A Slippery Slope with Valuable Foliage

“In Man Is Not Alone, he [Abraham Joshua Heschel] draws on an old rabbinic teaching that divine revelation is an experience of God that is different for each person. The Torah comes to each of us, a revelation of God that we receive, each in a unique way, renewed every day. No single path leads to God because one’s religion must be authentic to who we are. Since each person is unique, each expression will be as well. One cannot be Jewish the way one’s grandparents were Jewish; that would be spiritual plagiarism: ‘A vibrant society does not dwell in the shadows of old ideas and viewpoints; in the realm of the spirit, only a pioneer can be a true heir. The wages of spiritual plagiarism are the loss of integrity; self-aggrandizement is self-betrayal. Authentic faith is more than an echo of a tradition. It is a creative situation, an event.’”

Abraham Joshua Heschel. Thunder in the Soul (p. 16). Plough Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

Maxims from My Dad

Some of these I heard my Dad say often. Some of them I distilled by watching his life.

A man accepts responsibility.

There is no authority without corresponding responsibility (and vice versa).

If you don’t work, you don’t eat.

Be serious about staying unstained by the world. (His favorite illustration of this was making a batch of brownies, emphasizing the various portions of multiple ingredients, and then asking the audience if they minded just a tiny bit of dog poo mixed in.)

Hard work is satisfying.

Love does what is in the loved one’s best interest, not necessarily what makes them feel good at the moment.

A man rises early.

A godly man starts his day in God’s word.

A responsible man prepares ahead of time for financial realities by saving appropriately. “Don’t let that money burn a hole in your pocket.” was a phrase I heard frequently, and that I think came from my grandfather.

Save separately for short term and for long term goals.

No matter how intelligent you are there is great pride in manual labor.

Treat your wife the best you possibly can; skimp on yourself.

Giving limits is a loving act.

Always be inclined to explain.

Never speak ill of someone else.

Recount stories that reflect well on someone else often.

Be always willing to learn, but don’t fear to question conventional wisdom.

What you have been given, labor to improve it.

Childhood is the time when you train for adulthood. Prepare your children for life!

Loving and serving God takes precedence over all else.

Love of God and man is best expressed by action and affirmed in words, not the other way around.

Be hard on yourself; be patient with others.

“Are you saying I’m sinning?”

This question, typically voiced with indignation, is the response of a legalist to discovering there is the possibility—or even just the suggestion—that they might be unknowingly sinning.

A healthy believer would respond: “If that is biblical I want to know more! How did you come to that conclusion? Can we open the scriptures together?”

Only someone whose sense of comfort in regard to their relationship with God derives from feeling they are performing well, responds with indignation to the idea they might be unknowingly sinning.

A healthy, mature believer is in touch with the reality that they are utterly dependent upon God’s mercy and grace. And, consequently, is motivated to improve their reflection of Christ’s character not out of any hope of deserving, but out of gratitude and passionate allegiance to Jesus as their Savior and King.

Therefore new realization is an opportunity, not an indictment.

Tourists or Residents?

“[T]our guides create tourists rather than residents—consumers of knowledge rather than participants in actual communities. We may introduce people to the basic contours and city limits of the gospel—“map knowledge”—but how do we fundamentally reorient them within the new neighborhood of the gospel? Given the significant influence of the modern social imaginary, discipleship must be embedded within a Christian social imaginary in order to be an effective journey of counterformation. This will require a new vision of life, a new story to live within, a new community to be part of, and new practices to live by. Indeed, to live well as “resident aliens” in this world, we must know our true home.”

– Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age (p. 135)

A Nation’s Desires

Ezekiel 14:13-14

“Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.”

It used to be that porn displayed the desires a culture entertained but didn’t want to publicly acknowledge. The demarcation between our entertainment and our porn is disappearing.

The topics that previously were pornographic now dominate our public consumption, indeed, even our advertising.

Now that adultery and homosexuality are the stuff of living room consumption, incest and pederasty will begin to dominate our porn. It is an increasingly short step from there to the living room.

Because we are all created in God’s image, when a culture rejects sin as a category individuals still experience shame. The secular solution to shame is to make shameful behavior public and brazen, and the next step is to demand it be celebrated.

While humans are fickle and will often comply with the ludicrous demands of the brazen to be celebrated, the land is immune to their tyrannical tantrums and continues to record the sins committed against it with no change in standard from creation.

Leviticus 18:24-30

“Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.”


“The cultural air we breathe fuels our hunger for the extraordinary, yet in Romans 12 we are told that our everyday, ordinary lives are worthy of being offered to God as a true sacrifice to Him. This is because we have the resounding “IT IS GOOD” from the Father tumbling down to us from Genesis right into our present lives. The blessing of the Father was not reserved for the special exotic animals. Nor was it reserved for Adam when he had done something really heroic. It was on creation itself – creation with its limits, its rhythms, its extraordinary ordinariness. Without an understanding of the blessing of the Father on creation itself – on life on earth as our place of communion with Him – we will be seeking a higher spiritual experience, like the ancient Gnostics. We will always need to convince ourselves that we really are ‘sold out’ or passionate.”

Julie Canlis, A Theology of the Ordinary, pg 27


photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

“The limitations that are part of us being ‘not-God’ were intended to keep us close and in relationship with God. Our very limitations imply the need for relationship. To be a creature is to refuse to make ourselves but instead to joyfully accept our limitations. It is to know that our self-making would be our un-making.”

Julie Canlis, A Theology of the Ordinary, pg. 15


“One system of particular interest to researchers in the last ten years is that of mirror neurons, which leads to mimicry. Virtually all intentional human behavior is ultimately mimicked.”

Curt Thompson, M.D. Anatomy of the Soul (p. 42)

Photo credit: Pavel Danilyuk

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

Ephesians 5:1

The Land of Sanctification

“Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort.”

Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship, p. 34

Once upon a time a father and his young son trekked through a vast wilderness split in two by a mighty river gorge. On approaching the canyon, the father said, “Son, you cannot cross, but I will build a bridge.”

In later years, as the father tried to teach his son, the son replied, “Dad, I was entirely dependent on your work to get me across that chasm. Why should I learn the ways of fatherhood? My salvation was entirely by virtue of your grace.”

The father replied, “On this side of Justification Bridge, be an imitator of me, as I am of Christ. And, in even the simplest of daily activities, do it with a mind to honor me. You’ve been gifted an abundant life of promise in this Land of Sanctification; work out the details with careful gratitude.”

1 Corinthians 11:1 | Ephesians 5:1 | 1 Corinthians 10:31 | Ephesians 2:8-10 | Philippians 2:12-13

Musing on the Differences Between Men & Women

“Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. You shall purify every garment…. Then Eleazar the priest said to the men in the army who had gone to battle: “This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded Moses… You must wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean. And afterward you may come into the camp.”

Numbers 31:20-24

Woman is the glory of man, because in her softness she receives, enhances, celebrates, and embodies what a man’s hardness provided. Hardness, however, is not comforting nor sustainable, and man therefore longs to see, to touch, to connect with, and to reside within the softness his flinty determination has provided for and enabled.

Hardness takes out of the world, carves, separates, tames, defines, borders, excavates, sculps, and protects: a man wrests the opportunity for peace from chaos. Softness receives, shapes, rearranges, bears fruit: women fill the now boundaried void with peacefulness.

Men are designed to more easily compartmentalize the hardness required in a sin-broken world from the environment of home, while women are more interconnected and struggle to separate what may be required from where they find rest.

Men learn from a woman’s softness that pleasure is obtained not through hardness but through gentleness. (Gentleness is strength under restraint.)

A man cannot sustain a constant state of hardness but prepares ahead of time to be ready when called upon. Softness, on the other hand, is a state conducive to dwelling.

A man must learn the necessity of preparatory denial. A woman learns that persistent joy is experienced by providing comfort.

A goal or purpose is obtained via hardness but enjoyed via sharing and reception.
Hardness exhausts; softness comforts and restores. Provision exhausts; reception inspires and renews.

Mutual satisfaction and ultimate personal expression is conditionally experienced within the confines of and after the provision of shelter and sustenance. This is seen in relational dynamics and in physical environment. The raw opportunity provided by a man is received by the woman and filled by her soft skills with comfort and peace.

As a hardened one, a man’s greatest longing is fulfilled and pinnacle experience is realized through the reception by and intermingling with a woman’s softness. He sees, feels, and otherwise experiences the glorification of what his hard sacrifice has won, and what he has provided becomes what it otherwise could not have been. In perceiving this transformation of what has been received, gratitude is experienced, wonder is evoked, appreciation whelms, loyalty is reinforced, and weariness assuaged.

Because each man and each woman is unique, the specifics of how this presents in any given marriage is widely varied.

The Importance of Religion

While my oldest daughter was in Bible School I would receive almost weekly pleas to come replace her professor of this or that (which I must admit, makes ole Dad feel good).

This morning her prof started off a unit on Soteriology by proclaiming that Christianity is a relationship not a religion. My daughter, of course, groaned…as we all should at that inaccurate platitude. But it got me to thinking about why we hear this so commonly in Christian culture.

Religion is the form of one’s relationship with a deity. All relationships have form. Marriage, for example, is the form of the relationship with one’s spouse. We would laugh at someone who said, “I have a relationship with my wife, not a marriage.” So why don’t we laugh when someone says, in equally ridiculous fashion, “Christianity is a relationship not a religion”?

It comes down to two things, I think. First, we forget that religion is a relationship, so the over-correction doesn’t strike us as odd, like it should. Second, we’re misdefining religion as “an attempt to obtain righteousness via works.” But that’s a definition of false religion, not of religion. Granted, “false religion” applies to any religion but Christianity, so it’s an easy misstep to make.

Why is this distinction so important? Well, what’s happening with marriage as we increasingly ignore the requirements of its form(s) should give us a clue. The form of a relationship is what gives that relationship its permanence. It is the practice of a relationship’s forms that distinguish it from different relationships, marks it out as sacred, and enables it to endure. Any relationship without form is fleeting, transient, and limited in its ability to shape or impact us.

The very word religion tells us this. The word comes from ligare, the Latin word from which we get “ligament” and it means to bind; just as ligaments bind muscle to bone, so religion binds us to God. So the next time you hear someone say that Christianity is a relationship not a religion, beg to differ, and explain to them that religion is the very nature of our relationship to God, and without being a religion our relationship to God would falter and wither.

Spiritual Direction: A Definition

The practice of Spiritual Direction is ancient and takes as its foundation the biblical precedent that when perplexed we are to look for Christ’s guidance in the words of another. Ecclesiastes 4 (vv 9,12c) informs us that two are better than one because the results of their efforts are magnified, and a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Jesus promised his disciples that wherever two or more gathered in his name, he would be in their midst. After his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus Paul cries out, “What am I to do, Lord?” and is instructed, “[G]o into Damascus, and their you will be told (by Ananias) what to do.” As he read the Scriptures, the Ethiopian Eunuch exclaimed, “How can I understand, unless someone explains it to me?”

Spiritual Direction is the communal practice of focusing our attention on the experience of another so as to notice the work of God in the midst of life’s tumult. It is a three-way effort, with the directee sharing, the director listening, and the Spirit supervising. The spiritual director must be attending not just to the voice of the directee but also to the work of the Spirit, whether revealed in the narrative or perceived as they listen. The goal of spiritual direction is ongoing conversion to the image of Christ by observing and responding to the promised work of God in our lives.