A Christmas Post Mortem

Yesterday I packed up the last of my Christmas decorations. I usually take my time because for all the work setting the stuff up I want to enjoy it in proportion. This year there were still a lot of gifts under the tree that had yet to be distributed. And it caused me to consider this past Christmas season and how it all felt like something of a dud. 

Now I should hasten to point out that nothing went wrong in regards to the fact that Christ is still king. He was still worshiped, the celebrations were still rolled up into his glory. But for one reason or another they were smaller and lacked the sort of festive cheer I would prefer. There was a somber pall that loomed over every gathering. A tiredness that just lingered in the rooms and spent time getting fully acquainted with every person there. It was kind of like when pastors talk to you about preaching through the personal storms of life. You don’t feel like doing it but you still do so and to your best out of faithfulness.

In that spirit I would like to give a sort of Christmas post mortem. And have us consider, next Christmas, doubling down on the celebrations of Christ’s birth with the kind of damn the cannons full speed ahead wild enthusiasm that the holiday truly deserves.

The Makings of a Belly Flop

There are two indicators that lead me to feel as though at the start of the season I had clambered up the high dive, taken my running start, only to find midway down the board there was someone dangling from the end causing the thing to awkwardly bounce, leading to a finish that was a full splat seventy feet down.

As I have written on hospitality perviously I am a proponent of generous hospitality. Christmas, being a season already primed for giving, is an opportunity to really open up the taps. I love hosting, putting on a big spread in the proper style of a hobbit. And doing so often. People are usually more willing to come round and enjoy with out dragging concerns in with them. Joy is contagious and especially with a good coffee in hand they catch it more quickly. People leave tired but refreshed. The holiday presents great opportunities encourage and minister. People are predispositinsed to receive conversations that would be tense become more charitable. Christians should relish the chances afforded them. But this year it felt stolen, despite our best efforts.

Coffee

About halfway through the season I noticed this because I spent a good portion of Christmastime pouring a lot of coffee down the drain. Sometimes whole pots. And most of the time very good coffee. I wasn’t doing this for kicks and giggles, or because I get a thrill from waste. It was because in the attempt to welcome people into my home for the holiday I would brew coffee, that would end up un-drunk. 

In Purpose Driven Church Rick Warren says something to the effect, “There is something about a styrofoam cup of coffee that people can hide behind and then they are comfortable enough to open up.” I am not a fan of The Purpose Driven Church but I have noticed Warren being right on this front. Get a beverage in someone’s hand and they will relax. It creates a sense of security and something to do with your hands. As a result I brew a lot of coffee. Brewing does not mean it gets consumed. And this Christmas the rates dropped precipitously. 

They dropped because A. there were less people than usual. I kept brewing equivalents of 2019 amounts of coffee. And then hardly anyone would show up. B. People were suddenly more concerned about getting home early and getting to bed. Late nights were off the table for many. There was a distinct lack of the traditional spirit, “Well I know I shouldn’t, but… it’s the holidays.” Worry, and concern seemed everyone’s constant companion. 

Gifts

At the top of the article I mentioned there were still a good number of gifts under my tree. These are now stacked by my fireplace. I usually have a few stragglers that need to be mailed. I hate going to the Post Office and I rather selfishly love looking at a well stocked tree skirt. However, in most cases after Christmas day typically only a couple lonely little packages remain. This year though my tree remained well stocked long after. Still waiting for their recipients to come get them. 

Again fear played a large role in keeping guests at bay. Some because of personal fear of the virus, others because of extended family fear. Either way the result was the same. They stayed miserably away, and the happy few of us felt their loss greatly. 

Commands not Suggestions

This is a dead horse I will be flogging for some time now so if you disagree this is the time to find a new blog to read. The most common command in all of Scripture is “fear not’ or some derivative or variation on that theme. Christians are not to be people marked by fear. Historically when the church has encountered a plague or pandemic it is the Christians who rushed in. They continued to worship and in many cases the cities were made up of Christians and the ill. The secular fear driven people got out of Dodge. It is curious that in the current affliction it seems to be the Christians who are all trying to beat each other to the avoidance of one another while throwing white flags emblazoned with Romans 13 up in their wake. 

And this seems antithetical to the Gospel to me. At the very least we should stop looking the other way, whistling and refusing to make eye contact with Hebrews 10:25. No matter how many times The Gospel Coalition assures us that this is the right thing to do. 

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25

Virus or no, government edicts or not, Christians are commanded to gather and worship. And for clarification, online is not gathering. There should be more discussion every time we are told to stay home, “to love our neighbors” as to wether we serve God or man. 

The Ghost of Christmas Past

So here we are. Granted there is no command for people to gather at my house for coffee, a meal gift giving, and a double string of scotches. But to neglect those things is to keep a steady pulse but fail to live life. All of these things are gifts, the sweet meats, potatoes, cheeses galore, steaming bowls of sauce, mulled wine simmering away. God has given the tastes, smells, the textures, and heat, sweet, salty, creamy. He laid down the scotch ages ago. The gifts were chosen. And to refuse that out of a fright that the end is neigh and holing up alone strikes me as; well… Something like insisting on staying in a slum making mud pies when a weekend at the sea is offered. 

The absences strike me as a tad selfish in another way. Lewis wrote after the death of Charles Williams how he not only lost Williams but a bit of all of his friends. Williams took with himself to the grave a part of, Dyson, Tolkien, “Humphrey” Harvard, and Warnie. Lewis wrote of how he would never again hear Tolkien laugh the way he would only laugh at a Williams joke. A part of Tolkien had died too. When one member of a close knit group is absent the whole is lacking.

There were many empty seats this past year and the void was palpably felt. Perhaps the pall I described earlier was a sort of grief or a restraint. People were holding back because you don’t want to alienate dear friends by creating a bunch of new intimacies. The tragedy is that the vacuum groups of friends abhor is driven not by internal friction, but fear. Fear of one another. Fear is a great divider of men.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

What then is to be done about this. It would appear that my solution has already been spoiled earlier. I would propose that we have a little over 11 months to build up to a proper smash. The kind of parties that would drive the pharisees mad and Jesus would delight in attending. It will be Christmas, the season in which we celebrate the birth of the one who conquered death. Let me repeat that, the one who conquered death. Death has no victory, it has no sting. It’s power is tied up in the fear it exudes. Joy should overtake our fear. And it should be such a joy that bubbles over into good Christmas cheer. 

The current year will have plenty of troubles all it’s own. Right now we would do well to remember the command of Christ and not worry about tomorrow. The key lies in not worrying, not fearing. To many focus on the tomorrow. If the Lord wills tomorrow will come. If he wills next Christmas will come. We should lead up to that glorious season fighting fear, with high expectations of what we insist we will celebrate. 

Right now the specter of the next christmas looms as a vapor in the distance, We should this year go out to greet it. It will become more solid as we draw near and we should rejoice. Our king has come and we should celebrate that from house to house. There should be loud voices ringing out, hearty laughter in abundance, tables heaving under the weight of good food, gifts given with delight for both the giver and recipient, and a string of damn good double scotches. 

Repentance

After the 2016 election I was struck by how churches responded to their various congregants reactions to the election. I say struck, I mean disappointed, angry even. It seemed to me based on the reactions of both parties the election was like a ancient near east clash of the gods. Each army had lined up, and sent out their Goliath. Champions of this sort represented not just their army but the deity of the present company. For the Philistines it was Dagon, Egyptians Ra, Israel YHWH, and so on. This then meant that when the champion was defeated, not only was the nation possibly defeated, but so was their god. And in the showdown between Hillary and Trump one deity was defeated and the other prevailed. And the people acted accordingly. On one side jubilation: praises sung, parades, gloating. On the other nothing short of weeping and gnashing of teeth if not some in sackcloth and ashes. It did not help that both sides had spoken of themselves in messianic terms. And all of this brought in to specific relief what many of us had known for years; People are idolaters, they worship, and the objects of their worship in 2016 were by in large, power, and a particular candidate of their choosing. The trouble arose for me in how the church at large responded. Telling one side to calm down and be nice (If not patronizing them for their wrong choice) and rushing with a hanky to pat the boo boo of the other. None of these responses do I think were right.

Wherein you Begin to Understand why I am not Invited to Preach very Often

Given the opportunity I would not have preached one of the many sermons I heard that were full of comfort for, “the people of God.” In my view we have church buildings filled with idolators. They must be called to repent. The truly converted should be held by their profession of faith. The unregenerate should be shown their grotesque idols in all their horror (And in that election it was not as if either candidate were anything less than grotesque) and called to turn and be welcomed to Jesus Christ. 

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” – Martin Luther Thesis 1 (of 95)

Repentance we don’t want to make

There are safe things to confess in the church and then try to repent of. Which makes me want to paraphrase the Prophet Yoda “Repent or do not, there is no try.” Among those safe things are, porn, racism (perceived and actual), sexism (perceived and actual), toxic masculinity, and being a big ole meanie head. I’m sorry, I mean being insensitive, I’m working on this. Things that rarely get brought up* to instruct a congregation to repent of are, shacking, feminism, ingratitude, gossip, drunkenness, socialism (government theft), men who are soft, and idolatry in all it’s forms. Preaching that exposes these idols would get a pastor fired pretty quickly. If one is so bold as to once a year pull his punches one any one of theses sins he is liable to get an inbox full of rebuke on Monday. 

I have been teaching the Bible now for nearly twenty years and I have never had a person come to me and say, “Thank you for showing me that I am only evil always, because my heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, thank you!” It has never happened. I could easily throw the decisionist revivalists under the bus here for being too hard and we don’t want to come off like them. Obviously though my thoughts lie elsewhere. Not only is preaching true repentance not popular, it is hard work. And I suspect that the reason it is avoided or punches are pulled is described well by Lewis Allen:

“A few years later, I would learn that to become a preacher was to enter the company of men who seemed to attract trouble without looking for it.” – Lewis Allen, The Preachers Catechism

Why kick a hornets nest when the denizens therein are already giving you the stink eye?

Returning to the Subject at Hand

We got into this hole by not preaching true repentance consistently. Congregations are not primed to repentance. They are not even primed for statements of objective truths, especially if those truths conflict with their personal “truth” or opinions. In short they are used to encouragement, chiding, occasional gentle correction or to put it Biblically, flattery.

“But nowadays, of course, our ears are made so sensitive by the mad multitude of flatterers that as soon as we find that we are not praised in all things, we cry out that people are vicious; and when we cannot ward off the truth under any other guise, we escape from it under the pretext of the snappishness, impatience, and immoderateness of its defenders. What good does salt do if it does not bite? What good does the edge of the sword do if it does not cut? Cursed be the man who does the work of the Lord deceitfully!” – Luther, What Luther Says, 1057

I do not think that pastors are so stupid as to not know these things, nor are they incapable of following Scripture to it’s logical applications. My concern is that we have spent years with instruction on church growth and none of it has been more than lip service to faithfully preach the word in season and out and to trust God to build his church. Faithful seems to mean more about successfully directing programs and bums in seats than, well, faithfulness. 

Let me give an example. Ingratitude may be confronted as a sin on the level of not showing gratitude to your barista by tipping well. And while this point is valid and frankly not enough Christians do that. This is still a fairly shallow application. Because Christians who are actually grateful to God can not vote for a socialist, or a pro choice candidate. Progressivism is based on ingratitude. It is sin. If has a laser like focus on what it does not possess, it is envy politicized. Pro choice people do not see a human in the womb as a live given by God, it sees it as future selfishness denied. It directs the woman to look at all she will not have as opposed to what she currently has, A being pulsating with the life that made the universe.** Socialism does not direct the person to take stock of what they have and give thanks to the God who gives them their every breath. Tomorrow is not promised. Instead it looks to what others have, which historically the church has called blessings, renames it privilege, and seeks to use the sword of government to steal. 

Gratitude is kryptonite to progressivism, and the left knows it. Why else are riots over the existence of a day of thanks starting to spring up? The risk that people might even consider in a cursory way that they have been blessed is anathema. And the tragedy is if a pastor ascended to the sacred desk and delivered a word from the Lord like this he would be blasted as a partizan, trying to politicize, and a party hack. 

Consider, why is it that we don’t hear sermons that actually motivate us to end end abortion? Could it be that the fear of man is causing obligatory sermons to be flat and impotent? 

I am not sure where abouts it became wrong for a pastor to preach a truth and attack a sin when it offended someone, or a political party. Perhaps it is the fear that the bugaboo the IRS might take away the coveted tax exempt status. And while loosing that would certainly make the life of a church far more difficult. I have the voice of Francis Schaffer in the back of my mind asking, “Why are you a Christian? What is loyalty to Christ worth to you?”

Loyalty to Christ

It must never be forgotten that truth is not an abstract concept. Truth is a person.

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 (emphasis added)

Our allegiance as Christians is to Christ. Politics can sometimes align with the Truth, in fact sometimes a particular party is more in line than another (I might suggest that it is the party against baby murder and property theft). But Truth is our God and we worship there not at the alter of Demos, the god of the people. Pastors who fear man will have churches that reflect them. Rather than an embassy of the Heavenly Kingdom. They will be compromised, assimilated to the world, not salt and light. Or, just like evangelicalism today. 

Conclusion

Dutschke’s long march though the institutions has not overlooked the church. And though it is joked that the American church is ten years behind the rest of the world. That is really something that should concern us more. It simply means that the march is ongoing in our midst and we are nearing the terminus.

I don’t say fear though. I said concerned, and that should not be overlooked. The most frequent command in Scripture is “Fear not.”

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

We are not to be afraid. Not of man most certainly. We have much larger concerns.

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28

 We are to have a healthy fear of God. In a small way like you would of a lion or bear. My concern is that we have, out of fear, cowed to the marchers in our pews. This is an irrational fear taking over the healthy one. And it has blurred our vision causing us to lose sight that we are assured of victory in the long run.

“…I will build my church, and the gates of hell[b] shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

The Church is to be offensive not defensive. Cool shaming, Monday emails, cancel culture, up and though loss of funding should not separate us from a full proof preaching of Truth. The Truth is offensive, we worship a guy who got himself murdered by declaring that He is the Truth. We must align ourselves with Him. Truly worship Him. If we do this we can not fail, not eternally, the feelings and opinions of the unregenerate should not faze us. Sinners will sin. The regenerate must be taught to repent. We can not coddle their idols. The high places must be torn down. And while we are doing it can we be men enough to do better then Gideon? Let us not wait till night fall when the village is asleep. Instead, let us like Narnians not have long drawn faces, grave and mysterious, but walk with a swing let our arms and shoulders go free, chatting and laughing ready to be friends with anyone who is friendly to us not giving a fig for anyone who isn’t. The idols must be torn down but is should be done in a joyfully masculine way. Repentance is turning from sin to face Christ. A course is set and pursued, and by God’s Grace we shall arrive. 

*bear in mind here I am talking about a mainstream evangelical church not the tiny ultra legalistic one you may have grown up in or interacted with on occasion in your formative years.

**Let us have no nonsense here about the exceptions of rape or incest. These are not the norm and are to be dealt with on a case by case basis (even then the answer is no, murder is murder no matter how you slice it). 

How to Read this Blog

Dear Reader,

Welcome to Southern Reformed Smoker, we are glad to have you. Wether you are here to click around hit like and try and get us to reciprocate on your own WordPress blog, a CCP bot, or an actual person who fell down the internet rabbit hole and this is where you landed, Welcome. 

Being a new year I thought it would be advantageous to do a little expounding on who “we” are and pass on a few tip/warnings about what you have stumbled into. Some of the basics can be found over on our UnAsked Questions page

First. We are mostly an I. Technically this blog was started by two of us. I (C.H.) kept kicking around the idea that I needed to work on my discipline of writing. T.S. got tired of hearing my thoughts in person and guilted me into learning WordPress. To put it kindly T.S. has been the wind beneath my wings. To put it rightly she has been shoving me into the technological pool and giggling like a schoolgirl at watching m doggy paddle. Supposedly, at some point, in the distant future, before the rapture, she will write something. Until then you are stuck with my musings. Which bring us to…

Second. I write like I speak. This is a disadvantage to the vast majority of you as we have never in person. And as an introvert with options this suits me quite well. What it means practically is the readership here will remain small as my prose is not as clean as it should be. While we are on my prose, The deep irony is that, though I majored in English in college, my grammar and spelling is atrocious. I have seen professors weep over my comma placement alone. If you are muddling though then I salute you.

Third. If you have managed to survive though the range of my opinions and theological musings then I doubly salute you. Though I credit Lewis as my greatest teacher, I came up theologically under the tutelage of early days Mark Driscoll. And it shows. Since then I have also been influenced by Doug Wilson. If you have problems with Luther, Calvin, any of the Puritans, Spurgeon, Ryle, Mark Dever, or Bryan Loritts. Then this the time to bail. I’m pretty sure there is another theological skeleton lurking in my closet but after a while all the bones become hard to differentiate.

Fourth. And this probably should have come sooner, if you have a problem with smoking and drinking then this is not the blog for you (See Six). I will agree with my Southern Baptist brethren on dancing. I can’t dance and therefore have decided arbitrarily to make a legalism out of it. Otherwise you can expect a lot of smoking and drinking to be happening on this blog. For the southern bit that is… needing explanation. 

  • A. C.H has lived in Memphis his whole life. He has no plans to move. That said, if you met me anywhere else in the world you have a hard time guessing where I am from. Once in college I read for the part of a southern gentlemen and lost it because my accent started in Atlanta and ended in Cambridge. My mother dreamed of delightfully southern children, At age ten I not only informed her I would have sided with the Union but that given the opportunity in 1776 I would have fought for King George.
  • B. T.S. used to live in Memphis but moved to Washington state because she found a proper normal human who wanted to marry her. She is as southern as they come, which has proved to be something of a challenge in the upper regions of the nation. C.H. is not bitter at all of having been abandoned by his best friend. And he is in no way wanting to guilt her. Not even if her repentance was in the form of writing an article for the blog that was her idea, from time to time.

Fifth. “Reformed. Does that mean Calvinistic?” you say. Since C.H. is writing this the answer will come by way of Doug Wilson, followed by a hearty, Amen. 

“In brief, I wish there were seven points so I could hold to the Calvinistic extras. You may count me a devotee of crawl-over-broken-glass Calvinism, jet-fuel Calvinism, black-coffee Calvinism.

Or, as my friend Peter Hitchens had it, weapons-grade Calvinism. No yellowcake uranium semi-Pelagianism for me. I buy my Calvinism in fifty-gallon drums with the skull and crossbones stenciled on the side, with little dribbles of white paint running down from the corners. I get my Calvinism delivered on those forklift plats at Costco.” Douglas Wilson, Undragoned: C.S. Lewis on the Gift of Salvation

Amen. T.S. is not nearly as gung-ho having recently realizing she had no choice about The Doctrines of Grace. And being a natural contrarian she is still smarting over the whole thing.

Sixth. We not only hold to our liberty in Christ that we are free to smoke and drink. We at worst see them as under common grace and at best good gifts from God. Very good gifts. We stand with Luther, Spurgeon, Lewis, and a host of witnesses that these are given for Gods glory and our joy. And because God is creative and called us to copy him we revel in Scotches, Speyside, Highland, and especially Isla. We delight in bourbons, and we pair them with a wide array of stogies. Frequently we throw in good coffee with heavy cream, oaring fires on chilly nights or frosted mornings, classical music at full volume, and books read aloud. While all are excellent on their own, in combination they are glorious.

Seventh. This is a blog that hates legalism. But we do see that legalism is not a one way street with a bunch of old sour puss pharisees thumping King James Bibles at the end of the block. Rather because all men are made to worship and will worship, we believe that legalism and it’s instance that everyone submit to it’s arbitrary dictums is alive and well both left and right. Therefore we are are seeking to play merry hell with legalists wherever we find them. This includes thumbing out noses and making funny faces when solemn and censorious lectures are going on; as well as out and out contradicting every third chance we get. An example of the later will be landing here in the coming months. If you object to masculine men, and masculine piety gleefully skipping through the lavender halls of the feminized church then this is the point at which you will want to beat a hasty retreat toward the exit. 

Eighth. Here is the tip on how to read: with good humor and charity. Don’t see everything as a stern lecture. If it helps keep the image of an uncle who is serious about being joyful in your mind. While he occasionally says hard things that twinkle is never gone from the corner of his eye. That is the goal. If you truly object then also bear in mind that no one is keeping you here. You are free to disagree. I personally like good debate partners so I often read people who irritate me but are good at making their point. Thick skin is is expected around here.

Ninth. This is something of a pet peeve of my own, but check the tags at the top of an article, just in case it is satire. As I mentioned before the the hills I choose to plant flags on and defend can and frequently do run against the grain of public opinion. But on occasion I like to make a point though satire or humor. And sometimes I enjoy just writing humorously just for the fun of it. If something is meant to be funny or satire it will be in the tags. A few years back Hans Fiene wrote a satirical article over at The Federalist that caused a bit of a stir on these interwebs. And it was only after several lengthy and sanctimonious rebuttals had been thrown against the servers that anyone noticed the solitary tag on his piece, Satire. So if I offend you take a couple seconds to scan the tags at the top of the article. If it says satire then chuckle and move on. If not then feel free to scream at the sky until I get around to setting up some sort of email account for you to direct your wrath into.

Tenth. This is more of a housekeeping thing. All Scripture quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise stated. I personally am partial to NASV but the readability of the Elect Standard Version is better for the blog.

Eleventh. While we are on quotes. Expect them to be long form. There are a few reasons for this and none of them are that I am trying to fill space. A. Personal preference. I like long quotes context matters and I think there is a better chance of me not misunderstanding or misinterpreting an authors meaning if a goodly section is put down in full. B. I am crap at pulling pithy quotes. If something short shows up it is more than likely because someone else found the nice short one, I then read it in their work, memorized or marked it, and then put it here.

Twelfth. Know that we are glad to have you reading here. I am currently a little obsessive about the stats WordPress puts up and as of right now we are visited by tens of people on a good month. And even then about five of you actually venture in far enough to read an article. Usually it’s just the one and they never come back. So if you have made it this far, good on you mate! Welcome aboard, the seas may be choppy but at least it will be an adventure.

Thankful for 2020

Editors Note: This post is a tad shorter and a day behind the publishing schedule. The reason being that what I had intended to post was just not up to snuff. Instead here is a new musing for the end of the year.

I think it might be something of a new tradition that John Oliver will, upon the year end, be blowing up a large marquee of said years numeric designation. Preceding the fiery destruction will be a litany of the offenses he and his audience have taken, sarcasm interspersed. He has done this twice now. Once in 2016 and now upon the eve of 2021. I expect more to follow with potentially more frequency, with increasingly Michael Bay esque panache. The joke lands solidly because the audience finds it cathartic. I would like to point out though that this is something that Christians should be wary of. As we survey the previous year space should be made for lament of genuine tragedy. However, we are also called specifically to gratitude.

I will begin by citing Moynahan’s Law: The better things are, the worse they seem. Allow me to point out that I live in Memphis, currently hailed as the worst place to be for COVID. We’re number 1! And to listen to the pundits you would think it is a wasteland of death and destruction. But as I survey the city around me I can honestly say if this is the worst in the world. Things aren’t that bad. The worst that is happening is amateur dictators and useful idiots are running the show. Two vaccines are being distributed and while our traditional hospitals are operating near full, the multiple field hospitals that have been constructed remain empty. As they have since June. On top of that Christ is still seated on his throne, ruling and reigning. And as a Calvinist I am still forced to be in agreement with Spurgeon

“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.” C.H. Spurgeon

I will follow this, secondly, by pointing out that the most common command in all of Scripture is, “Fear not.” We are not in control, God is. As Christians we know that he is the shepherd and we are the sheep of his pasture. He may lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, but we are to fear no evil. He is with us. He will cause us to lie down in green pastures, by streams of living water. Our problem is that of Jill Pole.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.”

I would not dream of reminding you that Aslan is not a tame lion, but that he is good. Hill wanted the drink but without the giver of that life. If 2020 has brought into specific relief anything about the western church at large it is that we want the blessings of God but without Him on the throne. We have chucked a good many things in the general direction hoping that they will take his place. We have put presidents and president elects, health departments, lockdowns, police, or defunded police, lives that matter, or any other number of things. And have been shocked and surprised when they did not bless us like the almighty God. Merely demanded more fealty, loyalty, and service.

I would submit then that we turn to Christ. Specifically in repentance* and gratitude. All blessings come from above. And if we are christians we should survey all that has been gifted to us. From the very breath we draw (tomorrow is not promised at any point God can say, “give me back my breath”) to the possessions we claim. 

A world against God does not want gratitude. It is anathema to them. Kavitching is the name of the game. Dissatisfied people are easy to control by the promise of more and some future Utopia. Grateful people are humble but possess a spine. They know everything they hold is from God and He controls the future. They are confident to drink from the stream of living water because they know the one who gave the stream is the same that gave them breath. 

Consistant Reformed Christianity does not shrink in fear from the unknown. It is known to God and that is enough. He commands the times and seasons. He sets up and tears down kings and presidents at His will. He knows every sparrow that falls. He even knows the appointed day of death for each human. These are details that we are not to get bogged down on. God owes us no explanation. Like Lewis’s traveler in the Bright Country from the Great Divorce we are not to parse mysteries but to bear witness to their unfolding. 

Our temptation to sin is dissatisfaction, envy, jealousy, pride, all of which ends in grumbling and complaining. Again, it is all sin. Why should Christians not approach year end cataloging all of the slights, offenses, disappointments, outrages, and miserations? First it is simply not productive. But more importantly it is an investment in sin, and sin always returns with interest. Stew on your grievances today and tomorrow you will find fresher and greater ones. But by the same rule habitual righteousness always comes back with the increase. In short sanctification occurs. But it takes work. Complaining and camping on grievances is lazy, it is drifting down the stream from the headwaters and the Lion. Down to certain doom.

What then should be done? to close I will submit a couple of practical steps. As 2020 comes to a close stop making lists of wrongs. Don’t chronicle your year with markers being placed by every setback, and disappointment. Just stop. Do not commiserate and grouse with friends who feed dissatisfaction. Just stop. Instead devote your thinking and prayers to thanksgiving. The list may start short, but start it. As you meditate on the goodness of God the list will grow. Perhaps even consider where you have received a blessing from God and slighted Him by labeling it as a privilege. You had no control, it was just given to you. And given for a reason, that reason was not for you despise it. Steward well the gift, and give thanks to the giver.

As a final note I will end with the lyrics of the old hymn, Count Your Blessings. This may serve as a starting point to begin gratitude for the Father in Heaven who is the giver of all life.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

    And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,

And you will be singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,

Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold.

Count your many blessings, money cannot buy

Your reward in heaven, nor your Lord on high.

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

*more on this in a later article.

By the Hammer of Christmas

Editors Note: It being the week of Christmas I am posting a shorter article for all five of you to snicker at then go back to spending time with the actual human beings who are with you.

So here I sit, at my local watering hole in sunny seventy degree weather. Sipping on a winter beer and trying to conjure up thoughts of Christmas to write on. There is a double edged sword of writing ahead. The advantage is when the writers block descends you have some wiggle room for regular posting. The downside is sometimes you are unseasonably writing and so the muse fights you. 

I wish in this moment to have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. Instead I sit here sipping my pint and silently judging the hipster sitting over at the window. By his license plate I can see he is from Nashville, and his expensive cowboy boots confirm this. We are indoors but he has yet to take off is aviators… and ah he is here visiting his girlfriend who has arrived very late. I really appreciate how he has managed to artfully arrange his immediate needs at the table where sits, American Spirit cigarettes, new model iPhone, a pair of Ray Ban glasses, an ironically brought (I assume) YA horror book in library binding, and what looks like a tin of either hair pomade or dip. At a second table he has stashed his backpack, duffel bag, trilby, and a ziplock containing a toothbrush. I think it is fair to say I dislike this guy and his absurdly flowing hair.

But Christmas, yeah, it’s great. Last year we had eighty degree sunny weather, similar to today. Therefore I should be able to write something. David the owner here is choking on a bourbon. He toasted a couple of the lads over at the counter and then choked. It is odd, David is an experienced drinker, when we worked at my local liquor store he sold me my first and only bottle of Weller Antique. He has told me the coughing fit was due to a potato chip that went down wrong. A likely story.

Christmas as I think about this most wonderful time of the year, sitting here in my usual spot. I must conclude I really love this spot. It is mine. I once had a feud with a woman who stole it from me twice. She gloated commenting on what a great spot it is. The second time she brought an enormous child with her. I have since made it a point of honor to get here first and lay my claim. From my perch I can survey the entire taproom. I have a perfect view out both of the front windows for people watching. As well as a good view of the bar to spy out if there is any good conversation happening among the regulars that I might want to join. My table is also the perfect height for me. The square tables are an inch or too above my comfort level. Being slight and short of stature a lower table is preferred, and in my corner is one of these tables. I am Norm, this is my end of the bar, this is my Cheers. 

As the holiday approaches I turn my mind to that jolly old elf. The former bishop of Turkey, who punched the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicaea. I don’t actually believe in Saints proper, the title, but if I did Nick earned it. I also don’t believe in elves, but there is a dwarf here. He is one of the regulars, and works at a local brewery. A really sweet guy, big bushy beard, rotund, and short, but he is loud, and the range of his opinions have lead me to title him The Obnoxious Dwarf. He serves as David’s Karen deterrent. Whenever someone shows up looking for infractions to rat out of whatever the current health department has recently cooked up. David sets TOD on them. After a profanity laced rant on how women should not be allowed to drive these people typically close out and move on to the greener pastures of the vegan restaurant next door. 

Christmas is a time for family we are told, and speaking of some of mine just wandered in! My brother-in-law is another regular here. Outside of my wife he is the immediate member of my family I see most often. Interesting chap. Simply by virtue of sharing a watering hole I have been  present for a few important life moments. It would be nice if they didn’t so often coincide with meetings with my Church small group leader. He has now also been present for a few important life moments of my brother-in-law. Most recently when he was fired. The poor guy moved through the stages of grief right at our table. Anger was fun. That is exactly the kind of language I want being shouted while I am hosting someone from church. Things were not helped by that fact that when my sister showed up the excellent view of my spot allowed us ample time to criticize, what we assumed, was the lesbian witch badly parallel parking. Humble pie was had by all as I had to exclaim, “Oh lord, that’s my sister.” It was then that her husband moved on to the stage of grief and burst into tears.

Christmas is a glorious time. It is a moment where we get to appreciate the gift God has given us in his Son. And we celebrate that in sharing gifts with one another. But it also can afford us the opportunity to reflect on the outpouring of the good gifts God gives during our year. All the interesting moments, people, and experiences that he prepared for us (before the foundation of the world). God has blessed me with this place I love to come to and write in. And the cast of characters that have unknowingly blessed me. So I conclude by Thanking God for, in no particular order, Skylar, Michael, Jesse, Robyn, David, Kevin, Mike, My Worthy Opponent, Mike, and the Horrible Hipster Guy from Nashville.* Merry Christmas to you all.

*WHO JUST MADE HIS GIRLFRIEND PAY FOR ALL THEIR PINTS!!!!! C’mon man.

Book List 2020

“Well we come now to that part of the show when I say: ‘Well we come now to that part of the show…” – Stephen Fry

As so many blogs do around this time of year I now present a reading list. This is supposed to be the best books I have read this year. It will not be that. Instead I will put in some of what I have read this year, as well as some things that I just think are damn good and you should read them in the coming year. I love giving books away and since I don’t know you I will just tell you what you should buy. If you end up hating my recommendations then tough. I quite liked these books. Also my goal is to try and keep to things that in a couple of years will still be good. There are those books that have a short shelf life. So while I would in this moment recommend Tom Woods Jr.’s Your Facebook Friends are Wrong About the Lockdown, my guess is that in a few months it will have very little relevance (Thanks though Tom, I loved it while it lasted!) 

The Complete Life – John Erskine

Here is what I like about this book. You can skip around and read the parts that interest you. Then implement what you learned to have a relatively complete life. I skipped the chapter on dancing because my Southern Baptist heritage was showing particularly strongly that day. Erskine’s prose is smooth and frequently charming if not insightful. On occasion he is given to lengthy tangents. For example in the chapter on reading and writing he takes many pages to write at length about obscure greek philosophers he reckons dong get enough credit. Mostly because they pissed people off. And if you know anything about Erskine and his (mostly failed) quest to make the great books a full set in every American’s living room, then you get the attraction. The nice thing is he is easy to navigate so if a section is killing you then you can pretty quickly find the next thing that snags your attention. Erskine thinks of himself as an absolute authority. This kind of pomposity makes me want to skip around in his book just to tick him off.

The Romance of the Word – Robert Farrar Capon

Endlessly Charming, frequently funny, very insightful, usually when it is being funny. Capon writes the way most of the authors at Crossway wish or think they can write. The way that this man wrote… It just flows. I’ll pick it up to read thinking I will just do a section or two and a hundred pages later I am having to force myself to put it down so I am not late for work. The only other time I will pause is when I am making notations which should be more frequent but I get lost in the flow of the text. Also his humor is brilliant. In a sense he is similar to Garrison Keillor, when he would attempt a theological insight. But Capon usually sticks the landing in orthodoxy. Pretty much he is only wrong in the ways you would expect an Anglican to be wrong. 

The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis

I read this every year once at a minimum, you should do the same.

Spirits in Bondage – C.S. Lewis

Ok this is not so much a recommendation as just a suggestion for you to splurge on an interesting book that looks gorgeous on the shelf. Lexham Press has released a beautiful new edition of Lewis’ first published work. It was written when he was quite young, an aspiring poet, and flaming atheist. And it shows. It is interesting in a kind of biographical way. The introduction by Karen Swallow Prior is excellent. And the binding is worth the price alone. A very slim hardcover in dirty and faded robins egg blue, copper lettering, pen and ink drawing on the frontispiece. It really belongs on any shelf of prized Lewis books. 

Thrawn Ascendancy; Chaos Rising – Timothy Zahn

This one probably comes closest to breaking my rule about “timeless books.” We never know these days when Micky will wake his wand and re-erase the Star Wars canon. This is also not one of the greatest books ever written. But it is fun and interesting, definitely better to it’s three predecessors. My hunch is that Zahn, irritated with the deletion of his greatest creation by Jar Jar Abrams in The Farce Awakens is trying to salvage what he can and set it far back enough that it might still be left standing when Walt’s cold cryogenically frozen fingers start itching toward the reset button. This also was a delight to read because the production value has exceeded any previous entry. Each page is bordered in blue and the chapters of history sprinkled throughout have a different pattern so that the reader knows where they are chronologically. It is a subtile visual pleasure that also brings clarity.

The Willows in Winter – William Horwood

Picks up right where Wind in the Willows left off. It is a perfect pleasure. Absolutely perfect. Mole, Ratty, Badger, and Toad are all there, what is more it really is them. This is a work lovingly created and is a completely worthy sequel. Horwood has captured the style of Grahame to such a degree that if the book were placed next to Wind and picked up immediately after “But when their infants were fractious and quite beyond control, they would quiet them by telling how, if they didn’t hush them and not fret them, the terrible grey Badger would up and get them.  This was a base libel on Badger, who, though he cared little about Society, was rather fond of children; but it never failed to have its full effect.” and begun, one would be hard pressed to realize that the author had changed. As a final note I wasn’t entirely certain I could love Toad more, but I do. This book made me love him even more.

The Puritans – Martyn Lloyd-Jones

O Banner Books how I love thee. This collection of addresses given by Lloyd-Jones (nearly) annually at The Puritan and later Westminster Conferences is delightful. I must confess I read it out of order. I skipped around with wild abandon through the persons most interesting to me on down. In particular I delighted in Lloyd-Jones asserting John Knox as the first Puritan. Even if I am not entirely convinced I still devoured the essay whole. The introduction which was a brief history of the conference served to make me incredibly jealous that I could never have attended, not having been born yet. (I would love to find a volume of J.I. Packers addresses before the conference split but thus far have not found anything.) It put me in mind of the early days of Acts 29 and the power of the preaching that would take place then. As a final note this being published by Banner of Truth means that it will be the kind of book your kids or disciples will fight over after you are dead. Cloth over board, clean gilt spine lettering, _____ on the inside covers, with solid creamy paper, woven binding, and a dynamite dust jacket. This is a book built to last down the ages, in more ways than one.

The Preachers Catechism – Lewis Allen

I judged that this would be a good book by it’s cover. It was excellent. Thoroughly Reformed and practical. It paraphrases the Westminster Catechism to direct it toward the preacher. There was not a lot of advice that was necessarily new. But chock full of things that must be freshly remembered. And by that I mean Puritans. While the concise nature of the book is nice (clocking in at just over two hundred pages) I would have loved more. A quick favorite quote from the book, “A few years later, I would learn that to become a preacher was to enter the company of men who seemed to attract trouble without looking for it.”

Pause Now for a Strange Interlude

Since I have been waxing so eloquently on books that I love, I figured I would mix things up a bit and wane eloquently on a book I hated.

Letters to Young Men – W.B Sprague

I bought this in a moment of wild abandon during a sale on Reformation Heritage Books. I have a few Sprinkle Publications and the title did it’s job and grabbed my attention. Since I am such a fan of Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle and Sprague was an American contemporary I assumed it would be in the same vein as Ryle. It is not. It is the kind of victorian tripe that is not only dated but part of why the church is in the mess it is today with feminized men. It is a book that hates young men. They are a liability and must be controlled by mothers and sisters and eventually wives. This is charmingly called, “domestic influence.” There is no mention of a strong father who can control the boy, because that would mean that the mother and sisters would not be in-charge. Better to manipulate and nag the boy into righteousness.

It is rare that I refuse to finish a book. It is a point of personal pride that I persevere through the end no matter how bad a book is. There are only ten or so books I have refused to finish. This has joined them. I hated it.

And Finally a personal note…

To M’colleague. Confessions of a Food Catholic – Douglas Wilson. 

I bought you this book because you said you would read it and write a review for this blog! You have done neither. I have no idea if it is good or bad but good gimlet gravy woman it’s been over a year at this point! Read it and review it or mail it to me! You can even make it your annual book review. All five people reading here will love hearing form you once, just once a year. 

Overlooking for Joy

There are complicated passages of Scripture and there are easy ones. I would like to take one of each sort show how they are connected and then apply them across a few scenarios in the hope that all five of you who read this will be edified. 

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” – Proverbs 19:11

As the simple passages of Scripture tend to go this is a classic example of easy to read, hard to do. First in that good sense, or discretion, as the Authorized Version would have it, is not easy to come by. It is the combination many virtues, patience, knowledge, charity, wisdom. It takes work to be a discerning person, Unlike Fed Ex it does not arrive overnight but is cultivated. And at it’s peak is glory derived from assessing and affiance and overlooking it. I would argue this is more than just being the bigger person. It is forgiveness given even when the apology was never offered.

Obviously there are times to be angry and times where wisdom would demand an offense be taken. Scripture is consistent in every way and this is analogous to Pauls sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” – Acts 17:30-31

God is offended by our sins, He takes them personally, they are not trivial rules that we break like we do the speed limit. And they require repentance. As we grow to be more like Christ we will be offended, sanctification requires discernment and good sense. But it does not make us doormats. There are times to overlook offense and there are times to be slow to anger and overlook.

Now taking one thing with another I would like to inch a bit further out onto the branch. Being an observer of current humanity, such as I am, I would like to suggest that the current predilection is to pretend that this principal does not exist or at best is woefully inadequate in our day of rampant micro-aggressions.

But before I get to that out us turn to our attention to the second passage and parse it to expand our view. 

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. – Matthew 7:1-6

This passage is one of the perennial favorites of the lost and dying world.* And I think it is an effective stumper because many Christians themselves struggle with the application of the text. There may be lurking around in our mental recesses a Sunday School lesson about a man with a speck in his eye and some goofball with a two-by-four and a machete. The word hypocrite may have made an appliance. But that tends to be about as far as it goes. So let us tease this one out a bit. 

The delightful irony is that Jesus commands us not to judge, but five verses later makes a judgement, calling people dogs and pigs. Two creatures that the Israelite despised. The reconciliation is fairly simple to lay out.

  1. Recognize that you are a sinner, deserving just judgement. 
  2. Therefore do not be a hypocrite calling out others for small sins while ignoring your own repentance. 
  3. If you do this God will justly dish out on you that which you heaped on others (See the parable of the unforgiving servant in Mathew 18:21-25). 
  4. There are people who are are obviously unrepentant and can be condemned correctly, avoid those people.

I personally find 1-3 to fall squarely in the realm of overlooking an offense. You place the sin against you into the context of your own sin and consider, are you righteous enough to go after the speck or do you require a spiritual optometrist to preform heavy surgery? It gets tricky in that Jesus does allow that there are those who can be condemned but no where gives a hard and fast rule as to who those people are or what things they do. Context would say a Pharisee is his personal target in the passage. But today that particular group has disbanded though they have many inheritors across the ideological spectrum. But even if we limit it to our own circles one mans pharisee is another mans saint. 

This again is where discernment comes in. Christians are nuanced people. Or we should be. We hold to objective truths and reality, and yet should also be able to grasp nuances. The world flesh and the devil want a world of no truths and yet to be black and white, also if at all possible to be sound bite worthy. At this point we have to bring in Screwtape, and you should applaud me for holding off this long.

“Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.” Screwtape Letter I

A Christian should be able to parse the difference between a correct slogan and a godless movement. We should be able to approve of a fight against injustice and yet recognize when a protest has become a political tool or a riot and clearly call a sin, a sin. A commitment to truth allows for the nuance. Remembering that every successful lie has a nugget of truth buried inside. 

I would caveat that this may suddenly seem an insurmountable task. Which is why rather than arguing the finer points with a dead man we should instead seek to revive him. And only Gospel can do that. And even then the dead will be offended, they have been made up so nicely that they look alive. The Gospel reminds us that all sins have been put to death in Christ, past present and future. The Christian is only culpable for the sins he has committed, not those far more easy to shed tears over that were committed by some long gone relative. If a Christian is indeed a new creature, then to stand in his imputed righteousness and refuse to apologize for sins he never committed will offend the man six feet under in his un-repented sins. 

Yet Christians very often get taken for a ride by the loud mob which demands of them empathy. A thousand slights of hand are used to manipulate Christians into conforming to the spirit of the age. From confusing a statement and a movement, to insisting empathy over Biblical sympathy. 

Lets Unpack

That last one requires further discussion. At their base definitions empathy means “to suffer in” and sympathy “to suffer with.” Mark the difference. One is jumping into the hole to be with the man. The other is staying out of the hole to haul him up and out. But sympathy is out of vogue these days because it feels condescending. We all love the story (possibly best told in the West Wing) of the man who falls in the hole and his friend jumps down in there with him, “because I know the way out.” The problem is that is nonsensical. Is there a secret passage the first man missed? at best some series of foot and handholds the second man is aware of. The problem is in stories, like satire, brevity is the key. details bog the emotional impact down. So in the example of Leo relating the story to Josh in The West Wing. Notice Leo didn’t go back down the road of pills and alcohol to then lead Josh out. No he stood outside and guided him out. That is sympathy. And it is the righteous way to do things. 

Sympathy sees emotions, it sees hurt. It extends comfort and care. But it also maintains a solid footing in truth. And that is the problem. Sympathy does not nessecarily attend protests. I will when the injustice is proved. But it waits on truth to arrive. The old adage “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”** is something sympathy hold to dearly. And then gets smacked around the head with a two-by-four because of it. Don’t you know the new adage, “Silence is violence!”?

The Immediate Playing Field

Now the average American Christian is (I hope) probably far more likely to come into contact with fellow believers who disagree with them on the cultural issues. I doubt we are really daily being faced with hockey padded social justice warriors or foaming mouthed alt right types. It is more like my good friend Alan. We disagree on many points politically. Ok we disagree on every point politically. He says things that piss me off and I say things that piss him off (and our wives are worse). But what makes it work is this. Alan has a thick skin as do I. And I have full confidence that if one of us really went overboard the other would joyfully begin Matthew 18 style proceedings. They would go to the offensive party, with the sin made clear, and require repentance. I genuinely believe that it would go no further than, “Dude that was unacceptable.” and the apology would be given right there, were the offense genuinely sinful. But otherwise, a part of our friendship, that I am genuinely thrilled with, is our joyful overlooking of offenses. Many of our evenings are filled with laughter, scotch, and cigar smoke. I think of Alan as my jolly opponent, and I hope to be his merry adversary. 

I do not want to fall into the current cliche that is said but rarely observed, to have “conversations.” I want to encourage a truly Biblical joy filled charity. This gets thorny because all the charity and joy is frequently stripped by one party trying to fix or correct the other. Banish that thought from the mind.*** Have no agenda rather than enjoying the person. They are made in the image of God, and He has predestined to save them. There is no need for you to play Holy Spirit. The only need is for both sides to discern when something should be resolved between brothers, and when offenses should be overlooked.

Conclusion

There was a night years ago when I had my friend Mo over and used a horrible word thinking it would really land as a punch line. It didn’t. I was totally in the wrong and knew it. But here is where Mo handled it perfectly. He did not cause a scene. He waited until everyone had left. And confronted me soberly. It was direct and correct. I was in the wrong and we both new it. But Scripture required my repentance. It was an offense that could not be indeterminately overlooked, but he did overlook it showing honor where I had not. I thank God for responses like that. 

“… be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:7-8

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers a all offenses.” Prov 10:12

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20

What if the Church, rather than taking sides, became what Screwtape dreaded, “A positive hotbed of charity and humility.” And love, and joy, and good laugher over a pint and delight in the jolly opponent. What glory would that be. How would the world tremble before such forgiving and cheerful people?

*Can we just take a moment to appreciate, as Christians, being lectured and having Scripture thrown at us as an authority by someone who denies it’s authority. It really is a hoot.

**I just used the Spurgeon version. Twain gets this wrongly attributed to him. It was probably Johnathan Swift who said it first. If you want to go down this particular rabbit hole: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/07/13/truth/

***In my own personal experience it is usually the conservative that is willing to be hospitable and try and extend the right hand of fellowship. Therefore I am tempted to add extra exhortation to the leftward side of things to catch up.

Cultural Marxism

Looking around all that I survey, I stumble into a vast plain of ignorance. I am told that Cultural Marxism is either the fount of all evil or the head waters of all that is good, decent, and long division. Therefore I sought to research this phenom, and after receiving instruction from my aged and learned father I embarked to my comfy chair to take in the principals of this culture. I bring now to you my findings. 

Cultural Marxism tends to thrive in high society. It prefers to spread it’s brand of chaos among those cultural elites for whom tuxedos, monocles, long satin gowns, and pearls for clutching were made. Large mansions are where it is most at home but failing that, opera houses, high end department stores, circuses, college campuses, and even in a pinch hijacked locomotive will do. It also enjoys the company of wealthy older women, beautiful young women, and easily caricatured villains. The Cultural Marxist lives to infiltrate these bastions of the elite and reveal hypocrisy and snobbery at every level, and by any means possible. They also seek to dismantle structures of what they consider unjust power. Their aim has historically been broad and occasionally the innocent are swept up in the onslaught. Typically the more pointed attacks are reserved for mustachioed men who prefer well tailored suits.

There is a strong anarchist temperament. Though always pursuing positions of power, influence, and wealth, chaos theory reigns. In point of fact there is no better demonstration of chaos theory than in this Cultural Marxism. Even for all of it’s visible random impulses a cohesive structure always emerges. A balance is always struck between, dare I say it, zany antics and the alteration of power structures. It is obvious form my viewings, that in any instance when any of the pursued power, influence, or monies are granted to the Cultural Marxist, chaos inevitably follows but now on an even grander scale. In one particular instance two entire nations were brought into war with one another, and even then the leadership seemed more interested in women, food, and costumes. In an uncharacteristic moment of attempted bravery, failure resulted as the Marxist mistakenly fired on his own troops. Say what you will, the consistency of these men to adhere strictly to their principals of chaos and anarchy is admirable. Even amongst themselves there is always an element of off kilter oneupmanship. This can include, the use of everything from simple noise makers up through the use of firearms.

Theft is perhaps one of the most consistent themes of the Cultural Marxist. Specifically from the wealthy and upper classes. They are jealous for any item they do not personally possess. Even things that are literally nailed down are not safe. I have observed the robbery of paintings, sports equipment, money, land from railroads, entire cases of silver serving utensils, dolls, symphony orchestras, state secrets, and one instance involving the kidnapping of a prestigious tenor. What gets stolen, and how seems to depend on the man himself; but each seems to have a particular penchant all his own. Yet when assembled the larger the group the more theft, destruction, and chaos ensues. What is then done with this confiscated property is either left to the imagination or funneled back into the grander anarchist scheme.

Compassion for the underdog is a redeeming value of the Cultural Marxist. Wether it is an entity as large as Huxley College, a star crossed lover, or even a humble lemonade stand operator, so long as there is a bigger bully type the Cultural Marxist rises to the occasion. It seems fairly obvious that the methods involved in bringing about a happy resolution frequently cause more destruction than would ever be called for by a sane rational person, but this observation would do nothing to sway them. However, typically all is forgiven by the public under the, “their heart was in the right place” view. 

With one noticeable exception, the adherents of Cultural Marxism reject logic, and speak incessant gibberish, all while assuming that the failure to understand is the fault of the weary world. Sometimes simple fact is met with silence or an insulting sounding whistle. Frequently sarcasm is treated as a second language, that sounds almost like Italian. I will cite an example from one of their occasional thought leaders: 

“Here I am, talking of parties. I came down here for a party. What happens? Nothing. Not even ice cream. The gods look down and laugh. This would be a better world for children, if the parents had to eat the spinach.” – Julius Henry Marx

There is a perverse sense to this strange interlude, yet still I find that it fails to address the current situation. There is also a deep love of juvenile double entendre most often employed to move the direction of a conversation three or five topics away from the original point.

Most bizarrely perhaps is the Cultural Marxist’s penchant for musical interlude. Often classical, with an up tempo twist, or sometimes the actual performance of a song. There typically comes a moment when things seem to slow down and an instrument is discovered and must be played. Frequently this is a piano or harp, though a guitar has not been unknown to make an appearance. If an entire orchestra can be brought into the performance all the better, seems to be the prevailing thought. Lacking actual instruments has never seemed to be an obstacle. On a Native American reservation a group was observed using bull horns still attached to a witch doctors head and even a loom to substitute an harp. Granted a wooden flute and horn were present but interest in them was quickly lost in favor of the more bizarre. 

To a slightly, but only slightly, lesser extent dance is vital to the existence of the Cultural Marxist. Always spontaneous, and frequently startling, dance is to be expected. It may be simply one member of the group spastically flailing in a rhythmic manner, but flash mob style singing and dancing is a real preference. Recorded incidents have included several floors of a New York department store, the parliamentary chamber of a European nation, the installation ceremony for a college president, and most frequently at multiple high society gala’s. 

The number of Cultural Marxists varies depending on the year. Early in the movement four seemed to be ideal. At one point there was a substitution but it seems no one noticed. Most recently the number has been three. And that is certainly enough for this trinity of chaos. Though each is different, the philosophy underlying the culture relies on this core. There is an instance when primarily there were only two but fortunately by the end the trifecta was made complete.

Finally, relative anonymity is vital to the Cultural Marxist. Many aliases have been taken up by this group: Captain Jeffery T. Spaulding (the T. is for Edgar), Professor Wagstaff, Otis B. Driftwood, Doctor Hugo Z. S. Quinten Quayle, Ravelli, Fiorello, Joe Panello, Wacky, Pinky, Rusty, The Professor. Yet all of these are simply cover on top of cover where they are better known simply as Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and sometimes Zeppo. 

While I personally am hesitant to embrace this movement of Cultural Marxism, primarily because I just don’t have that kind of energy. I can appreciate it. These three (sometimes four, but actually five) brothers created a bizarre, delightful culture on the stage and screen that has not been achieved since. Their zany anarchy never failed to lift my spirits and frequently 

Give Thanks for the No

We come now to my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. Of the four major American holidays Thanksgiving is kind of the underdog.* Matt Chandler pointed out how ignored it is “I feel like our kids are going to grow up saying, “Happy Forth of July.” “And Merry Christmas to you!” Halloween does not help either, stealing some of the primary festive colors and making them gaudy, plus a gluttony of cheap candy always beats a proper feast of epic proportions. One can be quickly unwrapped and horked down the other takes time, skill, and funds to prepare then more time to properly enjoy it. 

But Thanksgiving is a great holiday, especially if done right. And by that I mean a true feast to build up gratitude in our hearts that we roll up into praise of God. It is a way for us to look horizontally down our year and see all that God has done, then look vertically and give gratitude to God for his generosity. It is a feast that fights against bitterness, and envy as we survey the table that has been prepared before us. We are reminded of the goodness of God in the hands that prepared the food, in the sweet and savory flavors presented to us, the sounds of hearty laughter and the clink of glasses and heath is drunk, the smells of roasting sweet meats, with bonfires, and baking pumpkin with caramel. 

These are all obvious and somewhat traditional examples** of what to be grateful. And I think they are good to be made new in our minds every year since our world runs on unleaded envy. It is important to takes stock and attempt to itemize all the ways God has blessed us. Lest we fall into throwing the blessings back in his face under the label of privilege, or hyper focus on the things He has refused us.

And that is where I would like to camp this Thanksgiving, on the no’s. If you claim the title of Calvinist and believe that God is truly sovereign over all. Then it is an obvious contradiction to assume that God somehow dropped the ball when He didn’t play the game you laid out for Him at the beginning of the year. The Reformed should have enough understanding of the doctrines to which we ascribe to know that God knows best and does what is best, for our joy and His glory. That is not always the thing we would like.

I would like to take some time this Thanksgiving to show gratitude for the no’s. I am going to pull a few examples from my own life where the impact of the no’s vary in impact. Some will be disappointments, others at the time seemed brutal. But all ended up for my joy an God’s glory. This is not an attempt to brag, rather it is a genuine effort to thank God and, hopefully, to encourage a long term perspective in difficult seasons.

The point in all of this is not to gloat, but to show genuine gratitude for how God blesses by saying no. There are other no’s I am currently living in and do not know where they are headed. But by looking back at the past no’s I am able to fortify myself for current or future ones. This is  why I would argue that in the season of Thanksgiving we should freshly remember and give thanks for them.

E

“Have you even taken a praise break for the relationships that did not happen? Oh bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name!” – Bryan Loritt’s

When Bryan spoke the above in a sermon my soul leapt within me. There was a time when I was deeply smitten with a young lady. In my eye she was as Wilde described, “The absolute visible personification of perfection.” She was quick, well read, trendy, flirtatious, a good debater. I was entranced and solidly friend zoned. For a few years I tried hard to change her mind. To no effect. I tried to change me to be more what she wanted. That was a waste and dumb thing to do. Then some another guy from our group asked her out and she ended up marrying him. It was something of a blow, but in the sovereignty of God shortly after her involvement with the other chap I met N. And in all candor the other young lady has become something of a terror. Meanwhile I managed to marry N and she is such all that and a bag of chips. I definitely came out ahead. N is not trendy, flirtatious, or quick but it turns out that is a good thing. If I had not received a no on that relationship I can fairly accurately predict I would potentially not be in ministry any longer, and possibly divorced. 

Never a Missionary

I remember as a kid dreading when missionaries would come to my father’s little Southern Baptist Church. I may date myself here, but this was actually still back in the days of slide projectors. And when missionaries came to speak, they came to speak for hours. Morning service, and evening service, and unless it was football season and the Cowboys were playing, my father gave them no time limits. I dreaded missionary speakers because I new it meant hours sitting still in the front row, bored out of my skull. At some point I got so fed up with the whole ordeal I swore to God I would never be a missionary. They taxed my time and their jobs looked downright miserable. 

I assume you see my mistake. It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you want God to make you do something, tell him you will never do it. So here I sit, having been a missionary for the vast majority of my life. In the grace of God I was not sent to deepest darkest Africa. I have stayed here in Memphis. Children were not high on my radar, and yet here I am. I did try for film school, and instead was sent to the theater program instead. Which I quickly realized was not for me. Theater people are… not my cup of tea. Again if the no had not come I would not have so many things that I love, including my wife who I met at our ministries HQ. The no was vital.

The House on Courtland

More recently I will direct you to another no blessing. This one came in a collection of no’s. But it was at the time where N and I were deciding where to live. The first no was in I thought the decision had already been made. I had an apartment, that was frankly a rathole, but I had lived there for over ten years and turned it into a beautiful rathole. You should have seen the managers face when she saw the inside of what had originally been a white walled dump, that I transformed into a cottage of wall to wall bookshelves an a damn good paint job, if I do say so myself. The only obstacle I could not overcome was the railway lines outside the bedroom window. I do not exaggerate when I tell you thirty feet was the distance. I had grown accustomed to the trains but N never did. It was a real strain on our first year of marriage. I had planned to stay in that apartment for a while longer, till death is the correct term. Both God and my wife said no. 

House hunting we went, our realtor sent us a list of places to look at online and there was one house that I didn’t even bother looking at. The realtor suggested it. I ignored her. The second list still included the one house. We made an offer on a different one. Our offer was identical to another one but they beat us by five minutes and got the place. Second no. We looked at a real terrifying place where our friends were used to tell us the no. Our realtor sent us a third list, that house was still on it. I gave in. I now live there. It is perfect. I love this house. God not only blessed us with it, he saved us from a particularly stupid decision on the one house. Looking back not only would we have had to work so hard on it, we also would not have my bookshelves, but a hallway that took a steep dive downward and to the left to the tune of eight inches.

Conclusion

In my church growing up we, stereotypically, and frequently had a call and response, “God is good” “All the time, God is good.” Some people might snicker at this because they too can probably remember their own childhood congregation bellowing back the response to an overweight deacon wrapping up services. yet beyond what has become cliche is a completely solid truth. All the time God is good. Even when we don’t feel like He is because he told us no.

George Mueller understood this principal. Standing before a congregation assembled at the funeral of his wife. Mueller assumed the pulpit and preached:

“The reason why I purpose to preach this funeral sermon, is not because the late Mrs. [Mary Groves] Müller was my own beloved wife; nor, that I might have an opportunity of speaking highly of her, most worthy though she was of it; but that I may magnify the Lord in giving her to me, in leaving her to me so long, and in taking her from me to Himself. During the six days that my beloved wife was on her deathbed, my soul was sustained by the truth contained in the words of our text. Whether she was more easy from pain, or in severe pain; whether there was a little prospect that she might yet be given back to me, or whether all hope was gone; my soul was sustained by these words. They were ever present with me, and I rested my soul on them. When it pleased God to take my darling wife to Himself, my soul was so sustained by these words, that if I had gone out that evening to preach, I should have preached on this text. I desire now, as God may help me, for the benefit of my younger fellow-believers in Christ particularly, to dwell on the truth contained in these words, with reference to my beloved departed wife.

I. The Lord was good, and did good, in giving her to me.

II. He was good, and did good in so long leaving her to me.

III. He was good, and did good, in taking her from me.” – George Mueller (Emphasis Added)

With tears streaming down his face he preached this. Sheldon Vanauken would call this a severe mercy. No’s are never easy. But they are from a sovereign God. Oh that we all would rest in Christ in the no’s. They may be severe or mild, but they are from God, and they are for our joy and His glory. 

The Charge

This Thanksgiving give thanks, with gusto. Feast and delight in The Lord. But also consider the no’s in your life, and thank Him for them. The no’s that you have seen the end of and how he was at work even when you didn’t understand. And the ones you don’t currently have a solid grasp on.

*Though I think Easter is catching up. Both are distinctly Christian and lack the strong consumeristic oomph and secularization that keeps Christmas going strong over them. Easter I think stays ahead because it lands in a spot yearly where most people would like a holiday to pop in and provide an excuse to eat chocolate and buy new clothes. 

**If you were raised Southern Baptist obviously those glasses were filled with sparkling cider or Grape Juice. Because God forbid we get to carried away in our praise and gratitude. The Lord really hates to be praised after a string of double scotches. 

My Wife Has an Offensive Joke

My wife has an obscure, sometimes dark sense of humor. And occasionally there arrises a moment in social gathering or conversation that we enjoy an ongoing joke. People will ask how we met and our story and she will relate it. In which I pursued her for four years consistently declaring my intent to marry her, then proposing on the eve of her leaving to serve as a missionary in Taiwan for five years. I waited. I would have married her sooner but I knew she was going overseas come hell or high water, so why not motivate her to come back. In total I waited for her to finish her commitment for five years. Which in my mind is a bargain, I as an introvert get nine years to be alone, and then the rest of my life with the, nearly, perfect woman. She will conclude this tale by stating, “Yeah, he is the better person.” The reactions we get are like MasterCard, priceless. It ranges from stunned to a bizarre mixture of stunned and confusion. The tripping point, we have learned, is not how long I waited for her; it is the confession that I am the better person. When pushed, she will then list all of the things I do she fails at, and in a final twist of the knife says, “He is the better one in the relationship.” Frequently, this leaves people reeling. 

Now this is not me tooting my own horn or besmirching the character of my wife. She is absolutely all that and a bag of chips. I love this woman, she has exceeded all of my expectations in marriage. I would go on about how fantastic this woman is but for that see my article on the Proverbs 31

Having covered my bases in the excellence of my wife. I would like to examine what makes our joke so important. Why is it that the idea of a husband being a better person than his wife so confusing at best and revolting at worst? Like every joke a truth is embedded at it’s core. And N’s (my wife*) joke has a truth in it that rubs many people, including Christians, the wrong way. The truth at it’s core is that women are sinners, on par with men. And while, as Christians, we may agree on the face of it in practicality it conflicts with our social norms.

The Matrilineal Society

The western world exists as a Matrilineal society. Where the men may have the outward facing roles of leadership, but women make everything happen, and as such are revered. This even plays itself out in the Church where male elders may “rule” but without the women everything would grind to a halt. Therefore the women exercise soft power What David Murrow in his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church calls, “The Velvet Veto.” Many things fall into place to create this kind of society, and you can explore this topic more over at Mere Orthodoxy where they recently put up a fantastic piece on the issue. 

But I would like to springboard off of this view that is held in the western church at large then circle back to the original issue and give an exhortation. The problem, as I see it resides in the reverence we have toward women which tends to make them immune from even having correction issued towards gender sin proclivities. For example I can easily remember the last time I sat through a Jorden Peterson style, “Clean up your bedroom bucko!” style sermon aimed at men. But the last time I heard a pastor preach on the sins of gossip, nagging ,or not submitting to husbands, was nearly fifteen years ago and that pastor was run out of town with rocks actually thrown at him. Aaron Renn points out how every Mothers Day churches will give out gifts, honor and revere women in the church. But on Fathers Day there is usually a prayer for absent and failing fathers, at best and at worst a drill sergeant style sermon on manning up. 

In short while wives are told officially to respect their husbands in actuality they to taught to despise, revile, henpeck, belittle, and mother him. And while many women to take Pauls exhortation in Titus 2:3 that the older women should teach the younger women to love their husbands, they omit the specifics of how that is done in 2:4-5. And the trickle down effect is obvious.

In Which I Advocate for a Friend

“With respect to marriage, in patriarchal and patrilineal cultures women usually must pay a dowry in order to marry men. In matrilineal societies, however, men must seek permission and often pay a “bride-price” in order to marry a woman either of his choosing or given in a prior arrangement made by the parents. If America were patrilineal, engagements and weddings would focus more on the husband. In matrilineal societies, however, men are expected to yield and pay deference to women as the primary life sustainers in family life, even if men hold certain offices like king, for example.” – Anthony Bradley, American Evangelicalism isn’t patriarchal or feminized. It’s matrilineal.

Recently a friend of mine, we’ll call him Steve, ran headlong into the fallout of this sinful and unbiblical pattern our churches have adopted from the society at large. Steve finds himself in an odd position. He is single, on track to be an elder in his church, employed, living on his own, and  would like to pursue a woman for marriage. And therein lies the problem. Because for all that Steve possess to recommend himself he has discovered that among the single women in the church there is not one that actually shows Christian maturity. Yet there is a growing pressure for Steve to, “man up” and ask several out (while also not gaining the reputation as the guy who dates around.) The problem is always assumed to be Steve, that there must be something wrong with him. It never occurs to anyone that the girls are cliquish or should consider their own maturity. It’s an interesting if frustrating position to be in. Simply put there is an expectation that the young women should have high standards for who they date, however it never occurs to anyone that the men should have equally high requirements and that sometimes those are not met by the women present.

And just to twist this knife a little deeper the double standard can only lead to waifish, embittered  wives and frustrated indolent husbands. The only goals given to women are unattainable secular standards. And for men nothing is ever enough. It is even expected that men operating at the highest levels of power on the planned but get sheepish and like George Bush insist that their wives are their better half. Laura may actually be the better person, but on some level can we consider that she was married to the leader of the free world? Perhaps is a small part of why the world hates Donald Trump is that he refuses to play this game of social mores? 

Standards are not a bad thing, I have preached my share of man up sermons. But I have also preached my share of calling women to repent sermons. You can guess dear reader which kind goes over better. Biblical standard for how men and women; husbands and wives are to relate to each other have to be preached without bias. Men do need to be called up, “Christianity is a fighting religion” as Lewis reminds us men are to be warriors. But a warrior needs something to defend and come home to. And in many cases the brotherhood among men is secretly sweeter to them than hearth and home, where they receive lip service respect, but not the actual thing. I am reminded of the conversation between Chief O’Brian and Doctor Bashier on Deep Space Nine. Where in a moment of brutal honesty Bashier makes The Chief realize that while he loves his wife, he likes Bashier better. And you the viewer have to agree and the root is O’Brian is a great man (possibly the most important in Starfleet history.) yet his wife never sees that. His friend Julian Bashier does. 

Grease for the Skids

They key to resolving this is humility. With all of the talk of rampant toxic masculinity, and voiceless women, I can cop to there being a problem. But the problem is as old as sin, because it is sin. The toxically masculine** male has the exact same problem as the woman condemning “this rampant problem.” They are both filled with pride. Humility calls men to love and lead, true masculinity is defined as “The glad assumption of responsibility.”*** resentful assumption is pride, refusal to assume responsibility is pride. Humility requires masculine men do this. But for women to snatch and grab at this, or to look down on how the work is done is also prideful. God has made men and women different and how we assume responsibility or respond cheerfully to that assumption of responsibility is part of His design. 

And that sounds fine on the face of it until we get down into the weeds of practicality. Allow me to illustrate: assuming responsibility does not always mean unpleasantness. In discipleship I often teach my disciple over a pint or cigar, it creates a mood, it makes hard correction easier to hear. My generosity on the front end reminds them that I do care about them. And to the outside observer it may look like, “A night out with the lads” but work is being done. The humility of my wife is in recognizing that I have a goal in mind and I am accomplishing it. Pride would be for her to try and micromanage me and my methods. And by the same token I trust her to do the same with her disciples in her own methods. But in all of this the skids are greased by humility. She works and disciples in a feminine way, I do so in a masculine one.

Conclusion

Masculinity and femininity are gifts from God, but we have wildly misunderstood and misused them. Insisting women be like men and men be like women. Which is how Satan operates, he takes good things from God, twists and manipulates them into what they were never intended to be. Setting aright how the church sees men and women, and how it operates (velvet veto or actual Elder leadership.) Is a good place to start.

An early move of the second wave feminist movement was to create groups of women and to stimulate them to complain and be dissatisfied with their husbands. And that has proved to be something of a perpetual motion machine. Wives are commanded to respect their husbands, and to train younger women to do the same. Another good place to start. 

Ultimately, humble obedience to scripture is required. We should strive to be such christians that my wife’s joke is accepted at face value and the two of us are deprived of a snicker. 

*Taking from Lewis’s letters I will just be using first initials.

**I hate the term toxic masculinity because is implies that all masculinity is a bad thing when it is not just created by God it is also the terms in which He speaks of Himself. 

***Douglas Wilson