Yet More from Anna Karenina

“Peaceful with six children Darya Alexandrovna could not be. One would fall ill, another might easily become so, a third would be without something necessary, a fourth would show symptoms of a bad disposition, and so on. Rare indeed were the brief periods of peace. But these cares and anxieties were for Darya Alexandrovna the sole happiness possible. Had it not been for them, she would have been left alone to brood over her husband who did not love her.

“And besides, hard though it was for the mother to bear the dread of illness, the illnesses themselves, and the grief of seeing signs of evil propensities in her children — the children themselves were even now repaying her in small joys for her sufferings. Those joys were so small that they passed unnoticed, like gold in sand, and at bad moments she could see nothing but the pain, nothing but sand; but there were good moments too when she saw nothing but the joy, nothing but gold.”

I just… wow, you guys. Wow.

I’ve thought about doing a review of Anna Karenina as I go along, but it’s so beautiful and awful, so gutting, that most of my responses to it are purely emotional — and it’s tough to write groans and sighs and staring agape at the page and shifting restlessly in one’s seat and feeling the hairs stand up on the back of one’s neck, to say nothing of how it might be to read such a thing! So I think I’ll spare you my “reviews” and just let Tolstoy speak for himself, hey?

Dust

When I went to look at what had long been hidden,
A jewel laid long ago in a secret place,
I trembled, for I thought to see its dark deep fire—
But only a pinch of dust blew up in my face.

I almost gave my life long ago for a thing
That has gone to dust now, stinging my eyes—
It is strange how often a heart must be broken
Before the years can make it wise.
 
-- Sara Teasdale 
 
(HT: She's No Lady) 

Depending on God

“It is a dreadful truth that the state of (as you say) ‘having to depend solely on God’ is what we all dread most. And of course that just shows how very much, how almost exclusively, we have been depending on things. But trouble goes so far back in our lives and is now so deeply ingrained, we will not turn to him as long as he leaves us anything else to turn to. I suppose all one can say is that it was bound to come. In the hour of death and the day of judgment, what else shall we have? Perhaps when those moments come, they will feel happiest who have been forced (however unwittingly) to begin practicing it here on earth. It is good of him to force us; but dear me, how hard to feel that it is good at the time.”

– C.S. Lewis, from “Letters to an American Lady”

Why Guys Should Read Pride & Prejudice

I can’t promise that this will be my last post on this subject, but it’ll at least be the last for awhile!

Fellas, here’s a true story. The boys in my 9th grade class complained incessantly about having to read P&P. It’s girly! It’s a love story! Is this a kissing book? But you know what? We kept at it, I kept pointing them to the male characters, some funny, some pathetic, some admirable, and they started seeing it as a book for men — a book that almost reads as a guide to manliness and a caution against its distortions. After we finished it, we started Gulliver’s Travels, a much more traditionally “boyish” book, and the first day of our discussion on it, one boy piped up and said, “Miss Roberts, I wish we could spend another week on Pride and Prejudice,” to which the rest of the boys added their agreement, recollecting their favorite characters and moments in the book.

So without further ado, ten reasons (from my students) that men should read Pride and Prejudice.

1. It’s funny.

2. It gives you a “how to” AND a “how not to” on proposing marriage.

3. Mr. Bingley is awesome.

4. It’s a great story.

5. It’s a psychological cross-section of people.

6. It teaches you how not to be a man (Mr. Collins, Darcy at first, Wickham).

7. It teaches you how to be a man (Darcy as the story develops, Bingley, Mr. Gardiner).

8. You can’t be really well-read without having read it.

9. It’s full of witty insults you can imitate.

10. It gives examples of women you should go after and women you should leave alone.

Straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth! ;)

Living in One Room

“Do you refuse to take seriously what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say? Then build a room where the Bible doesn’t matter as much as your general ideas of Christianity. Does your version of Christianity refuse all critiques and evaluations? Then build a room where your religion is flawless. Do you want to conveniently divide the world into the good people who nod and smile and the bad people who ask questions? Then build another room.

“Build a room for your money. Build one for your porn addiction. Build one for your flirtations and affairs. Build one for cheating, greed and racism. Build a room where your rudeness, laziness and dishonesty don’t matter. Build one for your ambitious backbiting and betrayals of co-workers. Build a room where you get to see your children the way you want to see them, not the way they are. Build a room that exactly fits your church, then lock the doors. Build a room for your politicians and their worldview. Build a room that controls whatever you want to hear and protects whatever conclusions you are unwilling to ever question. [...]

“Or let me suggest another project. Instead of building more rooms, why not tear some things down? Tear out some walls. Become, as much as possible, one person, in one life, for one audience.”

– Michael Spencer

There Are No Ordinary People

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

– C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

There Are No Ordinary People; You Have Never Talked to a Mere Mortal – Justin Taylor.

In Which I Am Reminded of An Important Truth

(Incidentally, doesn’t that sound like the beginning of a chapter in Winnie the Pooh?  If it said “Pooh is” or “Piglet is” instead of “I am” especially.  Or if it ended with “Important Truth About Hunny.”) 

I was reminded recently of something very important, which I either didn’t realize or had forgotten.  A dear friend sent me a brief text with just a couple of sentences addressing something I’d been angsting about — honest words that stung a little, to tell you the truth.  It wasn’t a sermon or a long conversation, just something I really needed to be reminded of about my affections.  Which I’ll come back to.

I’m a pretty cerebral kinda gal.  Being cerebral is one of those characteristics that’s a lot like the Girl with the Curl from the nursery rhyme: when it’s good, it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad, it’s horrid.  The good part is that I love to think deeply and ponder and muse and learn and wonder and teach my students to do the same. The horrid part is when I get so far inside my head that I can’t escape, and what ends up happening is that I live an almost parallel life, some self-narrated alternate reality in my head until I’m so wrapped up in it that everything about real life seems less real and far, far more disappointing.

So back to the affections.  Jonathan Edwards wrote of the affections that they “are no other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.”  Wait, what?  Are you trying to tell me that my affections are exercises of my will?  To be used sensibly and thoughtfully, not merely letting them light wherever they want, but to be directed and applied in a godly way?  Far out.

In that self-narrated alternate reality that’s constantly competing for my attentions, I have allowed my affections to be directed toward things and circumstances and people thoughtlessly.  Rather than choosing to set my mind on — to direct my affections toward — “things above” as the Scriptures say, I have too often chosen to allow my affections to be cast about by my mood, my temperament, my situation, and countless other factors. 

I needed (and am very grateful for) the reminder that my deepest affections belong only to God.

"He does not deal with us as our sins deserve…"

“We are all prodigal sons, and not disinherited; we have received our portion, and misspent it, not been denied it.  We are God’s tenants here, and yet here, he, our landlord, pays us rents; not yearly, nor quarterly, but hourly and quarterly; every minute he renews his mercy.”
 
John Donne, quoted in Thomas C. Oden, Classical Pastoral Care (Grand Rapids, 1987), III:285.

HT: Ray Ortlund

Theology

I overheard some ladies at the Chinese restaurant where I picked up lunch yesterday, grumbling about how the men in their Bible study were just so obsessed with the little details of the Bible that they missed the big picture. “It’s just all that… theology. Ugh.”

I felt very pleased with my self-control that I managed to keep my wails of dismay to myself, and very pleased indeed that I also held back the lecture on the fact that everyone has a theology, it’s just either a good one or a bad one, that theology just means “the study or knowledge of GOD,” for crying out loud, and everyone on the PLANET possesses beliefs about God (even atheists!) and if you think theology is about arguing over whether Martha and Lazarus were half-siblings or if the punctiliar emphatic aorist in the Greek indicates a completed action, YOU NEED HELP! AUGH!!! But I didn’t say it. Nope! Self control, right there.

So I’m just saving THAT rant for my students. HA.

In the words of a wise friend: “You [ought to] study theology the right way, where truth moves your heart to joy and praise. If more of us would do it this way, maybe it wouldn’t have such a bad rap in some circles. Theology should not intimidate the uninitiated, but cause them to want more of it, like a thirsty man who finds water in the desert. ”

Election

“That is election: the Father in love pursues foolish, obstinate, disobedient children who have chosen death, and he decrees that more important than their will is His love. And anyone who is a Christian should thank God that not only did he call out to them, but he pursued them! And that in Jesus Christ he extended a hand, and he grabbed them, and he yanked them to himself. [...] If you are a Christian, you should praise God; you have a loving father who has grabbed you by the neck and spared you from Satan, sin, death, wrath, judgment, and conscious, eternal torment in Hell. He owes you nothing! But he has given you all things.”

– Mark Driscoll

No Comment

The typical parent, when whacking a misbehaving child, doesn’t pause to wonder: “What does science have to say about the efficacy of corporal punishment?” If they are thinking anything at all, it’s: “Here comes justice!” And while the typical parent may not know or care, the science on corporal punishment of kids is pretty clear. Despite the rise of the timeout and other nonphysical forms of punishment, most American parents hit, pinch, shake, or otherwise lay violent hands on their youngsters: 63 percent of parents physically discipline their 1- to 2-year-olds, and 85 percent of adolescents have been physically punished by their parents. Parents cite children’s aggression and failure to comply with a request as the most common reasons for hitting them.

–Alan E. Kazdin, “Spare the Rod,” Slate.com

OK, maybe ONE comment.

AARRRRRGH!!

Take a minute to read this great excerpt, written by Sojourn’s worship pastor Mike Cosper, and then head over to Sojournmusic.com and read the rest, from a three-part installment on the climate of modern worship in churches.

This is the landscape others see from the outside looking in – musicians who almost barely know how to play their instruments, music without roots or traditions, songs without dynamics, services with rock star worship leaders wearing faux-hawks and designer jeans. They look great, they sound okay, but don’t ask them to change keys. Contrast this with the classical traditions of the church, where musicians spend 15-20 years, starting in early childhood, studying music, studying musical performance, working with choirs, orchestras, and various ensembles throughout their educations, and then often continuing through a seminary “church music” education.

Of course, much of this is a caricature. I know many worship leaders and pastors in churches like this who have a deep knowledge of and love for music. I know many worship leaders whose humility guards them from the excesses of rock culture. I know many leaders who have a love of theology, hymnody, and scripture, and whose services reflect that love. But I also believe that this is the unfortunate exception and not the rule.

And the warning cries abound. It’s both redundant and fashionable to sit around and lament how devoid and barren our worship music is today. But what’s the way forward? Pastors have this dual responsibility in North America to be faithful and to be attractional (two forces that are often at odds with one another). And what attracts people to churches today more than the poppy music of contemporary worship?

As with so many places in our culture, we’ve severed the connections with traditions that can help inform, correct, and guard us from mistakes from great to small. While certainly, in the light of God’s sovereignty, we have to say that there is something good afoot in the radical shifts in worship culture in the US, there is also a road ahead so fraught with dangers that without some kind of roots, some kind of theological grounding, some kind of historical connectedness, we will SURELY lose our way.

What I want to ask is who will guide us? What will the reformation of church music education give birth to in twenty years? Will it look different, or will we simply look back in twenty years and laugh at our young foolishness? Worship leaders aren’t the only ones asking these kinds of questions.

My Love-Hate-Love Relationship

Yeah, it’s complicated. Sometimes, I feel the strongest love and devotion, and other times nothing but pure hatred — oh, the arguments! The stereotypes and cliches! The ignorance, the stupidity! But just when I think I’m over it, just when I think I couldn’t possibly love again, I go running back.

Today, I think I’d be willing to propose. To Boundless, that is.

A few days ago on the Boundless Line I got into a rather heated debate with one of the writers about environmental issues — see, he’s one of those vitriolic global warming skeptics. And he somehow thinks that by insulting his opponents, he’ll solidify his own position — really, it just makes him look like a jerk.

But then, this morning, all was made right again in the sick, twisted little universe of my relationship with Boundless. Because I read this:

Dear Boundless Answers:

I had an interesting conversation with two older women of my church. I asked them if they thought that I was ready for marriage yet and they both said “no.” They challenged me, asking me if I thought that I was being the “best that I could be” in every area of my life.

[...]

Should a woman totally overcome her insecurities before she gets married (to avoid bringing in that “excess baggage”)?

And now, the response, from Candice Watters — hang in there and read the whole thing. It’s so great that it deserves being reproduced in its entirety here:

I don’t know you beyond your e-mail, so I’m reluctant to challenge feedback from women in your church who presumably do. But I also know that if what they’d said was based on Scripture, I’d be more likely to agree with them.

What they said sounds cliché. Their assertion that you should be the “best that you can be” in every area of life before you get married scans like a positive thinking infomercial. It’s based on the belief that we are not only perfectible, but also that we can perfect ourselves. It’s certainly not rooted in what the Bible says about sin (that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God“) and our need for a Savior.

Do you need to learn to love yourself before you can ever give your love to another person? Not according to Scripture. Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself.” This is something you can do immediately. No learning curve required. We’re selfish by nature; that’s why Jesus made self-love the measure for how we treat others. He knew we would get the shorthand of what He was saying.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” The purpose of our lives is not to self-actualize, but to bring glory to God. How we feel about our looks, or weight, or job, or social life, or any other measure of success on any given day is, in the scope of eternity, irrelevant. Does God want us to be full of joy? Yes. Is that joy dependent on your self-image? Thankfully, no. His joy and peace are among the fruit of the Holy Spirit. They come by giving thanks in all circumstances, praying without ceasing, and cultivating the Holy Spirit’s activity in your life. None of this hangs on what kind of “self-image day” we’re having. Though I know in my life that the more I practice these spiritual disciplines, the more irrelevant my externals become.

What about their appeal to Adam and Eve as “worked on by God and therefore complete before they met?” It implies that somehow the first couple came “baggage-free” (a pop-psychology favorite). But you need to read only a few verses down to see what failure these “complete” humans were capable of after God was done making them. Beyond the reality that God put Adam to sleep until the surgery was over, and kept Eve that way until she was fully formed in flesh, I don’t see any evidence that the two were perfectly ready for marriage, or any other serious undertaking, the way your friends implied. Adam and Eve were, as we are, fully human, with the freedom to obey or not.

I suspect when the two women you spoke with married, they still had growing and maturing to do. I did. And I do believe they meant well.

But what would be more helpful than telling you to stop thinking about marriage till you’re perfect is to give specific areas of growth to be working on while you’re praying for marriage and being intentional about helping it happen. Offering passages of Scripture for study (Titus 2, and Proverbs 31 for starters), examples of where you fall short on what the Bible requires, and relational support for helping you grow is the kind of mentoring you need. But it shouldn’t stop there.

Titus 2:3-5 says:

“Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

This passage suggests that the younger women in need of spiritual nurture and practical training are already married. The passing on of wisdom from the one generation to the next is to take place in the context of marriages already formed. If, as is the case in our culture, the younger women are having trouble finding and marrying godly husbands, then helping them do that should be the first order of business on the older women’s to-do lists.

When are you ready for marriage? When you’re no longer a child; when you’re ready to take on the adult responsibilities that marriage brings. That doesn’t mean you can use that as justification for avoiding responsibility (“I’m just not ready”). Unless they’re specially gifted for celibate service, Christian men and women should be gearing up for marriage in their early 20s. It’s not only their best time for meeting mates, but also their most fertile time for forming families. If you don’t feel ready or willing to take on adult responsibility, the solution isn’t more passage of time, but likely, accountability from the older believers in your church.

Which brings us back to your dilemma. To get the most help from the women in your Bible study, I think you might need to re-tool your question. Instead of asking, “Do you think I’m ready for marriage?” you might say, “I believe, based on what I read in Scripture, that believers are called either to celibate service or marriage (Matthew 19:11-12). I know from my desires and drives that I’m not specially gifted for celibate service, so what I’m wondering is, based on your understanding of Scripture, what are the things I need to be working on to prepare for the responsibilities that come with marriage and motherhood?”

Then, based on what they answer, you might follow up with, “Would you be willing to pray with me about those areas and pray for me that God would make me more like Him and bring me a godly husband?”

It’s not enough to seek out older believers. The goal is mentors who rightly divide the Word. It will be to your benefit and His glory.

OH, gosh, you guys. The advice this girl’s older friends gave her used to drive me BONKERS. I knew far, far too many jacked-up people — Christians who were FAR from baggage-free — who’d made it down the aisle to believe that God only wills marriage for people who’ve learned to love themselves or become complete in themselves or whatever (puke).

If you have single friends, I beg you, don’t give them this advice. Don’t tell them they have to take time out of their search for a spouse in order to become more Godly. And don’t let it slide if they say, “Well, I’m just going to take this time to work on myself, because I need to be content in myself before I try to look for a wife/husband.” Challenge them. Remind them that God’s in the business of using imperfect people in his grand story of saving a people for himself — he even blesses imperfect people! He gives them the incomparable gift of salvation, together with every other spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.

Furthermore, he uses our daily lives, our circumstances, and our relationships to sanctify us. Every part of our lives falls under God’s sovereignty, and as Christians, every moment of our life is spiritual — not just the times when we’re reading our Bibles or sitting in church or talking about Jesus or whatever, but the times when we’re stuck in traffic or reading blogs or talking about sweet vs. unsweet tea. In other words, we don’t have to take a silent retreat or avoid complicated relationships to discover God’s will for us as individuals or in community — our Father guides us in our REAL LIVES to make godly, appropriate choices, and he transforms us into the image of His Son through our REAL LIVES.

Justification By Faith

Poking around the Matthias Media website today I came across an outstanding article on justification by faith — an interview with the Principal of London Theological Seminary, who has written a book on the subject. The entire article is well worth reading, but here are a few choice quotes:

What spiritual effect will the doctrine of justification by faith have in the believer’s life?

I think the main effect will be one of tremendous joy. It’s a wonderful thing to wake up each day and realize that, although I’m an unworthy sinner, nevertheless, I am accepted in Christ. Further, I don’t have to work for my acceptance. Life is not about keeping God happy by performance. It gives me enormous joy to know that the most important person in the universe accepts me as I am because of the merits of Jesus Christ credited to me.

Again, it’s an amazing relief to know that God has dealt with all my sins and faults. He’s taken my guilt away. I am accepted in Christ. I know that if I was to die tonight, I would go to be with my Lord in heaven.

Furthermore, now that I know that I’m saved through trusting Christ, I don’t have to be terrified of the threat of Purgatory. I don’t have any worries about whether people will pray for me after I die, or whether they’ll light candles for me. Nor do I have to worry about whether my friends and relatives will pay to have masses offered for me after my death. Justification through faith deals with these and many other fears.

Also:

What will happen if the church loses the doctrine of justification by faith?

The first thing that will happen is that the Church will no longer have a gospel to declare. There will be no good news.

Second, believers will lose their sense of assurance. We will wonder if we have ever done enough to please God. “Are we good enough?” we will ask. On the other hand, if we believe this doctrine, it will have a significant impact on our lives. First, we will have peace with God. This means that we will be able to approach God as a friend. Second, it also means that we will have a totally different attitude to sin. When I think of all that God has done for me in Christ, I should hate sin with all my heart. When I reflect on what it cost the Son of God—damnation upon the cross, punishment in body, mind and spirit—I should loathe sin with every part of my being. When I know that I have been justified by grace through faith, I should delight in obeying the One who loved me and gave himself for me.

That’s a Fact, Jack.

“I have a theory, one which theologians tend to scoff at, but take it for what you will. My theory is that if you can’t find an intellectually compelling reason to do what Christ has commanded, or you have interesting reasons for why you can do quite otherwise than what he has instructed, that still does not negate your responsibility to do what you’re told. The Lord’s word trumps your theology, all the time, every time. [...]

“Every Sunday, I hear his words spoken, ‘This is my body broken for you, this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.’ Those words are true because they are Christ’s, not because the proper authorities legislated that those words are allowed to be valid in my church. They are as true as the Gospel because they are the Gospel, and God does not need a pope to authorize the Gospel in order for it to be true. If God can make children of Abraham out of stones with his Word, then how much more by that same Word can he make a Church out of us [...]“

– Josh S.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

For awhile there, I stayed away from Boundless.org, but it has gained my favor increasingly in the last few weeks with article after article that doesn’t just address “singleness” like it once did, but the church, sin, depression, discipleship, and other issues that are incredibly important to all Christians. Today’s article is especially interesting. Check out this excerpt:

One of my best friends in high school, who was of course a girl, had to tell me we couldn’t hang out anymore. When I asked why, she bitterly let me know that her parents told her I was a pig who was only interested in her for her body. I thought that was cute, being stereotyped in the completely wrong direction. But isn’t that what so many Christians think is all they need to know about young males?

I would say that about 95 percent of the guy-specific ministry I experienced from the teen years on up had to do with managing lust. A vital topic, to be sure, but I often wondered if anyone saw anything else in me, or if anyone could answer my deeper questions about life, relationships, real manhood — which is more than just white-knuckling our way to our wedding night.

My secret struggle with my sexual identity underscored how little was taught to me and my peers about building a godly masculine identity in the first place. I’m sure someone touched on it in a sermon somewhere along the way, but preaching never has a lasting impact on such core, complex parts of a person’s being.

And if anyone was going to help me respond healthily to my feelings, they needed to at least acknowledge their reality and validate my experience, not just tell me that sin is sin and feelings don’t matter. That’s where the self-named “progressives” are one step ahead of Christians; they take time to listen, and they take young people seriously.

Pretty good, right? Head on over to Boundless.org and check it out.

Abraham Lincoln: February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

From Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
March 4, 1865

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

(ht: Craig)

How many things are necessary for thee to know,
that thou, enjoying this comfort,
mayest live and die happily?

Three;
the first, how great my sins and miseries are;
the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries;
the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

–Heidelberg Catechism