Sunday, December 31, 2017

Resolutions


I read somewhere that Christians shouldn't make New Year's resolutions. I don't remember who wrote it or what the reasoning was behind it because it was so outside the realm of the way I think that I couldn't process it. No less an authority than Jonathan Edwards made resolutions -- he ended up with seventy -- and whether or not they were "New Year's" resolutions is not exactly the point. The point is to consciously set goals and to assess (and reassess) where one is with regard to those goals. So if you want to set "birthday resolutions" or "Labor Day resolutions," it's all good. The important thing is to have intentions and goals and objectives and to remind yourself regularly of the things you say you mean to accomplish. You need to walk the talk. (I need to walk the talk.)

I need no one to persuade me that resolutions are valuable. I am a resolution maker from WAY back. I think if you never make a resolution there is something a little bit off about you. Surely you don't imagine that you've achieved a level of perfection that is so near the ultimate that you don't have anything in your life you'd like to change. And resolutions don't have to be about becoming a better person -- they can be about checking items off of a to-do list, too.

Anyway -- here are mine. I always think there should be more, but this is what I've come up with for now.

1. The Spiritual Stuff

  • My prayer life is a perpetual resolution and I think it always will be. I want to pray better, more consistently, more fervently.
  • Related (but different): in James 4 we're told that we don't have because we don't ask. In Ephesians 5 we're told to be "filled with the Spirit." In Luke 11 Jesus tells us to ask -- repeatedly. So here's what I want: I want more of God. I want to be willing to accept his gifts, to be open to them, and to use what he gives me to bring him glory and honor. I want to understand in a visceral way that he is my exceeding great reward. I want to love him more, trust him more, think of him more.
  • I want humility. This is my besetting sin: thinking more of myself than I ought to think and thinking more of myself than I do of others.

2. The Health Stuff

  • Fire up the ol' low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diet. It works for me when I let it.
  • I need to head back to the gym at least three times a week; bonus points if I go four. My Fitbit died, but I'm going to ask for one for my birthday. That's not until July, but July will come.
  • Get control of my sleep schedule. This is the resolution most likely to fail, I am afraid. I try and I try and I try and I fail and I fail and I fail. I love the nighttime. I'll be tired and draggy all afternoon and evening and around 10:00 I get a surge of energy. It's annoying and frustrating.
  • Bring a salad to work (three times a week). Because I don't get to bed until 3:00 I sleep until 11:00. I get up to be at work by noon and I don't usually have time to eat breakfast (and I don't usually feel like it). I bring nothing to work...so around 3:00 I'm starving. And I eat junk. I need to be proactive about this -- a salad is the way to go.

3. The Mind Stuff

  • Learn Latin. I got a book a couple of years ago. I just need to do it.
  • Work on my own personal reading challenge (I posted it on Facebook; basically it involves finishing Proust, starting John Frame's A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, and reading the Book of Common Prayer).

4. The Rest of the Stuff

  • Finish my online course in lettering (faux calligraphy). I signed up (and paid) for this course over a year ago and only did the first lesson.
  • A few years ago I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a cordless Dyson vacuum (which I love -- as much as one can love a vacuum, anyway). It won't clean the whole house on one charge, but it's so light and quick that if I did a little every other day my house would stay clean with minimal effort. Stella seems to be in perpetual shed-mode, so this really needs to happen.
  • Blog more. And here we are.
  • Implement the recommendations in Tim Challies' Do More Better. This is a book, broadly, on time management/productivity. It was the first or second book that I read for my challenge in 2017 and I kind of brushed it off because I didn't feel like I needed it. I started working last summer, though, and even though I'm not sure why that made such a big difference in my life (as far as remembering where I need to be and what I need to do), it has. Challies' advice (helpfully given from a Christian perspective) centers around three technological tools: a time management tool (like Todoist, Wunderlist, etc.), a scheduling tool (like Google Calendar, Outlook, and others), and an information tool (like Evernote, OneNote, and so on). 
  • Set up my office. Painting, filing, furnishing -- it's a whole thing.
So that's it. Fourteen goals for 2018 (I should come up with four more...). 


More later...

Saturday, December 30, 2017

More Is More


There is a very popular article trending right now on The Gospel Coalition web site entitled "3 Ways I Plan to Read the Bible Less in 2018." It doesn't take a genius to understand why this is a popular article: anything that gives us permission to do less in the area of spiritual disciplines (while achieving more!) is going to be popular. Like "Great Abs in 3 Minutes a Day." And we all know how that turns out.

I think the article makes some good points but that its broad conclusions and prescriptions are not the most beneficial. The author writes about reading cursorily, plowing through a daily reading just to check it off his to-do list, never (never?) finishing his read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans. He reminds us of the purpose of reading God's Word (adding a great D.A. Carson quote: "No one drifts toward holiness"). All of these are not only valid concerns, they were warned against by the granddaddy of all reading plan writers, Robert Murray M'Cheyne. In other words, they are nothing new. But here is something I learned in 2017 by reading 104 books as I conquered Tim Challies' reading challenge.

There are different kinds of reading with different aims and different results and benefits. Everything we read can't be meditated upon thoughtfully or we will only read a few verses a month or a book or two a year. Meditation is very important, but so is a deluge of Scripture -- a sort of bathing in God's Word without pausing to dwell deeply. That deep consideration is vital to a Christian's growth, but reading -- even quickly, almost cursorily -- provides its own type of benefit. Less significant, no doubt, but life can't be all kale and broccoli. We need less nutritionally dense foods too -- bananas and brown rice (much less nutrient dense than the aforementioned green vegetables) are a part of a very healthy diet, too.

When I was plowing through Challies' program I did not have time to pause to savor some of the chewier works that I was reading -- books by Puritan authors, for example. Yet, fast reading has benefits. First, I was exposed to books that I'll want to come back to when I have the time to concentrate and ponder. More importantly, though -- it's surprising how things stick, even when you don't think they will. Little snippets of things I read quickly asserted themselves when I was conversing about a particular subject. Apparently we are not as stupid as we think we are -- just being exposed to things can have at least a mild effect.

Here's the thing: when it comes to Scripture (and things of God generally) less is never more. More is more. We DO have time. If you literally waste no time in a day and have no extra moments to spend in God's Word -- well, to be honest I can't even imagine that. I think anyone who makes that claim is a liar (maybe even deluding himself). We can -- we just choose not to.

I think the best idea is to plan on two types of reading in 2018. First, the daily devotional reading that we do and, second, the reading of subjects that we are going to dig deeply into and study and meditate on and mull over. (There is often overlap, of course.) I've never thought that my daily Scripture reading was going to take the place of study.

Reading cursorily should not mean that we don't realize and recognize what we are privileged to be holding in our hands. The Bible -- all of it, including Malachi, the genealogies, the arcana of sacrificial law -- is God's truly precious gift to humanity. Reading something quickly without pausing to meditate on it does not -- should not -- mean that we consider it less important or not worth our time. On the contrary -- it is so important that we want to bathe in it even while we are also studying deeply one section or topic at a time. The solution to thinking of a daily reading as something on a to-do list is not to stop the daily reading -- it's to alter one's attitude toward the activity.

If we don't follow a reading plan there are parts of God's Word that we'll never get to. Let's face it: the average person is unlikely to decide to embark on a close study of Nahum. We're going to study the gospels or Romans or maybe the Psalms. Not Leviticus. But all of God's Word is all of God's Word. As M'Cheyne wrote, "If we pass over some parts of Scripture, we shall be incomplete Christians." Because "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable..." A reading plan ensures that we take advantage of the "all." (To be fair, the author of the TGC article says he reads the Bible through every year, albeit without a formal reading plan. I just don't think most people are wired in such a way as to do this without guidance.)

There are read-the-Bible-in-two-years plans if something like M'Cheyne seems too ambitious (with M'Cheyne you read the whole Bible in one year and the Psalms twice and the New Testament twice). But I am not a fan of giving people permission to be slackers. We do that fine on our own -- instead believers should be held to a higher standard and encouraged to do more, study more, learn more. Remember that Carson quote above: we have to discipline ourselves to becoming holy; it is not something that "just happens." When I teach sanctification to third- and fourth-graders I always tell them that it is the one part of the salvation process that is 100% God's work and 100% our own. We participate in our sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit. If this is not so, then Paul wastes a lot of time telling us to do thus-and-such and not to do this-and-that.

So this year: resolve to follow some sort of Bible reading plan, ambitious or otherwise. And resolve to dig deeper into and study and meditate upon one particular book, subject, chapter, etc., at a time. It's not either/or -- it's both/and.

Today I will read the second-to-last chapter in II Chronicles, the second-to-last chapter of Revelation, the second-to-last chapter of Malachi, and the second-to-last chapter of John. Tomorrow I will finish each book and then the next day I'll start Genesis, Matthew, Ezra, and Acts. I will also embark on a close study of the book of Ecclesiastes. Both/and.

More later...

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Governor's Mansion

For the past four years I've gone to tour the Governor's Mansion at Christmas time. The first two years I did it with a group of three friends, then one moved, then one more moved...so this year I asked all the women at my church and eighteen of us (I think) made the trek to downtown Montgomery (it's only about fifteen minutes away) to see the house decked out in all its holiday finery.

The mansion is open for evening tours the first three Mondays in December, from 5:30 to 7:30. The last three years we just waltzed right in. This year it was MOBBED. LONG line to get in -- it was crazy! Part of it, I think, was that we waited until the last night -- I've never done that before. But they said they've never had this many people take the tour, so it could have been just one of those things. Anyway -- next year we'll go the first or second Monday!

I didn't take a picture of the outside of the house this year and my pictures of past years are currently "lost" (because they're on Facebook and I can't get to them with my account deactivated), but I took pictures inside.

The tour begins at the Governor's Mansion Gift Shop, right across the street. The small shop has a lot of cute Alabama items -- mugs, stickers, magnets, ornaments -- you name it, they've got it. They also have products that were made in Alabama -- candles, textiles, food items. They were giving away samples of jellies and relishes and sweet dips out back and we tried everything we could! The tickets for the mansion tour are handed out by the cashiers, so that was our real purpose for going there.

In years past we've entered the mansion from the side grounds, taking a pretty drive that winds a little bit through the grounds. We always see our friend Donald Hollums who works as a law enforcement officer and is always at the mansion when we're there. This year -- I don't know if it's because of the crowds or for some other reason -- they had us walk down the street and come in from the front lawn. But -- we DID see Donald, so our tradition was maintained!

The choir from the First United Methodist Church was singing on the grand staircase when we walked in. They were amazing -- just beautiful. I was with Wilda Clark (and Susan Waldrop and Jean Shepherd and Carol Bowman -- we were the last of our group) and Wilda knew one of the singers (I think he's a doctor in Prattville). Pardon my less-than-stellar videography.


We always step to the side and take our picture in the mirror above a sideboard in the dining room. This year no one was walking back there, but Wilda and Carol were brave and snuck out of line to humor me. The only thing wrong with the picture is me -- it's not a good shot, but tra-dition! (Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)



Last year Governor Bentley was either divorced or about to be divorced from his wife of 184 years. I know they don't actually do the decorating, but we all agreed that the house felt...off. Not as warm or welcoming. Well, let me say -- the house has NEVER looked prettier than it did this year! The decorations were lush, there were more of them, everything was just perfection. I don't know if Governor Ivey had anything to do with it, but I'm inclined to think she must have. This next picture is mainly a shot of the table in the dining room, but Jean and Susan are in the background.



In the drawing room there was a spectacular tree decorated with all sorts of things made by schoolchildren -- here's a sample of some of their creations (plenty of tiger paws and "Roll Tide" decorations).


The house next door -- the Farley-Hill house -- was decorated far more than it ever has been before. And it was spectacular. It's used as a kind of spillover house -- if they need extra space, a place for folks to stay, etc. This is a picture of me standing on tiptoe in the dining room trying to peer over the decorations on the fireplace mantel to get a shot. (If anything in these pictures looks tacky, that's not how it looked in person. In person it was all gorgeous, and a proof of the maxim that sometimes more is more. Really pretty.)


Decorations on the beautiful staircase in the Farley-Hill House.


The last room that we toured was decorated by the Master Gardeners and it was my favorite. I'm not sure what the room is used for -- it's relatively small, there's a fireplace in it -- maybe a sitting room or a parlor. Anyway, all of the decorations are made from natural materials: gourds, dried okra pods, cotton, dried flowers, etc. The next pictures were all taken in that room -- it was all so pretty!








I should have taken more pictures of the people I was with -- maybe I'll get it right next year! Dinner was delicious (I had a steak -- the last time I had a steak was a year ago on the same occasion). Very fun evening with women I love. I'm blessed.

More later...

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Grammar Lesson



In yet one more sign that our civilization is crumbling, the choir sang an anthem this morning that contained this line:

          "Unto us is born a King, He of whom the angels sing."

In order to give disapprobation to whom it is due, I will tell you who wrote the song. It's called "Unto Us" and the words and music are by Ed Kee and Brian Carr. I don't blame the choir (mostly).

Let's look at the beginning of Romans 10:14: "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?"

There are several ways to know that "He" is the incorrect pronoun in the choir anthem (besides it being jarring to the eye/ear and in case Romans 10:14 doesn't leap immediately to mind). The easiest is that "he" is the object in a sentence and "him" is the subject. Always (if they're used as pronouns; I can imagine someone naming a dog "Him" in which case these rules wouldn't necessarily apply). In the offending clause above, "He of whom the angels sing," the angels are the subject (they're the ones doing the verb -- singing) and "He" is the object (the one the verb is being done to, on, for, about, whatever). And we have already noted that "he" is not an object -- "him" is an object.

Also -- "him" always goes with "whom"; "he" always goes with "who."

That's one way you can know when to use who/whom, by the way. Usually people know when to use "him" vs. "he." It's the who/whom that screws us up. Here's a quick-and-dirty way to know which to use. Let's take the sentence "Who went to the game with you?" And say I'm not sure about that "Who" -- should it be "Whom"? Answer the question: it's either "he went with me" or "him went with me." Since we know the correct grammar is "he went with me" we know that the correct word to use is "who."

Another example: "You went to the game with who/m?" The answer is "I went with him." So the correct way to phrase the question is "You went to the game with whom?"

It's really easy if you just think about it.

I know "whom" is going the way of the pterodactyl. I know languages grow, change, evolve. They will just not grow, change, or evolve because of me.

When I was on Facebook folks would occasionally find some "grammar Nazi" joke and tag me in it. I do have many flaws, but I think this was unfair. Not only do I almost never correct someone's grammar, most of the time I don't even notice it. If I'm not reading as an editor things often slip by me (life is easier this way). Not always -- I mean, as soon as I read the "He" in the above song it jumped out at me like a red flashing light. That's rare, though. But even if I notice it I wouldn't correct it. That's unkind. There are a couple of friends who tease me and I tease back and I'd correct them -- but it's not so much because they used incorrect grammar as that I caught them in a mistake.

I see no reason to remain in ignorance, however. In fact, no one should be willing to stay that way. It's why I always want to be corrected -- it's a great day if I can learn something. I'll never understand why everyone doesn't feel that way, but experience has taught me that most people are content to be wrong. Don't be one of them! No, it's not fun to be corrected. But it's so much worse to continue making the same mistake and later realizing it (and realizing that people have been hearing you make it over and over). Embrace correction!

All right, that's it for now. It's cold (48 degrees) and raining out. Today is our church's Christmas caroling expedition and I usually skip it. I was thinking of going this year, however, but I'd have to leave the house in about twenty minutes. I'm currently wearing jammies, sitting under a blanket, sipping hot tea...

More later...

Friday, December 15, 2017

Redeeming the Time



I feel a pressure, time pressure, the crushing heaviness of a deadline fast approaching. I idolized myself and wasted so many weeks, months, years -- I cannot make up for the lost time, but I have no more to fritter away.

I know I am forgiven for the prodigal years, I know, I know. God is faithful. Faithful and just. I have not yet forgiven myself; how can I? If I had spent every day, hour, moment in service to my Lord it would only have been mere duty. Nothing to exult over, to pat myself on the back about.

I open my eyes in the morning, determined to make this day count. And before I leave the house I have inevitably wasted time. How can I redeem the moments better? How? "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."

This year drawing to a close, 2017, I did something I've never done before -- I read 104 books, an average of two a week. Exactly half of them were Christian books: biographies, works of theology, novels. In addition to those 52 books I read the Bible (M'Cheyne's plan, so that's the whole Bible plus the New Testament twice and Psalms twice). I also read snippets of other books, big chunks of others -- almost all Christian books.

I want to write about this challenge, but the point now is this: I was immersed in Christian words this year in a way I never have been before. And that was an exercise of great value.

Here is one thing I know about this thing we call the Christian religion: the more you know the more you see there is to know. And the more you know the more beautiful and exciting and amazing and awesome it is. You see how God has arranged things so that they all fit together in ways that no human being could have imagined much less accomplished. And just when you think you've wrapped your mind around a big part of it you turn another corner and there is more beauty, more glory, you find more things to astonish and astound. On a lower level -- but still an important and beautiful and thrilling level --  you see how men (mostly) have grappled over the centuries to understand theology in order to worship God in a way fitting to honor the King of the Universe.

We are, almost all of us, too careless with our worship and our consideration of God. We dash off moments, we graciously condescend to grant him ten minutes of our time for prayer or meditation on his Word. We treat God, in short, like most of us treat our earthly parents. We love them, sure, but we do have lives of our own, after all. How foolish we are.

And never mind the "we." I should make claims for no one but myself. I love God; how I long to love him more. I believe him; how I yearn to trust him more. I know God; how desperately I want to know him even as I am known.

The four men whose writings have most influenced me, who have increased my longing for a closer relationship with Christ are John Piper, C. S. Lewis, Tim Keller, and R. C. Sproul. I go to Piper, Keller, and Sproul for theology. I go to Lewis and Piper for a sense of the wonder and the beauty of God. I go to Keller to glory in the mystery and to plumb the depths of a relationship with Jesus. I go to Sproul for a sense of the enormity and holiness of God and a reminder of my own unworthiness. They are all human beings and so I don't expect infallibility or perfection; I know their words are not inspired. But they challenge me, encourage me, prod me, comfort me, edify me, convict me.

R.C. Sproul passed away yesterday. I have been profoundly saddened by this -- to an extent that really doesn't make sense to me. I am not sad for Dr. Sproul. I am overjoyed for him, jealous of him. But a world without his presence is a little bit colder, a little darker; I am sad for us. But this is the way things must be until Christ returns and defeats the last enemy.

I love the following poem and video. Please do not let the title keep you from watching (there is a story behind the title; there are always stories behind titles). Because one of my eccentricities is that I want to know details behind everything, I have carefully listened and watched and matched the narrators to the times they speak on the video. Listen especially to R. C. Sproul's closing line and marvel at how appropriate it is right now. Here they are:

0:18 John Piper
0:48 D. A. Carson
1:12 R. C. Sproul
1:39 Alistair Begg
2:04 Thabiti Anyabwile
2:32 John Piper
3:00 Matt Chandler
3:24 Sinclair Ferguson
3:50 R. C. Sproul



More later...

Thursday, December 14, 2017

R.C. Sproul, February 13, 1939 - December 14, 2017



One thing I have noticed since Mom's death has been that other deaths hit me harder. I've cried more for people I barely knew in the last year than in the 58 previous years put together. Tonight I am crying for R. C. Sproul.

Well -- not for him, exactly. He needs no prayers. He is joyfully singing "holy, holy, holy" before the throne of Jesus. I envy Dr. Sproul. He is happy and free, no longer tethered to an oxygen tank, and in possession of his heart's desire: to see his Lord.

But I am sad for us. For me. I will miss this man I never met (but one day...one day). Two of his books especially have been so important in my life: Chosen by God, which helped me to understand, believe, and articulate the doctrine(s) of election and predestination, and The Holiness of God, which impressed upon me God's transcendence and my unworthiness. I am facilitating a study group at church right now based on his teaching series "Angels and Demons." There is a stack of his works on my to-be-read pile. My dream is to one day attend the seminary he founded, Reformed Theological Seminary.

Tributes and encomiums are pouring in: from Sinclair Ferguson, from Joni Eareckson Tada, from The Gospel Coalition, on and on. John Piper wrote his remembrance and it ended with this: "I will miss him (for a short while)." That made me cry all over again because it's true; in a few weeks John Piper will turn 72 and while he seems quite healthy and spry there is much more life behind him than ahead of him (excepting eternity, of course). So we'll be losing Piper somewhere down the road.

Of course everybody gets lost somewhere down the road. I just don't want anymore of that. Period. I understand that while a Christian ultimately has no fear of death, that doesn't mean we don't hate it. The Bible calls it an "enemy." It's not normal -- we were not created to die. But Genesis 3 happened and since then death has been a part of our world and will be until Jesus sets all things right. It can't happen soon enough to suit me.

If you have never read anything by Sproul I would suggest starting with The Holiness of God. I also led a class on a video series of Sproul teaching this material and we were so impressed by the awe he had for the Creator of the universe. When I think of Piper I think of a man in love with Christ and the Word and when I think of Sproul I think of a man utterly committed to the Bible and utterly amazed at the sovereign God. (Lots of overlap, of course.)

I'm getting old enough that I think I'm only going to start reading and listening to folks who are younger than me -- who are probably going to outlast me. (I'm kidding, of course, but only a little.)

I thank God for R.C. Sproul: for his life and ministry, for his complete devotion to Christ, and for the works that he has done that will continue to bless believers for many years to come.

More later...