Taking Notice

One man's passing thought is another man's focus

Books Are Like Sandwiches

stack of books

“Are you really going to bring all of those?” is a question I hear a lot. You see, despite the protests of my back and friends alike, my bag is always filled with books. Not just one or two, but often three, four, five, or more. Why? It’s because books are like sandwiches. It sounds like a crazy claim, I know, but bear with me, it’ll make sense soon . . . I think.

What did your last experience with packing for a trip look like? Mine was terrible. Packing is one of my least favorite things to do, and my irrational fear of being unprepared is to blame. My inner-monologue goes something like this:

How many days will I be gone? Ok bring one more outfit than days incase one gets dirty. Will it be warm or cold? Will I need a light jacket in case it gets cool around the bonfire—if we have one. Will we have one? Probably, add it in. Do I need church clothes? Can anything already in my bag pass as church clothes? Nope, ok add these dress pants as well then. Ok, socks, undershirts, shorts, pants, belt, shoes. Great. Anything else . . . ?

The difficulty of packing comes, as I mentioned above, from my fear of being unprepared. What if I feel like wearing a sweatshirt and I don’t have one? What if I need a clean t-shirt because I spilt cranberry juice on the one I was wearing?

What does this have to do with sandwiches? This same process happens when I go to pack up my books. While I might feel like reading a novel right now, tomorrow I might be ready to jump into some heavy theology, and because that mood doesn’t come along very often, I’d hate to waste it by not being prepared. So what do I do? I make sure to bring along The Institutes as well.

While my displeasure in packing clothing comes about due to unforeseen exterior contexts, my displeasure in packing books comes about due to unforeseen reading moods.

Do you see it? Books are like sandwiches in that each day brings with it the possibility of a different mood. Today I may feel like a meatball sub, while tomorrow I feel like an atomic turkey from Shane’s. Today I might feel like C.S. Lewis, tomorrow I might feel like Michael Hyatt. Who’s to say? Yet, while a sandwich can be made to order tomorrow, my copy of Platform won’t magically appear in my bag just because I’m ready to read it. And so, whether I’m headed on a weeklong vacation or a trip to Starbucks, I need to make sure I have a book for whichever mood arises. Thats why I will always carry with me my own personal deli of assorted genres and authors.

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Skimmed Verses, Missed Opportunities

Scripture Quotation

Do you skim quotations when reading? I do.

What’s more, I’ve noticed that I skim even quicker when the quotation is a Bible verse. This is terrible.

Why do our minds skim this valuable material? Here’s what I suspect goes on up there:

  1. I’m tracking with argument
  2. I see the quotation
  3. I debate: Is it long?, Have I seen it before?, Is it clearly a mere reiteration of the argument?
    • If yes, skim or skip and move onto the next argument
    • If no, read until I see how it fits then skip it and move on to the next point

In my eagerness to move onto the next point of the section or chapter I’ve missed an opportunity to hear from God on the topic (if it’s a Bible reference). Whose words am I valuing more?

Too quickly we dismiss passages with a statement like, “I’ve read that passage of Scripture before, no need to waste the time to read it again.” Waste the time! Yikes. Let’s back up there. This has to be one of Satan’s ploys. His subtle tempters have us rationalizing before we even notice something is there to be rationalized!

Let’s think about it, how many of us fight to read God’s word more? I know I sure do. So what logical sense does it make to forego an opportunity to read Scripture placed right before us?

With this in mind, let us venture together to take every opportunity to read from God’s living and active Word—even/especially when it is placed among the fallible words of men.

“We must be determined to read the imperfect in light of the perfect, the deficient in light of the sufficient, the temporary in light of the eternal, the groveling in light of the transcendent . . . if we fail to prioritize the eternal Word over temporary books, our reading will never be distinctly Christian.”

Tony ReinkeLit!:A Christian Guide to Reading Books, Crossway, 2011, p. 28

Our Union with Christ as the Source of Gospel Joy

This past weekend, I finished reading an advanced proof of The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. As only top notch books can do, I was simultaneously blessed, convicted, and encouraged.

In the penultimate chapter, DeYoung makes the point that if “holiness is being like Christ . . . [and] being like Christ is possible only for those who are in Christ, . . . those in Christ should make it their aim to grow in fellowship with Christ.” To demonstrate this idea of fellowship and union with Christ, DeYoung points to the following paragraph from Calvin’s Institutes:

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him” (1 Cor. 1:30). If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects (Heb. 2:17) that he might learn to feel our pain (cf. Heb 5:2). If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross (Gal. 3:13); if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb,; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgement, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other.”

—John Calvin, Institutes 2.16.19

All the joy of the gospel is found in Christ as we are unified with him. We are to abide in Christ and keep his commandments, so “that [his] joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). This is a lasting joy, a deep joy, a gospel joy that is truly “good news.”

References:
Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness, Crossway, 2012

Farther Along

Besides setting a wonderful running pace, the music and lyrics of Josh Garrels are rich with the eschatological hope that believers share in Christ.

Take a look at the last verse of “Farther Along” off his album Love & War & The Sea In Between:

Still I get hard pressed on every side
Between the rock and a compromise
Like the truth and pack of lies fightin’ for my soul
And I’ve got no place left go
Cause I got changed by what I’ve been shown
More glory than the world has known
Keeps me ramblin’ on

Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I’m free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I’ll get back up
For the joy that overflows my cup
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levee and my bluff
Let the flood wash me

And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess
That the son of god is forever blessed
His is the kingdom, we’re the guests
So put your voice up to the test
Sing Lord, come soon

As I was linking to Josh’s website this morning, I noticed this trailer for a documentary that made me like him even more:

(Thanks to Scott T. for turning me on to such a great musician/theologian)

Why Do Leaves Wilt?

leaves

The lack of rain this summer has lead me to wonder, why did God create plants to wilt?

Clearly, the scientific explanation is that they don’t have enough water, but my question is one “meta” level higher. Surely, when God was creating the universe he could have created any number of scientific explanations for why plants wilt.Why wilting? Why not backwards growth into their seeds instead? (think Benjamin Button meets Timothy Green)

It’s kinda cool to think about huh?

Maybe it’s that wilting leaves are less likely to block any water that might be making its way towards the roots. With the leaves down, any and all water has clear passage to the center of the plant’s root system.

Or perhaps, wilting leaves serve to protect the stem of the plant from the attacks of the sun’s blistering rays. With less leaf surface area under the sun the photosynthesis process will be slowed, but it is better that the plant conserve the remaining water in the stem by covering it up.

Who knows which reasons God had for creating leaves that wilt, but the cool thing is that regardless of the reason, the Lord took the time to create them as such—just as he created and continues to tend to every detail of creation. And, if God tends to all these “lesser details” of Earth, surely he will tend to us, his children. This is Christ’s argument from his Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV)

Grace—Rightly Perceived

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Titus 2:11-14

“Grace—rightly perceived—compels holiness . . . When we realize we have been resuced from the clutches of evil against hich we were helpless, our resolution is stregnthened never to go back there. We never want to allow the evile to take hold again. That is why the resucue of grace results in requirements. Not because the requirements rescue but because the rescued, who truly recognize hte danger they were in, desire and strive to be forever free of its clutches.”

-Bryan Chapell, 1– 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit (ESV Edition), (Crossway, 2012), pp. 371, 373

The Grass Withers, The Flower Fades . . .

A fitting passage for such a dry summer . . .

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8 (ESV)

Update:

No less than 30 minutes after my first post, we received the first rain in nearly a month. I guess this passage is pertinent as well:

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.

Hebrews 6:7 (ESV)

 . . . and what a blessing it is.

Here’s a cool picture of the storm coming in. Check out that cloud ridge!

Incoming Storm

 

Critic v. Pupil

As I’ve continued reading The Screwtape Letters, I couldn’t help but share the following. I share it because I needed to hear it and thought others might find it helpful as well.

In chapter 16, Screwtape is encouraging his tormentor nephew to tempt his “patient” into becoming a “taster or connoisseur of churches.” In so doing he’d make “the man a critic where [God] wants him to be a pupil.” Here’s what Screwtape hopes to avoid, and therefore, our goal:

“What [God] wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise—does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going . . . there is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us [demons] if it is received in this temper.”

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Are you more often a critic seeking to shoot down, or a pupil seeking to learn?
  2. Do you listen/read with discernment such that you could “reject what is false or unhelpful?”
  3. Do you listen/read with “humble receptivity” such that you can receive the “nourishment that is going?”
  4. How can we as church members avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water—yet still throw out the bath water?
References
—C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (HarperCollins 2001 ed.), pp 81-82
 

How to Read for Pleasure

read at whim

“Read at whim!”

This is the cry of Dr. Alan Jacobs in his recent book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Reading at whim is his response to our culture which loves to ask what to read. Many seek recommendations from best-seller, top 10, and summer reading lists, but “In many cases,” Jacobs suggests, “these requests have little to do with reading anything, but rather with having read . . . (Jacobs, 2011, p. 14).” The question then becomes, what brings pleasure? Reading, or having read?

While reading for reasons other than the mere whim of personal pleasure can surely be beneficial (e.g. schoolwork), non-whimsical reading can often become problematic and lead to temptation. I believe this is what C. S. Lewis was getting at in one section of The Screwtape Letters. In this section, the demon named Screwtape, chastises his nephew and junior temptor, Wormword, for his errors:

“And now for your blunders. On your own showing you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed, because he enjoyed it an not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends . . . The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books.”

—C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Convicted? Me too. I often slip into reading for the praise of other folks or to “make clever remarks.” Instead, we ought to read because we are interested in the topic or because we want to enjoy an evening in a distant and mysterious land. We ought to read at a whim.

When we read for these purposes—to delight in the creativity that reflects God’s creativity and the truths that reflect the Truth—then reading has the potential to become a true pleasure.

So lets infuriate our tempters and read at a whim!

References:
—C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (HarperCollins 2001 ed.), p. 66
—Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 14, 15

Something Greater

Jesus-greater-than

Reading through Matthew 12 the other day I noticed a recurring statement coming from the mouth of Jesus:

“Something greater . . . is here”

Three times, Christ indicates his supremacy over aspects of Jewish life that the Jews he was talking with would have held in the highest regard.

  1. Christ is > the Temple (Mt 12:6)

    Christ declares that he is lord of the Sabbath, and through him alone can we find the eternal rest that the sabbath points to.

  2. Christ is > Jonah (Mt 12:41)

    Christ declares that he is greater than the Old Testament prophets, like Jonah, by being, himself the fulfillment what they prophesied.

  3. Christ is > Solomon (Mt 12:42)

    Christ declares that his message and kingdom are far wiser and greater than that of the wise King Solomon.

In other words, Christ was declaring that he should be held in the highest of regards as their—and our—Priest, Prophet, and King.

Hallelujah.

HT: ESV Study Bible Notes