Tag Archives: Jesus

How Big is Your Drip Line?

This week I have been enjoying the book The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  Based off Psalm 1, he uses the metaphor of a tree to describe the stable life.

Look at a tree on the landscape out your window and you will notice that it is shaped something like a geyser, reaching up in the single column of a trunk to spray out in limbs, most of them bending back toward the ground. Follow the downward slope of those bending branches as if they were the fluid spray of the geyser, and you can sketch out a circumference on the ground around the trunk of any tree. That circle is called the “drip line.” Without digging below the surface, it offers a pretty good sketch of how far away from a tree its roots reach for the water and nutrients it needs to flourish. Trees vary a great deal in size, and any tree, given the time, can extend its reach through growth. But it is important for the life of a tree that its extension above the surface not exceed its growth below. Stability depends on a tree knowing that its root system beneath the surface limits its capacity to send out limbs and produce fruit. In short, everything depends on the drip line. For people on the go, the root system that a drip line traces may feel more like a limit than a gift.

As a young father, I often feel like the boundaries placed on my life limit my freedom, but this metaphor reminds me that by raising my children in a Godly way, I am actually expanding my root system. To put it simply: these boundaries are expanding my capacity to produce fruit! But don’t just take my word for it:

Paul Wilkes…reflects on his resistance to limits as a young person, saying, “I bridled at restraints; I moved again and again. There was always something more out there I wasn’t finding.” For Wilkes, this led to a midlife crisis about the true meaning of freedom. “I looked upon married life and children as punishingly restrictive and certainly not a path to holiness or heroism,” he confesses. “After my devoted attempt to be a man of the world, I swerved onto other paths, believing I needed to live with the poor, then to be a monk, do some work of great value to humankind. Something out of the ordinary.” All of this frenetic searching eventually led Wilkes to what he calls a “desperately unhappy existence.” Free to pursue any life he could imagine, Wilkes found himself unable to really live.Considering the practice of stability some two decades after this crisis, Wilkes is able to name how his own salvation has depended on accepting the limits of marriage. “With two sons embarking on their teenage years and a working wife, my freedom of movement is severely restricted, my own desires secondary at best. Yet I experience some of the richest days of my life.” No longer free to do whatever he wants, Wilkes sees that he is free to love particular people whose needs he knows. To be sure, that circle of people is limited, circumscribed by the drip line of his life. But as he establishes roots of love, Wilkes can see that he is now able to grow. The boundary lines of his life and love expand as his roots grow deeper.

This book won’t stop prodding me where it hurts, insisting that the grass on the other side of the fence is just that, more grass. In the long run, it won’t taste better than this grass, and the hassle of getting stuck in–or addicted to going through–barb-wired fences is just not worth the bother.

So how big is your drip line? Is it growing as you commit to a place, and to loving the people in that place? Or is it shrinking because you run away from your problems…

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Don’t Follow Me, Stay Where You Are (And Follow Me!)

Sometimes it can feel like you aren’t a very good Christian unless you are a missionary half-way across the world. In the book The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, I found this meditation on what it means to follow Jesus in the place you live.

Just as Jesus’ movement is picking up momentum, he tells a man not to follow him. This struck me as odd the first time I noticed it. The man is naked when Jesus meets him. Stripped bare, his spiritual torment is unveiled for all to see. He is alone—without family, community, or the institutions of love that humans need to flourish…Jesus commands the demons to come out of him and go into a herd of pigs. Filled with the demons that had tormented the man, the pigs run off a cliff and into the lake. The point is clear enough: whatever just came out of this man is a force that will run living creatures to their death. When the townspeople turn back from watching the pigs splash into the lake, they see the man who had been possessed “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” No longer constantly driven to flee, this man has been healed. He is seated at the feet of the One who stands immovable. It’s an incredible contrast to the scene when Jesus first set foot on the shore and the man came running, every muscle tense. Restless and distraught before, he is now seated, in his right mind…Yet the sight of this man seated at Jesus’ feet puts fear in the people of the town. We are, after all, accustomed to our demons. Despite our frustration and occasional acts of resistance, we accommodate ourselves to the ways they limit our own lives and crush the lives of others. However terrible our demons may appear when we look them in the face, their presence along the periphery of our lives feels normal. Maybe the demons kill, but we’re often more comfortable with the frenetic forces that drive us here and there than we are with the radical new way of life that Jesus brings. The people of this little town on the other side of the lake ask Jesus to leave. Respecting their wishes, he does. But as Jesus is getting into the boat, the man who has been made whole begs to go with Jesus. His peaceful posture is disturbed by the thought of Jesus leaving. For the first time in years, he has found peace with Jesus. Like a good disciple, he wants to sit at Jesus’ feet. Indeed, he wants to follow Jesus’ feet wherever they go. But Jesus says no. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Stay where you are. In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it. Jesus delivers the demon-possessed man and then offers him the gift of stability. Maybe the single most important thing we can do if we want to grow spiritually is to stay in the place where we are.

Many early Christian writers understood the principle of stability. For example:

Someone asked Abba Antony, “What must one do in order to please God?” After encouraging the pilgrim to keep God before his eyes and pattern his life after the Scriptures, Antony added, “In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it.” Another of the desert fathers advised similarly, “If a trial comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave that place when the trial comes. Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is ahead of you.”

I wonder how many Christians are called to stay!


Review of Jesus On Every Page by David Murray

I teach the Introduction to the Old Testament course here at Eston College. Here is my course description:

As Christians we should approach the OT with the understanding that it points us to Christ. J. C. Ryle once said, “The grand primary object of all Scripture, is to testify of Jesus! Old Testament ceremonies are shadows of Christ. Old Testament judges are types of Christ. Old Testament prophecies are full of Christ’s sufferings, and of Christ’s glory yet to come. The first coming and the second; the Lord’s humiliation and His glorious kingdom; His cross and the crown shine forth everywhere in the Bible.” This course will survey the OT in order to appreciate the manifold ways that God “prepared the way” for the coming of Christ.

That’s why I was thrilled to read the book Jesus on Every Page by David Murray. Here’s a short video of Murray describing why you should read this book:

I have been a fan of Murray’s blog for sometime now. He is a prolific blogger and always provides juicy resources on a variety of topics that I am interested in. I would say that he is one of my favorite living authors.

This book walks through the various ways that Christians should look for Jesus in the OT. This topic can be a touchy one, but Murray argues with conviction that Christians should read the OT through Christological lenses.

He provides useful rules for doing so without going off into crazy land, and he does it all with a passionate and worshipful heart. Here is a quote that demonstrates his worshipful stance:

In the midst of the many intrinsically fascinating reasons why Old Testament study is so rewarding, the most exciting to me is the way it never fails to add new depths to my understanding of Jesus. I find myself aware that in reading the Hebrew Scriptures I am handling something that gives me a closer common link with Jesus than any archaeological artifact could do. For these are the words he read. These were the stories he knew. These were the songs he sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped his whole view of “life, the universe and everything.” This is where he found his insights into the mind of his Father God. Above all, this is where he found the shape of his own identity and the goal of his own mission. In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus. (After all, Jesus never actually read the New Testament!)

When an author comes to Scripture with this much love for our savior I can’t help but appreciate their work. I also just plain enjoy his writing style. He writes with flourish (probably because he has been a teacher/preacher for so long).

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

  • “A bit of work is required to find the seams of gold in these messianic mines…”
  • “The first time an apprentice engineer looks at a locomotive engine, he has little idea where to start. That’s why apprentice engineers are issued with numerous step-by-step guides. When we open the “engine” of the prophets, we often feel like that apprentice, don’t we? Where do I start? What do I do now?”
  • “A picture is worth a thousand words. Pictures help us remember, understand, and look forward. When we want to remember our wedding, we don’t get out our diaries or journals; we open the photo album. When we want to understand how a rocket works, we don’t get out NASA’s instruction manual; we look for some pictures. When we are looking forward to a vacation, we don’t look up Wikipedia; we look up Google images. That’s why God used so many pictures in the Old Testament. vivid visuals like the Passover lamb, the Flood, or the tabernacle helped Israel remember better, understand better, and look forward better.”
  • “God recognized that theological truth in sentence form would be very difficult for Israelites to grasp. So, He gave theological truth in sense form. He gave things Israel could see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. And every sight, sound, touch, smell, and even taste conveyed truth about God’s character. Through these prophetic pictures, God was teaching His infant children His spiritual alphabet, and as they slowly put these letters together, they spelled Jesus.”
  • And my favorite: “It’s as if gospel was spelled in a 12-point font in the Old Testament and in a 1200-point in the New Testament. Or we might say it was pictured in the Old using thumbnails but blown up to poster size in the New.”

Recommended Audience: I would recommend this book for a college level classroom or an adult bible study. There are useful questions at the end to help guide you through discussion.

Don’t hesitate to buy this book, you won’t regret it! If you want to learn more check out the webpage here.

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Humor is Balancing the Childlike and the Mature

Elton Trueblood says the following about Christ and Humor:

“The balance between the childlike and the mature in Christ’s life is really amazing…On the one hand, He can rejoice unconditionally in the Father’s care, without which not a sparrow falls, but, on the other hand, He can see through the pretensions of men and women, particularly their religious pretensions. Because, in Christ, there was…both the childlike and the mature, humor was inevitable. Humor appears where the two worlds meet.”

The picture below says it all:

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Wow Moments – The Humor of Jesus (Henri Cormier)

In preparation for my class on Oral Communication next year I have been reading about humor. I brought a book called The Humor of Jesus by Henri Cormier into our public library. Although I don’t recommend Cormier’s book, he does conclude with some stories that illustrate how a life of faith leads to a joyfully humorous response, even in the face of martyrdom. I thought it worth sharing two of these testimonies:

St. Tomas More, as he was about to ascend the gallows, had this to say to the master of the tower. ‘Help me climb up. I can manage the trip down by myself.'”

“One of the victims that fell into the hands of the Chinese Communists was the young Chiao. He was a pleasant young man. Brought before the assembly where he was formally accused, and forced to kneel, he answered, ‘I kneel only before my God.’ He was severely beaten and forced to his knees. After the hearing, they commanded him to stand up. ‘I am sorry,’ he told them, ‘but I have not finished praying to my God.'”

Cormier concludes that “There is a sort of mystery and service of humor. It consists more in living than in preaching, so that everyone can learn to live, to suffer, even to die in a true spirit of faith and hope and love.”

Wow! I expect that most of us will never know if our heart is ready to respond to martyrdom with the humor of Christ, but all of us could use more of Christ’s joy.

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