Jesus and the Usual Gospels


Normally on Saturday mornings I post some random thoughts. But as I prepare to teach a class on Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, I thought it would be better for you to hear from him.

It is almost impossible these days for people to “focus on what is unseen.” We are tethered to the news and various modes of entertainment. And these mediums of the seen spur intense emotional reactions. And we lead our lives with those emotions. And this is why we believe other gospels. Take your pick: conservative or liberal. There are many gospels for you to choose from.

There is another way.


Jesus offers himself as God’s doorway into the life that is truly life. Confidence in him leads us today, as in other times, to become his apprentices in eternal living. “Those who come through me will be safe,” he said. “They will go in and out and find all they need. I have come into their world that they may have life, and life to the limit.

But. intelligent, effectual entry into this life is currently obstructed by clouds of well-intentioned information. The “gospels that predominate where he is most frequently invoked speak only of preparing to die or else of correcting social practices and conditions. These are both, obviously, matters of great importance. Who would deny it? But neither one touches the quick of individual experience or taps the depths of reality of Christ. Our usual “gospels” are in their effects–dare we say it–nothing less than a standing invitation to omit God from the course of our daily existence.

Does Jesus only enable me to “make the cut” when I die? Or to know what to protest, or how to vote or agitate and organize? It is good to know that when I die all will be well, but is there any good news for life? If I had to choose, I would rather have a car that runs than good insurance on one that doesn’t. Can I not have both?

And what of social or political arrangements–however important in their own right–can guide and empower me to be the person I know I ought to be? Can anyone now seriously believe that if a people are only permitted or enabled to do what they want, they will then be happy or more disposed to do what is “right?”

Jaroslav Pelikan remarks that “Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?”

But just think how unlikely it would be that this great world-historical force, Jesus called “Christ,” could have left the depths of moment-to-moment human existence untouched while accomplishing what he has! More likely, we currently do not understand who he is and what he brings.

And what is it, really that explains the enduring relevance of Jesus to human life? Why has he mattered so much? Why does he matter now? Why does he appear on the front covers of news magazines two millennia later? Why, even, is his name invoked in cursing more than that of any other person who has lived on earth? Why do more people self-identify as Christians–by some estimates 33.6 percent of the world population–than any other world religion? How is that multitudes today credit him with their life and well-being?

I think we finally have to say that Jesus’ enduring relevance is based on his historically proven ability to speak to, to heal, and empower the individual human condition. He matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary human lives, and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weakness he gives us strength and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.

He comes where we are, and he brings us the life we hunger for. An early report reads, “Life was in him, life that made sense of human existence” (John 1:4). To be the light of life, and to deliver God’s life to women and men where they are and as they are, is the secret of the enduring relevance of Jesus. Suddenly they are flying right-side up, in a world that makes sense.

The Divine Conspiracy, 12-13

Random Thoughts for the Weekend


1. The other night we went out to dinner for the first time in months. I was nervous because cases continue to rise in Alabama. But the more I thought about it, the risk was not much more than going to the store. And Emma (17) had been begging to go get Mexican for her birthday which was almost a month ago. So we sat outside on the restaurant’s patio in the dusk’s sun and drank mango margarita’s (non-alcoholic for Emma) and had chips and queso and salsa and I had shrimp tacos and a guy in a trucker hat sang Bob Seger and Alan Jackson songs while bronzed women with fading tattoos sang along. I sang along with them. And I gotta tell you, it was good for my soul and I don’t even really like Bob Seger and Alan Jackson. Still felt a little risky, though.

2. Assume the best of everyone. It is less exhausting and the path of peace.

3. I was given an Amazon gift card as an end of the year teacher gift and I figured I should be responsible with it, so I bought records and books.

4. Elgar’s Violin Concerto by Nicola Benedetti is worth your time.

5. If you go back and read the Gospels and look for how Jesus is trying to get people to see that the unseen realities are the highest realities, his teaching will make more sense to you.

6.  While I understand the statement, “I don’t wear a mask because I trust God will protect me,” there are problems with that line of thinking. The main problem is wearing a mask is a way to love your neighbor, which is a primary way in which we trust God. We place our confidence in his teaching to love our neighbors sacrificially when we willingly lay down our “rights” and “privileges” to care for others knowing it is the best way to live because God knows what he is talking about.

7. I’ve been listening to a lot of U2 lately. Although, it seems even when I am not listening to their music, I am still listening to them. Those songs are in me in a way no other artist’s are. 32 years I’ve been listening to them and they’ve informed and challenged my faith in a way few have. I don’t always understand it. But I’m always thankful.

8. There is a third way. There is a third way between the Scylla of Nationalistic God-and-Country bravado and the Charybdis of grievance-and-victim Progressivism. Both see everything through a lens of news-driven politics. And their preferred political party is the answer to whatever question and problem. And the other side is evil and dangerous.  Each feed on a toxic mix of fear and anger. There is a third way, though. However, you must put a premium on the gospel of the unseen reality of the King and his Kingdom. You must seek it first. And you need to know its modus operandi is love.

9. I am reading Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain again. At one point, he is shocked because a professor, who is Thomist, recommends Augustine to him because he sees so much Augustinian thought in him. That shocked him because he did not expect someone from one line of Catholic philosophy to recommend and celebrate another. It was rare for Catholics to do so. Merton thought is was great. You don’t need to understand that scenario at all to understand the need the evangelical church has of this.

10.  I feel sorry for everyone who has not been quarantined with my wife, Bethany.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

High school cheerleaders perfoming during football game

1. Jesus is not a cheerleader. When I was in High School, our football team was never good. Everyone expected them to lose most of their games. Even the Cheerleaders expected them to lose. And yet they kept cheering as if our defense could stop the other team and our offense could score. They knew this was fiction, however. Everyone did. When Jesus says things like “Don’t worry about your life…seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be provided for you,” he is not cheer-leading. He knows what he is talking about.

2. Many discouraged pastors need to hear, “Celebrity and popularity are not fruits of the Spirit.”

3. No political party is consistent. Republicans/Democrats can get mad all they want, they both ignore in themselves what they hate in the other. There is no hope in this.

4. Josh Garrels new album on a loop.

5. Have you ever stopped to wonder what you are surrounding yourself with and how it might be affecting you?

6. I have had in mind lately the question, “How different is my life than those who do not believe in supernatural realities that are unseen?” In other words, do I live as if there is a God, Who is there, as Schaeffer said.

7. Goodness, it was hard to say “Goodbye” to students this week. I loved them far more than I liked being a teacher.

8. I just assume “deny themselves” includes Constitutional rights. That sounds harsh and hard. Like a kind of death. You could say it sounds like a cross, even.

9. It cannot be pointed out too often how much money and time and attention is given to fit bodies in our culture and how little attention is given to our hearts and minds.

10. I was named after the Apostle Matthew. Former tax collector. Gospel writer. The name means “gift of God.” To see him portrayed in The Chosen as someone with Asperger’s as the father of one with Asperger’s is…something I cannot yet put words to.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend


1. What if we all lived as if Paul was serious in Colossians 3? What if we lived as if we had died the only death that matters? What if we had not only died but actually been raised from that death? What if now our lives were eternal lives? What if our lives were now hid with Christ in God?

2. I’ve been reading Psalm 1 and it just dawned on me this past week how profound it is.  When the Psalmist says the one who delights in the Lord’s instruction is like a tree bearing fruit in its season with leaves that do not whither, he is saying that just as a tree is what it is created to be when it does what it is created to do, we are who we are created to be when we do what we are created to do. God’s instruction makes us more holy because it makes us more human. Movement toward holiness is movement toward humanity.

3. It has always confused me as to why Jesus kept drawing away from the crowds and telling people to keep things quiet. But I think I now understand. Celebrity is the world’s power. A power offered to him in the wilderness, by the way. The world sees that kind of power as only good. It is the power of the seen and a denial of the power of the unseen. And it is a deadly power.

4. There was a long stretch of history in which entertainment by entertainers was not part of the daily life of normal people. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

5. Convictions are not emotional jewelry.

6. Setting your mind on “things above” and not the things of this world is not resignation, it is relentless engagement in the highest realities.

7. “God and Country” almost always becomes “Country” with a rumor of God.

8. I do miss baseball.

9. Joy may be the best and most helpful marker of confidence in God during this time, when walking into the grocery store feels like walking into a funeral home.

10. I have stopped saying “amen” at the end of my morning prayers. I realized I was “signing off” psychologically – hanging up the phone as it were. Saying goodbye.  So instead I now ask, “What are we going to do today?” That may sound cheesy to some. Whatever. But I assume the disciples often asked that of Jesus in the morning. I assume they asked sometimes with eager anticipation. Sometimes with fear. And often with joyful wonder, I suppose.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend


1. I want a joyful contentment in Jesus with no qualifiers. I want in sickness and in health, poverty or wealth, to be at odds with the world of circumstances. When someone asks me how I am doing, I want to consider the presence of Jesus, my union with him and his love for me, and smile knowing I am safe and I have what I need.

2. There is a scene in The Chosen TV Series, in which Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Zebedee are trying to pull in that miraculous haul of fish and Jesus is watching them. And then he does something that makes more sense than all the stoical pictures of Jesus that have formed in my mind for 48 years.

He laughs.

It is a beautiful scene. We should assume that Jesus was happy to see the will of his Father displayed on earth as it is in heaven.

3. It is the most reasonable thing in the world for a believer to want to listen to songs about Jesus. It is unreasonable to demand they be the best songs before they are listened to.

4. As those who follow Jesus, sometimes we must say “no” to things that are not sinful. It will feel like a death because it is a kind of death. It is a tearing of the flesh. It is often painful. And the pain can be compounded when you see others following Jesus, who do not have to say “no” to that particular thing.

5. It is interesting to read the gospels and notice Jesus does not really argue. He teaches and he responds. But there is no real arguing to speak of.

6. And he doesn’t complain.

7. The life and teaching of Jesus are no less powerful than his work on the cross.

8. For those who follow Christ, our decisions on how to engage people and businesses should be based on our love of Him and our neighbor. Not a particular political persuasion. It is possible we may disagree on how that plays out. But let your politics be love for the King and the advancement of his kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.

9. There is a wealth that is not affected by the economy.

10. It is hard for me to believe Jesus would be very happy with the way Americans have turned the church into a business that requires funds to survive.


Random Thoughts for the Weekend

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 7.55.56 AM

1. Been reading about David. And I’ve told my students and anyone listening that we do not read the OT stories with all those crazy characters to learn about how to live on this great big earth they also walked on. We read the OT to see Jesus before he could be seen. But that’s only part true. Because he walked on the same earth they did. And we walk on the same earth. And if we see him in them, then we are catching even more glimpses of how to live outside those four gospels we love so much. Maybe we can get the same dust on our feet.

2. I bet the elder brother always wore a tie.

3. I often feel what I can only call “treasuring” (not in the Matthew 6 sense) books and music. It’s a longing for what I already have. Something to be held onto tight. Things to be handed down. Kept alive. Cared for. That transmission of creativity within those things that are bigger than their physical existence is something large. Bigger than myself though I can hold them in my hand.

4. I don’t know anything about injecting disinfectant. But I know injecting the newsmen into your veins is bad. Bad mojo. It’ll get in your heart and eat all the joy away. Chew it up. You gotta detox from that poison. Get it out of you. Call poison control and tell them you drank too much news and ate the beautiful things of this world but they were sprinkled with the poison of nonstop news. They will think you are crazy. The world will think you are crazy. But that is only because while they are listening to you they are drinking it in too.

5. I got a neighbor that cuts his yard every few days like it’s a monster he has to feed or it will rear up and take over. I hope it’s a dragon.

6. I’ve read five books about Bob Dylan and listened to countless albums of his during these weeks of contemplation and rest and I still do not feel like I know the man. But I know much more about myself and this world and the next. And you too.

7. When Christian institutions make decisions without considering the realities of God and his kingdom rule, the gospel is just PR. Spin. Optics. Sold out of the back of a horse-cart like snake-oil.

8. During this weird world event when everyone has a wild opinion on what to do and not do, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” and then just go along your merry way and be nice to people as much as you can. Forgiveness helps too.

9. Laughter creates worlds previously unknown.

10. “In the Middle”

In the middle of pandemic Spring
I started Jane Kenyon’s poems
at the end, which is really how
we get to know everyone we want to know.

We start at the end and then work
our way backwards to the beginning.
And then we realize later we were
in the middle all along the way.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend


1.  Those who follow Jesus are always safe.

2. Sarcasm should only be used sparingly as a shotgun, never a rifle.

3. Everyone needs a place where they are not marketed.

4. Maybe we will learn the substance again without the event.

5. The lesson of Paul in prison is actual freedom has nothing to do with circumstances.

6. We want to blame someone because it feels like control.

7. Most, when challenged, do not stop and think, they only react in defense.

8. This world is full of the wonders of God for those with eyes to see.

9. Resist the predictable conclusions.

10. The Bible is already mind-bending when we don’t add to it.

Everyday Poems #22, “Listening to the Summer Presto”


Listening to the Summer Presto

I was listening to Anne-Sophie Mutter
play the Summer Presto.
And with all it’s naked beauty and vigor
I realized –
this was nothing like the summers I know.

My summers are more like the adagio
from the Clarinet Concerto
or the one for two violins.
or Racing in the Street.

Take your pick.

Our southern bourbon dusks in waxing June
sound more like Satchmo to be completely honest.

Everyday Poems #21, “Get Your News From the Poets”



Get Your News From the Poets.

Instead of the surgically altered
made up. Dressed up.
Go instead
to the wrinkled brows
and the bent and broken backs
of Halls and Berrys,
Dantes and Dickensons.
Dive deep
into the Karrs and Kenyons.
Go instead
to the old homes
of Heaneys and Frosts
and not
those who shine like cellulose
in a canopied circus
of teleprompted stars
breaking, always breaking
in more ways than we know –
breaking into the entertainment,
of which we can no longer
tell the difference anyway.

Everyday Poems #20, “With Lassos Folded”


What is so staggering about the poems Miklos Radnoti is not just the clear-sightedness of them but the context. I love/hate the story of his wife finding his final poems. He had been a prisoner of WWII in Hungary. Though a Christian, he was still a Jew by birth, his wife and he converting later. He was shot in Hungary on a “Forced March” and buried in November of 1944. When his wife had him dug up after the war, she found some poems in hi clothes.

miklos and wife

Even translated his words are powerful:

I write, what else can I do. How dangerous a poem is – if you only knew – a line, however delicate, whimsical: there’s courage in these also, do you see?

He’s right, you know. There can be danger, I suppose. Plato wanted to banish the poets from the ideal republic. The poets were valued there, though. In the modern day west, Beyonce and Kenny Chesney are valued. And whatever those songs are, they are not in the country of poetry.

The dangerous poetry is the kind that looks at the world and see things as they are. At least more so than the average person walking around. A veil is lifted. And those who grasp at money and control prefer the veil. They want to hold onto…well everything.

“With Lassos Folded”

With lassos folded
and placed in your account,
they will break you.
Like the horse watched
from the fence
by onlookers with hats tipped.
Them whooping –
you frothing,
missing the green pastures of yearlings