Yesterday we celebrated Easter, the day the resurrected Jesus broke forth from the tomb and broke the power of sin and death. If the Lenten season was about walking with Jesus the road to Calvary, the Christian life is about coming out the other end. We proclaim with the Apostle Paul, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55). And yet . . .
And yet death still stings. We feel it as we age, time decays and slows our pace. We feel it in the face of a troubling diagnosis or when we have to have our cat put down on Good-Friday morning. We feel its sting when we grieve the loss of a family member or close friend. Where O death is your sting? You don’t have to tell us. We feel it.
And yet death still looks pretty victorious. It still claims us all. We don’t need to look beyond last week’s news cycle to see the threat of death that looms over our heads. The Cleveland broadcast killer, Palm Sunday Massacres, Bombs dropped, another youth gunned down by police in Fresno, executions lined up for this week in Arkansas, and 45’s threat and show of strength against North Korea. Where O death, is your victory? Ubiquitous and persistent, we see death everywhere.
I know everything changed Easter morning. Death died and when love stronger than death broke its hold on our souls. We have hope because of Jesus’ resurrection and we await our own. Still, can we get a little more resurrection? We could really use it.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. -Romans 5:3-5
Hope is a prime motivator. The Apostle Paul describes hope as the end (telos) of suffering: suffering→endurance→character→hope→the fulfillment of our hope (because we have God’s love in our hearts through the Spirit’s presence). No argument from me Paul, but I am pain avoidant enough to not suffer anything if I don’t have to. I won’t do hard things, engage in a discipline or exercise if I don’t perceive some sort of pay-off. Spiritual disciplines, such as Lenten fasting and reflection, are no different. Lent is a preparatory season. We don’t need to prepare unless we are hoping for something—the resurrection after our long death march. Hope is bound up with our ‘whys.’
Here are some things I am hoping for this season:
I hope to have a good Easter– I hope that a focus on Christ’s suffering and what it means to ‘take up my cross’ and follow Jesus, will give me a deeper appreciation of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. My small share in Christ’s suffering, through fasting, is so I can share in his consolation as well (2 Cor. 1:5)
I want a ‘hope reset’ so that my hope rests on something more firm– Things don’t always go the way we expect.Careers implode, the wrong people win elections, the wrong team wins the Superbowl, our moral leaders lack compassion for the marginalized, politicians and media lie to us, friendships dissolve so much of life goes sideways. Biblical hope—our hope in God—places us on much more solid ground. God is the the rock of our salvation, our mighty fortress. Christ is the cornerstone and foundation on which our faith is built. Our hope is sure. I want to grow in my confidence in Christ.
I hope to be transformed.- Lent is about spiritual renewal and I want to be made new. I want to have my life and imagination shaped by what it means to follow Jesus. I want to grow in grace and compassion for people. I don’t want to be self-centered. I want to know what it means to take up my cross and follow Jesus, come what may.
I hope for the courage to be. – If you know my story, you know I feel called to pastoral ministry but my first pastorate ended badly. I was asked to resign and I am still smarting from that experience. Since then I haven’t done much to pursue my life’s calling. I am still hurt and afraid. I know better how to approach some things but because of my insecurity, I feel like I’ve hit a stuck point. I wish I could share my experiences from a place of victory, but I still feel really battered and broken by it. I hope for the courage to reengage my calling with a new sense of purpose and direction.
I hope that my children will flourish. – Like every parent I hope that my kids will succeed at life. I want them to do well in school, I want them to do well at life, I want them to know Jesus. I get anxious about school systems, and being in a more economic impoverished area, I am concerned that I am limiting my kid’s opportunities.
I hope that writing regularly bears fruit. – I like writing. I sometimes think I am good at it. This blog has been mostly reviews of other people’s books, but I hope to one day write my own. I still make stupid grammatical errors and form bad sentences, but the writing brings me joy. I want to be an author, though, like this blog evidences, I have a difficult time narrowing my focus on a particular topic. I hope by making myself write (in this case a penitent’s alphabet), I will hone my craft, increase my impact, and sharpen my voice so that people will see I have something worth saying. Is this a shallow hope? I don’t know.
I hope people read my blog. – This is a shallow hope, but I want you to like me. I know people check out my book reviews when it is interesting to me. I hope for something more. I hope for good conversation and dialogue.
Cue that scene from Braveheart where Mel Gibson says, “Every man dies, not every man truly lives.” N.D. Wilson’s new memoir/vacation-journal-family history will encourage you to live life to the full, and drink down the dregs. Wilson is apparently an award winning novelist of Christian Juvenile fiction or something. Death By Living, is his second book of non-fiction, following up on the 2009 Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl.
I didn’t know what to expect from this book. But it was not what I was expecting. The title invoked the idea of living mindfully of one’s own mortality (sort of the Jeremy Taylor Holy Living, Holy Dying idea). That is certainly part of it. However Wilson also connects his own story, with his family story and the Biblical story. He observes that his own life is made possible by the survival of his progenitors. Four chapters look back at the generations of his family, especially his grandparents’ stories. Four “City: Hiatus” chapters explore life and death through the window of a particular place (i.e. London, Rome, Jerusalem, Home). The remaining eight chapters form a meandering meditation which turns over the idea of ‘a life well lived’ from various angles. Job and Jesus, Adam and Moses walk with Wilson on this long and windy road.
So is it any good? Wilson is a good writer and turns a good phrase. Eric Metaxas’s endorsement on the back cover says that Wilson reminds him of a young Chesterton. By saying this Metaxas is breaking with the tradition of comparing any evangelical author with intelligence and/or imagination with C.S. Lewis; however the comparison with Chesterton seems more apt. Chesterton was a very good author (brilliant in fact), but he was also an uneven author. Parts of this book I find very good and thought provoking, other parts I found myself more irritable than inspired. I would happily give this book 3.5-4 stars, but I do not think it will have the longevity of Chesterton’s most brilliant works.
That might not be fair, and certainly sounds more dismissive than I mean. I enjoyed this book and liked the shifting locations and the way Wilson cycled around the idea of living and dying (and even seeing death as a grace). I think it was well written and interesting. If you like books and want a book that is thoughtful. but not overly demanding, than I think this is a good choice. But I never felt like Wilson captured my full attention. I read sections with interest and wondered if I would remember anything this book said in a year or two. I had the same feeling when I read Mike Mason’s The Mystery of Marriage, and truly can’t tell you anything Mason said, other than the section where he contemplates his wife’s skull. This book may have a similarly memorable moment when Wilson stands in Gehenna and the ‘field of blood’ where Judas presumably hung himself.
But if I do remember anything: I will appreciate Wilson’s ability to connect his own story with the larger story of those who have gone before, that life is a gift to be fully enjoyed and stories are worth hearing, reading and passing on.
I recieved this book from Book Sneeze in exchange for my honest review. I was not asked write a positive review
I’ve been a fan of Ken Davis for a while. I don’t mean I have really followed his career or anything, but years ago I picked up a cassette tape (remember those?) of a message he gave off the bargain rack at my local Christian bookstore. The message was called Super Sheep and despite not having heard it in years I remember the things Ken said, his depth and his humor. Okay, so I got one of those minds that actually remembers sermons (I’m a freak of nature) but you can ask my wife, she’s heard the tape and she remembers it too and she doesn’t have one of those minds. Later I found I video of his called A Wimpy Prophet, A Butane Bush and No Exuseson VHS (remember those?) which was also really funny and inspiring.
So when the opportunity to review this book came up I jumped at the chance and had them send me a print copy (remember those?) My previous experience with Ken Davis was with him as a speaker and he was dynamic with impeccable comedic timing. I wanted to see what kind of author he was and found this book inspiring. However I read the book way too fast so his comedic timing was all off. Well not totally, but this book seems to be a different animal than my previous exposure to Davis.
The book begins with the tale of a camping trip with his wife and grandchildren where his granddaughter Jaydn gets lost in the wilderness. Davis panics and the hunt for Jaydn begins. When a couple of hikers find Jaydn, her words to them is “My grandpa is lost.” This becomes a metaphor for Davis of the ways he’s let his life drift off purpose. When he sees a picture of himself at 240+ lbs with his granddaughter at the beach, he exclaims, “Nooooo! Walking Manatee!!!” and begins the process of taking hold of his life and really living.
This is a book about not wasting your life by walking around like you are half dead. Davis encourages his readers to lose weight, get in shape, take risks, make deep friendships and care for your family and attend to spiritual health and our relationship with Jesus. What I liked about this book is Davis’s vulnerability with his own struggles through depression, struggle and self-doubt. He opens up about the struggles he has had to accept himself, but also shares the ‘stakes in the ground’ in his life which have revealed to him all that he was meant to be.
I am a several years younger than Davis but I have had my own “Noooo! Manatee!” moment. When I graduated with my M.Div from Regent College it was the biggest academic and personal achievement of my adult life. I was proud of myself for finishing, but when I saw pictures of myself kneeling to receive my graduate hood, I saw that I weighed more than I ever have. And I felt terrible. I was slow, sluggish and had no energy. Within six months of that picture I had lost 50 lbs by running, swimming and watching my food intake. I have since gained some of that weight back (but no where near all), but some lifestyle changes I made were permanent and I have felt better for it.
Still, some of Davis’s exhortation to take risks and live life to the fullest speak to me. I have, as of yet, to find a ministry position (what I went to school for, and the calling and deep passion of my life). I am currently working at a hardware/animal supply store to pay the bills and provide for my family, but I am still feeling like my life is stuck and I am not doing what I was put on the earth to do. As I read Davis’s book I am encouraged and hunger for more out of life, and more of what God has for me.
I would describe this book as inspirational self-help. If you are in need of a gentle (but firm) swift kick in the rear, this might be a good book for you. If you feel like you are living life to the fullest, you might want to pass this by. When I mentioned Fully Alive’s contents to my wife she said, “I think we are already pretty much fully alive.” This is not a book for her. But if you look in the mirror and feel like you look dead and . . .well, manatee-ish, this may be the book for you. Or if you feel like you can’t do anything of value anymore because you are too old, Davis has lots to say to the old folks.
Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this book via Booksneeze in exchange for this fair and exceptional review.
I enjoyed a relaxing day out with my family today. The kids had some fun in the sun at a park in town. It is one of those days where you feel like summer is here to stay but then remind yourself that you are in the pacific northwest and tomorrow the temperature will be 10 degrees cooler and the ground will be a lot wetter. Such is life.
Anyway my week ahead promises to be interesting. I have a paper (or project) for a class due next Monday and I have to put the finishing touches on it. That is, after I put my beginning touches and all that mind numbing middle work. That is probably where most of my energy and creativity should go this week. On the other hand, I got a mother load of books and resources today which seem particularly blog worth. Which means you probably will get my regular drivel delivered to your reader or inbox and I will still flame facebook with my overly opinionated rants and raves. So I apologize ahead of time, but if you see a couple of days of blog silence it is because I need to get some work done.
Speaking of work, it is possible that I have a job (part time and low pay, but close to home) which should take some of the financial pressure off of us and still allow me to pitch in with the kids. Hope everything falls into place because as much as I love my kids, I would like to be away from them for 8-10 hours at a time and get paid for it. Pray that this works out.
Another interesting thing is that that starting this week I am participating in a Willow Creek LIFT Project course on Shaping Culture. I was one of the bloggers selected to participate in this course (free for me and great for you) and I think it will be a great way to stretch and grow in my own leadership. I think this will be a fun way for me to process leadership and grow in my capicity to lead well. I attended a Willow Creek leadership summit way back when and felt a little out of place in terms of theology and ministry philosophy (I generally am a ‘small church’ guy). But despite my biases I am excited to learn, grow and see what comes from this. Should be a wild ride.
Also my wife is amazing. Just saying. Really incredible woman!