God can’t do it that way again?

Often I hear things like: “we can’t do it that way anymore”, “that would never work today”, or even “God won’t do it that way anymore”.  Times have changed, we’re told.

As someone who does not go in for innovation for innovation’s sake, this line of reasoning doesn’t quite sit with me. And not just for the sake of the theological principle that God can do whatever pleases Him.  For historical reasons as well. Consider that in 1946 the dean of Harvard Divinity School had counted the tradition of large-scale evangelistic preaching to be discredited entirely.  It was the realm of hucksters and hacks.  The very idea of evangelism was loaded with images of charlatans who used big tent revivalism for personal gain.*

And then a few short years later, a young Billy Graham rose up in the public eye. His ministry could at the very least be described as, ahem, fruitful.

The lesson?  No one gets to tell God who He’ll use or how He’ll use them.  And no one gets to say what is over and that God can’t or won’t work that way again.

Billy Graham in 1955

Billy Graham in 1955



*see page 35 of Ross Douthat’s excellent book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics


Love for love’s sake

ElvisMost of all I love you ’cause you’re you.  Elvis Presley







Bernard of ClairvauxWe are to love God for Himself… nothing is more reasonable; nothing is more profitable. Bernard of Clairvaux





The King of rock and roll and one the greatest medieval preachers.  One wouldn’t think they have much overlap in fundamental messages but when it comes to the nature of love, you’d be wrong.

To love is to desire another. To love rightly is to desire not just what another can give to you.  It is not to love merely how they make you feel.  It is not to seek self-gratification in another.

It is to love them for them.  No more appropriate is this than when we speak of loving God, our first and most important duty, both Old and New Covenant.  Can we love God not only for what He gives to us, though his gifts are many?  Can we love God not for how he enriches us or how he makes us feel?  Can we love God for God?

Love seeks all things – or… be like John Wayne

Moral of the story? Believe the best and be like John Wayne

Moral of the story? Believe the best and be like John Wayne

We live in times where it is easy to vilify those we disagree with. This goes for people or leaders who we disagree with. Think of how we read our newsfeed.

It is easy to think the worst of people who we disagree with.  It’s easy to desire the worst; to want them to do poorly.  But we’re not called to do the easy thing but the harder thing.  Love for others is, in part, desiring the good for them.  Even if you think they’re off base. Even if it feels as though you (or your “side”) has lost to them.

Consider this reaction to the election of a leader:

I didn’t vote for him but he’s my President, and I hope he does a good job.
—John Wayne (b. 1907) on the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960


And then consider this reaction:

I hope he fails.
—Rush Limbaugh (b. 1951) on the election of Barack Obama in 2008  (Source of quotes)


Which reaction shows most confidence, graciousness, courtesy, and maturity?  Or to put it in more strictly theological terms…  love?  Love, after all, seeks the good of the other with no thought to pride of self.  Love seeks all things.  That kind of love is neither sentimental nor easy to accomplish in real time.

The harder thing is gracious and rises above pettiness. It seeks the common good and desires what is best – even for an idealogical opponent.  In times like these, perhaps, we need this reminder more than ever.



The Lord – The Great Disturber

A Troubled Soul - Ferdinand Hodler

A Troubled Soul – Ferdinand Hodler

God as comforter.*  The Lord as the giver of inner peace.  Gentle Jesus, who never ruffles feathers.  These sorts of things come naturally to us. It may be counter-intuitive to think of God as one who disturbs. But to really begin to consider God revealed in Christ is to become not more serene but more unsettled.

Consider how most responded to Jesus in the Gospels.  Words so frequently used are amazed, astonishedmarvelled.  He causes hearts to burn.  These are not reactions to a milquetoast guru.  They are the reactions of the disturbed and unsettled; those whose calm pond of life has just had a big rock dropped in.

This is because God revealed in Christ is not something to be coolly considered. We don’t analyze him with detachment. When we’re coming close to who he really is, his claims start to bear down on us. It is not as much that we can know God but that this knowledge knows us.

…God is not a fit object for man’s detached scrutiny. You cannot fix God at the end of a telescope or microscope and say ‘How interesting!’  God is not interesting. He is deeply upsetting. The same is true of Jesus Christ.  (John Stott, Basic Christianity)

We has thought intellectually to examine him; we find he is spiritually examining us…  We study Aristotle and are intellectually edified thereby; we study Jesus and are, in the profoundest way, spiritually disturbed.  (Patrick Carnegie Simpson, The Fact of Christ) 

Is it so strange to think of God as the Great Disturber?  Consider the reactions of the four children in C S Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when they first hear of Aslan. They are all deeply unsettled. Lucy, Susan, and Peter are unsettled and intrigued. Edmund (who has something to hide) is unsettled and sickened. Reading this book to my own children last night – this very passage – I saw like reactions upon their faces. Hearing of Aslan alongside the characters in the story produced in them the same intrigued unsettledness. They weren’t merely interested, they were disturbed.



*there is real comfort from God, to be sure, but it comes on the other side of being unsettled.

Wish Fulfillment?


Sigmund Freud famously saw belief in God as a distorted wish fulfillment. We desire love and security and therefore imagine a heavenly father who loves and protects. He even coined the term wunscherfüllung in The Interpretation of Dreams. To become mature and psychologically healthy one would need to jettison such wish fulfillment and see the world as it really was.  Freud argued for the end of any belief in God (The Future of an Illusion) in order to reach such maturity. Despite almost almost all of Freud’s ideas now being rejected as pseudo-science, this idea lingers. Belief is naive denial or the casting of our dreams up into the sky, so the critique goes.

But who exactly is the one seeking fulfillment of their wishes?  The believer or the unbeliever?

The God revealed in the Bible and in Christ is certainly one who can satisfy all need for love and security. But is it more or less of a comfort to deny Him?

The God who offers love and forgiveness for all who come to Him is also the One to whom every life will be held accountable. He is also the source of all life and everything is upheld by the word of his power. Perhaps in our self-autonomy and desire to be in control a new kind of wish emerges.  That there is no God to whom we ought to thank for each breath. And no God who will judge our lives.

Isn’t unbelief a greater example of wish fulfillment?


How Should God Be Loved?

Marc Chagall, The Song of Songs

Marc Chagall, The Song of Songs

I am in the midst of a sermon series through the Song of Songs (which is Solomon’s).  Not in the midst of preaching but in the midst of being under that preaching.  *an advantage of co-pastoring is that one can both preach and receive preaching*

Bernard of Clairvaux, was unmatched in his commentary on Solomon’s Song, and his writings unpacking it are still amazing to read today.  He saw the fundamental question as being, how should God be loved?  He believed that the love between the young lovers of the Song showed the answer – achingly and without any limit.  And why should God be loved? Simply because He is God.

Consider first how God merits to be loved, that there is to be no limit to that love, for he loved us first. Such a one loved us so much and so freely, insignificant as we are and such as we are, that as I said at the beginning, we must love God without measure.

My God, my help, I shall love you as much as I am able for your gift. My love is less than is your due, yet not less than I am able, for if I cannot love you as much as I should, still I cannot love you more than I can.  I shall only be able to love you more when you give me more, although you can never find my love worthy of you.

-On The Song of Songs