this is how we are supposed to be known as those who are his disciples, should it not be more of a concern to display the truth of the gospel of God’s love through love than through our our doctrinal convictions?

And I have doctrinal convictions that are not fuzzy. I love them and hold them dear. And would die for them and would debate them and grieve over the church’s loss of them. But Christians and non-Christians and those we might be unsure of will not be won over by our confidence in our convictions so much as their adornment in a love for men and women which reflects Christ love for those who were his enemies.

The cross is really a great place to see this truth and love on display. As he hangs there he is saying, “I am God. I am King. I am the Messiah. And I want you to be forgiven for what you do. That is why I hang here in shame and pain, enduring the ridicule.” If he were only about truth? Well, I think we can only assume, no cross.

The irony is we don’t want people to be fuzzy but clear on doctrine but we are libel to be very fuzzy in our love to them. But Paul is not only clear about the eternal fire but is also very clear on what love looks like. The unbeliever and the person we think may be drifting into doctrinal error will certainly question our love by our relentless pursuit of them to believe what we think to be true. But there has to be some kind of expression of love which they will recognize. We should be able to exhibit a love for each other and others that betrays to the world we are in fact disciples of Jesus.

I was actually talking about this very issue with a friend the other day. We were talking about a particular pastor’s response to Rob Bell. He called it “tough love.” I responded with something along the lines of “Funny, I don’t remember that being part of Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 13. But ‘patient love’ is.” I actually assume tough love is sometimes needed. But the problem is only a few people will look at tough love and call it so. But patience and kindness? Maybe we theological conservatives should work on those a little more.

It is true that Rob Bell’s Universalism – if that is what he holds to – will possibly lead people into error. Maybe. Probably. However, I am more sure of this – an evangelical subculture that cannot muster up lovingkindness in a way that mirrors Christ and is recognizable to those we remain at doctrinal odds with will do far more damage.

MIdweek Music: The Jennys, Dylan and My Favorite Christian Band

I get asked a lot bout what I am listening to. Maybe I should use this Midweek Music thing to share what I have been listening to over the past week…

I’m actually listening to The Wailin’ Jennys at this very moment and have barely let up since discovering them a few weeks ago.

U2 continues to be my favorite Christian band. 😉

“What Can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me?”

I’ve also been enjoying Dylan’s The Witmark Demos.

A week doesn’t go by when I am not listening to The Beatles.

And last, my kids love these guys…

What are you listening to?

Random Thoughts

1. My son displays some serious action moves while playing Lego Star Wars.

2. Removing the word ‘Dude’ from my vocabulary has been hard. Hard but necessary.

3. I would like to coin a new gospel-hyphenated term – Gospel-breakfast-meat. Feel free to use it often.

4. Even if I celebrated Lent, I wouldn’t tell you.

5. Piling on.

6. Saw the King’s Speech. It hit a little close to home.

7. Yes, if it turns out that Rob Bell’s new book trumpets Universalism, I will be disappointed that Eugene Peterson endorsed it.

8. The reading of this blog is completely voluntary and never compulsory. You will feel compelled by the wonder herein, but you do have a choice…though it will not feel like it.

9. Started reading Keller’s King’s Cross. And I realized something. Some books are so great, you have to keep reading or you cannot function. Some you have to stop after every few pages. This one is more like the latter. I planned to start and finish it on Saturday but now I plan to use it devotionally.

10. I wonder if anyone ever said to David, “Hey dude, your Psalms are sounding a little cynical as of late.”

Echoes and Stars: Memories Upon Our 12 Year Anniversary

Twelve is just as good a time as any.

We are sitting on a bench. A stone bench. But it’s the kind of moment you would not… could not even notice how uncomfortable the bench is. Only the moon provides light reflecting on the water of the lake – the lake which now sits at the bottom of the mountain we live on. We are looking into the water. There is a lot of talk about “what we are.” I think I lied through my teeth. Anything to keep close. I picture my arm around her but that would be a stupid risk. And while I may be stupid enough to think I could keep this up, I am not so stupid to take any chances at this point. Also I’m not entirely sure she is all that glad to be with me.

Spring’s darkness is a distinct part of the memory. I remember standing out in front of O’Henry’s Coffee House. We had been inside earlier with some friends. We had not been on a date in over a month. She is standing there in the night under the lights of 18th Avenue. We are shuffling our feet behind her red car, a Mazda. I lean against it. Her arms are folded. She is not entirely happy with me. Not entirely mad. And in a moment of insanity, I think about how she is the kind of girl I want to marry. Not love…but close.

I’m in my roommate’s bedroom. I’ve no idea why. He’s not there and I’m lying on the floor next to a dusty ficus tree. But I’m on the phone begging her for one more date. This is no exaggeration. She was afraid. I finally had to tell her she can tell me ‘no’ but I will call her back tomorrow and ask again. It sounds pretty annoying. It was. But it worked.

Night sky again. The sky looms large. Bethany looks magical. The Shakespeare Festival’s lights cascade across the well-manicured grounds. We walk with hands worked together as natural as breathing. Other couples take advantage of the near silence and paradisal scenery. Carefully sculpted hedges. Reflecting pools. The noise of the theatre whispers in the background. Forever seems close. And If I close my eyes, the scene is before me.

It’s funny. She is moving into a new apartment. I’m helping. If I’m lifting anything heavy, it is only to impress. And I’m not sure where the idea came from. Curiosity? Calculation? Hope? The kind of hope that crowds out all rational thought making it impossible to make good decisions. “Sooo, how long is your lease?” While I thought I was being inconspicuous, she knew exactly why I wanted to know. But I remember us going to Johnny Ray’s after being finished and being very happy with the answer.

We have not spoken in 3 days. And the recollection of hearing how she did not want to be the wife of a pastor is ongoing. She is standing in front of me sad. Tearful but lovely. After not seeing her for more than a day, she looked altogether painfully stunning. We argued outside the church. She was going in to the worship service and I was leaving. We left together and I started scheming for forever that day.

Back at the lake again with stars above and laid out on the surface. She knew I was looking for a ring already. So I had to be as sly as possible. Disheveled and unshaven,  it was a bid to quell any expectations. I sat next to her on the bench. Firm seat and steely resolve. I told her we just could not afford to get engaged and start planning a wedding. Then I proceeded to get down on one knee. The rocky, root-strewn ground sloped into the water. Diamond out and held up to the moonlight, her voice glides across the water, “We’re engaged!” Anonymous congratulations resound from shadows on the other side.

She did not want me to see her before the ceremony. She moves into the room – 500 standing in honor of the beauty before them. Most see her innumerable moments before I do. Anxiously I wait, peeking around the crowd. Words simply are not nearly enough. It was the emotion of every great myth, the birth of every legendary act and the very pushing back of the Fall itself.

Halloween night at a retreat center in rural Alabama. The night air is cool – on the verge of cold. Sitting with our feet propped up on a fence, we had met only hours earlier. We began to know each other – both facing into the Alabama sky over the tops of pine trees up into the vast expanse full of pinpricks, the very guides of sailors into adventure, time out of mind.

Twenty-four hours later – the wedding is over – we are sitting in a Ruby Tuesday’s in Williamsburg, VA. Little did I know that every bite of every meal is wondrous on a honeymoon. I remember sitting there in a corner of the restaurant looking at her and thinking, “Here we are. We’re married.” I might have said something out loud. It was a more real moment than any previous. Hipster opinions be damned – I cannot pass a Ruby Tuesday’s without remembering that moment. Thankfully they are everywhere.

After a church softball game we are at a Mexican restaurant on Green Springs. The name escapes me. we are sitting there, in love. Happy to the hilt. You know the happiness. Playful. Laughing and smiling at everything. Every moment is an opportunity to celebrate. It has a rhythm to it. Two souls full of the joy of all that is in the moment, this moment. No wonder Edmond Dantès was so full of revenge. You cannot even imagine any other ‘courting’ couple could feel this way. Only a miracle could make it so.

My face hurts from smiling so much. We are standing in the receiving line. The glorious echo of ‘congratulations!” heard under the stars six months earlier is being repeated again and again and again. Hundreds upon hundreds of reverberations of that moment pushing against the walls of space and time. That echo from friends and family stretching across every season of life. Some echoes from voices not heard but in another life. And we stand there fixed in the movement of heavens. We stand there dressed in the “already and not yet” of which theologians across the centuries have written volumes.

A Post of Apology to Steve McCoy

Who would want to read the blog of a guy who has to apologize?

This is what was going through my mind when I realized this morning I needed to apologize for something I had posted on my blog. I had done the very thing I had been disappointed to see in another. I had two choices. To apologize simply in the blog post or to do so in way that would possibly grab as much attention as the original post.

So.

Last Friday I did a Random Thoughts post. It was a hit that got a lot of hits. Part of that may be due to the fact some of them were pretty humorous. But I suspect the last random thought was the real culprit.

“10. So this is the next the next movement? I wondered what would be next.”

The ‘this’ linked back to a blog post by Steve McCoy on his desire for a movement of open-air preaching throughout the country. My dismissive and flippant remark got more than a little attention.

Not two days later the Rob Bell/John Piper flap hit. One of my chief concerns was and is Piper’s flippant and dismissive tweet with a link to Justin Taylor’s post on Bell’s views on hell. Even if you don’t understand the context and the back story, you can see why I need to apologize.

I criticized Piper for being dismissive and flippant just days after doing the same to Steve McCoy.

So I would like to publicly apologize to you, Steve for my post. Please forgive me.

I’m about to hit ‘publish post.’ The need for this kind of belief in my acceptance and security as one who is in Christ lies heavy.  I suppose it will lie heavier as I cast it all into the open space of social media. But I am sure it will not be the last time.

I am sure some will find some humor in this. Not me. At least not yet.

Faith Working Through Love for 9th Grade Gossip and Beyond

River Grace
Makoto Fujimura

For in Christ Jesus
 neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but 
only faith working through love. 
(Galatians 5:6 ESV)

One of the great things about teaching in a classical school is the tail does not always wag the dog. Sometimes the class discussion is dictated by what the class is discussing. I’m directing the discussion but I’m letting the students kick it around among them and in their own minds. So this morning when I asked, “OK, what does it look like for a 9th grader in Birmingham in 2011 to have “faith working through love?” I had no idea how they would answer. But once we thought about it, “gossip” became the subject.

We all agreed that a life of faith in the gospel of grace working itself out of our interior life into our exterior life (thank you Thomas Merton) would result in a love for others which would fight against the temptation to gossip.

Easier said than done.

Gossip is about acceptance and security. Those who already know they are accepted and are secure have no need for it. There is no need to degrade others, be malicious and tell the secret and not-so-secret failures of others if you are secure. And not insecure.

But we all had to admit, we are not always like this.

For far too many faith is flat. But it should not be. The object of our faith is full of contours to build faith – a faith working itself out in love. The acceptance we crave -whether you are a teenager or an adult pushing 40 – we already have in the contoured fact of being “in Christ Jesus.” We are accepted because of what Christ did for us on our behalf. And we are accepted by the Sovereign King of the Universe. This is no small thing. Actually it’s bigger than that. We are heirs, Christ is not ashamed to call us brother, we are sons and daughters of the King, God rejoices over us with singing and the banner over our lives is always ‘Love’.

It’s the kind of acceptance – when remembered and marinated in – that can cut away the desire to gossip.

But that’s not all. We are also secure.

I can remember the fist time my brother – nine years my senior – called me ‘insecure.’ Having no idea what such a designation meant at that young age, I protested and denied it making the point all the more. But he was right. So I know the feeling…the need to say something about someone else hoping others will agree and the slight euphoria that wells up from down below because you have grabbed a little security.

But this acceptance we have “in Christ” is secure. Nothing can separate us from it. Our abilities cannot do it. Neither can the opinions of others. Our failures are no match. Our sins cannot even do it. If we have been justified by faith in the gospel of grace…if we are in Christ Jesus, then this acceptance is secure. It is an immovable fact upon which all our hope can be fixed for this life and the next.

And so all this faith – trust in the acceptance and security we have in Christ – is unleashed upon the world in the form of love. A love which reflects the very grace we have received. Our tongues now tamed by the gospel of grace now function to extend the same grace to those we would be tempted to slander, demean, and lie about.

And here’s the cream –  the love. Now instead of rejoicing over the foibles and failures of others, we can now- empowered by our faith – realize they are also created in the image of God, sharing in the great problem of sin and needing the same cross.

We can now rejoice over them – echoing the reality of the loving Father rejoicing over us.

Midweek Music: More of the The Wailin Jennys…

…and some Taylor Swift. I can’t help it, it’s stuck in my head and will most likely be in my head for a long time. My wife love her music. My kids loves her music. And it’s impossible to deny she has some serious talent.

My kids kept asking for this one over and over on the way to the library today. 6 times to be exact.

Now, what am I really listening to? The Wailin’ Jennys still. There is a lot of beautiful music in the world but not much that is more beautiful than that made by these three ladies. I’ve listened to them constantly over the past week…except for when I have to listen to Taylor Swift in my wife’s van…

More Thoughts on the Rob Bell Controversy

There are still lots of people talking about this. My main concern is not about the Universalism issue and whether it is true or not. If Rob Bell is a Universalist then I think he is wrong. Simple as that. I actually think even if he is one, it is of less importance and will have less of an impact on the evangelical landscape than the present response to his book…which has not been released. I have already posted some thoughts on this issue. The following are some more:

1. John Stott’s annihilationsim is important to this discussion. There is no person (Piper, Taylor, Burk, Wax, DeYoung, et al) who has been critical of Bell who is not a fan of Stott. I love Stott. But young neo-Reformed men and women are more likely to listen to Stott’s views on hell than Bell’s. The young people I work with are more likely to read Stott’s the cross of Christ and then take seriously his eschatological views than they are to read a Rob Bell book period. Last night I sat in a room and discussed this one some of them. Only one person in the room had read one of his books.

2. We need a Gamaliel.  I assume the best of those who I think have acted poorly. I assume Piper and the rest have done all their tweeting and blogging because they love God and his people and want to protect the sheep as shepherds are wont to do. But the Reformed world needs someone – with gray hair and years – to stop this madness and ask everyone to wait till the book comes out so we can have a discussion on this issue. My hope would have been for John Piper to be that man. That is now out of the question. I would love for someone like Keller, Duncan or Sproul to do this.

3. Rob Bell is now considered a Universalist. Again, the book is not out. But if you look on Twitter (I use Tweetdeck to watch all the tweets about “Rob Bell”) he is now called a Universalist without equivocation. It went from concern about his supposed to view on hell to now him being branded as such within a few days. This should not be so.

4. Have I mentioned the book is not out yet? Should we know about his views before now? Maybe. Sure. But, in a way he has asked me – all of us – to wait. Where is the harm in waiting? Where is the harm in saying, “I would prefer clarity now but out of love and respect I will wait. Can we then seriously and passionately debate it all after it comes out?”

5. Speaking of clarity, we have all wanted the Scriptures to be more clear on certain things. Haven’t you ever wished Paul was more clear on the Trinity? The Hypostatic Union? Predestination? Creation? Even Penal Substitutionary Atonement. I believe in the Trinity but a verse or a letter from one of the Apostles that said, “3 persons, one God” would be nice. Should I want other people – especially pastors – to be clear? Yes. Should I want to be clear as a pastor? Yes. Should I write someone off for not being clear about the questions I want answered? Not so sure. Can I think about it?