The War on Joy.

I love C.S. Lewis. He isn’t perfect. He had a few ideas that were a bit much for protestant me. Overall he was a genius. What made him so brilliant is his ability to take the complex and translate it into words and ideas that others could understand and repeat. When you really understand something, you move beyond the jargon, take the idea apart, and remove the unnecessary, so the truly important can shine through with greater clarity.

I love the Narnian Novels by Lewis. They are brilliant. They have so many themes within his other books and are completely relevant for our world today, almost 70 years later. Lewis fought in World War I and wrote this book only a few years after the end of World War II. He was painfully aware of fighting in the middle of winter without the ability to celebrate Christmas. When Lewis penned one of his most famous lines, he summed up how the world’s enduring suffering faced during the second world war with one line. “It’s always winter, never Christmas.”

This past year has felt like it is always winter, never Christmas. It feels as though there has been a spell put on the world that has frozen hearts, frozen dreams, and is desiring to freeze our joy. There is a war we are facing in our world today, and it is a war on Joy. True Joy everlasting Joy.

 The Weather

One of the central themes of the life of C.S. Lewis was that of joy. His autobiography is entitled “Surprised by Joy” He had much to say about Joy. It was the hope of what was to come for him and the real enjoyment that comes from understanding we have been forgiven. The Pevensie kids understood this in the gifts they were given. “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still “about to be.” -C.S. Lewis (Interestingly, his wife’s name was also Joy).

The contrast between the Witch and Aslan at this point is one of the central themes of the first Narnian book. A key scene occurs in Chapter 11 when the Witch and Edmund are traveling through the woods in pursuit of the beavers and the other children. They happen upon “a merry party” made up of a squirrel family, two satyrs, a fox, and a Dwarf, seated at a table and enjoying a delicious holiday meal. The Witch is incensed and demands to know, “What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence?” When she discovers that the meal was a gift from Father Christmas, she turns the entire party into stone. The benefit of the scene is that it demonstrates that the Witch’s evil is not fundamentally about winter and cold weather, but about a deep-seated hostility to life, joy, and celebration.

Joe Rigney

The witch wanted nothing more than to see winter forever. Like Rigney says, her desire wasn’t about cold and winter. It was a deep hatred of joy of celebration of the newness of life. This wasn’t just about cold weather. It represented her hatred of joy the forward-looking hope even in winter. Which is why she made it always winter and never Christmas. 

The Fear of Death and Why You Should Stop Saying Stay Safe.

Fourteen years ago today, I was much younger and much more naive about life and God’s ways. I thought if I did the right thing, good things would happen every time. That if I said the right things, people would feel comfort and joy every time. I found out that God doesn’t work the way I think he should work. God is not tame, but he is good. I found out that the God we serve is not safe. All my life to that point, I thought he was safe, and the day I realized he was not safe was also the day I began to question if he was even good. 

How I have come to know God over the past decade and a half has changed the way I see him, the way I trust Him, and the way I see everything because of him. It is not an overstatement to say I was blind, but now I see. That day fourteen years ago, led to a chain of events that made me question the goodness of God; it led me to struggle with anxiety as a result of an overwhelming fear of dying. 

It was nearly two years of working through the implications of me thinking that if I pray enough, give enough and serve enough, good things will come from that as my payment from God because of my goodness. I had grown up in church my whole life, and I thought the gospel was for sinners, not for me. I thought God was in my debt because I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was angry fourteen years ago because I didn’t think God heard the prayers of a sweet family suffering far more than I ever had. I was angry because I prayed for a boy filled with more faith than I had ever had. He didn’t rise. I was angry with God because he owed me and wasn’t coming through when I was calling in my favors, eared through years and years of good behavior. 

I was a Pharisee. People look at Pharisees in the Bible and say they are religious zealots who don’t love God they love themselves. That isn’t so. They were some of the most outwardly perfect people you could ever imagine. A pattern of good behavior marked their understanding of life. They encountered Jesus, and he was not the Messiah they imagined. They killed Jesus because he was not and could not have been the God they had long-awaited. I was one of those. I had an idea of God that he always answered my prayers in the way I prayed them, He always did what I thought was right, that he is more pleased with me because of my goodness. I knew God but not his ways. 

It changed one day reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to one of my babies. I read how a woman who was a sinner came to Jesus and took the most important and expensive thing; she had a jar of perfume she broke it, and poured it on the feet of Jesus. The religious people thought this was a waste. It smelled like the lilies in the summer field. It wasn’t a waste. They were mad at God’s kindness to this sinner. They thought Jesus should not be kind to her. “That woman is a sinner!” they grumbled. “We’re the good ones,” God spoke to me as I was reading that to my child and said, that’s you. I knew God but not the ways of God. 

Jesus Calms the Storm

My favorite artist is Rembrandt because of his story, his use of biblical imagery, and the fact he places himself in the paintings he paints. This is what good art does it envelopes you; it swallows you and emerges you into its story. My favorite painting of his is the Return of the Prodigal Son. It’s been the background on my iPhone for four or five years now. I put it on my phone because I wanted to be daily reminded that I am prone to wander like the son, that I growing up in the church and never leaving home left home on my heart, and lastly, I’m called to be the father who loves both those who have wandered far from home and those who have wandered while never leaving home. The gospel points out my sin points me to Christ, and redirects me to run toward sinners.

The Return Of The Prodigal Son

I recently replaced it for the time being with Christ calms the storm. A painting that depicts arguably the best depiction of God’s trust in His Father and our trust in ourselves in all of scripture.

The biblical scene pitches nature against human frailty – both physical and spiritual. The panic-stricken disciples struggle against a sudden storm, and fight to regain control of their fishing boat as a huge wave crashes over its bow, ripping the sail and drawing the craft perilously close to the rocks in the left foreground. One of the disciples succumbs to the sea’s violence by vomiting over the side. Amidst this chaos, only Christ, at the right, remains calm, like the eye of the storm. Awakened by the disciples’ desperate pleas for help, he rebukes them: “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” and then rises to calm the fury of wind and waves. Nature’s upheaval is both cause and metaphor for the terror that grips the disciples, magnifying the emotional turbulence and thus the image’s dramatic impact.

Michael Zell
Jesus Calms The Sea of Galilee

There are many ironic elements of this masterpiece. The first is the fact it was stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Gardener Museum in Boston. Most experts believe it to be the work of organized crime to be used as ransom to free jailed crime bosses. The irony is that since it was taken, there has been wave after wave of stolen peace in our lives and in our countries collective experience. I do not believe that the theft precipitated our lack of collective peace. It is only a cultural artifact that points to our loss of peace by righting our ship on our terms.

Top 10 Books of 2020

In 2020 I read many books by people who have different views than I have, I read several books on CRT and Liberation Theology as well as some written by Progressive Theologians. I found it interesting to see the world as they see it. I also found it strengthen my resolve to fight for clarity in my thoughts and charity in my interactions with those with whom I disagree. As a result, my reading list was a bit more eclectic than most years. As I look forward to 2021 I do so with a mixture of excitement and sadness as I will be finishing my Seminary degrees. I don’t know if I disliked a book that was assigned to me and will miss the rigor of reading with a deadline. I am excited however to read what I want when I want. I plan on rereading some of my favorite books I read in obtaining my degree as well as much more fiction and hope to write a devotional for pre-teens before the year is out. That being said here are my top ten books for 2020.


The Trellis and the Vine
This book has been on my reading list for a while but had not had the time to get to it. It was required for school so I read it in November. Such a timely book for any pastor to read. If ever we needed the message and strategy of connection over programs it’s now. It ends with an eerie question of what we would do if we had to lead through a pandemic.

Imagine this… As we write, the first worrying signs of a swine-flu pandemic are making headlines around the world. Imagine that the pandemic swept through your part of the world and that all public assemblies of more than three people were banned by the government for reasons of public health and safety. And let’s say that due to some catastrophic combination of local circumstances, this ban had to remain in place for 18 months. How would your congregation of 120 members continue to function—with no regular church gatherings of any kind, and no home groups (except for groups of three)? If you were the pastor, what would you do?

ColinMarshall & Tony Payne


If that quote doesn’t make you want to read this book nothing will.


Live not by lies
Such a timely book. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by what Rod calls “soft totalitarianism” Live Not By Lies teaches American Christians a method for resistance:
    SEE: Acknowledge the reality of the situation.
    JUDGE: Assess reality in the light of what we as Christians know to be true.
    ACT: Take action to protect truth.
The most powerful weapon we have against the secularism of our age is seeing the truth and speaking the truth. Every Christian should read this book.


Atomic Habits
I haven’t read a ton of leadership books over the past few years but this one was recommended by everyone. I read it and was suprised by the simplicity and practical application of what Clear argues for. Also he likes baseball.


Christ Centered Preaching
I have read several books on expository preaching this one is one of the best in terms of explaining the importance of expository sermons as well as the practical examples that walk you through the process of doing so. I read this for a class Dr. Chapell taught at my Seminary. He is an equally gifted communicator and writer.


On Reading Well
One of my Master’s Degrees is in Christian and Classical Thought. My professors reinforced to us over and over again the importance of reading the great conversation in light of the Gospel because every little story we write points to the great story written for us. Dr. Prior highlights a classical work and the corresponding virtue it exemplifies. The result of her work is a more thoughtful reading of books, many of which were written by Christians, that was written with the desire to empower and inform a more virtuous public. Dr. Prior’s explanation of Flannery O’Connor was particularly helpful to me personally as I have read most of O’Connor’s work and missed most of the beauty within them because I was so taken back by the violence and tragedy I missed the redemptive nature of her stories.


Valley of Vision
I have used Valley of Vision to aid my daily times of prayer devotional for a couple of years. Going through this book slowly to meditate and processes its content fully. I found so many of these prayers directing my thoughts and strengthening my faith like few books I have ever read.

‘When used slowly, for meditation and prayer, these pages have often been used by God’s Spirit to kindle my dry heart.’ ——MARK DEVER

I can’t agree with Mark more. I encourage you to add this to your personal time of devotion. There is something so helpful and challenging about reading the prayers of others.


Scripture as Communication
Such a fantastic book. Dr. Brown addresses both of the extremes of Biblical interpretation. In our modern culture, the Bible is looked at as a set of rules to live by or stories to inspire. A prominent pastor in a recent book said that the Old Testament is for inspiration. Brown’s argument that the Bible is communication changes how we read, interpret, and interact with scripture. It is a much-needed vantage point in the present hermetical landscape of the evangelical church.



Deep Work
This is the second book by Newport I’ve read. He is very clear and extremely practical. I have been putting his simple yet profound ideas to the test and have experienced excellent results. We as a society are more distracted than ever we must fight for focus. I used to brag about how many things we can do at once. No longer. I join Newport in striving to do one thing at a time really really well.


Persuasion
Persuasion is a story of love and loss and patient endurance. In her excellent summary of the book which was my inspiration to read it in full Karen Swallow Prior says “The essence of patience is the willingness to endure suffering.” Patience is a lost virtue in our instant secular culture. We put it off till later so we can have it now. The result of this type of living is moral and spiritual bankruptcy. The story was a story of love that lost because of obedience to authority and refined and rekindled because of divine providence. It was my first Jane Austen novel and definitely not my last.

Patience is a virtue, not in overlooking wrong, but in refusing to do wrong in overcoming wrong.

Karen Swallow Prior



Black Rednecks & White Liberals
This year I read several books on race I found Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers and if you avoid the liberation theology at the end Cone’s work on lynching. The least helpful was White Fragility. Over the course of the past several months, I saw this title encouraged by several pastors. Pastor, please don’t do that. Out of all those titles, the reason I chose Thomas Sowell is that he addresses the topic of race in a way that is straightforward and hopeful. To say that being white makes you a racist and there is nothing you can do about it is not the answer to the real problem of racism. Sowell is thoughtful, hopeful, and clear. He is also African American as opposed to DiAngelo who is white. No matter where you fall on the political landscape it is helpful to understand issues of race and how to work toward speaking against real racism in our world today. I believe that Sowell’s work is a great asset in understanding the history of race and helpful solutions for today.

Here are the other books I read this year.

  1. Growth Groups by Colin Marshall
  2. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  3. Missions by Andy Johnson
  4. Canoeing The Mountains by Tod Bolsinger
  5. The Science of Missions by J.H. Bavanick
  6. White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
  7. Center Church by Tim Keller
  8. Letters to a Young Pastor by Eugene Peterson
  9. I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
  10. Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey
  11. The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone
  12. Suffering and Joy by Henri Nouwen
  13. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
  14. Leadership for the Time of a Pandemic by Tod Bolsinger
  15. Confronting Old Testament Controversies by Tremper Longman
  16. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by William Webb
  17. The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett
  18. The Bible Tells Me So…. by Peter Enns
  19. Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill
  20. George MacDonald by C.S. Lewis
  21. Evolution and the Fall by James K.A. Smith
  22. In the Year of Our Lord 1943 by Alan Jacobs
  23. Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell
  24. American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson
  25. Resilient by Valerie Bell and Matt Markins
  26. Christ-Centered Sermons by Bryan Chapell
  27. A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
  28. Uncommon Ground by Timothy Keller
  29. Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson
  30. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  31. Reading the Bible With Heart and Mind by Tremper Longman
  32. Lethal Agent by Vince Flynn
  33. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
  34. A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert Stein
  35. Hermeneutics by Henry Virkler
  36. Color of Compromise by Jamar Tisby
  37. Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson
  38. The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges
  39. A Theory of Everything by Alister McGrath
  40. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  41. Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson
  42. Red War by Vince Flynn

Why Our Kids Ministries Should be More Like Mr. Rogers and Less Like Disney.

One of the pressures that kids pastors face from parents, leaders, or themselves, and sometimes it’s all three, is to be like Disney. I have often looked at how Disney engages kids as inspiration in engaging the kids I lead. I have had people suggest kindly to me that we take a look at how Disney does things. I even went to Disney and have sent staff members to Disney for inspiration for ministry. The older I get and the longer I do kids ministry, the more I realize that Walt’s idea of child formation was wrong, and Mr. Rogers was right. (Editorial note I am not a Disney hater, I have taken the required pilgrimage to Orlando with my family.)

When you look at the aesthetics of the two kingdoms they both built, they reflect how each saw the world. Walt’s world was a perfect version of what our world should look like. His world is shiny songs playing everywhere. Every restaurant serves chicken strips and hotdogs. Never any dust, never chipped paint. Excellence and creativity abound. Fred’s world was simple, even plain. His puppets showed wear, and his set grew old along with Fred. Two worlds trying to reach the same kids. 

The two kingdoms they built were the result of two visions of the world. Walt created a world that was an escape from the real world. Fred lived in a neighborhood and showed kids how to navigate through the real world. 

Walt built a fantasy world. Fred lived in a neighborhood.

There is nothing wrong with fantasy. Kids need fairy stories. Tolkien and Lewis were both shaped by fairy stories. They have different takes as to the ontological value of stories. Tolkien believed that fairy stories were reflective of God in that they were an example of sub-creation. Lewis thought that you could smuggle truth in fairy stories and steal past the watchful dragons that would not give faith a hearing. In this debate, I side more with Lewis. Fairy tales are more valuable in helping us escape this world, not for the escape alone but to show us what is broken and how to fix our world. Fairy stores should not be only an escape but should contain truth that entertains our minds but be filled with truth that changes our hearts. 

Walt’s world, on the whole, is an escape from reality, sustained by entertainment. You enter the park, and you enter the world as it should be – no trash on the ground, no gum on the sidewalk, and no tears in any eye. It’s perfect. It plays to our right desire for a better world. It reminds us in miniature form that our world, the real world is a shadow, and our heart longs for a perfect world free of sin and pain. 

Fred’s world had fantasy elements in it. But Fred never lied. He said we are going to the land of makebelieve. His fiction was grounded in reality and founded in faith. Fred lived in a neighborhood like you and me. His set was old, his puppets were tired, but he connected with kids in a way few others have. Mr. Rogers had friends come by who struggled with difficult issues like divorce, physical disability, and even race. He didn’t create an alternate universe by which he could escape reality. He lived in a house and told kids when makebelieve was happening. He used fairy stories to smuggle truth.  

Walt Entertained Kids. Fred Empowered Kids.

Walt’s world is all about connecting kids to fun to entertain them. This is a trap I fell into early in my years of children’s ministry. For years I would ask kids if they had fun at the end of the service. I wanted the church to be an escape for kids from the difficulties of home and school. The problem with entertaining kids is you have to out create yourself every week. Kids go to Disney once to a few times a year max. They come to church once to a few times a month. Entertainment may bring them, but we don’t have the budget, creativity, and time to create programs for kids that rival or compete with Disney’s magic.