Category Archives: Tullian Tchividjian

Best Books I Read in 2013

7126The Count of Monte Cristo

Dumas writes with ease and this book cracks on at an always entertaining rate. The characters sparkle and the themes of life, love and revenge never go out of style.

Favorite Quote

“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.”

TheNightCircusThe Night Circus

I was intoxicated by this tale of two magicians that are involved in a competition against each other, unaware that it is the person they love most. Hauntingly beautiful, The Night Circus will have you page turning till there are no more pages, then wishing for more.

Favorite Quote

“Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that… there are many kinds of magic, after all.”

photoOne Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World

Grace, grace, God’s grace, it is what it is all about. This timely reminder that God has done for us what we could not and therefore all we need to do is rest in his grace, is the perfect antidote to a world that is broken and overrun with performance-based living throughout it’s entirety.

Favorite Quote

“Unfortunately, this is the way that so many Christians live: searching high and low for something we already have, trying to earn something we’ve already been given, forgetting that everything we need, we already possess in Christ. Or perhaps it’s not that we forget, perhaps it’s that we prefer having ‘elf on the shelf’ keeping track of our every move. It makes us feel safer. We would rather work under duress than live under freedom. Yet this is precisely why we need to hear, each and every week, the basic good news that because of Jesus’s finished work, we already have all of the justification, approval, significance, security, freedom, validation, love, righteousness, and rescue for which we desperately long – and look for in a thousand things that are infinitely smaller than Jesus”

9781414339351_p0_v2_s260x420C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

From my original review –

“This is a terrific biography that also dives into many of his most important books and looks at them critically. For anyone looking to understand Lewis and his works this is a wonderful place to start.”

9780525952459Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Keller has been very influential in my life through his writings and this book was no exception. He does a wonderful job of walking through the cultural understanding of suffering, the challenges of suffering on the Christian faith and then the last section of the book is the practical applications of faith in the midst of suffer. This is one of the finest books on this subject I have read.

Favorite Quote

“The only love that won’t disappoint you is one that can’t change, that can’t be lost, that is not based on the ups and downs of life or of how well you live. It is something that not even death can take away from you. God’s love is the only thing like that.”

I-Do-and-I-DontI Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies

From my review (and I was right, it is on the list) –

“I highly recommend this book for film buffs and the novice. I also recommend this book to anyone who is interested in marriage. This book will leave you with a better understanding of the way marriage is seen now and give a context for why that is. This is one of the best books I have read this year and am certain that it will be on my top 10 list at the end of the year.”

Favorite Quote

“It was a supreme irony that moviegoers could be conned into believing in romance that lead to happy endings in one kind of movie, and then be shown that what came after happily-ever-after was pretty awful…and yet still be conned all over again into believing that the awfulness could be fixed, made new, and restored to the point of the original happy ending. (And of course, be conned even further into going to more romantic comedies.)”

Smith_Elizabeth-the-QueenElizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch

A fascinating look at a woman who has been queen for over 60 years. For such a public figure, Elizabeth has done a remarkable job of keeping herself private. Smith cracks open the palace to give an in depth account of her amazing life.

 

71IGT31I9aLInsurgent

This is the second book in the Divergent series and my favorite. The first book sets up the story, world and characters, the second is able to dive into each of these in more depth. Roth fleshes out her main character much more in this second installment, making it the best of the series.

Favorite Quote
“May the peace of God be with you,” she says, her voice low, “even in the midst of trouble.”
“Why would it?” I say softly, so no one else can hear. “After all I’ve done . . .”

“It isn’t about you,” she says. “It is a gift. You cannot earn it, or it ceases to be a gift.”

star-trek-the-fall-the-crimson-shadowThe Crimson Shadow

From my original review –

“When a book transcends genre, it reminds you that great books are just that: great books. The Crimson Shadow does this fantastically. The best in science fiction, as well as Star Trek, has always been about us, our struggles and problems allegorized in a palpable medium. Una McCormack’s continuation of The Fall is brilliant.”

Favorite Quote
“But you understand, don’t you, that the institutions don’t matter? The Obsidian Order, Central Command, the True Way, Starfleet, empires, unions, federations-these are names and names only. They are tools. They count for nothing if the purpose is flawed. That was my mistake for a long time – confusing the purpose with the instrument….The truth is that the institution flourishes only when the people who comprise it flourish. And if the people are sick, the institution will be sick.”
Comment and tell me your favorites! Follow me on Goodreads to keep track of what I am reading.
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Owl Post 10-11-13

Owl Post 2-17-12

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For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov:

the_essential_tales_of_chekhov.largeSay you are getting ready for a blind date or a job interview. What should you do? Besides shower and shave, of course, it turns out you should read — but not just anything. Something by Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory better than a potboiler by Danielle Steel.

That is the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.

You Can’t Exhaust It:

photoWhy do you think the news of God’s inexhaustible grace for an exhausted world has “never been more urgent”?

There’s a quotation that astonishes me every time I see it: Dr. Richard Leahy, a prominent psychologist and anxiety specialist, said a couple of years ago that “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.” Wow. There’s also a statistic The New York Times reported in 2007, showing that 30 percent of American women admit to taking sleeping pills before bed most nights. And that’s just the ones who admit it!

The news of God’s inexhaustible grace has never been more urgent because the world has never been more exhausted.

The Thirtysomething Teen: An Adult YA Addict Comes Clean:

420-size-mature-adult-reading-hunger-games-bed.imgcache.rev1330105769988As a full-grown adult, I’ve gotten my fair share of dubious looks and halfhearted utterances regarding my young-adult reading habits—“Oh, yeah, you like Harry Potter? So does my 8-year-old nephew!” “Sisterhood of the Traveling … ha-ha-ha-ha.” I’ve heard the behind-the-back jibes as well as the to-my-face criticisms that adult fans of YA are stuck in some sad adolescent existence and, quite possibly, bringing down the collective IQ of our nation by reading below our grade level. Or that we’re just weird.

Is ‘Star Wars’ Without George Lucas Still ‘Star Wars’?

george-lucas-jj-abramsThanks to a video interview that Jett Lucas gave to Flicks In the City, the Internet is now abuzz with the idea that his father, George Lucas, will still be involved on some level withDisney‘s new series of Star Wars movies. The newsworthy bits are that George Lucas had actually been working on expanding the franchise a year before the Disney sale, and that Mr. Lucas is in constant contact with new director J. J. Abrams. We obviously don’t know to what extent Lucas will be hands-on or hands-off in regards to the next series of movies, nor do we know to what extent Lucas’s prior ideas, both the aforementioned work he did as well as the rumored already-written scripts for Episodes 7-12 that he had already compiled, will be utilized in the new series. But the question becomes, is a Star Wars film franchise without George Lucas’s involvement really Star Wars, or is it just a generic science-fiction franchise with familiar names and locales?

Lewis on Disordered Desire to Enter the Inner Ring:

Inner-Ring-Photo-300x202One of the most memorable of C. S. Lewis’s essays is entitled “The Inner Ring.” It describes our common desire to be accepted within the “inner ring” of whatever group matters to us at the time.

To feel “excluded” or “out of it” is miserable. Yet the desire to be “in” can make you say things you would not otherwise say or not say things you should say. This desire to be on the inside of whatever group you aspire to join can affect your relationships at work, in the community, and in the church.

Netflix and On-Demand Aren’t Killing ‘Water-Cooler TV’—They’re Saving It:

WatercoolerJust a few months ago, the concept of water-cooler television—where weekly episodes become communal, must-see live events that dominate workplace conversations—had become something of an anachronism, at least to those working behind the scenes.

In The New York Times’ August showrunner roundtable, Netflix’s House of Cards creator Beau Willimon declared the end of the singular, common viewing experience, which he argued had been replaced by smaller, “concentric circles” of conversation that better reflected how time-shifting technologies and on-demand options have fragmented audiences. (The rise of second-screen viewing, where audiences live-tweet Scandal, Pretty Little Liars, and more on mobile devices during the show, was said to be the new home for the collective experience.) Later that month, The Guardian excerpted a lecture from Cards‘ Kevin Spacey that touted the success of the Netflix original series as “kill[ing] the watercooler moment.”

Dear-Mr-Watterson-550x309

Owl Post 11-6-12

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Principles for Voting:

In Acts 14, Luke sets forth for us the events that took place on Paul’s first missionary journey, a journey on which Barnabas accompanied him. We’ve seen this pattern emerge over and over again. The apostles would come into the synagogue or the public square known as the agora. They would proclaim the gospel openly. And there would always be some people who responded in faith by the power of the Holy Ghost while others in attendance would stand up in outright hostility and oppose them. Indeed, it was through great tribulation that the gospel bore fruit in places like Antioch and Iconium. And everyday Paul and Barnabas were subjected to threats, insults, hostility and even physical danger. We can see how things degenerated to such a degree here in the latter part of chapter fourteen: the Jewish leadership actually convenes a kangaroo court and imposes the death penalty upon Paul! A rioting mob is gathered and begins to throw stones at Paul with deadly force. Paul is knocked down by the repeated blows to the face, arms, torso, and head. His would-be executors then drag him out of the city, leaving him for dead.

Truth, Voyeurism, and Beauty: Why Everyone Loves The Hunger Games:

Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games is easily dismissed as a bad book, the type of junk-thriller that captivates audiences with mere sensationalism and little else. Nonetheless, its internal logic clearly captivates millions of readers and viewers, and that alone demands an account of the book’s resonances, its movement, something that philosopher D.Z. Phillips called “possibilities of sense”, a shorthand for what it is about a work or idea that so enthralls its devotees. With many pulp bestsellers, simple appeals to violence, clichéd romance, or tense but tired plotlines fuel the mass appeal. Collins both plays into these bestseller stereotypes while simultaneously protesting them, and the juxtaposition of violence and classical virtue is an enveloping conflict of the book.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood-Book Review-Kathy Keller:

Rachel Held Evans had at least two stated goals for writing A Year of Biblical Womanhood, according to the promotional material accompanying my advance review copy. Under “Why She Wrote the Book,” Evans says:

I’ve long been frustrated by the inconsistencies with which “biblical womanhood” is taught and applied in my evangelical Christian community. So . . . I set out to follow all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year to show that no woman, no matter how devout, is actually practicing biblical womanhood all the way. My hope is that the book will generate some laughs, as well as a fresh, honest dialogue about . . . biblical interpretation. (emphasis mine)

Evans wants to show that everyone who tries to follow biblical norms does so selectively—“cherry picking” some parts and passing over others. She also says she wants to open a fresh, honest dialogue about biblical interpretation, that is, how to do it rightly and well. Rachel, I tried twice to get in touch with you when you were in New York City on the talk shows but wasn’t able to connect. So here’s what I would have said if we could have gotten the chance to open that dialogue.

Simultaneously Righteous And A Sinner?

My good friend Jono Linebaugh (New Testament Professor at Knox Theological Seminary and content manager for LIBERATE) wrote a thoughtful post on Martin Luther’s famous phrase Simul iustus et peccator–simultaneously justified and a sinner (you can read it here). One reader questioned whether “sinner” is an appropriate term to describe Christian identity. This is an important question. After all, Paul writes to sinful Christians and calls them “saints.” Once God saves us, aren’t we new creatures?

Five Things Worth Celebrating on Election Day (Plus One More):

Well, here we are: Election Day. Some of you have followed the ins and outs of the campaign for months, if not years. Today is more exciting than the Super Bowl and March Madness and college rivalry week all rolled into one. For others, the excitement of the Summer Olympics every four years is only matched by the tedium of the presidential race in those same years. At this point you’d rather get habanero eye drops, sit next to a starving baby on the plane, and go the dentist every day for a month than be subject to any more campaign ads. Whether we’ve been engaged in the process since Ames or disconnected until today, we are all ready for this thing to be over.

Owl Post 10-29-12

 

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What Am I Doing When I Vote?

I’m glad that TGC is coordinating a series of blogs about some “first principles” to consider when thinking about politics (e.g., BakerSmethurstForster). While I fully agree (and have often said from the pulpit) that the kingdom of God does not depend on elections and will not be ushered in by politicians, I believe Christian involvement in politics, or at least some understanding of the parties, the candidates, and the issues, is absolutely critical. Because we have all seen unthinking allegiance to a certain candidate or party, we can be overly reticent to talk about politics at all, let alone put forward a reasoned view on the political process. But political abdication and utter silence is not the right corrective to political idolatry, nor does it further the common good when Christians disengage for fear of being labeled with this wing or that.

J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy:

This is a book that does what Hamlet told the players they should do: hold the mirror up to nature. And nature isn’t pretty. Actually that needs to be qualified. Nature, as in the world in which we live, is beautiful. Stunning, really, and Rowling sings the beauty of the cool morning, the night sky, the hilltop view of the quaint township.

Tracing the Logic of Liberalism:

In the American context the labels liberal and conservative are used in an ahistorical way—more as terms of opprobrium than as accurate designations for what people actually believe about political life. Liberals and conservatives alike differ less on fundamental principles than on who can better claim custody over the same principles—the principles of, well, liberalism.

You Believe in Karma:

“Good people get good stuff. Bad people get bad stuff.” Or as the Beatles sang with their last gasp on Abbey Road, “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Now I love John, Paul, George and Ringo, but I take issue with them here, and I know I am in the minority. After all, the world runs on retribution. “This for that” comes as naturally to us as breathing. Moralists interpret misfortune as the karmic result of misbehavior. This for that. “You failed to obey God, so He gave your child an illness.” Such rule-based economies of punishment and reward may be the default mode of the fallen human heart, but that doesn’t make them any less brutal!

THE BOOKSTORE BRAIN:

If you could create a bookstore, what would you put in it? What would you exclude? Would you specialize in any particular genre? Would your organizing principle be quantity or quality, or would you devise a way to have both?

Porn-Free Church: Sex, God, and the Gospel: Free Book

A life-with-porn versus a life-without-porn is a poor choice. If you set it up in these terms then you won’t produce lasting change. We need to set it up (as it truly is) as a choice between life-with-porn versus life-with-God. We need to show how God always offers more than porn.

The New iPad Has New Competition … Which It Will Destroy:

You may have heard that Apple dropped some science on us this morning, with the announcement of a boatload of new desktops, notebooks, and tablets. Under normal circumstances, we’d be focused entirely on the new iPad Mini, the new offering Apple has crafted to bust its way into the 7-inch tablet space. And if you take a gander at our front page, you’ll see that we’re giving the little guy more than its fair share of love. But there’s more news out there: the new, fourth generation iPad was also announced today, a full-size tablet some in the press have taken to calling the “iPad Maxi.”

Did Apple Really Just Screw Over iPad Owners?

Earlier this week, Apple held an event during which they announced several new and updated products, including a smaller iPadthinner and sleeker iMacs, and a new high-end laptop. Needless to say, these announcements got plenty of people excited, including yours truly, as the months — and even years — of anticipation, rumors, and analysis come to a head and revealed a slew of lovely new products.

Owl Post 10-12-12

Confusing Strength With Aggression:

The vice presidential debate was uniquely important because if Paul Ryan won it or did well, the Romney-Ryan ticket’s momentum would be continued or speed up. If he did not, that momentum would slow or stop. So the night carried implications.

New Music: Mumford and Sons’ Babel:

Everyone’s favorite British folk band, Mumford and Sons, and their latest album, Babel, have been a hot news item since the album was released a couple of weeks ago. Depending on who you ask, the band’s music is heartfelt and refreshing, beautifully expressing the human desire for love and grace or maudlin and mediocre, only created to prey on the sentimentality of the general population. Two recent articles on the band illustrate the variety of opinions that have been voiced about Babel and the obvious religious symbolism in the group’s music: the first, “Mumford & Sons Preaches to Masses”, from NPR’s Ann Powers (which DZ mentioned on Friday), speaks to the band’s power to bring religious ideas to the public; and the second,“Mumford & Sons and the Death of Church Music”, comes from The American Conservative’s Jordan Bloom, in a direct reply to Powers’ article, where he connects the vapid sentimentality he sees in contemporary worship music to Mumford and their music. Both of these articles are interesting reads, and they address what I see as the central theme of Mumford and Sons’ music: their incredible ability to introduce Christian and religious symbols to a large audience, imparting grace and hope to their listeners.

Our Glorious Ruin: Tullian Tchividjian on the Suffering that Sets You Free:

Ever since the revolt in Eden, suffering has been inescapable. All of us live and move and have our being amid the wreckage of the Fall. Pain—universal as it is real—haunts us, stalks us, plagues us.

In his new book, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free (David C. Cook), Tullian Tchividjian offers a unique angle on this perennially vexing subject. Rather than focusing on the why or the how of suffering, Tchividjian zooms in on the who, demonstrating that the answer to our pain isn’t finally found in a syllogism but in a Savior—a suffering Savior. If your faith is stirred by this interview and the book, come to Orlando next April to hear Tchividjian lead a workshop at The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference on “How Suffering Sets You Free.”

I corresponded with Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, about why we need another suffering book, the importance of pressing past why, how the gospel informs our pain, and more.

‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ brings the Dark Side to Saturdays:

When animator Dave Filoni was handed the reins of George Lucas’ computer animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” back in 2006, he thought he knew what to expect.

Lucas, the creator and mastermind of the entire multibillion-dollar “Star Wars” operation, would give some initial guidance, notes and feedback and quickly fade away, moving on to tend to other aspects of his Lucasfilm empire. After all, it was a cartoon series aimed a kids, airing on Cartoon Network and regarded by many of the franchise’s older hardcore fans as a nice, but hardly essential, extension of the “Star Wars” experience.

Eat, Pray, Love Like a Badass: Cheryl Strayed, the Oprah Author 2.0:

Cheryl Strayed shifted uncomfortably in her chair onstage at the New York Public Library last week when host Paul Holdengraber mentioned the name “Elizabeth Gilbert.” Knitting her brow, she cocked her head to one side as if to inquire, “Where is this conversation going?” Holdengraber read a piece from the Eat, Pray, Love author that echoed advice Strayed gives readers under her nom de plume Sugar in herbeloved advice column on The Rumpus.

What Drinking Coffee Does to You:

The chances are that you saw the title of this article and winced a little. Usually, things which are enjoyable bring negative side effects to our bodies. Alcohol, chocolate and fast-food are all fine examples of things which are enjoyable at the time but have negative long-term side effects on your health. So how does coffee compete with these ‘naughty’ foods and drink?

Owl Post 6-22-12

The Religious Right Turns 33: What Have We Learned?

Many historians say the modern religious right was birthed in June of 1979. That was the month when the Rev. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, an organization tasked with saving the American public from the threat of moral decline. Not coincidentally, Concerned Women for America was formed the same month.

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All:

EIGHTEEN MONTHS INTO my job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan, I found myself in New York, at the United Nations’ annual assemblage of every foreign minister and head of state in the world. On a Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama hosted a glamorous reception at the American Museum of Natural History. I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled. But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him. Over the summer, we had barely spoken to each other—or, more accurately, he had barely spoken to me. And the previous spring I had received several urgent phone calls—invariably on the day of an important meeting—that required me to take the first train from Washington, D.C., where I worked, back to Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived. My husband, who has always done everything possible to support my career, took care of him and his 12-year-old brother during the week; outside of those midweek emergencies, I came home only on weekends.

What Sanctification Is and Is Not:

J.C. Ryle’s Holiness is a classic work that bears repeated readings. Recently I returned to his chapter on sanctification, a term that he defines as “an inward spiritual work which the Lord Jesus Christ works in a man by the Holy Ghost, when He calls him to be a true believer.” After defining the term, he lays out the differences between true and false sanctification, first saying what it is not and then saying what it is.

Off The eBook Shelf:

Readers are voting with their wallets: The eBook is winning. In the US, eBooks sales are now topping hardcovers for the first time (story in TechCrunch). Not everywhere of course. According to the Bowker Global eBook Research, the global market for eBooks is driven — in that order — by India, Australia, the UK and the United States. The laggards are Japan and (no surprise) France. The chart below shows the percentage of internet population reporting the purchase of a digital book over the last six months prior to the survey.

Reality Check: Most Internet trolls are probably trolls in real life, too:

One of the biggest myths about the Internet goes like this: people who are perfectly pleasant and reasonable in real life become total jerkfaces when they get online. It conjures up the image of a mild-mannered office clerk, who talks courteously and sweetly to everyone, and then goes home and spews venom on comment sections and web forums for hours. Like the Secret Trolling Life of Walter Mitty. And I’m sure this does happen. But, I’m guessing, most people who troll on the internet actually are trolls in real life, too.

Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-Term Mission Trips:

I have seen with my own eyes or know of houses in Latin America that have been painted 20 times by 20 different short-term teams; fake orphanages in Uganda erected to get Westerners to give money; internet centers in India whose primary purpose is to ask Westerners for money; children in African countries purposefully mutilated by their parents so they would solicit sympathy while they beg; a New England-style church built by a Western team in Cameroon that is never used except when the team comes to visit; and slums filled with big-screen TVs and cell phone towers.

Story Through Stories

To tell a story many times we reference other stories so that the common and well-known story will help others relate to what we are saying. Stories have a way of telling us something about ourselves and teaching us truths in a way that pure factual dictation never could. So, as I thought about telling my story I found that it was inextricably linked to stories that have meant a lot to me. From a very early age I was captured by the power of story and its ability to affect me deeply and as I look over my life I can see how God has been using these stories to teach me something about myself that I could not seem to learn any other way. He allowed them to come into my life and build a foundation that would make his gospel make more sense to me.

You might laugh, but the overarching story that resonates in my life is Titanic. I am not talking about Kate and Leo on the front of a ship shouting at the wind, I am talking about the tragedy of an ocean liner that was supposed to be unsinkable and yet sunk anyway. My life is a lot like this, I had everything going for me, I was raised in a Christian home, became a believer at the age of 5, I was sheltered from the world through home-schooling (insert any jokes here about awkwardness you want) and I never struggled with drugs or alcohol. Yet in all of this seeming goodness, I was lost; I did not know how to grow in my faith (I believe that God saved me at this age, the gift to believe was given to me by the Holy Spirit and even though there were times as I grew up, where I wanted to leave the faith, I never could. In the end nothing else could explain or makes sense of the world for me, I believe that this was the Holy Spirit’s protecting me), I never was tutored or mentored in the gospel. For me, being a Christian amounted to moralistic Deism; God was there and he saved me, but after that I needed to perform to keep and earn his love. This is what Sunday-school learning and church teaching seemed to be telling me.

On my 8th birthday, a life-changing event occurred; my friends and I watched all three Original Trilogy Star Wars movies in one night. Yes the geek in me was born very early. What is interesting is that to this point I was in love with non-fiction stories, Titanic, The Alamo, WWII and many others were my main source of enjoyment, but Star Wars changed all of that. With its epic, galactic story about good and evil, I was hooked. The spiritual elements of the story influenced me as well. Now, I am not saying that I was won over to eastern philosophy, but the fact that there was a spiritual side to the story left an indelible mark on me. As look back now I can see how God was showing me that story can teach powerful truths; in fact, most of Scripture is the story of humanity told through the lives of individuals and nations and each of them speak mightily into the shared experience of all of us. Stories make things personal and God desperately wants us to know that the gospel is about our being personally connected with him.

Star Wars had a direct impact on my picking up The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was longing for more grand and heroic stories. Picking up this book changed my life, I became an avid reader of fiction from that point on and it is still my favorite book. The mark that this story left on me was the way in which Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund. He has done nothing to earn this “salvation”, Aslan’s love for Edmund causes Edmond to turn from evil and love Aslan back. This dimly reflected the gospel for me, and it laid the foundation for what was to come.

There is a big gap for me in my story education. I moved into my teenage years and drifted further from the faith. Oh I was trying hard, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. Familial issues of trying to earn love had poisoned my understanding of God. I was lost trying to prove myself worthy and devastated by the falls. The disillusionment grew to the point of me becoming two people, one for the church crowd and the other for world. I pretended to be the good little church boy, all the while diving into the pit of lust and the desperate need to be loved accepted and known. I looked to women and sex to fill this desire and when it didn’t depression set. I was driven to the point of suicide. I did not want to live anymore because nothing in the world could seem to fill the void. Realizing I needed help I looked back to God and medication(prescription anti-depressants). A friend gave me a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel and for the first time an author spoke my language. He spoke of brokenness and failure and the reality of never feeling good enough for God. Manning showed me that God did love me, even when I was a complete screw-up. My understanding of the pure gospel was refined at this point but not fully.

I was still dealing heavily the idols that I had set up in my life. I truly worshiped the idea of relationships and romantic love, I believed as so many movies and stories tell us that I would not be complete until I had “the one”. There was also still this idea of pleasing God and making him love me more. I believed there was no better way to do this than go into ministry. So I set out to make these things happen. I got married, not long after my own parents had divorced and a couple of years later left Dallas for seminary in Minnesota. I had everything that I believed that I wanted. All of my idols were on the shelf and gleaming in the light of newly being fulfilled. Then it all fell apart. What I was worshiping could not sustain me or truly give me what I need. So I began desperately searching for something better to replace the obviously deficient idols. I tried to find the better woman and the more fulfilling career, but searching for things left me empty. A friend gave me the book The Sparrow and I immediately identified with it. It is the story of a priest and his friends who go on a mission to another planet to discover the source of the music SETI has picked up. It brings up the question, what do you do when you follow the calling you believe God has given you and then everything goes horribly wrong? How do you cope? What becomes of your faith? Was it God you were following or an idol? The story left me with the hope that I was not alone; others had asked these questions and it was ok for me to do so. I just didn’t know how God would answer.

I moved home after seminary with a masters and a divorce. Much of me had been crushed and yet I was still fighting for my idols. I know, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, but I continued to plug away. Working at Barnes & Noble I was surrounded by books full of stories. I came across a book that peaked my interest it was called Christian Atheist. The book opened my eyes to the way that I was living. I said that I believed in God but that belief did not have much impact on my daily life. I was still working to be a more moral person, not necessarily someone who was moving into deeper relationship with Christ. The gospel was being opened to me in a way that I had not heard before.

Home and Prodigal God both furthered my gospel education. Home is all about the black sheep in a family and his question of whether or not he is destined to always be the screw-up or if he can come home again. This drove straight to one of my most painful wounds; how could God love me and accept me after all that I had done and was there any hope of change?

Tim Keller helped me see the prodigal son parable in a whole new way. I had been hurt by the self-righteous “older brother” types in the church many times They had driven deep arrows into my heart, underscoring my feelings of inadequacy before God and the impossibility of ever truly making God happy with me. I was never going to live up to God’s standards and many “older brothers” had made sure I knew it. Yet Keller shows how this parable is about the sons, not just the son. Each one of these boys has left the father and gone their own way, one tries to live life his way and the other tries to earn salvation in his power; each missing the free gift that is being offer to them.

Gospel, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, The Explicit Gospel are the culmination of my story so far. God had primed me through the subtle spirituality of Star Wars, the sacrifice of Aslan, the love God has for ragamuffins, the truth that God cares even for the sparrow, the futility of saying I believe in God yet not having that belief impact my life and the hope for a black sheep to run back into the arms of grace. Its grace stupid; God grace. It’s not about what I can do because in and of myself I can do nothing (and I have tried so hard), I can never live up, all that moralism is filthy rags to God and leads ultimately to self-righteousness (which is utterly useless) or depression or and early death. Each of these books opened up the gospel for me in a way I could finally understand and hear. Each one had laid a foundation that allowed it to click and make sense more fully and deeply when the Holy Spirit opened my heart to the explicit, crazy/love of the gospel.

There is nothing that I can do to make God love any more or any less. It is through Christ and his work that I am made new and whole (Romans 5:1-11). This is the last story that has had a major impact lately, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this story Eustace, a very self-righteous and disagreeable lad is turned into a dragon because of his greed. He literally becomes the embodiment of his self-righteousness and it is ugly. He tries desperately to undo it, to scrape off the skin he now lives in, but to no avail, he cannot dig deep enough. It is only when Aslan comes and “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” God showed me that it is though Jesus and his work only that I am made new

Christ has not just saved me from something but to something, freedom. Freedom to be the fullest and best version of me, the version he created me to be not the perversion that I had been trying to create (Galatians 5:1-6). I am called to abide in Christ, to be rooted in him and his love and his love are his commands. You see, I thought of commands as something that hindered me from doing something  I wanted or would be fun. I never fully trusted that God would give me what I wanted. I held so tightly and I trusted only myself to provide for the deepest longings of my heart. Again and again I tried to get what I want, all the time trying to earn God’s love through “moral living”, yet my pursuit of idols led to immoral living and therefore never living up to the standard that I believed God had for me. Jesus lays it out in John 15. He calls me to abide in his love and obey his commands; and as I look closely, his love and his commands are one in the same. For loves sake he has given me the way to navigate life that will lead to ultimate joy, fulfillment, peace and identity if I let go of myself and my desire to chase after the cheap thrills of fast-food dreams and one-night let downs. That doesn’t sound like someone who wants to hinder my life and existence but someone who truly wants my best. This is why David can say that he delights in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night; he’s not some kind of sadist, he realizes that God’s commands are his love they are love itself. His love will be our joy and fulfillment if we will abide in and follow his love, since he knows what it best for us; being the creator of the universe and all.

So God is calling me to rest in his gospel and to dive deeper into his love by abiding in a way of life that will bring me closer into relationship with him, those he brings into my life and the world at large. I will never move beyond the gospel, but as Jewel the unicorn says in The Last Battle, “Come further up, come further in!”