After the Wreckage: a ☆☆☆☆☆ book review

I loved Jonathan Martin’s previous book Prototype. It was about becoming like Jesus (the prototype of the new humanity) by discovering your true self. One chapter that was particularly meaningful to me was the one on wilderness. Martin described the experience of waiting and longing I was feeling at the time, and invited me to see my wilderness as a pregnant place, to attend to it, and discover what Christ may be birthing in me.  This helped me reframe my life and circumstance.

225_350_book-1966-coverIt is now three-years-later. Martin, like me, went through a bit of a vocational crisis. He was the pastor of  Renovatus, a thriving church in Charlotte North Carolina, he was happily married, and had a supportive network of friends.  Then came the shipwreck. Martin was a broken man:

I had failed in my marriage. I had failed my church. I had failed my friends. I sailed my own ship into the rocks and both the relationships that mattered most to me and my calling to the church I loved were the casualties. (Kindle location 337 of 3001).

How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is on the Way and Love Is Already Here is Martin’s encouragement to fellow castaways. He opens up his journey through the wreckage. He tells of the practices, relationships and the strong loving God that carried him through: Martin writes:

It is possible to fail, and not have our faith fail us. It is possible to lose our lives, and not lose our souls. The master teacher taught us himself that it is only in losing our lives—in their ego pretensions and posturing, in their careful image constructions and neediness—that this richer, deeper, below-the-surface life can be found. This is the life hidden with Christ in God, where almost anything can happen at the top of things without disrupting the grace that lies in the bottom of the sea in you. (Chapter 1, Location 404).

Martin gives only sparse details of the nature of his crisis, but this book isn’t about that. It is about the aftermath. Martin’s shipwreck brought him significant, lived insight about the life of faith and the spiritual journey. He shares about learning to relinquish control, the importance of eating, sleeping and breathing through a crisis, the art of dying, and learning to risk again. He tells of the community and relational connections he made as he found himself in a more vulnerable place.

I enjoy this book as much as Prototype. It comes from an honest place and shows the ways that Martin has grown in the last couple of years. Critiquing his earlier book, Martin writes, “those were things I knew so much more with my head than with my heart, uplifting information that was still turning into revelation inside of me.” He observes the lack of understanding about death in his earlier volume:

I had written a book on Christian spirituality, of which death and resurrection are its central motifs and defining characteristics—and had moved straight from wounds to resurrection. There was nothing in that book about death, because I did not yet know what it would mean to die.  (chapter seven, location 2194).

I love seeing the growth in Martin. And he does walk through shipwreck and crisis and come out the other end. Currently he is a teaching pastor at Sanctuary Church in Tulsa.

I have had this book for months and have been meaning to review it for some time. My own shipwreck was too raw for me when I first got this for me to appreciate Martin’s theme. This is an encouraging, vulnerable read but the truth underlying it is that God is still there, his love is still strong and there is no crisis, failure, or catastrophe that God can’t use to form us. I give this five stars. ★★★★★

Good News Lent: Wilderness Introduction

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Mark 1:12-13

Are you in a wilderness? It could be one of your own making—sin and shame isolating you from others. It could be a wilderness hoist on you through circumstance: the death of a loved one, a broken relationship, a debilitating illness, the loss of a job. Maybe you went to what you thought was the land of promise, and found yourself in a  barren wasteland. However, you got here, you are not alone. Jesus also walked in the wilderness. For forty days he was tempted by the devil.

Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness is a poignant image for Lent. It is this episode from Jesus’ life that the church got the ‘forty days’ that determine the length of the season. Forty days Jesus fasted, so we fast forty days (minus Sundays). There Jesus was victor over temptation, so we take this time to pursue holiness, attentive to our proclivity toward sin. Yes, Jesus’ wilderness experience is foundational for our experience of Lent. But does the wilderness hold good news for us? Jesus faced the devil in the dry arid air of the desert. He did so, for the joy set before him. I see five reasons the wilderness was good news for Jesus, and is good news for us!

The Wilderness is Where God Wanted Jesus to Be

judean_wildernessWe are told in Mark’s gospel that the Spirit “sent” Jesus into the wilderness.   Jesus emerged from the Jordan, dripping wet from his baptism and the Spirit sent him to the desert. The NIV’s ‘sent’ is a rather tepid translation of the Greek ἐκβάλλει. The word carries the force of ‘drove out’ or ‘expelled.’ Jesus was forced out to the wilderness, there by the Spirit’s compulsion. He was in the wilderness because God wanted Him there.  Why did the Spirit want Jesus there? Matthew gives the reason, “He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by devil” (Matt. 4:1).

There was contest that needed to happen between Jesus and Satan at the outset of his ministry. The ultimate contest would come later, but this wilderness time was important. Jesus had heard his Father’s voice, saw the heavens open and felt the Spirit’s presence resting like a cooing dove on Him. He couldn’t go back to carpentry; his Kingdom mission was inaugurated. God sent him to the wilderness, but he didn’t expect him to stay there.  He went to quote Deuteronomy at the Devil and strengthen his resolve to face what lay ahead

Spiritually the wilderness is a liminal space, it is a place between places. Jesus was stepping out of the life as an obscure Galilean carpenter, to a lifestyle which included itinerant evangelism, divine healing and political rabble-rousing. This was a big change in Jesus’ life, even for the Son of God. The desert gave Jesus the space a place to transition.

Where does God have you? If you are in a wilderness right now, perhaps the Spirit has driven you there because He is transitioning you to something new, something significant. This is a time to pay attention and ask God what He is doing?

 

The Wilderness Clarifies Identity and Allowed Jesus Space to Connect to God

 

God took Jesus to the wilderness after affirming him in baptism. Jonathan Martin writes:

[T]he reason that God sent Jesus into the wilderness was not to weaken Him­—so that his showdown with Satan would become “the ultimate test”—but rather to strengthen Him and cement in His heart the truth of His identity. Fresh from hearing the words of confirmation on which His entire life and ministry would be built, there was no safer place than the wilderness for Jesus to go next. Even though His experience in the wilderness wasn’t easy—He fasted for forty days and forty nights and was confronted by the devil—the devil wasn’t the only one he encountered there. The Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness, rejuvenated with the affirmation of His identity in God’s eyes, and allowed Him to step away from His day-to-day life until the noise ad hurry of the world around Him was stripped down to the point where He could easily distinguish the voice of the accuser from the voice of the Father. The same can be true for us. [1]

Belden Lane says, “Desert and mountain places, located on the margins of society are locations of choice in luring God’s people to a deeper understanding of who they are. Yahweh frequently moves to the boundary in order to restore the center, calling a broken people back to justice and compassion.”[2] As with Jesus, so with us. We move (or are moved) into wilderness spaces to discover who we really are. It wasn’t enough that Jesus heard the Father affirm Him in baptism. He needed space to clarify what those words meant—to be moved by the Spirit, to connect with Father. He needed time out of the limelight to clarify His identity, and to hear God’s voice.

You are a child of God! The Father declares His love for you, the Spirit of God rests on all who are His. We need this space to understand what it means that we are His. We need to ‘unplug’ and take time in obscurity to cement this and to learn to discern the voice of God for us.

The Wilderness is a Place of Preparation

When Jesus left the wilderness, his public ministry would begin. It would culminate on a Roman cross. Along the way he would cast out demons, heal the sick, announce good news, and challenge the religious and political structures.  He would gather a handful of followers that he would pour his life into, so that they would lead the movement in his absence. There was a lot of work to be done and it would take all of him.  Jesus spent forty days fasting and praying at the outset of his ministry.  This time in the wilderness was preparation for what lay ahead.  These wilderness spaces are our preparatory school as well.  As the desert clarifies our identity—we see ourselves in all our vulnerability, weakness, brokenness and wonder—we sense God’s call to step out in compassion for the world. The obscurity of the margins is where God prepares us for the work ahead.

Do you know what God is Calling You to? Do you have a sense of the type of work he would like to do through you? How are you being prepared for that task? Our wilderness is where we discern God’s call and gain the courage to step into it.

 

The Wilderness is a Place of Purgation

The wilderness is where Jesus is tempted by the devil (Jesus’ temptation is the subject of my next post).  This is also the space where we face those ugly bits in ourselves. The Christian tradition calls this purgation—a purification of the soul from sin. Jesus was the sinless Son of God, but even he faced temptation. The wilderness is the space where we can wrestle our demons all the way down.  We all have comforts and strategies we employ that we use which prevent us from examining our heart’s condition: we use the demands of work and commitments to crowd out self-reflection; we fill our down time with Netflix binge watches of our favorite series; we fill our bellies with a tub of cookie dough ice cream or engage in some retail therapy. We are good at distracting ourselves with work, food, and entertainment. Perhaps we self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. When all these are stripped away through fasting or circumstance, we begin to see ourselves for who we are and to deal with the parts of our soul we work so hard at avoiding.   Lane writes:

The way of purgation involves an entry into what is unnerving, even grotesque in our lives, into what quickly reveals our limits. It seems at first, like most beginnings in the spiritual life, a mistake, a false start, an imperfection in God’s planning, a regression in our own growth. Only in hindsight do we recognize it for the unexpected gift that it is.[3]

The good news of the desert is that as our defenses are stripped away and our sin is laid bare before God, He transforms us. When we emerge from this marginal, liminal space, we are made new. The wilderness is a hard place to be, but it is where God has his way in us.

The Wilderness is Where Jesus ‘Back-stories’ the Good News.

The good news about Jesus is made coherent as part of the larger story of God and Israel’s story.  N.T. Wright’s project has been to show how Jesus fulfills Israel’s messianic hopes.  Jesus does this in two ways: he recapitulates Israel and its sacred symbols around himself and he does the sort of things the Hebrew Scriptures attest that only God can do.  The Hebrew Scriptures, what Christian’s call the Old Testament, provides the backstory essential for understanding who Jesus is and why he came. When we look again at Jesus wilderness wandering, we see God reenacting Israel’s own wandering. The people of Israel went through the Red Sea and spent forty years in the wilderness; Jesus left the Jordan for forty days in the wilderness. Israel was led by God’s presence in a pillar of fire by day and a cloud by night (Exodus 13:21); Jesus was compelled forward by the Spirit. Israel was tested for forty years (Deuteronomy 8:2); Jesus was tempted by the devil. But while Israel grumbled, complained, and failed their wilderness tests, Jesus would emerge victorious.  Jesus’ reenactment showed him to be the New Israel, fulfilling covenant with God, walking faithfully with him.

Something new was happening in the Judean countryside. A Messiah was coming that would fulfill all of Israel’s hopes and longing. A man would stumble out of the desert that would embody everything Israel was supposed to be.

Jesus came. He suffered the wilderness, he overcame the time of testing and he would lead his people to the good land. Praise God that Jesus came to be what we could not be for ourselves. Thank you Jesus for going before us, marking the way through the wilderness and showing us the way forward as we trust in him.

 

Whatever your wilderness is, press into it. Jesus walked this road and there are good things in store.  God will take this time to show you who you are, to help you see clearly who He is, to guide you, to show you the way forward, to prepare you, to cleanse your heart of Sin.  The desert is harsh landscape, and these are difficult days. There are gifts here too.

[Note: I previous edition of this page, titled it “Wilderness Part I.” However I decided to break Jesus’ Temptations into several posts, and treat this an introductory post].

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Jonathan Martin, Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You Are More Like Jesus Than You Think. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2013), 51.

[2] Belden Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscape: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 46.

[3] Lane, 27.

Prototype: a book review

Jonathan Martin is a pastor of a church with a trendy name (Renovatus) which ministers to people on the margins in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a great head of hair, tells poignant stories of his own spiritual journey and those of his faith community. He cries a lot for kind of a big guy, quotes all the right books and likes all the right music (i.e. Bob Dylan, U2, Bruce Springsteen, etc.). These are all the sort of things that should make me suspicious. But then I found myself really enjoying his new book Prototype: What Happens When You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think.

Prototype: What Happens When You Are More Like Jesus Than You Think by Jonathan Martin

The underlying premise of Prototype is that believing in Jesus means being like Jesus. Not a new concept right? But this isn’t just a WWJD-knock-off. Martin argues that Jesus, the prototype of the new humanity, came to show us how to be really human. That means getting in touch with our true selves and not operating out of our fractured identity. Jesus is our exemplar and following him means discovering what we were meant to be.

Prototype begins with two stories. The first story comes from Mark 5 where Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac who said his name was Legion. Martin observes that this fractured man who had been bound in chains and lived naked among the tombs did not frighten the Gerasenes.  Nor were they afraid when their pigs rushed over a cliff. The frightening thing for them was seeing this man fully clothed and his  right mind (Mark 5:15). Martin observes:

In a world where self-destructive behavior has become commonplace, the most frightening scenario may not be a global apocalypse. Perhaps the most startling thing to see is someone whom we have come to expect to be as fragmented, fractured and self-destructive as we are, transformed into the epitome of sanity, peace, and purpose (5).

The second story which frames this book is a story about Martin himself. He talks about how as a fearful and anxious child (raised on Pentecostal apocalyptic literature and movies),  he experienced freedom from his anxiety during the countless hours he rode his blue-and-silver Schwinn bike around his cul-de-sac. While riding he made up stories, talked to himself and felt free. As an adult, Martin was praying with one of his friends who pictured  the boy Martin riding his bike, talking to himself, making up stories and alive with freedom and creativity. Martin had not told his friend about his childhood bike riding, but six months later when Martin was on a bike the image arrested him and he felt the intensity of God’s overwhelming love for him in the same way he experienced that freedom and life as a child.

In the pages that follow Martin unfolds our true identity in Christ–our belovedness. He talks about how God shows us who we are in the obscurity of the wilderness and  how God’s love can pour through our wounds and bring healing to others.  He talks about the nature of doubt and faith (using Thomas’s hopeful doubting from John 20). And he paints a picture of community in all its wonderful, aggravating glory. He weaves together Biblical reflections with personal anecdotes and stories of those in his church.

I loved this book. Martin comes from a Pentecostal heritage and his reflections are amenable for Charismatic Christians.  However this is a little more substantive than books you will find in the Charismatic section of your Family Christian Bookstore. Martin is a graduate from Duke Divinity and his book is peppered with references to Stanley Hauerwas, Herbert McCabe, Henri Nouwen, Frederick Buechner and Eugene Peterson. Yes, Martin reads my favorite authors [note: I haven’t actually read anything from Herbert McCabe: he is my favorite author I haven’t read].  But the theological depth he brings to his prose is unobtrusive because mostly Martin is just a  good storyteller. You find yourself drawn-in by his humour and grace.  So this is a great read which will challenge you and help you discover your identity and calling in Christ.  I was personally encouraged by Martin’s chapter on “Obscurity” which is where I feel like I’m living right now.

On the ministry side:  I liked what I learned about his church and their vision for ministry and will likely look for more from Martin and Renovatus.  His great hair still makes me suspicious. I give this book 4.5 stars!

Thank you to Tyndale Momentum for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.